Tag Archives: Goldie Hawn

The Sugarland Express (1974, Steven Spielberg)

After setting up Goldie Hawn and William Atherton as the protagonists, Sugarland Express takes about an hour to get back to them. Hawn and Atherton have an amazing setup–he’s about to get out of prison and has been transferred to pre-release. Hawn comes to visiting day but to break him out. She’s just gotten out of jail and the state took away their son. So she wants Atherton to come with her to get him.

They make it out all right only to end up kidnapping a state trooper (Michael Sacks) within the first twenty or so minutes. There’s a big car chase sequence–pretty much the only one of the movie, which eventually has about 80 cars in a shot–where Hawn and Atherton get the upperhand. Well, they bumble into it. But then Sacks isn’t really particularly with it either. Once the cops figure out what’s happened, they call in the boss, Ben Johnson.

So until Johnson gets into the movie, it seems like Sacks is going to take over as protagonist. But then he doesn’t. Because Johnson dominates the film. Intentionally. Director Spielberg, screenwriters Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins, they pull back from Hawn and Atherton’s story and fill it out with the ginormous police response. It’s the kidnappers followed down the highway by a line of a dozen cop cars. It’s quirky. Johnson takes an immediate liking to Hawn after she grins at him through the back window. Because Johnson doesn’t want to be a hard ass, he wants to help these crazy kids (they’re supposed to be twenty-five but he’s a softey), and he’s never killed a man in ninteen years on the Texas highway patrol.

The movie is based on events from 1969. Texas in 1969. So that character motivation raises all sorts of possibilites for further discussion of portrayal of law enforcement in popular culture. But for the purposes of Sugarland, Johnson’s an old softey and he wants to help all these kids–including Sacks–get out of the situation okay.

Eventually they have to bed down for the night–cops and kidnappers–and that break from the Express is when the film catches back up with Hawn and Atherton. There hasn’t been time for them to get a moment. And it’s kind of when it becomes clear how far Spielberg and the writers want to keep the viewers from Hawn and Atherton. They don’t want to dig too deep. Just like they don’t want to dig too deep on Sacks, who Stockholms way too fast to be an effective state trooper unless they’re really all supposed to be sensitive doofuses (no other cop in the movie is sensitive–just Sacks and Johnson–the rest are gun-happy). And they don’t want to dig too deep on Johnson, because, well, he’s in his late fifties and it’s a still Goldie Hawn movie, after all.

So there’s not going to be character exploration. There’s also not going to be much more comedy; Atherton is realizing the gravity of the situation. The adrenaline has worn off and he sees his death. Meanwhile Hawn’s convinced because they’re famous–oh, yeah, they’re folk heroes–they’re going to get their baby back. Only they can’t really talk about it because, well, they aren’t bright. The moments when you do actually find something out about Atherton and Hawn–about their backgrounds or situation–it’s a sympathy moment. Not just for the audience, but for Johnson and Sacks too. Because even though Sacks is a doofus, he’s not a dope like Atherton or Hawn.

Then there’s the next morning there’s the next big action sequence–involving the kidnappers, there’s a big car crash without them that Spielberg plays without absurdity but still want some humor in the danger–and it’s a doozy. Texas gun nut vigilantes go out after the kidnappers. They shoot up a used car lot, with Hawn trapped in a camper while Atherton goes after an escaping Sacks through the lot. It’s intense. And sets the direction of the rest of the film. The energy of it too. The first half has a lot of great editing from Edward M. Abroms and Verna Fields and it’s fast but it’s not hurried. In the second half, with Atherton deciding to officially offer to trade Sacks for the baby, the Express–save narrative-driven slowdowns–is accelerating all the way to the finish. Spielberg and the screenwriters are intentional with how they use their time.

The script from Barwood and Robbins is precise. Spielberg’s direction is always in rhythm with it, even when he’s slowing down or speeding up. He gets flashy at times, but always to further the story–or affect its pacing. And there’s this patient, lush Vilmos Zsigmond photography so it’s never too flashy. Then there’s that great editing. And the effective (and simple) John Williams score, which enthusiastically promises hope then takes it away. It’s a technical feat.

Of the performances, Atherton and Johnson stand out. Sacks and Hawn have a lot less to do. Well, Hawn has more to do occasionally but it’s really just more screentime. The first half of the film is Atherton in a panic, the second half is Hawn in a different one. Again, Spielberg and the screenwriters stay back from the characters. They’re caricatures the actors have to fill out, because if you fill them out too much in the script, then Sugarland can’t be Sugarland. Part of the film’s charm is Spielberg and the screenwriters ostensibly keeping things light. Because it’s a Goldie Hawn movie and she’s so cute and bubbly. Only there’s a sadness around the cute and bubbly. Because it’s a tragedy, not a comedy. It’s a tragedy with some funny parts and some exciting parts. But it’s such a tragedy instead of trying to cover all the factors, the filmmakers just implied them and the actors informed them through their passive performances. Because it’s a lot of Hawn, Atherton, Sacks, and Johnson in close-up. There’s a lot of time with these characters together. And they have to develop together. And they do. The filmmakers are able to bake in all the sadness without doing any excess exposition dumps.

