April 22, 2010
April 21, 2010
April 20, 2010
The real power of the film is in its realistic and gritty portrayal of tactical manouvers and director Hickox's ground-level detail. Most of the screentime is given to character actors playing the unnamed British and Zulu soldiers. Its their boredom, their pain, and their deaths we're privy to. According to historical record, they're disposed of as swiftly as they would have been in battle. Unlike a Hollywood film, their deaths are not glorious and the camera does not linger on them with a swelled musical score. They die and the battle continues. Zulu Dawn is filled with sobering moments of realism that allow the viewer to marvel at the wanton destruction of war and reflect on its ultimate futility.
The one Hollywood touch is the brilliant and now legendary score from Elmer Bernstein. It's used only sparsely in the film but when it is, you can feel your blood pressure rise. The theme was recently used in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds to great effect.
April 19, 2010
The story is framed in a flashback narrative, beginning when de Cervantes (O'Toole) is arrested for performing a stage version of Don Quixote and thrown in a dungeon. There, he tells his story to the inmates; the film cuts back and forth between him narrating and re-enacting some of the play with his acting troupe and the fantasy sequence where O'Toole plays Don Quixote and James Coco plays Sancho Panza. Another prisoner in the dungeon is Aldonza (Sophia Loren), whom Cervantes as Quixana/Quixote incorporates into his narrative as the girl of his dreams, Dulcinea. Loren's singing is quite good, probably the best in the cast and I think she gives the performance of the film. As outre and manic as O'Toole is, Loren is brimming with repressed fury, both as Aldonza who wants nothing more than to be left alone to rot, and as Dulcinea who refuses to concede Quixote is anything but insane.
As Cervantes...putting on a show in the dungeon...as Quixote at the end of his tale.
Besides Loren and occasionally O'Toole, there's nothing much to enjoy in the picture. One bright spot is the makeup effects on O'Toole. You can see here that the film does a good job transforming him in his many incarnations. Notice, too, how the Quixote makeup in the dungeon scenes is subtly less sophisticated than the fantasy Quixote makeup. Nice touch that grounds the action in reality and helps differentiate the timeline of the narrative. O'Toole is probably least recognizable in this film than any other I've profiled, in part because of the makeup but also because his performance differs widely from even the other mentally unstable characters he's played.
April 18, 2010
April 17, 2010
April 16, 2010
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April 14, 2010
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April 11, 2010
Title: How to Steal a Million (William Wyler, 1966)
Role: Simon Dermott, suave cat burglar
April 10, 2010
Which brings me to round two: comedies. Arguably a more interesting category ripe for speculation of the "What was he thinking?" variety, although the answer as we'll well see is usually beautiful locations, copious alcohol, gorgeous women or a combination of all three.
Title: What's New Pussycat (Clive Donner & Richard Talmadge, 1965)
Role: Michael James, whose job is a lecher's dream
In this early scene, O'Toole visits a mad Viennese psychoanalyst, played with his usual manic genius by Peter Sellers. There he outlines the basic plot, if the film can be said to have a plot, rather than a series of gags strung together however tenuously. O'Toole has a massive weakness for beautiful women, the kind of women that make a man crazy. They flock to him like bees to honey. The problem is, he's in love with his fiancee Carole (Romy Schneider) and doesn't want to cheat. Therefore, he consults Dr. Fritz (Sellers), who he doesn't know is even more neurotic than he is.
April 9, 2010
April 8, 2010
My Favorite Year (Richard Benjamin, 1982)
Role: Washed-up, alcoholic swashbuckler Alan Swann
Full disclosure: I don't like this film. But, a whole heck of a lot of other people really do. It's something of a sentimental favorite for a lot of people. My Favorite Year is that kind of film: sentimental. Practically dripping for nostalgia, it's the story of a young television writer in the 1950s working for a Sid Caeser-esque comedian. The writer has to chaperone O'Toole's character, an Errol Flynn-like gentleman boozer as he rehearses for his guest spot on the variety show. There's a lame mob sub-plot and lots of Mel Brooks-type humor, like this. Still, although I couldn't stand nearly everything in the film, like many times before, O'Toole saves the picture. It's a light-comic farce so it's easy to forget the facility and grace it takes an actor to perform the physical comedy and repartee the part of Alan Swann requires. But there's also some surprisingly heavy lifting to be done; Swann is an unrepentant alcoholic with a daughter he's never even met. Kind of a jerk, really. O'Toole provides the charm needed to balance the character effectively.
