Tag Archives: Dabney Coleman

Tootsie (1982, Sydney Pollack)

Tootsie opens with Dustin Hoffman giving acting classes. He’s a failed New York actor–but a well-employed waiter–who must be giving these classes on spec. It seems like Hoffman being a beloved acting teacher might end up having something to do with the plot of Tootsie, which has Hoffman pretending to be a female actor in order to get a part, but it doesn’t. Save a throwaway scene where he’s helping love interest Jessica Lange work on her part.

The film, with its two (credited) screenwriters and two story concocters (though Larry Gelbart is both), is a narrative mess. Teri Garr, as Hoffman’s student and good friend, disappears somewhere in the second act, once Lange gets more to do. Bill Murray (in an uncredited, main supporting role) at least provides some continuity, which not even director Pollack (who also acts as Hoffman’s agent) gets to do. The conclusion of the movie is this swirl of contrivances, all forcefully introduced earlier in the picture, and no one who should be there for it has a scene. Tootsie just ignores the previous couple hours to get the coda to work.

And it does. Tootsie does, despite all the narrative problems and missed opportunities and dropped characters, come through for the finish. It helps having Owen Roizman’s photography, it helps being shot in New York City, it needs stars Hoffman and Lange. No matter what story problems, Tootsie never fails its actors. Even with it’s Pollack–Tootsie, the film, never fails Pollack, the actor, even if Pollack, the director, doesn’t quite have the film under control. Pollack’s got a great rant towards the end.

I’ll start from the bottom of the cast and work up just because I’m not really sure what I’m going to say about Hoffman yet.

George Gaynes is hilarious as this lech actor on the soap opera where Hoffman gets his job (as a woman). Gaynes just has to be a believable buffoon, but he does it with such ease, he calms Tootsie a bit. It never seems too extreme just because Gaynes’s so sturdy. He tempers it, along with Dabney Coleman. Coleman’s the jerk director of the soap. He’s also dating Lange. He also doesn’t have a big enough part in the story during the second half. Coleman’s still good though. He’s got the right energy–and right buffoonery–to keep it going.

Charles Durning is about the only actor who doesn’t get anything to do overall. He gets a lot to do in the story, he’s just poorly written. He’s Lange’s dad, who gets a crush on Hoffman when Hoffman’s “in character” as the female actor. It’s a sitcom foil, which wastes Durning; there’s also some continuity issues regarding Durning’s supportive dad when Lange’s character is initially introduced as an alcoholic because of being an orphan? Maybe I missed some exposition, but I was paying attention.

Murray’s good. He’s dry, he’s funny, he’s Hoffman’s conscience if Hoffman had a somewhat disinterested, bemused conscience. He’s present through most of the film, though, which is important. Most other characters just evaporate when the story doesn’t need them. Tootsie keeps Murray around even when it doesn’t.

Now, Teri Garr. She’s great. She also gets one good scene and it’s after the movie’s been ignoring her for an hour. It’s not a great part, either. She’s such a function in the script, she and Hoffman’s subplot literally kicks off just because his particular lie to her. Any other lie and it would’ve been fine. But her great scene is great. It’s a shame she’s not around more.

The same sort of goes for Jessica Lange, who shares the same space in the film as Garr, at least until Garr leaves. Then Lange gets to be around and sometimes she gets stuff to do, sometimes she just gets to sit around. Lange’s best acting moments are far superior to the script’s moments for her as an actor. Pollack works on directing Lange more than anyone else in the film.

Including Hoffman, who Pollack sort of lets do his own thing, to great success. Hoffman’s performance, as an example of comedy Method acting, is outstanding. There’s not much of a role past the MacGuffin–Pollack relies way too heavily on montages after a certain point, including a completely nonsensical one–but it’s an outstanding performance. The film positions Hoffman front and center, then transforms him into his new role–an actor playing this female actor–on screen. It’s awesome. It also is nowhere near enough to fix the script problems because Tootsie’s a fairly shallow movie overall.

