A Face in the Crowd (1957) Elia Kazan

I originally had Orson Welles “Touch of Evil” scheduled for today, however, with the death of Andy Griffith earlier this week I decided to repost an old review of A Face in the Crowd I wrote a few years ago for the now defunct website Halo-17. Then the horror struck. I had no copy of my original review saved! The website was shut down, so I could not even retrieve anything from on-line. I generally keep a copy of all my reviews on my PC, but this one apparently got away. All I could find was a paragraph of notes I had taken for background. Still determined to put out a review, I began with those notes and, though a bit rushed, came up with what you will read here. It is not the best, but it will have to do.  Oh yeah, Welles Touch of Evil, which has been brewing on the back burner for a month or so now, has been rescheduled once again, and will  appear here two weeks from today.

The rise of the media star as an influence in our lives has never been greater. From Presidential politics to what we watch on television and listen to on the radio; the media star influence’s us all.  Oprah Winfrey can persuade millions on what book to read or who to vote for in an upcoming election. Since the 1950’s the power of television cannot be under estimated. Mass communication was now available at a level undreamed of and unavailable before. As far back as the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debates, when the camera revealed JFK as good looking, confident and in control, while his opponent then Vice-President Richard Nixon appeared with a five o’clock shadow and a sweaty brow, the use of television had the power to shape voters opinions and ideas then and ever since. In the most recent Presidential debates, between Obama and McCain in 2008 your saw it once again. As Obama explained his policies, the camera showed McCain tightlipped and anxious, almost itchy or unwilling to wait for Obama to finish so he could jump in. Continue reading

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Wait Until Dark (1967) Terence Young

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Warner Brothers purchased the film rights to “Wait Until Dark” early on with Jack Warner set to star Audrey Hepburn in the lead role of the blind heroine, Susy Hendrix.  Hepburn wanted Warner’s to announce as soon as possible that she would be starring.  She wanted to avoid accusations similar to what occurred when she took the role of Liza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” and was accused of stealing the role from  Julie Andrews. In the play, film and stage actress Lee Remick was starring and was a big enough star to have headlined the film. What Audrey wanted known is that from the beginning Warner’s had no intention of having Lee star in the film version

The hit play opened in early February of 1966 at the Ethel Barrymore Theater with Remick and with Robert Duvall, as Harry Roat Jr. It was directed by Arthur Penn who would soon go on to film “Bonnie and Clyde. “Written by Frederick Knott whose first hit play was “Dial M For Murder”, “Wait Until Dark” was Knott’s successful return to Broadway, a woman in peril thriller in the  “Sorry, Wrong Number ” mode.

wait lcProduced by Mel  Ferrer, Hepburn’s husband, the film version opened up  on October 26th 1967 at Radio City Music Hall, just in time for Halloween. The film sets up Susy (Hepburn), a young  woman recently blinded in a car accident, against a team of three criminals led by a diabolical Harry Roat Jr. (Alan Arkin). The men are determined to get their hands on a heroin filled doll that has made its way to Susy’s apartment.

How the doll got to the Greenwich Village apartment Susy shares with her photographer husband Sam (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) and its disappearance and reappearance takes time to explain as does the convoluted  deception by the criminals including  Roat Jr. dressing up disguised as other people in an attempt to get the doll back from the blind Susy.

The biggest question the film, and the play, leave your with is why did Roat Jr. have to wear disguises when his intended target is blind?  Despite this glitch in the plot and a slow build up, in the third act the film provides an intense finale that will still make viewers tense and jumpy.  I am not going to give anything away here so if you have not seen the film don’t worry.

wait until darkThis was the first suspense thriller for Ms. Hepburn whose career was filled with gentler works like “Charade”, “The Nun’s Story”, “Sabrina” and “Roman Holiday.” She does well in this career change of pace and  received her fourth  Academy Award nomination for her efforts. Also, in the cast are Richard Crenna and Jack Weston as Roat Jr.’s  partners in the evil scheme. Directed by Terence Young, best known for directing the first two James bond films “Dr. No” and “From Russia With Love” and later on the fourth, “Thunder ball.”  Young was good friends with Hepburn and her husband Mel Ferrer and they fought for him to direct the film. Jack Warner was looking to get Carol Reed to direct.wait still

Like Lee Remick did for her stage performance, Hepburn  studied and did much research on the blind, first in Lausanne and then in New York at the Manhattan Lighthouse for the Blind. Alan Arkin got the role of the criminal Harry Roat Jr. after Warner’s was turned down by numerous stars  including George C. Scott. Arkin had just made a name for himself a year earlier in Norman Jewison’s  “The Russian Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.”

