Tag Archives: Polly Bergen

Making Mr. Right (1987, Susan Seidelman)

Making Mr. Right feels a little incomplete. It’s not entirely unexpected as Floyd Byars and Laurie Frank’s script plays loose with subplots–even after the film forecasts its basic structure, it loses track of a lot, and some essential scenes happen offscreen. The subsequent reveals in the narrative (to other characters and the audience) never play for enough surprise value to cover the missing moments.

One has to wonder what got cut.

Director Seidelman keeps things moving over the absences, having structured the picture into two separate parts in the first act. Ann Magnuson runs an ad agency, has a crappy congressman for a boyfriend and client (a delightfully bland Ben Masters); she’s also got a somewhat annoying family and friend situation intruding. Then she gets a contract to promote an android in time to get Congress to continue funding. John Malkovich is the android and the inventor.

The film keeps Magnuson’s life bisected. Even when Malkovich, in either of his roles, crosses over into Magnuson’s personal life–her misadventures with the android, even out on the town, are work stuff–but even when Malkovich is present in the personal life, Seidelman and editor Andrew Mondshein keep it somewhat separate. For example, Malkovich doesn’t really have any scenes with Magnuson and anyone else (outside Masters); but he’s present in some of the scenes. It’s just not somewhere Seidelman takes the film.

And it gets to be a problem in the third act when all of a sudden Malkovich has got a character arc of his own. As the android. The human inventor Malkovich has a second act subplot where Laurie Metcalf is trying to put a ring on it, which just ends up jumpstart Malkovich the android’s character development only to abruptly end it. Making Mr. Right runs almost 100 minutes and feels like a good twenty minutes are missing.

One of the film’s complete subplots–which the film contrives to intersect with the main plot to end the second act–involves Magnuson’s friend Glenne Headly. Headly’s having marriage problems and bunks up with Magnuson, ostensibly to give Magnuson someone to play off at home but the Headly subplot’s too good and overshadows Magnuson’s romance-induced ennui. Headly’s married to soap opera star Hart Bochner–who initially shows up onscreen in his cheesy soap with absurd hair–and Seidelman gets a lot out of having Headly around. Magnuson never gets to be silly, just frantic and stressed. Headly gets to have some fun.

Making Mr. Right is all about its actors–Magnuson, Malkovich, Headly–with Seidelman striving to facilitate as best she can. Malkovich and Magnuson both get some degree of physical comedy and they’re great at it. Malkovich plays the android with more soul than the inventor. The inventor part Malkovich does stiff and deadpan. The android is absurd and sincere. There are some scenes between Malkovich’s two characters–Magnuson drives past a theater showing The Parent Trap–but the film avoids them. Malkovich is only able to get one of his parts out of caricature as a result. He chooses well, but with some more time, who knows what Malkovich and Seidelman could get done.

Magnuson has a similar situation of underutilization, also because of the script. After all the intricate setup, Byars and Frank don’t keep subplots moving in the background. At least, not enough of them to compensate for the changes in the film’s narrative flow.

Making Mr. Right is a solid comedy. Great performances, some great scenes; overall, it’s a moderate success. But with a better third act, thanks to Magnuson, Malkovich, and Seidelman, it could’ve gone further.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Susan Seidelman; written by Floyd Byars and Laurie Frank; director of photography, Edward Lachman; edited by Andrew Mondshein; music by Chaz Jankel; production designer, Barbara Ling; produced by Joel Tuber and Mike Wise; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Ann Magnuson (Frankie Stone), John Malkovich (Dr. Jeff Peters / Ulysses), Glenne Headly (Trish), Ben Masters (Steve Marcus), Polly Bergen (Estelle Stone), Harsh Nayyar (Dr. Ramdas), Laurie Metcalf (Sandy), and Hart Bochner (Don).


RELATED

At War with the Army (1950, Hal Walker)

I wonder what At War with the Army would be like if it were funny. I also wonder what it would be like if director Walker could figure out how to open up a scene. Sure, the whole thing is shot on limited exteriors and then the same interiors–it takes place on an army base–but Walker just goes through the same shots over and over again. Worse, there are musical numbers and Walker is even more inept at their staging. The first one, in the mess hall, is a no brainer but Walker flops with it.

Paul Weatherwax's editing is solid and it hints at how the scene could have been a whole lot better.

The script is the next problem. Even though the script is from the film's producer, Fred F. Finklehoffe, it plays like he doesn't understand the difference between a movie and a stage play. The long scenes, full of repeated character gags and annoying contrivances, drag. It's curious to see fast-talking Mike Kellin and Jerry Lewis plow through their lengthy dialogue deliveries to fill time.

The script sets up Lewis, Dean Martin and Tommy Farrell as the most likable characters in the film, but mostly because no one else is at all endearing. With Lewis, there's the oddity of him being sympathetic because lead Martin is gently nasty to him. But it's not enough to make Army worthwhile.

As for Martin, he delivers the lousy dialogue really well. Again, not enough to make the movie worthwhile.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Hal Walker; screenplay by Fred F. Finklehoffe, based on the play by James B. Allardice; director of photography, Stuart Thompson; edited by Paul Weatherwax; produced by Finklehoffe; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Dean Martin (1st Sgt. Vic Puccinelli), Jerry Lewis (Pfc. Alvin Korwin), Mike Kellin (Sgt. McVey), Jimmie Dundee (Eddie), Dick Stabile (Pvt. Pokey), Tommy Farrell (Cpl. Clark), Frank Hyers (Cpl. Shaughnessy), Danny Dayton (Supply Sgt. Miller), William Mendrek (Capt. Ernest Caldwell), Kenneth Forbes (Lt. Davenport), Paul Livermore (Pvt. Jack Edwards), Ty Perry (Lt. Terray) and Polly Bergen (Helen Palmer).