And it shouldn’t be. There’s so much potential, not just for Hoffman, but for everyone in the cast. Lange, Garr, Murray, Coleman… okay, not Durning, but everyone else and a lot with them. And maybe even Durning if the film remembered Lange’s alcoholism subplot instead of forgetting it immediately.

Tootsie’s all right. It should be better, it could’ve been a lot worse. It’s well made, has a nice pace, has a nice Dave Grusin score–and a nice original song from Stephen Bishop–and some phenomenal acting. Hoffman and Lange are excellent and Garr ought to be. She just doesn’t have enough material. Because Tootsie’s a tad thin.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Sydney Pollack; screenplay by Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal, based on a story by Don McGuire and Gelbart; director of photography, Owen Roizman; edited by Fredric Steinkamp and William Steinkamp; music by Dave Grusin; production designer, Peter S. Larkin; produced by Pollack and Dick Richards; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Dustin Hoffman (Michael Dorsey), Jessica Lange (Julie Nichols), Teri Garr (Sandy Lester), Bill Murray (Jeff Slater), Dabney Coleman (Ron Carlisle), Sydney Pollack (George Fields), George Gaynes (John Van Horn), Doris Belack (Rita Marshall), and Charles Durning (Les Nichols).


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Nine to Five (1980, Colin Higgins)

Besides being extremely funny and rather well-acted, Nine to Five has a lot of narrative problems. The story isn’t a mess exactly, because there’s not enough story for there to be a mess. Higgins and co-writer Patricia Resnick have an idea (Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin are suffering secretaries) and not much else.

Fonda’s technically the star as her subplot has some drama and gets resolution with the son of a bitch ex-husband. Parton and Tomlin have lives outside the film’s main plot, but they aren’t part of the film. Parton gets two scenes, Tomlin only one. Higgins and Resnick get a lot of mileage out of those scenes–both for Chekhov’s gun or just texture for the characters.

Parton’s surprisingly appealing, Fonda’s good and Tomlin’s just great. But none of them are anywhere near as good as Dabney Coleman as their heinous boss. He manages to be equal parts familiar, odious and hilarious. Sadly, although the film’s thirty years old, workplace gender equalities haven’t really improved by leaps and bounds.

The narrative problems throw the film’s pacing off quite a bit. Getting through Fonda’s first day at the office takes twenty minutes, which sets the pace for a while, but the second half is summarized (if not abbreviated).

Under Higgins’s assured direction, Nine to Five shows a sitcom concept can work as a movie. More, it can be funny, insightful and rather well-acted.

About the only thing off is Charles Fox’s goofy score.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Colin Higgins; screenplay by Higgins and Patricia Resnick, based on a story by Resnick; director of photography, Reynaldo Villalobos; edited by Pembroke J. Herring; music by Charles Fox; production designer, Dean Edward Mitzner; produced by Bruce Gilbert; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Jane Fonda (Judy Bernly), Lily Tomlin (Violet Newstead), Dolly Parton (Doralee Rhodes), Dabney Coleman (Franklin M. Hart Jr.), Sterling Hayden (Russell Tinsworthy), Elizabeth Wilson (Roz Keith), Henry Jones (Mr. Hinkle), Lawrence Pressman (Dick Bernly) and Marian Mercer (Missy Hart).


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Amos & Andrew (1993, E. Max Frye)

The problem with Amos & Andrew is the execution. Frye has a good concept—a black professional moves to an island community filled with guilty white liberals and suffers thanks to their community interest, finding he has more in common with a two bit criminal than his neighbors. And the stuff between Samuel L. Jackson and Nicolas Cage is occasionally quite good. Cage’s performance reminds why him no longer doing comedies is a loss. Jackson isn’t awful (his character is a stereotype—Frye never gives him anywhere near the depth of, say, Lionel Jefferson–but no telling if Jackson could handle it if he had).

