Tag Archives: James Whitmore

The Relic (1997, Peter Hyams)

Considering Peter Hyams’s career as a director began in the early seventies, it’s strange to see him reference Alien and the 1976 King Kong—these films being made after he got his start.

The Relic has the one big problem of Hyams’s career overall—he photographs his films himself and he usually uses this “realistic” palette. That palette is often murky and gray and Relic fits the pattern. It’s unfortunate, not just because it makes scenes sometimes hard to understand (as people move through a dark museum, bumping into strange objects), but also because it cuts down on the film’s sensationalism. And, at its heart, The Relic is a solid, unambitious b movie.

Hyams’s direction—lighting aside—is good. He has fantastic shots and a good pace.

But what’s so good about the film is the acting. Hyams gets this personable, charming performance from Tom Sizemore, which is both a lot of fun and very interesting to see Sizemore essay. It’s against type for him and he excels at it.

Penelope Ann Miller gets top billing and she’s superb. She gets to do a lot (including run from a CG monster) and does it all well. She and Sizemore are great together—but she’s great with everyone in the film, whether Linda Hunt and James Whitmore as her mentors or Chi Muoi Lo as her academic adversary.

Lo is hilariously slimy.

The third act has problems—especially the tepid ending—but The Relic’s an okay monster thriller with excellent performances.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed and photographed by Peter Hyams; screenplay by Amy Holden Jones, John Raffo, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, based on a novel by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child; edited by Steven Kemper; music by John Debney; production designer, Philip Harrison; produced by Gale Anne Hurd and Sam Mercer; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Penelope Ann Miller (Dr. Margo Green), Tom Sizemore (Lt. Vincent D’Agosta), Linda Hunt (Dr. Ann Cuthbert), James Whitmore (Dr. Albert Frock), Clayton Rohner (Det. Hollingsworth), Chi Muoi Lo (Dr. Greg Lee), Thomas Ryan (Tom Parkinson), Robert Lesser (Mayor Robert Owen), Diane Robin (The Mayor’s Wife) and Lewis Van Bergen (John Whitney).


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Madigan (1968, Don Siegel)

Madigan ends really well, deceptively well, but the whole film is rather well-written. The problems are plot and production related. I suppose there’s some problems with unbelievable character relationships too–for example, Richard Widmark’s workaholic cop and Inger Stevens’s would-be social climber are never a credible couple. There’s also a big problem with the brief implication Widmark is overcompensating for some (undisclosed) character flaw, something related to Henry Fonda’s police commissioner.

Besides Stevens’s poor turns in the first half (it’s not really her fault, the writer’s just can’t make her character work), everyone else is excellent. Widmark’s great, Fonda’s exceptional and–as far as I know– it’s Harry Guardino’s biggest role. James Whitmore is excellent, as is Susan Clark. The standout, acting-wise, is Don Stroud, who’s fantastic as a big dumb lug.

The last paragraph’s glut of positive adjectives is to make up for this paragraph’s expected lack of them. Even though Madigan is beautifully filmed in New York (except the night scenes, which switch noticeably over to a backlot), Don Siegel just doesn’t know what to do with the script. Madigan‘s a cop movie from the 1970s made with 1960s filmmaking mores. The location shooting works, but the film stock changes when it goes to set. The way Siegel sets up his interior scenes, in widescreen Techniscope, is poor. He either centers his subjects or he spreads them out. For instance, Widmark and Guardino are talking on the left side of the frame while there’s a guy being mirandized on the right. Siegel fills the empty space with the arrestee, when it’s clear he’d rather have him in the background. Having read Siegel’s autobiography, I know he hated widescreen–he got over it for Dirty Harry to say the least, but here, it’s very clear he’s unhappy with it.