RELATED

Cape Fear (1962, J. Lee Thompson)

Maybe half of J. Lee Thompson’s shots in Cape Fear are good. Unfortunately, the other half aren’t mediocre, they’re bad. He’s given to iconic shots of Robert Mitchum, some of which make Cape Fear look like stills from an old Universal horror picture, with Mitchum as Frankenstein’s Monster. As a horror film–Mitchum’s Max Cady is an abomination–Cape Fear as some rather effective moments. But Thompson doesn’t play most of it as a straight horror film–the ending, with Mitchum loose, yes–but the beginning… Thompson thinks he can thoughtlessly ape other directors–the Welles Touch of Evil references are legion–and get the same cerebral result. He cannot.

And while Mitchum is fantastic as one of the more terrifying movie monsters, Gregory Peck is playing a superhero. The Great Stone Face. No matter what’s going on, Peck’s got one expression. No matter what’s going on, Peck’s voice has one tone. Eventually, his hair gets mussed up and it finally becomes clear he’s in a panic. Peck rarely gives emotional performances–though better directors certainly know how to make him come off human–but it’s absolutely essential in Cape Fear and he doesn’t cut it. As Peck’s wife, Polly Bergen is okay, certainly more expressive than Peck, but not much. Lori Martin is an able terrified teenager and the rest of the supporting cast, Martin Balsam, Telly Savalas and Barrie Chase, bring a lot to their scenes.

The film plods along–like most horror movies, there’s nothing to it once the viewer knows how it ends–to the blaring Bernard Herrmann score. The score’s way too much and a lot of Cape Fear feels like Universal trying to make a studio thriller post-Psycho (down to using the same set as Mother’s house). They fail, thanks to Thompson, thanks to Peck. What they do get is Mitchum acting really well, which is he did most of the time, and in far better films.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by J. Lee Thompson; screenplay by James R. Webb, based on a novel by John D. MacDonald; director of photography, Sam Leavitt; edited by George Tomasini; music by Bernard Herrmann; produced by Sy Bartlett; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Gregory Peck (Sam Bowden), Robert Mitchum (Max Cady), Polly Bergen (Peggy Bowden), Lori Martin (Nancy Bowden), Martin Balsam (Police Chief Mark Dutton), Jack Kruschen (Attorney Dave Grafton), Telly Savalas (Private Detective Charles Sievers), Barrie Chase (Diane Taylor), Paul Comi (George Garner), John McKee (Officer Marconi) and Page Slattery (Deputy Kersek).


RELATED

Escape from Fort Bravo (1953, John Sturges)

The Western is probably the greatest American contribution to cinema (don’t mention Leone, because Fort Bravo and the like have heart, something Leone was never interested in). Escape from Fort Bravo is an excellent example of the American Western. It’s not just conflict with the untamed West, but also the internal struggle of the Civil War. What matters about the Western, of course, is not these conflicts (if they did matter, there’d be a significant quality change once Westerns started treating the American Indians with respect and there isn’t–of course, did Westerns ever treat them with respect? Kevin Costner doesn’t count for that example either. I’m thinking American Outlaws and Young Guns). Anyway, Fort Bravo.

I first saw Fort Bravo because of Eleanor Parker. This first viewing must have been back in the late 1990s, before I knew who William Holden was, probably, and was only familiar with Sturges for The Great Escape. As a story about people, Fort Bravo is probably Sturges’ peak. Holden runs this film–though John Forsythe is a good alter ego for him–and both sort of fight over Parker. Mostly, Holden fights with himself over Parker (Forsythe, in a nice scene, obviously can’t beat Holden).

There’s no propaganda to Fort Bravo, the Northerners and Southerners are portrayed as soldiers in a war who speak the same language. This lack of propaganda is a significant aspect of the American Western. Even in the Civil War, it’s not about the ideas, it’s about the lives lost. Fort Bravo can get away with it mostly because it never shows what dicks the Rebs were, quite wisely. I can just excuse away the line about the South being right, because the truth is, they were allowed to cede. But it’s not an issue in Fort Bravo, because these interesting folks in a life-threatening situation is more interesting.

A lot of films owe the American Western. Any mainstream action film from Die Hard on is really a Western (allowing for Carpenter action films, which were earlier, but aren’t mainstream enough)–the whole Faulkner concept of man struggling to be better than himself plays out in the American Western. Fort Bravo is filled with gun battles and all sorts of action, but the real conflict is human. I was a little worried–I haven’t seen the film since 2000 at the outside–but I wasn’t wrong about it. It’s great.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Sturges; screenplay by Frank Fenton, from a story by Phillip Rock and Michael Pate; director of photography, Robert Surtees; edited by George Boemler; music by Jeff Alexander; produced by Nicholas Nayfack; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Holden (Roper), Eleanor Parker (Carla Forester), John Forsythe (Marsh), William Demarest (Campbell), William Campbell (Cabot Young), Polly Bergen (Alice Owens), Richard Anderson (Lt. Beecher), Carl Benton Raid (Col. Owens) and John Lupton (Bailey).


RELATED