Open Mic

August 2013

Set Your DVRs: The Favorite Film of Blake Edwards, Who Gave Us 'Breakfast at Tiffany's,' the 'Pink Panther' movies, 'Days of Wine and Roses,' '10' and 'S.O.B.,' Is on TV in a Few Hours, Late Tonight, Wednesday, Aug, 21, 2013, Uncut and With No Commercials

Chuck Ross Posted August 21, 2013 at 9:03 PM

Blake Edwards was first successful on TV, as the creator, in 1958, of “Peter Gunn.” TV historians Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, in their authoritative “Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows,” write that the character of Gunn “was one of the first suave, aggressive, lady-killer private detectives to be seen on television.” Gunn, as played by Craig Stevens, was definitely Cary Grant light, but I don't mean that pejoratively. What Edwards had plugged into was a light, sophisticated gumshoe who was just the character millions of Americans wanted to invite into the intimacy of their living rooms in the late 1950s.

Flash forward 13 years, and now filmmaker Edwards makes “Wild Rovers,” starring William Holden and Ryan O’Neal and featuring Karl Malden, Tom Skerritt, Joe Don Baker, Rachel Roberts and Moses Gunn. A terrific cast in a beautiful, yet intimate widescreen Western.

“Rovers” is on in a few hours on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) -- at 12:30 a.m. Pacific time, which is 3:30 a.m. East Coast time. The film is not available for streaming on Netflix or Amazon, though it is available on DVD.

Critic Hal Erickson of Rovi has famously said of “Wild Rovers,” "If you want to know what 'The Wild Bunch' would have looked like with Blake Edwards rather than Sam Peckinpah in the director's chair, we submit for your approval 'Wild Rovers.' "

The film is basically a bromance between an aging cowboy, played by Holden, and a younger cowpoke, played by Ryan O’Neal. They are both splendid. When he made "Wild Rovers," Holden had only made one movie (the non-Western, little known “The Christmas Tree”) after shooting “The Wild Bunch.” But his performance in “Rovers” is far more relaxed, knowing and poignant than his Pike Bishop in Sam Peckinpah’s classic.

For O’Neal, “Wild Rovers” was his next major movie after he made “Love Story.” (He made the TV movie “Love Hate Love” in between.) I’m not a big O’Neal fan, but he’s fine here, and he and Holden play well off one another.

It’s territory Blake visited earlier in career, when he co-wrote the screenplay and helped produce the comic drama “Soldiers in the Rain,” with Steve McQueen and Jackie Gleason, which I wrote about several weeks ago.

As in that movie, there are plenty of light moments offsetting the drama in “Wild Rovers.” However, due to Philip Lathrop’s stunning color photography and Jerry Goldsmith’s exquisitely expressive score, I find “Wild Rovers” most lyrical, which is not an adjective I’d use to describe most of Edwards’ films.

Edwards said that “Wild Rovers” was his favorite of all his movies. Unfortunately for Edwards, when it was initially released in 1971 by MGM, the studio was run by Jim Aubrey. Aubrey, whose biggest claim to fame was giving us “The Beverly Hillbillies” when he ran CBS, insisted that the film be cut from its 137-minute length. Edwards disowned that version. The version TCM is showing has been restored to its pre-Aubrey cuts length.

One final note about "Wild Rovers." Here’s the poster that was initially released for the movie (and is also the cover of the soundtrack LP):

wildroversorigihnal.jpgAccording to the website of the American Film Institute, “After the film's release, an article in daily Variety on June 25, 1971, 'stated that the studio would withdraw its original advertising campaign, featuring an image of Ryan O'Neal and William Holden riding a horse, with O'Neal’s arms around Holden. According to the article, the ads had engendered "insider wisecracks" about a possible homosexual relationship between the characters, and would be replaced by images of the stars standing separately, holding guns.'"

Here are the replacement ads:

Wild_Rovers2.jpgWildRovers3.jpg

In Case the Wait for 'Downton Abbey' Is Driving You Crazy ... Here Are a Few Tidbits About Season 4

Hillary Atkin Posted August 14, 2013 at 12:30 PM

Don’t read any further if you want to avoid any spoilers for the upcoming Season 4 of “Downton Abbey.” If that’s the case, you’ll also have to wall yourself off for the next five months until the hit British drama runs in the U.S. on PBS, where it has become the network’s most watched drama ever, with an average of 11.5 million total viewers, according to Nielsen.

Not only that, it’s the public broadcaster’s second most viewed program ever, after the Ken Burns docu miniseries “The Civil War.”

