Tag Archives: Nichelle Nichols

Mister Buddwing (1966, Delbert Mann)

Mister Buddwing is kind of amazing. And exceptional. But only if both those descriptors are used as pejoratives. Like. Wow. What a mess it is.

What’s funny is how director Mann maybe sees what he’s trying to do with the film but doesn’t see how he’s not achieving it. The film wants to be edgy mainstream and is instead occasionally rather painfully square. Most of the problem is leading man James Garner. He hasn’t got a handle on the performance—getting no help from Dale Wasserman’s screenplay and then somehow even less from Mann. Worse, Mann uses a lot of close-ups on Garner during the movie, usually for reaction shots, and he’s never good enough. He’s rarely ever giving a passing performance. Like, he just doesn’t get the part. No one does, apparently.

Garner wakes up in the first scene in Central Park, with Mann shooting in first person point of the view. The titles roll as Garner (we’ll soon find out) goes into the Plaza Hotel and looks at himself in a mirror. Pretty soon we figure out he’s an amnesiac who remembers absolutely no details of his life. Not even his name. He gets his first name from Angela Lansbury, who he calls when he finds her number in his pocket. Lansbury’s not great, but she’s a lot of fun. And the film will go awhile without any fun. So she should be in it more.

The last name he makes up coincidentally, narrating about it. Though it makes no sense why he so desperately needs a last name other than the script is trying to make the title’s relevance painfully clear. Garner’s narration is terrible. Poorly written, poorly delivered. And then it’s gone, which is weird because regardless of it being good or not, it makes sense. Garner spends a lot of the movie wandering around Manhattan by himself. It might help to know what’s going on since his expression has three varieties of blank. Blank ought to work for the character. Wooden even. But it doesn’t, because Buddwing is so amazing in how it never works.

There’s this amazing scene where Garner has been followed by an old man—the first half of the movie is lousy with over-interested supporting players talking to Garner so there can be exposition. Garner will eventually yell about how he can’t remember his identity; almost every scene has him yelling about not remembering. So the old man (George Voskovec) wants to blackmail Garner into being his manservant. It’s a weird, dumb scene and does absolutely nothing. Doing nothing would be fine if the film wanted to do nothing and, until that point, it seems like it might not want to do much. Garner has just had the first flashback scene, with Katharine Ross appearing as Garner’s years ago love interest. He thinks he knows her—in the present—then we get this long flashback sequence of obnoxiously cut together scenes—Fredric Steinkamp’s editing is really bad, both conceptually and practically (though a lot of both have got to be Mann’s fault)—where Ross plays the woman she’s not. Just in Garner’s imagination. Only it’s unclear how much of the flashback he remembers and how much of it is just for the audience’s edification. Narration might help clear it up. Even bad narration.

Only there isn’t any. There’s Voskovec harassing Garner instead.

It’s such a bad, deliberate move. Especially since the return to the present sequence opens up the film’s periphery as far as people go; Buddwing’s New York is really empty. Except cars. Mann’s inconsistent if there are people around Garner—who never interact because the film’s just the story of one ant among millions—sometimes there are montages with people in the background, sometimes the city’s empty. But there are always cars in the distance. It’s like they couldn’t get the shot they needed so they took the one they got and it didn’t work, which is pretty much the movie overall.

Eventually Suzanne Pleshette comes into the movie and then there’s a flashback where she plays the girl Ross had previously played. Later it’s Jean Simmons. Now, the flashback sequences are written even worse than the present, because they’re hurried along stylistically, but basically they’re all about Garner becoming more and more of an abusive shitheel. Now, the film would never characterize it as abuse, but it’s scary intense. Mann and Wasserman need to keep Garner sympathetic in the present so they have to demonize the “girls” in the past. They even do it in the present when Lansbury makes a too minor but very welcome near third act return.

Only then in comes Simmons and her present tense mystery woman—infinitely wealthy and drunk and with a past sounding just like the flashbacks and Garner’s memories. At least it seems like he remembers the flashbacks by the time the movie gets to Simmons. He never really shows it, not in performance or dialogue, but Wasserman’s script definitely implies it by the third act. We just missing it, even though the movie is supposed to be about Garner finding out his identity, not the audience finding it. Instead, the film informs the audience first, Garner offscreen. Dumb. And weird.