But the film’s not poorly directed, oddly enough. It just doesn’t work right. Fonda’s side stories with Whitmore and Clark are far more interesting than Widmark’s search for the crook who’s got his gun. Even Stevens’s eventual flirting with adultery (a big theme–Clark is a society wife bedding widower Fonda) is more interesting and far more effective. It’s an adult drama fused to a cop programmer. The scenes with Fonda and Clark are amazing, as is some of the dialogue in the conversations, which is what kept me enthused throughout the boring plot. The dialogue’s incredibly insightful and human.

The whole thing would probably work better with every scene related to the “A plot” excised. It’d probably only take off twenty minutes too. Oh, and if not for Don Costa’s bombastic, over-the-top score.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Don Siegel; screenplay by Abraham Polonsky and Howard Rodman, based on a novel by Richard Dougherty; director of photography, Russell Metty; edited by Milton Shifman; music by Don Costa; produced by Frank P. Rosenberg; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Richard Widmark (Det. Daniel Madigan), Henry Fonda (Commissioner Anthony X. Russell), Inger Stevens (Julia Madigan), Harry Guardino (Det. Rocco Bonaro), James Whitmore (Chief Insp. Charles Kane), Susan Clark (Tricia Bentley), Michael Dunn (Midget Castiglione), Steve Ihnat (Barney Benesch), Don Stroud (Hughie), Sheree North (Jonesy), Warren Stevens (Capt. Ben Williams) and Raymond St. Jacques (Dr. Taylor).


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Above and Beyond (1952, Melvin Frank and Norman Panama)

Above and Beyond breaks one of my severest rules–don’t start with narration and then drop it. Above and Beyond starts with Eleanor Parker narrating the film, mostly because otherwise she wouldn’t be in it for the first hour. Once she is in the film full-time, the narration quickly disappears. I can’t remember the last time there was narration, but I don’t think it was past an hour and twenty minutes, which leaves about forty percent absent of narration. The film’s about the guy who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. I’m not up enough on my World War II history (from the American perspective) to know where the film made allowances, but it creates a compelling enough reality of its own. In many ways, the character’s saddled with more immediate responsibility than anyone else ever had before, which creates the condition for its success even though it fails on certain narrative levels.

The audience knows what’s going on and understands what Robert Taylor (as the pilot and commander) is going through. Except Eleanor Parker, as his wife, doesn’t know and the story–for a good portion–is from her emotional perspective. The film takes place over two years, with only the last hour being told in scenic detail. The rest is summary, occasionally tied together with Parker’s narration, occasionally not. The film isn’t quite a biopic, because it’s Parker holding the first hour together. Though Robert Taylor gets a lot more screen-time (maybe ninety-five percent overall), Parker’s a constant. The scenes with the two of them together, therefore, have to be perfect. They have to establish them as a married couple, they have to establish them as characters worth caring about–and co-writers and co-directors Norman Panama and Melvin Frank pull off those scenes. Maybe five minutes in that first hour is dedicated to such scenes and Panama and Frank get the work done.

Parker’s an obviously choice as the film’s best performance because she gets to do so much–play wife, play fighting wife, play new mother, play friend–while Taylor only has two general moods: upset and more upset. But Taylor’s performance is the better one–not through any fault of Parker’s, but because Frank and Panama understand how to address the gravity of the situation. It’s through little moments with Taylor.

The film came out in 1952 and has either a complex morality about the actual bombing or an undecided one. It accepts most reasoning on the subject will end up being flippant, but the film’s not about the overall morality, but the character’s. Occasionally when you turn a big story–a too big story–into a movie, something gels and it holds. Above and Beyond is probably the best of that rather specific genre. Frank and Panama manage to maintain nice filmic sensibilities throughout–giving the audience something to laugh at, making the marriage compelling–while appreciating they can’t actually tell their story… because it’s too big.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama; written by Frank, Panama and Beirne Lay Jr.; director of photography, Ray June; edited by Cotton Warburton; music by Hugo Friedhofer; produced by Frank, Panama and Allan Fung; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Robert Taylor (Col. Paul W. Tibbets Jr), Eleanor Parker (Lucey Tibbets), James Whitmore (Maj. Uanna), Larry Keating (Maj. Gen. Vernon C. Brent), Larry Gates (Capt. Parsons), Marilyn Erskine (Marge Bratton), Stephen Dunne (Maj. Harry Bratton), Robert Burton (Gen. Samuel E. Roberts), Hayden Rorke (Dr. Ramsey), Larry Dobkin (Dr. Van Dyke), Jack Raine (Dr. Fiske), Jonathan Cott (Dutch Van Kirk), Jeff Richards (Thomas Ferebee), Dick Simmons (Bob Lewis), John McKee (Wyatt Duzenbury), Patrick Conway (Radio Operator), Christie Olsen (Paul Tibbets Jr), William Lester (Driver), Barbara Ruick (Mary Malone) and Jim Backus (Gen. Curtis E. LeMay).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 2: TECHNICOLOR.

Planet of the Apes (1968, Franklin J. Schaffner)

Planet of the Apes is, I’m fairly sure, the first film I’ve ever watched and known the director started in television. Franklin J. Schaffner has a lot of dynamic shots–helicopter shots, three dimensional motion and camera movement (which is rarer than one would think)–but none of them go together. It’s like watching a different movie every cut. There are also definite commercial breaks in the film and the first hour, until Charlton Heston speaks to the apes, is really a fifteen minute teaser drawn out with a lot of monologues, walking, and chase scenes.

When I started watching the film, I marveled at how bad Charlton Heston’s performance is. He actually gets better, but it’s one of those cases of not knowing if he actually gets better or if the viewer has just been conditioned to his performance. It’s kind of funny, though, to see über-Conservative Heston in a role basically advocating (small c) communism. That correlation is about the only one I could pull out of Planet of the Apes and I had to use a big pair of pliers. We’ve gotten used to seeing science fiction as metaphor and there’s none of it in Apes. It’s an incredibly straightforward approach, which could work well in the film’s favor, if it wasn’t so inconsistent with its characters and generally dumb.

The problem with the film–its stupidity–is in the package. The film asks the viewer to accept this ape civilization–a planet–which doesn’t seem to be larger than a city, doesn’t know anything about science except has verbose scientific terminology (how did they learn them?) and has working firearms–lots of them–but supposedly is opposed to killing. The characters, with the exception of Heston and the two good apes, flip back and forth, the worst being Maurice Evans’s. He goes from being the big bad guy, to just a guy, to sort of a good guy, to a bad guy, to just a guy. Or ape. Whatever. I think he’s supposed to be an orangutan, actually. He generally changes character between commercial breaks (oh, and Schaffner doesn’t know how to do establishing shots). The film’s about ideas (and running) and getting them presented is the only important thing.

Once the movie gets to the end and Heston’s wailing in the surf, I realized it actually could have worked. There was a big thing–during the opening, the twenty minute walk–about Heston wanting to get off the planet Earth because he hated the way things were going (war–yes, this film does actually star Charlton Heston and it has a big anti-war message, one about 150 feet tall). Anyway, there’s a metaphor there, about Heston returning to the Earth he dreaded, where everything he feared had come to pass, and so on and so on. I wouldn’t want to write it, but I would have wanted to see it. Or, at least, I know it’d have been better than what they did.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner; screenplay by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling, based on the novel by Pierre Boulle; director of photography, Leon Shamroy; edited by Hugh S. Fowler; music by Jerry Goldsmith; produced by Arthur P. Jacobs; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Charlton Heston (George Taylor), Roddy McDowall (Cornelius), Kim Hunter (Zira), Maurice Evans (Dr. Zaius), James Whitmore (President of the Assembly), James Daly (Honorious), Linda Harrison (Nova), Robert Gunner (Landon), Lou Wagner (Lucius), Woodrow Parfrey (Maximus), Jeff Burton (Dodge), Buck Kartalian (Julius), Norman Burton (Hunt Leader), Wright King (Dr. Galen) and Paul Lambert (Minister).


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