Tag Archives: Ann-Margret

The Cheap Detective (1978, Robert Moore)

It was until after The Cheap Detective was over I realized there’s never anything about Peter Falk’s fee. It’s not clear whether he’s cheap or not. It’s never addressed. It’s one of the many things Neil Simon’s screenplay never gets around to addressing, like if the third act is all a scheme or if it’s all coincidental. It doesn’t much matter–by the third act, The Cheap Detective is so overflowing with characters (there are twenty-three actors listed in the opening titles), and the movie’s less than ninety minutes, it’d be impossible to fit in a good scheme reveal. Not to say the ending is satisfactory. It’s still lazy. It’s just easy to understand why Simon didn’t try for anything ambitious. The movie’s just too crowded.

The Cheap Detective is a mix of The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, set in San Francisco, but still with Nazis after French resistance fighters. The difference is the Nazis are from the Cincinnati chapter and the French resistance fighters just want to open a bistro in Oakland. Cheap Detective has a lot of cheap, deadpan jokes, which only go over thanks to the cast.

Because even though the film’s too small–it’s mostly interiors and the same ones, over and over (budget, presumably)–and Simon doesn’t do much with the script besides the amalgamation of Bogart movies played for laughs, the cast is almost always exceptional. And, when they aren’t, it’s usually because the jokes bad.

Falk is the Bogart caricature. More on Falk in a bit, I need to get through the supporting cast. First, the characters cribbed from Falcon and Casablanca. Falcon: Madeline Kahn is Mary Astor, Marsha Mason is Gladys George (partner’s widow), Dom DeLuise is Peter Lorre, John Houseman is Sydney Greenstreet, Paul Williams is Elisha Cook Jr., and Stockard Channing is de facto Lee Patrick (the secretary). Casablanca: Louise Fletcher is Ingrid Bergman, Fernando Lamas is Paul Henreid, Scatman Crothers is Dooley Wilson, Nicol Williamson is the Nazi commander. Ann-Margret and Sid Caesar are kind of riffs on Big Sleep characters but barely. Then James Coco is around–in the Casablanca stuff–as the club owner, since Falk is the detective not Rick. And Eileen Brennan, in the film’s fourth biggest part, is a sultry night club performer who falls for Falk. Or does she.

Simon’s script adapts scenes from both Falcon and Casablanca, somewhat successfully merging the two. It’s silly, smile-provoking, but effective. Kahn is fantastic, DeLuise is fantastic, Mason is fantastic. Brennan’s good with a thin part folded in on itself, Lamas is good, Ann-Margret is fun, John Houseman does a fine impression (it’s interesting to contrast him with DeLuise or Williams, who aren’t aping the source performances as much). Channing is good. She’s got almost nothing to do. Ditto Williamson. Crothers is basically a cameo. In some ways, so is Coco. Fletcher is the least successful, partially because of the part, partially because she still functions like Ilsa in Casablanca only without any chemistry with Falk.

And now it’s time for some Falk discussion, which–sadly–doesn’t rhyme with frank as much as I’d like.

Falk moves through Cheap Detective amiably, humorously, but always as support for his more outlandish costars. He’s not the straight man; he’s a little befuddled (or is he) and he’s always subdued. He’s a great costar. He’s not a great lead. Anyone putting in any effort dominates their scenes with him (so, basically, not Houseman and not Fletcher, though for different reasons).

Even though Falk’s The Cheap Detective, he’s barely the lead and definitely not the protagonist, not with Simon’s third act shenanigans. Those shenanigans are particularly disappointing because the film’s never better than at the end of the second act, when it seems like it might add up to something.

I suppose it does add up to something, but not anything ambitious or even enthusiastic.

Nice music from Patrick Williams. Decent photography from John A. Alonzo, though there’s only so much he can do given the obviously limited shooting locations. Sidney Levin and Michael A. Stevenson’s editing is a mess. They can’t cut to or from close-ups; some of the problem appears to be Robert Moore’s composition. Cheap Detective is Panavision and almost charming for it, but Moore runs out of shots fast and keeps using the same three-shot over and over again. The shots become predictable. And if you’re familiar with the source material, the scenes become predictable. Cheap Detective gets by thanks to the cast and their enthusiasm more than anything the filmmakers contribute.

The film seems like a better idea than it turns out to be in execution, but there’s still some excellent material throughout. And Kahn, Mason, DeLuise, and Brennan are all great.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Moore; written by Neil Simon; director of photography, John A. Alonzo; edited by Sidney Levin and Michael A. Stevenson; music by Patrick Williams; production designer, Robert Luthardt; produced by Ray Stark; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Peter Falk (Lou Peckinpaugh), Madeline Kahn (Mrs. Montenegro), Marsha Mason (Georgia Merkle), Eileen Brennan (Betty DeBoop), Louise Fletcher (Marlene DuChard), Fernando Lamas (Paul DuChard), Ann-Margret (Jezebel Dezire), Stockard Channing (Bess), Dom DeLuise (Pepe Damascus), James Coco (Marcel), Nicol Williamson (Colonel Schlissel), Scatman Crothers (Tinker), Paul Williams (Boy), John Houseman (Jasper Blubber), Vic Tayback (Lt. DiMaggio), and Sid Caesar (Ezra Dezire).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE NEIL SIMON BLOGATHON HOSTED BY PADDY LEE OF CAFTAN WOMAN and RICH OF WIDE SCREEN WORLD.


