Tag Archives: Louis Jourdan

The Great American Beauty Contest (1973, Robert Day)

Trying to figure out where The Great American Beauty Contest stands on the women’s lib movement is a headache. Actually, the whole thing is a little misogynist but not for the obvious reason–not because the titular contest’s participants are being objectified (I doubt director Day could competently objectify anything or anyone), but because it presents all the women as shallow enough to want to be part of such a ruse.

Oh, Stanford Whitmore’s script forgives a couple of them. Tracy Reed is all right because she’s black and she’s doing it to set an example. And Kathrine Baumann’s okay too. She’s just too dumb to be anything but sincere.

But Whitmore successfully demonizes Farrah Fawcett (and not for her terrible performance) and Susan Damante (she’s atrocious too, actually worse than Fawcett) so well… I spent the big reveal hoping neither of them won. Whitmore’s dialogue’s terrible, Day’s a bad director, but together they do manage to get some kind of investment from the viewer.

Maybe it’s because there are some decent elements. Eleanor Parker’s troubled contest organizer has a good arc. Robert Cummings is surprisingly sturdy as her sidekick. Best has to be Louis Jordan, who’s utterly odious and gleefully so. Jordan and Parker make the film worthwhile. Well, as worthwhile as it gets.

Another big problem is Whitmore’s artificial structure. He treats it like a two parter–Fawcett gets the first half’s big story, Damante the second.

Aside from occasional good performances, Beauty’s best as a strange artifact.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Day; written by Stanford Whitmore; director of photography, James Crabe; edited by Frank Capacchione, James Mitchell and Bruce Schoengarth; music by Kenneth Wannberg; produced by Everett Chambers; aired by the American Broadcasting Company.

Starring Eleanor Parker (Peggy Lowery), Robert Cummings (Dan Carson), Louis Jourdan (Ralph Dupree), JoAnna Cameron (Gloria Rockwell), Farrah Fawcett (T.L. Dawson), Tracy Reed (Pamela Parker), Kathrine Baumann (Melinda Wilson), Susan Damante (Angelique) and Larry Wilcox (Joe Bunch).


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Year of the Comet (1992, Peter Yates)

As far as I know, Year of the Comet completes the Louis Jordan as a mad scientist in search of eternal youth (continuing from his two Swamp Thing movies). There’s something so perfect about Jordan pursuing eternal youth, it’s not even questioned. William Goldman uses the device to complicate things in Year of the Comet, sort of to get the ball rolling.

Goldman’s plot for Comet is real simple–run the two protagonists, Penelope Ann Miller and Tim Daly, through Scotland and then France (in the most scenic locations), give them complications and let them be charming together. Daly shows off his mischievous charm here (big shock Comet went as unappreciated as the next time he showed it off–on the great show “Eyes”) and Miller does her charismatic leading comedic actress thing here and both work great. Yates really knows how to direct Miller here too, for great effect, and it doesn’t hurt Goldman’s screenplay seems catered to her.

Most of the scenes not concerned with being scenic (Scotland looks fantastic) have a lot of witty banter going and Goldman writes fine banter for charismatic leads. He gives Jordan’s character some fantastic lines too and Jordan, more than usual, really works together with Miller. They only have a couple scenes together, maybe three, but all of them are memorable.

The film runs less than ninety minutes–IMDb trivia suggests something happened between the start of principal photography and post–but Yates wisely casts very distinctive actors for smaller roles. In the biggest, Ian Richardson as Miller’s father, Shane Rimmer (in three scenes) as Daly’s friend and Art Malik as a suave bad guy (Malik’s the wine to Daly’s Budweiser). Malik’s only got three scenes, but his first one–with a great monologue for Miller–is fantastic. Yates knows how to make the comedy play here. So much so, it’s a surprise how well he turns around and does the other stuff.

