Tag Archives: Arthur Miller

An Enemy of the People (1978, George Schaefer)

Growing up–early, before I’d really seen any movies–I knew Steve McQueen was in The Great Escape (though I hadn’t seen it, I’d seen the motorcycle clip) and I knew he’d gotten his start in The Blob. When I first did get into film, when AMC was still the station to watch, I discovered McQueen had a method acting era (The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery). In some ways, he’s one of the oddest actors to accept as having a reverence for the stage, so it’s strange An Enemy of the People was a personal project for him. It just doesn’t go along with car racing. Enemy features some of McQueen’s best acting too, since his character’s different (quiet and passive) and he’s got kids. McQueen’s really good with kids and it’s a shame he didn’t get to do more movies with kids.

I didn’t know Enemy was an adaptation of a play until I started watching it, but right away–once the opening credits ended–I knew. A small number of sets, a lot of conversation, these aspects don’t necessarily scream theater, but something about Enemy does. A lot of filmic adaptations of plays scream it–I saw a lot of these in middle school and you can always tell. With a good adaptation, you can’t, but with the standard, you always can. An Enemy of the People is a fairly standard adaptation and, like most adaptations, its problems stem from not going cinematic enough. When a film has a present action of two days, there’s still some impulsiveness about it. It doesn’t have to be deliberate. Scenes can cut from location to location, people can be doing things at the same time and those actions can be important and visible to the audience. I’m sure An Enemy of the People is a pretty good play–it certainly seems like it from the film–but I expect filmic adaptations of plays to make me consider a stage production irrelevant. Maybe McQueen, in not doing so, just had more respect for the theater than I do.

Some of the problem, I’m sure, comes from the director, George Schaefer, being a prolific stage director and a prolific plays on TV director. The sets are beautifully designed and beautifully lighted, but Schaefer’s composition is a visual sedative. The story’s also filled with one dimensional characters. Only one character actually shows any depth and he’s hardly in it. There’s a brother against brother aspect to the story and it never goes anywhere beyond McQueen’s brother is good and Charles Durning’s is bad. Durning still manages to give a decent performance, but it’s one note. Bibi Andersson (the only Scandinavian in this Norway-set film) is also just decent as McQueen’s wife, but Richard Dysart’s got a small role and is real good. Robin Pearson Rose, as the daughter, is good. Most impressive of the supporting cast is actually Richard Bradford. McQueen carries the whole film and it’s a mistake whenever he’s off-screen for too long. It’s probably his most impressive acting work of the 1970s.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed and produced by George Schaefer; screenplay by Alexander Jacobs, from the play by Henrik Ibsen, as adapted by Arthur Miller; director of photography, Paul Lohmann; edited by Sheldon Kahn; music by Leonard Rosenman; production designer, Eugene Lourie; distributed by Warner Bros.

Starring Steve McQueen (Dr. Thomas Stockmann), Bibi Andersson (Catherine), Charles Durning (Peter Stockmann), Michael Cristofer (Hovstad), Michael Higgins (Billing), Richard A. Dysart (Aslaksen), Richard Bradford (Captain Forster), Eric Christmas (Morten Kiil), Robin Pearson (Petra), John Levin (Rose Ejlif) and Ham Larsen (Morten).


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Everybody Wins (1990, Karel Reisz)

What a weird movie. Debra Winger cannot act. Don’t know exactly why Terms of Endearment worked, but she cannot act. She’s really terrible in this one. Arthur Miller adapted his play, which was from 1982–except it was a one act play. Somewhere in the adaptation, Everybody Wins becomes a ludicrous attempt at a thriller. It’s set in a Connecticut town, which looks a lot like Pennsylvania in the film, and Reisz gives the setting absolutely no personality.

Winger convinces Nick Nolte to investigate a case, except she’s a total flake and doesn’t tell him anything about the case until the last fifteen minutes. So, right away, it’s unbelievable for Nolte, playing a renowned investigator, would put up with Winger. Most of their scenes involve her hiding something from him, but he sticks around… because if he left, it’d be a one act movie. Will Patton shows up for a bit and he’s fine. He and Nolte have an interesting relationship for a few scenes. Poor Jack Warden stuck in a nothing role, just to pop in whenever you’ve forgotten he’s in the movie.

It’s not really a case of the film being predictable, but once some of the clues come out, it’s unbelievable Nolte the investigator wouldn’t piece anything together. Except he pieces absolutely nothing together–in the entire film–which dismisses it as a mystery or detective film. There’s no real jeopardy involved, so it’s not a thriller either. Winger’s so terrible it’s not a romance. The film’s only interesting with Nolte and Patton and Nolte and Judith Ivey, who plays his sister (the character’s got an interesting history, but none of it, apparently, gets to come through in the film).

I’ve seen Reisz and Nolte’s other collaboration, Who’ll Stop the Rain, and I guess Everybody Wins is better. Everybody Wins is shorter and, for the first half, it’s just boring, not particularly bad. In fact, I think some of the beginning might even be good. Nolte does a good job, but it’s definitely one of his autopilot performances. Reisz has some good moments (just can’t make the setting stick until the end, when it’s too late to fix the film). There’s even homage to Who’ll Stop the Rain, which I can’t believe anyone would pick up on, but who knows, maybe there’s somebody else out there going through all of MGM’s Nick Nolte releases too.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Karel Reisz; screenplay by Arthur Miller; director of photography, Ian Blake; edited by John Bloom; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Peter Larkin; produced by Jeremy Thomas; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Debra Winger (Angela Crispini), Nick Nolte (Tom O’Toole), Will Patton (Jerry), Judith Ivey (Connie), Kathleen Wilhoite (Amy), Jack Warden (Judge Harry Murdoch), Frank Converse (Charlie Haggerty) and Frank Military (Felix).