The third act actually has potential. It’s the strangest thing. If they’d pulled off the third act, Buddwing would probably work, even with Garner’s flat performance and Mann’s jarred direction. Because Simmons is fantastic. In the present. In the past she gets into the problem Ross and Pleshette had; Wasserman writes the part something awful. But in the present, just having fun, Simmons is fantastic. Makes up for Garner even.

Pleshette is affected in the present, but still sort of sympathetic. She’s nothing but sympathetic in the past because she gets the brunt of Garner’s abuse. It’s not really interesting—her affected present day performance—but at least it’s distinctive. Ross is background in her section, which seems weird since Lansbury at least gets her scenes. Ross just gets to be stalked. But in that genial sixties way because Wasserman’s shallow.

Strange small part for Jack Gilford—who wants to convince Garner he’s Jewish because Wasserman’s script is weird in addition to shallow. Joe Mantell’s terrible as a cabbie who seemingly tells Garner an important story. Raymond St. Jacques comes off best, even if he’s poorly written. He’s in the Simmons section and gets to enjoy in its heightened quality. Nichelle Nichols has a tiny part and is phenomenal. More than anything else in the film—even Simmons, who’s stuck with Garner—Nichols seems like she’s visiting from the alternate reality’s Mister Buddwing where it’s great. She definitely gets cinematographer Ellsworth Fredericks’s best work in the film.

Fredericks shoots a really flat New York city, seemingly unintentionally. Or is it supposed to be so dull even when it’s obviously not.

Kenyon Hopkins’s score is similarly disjointed. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s wrong. The one thing the music needs to be right about, it’s never right about, even when it’s good. But it gets bad and wrong at some point near the third act and never gets any better. Even when Simmons shows up. She succeeds in the harshest of conditions.

Mister Buddwing would need to be seen to be believed. But it doesn’t need to be believed.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Delbert Mann; screenplay by Dale Wasserman, based on a novel by Evan Hunter; director of photography, Ellsworth Fredericks; edited by Fredric Steinkamp; music by Kenyon Hopkins; produced by Douglas Laurence and Mann; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring James Garner (Mister Buddwing), Jean Simmons (3rd Grace), Suzanne Pleshette (2nd Grace), Katharine Ross (1st Grace), George Voskovec (Shabby Old Man), Jack Gilford (Mr. Schwartz), Joe Mantell (1st Cab Driver), Raymond St. Jacques (Hank), Nichelle Nichols (Dice Player), and Angela Lansbury (Gloria).



THIS POST IS PART OF THE ADORING ANGELA LANSBURY BLOGATHON HOSTED BY GILL OF REALWEEGIEMIDGET REVIEWS.


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Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989, William Shatner)

In some ways, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is an ambitious movie pretending to be popcorn entertainment pretending to be an ambitious movie. There's a lot of nonsense about self-help, not to mention the whole God thing, and none of it works. Partially, it doesn't work because David Loughery's script is too thin, but it also doesn't work because Final Frontier is paced as an action movie, not a self-reflective sci-fi outing.

But there's a definite subtext–not quite subplot, the film ignores any subplots it starts–regarding the continued bond between William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley. About the only thing the movie does really well is the character stuff, not just for those three principals (it's often a comedy showcase for Kelley), but also for the rest of the regular cast. Of course, the script forgets about developing these good character moments, but they're nice to have around.

There's also a good performance from Laurence Luckinbill as the film's de facto antagonist. The handling of his character is another positive about the film. He gets more of a character arc than any of the regular cast.

As far as directing, Shatner does a fine enough job. The action's fast-paced, with excellent editing from Peter E. Berger. Andrew Laszlo's photography is decent too. A lot of the special effects are fantastic. Except the end when it really needs them.

The Jerry Goldsmith score's trying.

The Final Frontier's about as good as any "Star Trek finds God" picture could be.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by William Shatner; screenplay by David Loughery, based on a story by Shatner, Harve Bennett and Loughery and the television series created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Andrew Laszlo; edited by Peter S. Berger; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Herman F. Zimmerman; produced by Bennett; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring William Shatner (Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Spock), DeForest Kelley (McCoy), James Doohan (Scotty), Walter Koenig (Chekov), Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), George Takei (Sulu), Laurence Luckinbill (Sybok), Charles Cooper (Korrd), Cynthia Gouw (Caithlin Dar), Spice Williams-Crosby (Vixis), Todd Bryant (Captain Klaa) and David Warner (St. John Talbot).