There are a lot of distinct sequences in the film, but I’m only going to mention a couple. First is a fight on Loch Ness, totally fogged over, between Daly and Miller on one boat and scary-looking Nick Brimble on another. Yates mixes comedy, action and suspense–lots of suspense–and it’s a fantastic scene. (The film’s got excellent sound design). Oddly, that boat sequence is the one I want to see OAR the most (Comet is only available in pan and scan, the UK DVD apparently from the 1992 VHS master), just because Yates implies having such fantastic composition for it.

The second scene is the helicopter chase. It shouldn’t work, a helicopter chase through Scotland, but it really does. Yates has the right timing, Goldman’s script sets it up and closes it, and the music (by Hummie Mann) is perfect.

Year of the Comet is a lean–could have been longer in the beginning, I’m not sure with what, but with more–comedy throwback. I just wish someone would put it out uncropped.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Yates; written by William Goldman; director of photography, Roger Pratt; edited by Ray Lovejoy; music by Hummie Mann; production designer, Anthony Pratt; produced by Yates and Nigel Wooll; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Penelope Ann Miller (Margaret Harwood), Tim Daly (Oliver Plexico), Louis Jourdan (Philippe), Art Malik (Nico), Ian Richardson (Sir Mason Harwood), Ian McNeice (Ian), Tim Bentinck (Richard Harwood), Nick Brimble (Jamie) and Shane Rimmer (T.T. Kelleher).


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The Return of Swamp Thing (1989, Jim Wynorski)

The Return of Swamp Thing belongs on the modern movie equivalent of “Mystery Science Theater,” or maybe “USA Up All Night!” (I think it might have gone on “Up All Night” actually). But Return came out in the late 1980s, before the direct-to-video deluge and I saw it in a theater (an absolutely wonderful old theater in Chicago, beautiful woodwork). Instead of doing a sequel to Wes Craven’s original or adapting the comic book, The Return of Swamp Thing appears to be a family-friendly Toxic Avenger movie, though I might be overanalyzing. But the inclusion of two ten year-old boys on an adventure through the swamp certainly suggests the target demographic (leaving out the scar comparison scene, which Lethal Weapon 3 ripped off).

Even though Jim Wynorski can’t really direct–the scenes with the two kids, with poorly edited close-ups, are particularly bad–he brings a amiable ineptness to the movie. Similarly, Heather Locklear’s performance is bad, but it’s very friendly. The scenes with her and Louis Jordan–Jordan’s hammy and zealous acting the only reason Return is watchable, the desire to see what he does next makes the movie–are hilarious, as Locklear acts in her 1980s TV show style and Jordan hams with his considerable experience behind him… the scenes are hilarious.

Besides a handful–Sarah Douglas has flare-ups of quality, RonReaco Lee is the less annoying kid and Joe Sagal is real amusing as Jordan’s idiot lacky–the other performances are terrible. Monique Gabrielle can’t even pretend to be annoyed, though her scenes are often the ones with Wynorski’s weird two-dimensional composition. The actors face each other and the camera shots them directly, no depth. Dick Durock, given a full talking role and no character–but a more ornate rubber suit–in the sequel, is awful. The terrible handling of the Swamp Thing character probably does in Return, which probably could have survived otherwise. In fact, a straightforward Swamp Thing caught in Jordan’s low budget Bond villain mansion… might have even been (intentionally) amusing.

The special effects aren’t bad. The costumes, besides Swamp Thing’s and only because Wynorski shoots it under bright lights, are pretty good. It’s an eighty-eight minute waste of time, but it does feature Jordan bickering with a parrot and that bit alone makes it special.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jim Wynorski; screenplay by Neil Cuthbert and Grant Morris, based on the DC comic book by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson; director of photography, Zoran Hochstätter; edited by Leslie Rosenthal; music by Chuck Cirino; production designer, Robb Wilson King; produced by Benjamin Melniker and Michael E. Uslan; released by Lightyear Entertainment.

