Tag Archives: Richard Widmark

Vanished (1971, Buzz Kulik)

Even for a TV miniseries, Vanished feels like it runs too long. There are always tedious subplots, like folksy, pervy old man senator Robert Young plotting against President Richard Widmark. Widmark is up for re-election and he’s vulnerable. Even his own press secretary’s secretary (Skye Aubrey) thinks Widmark is “an evil man,” possibly because he’s going to end the world in nuclear war, possibly because he’s a secretive boss. It’s never clear. Aubrey, both her character and her performance, are the most tedious thing about Vanished until she, well, vanishes. A lot of characters just vanish. After meticulous plotting, Dean Riesner’s teleplay throws it all out after the resolution to the first part “cliffhanger.”

The setup for Vanished is probably the best stuff it has going for it. At the beginning, it all seems like it’s going to be about that press secretary–James Farentino–who’s new to job and dating his secretary (Aubrey). He’s got an FBI agent roommate (Robert Hooks) and spends his time at happening parties with friends while avoiding reporter William Shatner’s intrusive questions. There’s also a significant subplot involving Widmark’s best friend, civilian Arthur Hill, who’s an active older American. He and Eleanor Parker as his wife are great together. For their one scene. Because then Hill goes missing–he’s Vanished, you see–it’s up to Farentino and Hooks, unofficially working the case, to track him down.

While avoiding Shatner’s intrusions and Aubrey’s annoying behavior.

And Riesner–and director Kulik–manage to make Farentino’s a believable amateur detective. The plotting helps out with it, as does Widmark’s mysteriousness. Shatner’s not very good in Vanished, mostly just broadly thin, but he’s a decent enough adversary for Farentino. Eventually, Widmark’s part grows and he too gets an adversary. CIA head E.G. Marshall thinks Widmark’s keeping too much from him and gets involved with Young’s scheming senator.

Marshall’s so good at playing slime bag, especially the quiet, unassuming one here, those scenes pass fairly well. Farentino’s decent, Hooks’s good, Widmark’s fine. Aubrey’s bad. And no one is anywhere near as compelling as Hill and Parker, or even Farentino before he just becomes an exposition tool. Maybe if Vanished kept him around in the last hour, except for awful bickering scenes with Aubrey, it’d have finished better. Instead, after dragging out the first couple hours–including a pointless excursion to Brazil for Hooks–Farentino vanishes too. Parker goes somewhere towards the end of the first hour, Hooks somewhere towards the end of the second, Farentino in the third. At least in Hooks’s case, it’s so Reisner can perturb the plot. But Farentino just stops being interesting.

And the interesting thing is supposed to be the reveal, which is way too obvious towards the end of the first half of Vanished. Reisner doesn’t have anything to do with it (presumably) as he’s just adapting a novel. Instead of spreading it all out, however, Vanished would do much better, much shorter. It still wouldn’t fix the stupid resolution, which comes during a lot of reused footage for the “action” sequences, but at least shorter there’d be less time investment.

Because Reisner and Kulik don’t answer the most interesting questions. The film skips any number of good scenes to “go big” with stock footage of aircraft carrier take-offs. There’s also a lot of grand, “real world” spy technology in the second half, which is a waste of time. Well, unless Kulik had made it visually interesting, but he doesn’t.

Vanished is a disappointment, but one with mostly solid (or better) acting. Nice small turns from Murray Hamilton, Larry Hagman, Don Pedro Colley; plus a really funny single scene one from Neil Hamilton.

Maybe if Farentino and Hooks weren’t such appealing leads–or if Hill and Parker didn’t imply they’d be able to do great scenes together–Vanished wouldn’t disappoint so much. But it even fails Widmark; after intentionally obfuscating him for over two and a half hours, Vanished wants the viewer to rest their emotional weight on him.

