Familiarity Breeds Respect


On Screen FAMILIARITY BREEDS RESPECT BY ROBERT ASAHINA M ..... cape their pasts Unlike stage actors, whose performances generally survive only in faded newspaper clippings and in audiences'...

...cape their pasts Unlike stage actors, whose performances generally survive only in faded newspaper clippings and in audiences' misty memories, screen actors are haunted by their old films, which live forever on the Late Late Show and in revival houses So comparisons are inescapable between the performer today and his sometimes more talented, generally more attractive and always younger self of days gone by Yet the burden of aging on screen does have one advantage It enables a few actors—those with enough "screen presence"—to develop over the years an instantly recognizable persona, a film identity that persists through different stones and roles This is not necessarily a matter of talent, for usually the best actors are those who with every role bring a new character to life (like Alec Guinness) Nevertheless, the power of some performers to create an enduring cinematic image certainly plays a large part in determining our response to their films John Wayne, for one, was always The Duke—whatever he may have been called in any given movie As Wayne grew older, the emotional resonance of his persona increased (director Don Siegel acknowledged this a few years ago by beginning The Shoot-ist with clips from earlier Wayne films) Similarly, the very mention of Humphrey Bogart calls to mind the alienated antihero with the private code of honor—the persona that made Bogart famous during the '40s I was led to these ruminations by three new films, each with a "star" in the lead role Watching Audrey Hepburn, for instance, in Sidney Sheldon's Bloodline—so named in honor of the author and his most recent best-seller —I could hardly help thinking of all the other Hepburn films I have seen And my memory was jogged not only by the presence of the aristocratic gamine, but also because the plot resembles two old Hepburn flicks H ait Until Dark and Charade The basic story line of all these movies concerns a Lady in Distress An amazingly attractive and implausibly unmarried woman is terrorized for about an hour and a half by incredibly nasty criminals who are after her money In II ait Until Dark the heroine was blind, too, adding to the sadistic tun and games Hepburn's handicap in Bloodline is of a lower order altogether As Elizabeth Roffe, heiress to a pharmaceutical empire, she seems merely to be suffering the chills Every time she shivers, though, she gets into trouble She walks out onto the patio of her Sardinian villa, shivers, and the next thing you know she's driving down a mountain road without any brakes She lands at an airport, shivers as she deplanes, and pretty soon she's trapped on the roof of a burning house, faced with choosing between two would-be rescuers—either of whom may be the maniac pursuing her (In the climax of Charade, Hepburn was forced to choose between the apparently virtuous but villainous Walter Matthau and the apparently villainous but virtuous Cary Grant) I must say that Hepburn shivers quite nicely throughout, hunching up her bony little shoulders and batting those huge eyelashes She never was much of an actress, but boy did she ever have good bone structure, and at the age of 50 she still does Unfortunately, costume designer Enrico Sab-batini has not done much to show off Hepburn's fashion model figure At the beginning of Bloodline, she is smartly, albeit conservatively attired in crisply tailored sports jackets and slacks, as the film proceeds, her wardrobe becomes homely, then downright ugly When Elizabeth marries her lawyer and confidante, Rhys Williams (Ben Gazzara), she is wearing a blue satin dress and a pillbox hat that would have looked marvelous on Mamie Eisenhower Perhaps the filmmakers thought dressing her this way would make the other actors feel more at ease, since they are all fairly well on in years Gazzara is 49, Omar Shant, 47, Romy Schneider, 42, Irene Papas, 53, and James Mason, 70 Or maybe the idea was that the audience of this '40s-hke thriller-romance would be composed ot people who now dress themselves like middle-aged matrons Whatever the reason, Bloodline actually should be titled Age Lines—though it doesn't quite seem fair to punish Hepburn tor looking so much better than the rest of the cast At 49, Clint Eastwood, the star of Escape from Alcatraz, is also remarkably fit He has never been considered much of an actor either, but the macho persona he has carefully molded over the past dozen years is a more distinctive and impressive characterization than Hepburn's "The kind of thing I do is to glorify competence," he once said m an interview, and I suspect that his critical reputation has suffered precisely because he rose to prominence at a time when inability was much more highly regarded than its opposite Today, by contrast, the tolerance for losers has diminished considerably, even Woody Allen has become a winner Moreover, in the vacuum created by John Wayne's death, many critics have