Starring Louis Jourdan (Dr. Anton Arcane), Heather Locklear (Abby Arcane), Sarah Douglas (Dr. Lana Zurrell), Dick Durock (Swamp Thing), Joseph Sagal (Gunn), Ace Mask (Dr. Rochelle), Monique Gabrielle (Miss Poinsettia), RonReaco Lee (Omar), Daniel Emery Taylor (Darryl Hallenbeck), Ralph Pace (Sheriff Beaumont), Timothy Birch (Clyde), Alex Van (Gurdell) and Christopher Doyle (Leechman).


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Swamp Thing (1982, Wes Craven)

Swamp Thing succeeds–to the degree it does–both in spite of Wes Craven and because of him. Craven is not an inventive low budget filmmaker. He does nothing to compensate. The Swamp Thing costume is bad, has lots of movement below the chest. Craven shoots it head-to-toe instead of obscuring it. There’s a real disconnect between Craven’s handling of the costume and with the special effects in general and the film in general, because Craven’s not playing Swamp Thing for laughs. The other big problem Craven brings to the table is his inability to film an action scene or scenes in the open (on open water, with a clear sky). Swamp Thing cuts from good composition to bad composition almost every shot during the middle. It’s extremely disconcerting.

But, like I said, it still succeeds… because even with turning Louis Jordan into a wild boar, Craven takes the film seriously. Swamp Thing is not smart. Craven’s script is riddled with holes and is, at times, dumb. But he’s earnest. He creates two excellent character relationships–Swamp Thing and Adrienne Barbeau and then Barbeau and her teenage sidekick, played by Reggie Batts. The most successful thing about the Swamp Thing romance–well, it starts when it’s still Ray Wise as the human version–is Craven sells it in a short amount of time. The whole movie takes place over three or four days and the establishing romance takes place in–story-time–a few hours the first day, at most. But Craven, Barbeau, Wise and later Dick Durock sell it.

A lot of the film’s earnestness has to do with the actors. While Jordan (gloriously) adds relish to his ham, Barbeau, Wise, and Durock all play it straight. Barbeau runs around in skimpy outfits–heels in the swamp too–but her performance is great. The stuff with her and Durock, who I never realized was so affecting in the Swamp Thing costume before, is great. But the stuff with her and Batts is somehow even more touching, since the romance is kind of expected, but the genuine human concern element is not.

Craven shoots all of the swamp scenes on location, both a good idea and bad (those wide open spaces I mentioned before), and the film does have some lovely cinematic moments. Especially when the Harry Manfredini score is in its soft parts and not the action ones (Manfredini’s action music is a fit for Craven’s action direction). Unfortunately, the scenes in Jordan’s villainous hideout… a mansion, leave a lot to be desired. Craven’s script is short on establishing Jordan’s character other than giving him a staff of young female assistants and dumb macho mercenaries.

Because the film’s so short, because it moves so fast–and because the action scenes are impossible to remember–Swamp Thing leaves a good impression. One remembers the successes–thanks to Barbeau and Batts–and excuses the failures. But some of it, the haunting beauty, does come from Craven… though he gets crucial help from the natural locations and Manfredini’s score.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Craven; screenplay by Craven, based on the DC comic book by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson; director of photography, Robbie Greenberg; edited by Richard Bracken; music by Harry Manfredini; production designers, Robb Wilson King and David Nichols; produced by Benjamin Melniker and Michael E. Uslan; released by Embassy Pictures.

Starring Louis Jourdan (Dr. Anton Arcane), Adrienne Barbeau (Alice Cable), Ray Wise (Doctor Alec Holland), David Hess (Ferret), Nicholas Worth (Bruno), Don Knight (Harry Ritter), Al Ruban (Charlie), Dick Durock (Swamp Thing), Ben Bates (The Arcane Monster), Nannette Brown (Dr. Linda Holland) and Reggie Batts (Jude).


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