Vanished is reasonably tolerable throughout, just not adding up to anything, until the bungled reveal sinks it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Buzz Kulik; teleplay by Dean Riesner, based on the novel by Fletcher Knebel; director of photography, Lionel Lindon; edited by Robert Watts; music by Leonard Rosenman; produced by David J. O’Connell; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring James Farentino (Gene Culligan), Richard Widmark (President Paul Roudebush), E.G. Marshall (Arthur Ingram), Robert Hooks (Larry Storm), Eleanor Parker (Sue Greer), Arthur Hill (Arnold Greer), Skye Aubrey (Jill Nichols), William Shatner (Dave Paulick), Murray Hamilton (Nick McCann), Tom Bosley (Johnny Cavanaugh), Larry Hagman (Jerry Freytag), Denny Miller (Big Bubba Toubo), Don Pedro Colley (Mercurio), and Robert Young (Senator Earl Gannon).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 4: GUEST STAR.

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Against All Odds (1984, Taylor Hackford)

If Against All Odds had just a few more things going for it, the film might qualify as a glorious disaster. There are a lot of glorious elements to it, even if there aren't quite enough to make it worthwhile. Or even passable.

Hackford's direction is outstanding. He's fully committed to Eric Hughes's terrible script. It doesn't matter if it's plotting, logic or characters, Hughes can't do any of them. Odds is three films stuck together–Jeff Bridges as an injured football player (an absurdly old one) who has to figure out what to do with his life, Bridges and Rachel Ward's travelogue romance in scenic Mexico, and then a good old fashioned L.A. city corruption story. Actually, the first and last tie together somewhat; it's the lengthy Mexican sojourn where Odds uses up most of its goodwill.

It gets that goodwill partially from Hackford, who's got great photography from Donald E. Thorin and outstanding music from Michel Colombier and Larry Carlton. Odds always looks good and sounds good. But there's an excellent supporting cast–James Woods is phenomenal, Richard Widmark's great, Jane Greer, Swoosie Kurtz, Saul Rubinek–they're all good. The problem's the leads. Ward is awful. Sure, Hughes writes her as an object and can't figure out her character motivation, but she's still awful. Bridges isn't any good for similar reasons; silly writing, nonsense story arc. But at least he's likable.

There are a couple moments where all the good things collide and Odds is sublime.

There needed to be more.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Taylor Hackford; screenplay by Eric Hughes, based on a film written by Daniel Mainwaring; director of photography, Donald E. Thorin; edited by Fredric Steinkamp and William Steinkamp; music by Michel Colombier and Larry Carlton; production designer, Richard Lawrence; produced by William S. Gilmore and Hackford; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Terry Brogan), Rachel Ward (Jessie Wyler), James Woods (Jake Wise), Alex Karras (Hank Sully), Jane Greer (Mrs. Wyler), Richard Widmark (Ben Caxton), Dorian Harewood (Tommy), Swoosie Kurtz (Edie) and Saul Rubinek (Steve Kirsch).


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Garden of Evil (1954, Henry Hathaway)

For a while it seems like the third act of Garden of Evil will make up for the rest of the film’s problems. Or at least give it somewhere to excel. Sadly, director Hathaway and screenwriter Frank Fention inexplicably tack on a terrible coda–tying into the title no less–and effectively wash away any advances they’ve made for the film.

There are lots and lots of problems. Hathaway’s CinemaScope composition is poor (except the finish), even though Milton R. Krasner and Jorge Stahl Jr. shoot the film beautifully. It should have been Academy Ratio and black and white. But those technical choices don’t really make any difference when it comes to the actors.

Cameron Mitchell’s expectedly lame–he’s lame from his first line–but Susan Hayward’s pretty weak too. It seems like she should do well as a jaded woman forced to confront herself and persevere. But she doesn’t. Maybe because Fenton’s plotting doesn’t allow her character to grow naturally. There’s a really good moment towards the end, but she’s otherwise constantly scowling and calling it a performance.

Worse, Gary Cooper’s disinterested. He’s not bad as clearly bored. Garden should have been about his friendship with Richard Widmark–and does start with that emphasis… but it all gets confused.

