Tag Archives: Norman Fell

Inherit the Wind (1960, Stanley Kramer)

A lot of Inherit the Wind is about ideas and not small ones, but big ones. Director Kramer is careful with how big he lets the film get with these ideas, because even though Inherit the Wind is about Darwin vs. the Bible as its biggest idea, the smaller ideas are the more significant ones. And when Kramer’s got Fredric March in a bombastic performance on the side of the Bible, Kramer’s careful to put him in front of those smaller, more important ideas.

The film’s impeccably acted, not just by March or Spencer Tracy as his pseudo-alter ego, but also Gene Kelly as a newspaperman and Florence Eldridge as March’s wife. Amid all these big ideas and small ideas and top-billed stars are Dick York (the small-town teacher teaching Darwin) and his fiancée Donna Anderson (who’s the preacher’s daughter).

Inherit the Wind has something of an anti-climatic finish, just because Kramer and the screenwriters want to let the viewer figure it out. Kramer sets up the film larger than life then, gently, reveals the film’s never larger than life, just the viewers’ expectation of it. There’s depth to the grandiosity and everyone should have been paying attention.

A great deal of the film is listening and watching people listen. Almost all of Harry Morgan’s time is spent listening (as the judge). It’s all important. Kramer’s trying to figure out how to make this too big story work. And he does. Mostly.

Great Ernest Laszlo photography.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Stanley Kramer; screenplay by Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob Smith, based on the play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee; director of photography, Ernest Laszlo; edited by Frederic Knudtson; music by Ernest Gold; production designer, Rudolph Sternad; released by United Artists.

Starring Spencer Tracy (Henry Drummond), Fredric March (Matthew Harrison Brady), Gene Kelly (E. K. Hornbeck), Dick York (Bertram T. Cates), Donna Anderson (Rachel Brown), Harry Morgan (Judge Mel Coffey), Claude Akins (Rev. Jeremiah Brown), Elliott Reid (Prosecutor Tom Davenport), Paul Hartman (Bailiff Mort Meeker), Philip Coolidge (Mayor Jason Carter), Jimmy Boyd (Howard), Noah Beery Jr. (John Stebbins), Norman Fell (WGN Radio Technician), Gordon Polk (George Sillers), Hope Summers (Mrs. Krebs – Righteous Townswoman), Ray Teal (Jessie H. Dunlap), Renee Godfrey (Mrs. Stebbins) and Florence Eldridge (Sarah Brady).


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Three’s Company, the first unaired pilot (1976, Burt Brinckerhoff)

What a difference a cast makes. It’s hard to determine the real star of the first attempt at “Three’s Company.” It’s either Valerie Curtin or Susanne Zenor, both of whom are–to the best of my recollection–very different from the similar characters on the eventual series.

Curtin has these fantastic one liners from writer Larry Gelbart; she’s able to sell being incredibly witty and self-aware. But she doesn’t do well with her regular lines.

Zenor, the blonde aspiring actress, is strong as what’s actually the straight man. She doesn’t have zingers. She just has to hold it all together.

Eventual regular cast members John Ritter, Norman Fell and Audra Lindley are all here. Ritter’s okay; he plays well off Curtin (really laughing at a couple of her jokes), but Fell and Lindley are awful. Fell’s already obviously embarrassed.

Brinckerhoff’s direction is terrible; Curtin and Zenor make it worthwhile.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Burt Brinckerhoff; written by Larry Gelbart, based on a television show created by Brian Cooke and Johnnie Mortimer; lighting director, Truck Krone; edited by Lou Torino; music by Joe Raposo; produced by Don Van Atta.

Starring John Ritter (David Bell), Valerie Curtin (Jenny), Susanne Zenor (Samantha), Norman Fell (Mr. Roper), Audra Lindley (Mrs. Roper) and Bobbie Mitchell (Zoey).


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The Secret War of Harry Frigg (1968, Jack Smight)

Paul Newman can’t play stupid. Harry Frigg is, for the first thirty to forty minutes of the movie, stupid. Even after he’s not stupid anymore–Sylva Koscina, quite believably, inspires him to improve himself–Newman’s stuck with the dumb, New Jersey from a Planters Peanut commercial accent. It doesn’t bother much in the scenes with Koscina, since the pair have great chemistry (though hearing Newman talk about going to college and having the Depression take the opportunity away is goofy sounding).

The Secret War of Harry Frigg is a war farce. Newman’s trying to rescue a quintet of generals from an Italian resort, where the guards are friends, et cetera, et cetera. He’s also pretending to be a general himself, so there’s plenty of opportunity for humor. Except the film’s not very funny, because Newman’s too good an actor for such a slight script. And his scenes with Koscina suggest a straightforward take on their relationship would be much more rewarding.

The problem–trying to do a screwball comedy in 1968 in Panavision and Technicolor–is no surprise. Even though Smight doesn’t screw up as much as usual (because Frigg doesn’t have the script for him to hijack), it’s obvious the film needed a far better director. Smight gets the absurdist comedy well-enough–like if it were a mistaken identity comedy with Abbott and Costello–but he doesn’t get the nuances of setting a comedy in World War II with the Nazis about to torture people… though the scene with Newman spitting, repeatedly, on a Hitler portrait is amusing.