Frye sets it up as a comedy of errors. Islanders Michael Lerner and Margaret Colin mistake Jackson for a thief (because he’s black). It gets worse when the dumb, racist white cops arrive (there’s an oxymoron). Oddly, the villain—Dabney Coleman’s politicking chief of police—is one of the few white characters who isn’t racist. He’s just an ass. And Frye gets points for not shying away from the bigotry. Lerner and Colin never get redeemed, even after he makes them primary supporting cast members.

Maybe with a different director—Frye has no sense of scale—it could have worked out. He shoots a major media event in a shoebox.

Lerner and Coleman are caricatures, but Colin’s got some good moments, as does I.M. Hobson. Giancarlo Esposito, Loretta Devine and Bob Balaban all do well in thankless roles.

Amos & Andrew is almost worth watching for Cage.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by E. Max Frye; director of photography, Walt Lloyd; edited by Jane Kurson; music by Richard Gibbs; production designer, Patricia Norris; produced by Gary Goetzman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Samuel L. Jackson (Andrew Sterling), Nicolas Cage (Amos Odell), Dabney Coleman (Chief of Police Cecil Tolliver), Michael Lerner (Phil Gillman), Margaret Colin (Judy Gillman), Brad Dourif (Officer Donnie Donaldson), Chelcie Ross (Deputy Earl), I.M. Hobson (Waldo Lake), Jeff Blumenkrantz (Ernie the Cameraman), Giancarlo Esposito (Reverend Fenton Brunch), Loretta Devine (Ula), Bob Balaban (Fink), Aimee Graham (Stacy) and Tracey Walter (Bloodhound Bob).


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Dragnet (1987, Tom Mankiewicz)

Dragnet was a hit. I’m always shocked when good comedies are hits. Good comedies haven’t been hits since I’ve been able to legally buy cigarettes.

There are a couple things, right off, I don’t want to forget about. First is Tom Hanks. He’s such a good comedic actor, what he’s done since–the serious man bit–is nothing compared to what he does here in Dragnet. Tom Hanks, to reference another 1987 comedy, is at his best when wearing women’s lingerie.

The other thing is the script (which had three screenwriters, so it’s hard to compliment the right person)–but the script is brilliant. Dragnet‘s structure is impressed and the pacing is fantastic, but the film has these two characters–Dan Aykroyd and Alexandra Paul–who the audience is supposed to laugh at in almost every scene… but the audience also needs to root for them (and their romance–I mean, Ira Newborn’s got a great piece of music as a love theme–but rooting for the rubes’ romance should be a tall order but isn’t here).

Paul has a harder acting job, since Aykroyd is, after all, the hero.

The film’s nearly perfectly cast… Christopher Plummer is great, Dabney Coleman too. Only Jack O’Halloran is problematic. He looks perfect in the part, but once he starts “acting,” it fizzles.

Mankiewicz is a fine director. He’s got a good sense of composition mixed with a nice, straightforward style. The editing is quite good as well.

It’s just an excellent comedy.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tom Mankiewicz; screenplay by Dan Aykroyd, Alan Zweibel and Mankiewicz, based on the radio and television series created by Jack Webb; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by Richard Halsey and William D. Gordean; music by Ira Newborn; production designer, Robert F. Boyle; produced by David Permut and Robert K. Weiss; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Dan Aykroyd (Sgt. Joe Friday), Tom Hanks (Pep Streebeck), Christopher Plummer (Reverend Jonathan Whirley), Harry Morgan (Captain Bill Gannon), Alexandra Paul (Connie Swail), Jack O’Halloran (Emil Muzz), Elizabeth Ashley (Jane Kirkpatrick), Dabney Coleman (Jerry Caesar), Kathleen Freeman (Enid Borden), Bruce Gray (Mayor Parvin) and Lenka Peterson (Granny Mundy).


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