Sunday, February 23, 2014

All that Glitters (TV)

All that Glitters(1977)
Created by
Ann Marcus and Norman Lear
Starring Barbara Baxley, Eileen Brennan, Vanessa Brown, Anita Gillette, Linda Evans, David Haskell, Chuck McCann, Lois Nettleton, Wes Parker, Gary Sandy, Louise Shaffer, Tim Thomerson, Jessica Walter.
IMDB Entry

In the 1970s, Norman Lear ruled sitcom TV, creating socially prograssive comedy that pushed what was acceptable on TV.  Many of his shows were classics, but even his flops had their strengths.  All That Glitters was one of his biggest flops (I can’t seem to find any clips of it on Youtube), but it also was one of his most audacious ideas.

It was developed after the success of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. That show had become a phenomenon despite being a syndicated late night soap opera parody, and Lear decided to try it again.  This time, though he wanted to make a soap opera with a different premise and the idea suddenly came to him:  create a show set in a world where gender roles were reversed.

Lear got Ann Marcus (who had worked on Mary Hartman) to write the book and first script, attaching it to that concept.**  In it, women held the positions of power:  company presidents*** and political leaders.  Men ran the households for their wives, and could only get low paying jobs like secretaries or waiters.  And the women were the ones who had affairs and dalliances while their husbands were supposed to be demure and happy to keep their husband’s dinner warm.  It was like a reverse Mad Men.

The show focused on Globatron, a big multinational corporation run, like everything else in this world, by women.  The company president was L. W. Carruthers (Barbara Baxley), who would sexually harass her female workers (usually secretaries).  The other executives has the same type of  privilege men had in the 50s.  Meanwhile the men were househusbands with the worries of a stereotypical 50s woman.  For instance, Bert Stockwood (Chuck McCann) worried about his weight and whether he was still attractive to his executive wife, Christina Stockwood (Lois Nettleton).  Dan Kinkaid (Gary Sandy) was complemented on having the best looking ass in the company.  One major subplot involved finding a new woman to show the right image for the company’s new cigarette line – rugged and strong.  The choice was Linda Murkland (Linda Gray), who turned out to be a transsexual.

Note that this avoided the usual joke about gender reversals:  the women are perfectly competent in their jobs and the jokes come from them acting like men, not being unable to act like men. 

It was a solid cast of people who ended up with long careers after the show.  The most amusing bit of casting was Wes Parker as Glenn Langston; Parker had played in two world series as the starting first baseman of the Los Angeles Dodgers and got the part out of the blue. I also loved seeing Chuck McCann; in the early 60s, he was one of the great triumvirate of TV kiddy show hosts in New York City, along with Sandy Becker and Sonny Fox.  Some have said that McCann was the best part of the show; his issues were more real than those of the people in charge.

The show was controversial (not surprising for anything for Lear).  The opening theme mentioned that God was female and created Eve first; some religious groups objected.  Another problem was that the concept was probably not suitable for a five-day-a-week soap opera format; the idea has limited variations and came off as a bit heavy-handed.  It was also a difficult sell to individual stations.  It only ran about three months before the plug was pulled.

And it was pulled hard.  The show has never been on DVD,**** was never syndicated, and doesn’t even have clips on Youtube.  Even photos of the show are hard to track down.  It’s truly been forgotten.

I wouldn’t expect the show to hold up particularly well over the years, but it might be interesting to see again.

*Like The Hot L Baltimore.”

**Marcus, who worked with him writing Mary Hartman, really didn’t want to work on the new show, but did the script and bible and soon returned to MH.  She does not like the fact that Lear took sole credit for the show’s creation.

***The show appeared before the redundant term “CEO” was coined.

****Possibly for the same reason it took so long to get Mary Hartman onto disk – too many episodes.  Five times a week adds up quickly.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes

Private Life of Sherlock Holmes(1970)
Directed by
Billy Wilder
Written by Billy Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond
Starring Robert Stephens, Colin Blakely, Genevieve Page, Christopher Lee, Clive Revill, Irene Handl, Tamara Toumanova
IMDB Entry

Long-time readers of this blog* might note I have a liking for Sherlock Holmes.  If someone does a version of the story, it’s likely I’ll be there.** But it did take me awhile to get to Billy Wilder’s 1970 version.  I had heard bad things about it, and just never got around to it until recently.

