Tag Archives: Michel Legrand

The Happy Ending (1969, Richard Brooks)

Jean Simmons doesn’t smile until over halfway through The Happy Ending. The movie runs almost two hours and has a present action of like eighteen years. The first eight minutes are a mostly wordless summary of John Forsythe courting Jean Simmons in the early fifties. The time period’s not important–even though the film taking place in 1969 is brought up multiple times in the present–because it’s a storybook (for the early fifties) romance where college girl Simmons falls in love with tax lawyer Forsythe. Eventually we find out Simmons dropped out to marry Forsythe.

The present action is at least sixteen years later because daughter Kathy Fields (in the film’s greatest botched role, both in Fields’s performance but mostly in director Brooks’s weird script–more on that later, obviously) is sixteen. The film opens on Simmons and Forsythe’s wedding anniversary party. Simmons wants to run off for the night, just she and Forsythe. He doesn’t want to cancel the party because it’d embarrass them in front of their friends. More on the friends later too.

So after Forsythe tells housekeeper Nanette Fabray–they’re not rich enough for Fabray to live with them, just to have her do the daily housework and hang out until after midnight when needed–to inform on Simmons’s behavior. See, Simmons’s drinks. Forsythe found her stashed booze. But it’s not open, because Simmons is recovering and being good. Through the course of the film, flashbacks reveal what she’s recovering from while also showing how she finally has to deal with it.

Simmons runs off to the Bahamas. Instead of doing the anniversary party thing, which makes sense as it’s later revealed Forsythe and Simmons don’t have any real friends, their social life solely consists of Forsythe’s clients. But we’ve already met some of the clients’ wives–they get together and get wasted and play cards in the health club locker room while berating one another for their affairs (Tina Louise has a small role as the ringleader; it’s a weird role, given Brooks’s narrative distance to it, but she does all right; the script gets her in the end). Because what the first half of The Happy Ending is about is how hard it is for women to get old and loose their looks. Brooks’s script has… sympathy, I guess, but no insight. It’s also completely unaware of the ingrained misogyny or… I don’t know what it’s called, patriarchal reinforcement. Like, the only two guys in the movie with any honest characterization are Bobby Darin as a gigolo and Lloyd Bridges as an adulterer running around the Bahamas with Shirley Jones, a friend of Simmons’s from college.

It’s a good thing they run into each other on the way too because Forsythe doesn’t let Simmons have any money since she got drunk and went clothes shopping a little while after she survived a suicide attempt, which she attempted after finding Forsythe was cheating on her with a client and–if the somewhat confusing flashback timeline does indeed progress linearly (and it seems too, Brooks’s numerous narrative devices are all way too obvious)–it’s not the first time. Forsythe goes with divorcing clients to Reno and then shakes up with them in their moments of weakness. No one ever says it because it’s not clear Brooks even recognizes it because Brooks breaks the script to coddle Forsythe. On one hand it works he never wakes up and gets it–the audience perception of Forsythe changes a lot throughout and a tad too gradually since it just gives Forsythe and Fields more screen time than they deserve, performance and character-wise. The reason it’s important it takes so long until Simmons cracks a smile in the present action, delayed by all those flashbacks? Because she’s been the subject of her own movie until then. Brooks does everything he can to avoid developing her character, particularly in the flashbacks. Because then he can’t keep Forsythe from ever seeming like a dick, which is the goal of the film. Right up until the very end.

Oh, right–Nanette Fabray’s housekeeper. Turns out she’s Simmons’s only friend, because even though her house is used for wife-swapping, Simmons herself has never participated. Because all of the other women have either slept with Forsythe or tried. Brooks is downright misanthropic in his depiction of upper middle class America but he never embraces it. Simmons is at least a dreamer; we learn right away she cries at all romantic endings, happy or sad.

Hence the title. At the wedding scene, Forsythe’s face is replaced with clips of happy endings from old Hollywood movies. Like, Brooks gives Simmons a very definite character and then avoids letting her develop the character for about half the movie. It’s not until she meets up with Darin’s gigolo where Simmons gets to do anything. Until then it’s mostly being functionally drunk and pissed off at Forsythe’s utter lack of self-awareness. And to get betrayed by mother Teresa Wright (who apparently had Simmons at age ten) and ignored by super-annoying daughter Fields.

