Tag Archives: Henry Mancini

Sometimes a Great Notion (1971, Paul Newman)

Sometimes a Great Notion is all about the joys of toxic masculinity and apathy. At some points in the near two hour runtime, it might hint at being about the virtues of rugged American individualism, family, and maybe capitalism, but it’s not. Screenwriter John Gay avoids exploring those virtues like the plague or directly contradicts them in exposition. If not in the plot events. And director Newman is more interested in having fun. He’s serious at times, but outside one scene, he’s always most interested in the fun. The fun is usually when his character (Newman, at forty-five, is playing a logger in his early thirties) is being a rugged, adventurous, caution to the wind type, whether it’s climbing to the top of a tree he’s just cut the top off, dirt biking, brawling, whatever. You can always tell when it’s one of those moments because Henry Mancini’s score does its jazzy folksy Americana thing. Its loud, obnoxious jazzy folksy Americana thing. Newman, as director, uses Mancini’s score to do heavy dramatic lifting in scenes–not the folksy stuff–to the detriment of the performances, which is bewildering, since there are so many good performances in the film. Even if they’re not entirely successful.

Newman is eldest son in a successful logging family. Henry Fonda is the dad, Lee Remick is Newman’s wife, Richard Jaeckel’s a cousin. The film starts in the middle of a loggers’ union strike. Except Fonda and family aren’t in the union; they’re scabs (but not exactly because they’re just non-union; they’re still breaking the picket line and apathetic to their former friends and still neighbors literally starving around them). The townspeople aren’t too happy with them. Newman’s quiet, Fonda’s loud and demanding (and partially immobilized due to a half body cast), Jaeckel’s goofy (and religious). Remick and Linda Lawson (as Jaeckel’s wife) cook and clean for the men, but otherwise keep quiet. Their opinions aren’t to be heard. Newman and Jaeckel’s opinions aren’t worth anything (to Fonda) but they at least get to be heard.

Then, out of nowhere, younger son Michael Sarrazin–half-brother to Newman–returns home. He’s a long-haired hippie college graduate (apparently, it’s never actually confirmed he even went to college, he just gets teased about it) with a lot of emotional baggage. After Fonda drove his mother away, she killed herself. No one sent for Sarrazin, no one came to the funeral. He went through a suicidal episode as well. Most of that backstory comes out in scenes with Remick, who it turns out has interiority, even if Newman and Fonda don’t care. Sarrazin cares. Unfortunately, Gay and Newman (as director) don’t really care. The friendship (and possibly more) between Sarrazin and Remick is the most distinct thing about Sometimes a Great Notion and it goes absolutely nowhere and does absolutely nothing. Of course, even the successful elements in the film don’t really do anything.

Sarrazin starts working with the family, leading to some lengthy expository montage sequences about logging. Sarrazin comes into the picture a little while in, but Newman and Gay wait to look at the logging until he’s arrived. Except he’s presumably already been there and seen what logging looks like. But it’s a fine device. Just a little late for the audience.

The film’s set pieces usually involve logging. Then there’s a scene at the family’s house, often with Fonda yelling at someone, maybe with Remick looking sad, then it’s something else involving logging. Including the loggermen’s picnic, where Newman doesn’t just get to be manly with dirt bikes, there’s also a brawl between striking loggers and the scab family in the coastal surf. Set to the blaring Mancini.

Tensions are slow to rise in Sometimes a Great Notion. When crisis and tragedy strike, even as beautifully executed as Newman (as a director) executes them, they’re not a result of building tension. The movie has to pretend they are such a result, however, because otherwise there’d be no way to end it. And the end of the film, where everything comes together–the results of Fonda’s overbearing approach (at home and professionally), Newman and Sarrazin’s undercooked brotherly turmoil, Remick’s unhappiness, the strike, the neighbors, all of it–it’s a missed opportunity. Newman and Gay have the chance to open up Sometimes and they reject that idea, sticking with the tight focus on Fonda’s family.

The problem with focusing just on Fonda, Newman, and Jaeckel–after the introduction, Sarrazin’s got squat outside his subplot with Remick or opposite the boys–is it requires a lot of demonization to get there. If Fonda and company are jerks, but the heroes, the townspeople have to be not just godawful, but annoyingly godawful. They’re mostly personified in Lee de Broux, who’s always begging Newman to think about the town. Newman blows him off, but somehow manages to have more of an arc with de Broux than he does with Remick. Newman and Remick coexist in scenes, rarely interacting. de Broux, ostensibly, has an effect on him. But not really, because it wouldn’t be manly for Newman to develop as a character. In Sometimes a Great Notion, character development has to be regressive. Sarrazin starts the film a far better character than he finishes it.