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes stars Robert Stephens as the character and Colin Blakely as Watson.  The setup is the same as always:  Holmes and Watson sharing an apartment with their landlady, Mrs. Hudson (Irene Handl).

The movie consists of two stories.  The first has Holmes called by a Russian Ballerina, Madame Petrova (Tamara Toumanova) with a proposition that she father a child with her to get the best of brains and beauty.  What is interesting, and quite surprising given the time, is that Holmes gets out of her proposition by claiming to have a gay relationship with Watson, possibly not the first time this was suggested, but the first time it was portrayed on screen.  The idea was far more daring for its time then it would be today.

That over with, the movie moves on immediately to the case of a mysterious woman (Genevieve Page) who is found in the Thames and brought to Holmes to find her identity.  Her mystery, and the disappearance of her husband, for the bulk of the film.  It’s really more of a spy film than a mystery, as everything turns out to be part of a secret project that enemy agents are trying to quash.

The movie is an odd duck.  It was evidently meant to have two more stories, one of which was actually shot but dropped from the final version. It’s also strange that the first story is completely dropped, even though elements introduced as a sideline to it turn out to be important to the main story.  It’s certainly not the type of script that Billy Wilder and his long time writing partner, I.A.L. Diamond were capable of. It marked the beginning of Wilder’s decline; the movie got so-so reviews, as did three of his last four film.***

Watson, Holmes and Mrs. HudsonBut the movie has its moments:  Watson’s discomfort at being thought gay, and Genevieve Page as a woman who manages to outdo Irene Adler as a love interest.  The dialog is also Wilder and Diamond’s high level, enough so that it makes up for the un-Holmesian plot. And Stephens and Blakely make a fine Holmes and Watson.

It’s a worthwhile addition to the many Sherlock Holmes films. 

*If such creatures exist.

**I hadn’t heard the the BBC was doing a version of the story.  My wife just  happened to catch the opening credits and called me in; I fell in love with it.

***Only The Front Page had critical success, because it was the first accurate adaptation of the play (with the final line intact) and because Walter Matthau was born to play Walter Burns.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

State and Main

David Mamet
Writer David Mamet
Starring Alec Baldwin, Charles Durning, William H. Macy, Sarah Jessica Parker, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Patti Lupone, David Paymer, Julia Stiles, Rebecca Pidgeon
IMDB Entry

In memory of Philip Seymour Hoffman.

David Mamet is best known for for his serious films and plays, especially the brilliant Glengarry Glen Ross.  But in 2000, he tried his hand at comedy.  The result, State and Main is uneven, but entertaining overall.

The movie is about a favorite subject of filmmakers – the madness of making a movie.  The production of the new film, The Old Mill, has to suddenly relocated into Vermont and State and Main shows the havoc it causes.  The film’s director, Will Price (William H. Macy), tries to keep things going, though he has a slight setback when he discovers the town doesn’t have an old mill.  He leaves it up to screenwriter Joseph Turner White (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who gets stricken with massive writer’s block.  In the meantime, Clare Wellesley (Sarah Jessica Parker) suddenly decides not to do the nude scene she had agreed to do and leading man Bob Berringer (Alec Baldwin), whose eye for underage women got the kicked out of their last location, is smitten with local teen Carla (Julia Stile), who knows exactly what she wants.

The cast is certainly a good one.  Most of the actors probably jumped at the chance to work with Mamet.  And while the result may not have been typical Mamet,*  it also has plenty of laughs with a lot of farcical notes.

imagePhilip Seymour Hoffman shows his incredible range by playing White, a man filled with self-doubts, but also very funny and charming as he builds a relationship with Ann (Rebecca Pidgeon), the town bookstore owner. People are rightly praising Hoffman after his tragic death this week, but little of the praise mentions his ability to do things like light romantic comedy.

The movie did only so-so in the box office and probably didn’t make back its budget.  Mamet returned to what he was best at – dramas filled with brilliant dialog about men and double crosses.  The rest of the cast continued with their successes. 

*It didn’t have as much swearing.