Oh, right, and for Forsythe to track her by phone to make sure she’s all right since she’s a suicidal drunk and all. Like, he calls all the places she goes. The only place she gets any privacy is her bar, where her uncredited bartender doesn’t snitch on her to Forsythe.

And Brooks discreetly establishing Simmons’s situation is fine. It would even be efficient if it didn’t get so confused with flashbacks. There’s nothing but melodrama in the flashbacks as Simmons keeps getting into trouble and whatnot.

It’s such a relief when Jones and Bridges show up. Jones’s life philosophy as a professional mistress is a little… messed up. Like Brooks has good instincts for what kind of exposition the film needs, he just doesn’t write it well. Or direct it well. He’s got these walking and talking scenes where he cuts from location to location as the conversation continues. He doesn’t have a reason for the gimmick other than it maybe stretches the film’s verisimilitude to allow for these unlikely conversations and whatnot. But it’s not like the film has a different style first half to second, once the dumps become more frequent, it’s always the same dialogue tempo, with Michel Legrand’s music not booming but pressing, and Conrad L. Hall’s way too soft lights. Happy Ending really ought to look better. Like, it’s fine, but it ought to look a lot better. Brooks’s direction is tediously competent and always really safe. He never goes big, he never goes small; he avoids them equally. And it does the film no favors.

Simmons is really good when she’s got material of her own, which is maybe a quarter of her scenes. Brooks abjectly surrenders on trying to write her with Fields, which is incredible. Forsythe’s not good. He could be a lot worse. But he couldn’t be any blander. Somehow Forsythe’s bland performance doesn’t inform the bland character.

Jones is great. Bridges is better than any of the other male performances. Darin’s not good but at least he’s trying something, which is more than Forsythe does. Or Fields. Or Wright, who’s utterly pointless except for a late stage revelation which does nothing for the film but instead absolves fathers of responsibility.

Fabry’s good as the confidant, but she’s got zilch to do on her own. She’s literally the help in story and script.

There’s probably a lot you could pick apart in Brooks’s script and film, but it’s not really worth looking at in those terms. There’s gristle but so what. It’s not distinct gristle.

The film does give Simmons a potentially great role and then denies it to her. She’s still able to give a rather good performance. If the material had met her, however, it’d be a better one. Brooks is just too afraid to let her be the protagonist. It’s mildly then significantly disappointing, because he never improves and it’s almost two hours long.

Plus, Legrand’s music and (especially) the original songs grate.

And the Hall cinematography is wasted.

Happy Ending is a mess of missed opportunity and bad choices.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced, written, and directed by Richard Brooks; director of photography, Conrad L. Hall; edited by George Grenville; music by Michel Legrand; released by United Artists.

Starring Jean Simmons (Mary Wilson), John Forsythe (Fred Wilson), Teresa Wright (Mrs. Spencer), Kathy Fields (Marge Wilson), Shirley Jones (Flo Harrigan), Nanette Fabray (Agnes), Lloyd Bridges (Sam), Bobby Darin (Franco), Dick Shawn (Harry Bricker), and Tina Louise (Helen Bricker).


THIS POST IS PART OF 90 YEARS OF JEAN SIMMONS BLOGATHON HOSTED BY VIRGINIE OF THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF CINEMA and PHYLLIS OF PHYLLIS LOVES CLASSIC MOVIES.


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The Other Side of the Wind (2018, Orson Welles)

The Other Side of the Wind opens with two very ominous notes. Well, two and a half. The first is a text card explaining the film’s history, but not much about its resurrection. For example (and here’s the half ominous note), was it director Welles’s idea to do multiple aspect ratios? It makes sense, but he probably wasn’t going to do the CG TV screen borders they use at the start. Wind is an addition to Welles’s filmography, thirty-three years posthumous. Much has changed in those thirty-three years, including how film is edited.

But the text card and its lack of resurrectors’ intent is nowhere near as ominous as the second item. Peter Bogdanovich introducing the film. So The Other Side of the Wind opens with the text card explaining its Orson Welles’s last movie and he didn’t really finish it. Then comes Bogdanovich–in the present–introducing the film, “The Other Side of the Wind,” but not Welles’s Wind, rather lead John Huston’s Wind, because in addition to being one of the resurrectors, Bogdanovich is the costar. And he gives this obnoxious self-congratulatory voiceover Welles never would have written for him… for no other reason than not even Orson Welles thought he’d make it to 103.