Hepburn wanted to make the film in Europe where she felt comfortable, and while the film is set in New York most of the film involved interior shooting that could have been done anywhere. A few exterior shots of Greenwich Village could have been made in New York and the rest of the film completed anywhere. Jack Warner refused insisting that the interiors be filmed in California. While Warner won that battle he lost the tea at four war. Audrey insisted on a stipulation that they break for tea every day in the afternoon, a British tradition, and was backed up by the Brit director Mr. Young. Jack Warner steamed but the crew had their daily break tea.

Warner Brothers studio used a little bit of Alfred Hitchcock and William Castle ballyhoo when they announced in the coming attractions for the movie that during the final eight minutes of the film the theater lights will be darkened to the legal limits to intensify the action on screen.

In 1998, the play was revived on Broadway with Marisa Tomei and Quentin Tarantino in the roles of Susy and Harry Roat Jr. Changes made to the original play and movie, like the apartment was now on the Lower East Side instead of Greenwich Village, apparently did not add any gloss to the play. It closed after 97 performances.

Experiment in Terror (1962) Blake Edwards

 exp-in-terror-still1   Blake Edwards is best known for the “Pink Panther” series and later on for a few hits in the 1980’s like “SOB”, “10” and “Victor, Victoria.” Edwards’ career however, started back to the 1940’s where he began as an actor, though not achieving much success at it. Looking at his credits in IMDB, I noticed he did appear in quite a few well known films like “The Best Years of Our Lives”, “They Were Expendable” and “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.” The roles were very small and if you blink your eyes, well, as they say, you would miss him.

    In the late forties Edward produced, co-produced and co-wrote two low budget westerns, “Panhandle” and “Stampede.” His last film as an actor was a 1948 flick called “Leather Gloves” whose only significance is that it was co-directed by Richard Quine. Edwards and Quine would go on to work on many projects together as co-writers or writer and director or any combination thereof. Their films include “Drive a Crooked Road”, “Operation Madball”, “My Sister Eileen”, “He Laughed Last” and “The Notorious Landlady.” Edwards work as a director began in the early 1950’s with Four Star Playhouse, a TV anthology series. His first feature film, “Bring Your Smile Along” was written by Edwards and Quine. His first significant film was “Mr. Corey” starring Tony Curtis and Martha Hyer. Though he continued to make films, Edwards big break came in 1958 with the private eyes series “Peter Gunn.” With its jazzy hip Henry Mancini theme song and noir like atmosphere, “Peter Gunn”, which only ran for two seasons, has long since developed a following. Edwards revived the character twice since then, in the 1967 feature film “Gunn” with Craig Stevens reviving his role as Gunn and again in 1989 with the made for TV film “Peter Gunn” with Pete Strauss in the lead role. exp-in-terror-insert

    Edwards’ first big screen hits were two military comedies, “The Perfect Furlough” with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh and “Operation Petticoat” with Curtis again and Cary Grant. This was followed by “Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961 and then in 1962 Edwards stepped back into the world of noir with “Experiment in Terror” starring Glenn Ford, not as a hip P.I. but as a straight and very square FBI agent. “Experiment in Terror” is based on a novel called “Operation Terror” written by the husband and wife team of Gordon Gordon and Mildred Gordon. They always signed their works as The Gordons. A few of their other novels have been adapted to the screen, most notably “Undercover Cat” which Disney turned into “That Darn Cat!” 

 

    Kelly Sherwood (Lee Remick) is a beautiful young bank teller who is accosted in her garage one night by an unseen asthmatic psycho (Ross Martin) who threatens to kill her and her teenage sister Toby (Stephanie Powers) if she does not steal $100,000 from the bank where she works. Kelly contacts the FBI however; the psychotic madman seems to know every step Kelly makes. FBI agent John Ripley (Glenn Ford) attempts to protect Kelly and her sister while trying to hunt down the psychopath though he has no leads to go on. Ripley working with a local police informant eventually identifies the man as Red Lynch (Ross Martin), a criminal who already has two murders to his credit. Soon after, in order to ensure Kelly goes through with the robbery Lynch kidnaps id sister Toby. It all comes to a climatic boil at the San Francisco Giant’s Candlestick Park in a game with the Dodgers. The film’s suspenseful ending is classic and one the more famous in cinema.