Sugarland’s great. It all works out.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Spielberg; screenplay by Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins, based on a story by Spielberg, Barwood, and Robbins; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Edward M. Abroms and Verna Fields; music by John Williams; produced by David Brown and Richard D. Zanuck; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Goldie Hawn (Lou Jean), William Atherton (Clovis), Michael Sacks (Slide), Ben Johnson (Captain Tanner), Gregory Walcott (Mashburn), Louise Latham (Mrs. Looby), Jessie Lee Fulton (Mrs. Nocker), Gordon Hurst (Hubie Nocker), and A.L. Camp (Mr. Alvin T. Nocker).


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Private Benjamin (1980, Howard Zieff)

Quite a bit works in Private Benjamin, which makes all the creaky parts stick out more. Even though the film runs 109 minutes, a lot seems cut out. Characters just fade away, especially as the film rushes in the second half. But even lead Goldie Hawn just ends up staring in various montages–happy and sad ones–with her character development (the whole point of the movie) on pause.

Hawn’s nearly excellent–she would be with a better than director than Zieff–but still quite good as Benjamin. The first act sets Hawn up as a sympathetic, blissfully unaware Jewish-American princess caricature… though Nancy Meyers, Charles Shyers, and Harvey Miller’s script doesn’t really want to do too much commentary on that aspect. There’s one direct joke slash plot twist later, but the film’s initially just doing it to show Hawn’s screwed up life. Her father (Sam Wanamaker) is an indifferent, dismissive jerk. Mother Barbara Barrie is supportive, but in a limited way. Hawn’s love life is unfulfilling and gross. It’s depressing, not funny.

So when tragedy and contrivance land Hawn in the army, Benjamin all of a sudden finds lightness. Because as recruiting officer Harry Dean Stanton (in a gentle Harry Dean performance) puts it, it’s not like the ladies get the become killing machines in this man’s army. So it’s all sort of fun. Hawn slapsticking it through boot camp, for example. It has a number of solid laughs. It also builds up the supporting cast. There’s Eileen Brennan as Hawn’s commanding officer and nemesis. It should be a great role for Brennan. Instead, it’s a weak, often inexplicable one. The film goes out of its way to avoid giving Brennan her own material after a couple significant setups. It’s a waste of a performance.

Hawn has a pretty solid set of sidekicks in Mary Kay Place, Toni Kalem, Damita Jo Freeman, and Alston Ahern. P.J. Soles should be a sub-nemesis, instead she’s a pointless supporting player and it makes Soles grating. Hal Williams is fun as the drill sergeant.

In the second act, when Benjamin starts to be about Hawn’s character forcibly developing herself, the film hits its stride. Zieff either gets he shouldn’t dwell on it or he just doesn’t get it; his hands off approach leads to some of Hawn’s best acting in the film.

The second act also has Robert Webber as this wacky colonel with dumb nicknames (based off his own name) for everything. It’s silly and great, because Webber is straight-facing it all. Though the film ends up wasting him too.

Because eventually Hawn meets Armand Assante. And Assante is a rich, French gynecologist who speaks perfect English. He’s also Jewish. As an object of Hawn’s desire, Assante’s great. As her love interest, well, even with numerous montages, he wears out his welcome. He’s got a desperately thin part and ends up being the segue into the film rushing to bring back all its worst parts. And none of the good ones. It even scoffs at the idea of bringing back the good ones.

There’s also the weak music from Bill Conti. He plays up the military aspect, which is completely against what Sheldon Kahn’s editing is doing. The lack of rhythm drags down a lot of scenes. It’s like no one knows what anyone else wants to do with the picture.

Private Benjamin is solid situation comedy–sadly all Zieff can direct–with whiffs at greater ambitions. And Hawn’s a great lead.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Howard Zieff; produced and written by Nancy Meyers, Charles Shyer, and Harvey Miller; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by Sheldon Kahn; music by Bill Conti; production designers, Robert F. Boyle and Jeffrey Howard; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Goldie Hawn (Pvt. Benjamin), Armand Assante (Henri Alan Tremont), Eileen Brennan (Capt. Lewis), Barbara Barrie (Harriet Benjamin), Sam Wanamaker (Teddy Benjamin), Robert Webber (Col. Thornbush), Hal Williams (Sgt. Ross), Toni Kalem (Pvt. Gianelli), Mary Kay Place (Pvt. Glass), Damita Jo Freeman (Pvt. Moe), Alston Ahern (Pvt. Soyer), P.J. Soles (Pvt. Winter), Harry Dean Stanton (1st Sgt. Ballard), Craig T. Nelson (Capt. Woodbridge), and Albert Brooks (Yale Goodman).