Widmark’s amazing. Even when the script goes silly on him, he delivers it beautifully.

Great music from Bernard Herrmann, wonderful locations and a somehow not bad script from Fenton make Garden pass, but its defects don’t let it pass well.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Henry Hathaway; screenplay by Frank Fenton, based on a story by Fred Freiberger and William Tunberg; directors of photography, Milton R. Krasner and Jorge Stahl Jr.; edited by James B. Clark; music by Bernard Herrmann; produced by Charles Brackett; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Gary Cooper (Hooker), Susan Hayward (Leah Fuller), Richard Widmark (Fiske), Hugh Marlowe (John Fuller), Cameron Mitchell (Daly), Víctor Manuel Mendoza (Vicente) and Rita Moreno (Vicente’s girl).


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Madigan (1968, Don Siegel)

Madigan ends really well, deceptively well, but the whole film is rather well-written. The problems are plot and production related. I suppose there’s some problems with unbelievable character relationships too–for example, Richard Widmark’s workaholic cop and Inger Stevens’s would-be social climber are never a credible couple. There’s also a big problem with the brief implication Widmark is overcompensating for some (undisclosed) character flaw, something related to Henry Fonda’s police commissioner.

Besides Stevens’s poor turns in the first half (it’s not really her fault, the writer’s just can’t make her character work), everyone else is excellent. Widmark’s great, Fonda’s exceptional and–as far as I know– it’s Harry Guardino’s biggest role. James Whitmore is excellent, as is Susan Clark. The standout, acting-wise, is Don Stroud, who’s fantastic as a big dumb lug.

The last paragraph’s glut of positive adjectives is to make up for this paragraph’s expected lack of them. Even though Madigan is beautifully filmed in New York (except the night scenes, which switch noticeably over to a backlot), Don Siegel just doesn’t know what to do with the script. Madigan‘s a cop movie from the 1970s made with 1960s filmmaking mores. The location shooting works, but the film stock changes when it goes to set. The way Siegel sets up his interior scenes, in widescreen Techniscope, is poor. He either centers his subjects or he spreads them out. For instance, Widmark and Guardino are talking on the left side of the frame while there’s a guy being mirandized on the right. Siegel fills the empty space with the arrestee, when it’s clear he’d rather have him in the background. Having read Siegel’s autobiography, I know he hated widescreen–he got over it for Dirty Harry to say the least, but here, it’s very clear he’s unhappy with it.

But the film’s not poorly directed, oddly enough. It just doesn’t work right. Fonda’s side stories with Whitmore and Clark are far more interesting than Widmark’s search for the crook who’s got his gun. Even Stevens’s eventual flirting with adultery (a big theme–Clark is a society wife bedding widower Fonda) is more interesting and far more effective. It’s an adult drama fused to a cop programmer. The scenes with Fonda and Clark are amazing, as is some of the dialogue in the conversations, which is what kept me enthused throughout the boring plot. The dialogue’s incredibly insightful and human.

The whole thing would probably work better with every scene related to the “A plot” excised. It’d probably only take off twenty minutes too. Oh, and if not for Don Costa’s bombastic, over-the-top score.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Don Siegel; screenplay by Abraham Polonsky and Howard Rodman, based on a novel by Richard Dougherty; director of photography, Russell Metty; edited by Milton Shifman; music by Don Costa; produced by Frank P. Rosenberg; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Richard Widmark (Det. Daniel Madigan), Henry Fonda (Commissioner Anthony X. Russell), Inger Stevens (Julia Madigan), Harry Guardino (Det. Rocco Bonaro), James Whitmore (Chief Insp. Charles Kane), Susan Clark (Tricia Bentley), Michael Dunn (Midget Castiglione), Steve Ihnat (Barney Benesch), Don Stroud (Hughie), Sheree North (Jonesy), Warren Stevens (Capt. Ben Williams) and Raymond St. Jacques (Dr. Taylor).


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