Tag Archives: James Gregory

The Secret War of Harry Frigg (1968, Jack Smight)

Paul Newman can’t play stupid. Harry Frigg is, for the first thirty to forty minutes of the movie, stupid. Even after he’s not stupid anymore–Sylva Koscina, quite believably, inspires him to improve himself–Newman’s stuck with the dumb, New Jersey from a Planters Peanut commercial accent. It doesn’t bother much in the scenes with Koscina, since the pair have great chemistry (though hearing Newman talk about going to college and having the Depression take the opportunity away is goofy sounding).

The Secret War of Harry Frigg is a war farce. Newman’s trying to rescue a quintet of generals from an Italian resort, where the guards are friends, et cetera, et cetera. He’s also pretending to be a general himself, so there’s plenty of opportunity for humor. Except the film’s not very funny, because Newman’s too good an actor for such a slight script. And his scenes with Koscina suggest a straightforward take on their relationship would be much more rewarding.

The problem–trying to do a screwball comedy in 1968 in Panavision and Technicolor–is no surprise. Even though Smight doesn’t screw up as much as usual (because Frigg doesn’t have the script for him to hijack), it’s obvious the film needed a far better director. Smight gets the absurdist comedy well-enough–like if it were a mistaken identity comedy with Abbott and Costello–but he doesn’t get the nuances of setting a comedy in World War II with the Nazis about to torture people… though the scene with Newman spitting, repeatedly, on a Hitler portrait is amusing.

The supporting cast is fine, with Charles Gray giving the best performance of the generals and Vito Scotti is good as the hotel manager turned warden… but there’s really so little going on and the movie’s incredibly long. It’s over halfway through–right after Newman gets a history–and the rest is just waiting for the reels to run out. Even the ending, which would be incredibly hard to screw up, gets screwed up.

It could have been a lot better with a fixed up script, but it wouldn’t have taken much to be just a little bit better and a little bit would have gone a long way here.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Smight; screenplay by Peter Stone and Frank Tarloff, based on a story by Tarloff; director of photography, Russell Metty; edited by J. Terry Williams; music by Carlo Rustichelli; produced by Hal E. Chester; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Paul Newman (Pvt. Harry Frigg), Sylva Koscina (Countess Francesca De Montefiore), Andrew Duggan (Gen. Newton Armstrong), Tom Bosley (Gen. Roscoe Pennypacker), John Williams (Gen. Francis Mayhew), Charles Gray (Gen. Adrian Cox-Roberts), Vito Scotti (Col. Enrico Ferrucci), Jacques Roux (Gen. Andre Rochambeau), Werner Peters (Maj. von Steignitz), James Gregory (Gen. Homer Prentiss), Fabrizio Mioni (Lt. Rossano), Johnny Haymer (Sgt. Pozzallo) and Norman Fell (Capt. Stanley).


RELATED

Advertisements

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970, Ted Post)

On rare occasion, I watch (and on even rarer occasion, finish watching) an utter dreg of a film. A film so bad I misuse the word dregs, which apparently–since it refers to a liquid form–must be used as a plural. Beneath the Planet of the Apes is just such a film. Immediately, with its use of footage from the first film’s conclusion (with a few added shots and different dialogue and music) and terrible opening credits, I knew Beneath was going to be bad. When “star” James Franciscus (it’s his real name too) shows up, I noticed he was better than Heston. Even though I just watched the first film, there was that lovely reminder of Heston’s craft tacked on to the beginning on this film. Since he has a lot of the same dialogue as Heston does in that film, one gets to see how nice a measured performance can be. Still, I put star in quotation marks because he’s not really the star of the film. In fact, the film’s such a failure of a narrative, such a waste of celluloid, I could put that last ‘film’ in quotation marks too.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes loses any hint of competence, adequacy, concern, once Linda Harrison shows up. Linda Harrison doesn’t talk. But she does flashback and we get to see her flashbacks, which are filled with Heston acting and bad special effects and stupid ideas. While Planet of the Apes was dumb, the filmmakers there at least were bipedal. Whoever concocted the story to this film must have had trouble chewing gum. So, once the Harrison shows up, the viewer is left with little to do but marvel at the film. I couldn’t believe audiences back in 1970 actually went to go see this film and go they did… the film made enough money warrant a sequel, which is funny, considering how it ends. And a viewer has to finish watching this film, I’m very adamant on that point. Its ending is so unbelievable, it has to be seen. I couldn’t believe it.

As far as the technical side of things, there are some great matte paintings. I’ve seen a documentary on the Planet of the Apes franchise and remembered the discussion of the paintings and when their scenes showed up, I hoped it’d go on for a while. Instead, the film pushed on through them and got to the dumbest religious cult in the history of cinema. Beneath tries to be a metaphor (which Planet of the Apes did not), featuring anti-Vietnam protesters–rather amusing since the apes aren’t really at war–and comparisons of the war-hungry gorilla (a new invention in this film, which has no reasonable continuity to the first) to American soldiers. I’m not sure if the cult is supposed to be the Russians. Probably (it doesn’t work though).

But still, one has to see it for that ending. Oh, and James Gregory is quite good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ted Post; screenplay by Paul Dehn, from a story by Dehn and Mort Abrahams; director of photography, Milton R. Krasner; edited by Marion Rothman; music by Leonard Rosenman; produced by Arthur P. Jacobs; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring James Franciscus (Brent), Kim Hunter (Zira), Maurice Evans (Dr. Zaius), Linda Harrison (Nova), Paul E. Richards (Mendez), Victor Buono (Fat Man), James Gregory (Ursus), Jeff Corey (Caspay), Natalie Trundy (Albina), Thomas Gomez (Minister), David Watson (Cornelius), Charlton Heston (Taylor), Don Pedro Colley (Negro), Tod Andrews (Skipper), Gregory Sierra (Verger) and Lou Wagner (Lucius).


RELATED