Across the pond, legions of fans in the U.K. will have already seen the entire new season by the time it premieres here in the States on Jan. 5, 2014. So if you really want to find out everything that happens to Lord and Lady Grantham, their scene-stealing mothers, along with Mr. and Mrs. Bates, Lady Mary, Daisy, Lady Edith, Mr. Carson and the rest of the crew, it should be as easy as ringing a bell for afternoon tea -- or following the proper people on Twitter.

“The fact that people talk about it, and that word of mouth sort of travels once it premieres in the U.K., has actually benefited us,” said PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger. “So you kind of don’t want to mess with that if it’s working so well.”

She and some of the other women of the Abbey, including PBS “Masterpiece” series executive producer Rebecca Eaton, were in the spotlight during a drinks and dinner event that PBS put on Aug. 6 at the Beverly Hilton, during the Television Critics Association summer press tour.

It was the most anticipated evening of the two-week confab, coming just a day before the end of the tour and reviving the fervor of several hundred media members who participate.

There was not an empty seat in the house as a few clips from the upcoming season unspooled. Then, the cast took the stage in the ballroom.

Along with Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary), Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith), Joanne Froggatt (Anna Bates), Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes) and Sophie McShera (Daisy Mason), executive producer Gareth Neame was also part of the proceedings -- and did his best to keep creator Julian Fellowes’ secrets from being spilled by the enthusiastic actors who bring the beloved characters to life.

With the abrupt yet expected departure of Dan Stevens’ heartthrob heir Matthew Crawley in the Season 3 finale, killed off in a car accident, Dockery’s Lady Mary is left with their newborn -- and apparently several romantic suitors during the new season, which spans from February 1922 into the spring of 1923.

“Mary has more than one love interest, and she is slowly coming back to real life,” said Dockery, who has been nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for the second year as outstanding lead actress in a drama series.

As for Stevens’ leavetaking -- it was well known that he didn’t want to renew his contract -- Dockery said initially she was concerned, but that it opens up more storylines for Fellowes to write. She also revealed that her character does not have much interaction with their baby, presciently named George. “Motherhood is a slow journey for her.”

Meanwhile, as Mary and the rest of the Crawley family grieve for Matthew, Lady Edith is revealed to be what she calls the budding Carrie Bradshaw of the Roaring '20s. Some of the modernity of the time is dramatized through her, as she revels in the rights women are gaining, and in the freer female fashion choices of the era.

Yet given the nature of what has already transpired, even Eaton couldn’t help asking aloud, “Will Edith take her dresses off?”

If it isn’t Edith’s -- and Mary’s -- love life that grabs you, it may be a new American cast member, the son of Shirley MacLaine’s Martha Levinson. Yes, Paul Giamatti will appear as Cora’s brother. And he may be a heavy wine drinker, or he may spar with Hugh Bonneville’s Lord Grantham.

Plus, "DA" will feature its first black cast member, Gary Carr, who plays a musician named Jack Ross.

Just another reason why the wait could be excruciating … but will likely be ultimately satisfying on many levels.

Tonight I Recommend a Must-See Movie on TV That 50 Years Ago Received One of Worst Reviews Ever Given by The New York Times. Plus, One of the Funniest Movie Anecdotes I've Ever Heard

Chuck Ross Posted August 9, 2013 at 3:48 PM

I remember it as if it was yesterday. When I was nine-years-old I took the Greyhound bus for the first time—and took it alone--as my parents put me on the bus in Santa Monica to visit my grandfather in Oxnard, up the coast about an hour away.

When I arrived, I was met by my grandfather, who was a widower in his 70s. He was my dad’s dad, and I didn’t see him too often. He was very nice and I liked him, though I remember that he smelled very old to me. That night we went to see “The Honeymoon Machine” at the local movie house, starring Steve McQueen, Jim Hutton and Paula Prentiss. It was a romantic comedy and I remember thinking it was a fun, enjoyable movie.

That was back in 1961, and I don’t think McQueen made another romantic comedy quite as light as that one. But he did exercise his comedy chops in one other film, made in 1963, that New York Times' movie reviewer Bosley Crowther characterized at the time as “an odd sort of comedy-cum-pathos,” which is a wonderfully accurate description of the movie.

But those may be the only words in Crowther's review of the movie with which I agree. I’ve read a lot of movie reviews by Crowther and his successors over the years in The New York Times, but I don’t know if I’ve ever read one more scathing.

The movie is “Soldier in the Rain.” It stars McQueen, Jackie Gleason and Tuesday Weld. It’s on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) tonight, Friday, Aug. 9, 2013, at 11:45 pm here on the West Coast (which is 2:45 a.m. tomorrow morning Eastern time). I suggest if you can’t watch it then, you DVR it. That’s because it’s not available to stream on either Netflix or Amazon, and it’s never had a regular DVD release. You can order it on DVD through Amazon or TCM’s website, but those are DVD’s made-on-demand, and will cost you near $20.