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Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986, Leonard Nimoy)

In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, director Leonard Nimoy establishes a light-hearted, but very high stakes, action-packed environment. Voyage Home is in no way an action movie–the action sequences mostly consist of chases and comedic subterfuges–but there’s a new one every few minutes. The screenwriters came up with a scenario where there’s always danger, but always an almost immediate comic relief.

Flipping between that danger and relief is where William Shatner is so important. He’s able to activate the intense concern momentarily, a grin ready for when the implications have surfaced. Shatner has the most to do in the film, but owns it the least–he’s got some flirtation with Catherine Hicks, but nothing as substantial as most of the other cast members. When he’s out with Nimoy in modern day San Francisco, he’s usually just there to set up Nimoy’s laughs.

The modern day setting is an incredible success too. Nimoy is able to so convince his audience of the 23rd century setting at the start, the trip to the audience’s own time takes them out of water too.

DeForest Kelley gets a lot to do, sort of switching between sidekick for Shatner, Nimoy and finally James Doohan. Kelley and Doohan are great together.

As a director, Nimoy’s sensibilities–especially for comedy–are strong. For a Star Trek film, he’s surprisingly uninterested in complicated space effects. He sticks to the grounded stuff.

Nimoy and company engage the franchise’s iconography to excellent result. Just great.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Leonard Nimoy; screenplay by Steve Meerson, Peter Krikes, Harve Bennett and Nicholas Meyer, based on a story by Nimoy and Bennett and the television series created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Donald Peterman; edited by Peter E. Berger; music by Leonard Rosenman; production designer, Jack T. Collis; produced by Bennett; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring William Shatner (Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Spock), DeForest Kelley (McCoy), James Doohan (Scotty), George Takei (Sulu), Walter Koenig (Chekov), Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), Mark Lenard (Sarek), Jane Wyatt (Amanda), Robert Ellenstein (Federation Council President), John Schuck (Klingon Ambassador), Brock Peters (Admiral Cartwright), Robin Curtis (Lt. Saavik) and Catherine Hicks (Gillian).


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Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979, Robert Wise), the director’s edition

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is one of those imperfect films. No matter how many versions, there’s no way to fix one thing without breaking another–or it might just be broken all together. For example, I don’t know if I’d ever realized how focused director Wise is–during the first hour–on William Shatner’s slightly dangerous desire to get back on the Enterprise.

While it continues to pop up occasionally throughout, it eventually goes away. Wise and screenwriter Harold Livingston apparently just couldn’t figure out how to make Shatner sensibly irrational in his actions. So, instead of Shatner’s obsession angle, the picture becomes a muted romance between Stephen Collins and Persis Khambatta. It had room for both things–poor Leonard Nimoy isn’t so lucky. His subplot gets jettisoned particularly forcefully in Wise’s director’s cut.

The film still has a lot going for it. The acting from Shatner is outstanding (the way he sells looking at the Enterprise is peerless), DeForest Kelley is great, James Doohan doesn’t have enough to do but he does it wonderfully.

Wise takes a long, long time with the film. Douglas Trumbull’s special effects work is awesome and the film might feature Jerry Goldsmith’s finest score. The long special effects sequences, set to Goldsmith’s music, are transfixing. Not sure what else they’re meant to accomplish but it’s enough.

Wise has a number of good shots, but he’s better with actors than the action.

Even with a heavy front, Motion Picture needs a much longer finish.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Wise; screenplay by Harold Livingston, based on a story by Alan Dean Foster and on the television show created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Richard H. Kline; edited by Todd C. Ramsay; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Harold Michelson; produced by Roddenberry and David C. Fein; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring William Shatner (Admiral James T. Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock), DeForest Kelley (Dr. Leonard McCoy), James Doohan (Cmdr. Montgomery Scott), George Takei (Lt. Cmdr. Hikaru Sulu), Majel Barrett (Dr. Christine Chapel), Walter Koenig (Lt. Pavel Chekov), Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Cmdr. Uhura), Persis Khambatta (Lt. Ilia), Stephen Collins (Cmdr. Willard Decker), Grace Lee Whitney (CPO Janice Rand), Mark Lenard (Klingon Captain), Billy Van Zandt (Alien Boy), Roger Aaron Brown (Epsilon Technician), Gary Faga (Airlock Technician) and David Gautreaux (Cmdr. Branch).


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