Tag Archives: Joan Collins

In the Bleak Midwinter (1995, Kenneth Branagh)

In the Bleak Midwinter is a sweet movie. It’s kind of a Christmas movie–it takes place at Christmas–and it’s this gentle, thoughtful, sweet but never saccharine or even really acknowledging its sweetness sweet movie. Writer and director Branagh puts a lot of work into the plotting of the film, without ever appearing to be putting a lot of work into it because it’s usually in the background. Because Midwinter is an often uproarious comedy and the comedy gets the foreground. But, in the end, it’s pretty clear Branagh’s made a sweet movie. It’s about a production of Hamlet, but the film itself is more akin to a Shakespeare comedy.

The opening titles has some monologue from lead Michael Maloney, then goes to a scene with Maloney–an out-of-work actor–having lunch with his agent, played by Joan Collins. Collins is great in the scene. She shows up more later, but she’s never as perfect as in that first scene. She helps set the first of Midwinter’s moods. The film has different moods and different narrative distances throughout. Usually they don’t change at the same. Maybe never. But as one changes, the other might react, leading to its change.

All right, I need to explain Midwinter. It’s black and white, it’s about a group of actors trying to put on Hamlet while all living together in this ramshackle church they’re trying to save. Their Hamlet is going to save the church. It’s Maloney’s church from childhood. He’s able to put the show on because of Collins.

There’s a funny casting sequence, setting up the eclectic band of actors. Then they all go to the church to prepare. It’s a big cast–nine principals. Maloney keeps the lead just because he’s directing the play. Hetta Charnley is his sister, who is the one who wants the church saved. She still lives in the unseen town with the church in it. Then there’s Celia Irmie as the production designer (sets and clothes). Richard Briers is the angry old actor. John Sessions is the openly gay actor–Midwinter’s 1995 after all–who’s playing Queen Gertrude. Nicholas Farrell, Mark Hadfield, and Gerard Horan are the male actors. Julia Sawalha is the Ophelia. Everyone’s got distinctive story details. Turns out Branagh doesn’t just want his actors doing comedy–including physical comedy–he’s got some character drama.

Midwinter is really well-written through the first half. It’s really funny, it’s really well-directed. Branagh’s not messing around. He and cinematographer Roger Lanser get some phenomenal shots in the black and white. The filming locations, the production design (from Tim Harvey), all great stuff. But then Branagh gets into the characters and all the actors get this revealed depth to work with. Except Maloney, actually. Maloney’s character arc is something else entirely.

And the movie’s only ninety-nine minutes. Branagh does all sorts of narrative moves in this thing and it’s under 100 minutes. The actors all get these great parts, then they get even better arcs and relationships. And all the relationships are building from scratch because the movie starts before they all meet. So Branagh is building all this stuff quickly and profusely. Nine characters he’s building in ninety-nine minutes. Plus Collins.

Over half the actors give great performances. The others give excellent ones. That latter group gets more material but not as sublime material.

Neil Farrell’s editing is a whole other great thing about Midwinter. The comedy, the character drama, every cut is perfect. Even though Midwinter is a shorter film about a rushed Shakespeare production, the sometimes rapid cutting never seems hurried. Farrell and Branagh always give the actors enough time. Then they cut.

It’s kind of a showcase for its actors, actually. A technically brilliant, marvelously written showcase for the cast. In the Bleak Midwinter is wonderful.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Kenneth Branagh; director of photography, Roger Lanser; edited by Neil Farrell; music by Jimmy Yuill; production designer, Tim Harvey; produced by David Barron; released by Rank Film Dists Ltd.

Starring Michael Maloney (Joe Harper), Richard Briers (Henry Wakefield), Celia Imrie (Fadge), Julia Sawalha (Nina Raymond), John Sessions (Terry Du Bois), Hetta Charnley (Molly Harper), Nicholas Farrell (Tom Newman), Gerard Horan (Carnforth Greville), Mark Hadfield (Vernon Spatch), and Joan Collins (Margaretta D’Arcy).


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Sunburn (1979, Richard C. Sarafian)

Sunburn is a Farrah Fawcett star vehicle. It’s really Charles Grodin’s movie for the most part, but it’s Farrah Fawcett’s vehicle. She can be down home, she can be glamorous, she can be faithful when playing Grodin’s fake wife (which Grodin can’t), she can be adventurous, she can be dumb, she can be smart, she can be scantily clad, she can be topless in bed but with her back turned. Because sometimes Sunburn is all about the male gaze. Sometimes it’s all about gentle comedy. Sometimes it’s bad car chases. Sometimes it’s about puppies.