Even worse, Bogdanovich’s voiceover tries to contextualize the film. What we’re going to see is a documentary, pieced together from the footage shot by documentary crews at Huston’s birthdary party. He’s a big Hollywood director self-financing a movie for hippies and everyone is following him around with a camera. So the footage in the film–usually with Welles accounting for the camera-people in other shots–is this “found” footage.

Here’s where the text card should’ve explained Welles’s original intent, because the movie sure doesn’t seem like it’s supposed to be some assembled thing. It just seems like a budgetary control device of Welles’s. Since he self-financed Wind himself. Layers and layers and layers.

Once things get started, after some gratitious topless nudity (there’s a lot of nudity later, but not gratitious in the same way), Wind immediately reassures. Bogdanovich, as an actor, is nowhere near as obnoxious as he was in the opening voiceover. He’s still obnoxious, playing a blue blood mainstream filmmaker who’s devoted to Huston (ostensibly mirroring Bogdanovich’s devotion to Welles–more layers), but… well, his dialogue’s better. The character, as thin as Bogdanovich does with it, is better.

Plus, most of the time is spent with Huston’s regular crew. Huston’s regular crew looks a lot like Welles’s crew. There’s Paul Stewart, Mercedes McCambridge, Edmond O’Brien, and Cameron Mitchell. Mitchell’s bad. McCambridge isn’t in it enough but is good. O’Brien and Stewart are awesome. They’re on a bus with a bunch of party guests–they’re going straight to the birthday party from shooting–and a lot of reporters. Including Susan Strasberg as a film critic (she’s fantastic) and Joseph McBride in William Alland part if Wind were Kane. But Wind isn’t Kane and McBride’s young, inquisitive journalist is annoying background. McBride isn’t very good. Strasberg’s great, like I said, but she’s really one of the standouts, performance-wise, in Wind.

Huston and Bogdanovich are in a car, where Bogdanovich does most of the talking to the documentary filmmakers. It’s very hard to take Bogdanovich’s character seriously because he’s such a sycophant to Huston.

Alongside these two threads is Norman Foster–one of Huston’s gang, but I don’t think his position is ever specifically mentioned–showing the movie (in the movie in the movie… in the movie?) to producer Geoffrey Land. Land’s bad. But the footage of the hippie movie is fun. It’s always in a state of exaggerated pretension but beautifully composed exaggerated pretension.

Robert Random and Oja Kodar star in the movie in the movie. The story of Wind, why Huston’s in trouble with the movie, is because after he discovered Random, Random went and quit the movie, leaving Huston without a star. No one in the movie in the movie talks. Hippies just communicate with their body language after all. Amusingly, Kodar doesn’t speak in the rest of the film either. She’s around, she’s active, but she never speaks. It’s funny.

The movie in the movie footage is shown at a different aspect ratio. The documentary footage is supposed to be eight or sixteen millimeter so not widescreen. The movie in the movie is widescreen.

Why the opening titles are in artificial television aspect ratio with a vague “video” look… especially if it’s reconstructed in 2018… the resurrectors of Wind really don’t want to draw attention to themselves but are really bad at avoiding it.

Especially once they get to the party. Most of the rest of the movie takes place at the party. All of a sudden, certain cameras at the party–certain sources of footage–are black and white. And they’re suspiciously black and white. One of the first shots has this weird pixelation in the blacks, which seem an effect of digital editing of the frame, something Welles certainly wouldn’t have done in the same way if he’d finished the picture. And, about halfway through the movie, there’s an emphasis shot in color and it’s the same source as one they’d been using as black and white. So much, if not all of the black and white footage is a modern edit. And it does the film no favors. Because even though they didn’t change the brightness and contrast of the black and white footage to match–the sources still appear different–it loses the reality of the opening.

O’Brien, McCambridge, Stewart, and Mitchell all sitting around talking about how Huston is out of touch with the kids today is a lot different in color than black and white. It sets up the film differently.

Worse, when the color returns in the last third, it’s clear the mismatched footage–Welles shot the film over more than five years–looks better mismatching in color than it does in digital black and white.

