Tag Archives: Susan Clark

Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970, Joseph Sargent)

Colossus is a pre-disaster movie, in the Irwin Allen sense. It has a lot in common with films like The Andromeda Strain and The Satan Bug. The problem is established and then the film’s story is an attempt to resolve it. It’s a little less character-oriented than the Allen disaster formula–Colosuss doesn’t have much lead-in, it sort of just gets started after the opening sequence–but that lack of character development makes the cast all the more important. The viewer’s never going to have a chance to get to know these people; the casting has to be superb.

And Colossus is perfectly cast. Eric Braeden–who I just discovered ended up on a soap (and I even recognize him)–turns in a likable, funny leading man performance. He’s always believable as the world’s foremost computer designer, but he still can get away with being a traditional (and excellent) leading man. Susan Clark’s second-billed and sort of around for half the movie in the background before she gets to take a more central role and she’s got some fantastic moments. I figured–based on that Planet of the Apes movie he was in–Braeden would be good. So the real surprise is Gordon Pinsent as the President. Too often, movie presidents aren’t convincing–or they’re played by big name actors who assume their recognizable name will make them a good president-in-crisis. Pinsent does have a lot of good material–he’s second lead for the first half–but his performance is rather impressive.

Colossus is a from-the-top crisis story. We don’t really get to see how regular people are reacting, which has become the norm today. Everyone in the film has been on the phone with the President of the United States. What director Sargent and screenwriter James Bridges have to do is make a film without special effects–we don’t see any of the disasters–work from a couple rooms. There’s the White House and there’s Braeden’s computer lab. The film could practically work as a play.

Sargent’s widescreen composition is peculiar and effective. He started on TV and he tends to use the Panavision frame to horizontally expand what would otherwise be television composition. The result is unexpected. It’s like Sargent’s composition ends up looking like deliberate, thoughtful art, when it appears to just be a pragmatic approach to widescreen filmmaking.

Bridges’s script is competent and unambitious. Colossus is from a novel–which probably followed most of the same story beats–so all Bridges has to do is make it play right. And, given how the beats develop, it’d be impossible not to. There’s some character development, left nicely with Braeden and Clark, but a lot of the script is just perfunctory. That mechanical approach ends up hurting Colossus, because there’s no sense of anything escalating. Eventually, the movie just stops. I figured there were another fifteen minutes, but no, it was end credit time.

Perceiving the passage of time in the story is partially Bridges’s fault–three days pass without acknowledgment, a problem in a story set over a specific period–but a lot of it lies on Michel Colombier’s score. It’s anti-climatic and rote. Colombier tries for melodrama and ends up wasting a lot of time.

Colossus is a boring and intriguing film. Even with the narrative distance, the characters’ dilemmas are compelling. And, at just after the halfway point, when the computer taking over the world starts talking, it gets real funny. Not dumb funny, smart funny. But still real funny. It sort of suggests the film could have cut fifteen minutes and run another thirty and it would have turned out better.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph Sargent; screenplay by James Bridges, based on a novel by D.F. Jones; director of photography, Gene Polito; edited by Folmar Blangsted; music by Michel Colombier; produced by Stanley Chase; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Eric Braeden (Dr. Charles Forbin), Susan Clark (Dr. Cleo Markham), Gordon Pinsent (The President), William Schallert (CIA Director Grauber), Leonid Rostoff (Russian Chairman), Georg Stanford Brown (Dr. John F. Fisher), Willard Sage (Dr. Blake), Alex Rodine (Dr. Kuprin), Martin E. Brooks (Dr. Jefferson J. Johnson) and Marion Ross (Angela Fields).


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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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Tell Them Willie Boy is Here (1969, Abraham Polonsky)

Is that the one where Katharine Ross plays an Indian?

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Tell Them Willie Boy is Here starts incredibly strong. It gives a real sense of building towards something, but when that something arrives–Robert Blake and Katharine Ross on the run from a posse–it’s handled so poorly, the film falls apart. Maybe it doesn’t fall apart, maybe it just ceases to be good and interesting. The relationship between Blake and Ross, which started as interesting, turns into propaganda. It’s fine, it’s for a good cause, but their scenes lose all sense of importance in terms of character development, motivation… any attempt at honesty. Actually, Willie Boy starts to fall apart earlier. Polonsky cannot handle, as a director, a lot of shots. The essential scene, the crime Blake commits to have to go on the run, is incompetently shot. It’s not until later, with the Dave Grusin score going non-stop, it becomes clear Polonsky had seen The Shooting and was aping its style. It’s not even a bad job of aping, it’s just Polonsky also seemed to think he needed to ape The Shooting‘s copout, indie-friendly ending.

