Sunday, March 27, 2016


Directed by
Fred Schepisi
Written by Steve Martin, based upon Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand
Starring Steve Martin, Daryl Hannah, Rick Rossovich
IMDB Entry

When I first started seeing Steve Martin on Saturday Night Live, I didn’t much care for him.  He would come on stage, looking and sounding like he was about to be funny, but I would realize afterward, it was all presentation:  he wasn’t all that funny.  In the “wild and crazy guy” skits, he was always overshadowed by Dan Ackroyd.*  And his early films seemed to confirm my feelings.

But a funny thing happened. For some reason, even though I didn’t like him as an actor, I started watching his movies.  All of Me showed that he could be a good actor when he wasn’t playing a comic.  And Roxanne made me change my entire opinion of him.**

Now, let me make one thing clear.  I’m a big fan of Cyrano de Bergerac, starting when we read it – in French – in high school.  I also love the movie with Jose Ferrer** and Roxanne is a great adaptation, modified for modern times.

You know the story.  Cyrano is named C. D. Bales (Martin), in love with Roxanne (Daryl Hannah).  But Roxanne loves the handsome Chris (Rick Rossovich).  Chris is inarticulate, but Bales – with an large, ugly nose – helps him with Roxanne by supplying romantic words and letters.

Martin was a surprise as a romantic lead and his performance is just perfect.  His Bales is a little less stiff than Jose Ferrer’s, and his romance seems even more heartfelt.  Hannah makes a charming modern-day Roxanne.

The rewrite gives the movie a happy ending.**** but that can be forgiven.  It’s overall a wonderful reworking of a great play.


*I didn’t like “King Tut” because it paled in comparison with the Bonzo Dog Band far nuttier “Ali Baba’s Camel.”

**I discovered later that Martin wasn’t so much as being a comedian, as playing a comedian.  He was acting a role.

***It used the translation by Brian Hooker, considered the best and most faithful to the original.  Comparing it to the French version, it clearly uses the best choices that keep with the original.  One moment, for instance, is when Cyrano insults a man by saying he is not a man of letters, except for three.  In French, it’s “F-O-U” (crazy).  Hooker directly translates the speech, but uses “A-S-S.”

****Spoiler:  Cyrano de Bergerac is a tragedy.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sledge Hammer (TV)

Sledge Hammer(1986-88)
Created by
Alan Spencer
Starring David Rasche, Anne-Marie Martin, Harrison Page
IMDB Entry

Satire has a checkered history on TV.  It’s hard to keep it going over the course of a series, and even a spoof can flag.  But one of the better examples was Sledge Hammer.

Sledge Hammer (David Rasche) was the gung-ho-est cop in the San Francisco Police Department, teamed up with his best friend and partner, a .44 Magnum.  He believes in shooting first . . . and not asking questions.  His official partner, Detective Dori Doreau (Ann-Marie Martin) acts to try to tone down his penchant for gunplay, all to the frustration of their boss, Captain Trunk (Harrison Page).

The show was completely over the top.  Hammer was an extrapolation of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry.  He wasn’t very bright, had a short temper, and was barely competent, but ended up catching the crooks due to dumb luck.

Rasche was an alumni of Second City in Chicago and does a great job.  The show also had a penchant for ridiculing other TV shows as part of its plot.

The show was not very successful in the ratings.  So much that the producers decided to go out with a literal bang.  In the final episode of the season, a nuclear bomb threatens the city.  It’s up to Hammer to disarm it, and he says his catchphrase, “Trust me.  I know what I’m doing.”

The bomb blows up, destroying Hammer, the cast, and the entire city.

Then came the bad news:  despite the poor ratings, ABC decided to renew it for another series.  Not a problem:  the second season has a title card saying, “The following season of Sledge Hammer! takes place five years earlier that nuclear explosion.” It screwed with the continuity, but no one cared.

It was a funny gem that deserves to be better know.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Great Train Robbery

Directed by
Michael Crichton
Written by Michael Crichton from his nove.
Starring Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland, Leslie-Anne Down
IMDB Entry

Sean Connery is a lot more than just James Bond.  He walked away from the iconic role, but not from further interesting films, where his talents could be apparent.   The Great Train Robbery* is a lesser known showcase for his talents, and a gem.

The England of 1854, Edward Pierce (Connery) is a gentlman thief, one whose goal is less to steal money as it is to outwit the police.  He learns that there is a monthly shipment of gold, and hatches a plot to steal it all, joined by Robert Agar (Donald Sutherland), a safecracker, and a crew of others, including his mistress Miriam (Leslie-Ann Down).

It’s your standard caper film, enhanced by the acting and the setting and some clever plotting.  Connery is brilliant, and it gives him a chance to say one of my favorite Connery lines ever (don’t try to follow what Sutherland is saying; there’s a lot of argot and plot related material.  Just let him rant, then listen to what Connery says):

Sutherland also is fine.  His name recognition is high, but too many of his roles he just came in to be Donald Sutherland.  This is one chance to not only be a character, but to play one that’s different from his usual image.

Michael Crichton, of course, is known for his thriller novels and the movies made from them, often touching on science fiction.  He didn’t direct a lot, but this is probably his most successful film.

*UK Title The First Great Train Robbery