At the party secrets are revealed (or re-revealed), more of the movie in the movie is shown, character drama, great dialogue, some excellent performances in some thin parts, and some fireworks. There’s also some homophobia and exploitation of little people. Because Welles is down on Hollywood–he’s not a stand-in for Huston, whose fictive career (and popularity) is much different than Welles’s real one–he can get a pass on the latter. On the former, it’s a theme. One Welles uses for sensationalism. It doesn’t qualify for a pass. It’s part of the movie, resurrected version or not. Especially since there’s supposed to be some implications about it. Yes, Welles is making fun of film criticism a little as the implication subplot goes, but… still no. He cops out on the subplot.

The movie’s about the party. Once they get to the party, they watched the movie–the movie is the point of the party. Only the power keeps going out. So they’re trying to get the power back on while Huston is hearing from his gang how they can’t scrap together any more money.

The best performance in the film is Norman Foster. He’s also the only character with an actual arc. The present action’s short–the movie starts before sunset one day, ends at sunrise the next–so everyone getting an arc might be a little much, so it’s Foster. And he’s great.

Huston gives a great performance in a thin part. Wind is about the inscrutability of filmed subjects so all of Huston’s development has to be in action (or at least through contemporary dialogue). But he’s great. And totally unbelievable as he pervs on teenage girl Cathy Lucas, in one of the film’s most throwaway subplots. He’s going to kidnap her to Mexico. Like Welles wanted to throw in a Charlie Chaplin jab.

Strasberg’s great. O’Brien’s great. Lilli Palmer’s good. She seems to be doing a Marlene Dietrich stand-in (the film feels a lot like a Touch of Evil reunion, so much in pacing one has to wonder if it’s from Welles or resurrection editor Bub Murawski). She’s also not in it enough. Like McCambridge. Stewart’s good. Gregory Sierra’s good as the macho version of Bogdanovich (they’re both intentionally ripping off Huston’s style and competitive about it).

Bogdanovich never gets too terrible. Nothing near the opening the voiceover. He fails a few times. Important times. But he’s never too terrible. The exposition in scenes between him and Huston is terrible, easily the worst writing in the script. He and Huston have a very odd story arc. It arrives late, is undercooked, and poorly executed.

Tonio Selwart is rather annoying as Huston’s regular screenwriter. And Dan Tobin’s way too broad in a problematic part.

Michel Legrand’s score? It’s okay. It’s conceivable Welles would’ve wanted something like it. Does it do anything for the film? No.

The Other Side of the Wind comes with a litany of conditions. Even if it hadn’t been resurrected thirty-five years after Welles’s death, it was still filmed over six years. Its budgetary constraints are exceptional. And Wind does finish. It completes its artistic gesture. It is a complete film.

It’s just not a particularly successful one.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Orson Welles; written by Oja Kodar and Welles; director of photography, Gary Graver; edited by Bob Murawski and Welles; music by Michel Legrand; produced by Frank Marshall and Filip Jan Rymsza; released by Netflix.

Starring John Huston (Jake Hannaford), Peter Bogdanovich (Brooks Otterlake), Norman Foster (Billy Boyle), Susan Strasberg (Julie Rich), Lilli Palmer (Zarah Valeska), Paul Stewart (Matt Costello), Tonio Selwart (The Baron), Edmond O’Brien (Pat Mullins), Mercedes McCambridge (Maggie Noonan), Cameron Mitchell (Zimmer), Peter Jason (Grover), Alan Grossman (Charles Higgam), Geoffrey Land (Max David), Gregory Sierra (Jack Simon), Dan Tobin (Dr. Burroughs), Cathy Lucas (Mavis Henscher), Joseph McBride (Pister), Oja Kodar (Actress), and Robert Random (John Dale).


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Atlantic City (1980, Louis Malle)

For a film with quite a bit of grounded violence, Atlantic City is pretty genial. Director Malle shoots in close medium shots; there’s not a lot of grandeur to his shots. Atlantic City has grandeur, as a setting, but Malle doesn’t go out of his way to stylize it. Cinematographer Richard Ciupka shoots the whole thing with a fuzzy brightness.

