Tag Archives: Piper Laurie

Carrie (1976, Brian De Palma)

In terms of De Palma’s direction, Carrie is a little bit of a mess. It’s a combination of Hitchcock as camp–which really cuts into the effectiveness of the finale–more religious imagery than, say, The Ten Commandments and, finally, some truly brilliant composition from De Palma. He, cinematography Mario Tosi and editor Paul Hirsch create a sometimes transcendent experience.

Sadly, the technical talent–including Pino Donaggio’s lovely score–and good performances don’t overpower the script problems. De Palma falls into the horror standard of using a big surprise ending to avoid having to include, you know, an actual ending. Someone seems to have misplaced Carrie‘s third act.

Some of the trouble probably stems from how much the filmmakers are hiding from the viewer. That aspect plays, unfortunately, into the Hitchcock camp factor I mentioned earlier. De Palma never figures out how seriously he wants to take the film–he’s often either slathering on the religion or making it a tad too goofy. The film’s at its best when he can’t do either, because the scenes need actual content. De Palma’s only goofy when he can fiddle with the pacing.

Sissy Spacek’s excellent in the lead, though she’s not really the protagonist or even the main character. The film forgets about her for long stretches. Nancy Allen’s also excellent as her evil antagonist. William Katt’s quite good too.

Piper Laurie’s okay, nothing more, as the psychotically religious mother.

The strong first half nearly makes up for the misfired finish.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Brian De Palma; screenplay by Lawrence D. Cohen, based on the novel by Stephen King; director of photography, Mario Tosi; edited by Paul Hirsch; music by Pino Donaggio; produced by Paul Monash; released by United Artists.

Starring Sissy Spacek (Carrie White), Betty Buckley (Miss Collins), Piper Laurie (Margaret White), William Katt (Tommy Ross), Nancy Allen (Chris Hargensen), Amy Irving (Sue Snell), John Travolta (Billy Nolan), P.J. Soles (Norma Watson), Priscilla Pointer (Mrs. Snell), Sydney Lassick (Mr. Fromm) and Stefan Gierasch (Mr. Morton).


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Other People’s Money (1991, Norman Jewison)

Despite all Danny DeVito’s vulgar innuendos–though there are a couple missed opportunities–Other People’s Money is a rather chaste film. Director Jewison’s model for it is a Hollywood classic, with exquisite gowns for DeVito’s love interest slash rival, Penelope Ann Miller, and hats for the men.

With photography from Haskell Wexler and Alvin Sargent’s thoughtful, deliberate screenplay (though that thoughtfulness might be from Jerry Sterner’s source play), Money is extremely elegant. DeVito playing a variation on his bombastic, obnoxious persona for the first thirty minutes only makes the elegance more striking.

The film opens with DeVito positioned against not Miller, but Gregory Peck, Piper Laurie and Dean Jones (Jones is fantastic in the film). He’s an amusing villain… nothing more. Then Miller enters and Money changes. Jewison has the problem of making a romance believable between the refined Miller and the trollish DeVito. And he solves it. The very slow humanizing of DeVito is one of Money‘s best elements, as DeVito, Jewison and Sargent have structured the character so it’s not a development, just a delayed revelation.

While DeVito’s excellent, Miller’s more impressive because she has to contend with him. Jewison’s composition puts a lot of importance on sight line and Miller sells every scene. It helps Miller’s character has a layered personality too.

R.D. Call and Mo Gaffney are good in smaller roles.

The film’s third act, unfortunately, wobbles quite a bit. Luckily, DeVito, Miller and Jewison’s previous successes are able to override it.