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The Tiger and the Pussycat (1967, Dino Risi)

The Tiger and the Pussycat tells the sad tale of forty-five year-old businessman, Vittorio Gassman. He’s just become a grandfather. His college-age son wants to have long hair. All of his wife’s friends are abandoned women; their husbands have run off with younger women. Gassman is dissatisfied. Upon finding his son attempting suicide over a girl (Ann-Margret), Gassman lets the girl seduce him. Him Gassman, not the son.

Hilarity ensues.

Or not.

Mostly it’s just Gassman being a different kind of jerk to people. Initially, he’s a successful jerk–The Tiger–but once Ann-Margret shows up, he’s putty.

The Tiger and the Pussycat runs just over one hundred minutes. It’s never particularly good, never promising. Even though Alessandro D’Eva’s photography is fine, spectacular on occasion, and Marcello Malvestito’s editing is nice, director Risi is so boring there’s never anything to get excited about. Except maybe in comparing how Risi’s male gaze on either tightly or scantily clad Ann-Margret has less enthusiasm than his male gaze on Eleanor Parker (as Gassman’s suffering wife) and her similarly aged friends. At one point, Ann-Margret’s mother has to console Gassman and the film had the closest flirtation with chemistry ever.

But no. Because while Gassman is a caricature, he’s at least an active one. He has some unfortunate slapstick attempts, but otherwise it’s a perfectly fine performance. He’s trapped by the lame script and lame composition, just like the viewer.

Ann-Margret’s bad. Parker’s okay; her part’s terrible, but she’s okay. Fiorenzo Fiorentini is cute as Gassman’s sidekick (the film barely has a supporting cast–Gassman’s the whole show). He carried on with a young woman and ruined his life. The script’s constantly setting up comical examples of why Gassman ought to get serious. That aforementioned “hilarity” ensues after he doesn’t acknowledge any of them.

The film gets a little bit worse at the end, which is sort of too bad because if it had just not gone on and on and on and on in the second half, it might have at least been tolerable. Instead, it’s Risi wasting his cast, Gassman giving a decent enough performance will suffocated by a bad script and a disinterested director, Parker not even having enough material to turn her part into a role, and Ann-Margret being annoying. Yes, the script fails her too–and Risi’s direction of her–but she’s still not good in Tiger and the Pussycat. She’s just not.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Dino Risi; screenplay by John O. Douglas, Agnore Incrocci, and Furio Scarpelli, based on a story by Risi, Incrocci, and Scarpelli; director of photography, Alessandro D’Eva; edited by Marcello Malvestito; music by Fred Bongusto; production designer, Luciano Ricceri; produced by Mario Cecchi Gori; released by Titanus.

Starring Vittorio Gassman (Francesco Vincenzini), Ann-Margret (Carolina), Eleanor Parker (Esperia Vincenzini), Fiorenzo Fiorentini (Tazio), Antonella Steni (Pinella), and Luigi Vannucchi (Company president).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 3: BARONESS.

A New Life (1988, Alan Alda)

Alda opens A New Life likes it’s going to juxtapose he and Ann-Margret’s lives immediately follow their divorce. For a while, it does. Alda’s got Hal Linden as a sidekick, Ann-Margret’s got Mary Kay Place. It’s all very even. She’s going back to school, he’s trying to figure out how to date. The beginning might even emphasize Ann-Margret more, as Alda’s attempts at dating are more for comic effect… but it quickly changes.

Once Ann-Margret gets established with John Shea, her portion of the film becomes a lot less even. Sure, Alda’s just introduced Veronica Hamel as his love interest, but their relationship comes to dominate the running time.

The problem—besides it being somewhat unfair—is Alda’s spending the wrong amount of time on each story. His character’s arc needs its own movie and if it doesn’t have its own movie, it needs less. Ann-Margret’s arc would have been perfectly fine with her as the primary protagonist.

I mean, Linden even gets second billing, which makes absolutely no sense if one’s looking at A New Life conceptually.

The acting is good. Shea has one of the film’s more difficult roles, which he seems to realize but no one else does, which leads to some problematic scenes, but he’s still good. Alda and Hamel are excellent. Linden’s hilarious, almost unbelievably so. Ann-Margret does well in the role as scripted, but she and it could have been a lot better.

Still, it’s a genial diversion.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Alan Alda; director of photography, Kelvin Pike; edited by William Reynolds; music by Michael Jay and Joseph Turrin; production designer, Barbara Dunphy; produced by Martin Bregman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Alan Alda (Steve Giardino), Hal Linden (Mel Arons), Ann-Margret (Jackie Giardino), Veronica Hamel (Kay Hutton), John Shea (Doc), Mary Kay Place (Donna), Beatrice Alda (Judy), David Eisner (Billy) and Victoria Snow (Audrey).


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