For the first twenty or so, everything’s good in Willie Boy, then the Blake and Ross stuff falls apart, but there’s the excellent, complicated Robert Redford and Susan Clark story going to maintain interest and actually make important observations on the human condition. Except, it’s not propaganda, so Polonsky drops it and that story is the most important–most unique–part of Willie Boy. At the end, when he has a chance to reclaim it, he instead conjures some malarky about Redford the sheriff surrounded by people who think it’s still the old days being the alter ego of Blake, the Indian wrongfully on the run. It’s a bunch of crap and it’s really unfortunate, considering Redford’s excellent work in the film. Blake is okay, but his performance is identical to Charles Bronson’s performances in the early 1960s. Almost no different really.

As a conflicted Native American schoolteacher, Ross is silly sometimes and okay sometimes. When she’s quiet–actually, besides the scenes with Clark and Redford, everything is better when it’s quiet in Willie Boy. Clark’s fantastic and she and Redford deserved a lot of better of a project to work on together.

I don’t think there’s much else to say about the film, other than it being less an incredible disappointment than an unfortunate failure. Polonsky was screenwriter and a more understanding, more capable director would have turned out a far better, far less pretentious product… almost any director, really. Redford would have done wonders.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Abraham Polonsky; screenplay by Polonsky, based on the book by Harry Lawton; director of photography, Conrad L. Hall; edited by Melvin Shapiro; music by Dave Grusin; produced by Philip A. Waxman; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Robert Redford (Coop), Katharine Ross (Lola), Robert Blake (Willie Boy), Susan Clark (Dr. Elizabeth Arnold), Barry Sullivan (Ray), John Vernon (George Hacker), Charles Aidman (Benby), Charles McGaw (Sheriff Wilson), Shelly Novack (Johnny Finney) and Robert Lipton (Charlie Newcombe).


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Coogan’s Bluff (1968, Don Siegel)

In my youth, or until Entertainment Weekly misquoted me about it, I used to opine that film entered the modern era in 1968. I cited films such as 2001, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Bullitt. Coogan’s Bluff, released in October 1968 (who doesn’t love IMDb for release dates?), sort of goes against that assertion (which I’ve long since abandoned anyway).

Coogan is an anomaly in Eastwood’s filmography and maybe just in film in general. It’s not a Dirty Harry film–though Siegel’s direction is similar in both pictures–in fact, Dirty Harry was more of an identifiable character than Coogan is in this film. But Coogan is a character study… It’s incredibly different and almost impossible to explain. While there’s a chase scene, there’s also Eastwood getting beat-up a bunch (see, back in the 1960s, people could beat up Clint Eastwood, not anymore… he’s pre-iconic in Coogan), then there are these long, delicate conversation scenes between Coogan and his romantic interest (how did Susan Clark not take off as a dramatic actress? I half blame it on Universal and half on marrying the football guy). I think, in the end, I only decided it was a character study because we–the audience–aren’t privy to the most important time in the film. They just don’t show us….

Another interesting aspect is to see Eastwood’s progression as an actor. In Coogan’s Bluff, away from the Western setting, he’s obviously missing something. He found it quick though, given Dirty Harry and Play Misty and The Beguiled. But it’s a ballsy role–he gets his ass kicked all the time. The majority of his time is spent causing trouble and trying to get laid. It’s not surprising no one knows how to market this film today, post-marquee Eastwood.

Films like Coogan’s Bluff really spoke to me when I was a teenager because they did something different. Coogan doesn’t speak as loudly as it did–maybe it does, I can’t remember–but there’s some beautiful stuff in some of this film. Unfortunately, the Lalo Schifrin score works against it sometimes. So do the scenes when it’s too apparent they filmed on the Universal backlot, though the syncing is excellent in other parts of the film. And who thought the Cloisters would ever be used as an action showdown?

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed and produced by Don Siegel; written by Herman Miller, Dean Riesner and Howard Rodman, based on a story by Miller; director of photography, Bud Thackery; edited by Sam E. Waxman; music by Lalo Schifrin; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Coogan), Lee J. Cobb (McElroy), Susan Clark (Julie), Tisha Sterling (Linny Raven), Don Stroud (Ringerman), Betty Field (Mrs. Ringerman), Tom Tully (Sheriff McCrea) and Melodie Johnson (Milie).