The supporting cast is fine, with Charles Gray giving the best performance of the generals and Vito Scotti is good as the hotel manager turned warden… but there’s really so little going on and the movie’s incredibly long. It’s over halfway through–right after Newman gets a history–and the rest is just waiting for the reels to run out. Even the ending, which would be incredibly hard to screw up, gets screwed up.

It could have been a lot better with a fixed up script, but it wouldn’t have taken much to be just a little bit better and a little bit would have gone a long way here.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Smight; screenplay by Peter Stone and Frank Tarloff, based on a story by Tarloff; director of photography, Russell Metty; edited by J. Terry Williams; music by Carlo Rustichelli; produced by Hal E. Chester; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Paul Newman (Pvt. Harry Frigg), Sylva Koscina (Countess Francesca De Montefiore), Andrew Duggan (Gen. Newton Armstrong), Tom Bosley (Gen. Roscoe Pennypacker), John Williams (Gen. Francis Mayhew), Charles Gray (Gen. Adrian Cox-Roberts), Vito Scotti (Col. Enrico Ferrucci), Jacques Roux (Gen. Andre Rochambeau), Werner Peters (Maj. von Steignitz), James Gregory (Gen. Homer Prentiss), Fabrizio Mioni (Lt. Rossano), Johnny Haymer (Sgt. Pozzallo) and Norman Fell (Capt. Stanley).


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Charley Varrick (1973, Don Siegel)

Walter Matthau hated Charley Varrick. He must have been stuck in a contract or something. It’s understandable why he did, however. Matthau’s whole image is one of the likable curmudgeons. Varrick casts him as a gum-chewing (for that Matthau effect) bank robber… who doesn’t do it because he needs the money, but because crop dusting has been taken over by big corporations. He loses his wife (the driver in his bank robbing crew) in the first few minutes of the film–it’s impossible to like her or particularly care, since she just got done shooting two people–and then, with the character’s only possible sympathy coming from his recent widowing, Matthau beds a woman a couple days later (after threatening to kill her). I can imagine Matthau had some problems with the film–it’s the most amoral thing I’ve ever seen. There are no good people in this film, with the exception of a few law enforcement personnel (who the film doesn’t want the audience to sympathize with) and a black family (who, interestingly enough, the film does want the audience to sympathize with). It’s unbelievable.

I’m not sure if Siegel knew what was going on while he was making it–I kind of doubt it, given how virtuously he defended it in his autobiography–but I think, reflexively, the filmmaker knew… In many ways, Charley Varrick is Siegel’s worst film, just because there’s no excuse for the badness. He had a good screenwriter (Dean Riesner) and a fantastic supporting cast. Andy Robinson and John Vernon are both excellent. Joe Don Baker–who Siegel knew the audience would like more than Matthau–plays a redneck Mafia hit man, who’s a complete piece of shit (but revels in it) and is the most entertaining part of the movie. Women are inexplicably drawn to Matthau, but, for whatever reason, one can believe they’d go for Baker. Oh, and the hit man’s name is Molly. So, obviously, Reiser and Siegel spent more time on that character. Robinson, who played the psycho in Dirty Harry for Siegel, showed a lot of promise as a comedic leading man (which, regrettably, never happened). It doesn’t help when the film spends fifteen minutes making him appealing, only to turn him into another pat bad guy. The disconnection may come from Riesner’s writing style on Siegel’s films–he and Siegel would lay out all the scripts (by various writers) and cut paste what they liked. I have no idea whether or not they did it on Charley Varrick (my copy of Siegel’s autobiography is in storage somewhere) but it feels like they did.

Some of this film–the beginning–features some excellent work from Siegel. Beautiful camera movements, a great crane shot… but it all disappears by the middle of the film. Actually, once the film stops centering on Matthau, it gets a lot better. When Universal released Varrick on DVD a couple years ago, they did it as part of their pan and scan classics of the 1970s series–a bunch of eclectic releases no one would want pan and scan. I had the laserdisc so I didn’t get upset, but Varrick’s got a really good reputation and I think a decent DVD release would have led to a (deserving) critical reevaluation of this film. It’s rather offensive and pretty lousy. The supporting cast (and the bland, not-badness of the scenic writing) make it watchable, but I can’t imagine a reason to watch the film again.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed and produced by Don Siegel; written by Dean Riesner and Howard Rodman, from a novel by John Reese; director of photography, Michael C. Butler; edited by Frank Morriss; music by Lalo Schifrin; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Walter Matthau (Charley Varrick), Joe Don Baker (Molly), Felicia Farr (Sybil Fort), Andrew Robinson (Harman), Sheree North (Jewell Everett), Norman Fell (Mr. Garfinkle), Benson Fong (Honest John), Woodrow Parfrey (Harold Young) and John Vernon (Maynard Boyle).


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