“Soldier in the Rain” is based on a novel by William Goldman. A few years later Goldman was writing screenplays himself, including “The Princess Bride” (also based on his novel), “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “All The President’s Men, “ but this was before that period. So the screenplay is by Blake Edwards and Maurice Richlin, who Edwards worked with on a number of his films. The film is listed as a "Blake Edwards Production."

As a screenwriter, Edwards has given us such movies as the Pink Panther series, “Victor Victoria,” and a terrific Western, “Wild Rovers.”

Edwards was both writing and directing movies back in 1963, and I don’t know why he didn’t direct this movie. It might be that the shooting of “Soldier” coincided, at the time, with Edwards directing “The Pink Panther.” So “Soldier in the Rain” was directed by Ralph Nelson. Nelson, who directed a lot of early TV shows, also directed many feature films, including “Lillies of the Field,” “Charley,” and Cary Grant’s penultimate film, “Father Goose.”

Times critic Crowther was merciless in his disdain for “Soldier in the Rain.” I love the performances of both Gleason and McQueen in this movie. Crowther said “Both actors are really quite unpleasant in this broad and insensitive display of human stupidity and duplicity…” I find the movie funny and full of pathos that is not insensitive, stupid nor duplicitous.

Crowther goes on to say that “Mr. McQueen is simply callow…and Mr. Gleason is merely offensive.” Again, he’s wrong on both counts. Both actors nail their characters – McQueen’s Eustis Clay is no stranger to comic flamboyance, and Gleason gives an excellent nuanced take on his Maxwell Slaughter.

Crowther also says, “Right in the middle of the picture, there in a barroom brawl comes up, in which Mr. McQueen and Mr. Gleason mix with two military police. It is a vicious, sadistic demonstration of hoodlum street-fighting techniques, likely no doubt to teach teenagers how to stomp an adversary to death.” Huh? The brawls in “From Here to Eternity,” made ten years earlier than “Soldier” (and just to name one other movie) are much more disturbing.

Perhaps one reason for Crowther’s disliking the film so much was that he was in no mood for hijinks when he saw it. The movie was released just five days after JFK had been assassinated.

“Soldier” also has an excellent score by frequent Edwards collaborator Henry Mancini. Besides the “Pink Panther” movies, Mancini also wrote the superb music for some of the films Edwards directed, but did not write, such as “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and, most notably, music-wise, the autoharp-rich score for “Experiment in Terror.”

Here’s what Mancini wrote about “Soldier in the Rain” in his 1989 autobiography “Did They Mention the Music?”: “In 1963 I did ‘Soldier in the Rain’ one of the most touching films I have ever seen about the relationship between two men, played by Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen.” Saying how tough it was to write the theme, Mancini added “it became, along with the theme of ‘Two for the Road,’ my favorite among my own themes. It was introduced over the credits by a haunting trumpet solo by Mannie Klein.”

Mancini continued, “Every once in awhile I see the film. There is a scene at the end. McQueen is all alone in the dayroom, looking at the soft-drink machine.” In the movie, “only Gleason’s character can kick it just right to get a free soda. This is the only scene in all the films I’ve scored where the music has an effect on me. It’s so touching it brings me near to tears. ‘Soldier in the Rain’ was a slice-of-life kind of film…” Mancini ended the passage by adding that “Soldier” is a lovely, small movie. I agree.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

As mentioned earlier, “Soldier” is based on a novel by William Goldman. Goldman has written some very funny stories about his experiences in Hollywood. I recommend highly his book “Adventures in the Screen Trade.”

Here’s one of my favorite anecdotes that Goldman tells. It’s got nothing to do with “Soldier,’ by the way. It’s just a great anecdote. This is not in “Adventures,” but was written by Goldman in an introduction to a paperback edition of his novel “The Marathon Man.” This particular edition came out after the movie version of “The Marathon Man,” for which Goldman also wrote the screenplay. All you need to know is that the movie starred Dustin Hoffman as the protagonist and Laurence Olivier as the bad guy who also happened to be a dentist. The movie was directed by John Schlesinger, who won an Academy Award for directing “Midnight Cowboy.” Here’s the anecdote, as told by Goldman:

We had hired a dentist to be there [during rehearsals] to assist Olivier and we all sat around this large table for the first script reading. A big moment for me. An Oscar-winning director, Schlesinger. Wonderful actors like Hoffman…and, of course Olivier (one of my heroes, along with Willie Mays and Bronko Nagurski and Irwin Shaw).