Money‘s an excellent picture.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Norman Jewison; screenplay by Alvin Sargent, based on the play by Jerry Sterner; director of photography, Haskell Wexler; edited by Hubert C. de la Bouillerie, Lou Lombardo and Michael Pacek; music by David Newman; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; produced by Jewison and Ric Kidney; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Danny DeVito (Lawrence Garfield), Penelope Ann Miller (Kate Sullivan), Piper Laurie (Bea Sullivan), Dean Jones (Bill Coles), R.D. Call (Arthur), Mo Gaffney (Harriet), Bette Henritze (Emma), Tom Aldredge (Ozzie), Leila Kenzle (Marcia) and Gregory Peck (Andrew Jorgenson).


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The Crossing Guard (1995, Sean Penn)

I can’t decide what moment of The Crossing Guard is my favorite. I have it narrowed down to two. It’s either the (louder) one at the end, where Jack Nicholson realizes where he is and how he got there, or it’s when I realized Anjelica Huston–who starts the film in a support group–has never spoken in her support group. She just goes and sits and wants to speak and never does. The Crossing Guard opens, after that scene with Huston and the juxtaposed Nicholson scene (Huston goes to support groups, Nicholson hangs out at a strip club), with this beautiful, victorious Jack Nitzsche music. It sounds like it’s a sports movie about a guy who never thought he’d play again, but then did. Nitzsche repeats this piece of music throughout the film and, each time it plays, it gets a little less victorious, a little less triumphant, until the end, when it’s about defeat.

The Crossing Guard is about compassion and submission. Penn doesn’t exactly hide these themes, but there isn’t a single scene where he lets the film get aware of itself enough to think about its themes. The Crossing Guard features a scene where Nicholson wakes up from a nightmare and calls ex-wife Huston on the phone to tell her the dream and it’s one of the best scenes in the film. This scene shouldn’t work, because relating a dream… it shouldn’t work. Penn breaks a couple major narrative rules in The Crossing Guard to great success. There isn’t a false moment in the film and only one where he holds a shot too long (but it’s featuring Robin Wright Penn and he basically casts her as an angel in the film, so he gets some leeway).

The most difficult task for the film’s viewer is connecting with the characters. It isn’t hard to connect with David Morse, whose puppy-dog eyes (which Wright Penn even comments on) and sweet, quiet demeanor visually collide with his hulking figure. His remorse and guilt are palpable. The scene where he tries to explain himself to parents Richard Bradford and Piper Laurie (who are both wonderful and share a fantastic small scene near the beginning) is devastating. It’s a hard moment in the film, where it becomes easier to objectify the film itself–Penn keeps the trailer where Nicholson threatened Morse’s life visible through the window behind Morse–than to listen to what Morse is saying. There isn’t a single explanation in The Crossing Guard. Penn demands his viewer interpret each moment and, if he or she doesn’t get it right, there’s no make-up exam… the film just moves forward.

Nicholson, for instance, is playing a tragic golem. He moves through his life fueled by alcohol, cigarettes and hatred. There are occasional peeks into the person he was before, but it’s all implied. The scenes with ex-wife Huston don’t even offer the most insight, instead it’s how the strippers flock to Nicholson. In this beautiful performance, which gives Nicholson two amazing–once in a career for most people–scenes, the most impressive thing he does is show an exceptional capacity for love. He never shows love for the strippers–Kari Wuhrer and Priscilla Barnes–but they sense it. Barnes has a great scene where she’s yelling at him, but it’s clear even when she’s angry with him. The scene where it’s clear Nicholson’s loved by the junkies, the masochists, the hookers and those who have squandered everything is another candidate for best moment in the film.

And when Nicholson’s humanity returns to him, when the automated processes start to slow, when the clay starts to crack–when it becomes clear just what Nicholson and Morse are both looking for… The Crossing Guard overwhelms.

And Penn isn’t even finished yet.