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Seems Like Old Times (1980, Jay Sandrich)

Seems Like Old Times is an enthusiastic homage to the screwball comedy. Most of the action takes place at Goldie Hawn’s house, where she’s trying to hide fugitive ex-husband Chevy Chase from current husband–and district attorney–Charles Grodin. She’s a public defender who takes in all of her clients, giving them jobs so they can provide comic relief in their interactions with Grodin and his straight-laced pals.

It’s not a successful homage to the screwball comedy, unfortunately. Neil Simon’s script doesn’t have the rapid fire dialogue. He lets Chase sleepwalk through the film. Chase has some charm and he’s got some decent moments, but he’s barely in the film. Old Times goes more on Hawn not having chemistry with Grodin than it does on rebuilding chemistry between Chase and Hawn. Maybe because the problem isn’t her marriage, but him being on the lamb. And barely in the movie.

But even if Simon’s script were full of rapid fire dialogue to give it that screwball comedy feel–outside the absurd yet domestic antics–director Sandrich wouldn’t know what to do with it. Because Simon occasionally goes have a phenomenal scene, usually involving Harold Gould’s judge. Gould’s doing a mild Groucho and it works beautifully. But Sandrich doesn’t direct his cast towards energy, quite the opposite. Grodin walks away with the middle half of the film just because he’s actually being active. Hawn’s reduced to sitting around and waiting for something to happen to her.

And even if Sandrich directed it all perfectly, Michael A. Stevenson wouldn’t cut it together well. He holds takes too long, holds reactions shots too long. Seems Like Old Times is too slow. Having a fast moving Marvin Hamlisch score only does so much, especially since it’s not a particularly good score. It’s got good moments, but overall, it leaves a lot to be desired.

The acting is all solid, some better than others. Hawn’s best when she’s not with Chase as Simon reduces her to the straight man while tranquilizing Chase to the point no one’s running the scene. She’s still Goldie Hawn, after all; she’s adorable. Chase’s funny. Grodin’s funny. Robert Guillaume’s funny. George Grizzard’s pretty good in a small part. Gould’s great. T.K. Carter’s kind of great; he’d be better if Simon gave him all strong material instead of occasionally falling back on young black kid with white folks humor.

Seems Like Old Times should be a lot better. But it’s still got some solid laughs, a lot of smiles and a reasonable amount of charm.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jay Sandrich; written by Neil Simon; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by Michael A. Stevenson; music by Marvin Hamlisch; production designer, Gene Callahan; produced by Ray Stark; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Goldie Hawn (Glenda Parks), Charles Grodin (Ira Parks), Chevy Chase (Nicholas Gardenia), Robert Guillaume (Fred), Harold Gould (Judge John Channing), Yvonne Wilder (Aurora), T.K. Carter (Chester), Judd Omen (Dex), Marc Alaimo (B.G.) and George Grizzard (Governor).


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Foul Play (1978, Colin Higgins)

Foul Play ends with a celebration of itself. Over the end credits, clips of some of the film’s more memorable moments and characters play. It’s incredibly egotistical–I mean, Foul Play is director Higgins’s directorial debut, it’s Chevy Chase’s first leading man role… it’s an unproven commodity.

Except, of course, Higgins has every right to be so full of himself and proud of the film. It’s not just the best made comedy of the seventies, but it’s probably the best made one since the seventies too. And Higgins? Higgins’s directorial debut is one of the best directorial debuts. He’s in an elite club of five or six directors. The plot complications and the way he layers information and causal relationships throughout the film are only matched by the complex composition and direction. His approach to establishing shots is both distinct and inventive, brisk but deliberate.

Higgins gets great performances out of the entire cast–Goldie Hawn and Chase are wonderful together (and on their own, though it’s really Hawn’s film)–but there are some standouts. Dudley Moore is incredible, as is Burgess Meredith. While they’re fine actors, their performances here are extraordinary. I wonder if Higgins had them in mind when he wrote the script.

Billy Barty’s great too (in a similarly suited role).

In tiny roles (less than three minutes of screen time) M. James Arnett, Pat Ast and Frances Bay all stand out.

Excellent score from Charles Fox, excellent photography from David M. Walsh.

Foul Play is magnificent.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Colin Higgins; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by Pembroke J. Herring; music by Charles Fox; production designer, Alfred Sweeney; produced by Edward K. Milkis and Thomas L. Miller; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Goldie Hawn (Gloria Mundy), Chevy Chase (Tony Carlson), Burgess Meredith (Mr. Hennessey), Rachel Roberts (Gerda Casswell), Eugene Roche (Archbishop Thorncrest), Dudley Moore (Stanley Tibbets), Marilyn Sokol (Stella), Brian Dennehy (Fergie), Marc Lawrence (Stiltskin), Billy Barty (J.J. MacKuen), Don Calfa (Scarface), Bruce Solomon (Scott), Pat Ast (Mrs. Venus), Frances Bay (Mrs. Russel), William Frankfather (Whitey Jackson), John Hancock (Coleman) and Shirley Python (Esme).


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