seized upon Eastwood as the rightful successor to The Duke (There is an element of hypocrisy to all this, to be sure Some of the same people who so heartily condemned Wayne at the height of the Vietnam War lavished the most bathetic praise on him after he did them the favor of dying ) Eastwood's latest film has accordingly received respectful (though not always favorable) reviews Part of the respect, of course, is attributable to the fact that it has been directed by Don Siegel—a favorite of auteur critics but a talented filmmaker nonetheless Such movies as the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers have earned him the reputation of being the premier director of action thrillers, and like that classic, Escape From Alcatraz reveals both SiegePs mastery of the action and his ability to establish the context for it—the sine qua non of successful thrillers Note, for example, how quickly and effectively he conjures up the atmosphere on The Rock With a few deft strokes—the pre-credit boat ride across the bay bringing Frank Morris (Eastwood) to the maximum-security penitentiary, the brisk and dehumanizing strip search, the long walk down the corridor of the block to the tiny cell, the resounding clang of the ironbarred door—Siegel etches the claustrophobic geography of Alcatraz on the consciousness of Morris and the audience Nor is the story ever allowed to get bogged down in the mechanical structuring of minute details of the escape plan, Siegel's pointed direction makes the viewer share the prisoners' impulse to attempt the impossible "No one has ever escaped from Alcatraz," the warden (Patrick McGoohan) announces in clipped and peremptory fashion, "We don't make good citizens—we made good prisoners " No less than Morris, the viewer wants to challenge the official notion of a "good prisoner " Still, the success of Siegel's careful work depends to a large degree on Eastwood's persona The minute we see his crinkly eyes and craggy brow, his patented double-take and slow burn, we are on Morns' side It doesn't matter that he is a criminal about whom we learn surprisingly little (not even why he is in Alcatraz, except that he had earlier escaped from another prison) Eastwood again demonstrates how an actor with enough screen presence can convey an enormous number of subliminal cues, sparing the director and writer—not to mention the audience—the tiresome and often unconvincing ritual of background exposition once angered some readers by suggesting that Roger Moore, not Sean Connery, was the ideal James Bond After seeing Moonraker, with Moore in his third appearance as the sophisticated secret agent, I want to reiterate my judgment and the qualification that he is by far the weaker actor Moore's conventional good looks, acting-school accent and polished exterior are perfectly consonant (as Connery's hairy masculinity, Scottish brogue and coarse manners were not) with Ian Fleming's notion of an effete, snobbish, upper-class gentleman spy Hence, by now Moore's own persona has become virtually indistinguishable from the role of Bond This was never the case with Connery, who was continually fighting the part through ironic readings Albert Broccoli, the producer of all 11 Bond films, continues to provide 007 with beautiful women and spectacular special effects in extravagant amounts Granted, Lois Chiles (as Holly Goodhead, a somewhat unlikely CIA agent) speaks in an uninflected drone and couldn't act her way out of a high school drama class (She would have made a perfect mate for George Lazenby, who played Bond in the forgettable On Her Majesty's Secret Service They were carved out of the same tree) Cornne Clery displays far less talent—and far less flesh—than she did as the star of The Story of O But both women are lovely—and who ever said a sex object had to possess anything save the most obvious talents' As for the stunts, they are some of the best ever The opening sequence is particularly hair-raising and hilarious Kicked out of an airplane without a parachute, the unflappable agent manages with all the aplomb of a winged creature to survive two free-fall fights, steal a chute in mid-air and float to safety All the same, pulchritude and stunts can't by themselves make for an enjoyable film As a measure of Moore's contribution, just compare any of his 007 films to Connery's later ones (starting with Thunderbolt) or Lazen-by's one egregious appearance Unlike Connery, who got fatter and balder as he grew older, Moore actually seems to be getting better looking as he ages His wrinkles have, indeed, added some character to what used to be a too pretty—to the point of being bland—face Moore is also in terrific shape for man of 53 Moore, Eastwood and Hepburn all possess and express a virtue that is sorely neglected by critics, though greatly appreciated by audiences—familiarity These days, when you have to pay $4 50 a head for the privilege of standing in line to see a film that has about a 50 per cent chance of being a total loser, that's not a negligible asset...

Vol. 62 • July 1979 • No. 15

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