In addition to Grodin and Fawcett, Art Carney rounds out the lead characters. Grodin’s an insurance investigator, Fawcett is his presumable local model fake wife (he calls an agency to hire her and it’s made clear it isn’t an escort agency), Carney is the local P.I. buddy of Grodin. Carney’s got some cred, but Sunburn is boiling over with credibility cameos. There’s Keenan Wynn, Eleanor Parker, John Hillerman. Wynn is in one scene and has like two lines. Parker doesn’t even get a close-up. She’s the widow of the case and Grodin never gets around to interviewing her. Hillerman has a couple scenes and no character. William Daniels at least has some personality.

But then there’s Joan Collins. And she’s awesome. She’s got the promiscuous, unhappy older rich married lady part. “She must be forty!” Fawcett tells Grodin at one point, hoping to dissuade his interest without appearing jealous. Because Sunburn is nothing if not a product of its time. Three screenwriters–James Booth, Stephen Oliver, producer John Daly–and the best acted moments in the film are when Grodin and Carney are mugging it for the camera. Seriously. Carney sort of assumes the space in the film Collins does in the first act or so. It’s unfortunate. Collins is a lot more fun. Carney is cute, but it’s a nothing part. Collins has a nothing part and goes wild with it.

Shame Sarafian can’t direct it. He can’t direct any of it. He goes from mediocre to bad to worse. Geoffrey Foot’s editing is awful, but it’s obviously a lack of available footage. Sarafian can’t figure out how to direct any of it. Not interiors, especially not exteriors, not his actors, not action, nothing. In the second half, once the investigation is going full steam, there’s almost some attempts at style, but Foot’s editing ruins it.

Álex Phillips Jr.’s photography is solid. Acapulco looks nice. John Cameron’s poppy score is preferable to the top 40’s soundtrack, which actually is part of the story–Fawcett is always playing cassettes on her portable player.

Grodin’s occasionally got moments. Not many, not great ones, but some. He’s able to survive Sunburn. He’s doing his thing, he’s doing it turned up to eleven, and he’s able to get through.

As for Fawcett, after a slightly promising start, she gets a terrible arc for a star vehicle and there’s only so much her likability can get through. The film lays on a lot of backstory to get sympathy, along with a clumsiness subplot it immediately drops, but it’s all show. There aren’t any real scenes between her and Grodin, just exposition–which is initially fine because of their awkward bantering–and when she makes her second act transition to intrepid, scantily clad adventurer, there’s just no support for it. Sunburn stops pretending it’s going to give Fawcett anything to do.

The cast of Sunburn is strong enough to do this thing. It’s a noir spoof, or should be. Sarafian can’t do it, the script can’t do it. The actors could. Collins sort of does.

Oh, and the non-credibility cameo stars. Robin Clarke, Joan Goodfellow, Jack Kruschen, Alejandro Rey. Alejandro Rey is awesome. Robin Clarke tries really, really, really, really, really hard. And he sucks. Goodfellow’s bad but likable. Kruschen needed to be the best credibility cameo. Sunburn’s Mr. Big needs to be someone formidable, because there is actual danger.

So, an interesting film to dissect given its motives, but it’s dramatically inert due to technical incompetence.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Richard C. Sarafian; screenplay by James Booth, John Daly, and Stephen Oliver, based on a novel by Stanley Ellin; director of photography, Álex Phillips Jr.; edited by Geoffrey Foot; music by John Cameron; production designer, Ted Tester; produced by Daly and Gerald Green; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Farrah Fawcett (Ellie), Charles Grodin (Jake), Art Carney (Al), Joan Collins (Nera), Alejandro Rey (Fons), Robin Clarke (Karl), Joan Goodfellow (Joanna), Eleanor Parker (Mrs. Thoren), John Hillerman (Webb), William Daniels (Crawford), Keenan Wynn (Mark Elmes), Jack Kruschen (Gela), and Seymour Cassel (Dobbs).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Eleanor Parker, Part 4: Guest Star.

Warning Shot (1967, Buzz Kulik)

Warning Shot is almost successful. For most of the film, director Kulik and screenwriter Mann Rubin craft an engaging mystery. Then the third act happens and they both employ cheap tricks and it knocks the film off course. It’s a rather short third act too–the film’s got a peculiar structure, probably to allow for all the cameos–and it just falls apart. What’s worse is the plot was already meandering (and promised more meandering) by that point.