Penn’s direction–it’s very quiet at times, lots of discreet camera movement–Vilmos Zsigmond does a beautiful job–is sublime. It’s assured and measured. Just like the script’s implications, Penn’s visual moves are perfect. He even plays with the viewer’s perception of movie star Jack Nicholson as such as lackluster person. I kept wondering, as I watched it, if it was going to get better (which, given how great it is from the start, seems impossible). It does.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written, produced and directed by Sean Penn; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Jay Cassidy; music by Jack Nitzsche; production designer, Michael D. Haller; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Jack Nicholson (Freddy Gale), David Morse (John Booth), Anjelica Huston (Mary), Robin Wright (Jojo), Piper Laurie (Helen Booth), Richard Bradford (Stuart Booth), Priscilla Barnes (Verna), David Baerwald (Peter), Robbie Robertson (Roger), John Savage (Bobby) and Kari Wuhrer (Mia).


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The Mississippi Gambler (1953, Rudolph Maté)

Torpid isn’t an adjective I get to use often, but I can’t think of a better one to describe The Mississippi Gambler. It’s a boring melodrama, trading entirely on the charisma of its cast–Tyrone Power might have been able to handle the weight, but the film concentrates on the loveless marriage of Piper Laurie (as she pines for Power) just when it needs him most. There are some fine moments throughout, particularly at the beginning, with Power and John McIntire working well together and the relationship between Power and Paul Cavanagh rather touching. But the story skips ahead way too often, passing over indeterminate months, until all the dramatic import is lost.

Bad acting from principle supporting cast members doesn’t help. John Baer’s particularly terrible, but Ron Randall isn’t much better. Most of their scenes are with Laurie and her performance is strong enough it’s inconceivable she’d be so devoted to such a pair of rubes. Some of the problem is with the script–Power, McIntire and Cavanagh are positioned as real men, while everyone else is a fop or dandy. It’s a goofy approach and somewhat nonsensical (there’s a lot of strong homoerotic undercurrents between Baer and Randall–and Baer’s devotion to sister Laurie is positively disturbing).

While Rudolph Maté’s direction isn’t bad, it’s certainly middling. The film’s got rather opulent sets and Maté shoots them to good effect, but that compliment’s probably the best one I can come up with. He’s got some strange composition–lots of backs of heads–and the film’s inability to convey any passage of time is partially his fault. Even if he didn’t choose to use fades to black or didn’t insist the script fit together, in terms of consecutive visual action, he still could have done something. It’s kind of his job, right?

Still, as boring as the film gets–as bad as Frank Skinner’s music gets and it gets bad–The Mississippi Gambler is never downright terrible. Power can do this kind of thing in his sleep; some of his performance here is certainly semi-conscious. McIntire and Cavanagh both make the most of their scenes. Julie Adams is fine in one of the script’s more useless, melodrama only roles.

It’s actually a perfect example of a melodrama. Nothing in the film doesn’t exist solely to advance the plot to its preordained conclusion. In the third act, as the pieces fall into place for the inevitable to occur, the film decides to take forever to get there, which gets really irritating.

I suppose Irving Glassberg’s Technicolor cinematography is pretty enough. I already complimented the sets too… The Mississippi Gambler is simply an excruciating ninety-nine minutes. Seton I. Miller seems to have written as many scenes as possible–I should have counted–with the idea enough of them would make a full narrative. Unsurprisingly, his experiment fails. He’s not even a bad writer–some of his dialogue and humor works and he has a handful of solid character relationships–he’s just a terrible plotter. What should have been surefire–Power as a charming gambler–is instead a big snooze.

But it’s still somehow competent.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Rudolph Maté; written by Seton I. Miller; director of photography, Irving Glassberg; edited by Edward Curtiss; music by Frank Skinner; produced by Ted Richmond; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Tyrone Power (Mark Fallon), Piper Laurie (Angelique Dureau), Julie Adams (Ann Conant), John McIntire (Kansas John Polly), Paul Cavanagh (Edmond Dureau), John Baer (Laurent Dureau), Ron Randell (George Elwood), Ralph Dumke (F. Montague Caldwell), Robert Warwick (Gov. Paul Monet), William Reynolds (Pierre Loyette) and Guy Williams (Andre Brion).


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