And I am, as I always am at such moments, tired and scared.

I’d written several drafts of the novel and a lot of versions of the movie and I was whipped and I hoped, at last, I’d gotten it down okay. Because I didn’t have much more to give the project. That happens to a screenwriter, at least to this one. You’ve thought about it so long, done it so often, in your head or on paper, that you start to get punchy, silly, dry. I wanted the reading to work so I could leave it behind, begin to rebuild my head.

The reading more than worked, it went wonderfully. There was a pause after the ending. A treasured pause. A sense of contentment in the air—

--and then, from some dimwitted blue, the dentist starts talking. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but, frankly, I have a lot of problems with the screenplay…

Nightmare.

If you write movies, you never know who the enemy is. Someone is going to fuck you, that’s a given. I knew Hoffman was the enemy—he felt he was too old for the role and he was right, of course. I knew Schlesinger could be an enemy; he only took such a commercial piece of work for the same reason that all the good ones do—the fear that their careers are in trouble. But those two were momentarily happy. I was free. I was home and dry. Until this dentist turns into Brooks Atkinson.

I screamed at him. “You’re here for teeth! Leave the goddamn script alone!” He did not know how crazy writers can be. The fact is truly this: if I’d had a gun and thought I could get away with it, the guy was dead.”

TV Critics Honor the Industry's Best

Hillary Atkin Posted August 5, 2013 at 12:04 PM

Even as the best in current television programming was honored in a dozen categories, it was the recognition for a show of yore that brought down the house at the 29th Annual Television Critics Association Awards at the Beverly Hilton's International Ballroom Saturday night.

Norman Lear, the creator of "All in the Family," and Rob Reiner, its beloved meathead, got a sustained standing ovation as they accepted the Heritage Award from TCA Vice President Scott Pierce.

The pair gleefully read a transcript of a recently uncovered conversation that was taped in the Oval Office between President Richard Nixon and Bob Haldeman in which they opined that the groundbreaking CBS comedy glorified homosexuality.

Reiner also couldn't resist ribbing some of the fellow honorees of the evening.

Further hilarity ensued when Lear imitated Amy Poehler doing a pirouette imitating Kaitlin Jenkins of “Bunheads,” the now canceled ABC Family program that took the critics prize for outstanding achievement in youth programming.

It was just another comedic moment in an evening that began with Comedy Central's Key and Peele doing an Obama and Luther schtick, during which Luther threatened a drone strike if Netflix didn't release its viewership numbers.

Then, Louis C.K. started the running gag of the night when he accepted the individual achievement in comedy prize for his eponymous FX show, calling the acrylic trophy a “shitty piece of plastic” that he would use to post drink specials on if he ever bought a bar.

Most of the other winners also proceeded to comment on the trophies, which are voted on by the 220-member critics organization, which invites only the winners to the ceremony -- making for an extremely streamlined presentation that ran for a little over an hour.

Several of the honorees, including Barbara Walters for career achievement, “Orphan Black’s” Tatiana Maslany for achievement in drama and Ken Burns for news and information for his docu "Central Park Five," were not able to attend and taped their acceptance speeches.

It was a big night for FX, as in addition to honors for “Louie,” its freshman series "The Americans" took the award for outstanding new program. Keri Russell and Noah Emmerich were among those on hand from the show to accept.

HBO also scored two TCAs, for "Game of Thrones” as best drama -- accepted by Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington -- and “Behind the Candelabra” in the category for movies, miniseries and specials.

"I'm a movie guy,” said executive producer Jerry Weintraub in accepting the award. "I didn't even know what TCA was until six months ago and (HBO’s) Nancy Lesser told me I had to come tonight and wear a suit. They were the greatest people to work with, ever," he said in describing the difficult road in getting the Liberace biopic made, even with Michael Douglas and Matt Damon on board, before the premium cabler gave him the green light.

“Shark Tank” took the prize in reality programming, accepted by the reality-prolific Mark Burnett, and “The Big Bang Theory” was the winner in comedy, adding another feather to Chuck Lorre’s cap.

The evening ended with the presentation of the program of the year award, which Vince Gilligan and Brian Cranston accepted for AMC's “Breaking Bad” -- which, sadly for its many devotees, is about to unspool its final eight episodes.

Gilligan said that three days earlier, they had a premiere in New York and Warren Buffett was there as well as Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. “How the heck did it come to this?,” he recalled asking himself.

”I’ll tell you how it came to this -- folks like you guys,” he said in thanking the television critics. “Back in season one when our official number was 117 viewers, folks like you guys spread the word about ‘Breaking Bad.’”