The laundry list of problems aside, it’s well-acted. No one’s great, but everyone’s pretty damn good. Fonda’s underutilized as a thoughtless blowhard, but he’s got a couple great scenes. Jaeckel seems really thin–the movie mocks his religiosity, which is interesting and not a great sign–but turns out to have some real depth. Newman’s solid. None of his possible character arcs go anywhere, except with Jaeckel. In that one, he’s great when he needs to be great. And he’s good (and devilishly likable, of course) the rest of the time.

Sarrazin is good and constantly potentially excellent. The material’s just never there for him. Same goes for Remick. Apparently the original cut of the film had them hooking up for sure and it might have helped. Bob Wyman’s cuts are fine, but the narrative structure of the film is incredibly suspect. Nothing in the film suggests it’s going to result in its conclusion–not like foreshadowing, but doing the character development to get people places the script is going to put them. Sarrazin and Remick suffer the most. Newman prefers the dirt bikes and the brawls to the character development. It’s very strange. Like… if it did everything, the dirt bikes, the brawls, and the actual character development, Sometimes a Great Notion might be something special (and three hours long). Instead it doesn’t and isn’t.

Good photography from Richard Moore. Sometimes great. Lots of Sometimes a Great Notion is sometimes great (not Mancini, who’s at least sometimes okay). Newman’s direction is completely competent, patient, and thoughtful but it’s still a shock when he does something ambitious. If he’d applied the same energy as he does in the ambitious moments–which don’t have to be high drama scenes, but can just be when he actually gives Remick a real moment with himself (as an actor)–Sometimes would be a very different, probably better film.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Newman; screenplay by John Gay, based on the novel by Ken Kesey; director of photography, Richard Moore; edited by Bob Wyman; music by Henry Mancini; produced by John Foreman; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Paul Newman (Hank), Henry Fonda (Henry), Michael Sarrazin (Leeland), Richard Jaeckel (Joe Ben), Lee Remick (Viv), Linda Lawson (Jan), and Lee de Broux (Willard Eggleston).


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Touch of Evil (1958, Orson Welles)

Touch of Evil is a visceral experience. Welles’s long takes and long sequences–in particular, the opening tracking shot, the apartment interrogation scene and the oil field interrogation at the end, these sequences depend on the viewer’s understanding of geography. Welles and cinematographer Russell Metty brilliantly establish the setting; then Welles does whatever he can to distract the viewer from it. Evil is active, whether through the movements of its characters, the camera, or even how Henry Mancini’s score works. The film is always moving.

The narrative is simple, if truncated–even without the studio interference, the narrative would be truncated. Welles plays a dirty cop who finally gets called on it by a Mexican police officer, played by Charlton Heston–yes, Evil is the film where you get to watch Charlton Heston play a Mexican. While Heston works to prove a pattern of corruption (mostly off-screen, making the revelation scenes all the more striking), Welles buddies up with Akim Tamiroff, who’s out to discredit Heston. But Welles starts the story being about Heston and Janet Leigh as newlyweds; they’re downright charming folks. He eschews a character study of his own character, he eschews juxtaposing that corruption story against Tamiroff’s plotting, which might work too. All for mainstream, studio acceptance. It’s a movie starring Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh after all. Shouldn’t they be more important than Tamiroff or Joseph Calleia?

They “should,” but they aren’t. And Welles is upfront about it. Once Heston and Leigh split onto their own storylines in the first act, Heston spends his time playing second fiddle (not so for Leigh) to the supporting players. Heston enables wonderful scenes from Calleia, Heston and Ray Collins. Leigh has a great scene with Tamiroff before playing terrified. She’s good terrified, but she doesn’t have any better scenes than her first big one in the showdown with Tamiroff.

Welles, as an actor, is flawless. He’s showing off and still giving a great performance. He gets most of the film’s best scenes, but he also gives himself more a character actor role.

The entire supporting cast is outstanding. Welles is clearly thrilled to have them and lets them work; Calleia does an amazing job. Valentin de Vargas and Victor Millan are good in smaller parts. Marlene Dietrich is perfect in her “cameo.”