April 7, 2010
The Stunt Man (Richard Rush, 1980)
Role: Eli Cross, maniacal film director
To be honest, I haven't seen The Stunt Man yet. When I set out on my O'Toole-a-thon it was one of the films I was anticipating the most. Cult reputation, Oscar nomination and the clips onYouTube were phenomenal, classic O'Toole. The problem, like so many of O'Toole's work, was inaccessibility. The Stunt Man has a nightmare production history. Director Richard Rush had tried to get the film made since the early '70s. It was finally filmed in 1978, only to have its release delayed until 1980. Box office was a disaster even for the early '80s, one of Hollywood's least lucrative and artistically fulfilling periods. Even though the film garnered rave reviews, Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations, for whatever reason, the studio didn't release the film to a wide market; it had a long run in Los Angeles theaters but that was about it.
However, although the film itself is not available on Netflix (the special edition DVD was released in 2001 with only 100,000 copies), the making-of documentary The Sinister Saga of Making the Stunt Man, is. So, I rented it. Narrated by director Richard Rush, it's a video cam-style doc, strangely '80s with its cheesy special effects, shoddy green screen work and bizarre narration. But, if you can get past the weirdness of the delivery, the content is amazing. Even if you haven't since the film, the doc gives incredibly detailed insight into the minutia of the filmmaking process. Rush covers everything from how the property came to his attention, his decade-long fight with studios and producers to get the film made even after he had other commercial successes to his name, casting, script rewrites, production stories, and distribution nightmares. Any aspiring director should watch this documentary, if only to mentally prepare himself for the ridiculous hoops you have to jump through to get a movie made in Hollywood. The doc is long (nearly two hours) and grows tedious sometimes, but due to the sheer wealth of information here, aspiring filmmakers and hardcore fans of The Stunt Man should give it a look.
April 6, 2010
The Ruling Class (Peter Medak, 1972)
Role: Jack Gurney, the 14th Earl of Gurney, aka Jesus Christ, aka Jack the Ripper
The Ruling Class is a crazy, crazy movie. An adaptation of Peter Barnes' play of the same name, Medak's film is a lengthy, caustic, outrageous satire that defies categorization. It is at once a comedy, a tragedy, a socio-political satire and a musical. The Ruling Class is intensely British, concerned with the ludicrous pompacity and hypocrisy of peerage and nobility. It is also a shocking, intensely honest look at serious mental illness. O'Toole's performance as Gurney, a man with acute paranoid schizophrenia is alternately charming and hilarious and legitimately terrifying.
The film is divided into two sections. In the first, O'Toole's Gurney believes he is the second coming of Jesus Christ. This sort of eccentricity would be tolerated for someone in Gurney's position, except that his father and just passed away and Jack is set to inherit his father's seat in the House of Lords. After undergoing electroshock therapy, the film schisms. Gurney appears cured. He no longer believes he is Christ and apparently settles down with his wife and new baby. The only problem: his delusions have not disappear, only shifted. Gurney now believes he is Jack The Ripper.
What the medical community calls "cray-cray."
In this scene, Gurney-as-Christ presents himself to his family and friends for the first time:
As the premise suggests, there are no easy answers in this film. It's certainly not a comfortable experience--
the length, the intensity and the psychological complexity require a lot of the viewer. However, in my opinion,
it's all worth it because of O'Toole's performance. This clip is called the 'scariest real moment in film' and I
can't help but agree. Overacting is notoriously easy to do, especially with a role like Gurney. Mental illness,
theatricality and satire is a dangerous mix for the hammy actor. But watch this clip and if that terrible,
animalistic growl doesn't legitimately unsettle you, I don't know what will.
April 4, 2010
Goodbye Mr. Chips (Herbert Ross, 1969)
Role: Gentle schoolmaster Arthur Chipping
From the novel by James Hilton, this version of Goodbye Mr. Chips is updated as a musical, but it's better not to think of it that way. The music and lyrics are not particularly thrilling and O'Toole's voice is nothing to write home about. The film is better viewed for what I think it truly is, a gentle, sentimental tale about a shy schoolmaster who falls in love with an outre music hall singer (Petula Clark). As cliche as that premise sounds, the movie works because of the chemistry between the leads. Chips is O'Toole's most nuanced, subdued performance on this list, possibly in his whole career. That he succeeds in that role as much as any bombastic king or madmen is an achievement and an intriguing thought. I wish O'Toole had taken the gentler turn more often.
The film itself was not a box office success and it's easy to see why. It sort of defies categorization. Like I said, it fails to impress as a musical, especially when compared to its compatriot and 1968 Best Picture winner Oliver! It's a period piece, spanning the 1920s-present day (late 1960s) in English history. In every period, Chips is out of place. His conservatism is mocked by the Lost Generation, he can't understand why the school is under siege during the air raids of WWII, and after his wife dies, he is as lost as ever, retreating to the memories of happier days. Chips is a man out of time, only content when he and Clark have married. She slower starts to open up Chips' world, becoming the beloved "mother" of all the students, past and present, at the all boys school.
This clip demonstrates the gentle sentimentality and fond nostalgia that infuses the entire film as O'Toole, after a lecture where he's failed to connect to his students, reminisces about his own bygone school days: