Tag Archives: Jason Robards

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983, Jack Clayton)

Nothing connects with Something Wicked This Way Comes, though Jonathan Pryce’s performance is probably the closest thing to a complete success. Jason Robards is often quite good, but he’s both protagonist and subject of the film, which neither director Clayton nor writer Ray Bradbury (adapting his own novel) really seem to know how to transition between. Ostensibly, the leads of the film are young teens Vidal Peterson and Shawn Carson, who find their small town threatened by Pryce’s demonic carnival owner. But they’re just in distress; it’s up to Robards to save them.

Along the way–Something Wicked runs a long ninety-some minutes–strange things happen to the other townsfolk, at least the ones the film has time to introduce in the talky first act. Clayton’s direction is never scary enough, Stephen H. Burum’s photography is never atmospheric enough, and Argyle Nelson Jr. and Barry Mark Gordon’s editing is always problematic. Something Wicked’s target audience is teen boys but the script is about a fifty-something man coming to terms with waiting too long to have a child. If Clayton just went for creepy, it might have all worked out better.

Especially considering all the special effects until the finale are weak. The finale’s special effects are fantastic. They’re not on screen long enough–that editing is always problematic, like I said–but they’re fantastic.

Also unimpressive is James Horner’s score, which occasionally makes the film seem longer, even though it’s not bad. It just doesn’t work. Nothing in Something Wicked works. Except the aforementioned Jonathan Pryce.

The main supporting cast–Mary Grace Canfield, Richard Davalos, Jake Dengel, James Stacy–don’t help things. They’re too obviously contrived, too obviously pragmatic (except Canfield, all of them have shops in a row so it’s easy to introduce them all to both Peterson and Robards). Bradbury’s script treats everyone as a caricature, except maybe Peterson and Robards. Peterson’s performance isn’t good enough–he’s annoying–and Robards gets some lame material. Poor Diane Ladd has nothing to do, except go from being a tragic abandoned wife to a succubus, entertaining men while son Carson sleeps unawares upstairs.

Pam Grier shows up as one of Pryce’s minions and makes an impression thanks to some solid costumes and terrible special effects, but her few lines aren’t memorable. Same goes for Ellen Geer’s character, mother to Peterson, wife to Robards. Something Wicked’s characters ought to have some interesting backstory, but they just don’t. It doesn’t help whenever Bradbury tries to bring it up, he just goes with blocks of expository dialogue.

The film suffered studio tinkering, but it’s hard to imagine they broke things too much. Something Wicked’s pieces simply don’t add up to anything. It’s a shame, because the production values are great and there’s excellent potential for Robards’s performance. And Pryce’s good, regardless.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Clayton; screenplay by Ray Bradbury, based on his novel; director of photography, Stephen H. Burum; edited by Argyle Nelson Jr. and Barry Mark Gordon; music by James Horner; production designer, Richard Macdonald; produced by Peter Douglas; released by Buena Vista Distribution Company.

Starring Vidal Peterson (Will Halloway), Shawn Carson (Jim Nightshade), Jason Robards (Charles Halloway), Jonathan Pryce (Mr. Dark), Ellen Geer (Mrs. Halloway), Diane Ladd (Mrs. Nightshade), Royal Dano (Tom Fury), Mary Grace Canfield (Miss Foley), Richard Davalos (Mr. Crosetti), Jake Dengel (Mr. Tetley), James Stacy (Ed) and Pam Grier (The Dust Witch).


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The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967, Roger Corman)

Director Corman and–probably more so–writer Howard Browne construct The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre as a docudrama. Paul Frees narrates the entire film, introducing characters, providing their backstories–Corman sometimes mutes the film’s dialogue (during boring parts) so Frees can explain a little about the person. Massacre might be mostly authentic in its portrayal of the titular event, but it doesn’t matter. Frees, Browne and Corman could sell anything.

The film’s layered. It opens after the massacre and quietly backs up to explain it. It uses flashbacks a couple more times, specifically to explain the hatred between gangsters Al Capone (Jason Robards) and Bugs Moran (Ralph Meeker). Corman doesn’t open with either of them. Instead he opens with George Segal as a sociopathic gangster working for Meeker. It’s good Segal and Robards never have a scene together because they would have–and gloriously so–ripped the sets apart with their teeth.

Robards’s performance has a couple weak spots, but he still transfixes. As written, the character ranges from sorrow to anger immediately and Robards plays it beautifully. Segal has almost no quite moments; watching him is waiting for him to erupt. But he always remains somehow likable, probably because no one in Massacre is particularly likable. Segal just has the charisma to weather it.

Other excellent performances include Clint Ritchie and Frank Silvera (though the film loses track of Silvera).

Corman’s got some great shots; Milton R. Krasner’s an able photographer. Perfect score from Lionel Newman.

Massacre is fantastic.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Roger Corman; written by Howard Browne; director of photography, Milton R. Krasner; edited by William B. Murphy; music by Lionel Newman; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Jason Robards (Al Capone), George Segal (Peter Gusenberg), Ralph Meeker (Bugs Moran), Jean Hale (Myrtle), Clint Ritchie (Jack McGurn), Frank Silvera (Nick Sorello), Joseph Campanella (Albert Wienshank), Richard Bakalyan (John Scalise), David Canary (Frank Gusenberg), Bruce Dern (Johnny May), Harold J. Stone (Frank Nitti), Kurt Kreuger (James Clark), Paul Richards (Charles Fischetti), Joe Turkel (Jake Guzik), Milton Frome (Adam Heyer), Mickey Deems (Reinhold Schwimmer), John Agar (Dion O’Bannion), Celia Lovsky (Josephine Schwimmer), Tom Reese (Ted Newberry), Jan Merlin (Willie Marks), Alexander D’Arcy (Joe Aiello), Reed Hadley (Hymie Weiss), Gus Trikonis (Rio), Charles Dierkop (Salvanti), Tom Signorelli (Bobo Borotto), Rico Cattani (Albert Anselmi), Alex Rocco (Diamond), Leo Gordon (Heitler), Jonathan Haze (Boris Chapman), Dick Miller (Adolph Muller) and Jack Nicholson (Gino); narrated by Paul Frees.


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All the President's Men (1976, Alan J. Pakula)

In an American history survey class, when we got to Nixon, one student asked if we could cover it. She felt we hadn’t covered it well enough. The professor said we would not be covering it–everyone knew it. He was–obviously–wrongly assuming some knowledge of history from college students, a foolish presumption (I have MFA instructors who know nothing about history). I actually have some sympathy for that student, since unless she read a book, she might not know a lot about Watergate. I read the book before I saw All the President’s Men and I still remember a couple things from that first viewing. One, the immediately odd opening credit: ‘A Robert Redford-Alan J. Pakula Film’, and the halving of the book. Given the historical importance of its contents, it’s hard not to look at President’s Men as a historical document, but it is not. It might very well be the Harry Potter of its day, actually.

From the beginning, following that odd credit, I noticed the perfection of the film’s production. Every shot is perfect, every edit. That scene with Redford on the phone (President’s Men, particularly in the first act, is probably Redford’s best work) is beautiful. Alan J. Pakula outdoes just about everyone with this film. Even after the first act, when the film’s odd pacing takes over (it’s made for a person familiar with the events, another comparison to Harry Potter), Pakula’s composition is still striking. David Shire’s score is very quiet and Pakula uses it sparingly, instead going for great sound.

Once into the film’s action, once it’s established there won’t be any real character relationships, since the principals of the film aren’t involved with the film’s major events, the film does begin to lose some steam. The wonderful character moments, when Redford and Hoffman interact with “real” people (the film’s filled with great small performances from Lindsay Crouse and Jane Alexander–Alexander in particular), stop and, while the film doesn’t get repetitive, it loses some of the charm. For that first seventy minutes, it establishes all these great little performances, then whisks them away from the viewer. Instead, there are other great performances, from Jason Robards, Jack Warden, and Martin Balsam, but somehow, those performances are less engaging. Especially when Warden effectively disappears from the film. Maybe in those more varied scenes, there’s some additional William Goldman goodness. All the President’s Men is Goldman at, if not his best then certainly his most skillful.

I thought watching the film today would be… not difficult, but somewhat sullied by the knowledge of the modern stooge media and knowing Nixon and his goons were nowhere near as bad as Republicans could get (in fact, they weren’t bad at all, all things considered), but it isn’t. The film stands on its own qualities and while it is a tad of the empty side of humaneness, it’s the best film ever made with that distance. It’s the kind of film Soderbergh wanted to make with Traffic, but couldn’t. Because he’s not Alan J. Pakula.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alan J. Pakula; screenplay by William Goldman, based on the book by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward; director of photography, Gordon Willis; edited by Robert L. Wolfe; music by David Shire; produced by Walter Coblenz; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Dustin Hoffman (Carl Bernstein), Robert Redford (Bob Woodward), Jack Warden (Harry Rosenfeld), Martin Balsam (Howard Simons), Hal Holbrook (Deep Throat), Jason Robards (Ben Bradlee), Jane Alexander (Bookkeeper), Meredith Baxter (Debbie Sloan), Ned Beatty (Dardis), Stephen Collins (Hugh Sloan Jr.), Penny Fuller (Sally Aiken), John McMartin (Foreign Editor), Robert Walden (Donald Segretti), Frank Wills (Himself), David Arkin (Bachinski), Henry Calvert (Barker), Dominic Chianese (Marinez), Lindsay Crouse (Kay Eddy), Valerie Curtin (Miss Milland), Richard Herd (McCord), Allyn Ann McLerie (Carolyn Abbot), Neva Patterson (Angry CRP woman) and Joshua Shelley (Al Lewis).


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