Touch of Evil is a brilliant film. Welles’s abilities once again survive the studio knife, which is both frustrating and fortunate.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Orson Welles; screenplay by Welles, based on a novel by Whit Masterson; director of photography, Russell Metty; edited by Aaron Stell and Virgil W. Vogel; music by Henry Mancini; produced by Albert Zugsmith; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Charlton Heston (Mike Vargas), Janet Leigh (Susan Vargas), Orson Welles (Police Captain Hank Quinlan), Joseph Calleia (Police Sergeant Pete Menzies), Akim Tamiroff (‘Uncle’ Joe Grandi), Mort Mills (Al Schwartz), Ray Collins (District Attorney Adair), Dennis Weaver (Mirador Motel Night Manager), Valentin de Vargas (Pancho), Victor Millan (Manelo Sanchez), Joanna Moore (Marcia Linnekar), Harry Shannon (Chief Gould) and Marlene Dietrich (Tana).



THIS POST IS PART OF THE UNIVERSAL PICTURES BLOGATHON HOSTED BY THE METZINGER SISTERS OF SILVER SCENES.


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Dear Heart (1964, Delbert Mann)

Dear Heart starts awkwardly and ends awkwardly. At the beginning, director Mann and writer Tad Mosel are very deliberately setting up their protagonists and the setting. The awkwardness makes sense. That very solid foundation allows for everything following. The ending, which plays–at least for Geraldine Page’s character–like a reverse of the opening for a while, doesn’t get to use that excuse. After almost two hours of extremely careful plotting and deliberate planning, Mosel doesn’t use what he’s been setting up. It’s very disappointing.

Mosel gets away with a lot so it might just be one thing too many. He plots this film over two and a half days–Page is in New York for a convention, Glenn Ford has just accepted a promotion at a firm there–and Mosel is able to throw all sorts of wonky ideas into the mix. Newly engaged Ford gets to contend with his future step-son crashing (Michael Anderson Jr. is fantastic in the role).

So Ford’s conflicts are both internal and external. He does great work in both areas, but Page’s are all internal. And her character is an extreme extrovert–the way Mosel works in how she talks about herself when just meeting someone is amazing–but all of that conflict, Page doesn’t get to say it. She shows it in this extraordinary expressions.

Mann’s direction is good, script’s great, Page and Ford are great. Dear Heart’s great. It’s just not perfect; I guess it doesn’t have to be.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Delbert Mann; written by Tad Mosel; director of photography, Russell Harlan; edited by Folmer Blangsted; music by Henry Mancini; produced by Martin Manulis; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Glenn Ford (Harry Mork), Geraldine Page (Evie Jackson), Angela Lansbury (Phyllis), Michael Anderson Jr. (Patrick), Barbara Nichols (June Loveland), Patricia Barry (Mitchell), Charles Drake (Frank Taylor), Richard Deacon (Mr. Cruikshank) and Neva Patterson (Connie Templeton).


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Without a Clue (1988, Thom E. Eberhardt)

Without a Clue has an amusing premise–what if Sherlock Holmes is a buffoon and Dr. Watson is the genius–and generally succeeds in executing it. Director Eberhardt brings very little to the film (one wonders if his single goal was keeping Michael Caine in the center of each frame), but the production is handsomely enough mounted, even if there is a lack of scope. Most of the film’s action takes place indoors, where Eberhardt goes for cheap laughs. Outdoors, at least, Alan Hume’s cinematography gets to breath.

Caine is hilarious as Holmes, but he’s nothing compared to Ben Kingsley as Watson. Kingsley brings intelligence, suffering and sympathy to the role, while still maintaining a commanding lead presence. Unfortunately–except for Peter Cook in a bit part and Nigel Davenport in a slightly bigger one–the rest of the cast has little to offer.

That problem is two fold. The script gives the supporting players, except Pat Keen, almost nothing to do. Watching third-billed Jeffrey Jones run about is painful, especially since his comic scenes are so poorly written and Jones loses his forced accent explicitly during his comic scenes. Lysette Anthony is mostly useless as the damsel in distress, though she does some quality; it seems Clue failed her.

Henry Mancini’s score is a lot of fun for the period; Mancini excels at the comedy scenes. He doesn’t do so well for the action-packed finale, but neither does Eberhardt so no foul.

Clue‘s a lot of fun.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Thom E. Eberhardt; written by Gary Murphy and Larry Strawther, based on characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by Peter Tanner; music by Henry Mancini; production designer, Brian Ackland-Snow; produced by Marc Stirdivant; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Michael Caine (Sherlock Holmes), Ben Kingsley (Dr. John Watson), Jeffrey Jones (Inspector Lestrade), Lysette Anthony (Leslie Giles), Paul Freeman (Professor James Moriarty), Nigel Davenport (Lord Smithwick), Pat Keen (Mrs. Hudson), Peter Cook (Norman Greenhough), Tim Killick (Sebastian Moran) and Matthew Savage (Wiggins).


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