That geniality is sort of strange, given the film opens with lead Burt Lancaster peeping on next door neighbor Susan Sarandon. He’s an old flunky, taking caring of a boss’s widow (a fantastic Kate Reid); Sarandon is the sort of young dreamer who’s trying to make it in the casinos. She wants to be a dealer, but her creepy older man mentor Michel Piccoli might have other plans for her.

The film takes place in a couple days; it’s what happens when Sarandon’s husband (an underwhelming Robert Joy) shows up with his pregnant mistress, who happens to be Sarandon’s sister (Hollis McLaren in a nothing role). Lancaster ends up helping Joy out, which gives him a taste of the leading man gangster lifestyle he never had in his own youth.

Lancaster’s wonderful in the role, but Malle and writer John Guare never want to hold him accountable for anything. The viewer isn’t supposed to judge the character, though Joy (and Piccoli) get run through the ringer. It’s very uneven and the film would probably work better as Lancaster’s wish fulfillment. Instead, Sarandon occasionally gets promoted to protagonist and it’s problematic because she’s kind of a sap. The character, not Sarandon. Sarandon comes off as way too smart for the character. It’s worse when the character gets a smart line, because it just feels like Sarandon got fed up playing such a shallow character and ad libbed logically.

Look fast for Wallace Shawn.

Atlantic City has a lot of thoughtful, solid scenes, but it doesn’t come together in the end. Malle’s mixing too many things and trying to force Guare’s script into places it doesn’t go. The film asks the viewer to pity Lancaster because he’s old, which is frequently uncomfortable.

It starts slow, gets going, has big problems in the third act but gets a last minute reprieve with the finish. It ought to be a whole lot better though.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Louis Malle; written by John Guare; director of photography, Richard Ciupka; edited by Suzanne Baron; music by Michel Legrand; production designer, Anne Pritchard; produced by Denis Héroux and John Kemeny; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Burt Lancaster (Lou), Susan Sarandon (Sally), Robert Joy (Dave), Hollis McLaren (Chrissie), Michel Piccoli (Joseph) and Kate Reid (Grace).


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Switching Channels (1988, Ted Kotcheff)

In Switching Channels, Kotcheff attempts two styles he’s inept at directing—madcap and slapstick. He’s got Ned Beatty, who can act in both those styles, and Beatty does okay. He’s not any good, but one can’t hold the film’s failings against him.

But for his other buffoon, Kotcheff uses Christopher Reeve. The audience is supposed to dislike Reeve because he’s vain, wealthy and a nice guy. One of the biggest laughs in the film is supposed to be at Reeve’s expense, when he’s in an acrophobia-induced fit. Reeve’s got some decent moments (particularly at the beginning of the film), which makes it all the more unfortunate.

The hero of the film is Burt Reynolds, who doesn’t so much give a performance as audition for his subsequent sitcom. He and Reeve are rivals for Kathleen Turner’s affections… though not really. Turner and Reynolds have zero chemistry, making any romantic possibilities laughable.

If the film continued where it opened, with Reeve and Turner meeting and romancing in a tranquil Montréal resort, Switching Channels probably would’ve worked. Turner’s good. She’s just not the film’s protagonist and so, when it pretends she’s important to it, the film fails.

The film—and Kotcheff—do her and Reeve the most disservice.

Though set in Chicago, it’s a very Canadian one. City hall is apparently in an office park.

There’s some good supporting work from Henry Gibson and George Newbern’s endearing as Reynolds’s flunky.

Between Reynolds’s non-acting and Kotcheff’s awkwardness, it doesn’t have a chance.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ted Kotcheff; screenplay by Jonathan Reynolds, based on a play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur; director of photography, François Protat ; edited by Thom Noble; music by Michel Legrand; production designer, Anne Pritchard; produced by Martin Ransohoff; released by TriStar Pictures.

Starring Kathleen Turner (Christy Colleran), Burt Reynolds (John L. Sullivan IV), Christopher Reeve (Blaine Bingham), Ned Beatty (Roy Ridnitz), Henry Gibson (Ike Roscoe), George Newbern (Siegenthaler), Al Waxman (Berger), Ken James (Warden Terwilliger), Barry Flatman (Zaks), Ted Simonett (Tillinger), Anthony Sherwood (Carvalho), Joe Silver (Mordsini) and Charles Kimbrough (The Governor).


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