Tag Archives: David McCallum

How to Steal the World (1968, Sutton Roley)

It takes a long seventy-five minutes to get there, but How to Steal the World does have some good moments in its finale. World is a theatrical release of a “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” television two-parter. It leads to an often boring ninety minutes, which improves in the second half just for momentum’s sake, leading up to the finale’s potential pay-offs. Director Roley misses all that potential as he’s an astoundingly disinterested director. Some of the framing and composition issues are just because it’s for at most a twenty-three-inch television set, but a lot of it’s just Roley. He doesn’t care.

The film’s opening credits are over an action sequence. Peter Mark Richman’s bad guy escapes from Robert Vaughan and David McCallum. Richman escapes with Eleanor Parker’s help, something Vaughan and McCallum don’t notice. If Vaughan and McCallum are anything, they aren’t observant. They also don’t get much to do in World, supporting cast intrigue of mad scientist plotting and T.H.R.U.S.H. office sex dominates the first half of World.

Parker is cuckolding runaway U.N.C.L.E. agent Barry Sullivan with T.H.R.U.S.H. up-and-comer Richman. While everyone’s looking for Sullivan and the world’s greatest minds, Parker and Richman are hanging out at his office. They take turns lounging on the sofa after they have to close the blinds because they’re too rowdy. The best part is Parker’s wardrobe changes almost every scene during the sequence, implying it takes place over some time. Meaning she just spends her time hanging out with her global villain boytoy. It’s fun.

Meanwhile, Sullivan is doing his unit the seven thing (there are seven of these great minds). Sullivan’s kind of flimsy. He gets this second half subplot where he bickers a lot with his head of security, Leslie Nielsen. It should be better, given where writer Norman Hudis takes it in the end, but it’s not. Maybe it’s an issue related to the TV-to-movie conversion, since it’s not all Soley’s responsibility. Hudis’s script isn’t paced well in the first half.

Anyway, Albert Paulsen is better as the main mad scientist collaborator. He doesn’t get anything to do, but he finally gets to have a great moment where he and Sullivan slap each other’s hands in the finale. He’s also the way Hudis throws in the young lovers subplot. Inger Stratton is Paulsen’s daughter, Tony Bill is Dan O’Herlihy’s. O’Herlihy is one of the kidnapped scientists; Bill teams up with McCallum to get him back. Maybe the scene of Bill pointing a gun at McCallum and telling the secret agent he’s got a new partner played better on TV.

O’Herlihy is fine. Richman and Parker get to be kind of fun. Parker gets a little more to do because she’s grieving, confused wife–Vaughan and McCallum are investigating Sullivan’s disappearance; they, of course, miss all her suspicious behaviors. Stratton’s not good. Bill’s bad. Nielsen’s lacking. He has a handful of all right moments, but it doesn’t pay off. More because of Roley’s direction. He’s not just humorless, he’s anti-smile.

And he misses this amazing finish for Richman and Parker’s affair. Hudis seems to get it. Maybe not. TV two-parters aren’t features, after all.

The finale almost elevates World. It seems like it should, with opportunity after opportunity. It just never happens. It’s fortunate. A lot of the cast deserves better.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Sutton Roley; teleplay by Norman Hudis, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” developed by Sam Rolfe; director of photography, Robert B. Hauser; edited by Joseph Dervin and Harry V. Knapp; music by Richard Shores; produced by Anthony Spinner; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Robert Vaughn (Napoleon Solo), David McCallum (Illya Kuryakin), Barry Sullivan (Dr. Robert Kingsley), Eleanor Parker (Margitta Kingsley), Peter Mark Richman (Mr. Webb), Leslie Nielsen (Gen. Maximilian Harmon), Dan O’Herlihy (Prof. David Garrow), Tony Bill (Steven Garrow), Albert Paulsen (Dr. Kurt Erikson), Inger Stratton (Anna Erikson), and Leo G. Carroll (Alexander Waverly).


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

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The Great Escape (1963, John Sturges)

While The Great Escape runs nearly three hours, director Sturges and screenwriters James Clavell and W.R. Burnett never let it feel too long. Part of the quick pace comes from the first half hour being told in something like real time and another big part of it is the aftermath of the escape taking up the last hour. So for ninety minutes, the audience is getting to know and like the characters. It gives the escape aftermath a breakneck pace, even though Sturges doesn't do much different.

The Elmer Bernstein score also plays a large part. It's frequently upbeat and congratulatory to the characters (and sometimes the audience), but Bernstein also bakes in the possibility of tragedy. The music can go from light to dark in a second and the film trains the audience to prepare for such moves.

Also contributing to the film's relative brevity is how the script pairs characters up. Usually it's a strong personage with a weaker one, but the actors do such a good job–and Sturges often sticks with scenes of characters' frailties until they're uncomfortable–the pairings are never hollow. Even Steve McQueen, who gets a huge solo set piece at the end, starts off with a sidekick or two.

Most of the acting is spectacular. Richard Attenborough might give the best performance; him or James Donald. They both have the most responsibility and it clearly weighs on them. But James Garner, McQueen, Donald Pleasence, Gordon Jackson, Hannes Messemer–also all excellent.

It's an outstanding picture.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by John Sturges; screenplay by James Clavell and W.R. Burnett, based on the book by Paul Brickhill; director of photography, Daniel L. Fapp; edited by Ferris Webster; music by Elmer Bernstein; released by United Artists.

Starring Steve McQueen (Hilts), James Garner (Hendley), Richard Attenborough (Bartlett), James Donald (Ramsey), Charles Bronson (Danny), Donald Pleasence (Blythe), James Coburn (Sedgwick), Hannes Messemer (Von Luger), David McCallum (Ashley-Pitt), Gordon Jackson (MacDonald), John Leyton (Willie), Angus Lennie (Ives), Nigel Stock (Cavendish), Jud Taylor (Goff) and Robert Graf (Werner).