David Janssen is a cop about to go to trial for killing an upstanding doctor. He’s got to prove himself innocent–or the doctor dirty–which means he visits various people. The first act–with Ed Begley as his boss, Keenan Wynn as his partner, Sam Wanamaker as the DA out to get him and Carroll O’Connor as the hispanic coroner–is completely different than the rest of the film. Kulik uses cockeyed angles, which Joseph F. Biroc shoots beautifully (though he doesn’t do as well with the hand-held look Kulik goes for in other early scenes). It makes all the exposition sail. The angles and the actors. The actors are very important.

There’s only one weak performance in Warning Shot–Joan Collins as Janssen’s estranged wife–all the rest are good or better. Even when it’s a single scene like Eleanor Parker or George Sanders. Parker’s better, she’s got a lot more to do than sit behind a desk and be a snot, which Sanders accomplishes admirably. George Grizzard is solid as Janssen’s newfound ally and Stefanie Powers is great as the dead doctor’s nurse. Lillian Gish has a small part as a witness and she’s a lot of fun. Begley, Wynn and especially Wanamaker are all strong. Carroll O’Connor as the–wait for it–Hispanic coroner is a little weird, but he’s not bad, just Carroll O’Connor playing a Mexican.

There’s a lot going on in the story for the first half of the film; the second half doesn’t have much material as far as the mystery, but it does have material for the supporting cast. They work at it and Janssen’s a phenomenally sturdy lead. He’s able to sell everything, from drinking buttermilk as a vice to fending off a seductive Collins. Bad performance or not, the latter seems unlikely.

I suppose the somewhat lengthy slide into troubled mystery waters is a bonus. It makes Warning Shot less disappointing. Even the finale, with its problems, should be better just because of location and Jerry Goldsmith’s competent score, but Kulik fumbles it. He also has some really bad blacking out sequences, one near the end, which might help to forecast the problem finish.

Still, some good acting, some great acting, a fine lead from Janssen; Warning Shot diverts for its entire runtime and intrigues for more than half of it.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Buzz Kulik; screenplay by Mann Rubin, based on a novel by Whit Masterson; director of photography, Joseph F. Biroc; edited by Archie Marshek; music by Jerry Goldsmith; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring David Janssen (Sgt. Tom Valens), Ed Begley (Capt. Roy Klodin), Keenan Wynn (Sgt. Ed Musso), Sam Wanamaker (Frank Sanderman), Lillian Gish (Alice Willows), Stefanie Powers (Liz Thayer), Eleanor Parker (Mrs. Doris Ruston), George Grizzard (Walt Cody), George Sanders (Calvin York), Steve Allen (Perry Knowland), Carroll O’Connor (Paul Jerez), Joan Collins (Joanie Valens) and Walter Pidgeon (Orville Ames).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 3: BARONESS.

Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys! (1958, Leo McCarey)

It’s hard to describe what’s wrong with Rally ’Round the Flag, Boys!; not because its ailments are mysterious but because the sentence is just a little problematic. Rally is a light handling of what should be a mature comedy. It deals with big issues–fifties suburban malaise and boredom, not to mention a strange post-war animosity towards the military–but director McCarey tries to do it all Cinemascope slapstick.

He does not succeed.

He’s lucky to have such a strong cast, because they really get the film to its finish. Its finish involves a Fourth of July pageant. The script lays the groundwork for that pageant real early, before taking a detour into a comedy of errors where Paul Newman can’t get away from Joan Collins’s roaming housewife, much to his chagrin and wife Joanne Woodward’s anger. The first twenty or so minutes setting up this part of the film are boring but gently amusing. Woodward and Newman are great together and Collins has a lot of fun.

Until her goofy dance sequences. There are maybe three of them. They all stop the film for a moment because they’re so awkward. Maybe if the editing were better. Louis R. Loeffler does a real bad job editing Rally.

But there’s also a tangent with teenager Tuesday Weld, who’s appealing but pointless if the film’s about Newman and Woodward. McCarey seems to be aiming high with the film’s ambitions, but he fails on all of them so maybe he wasn’t.

Rally’s fine, just unsuccessful.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Leo McCarey; screenplay by Claude Binyon and McCarey, based on the novel by Max Shulman; director of photography, Leon Shamroy; edited by Louis R. Loeffler; music by Cyril J. Mockridge; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Paul Newman (Harry Bannerman), Joanne Woodward (Grace Oglethorpe Bannerman), Joan Collins (Angela Hoffa), Jack Carson (Capt. Hoxie), Dwayne Hickman (Grady Metcalf, Comfort’s suitor), Tuesday Weld (Comfort Goodpasture), Gale Gordon (Brig. Gen. W.A. Thorwald), Tom Gilson (Corporal Opie) and O.Z. Whitehead (Isaac Goodpasture, Comfort’s Father).


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