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Wonder Woman (2009, Lauren Montgomery)

They really should have cast Rosario Dawson as Wonder Woman. Never thought I’d be typing those words–even if it is just voice casting–but Dawson is so much better than Keri Russell, whose Wonder Woman comes off as dependent on Nathan Fillion’s male for everything down to pseudo-feminist banter. Russell’s voice defers and doesn’t suggest any authority–well, except the script also bestows Fillion’s character kung fu on par with the Amazonian goddesses (are they goddesses, it’s never clear), which confuses things even further.

But Wonder Woman is still pretty good, even if its sexual politics are all trite platitudes. The most honest moment comes at the end, when it’s suggested men, even acting under the best of circumstances, need to be coddled by women into believing they, men, are still capable of offering something to the “weaker” sex. It seems completely unintentional, since only a few scenes before the whole problem with the world is boiled down to warrior women stepping away from it. You know who should have written Wonder Woman–Lily Tomlin. Was she too busy? A Wonder Woman movie written by a feminist icon, one who’s had time to reflect on the movement… would have been spectacular. Instead they turned it into a… pardon the expression… neutered Disney movie.

Well, neutered but still with lots of killing, sexual innuendo and almost a curse word.

It’s a pleasant surprise to be sure, but would have been as a feminist reaction to the Disney Princess “franchise.”

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Lauren Montgomery; screenplay by Michael Jelenic, based on a story by Gail Simone and Jelenic and the DC Comics character created by William M. Marston; edited by Rob Desales; music by Christopher Drake; produced by Bruce W. Timm; released by Warner Premiere.

Starring Keri Russell (Diana), Nathan Fillion (Steve Trevor), Alfred Molina (Ares), Rosario Dawson (Artemis), Marg Helgenberger (Hera), Oliver Platt (Hades), Virginia Madsen (Hippolyta), Julianne Grossman (Etta Candy), Vicki Lewis (Persephone) and David McCallum (Zeus).


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Frankenstein: The True Story (1973, Jack Smight)

While Frankenstein: The True Story singularly credits Mary Shelley as source material, the actuality is a little more complicated. A Universal-produced TV mini-series, True Story actually mixes some of the Shelley (basically, the end in the Arctic and a brother for Frankenstein), with Universal’s 1930s films, Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein (with a little of The Ghost of Frankenstein thrown in too). It also goes so far as to play Frankenstein as a bit of the patsy–he’s not particularly smart, just an assistant to a couple mad scientists. There’s also a serious homoerotic subtext to the film–first, Frankenstein rejects his fiancée for his mad scientist buddy, then becomes obsessed with the Creature’s physical beauty, rejecting it once it becomes ugly. The subtext disappears around the first hour mark, which is incidentally when Leonard Whiting, as Frankenstein, starts acting well. Until the point of betraying the Creature, he really doesn’t do anything but plead with his mad scientist friend to let him play too. However, once there’s some conflict, Whiting has something to work with, so much so, by the end, I was wishing True Story was a better story, just so Whiting’s acting wouldn’t be wasted.

There are a lot of good performances in True Story, but most of them follow the same pattern as Whiting’s. Slight in the first part, better and great in the rest. For example, Nicola Pagett was annoying as could be as Elizabeth (Frankenstein’s fiancée) in the beginning, but then she went from good to great in about twenty minutes. David McCallum as the first mad scientist is amusing, but nothing more. As the Creature, Michael Sarrazin is good once he starts getting ugly. When Frankenstein’s primping him around London (yes, True Story moves the setting to England for some ludicrous reason), Sarrazin looks like David Bowie glammed out. Once he gets ugly, he gets to show some emotion. Agnes Moorehead, unfortunately, gets stuck with this terrible housekeeper role with an awful accent. Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud both turn in small cameos (Richardson as the blind woodsman). Richardson’s terrible, but Gielgud’s great. However, whenever he’s onscreen, True Story belongs to James Mason. He’s playing this absurd, handless mad scientist (based on the one from Bride) but this time he’s got Chinese assistants and plans to takeover Europe. Mason realizes how crazy it is and he thoroughly enjoys it.

Unfortunately, True Story is a technical mess. The costumes seem to be intended to emphasis the men’s butts (given Whiting’s famous butt shot in Romeo and Juliet, I doubt it’s unintentional), while the set decoration looks like something out of the 1930s… at the latest. As True Story should be set in the late 1700s, I doubt I should recognize a chair as one I’ve sat in. Some of the sets are mildly interesting–like the lab–but once Mason’s pseudo-Chinese mysticism lab shows up, True Story‘s sets look like a farce. Jack Smight’s direction is, unsurprisingly, uninspired, but rarely bad.

For a mediocre three-hour film, True Story is actually pretty good. It moves fast and when it doesn’t have good performances, it has moments (the sets, the homoeroticism) to amuse the viewer in other ways. At times, in small ways, it comes close to being something special, particularly with Frankenstein and Elizabeth’s relationship, but more often than not, the writing stomps the life out of those moments.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Smight; screenplay by Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, based on the novel by Mary Shelley; director of photography, Arthur Ibbetson; edited by Richard Marden; music by Gil Melle; production designer, Wilfred Shingleton; produced by Hunt Stromberg Jr.; released by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring James Mason (Dr. Polidori), Leonard Whiting (Victor Frankenstein), David McCallum (Henry Clerval), Jane Seymour (Agatha), Nicola Pagett (Elizabeth), Michael Sarrazin (The Creature), Agnes Moorehead (Mrs. Blair), John Gielgud (the chief constable), Tom Baker (the sea captain) and Ralph Richardson (Mr. Lacey).


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