    “Experiment in Terror has a lot going for it, a menacing score from Henry Mancini, excellent noir like cinematography from Philip Lathrop especially in the beginning, which is one of the most menacing openings of any on film on celluloid. A wonderful performance from the beautiful and intelligent Lee Remick while Ross Martin is truly creepy as the sick Red Lynch and Glenn Ford gives it his stoic best. On the minus side, the film is a bit too long. Chopping off about 15 minutes would have tightened up the pace. Edwards though is known for his extended scenes, liking the action to play out. While this worked well in “The Pink Panther” series where it gave Peter Sellers plenty of space and time, here it feels like the pacing drags the film a bit. There is also a subplot involving an earlier victim of Lynch’s who comes to Ripley’s office saying a “friend” of hers is in trouble and would Ripley help. Soon after, Ripley and his partner go to the woman’s apartment, where they find her hanging upside down between a series of mannequins. I can see why Edwards would want to keep this scene in the film. While the scene is eerie and visually stunning, the entire sequence could have been removed without any damage to the overall story. experimentinterror-opening-credtyOther than the fact that this woman was an earlier victim of Lynch’s the only connection between her and Kelly Sherwood is a mysterious note containing the name Sherwood. It remains unclear how the dead woman knew Kelly’s name.  As mentioned Glenn Ford’s character is stoic, straight laced. There is no sign of any personal life nor does he ever show any interest in Kelly as a woman other than the fact that she is a victim that he has to protect. He comes across as a “just the facts” lawman as Sgt. Joe Friday used to say. Then again, no one in the film seems to have much of a love life except for teenage Toby who hangs out with her friends and has a boyfriend. While we never see or here anything about Ripley’s private life, Kelly, whose personal life we do see also seems to be lacking any sort of real relationship with a man, other than the psychopath Red Lynch, in her life. One co-worker who asks her out to dinner is quickly shrugged off with a “call me tomorrow.” True, Kelly does have other things on her mind right now than dinner with a man. You would think though that a drop dead beautiful woman like that would certainly show some signs of a man in her life now or at least in the past. Ross Martin as Red Lynch gives us a menacing vision of a cold psychotic evil criminal who has no problem with killing his victims if they threaten his life or his plans. Yet, there are two scenes in the films where Lynch, the cold-blooded killer, displays he has a heart or at least some feelings. First with his girlfriend, Lisa Soong (Anita Loo) whose son’s hip replacement operation Lynch pays for. The second incident is after kidnapping Toby, he tells her to remove her clothes. After stripping down to a bra and a half-slip, (he mails her outer garments to Kelly to prove he abducted her), Lynch begins to move toward her. Frightened she backs away, he keeps coming however, seeing how frightened she is he suddenly backs down, showing a momentary sign of sympathy, reducing the tension of a sexual attack. While this doesn’t make Lynch “a nice guy” it does provide some dimension to the role that otherwise would be lacking.  Martin, of course, in a few years would become better know as Artumus Gordon in the 1ate 1960’a hit TV Western “The Wild Wild West.”

    “Experiment in Terror” starts off as a sharp noir like thriller, all deep blacks and menacing lighting with extreme close ups of Lynch terrorizing Kelly, this sequence generates such an intense mood that manages to last throughout the rest of the film. While not a great film, Experiment in Terror” is certainly a worthy one to look out for.

Lee Remick: An Appreciation

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“I make movies for grownups.”  – Lee Remick 

 

    Lee Remick was a woman of deep sensuality, talent, elegance and on top of all that, a classic beauty.  She made her film debut in Elia Kazan’s underrated “A Face in the Crowd” portraying Betty Lou Fleckum, a sexy seductive seventeen year high school cheerleader, who is selected by “Lonesome” Rhodes (Andy Griffith) as the winner of a baton-twirling contest. Rhodes is so turned on by Betty Lou’s sensuality that they run off together and marry.  The following year Lee appeared in Martin Ritt’s “The Long Hot Summer” with Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward and Tony Francisosa, followed by “These Thousand Hills” and Otto Preminger’s excellent “Anatomy of a Murder” where she played the seductive trampy wife of Ben Gazarra who allegedly was raped by the man Gazarra murdered. Remick’s use of her natural eroticism to manipulate others is so straightforward she never allows the character to seem like a stereotypical Hollywood tramp but a full dimensional human being. 

  lee-remikc-a-face-in-the-crowd  The 1960’s got started with her second Kazan film, “Wild River” another underrated gem in which she co-starred with Montgomery Clift and gave what Richard Schickel says “may be her finest performance.”  In 1961, she played Temple Drake, her performance is the best thing, in Tony Richardson’s misfire “Sanctuary” based on two William Faulkner novels (Sanctuary and Requiem for a Nun).  Things improved in 1962 with the released of two Blake Edward’s directed films, the fine thriller “Experiment in Terror” and in what may be her most memorable role, that of the alcoholic wife in  “Days of Wine and Roses” for which she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. It is a harrowing performance that will stay with you long after the film is over. At this point in her career Lee should have been swimming right into the top-tier of female stars of the sixties however, a series of uneven choices in her following films would derail that trajectory.  Carol Reed’s “The Running Man”, a decent film did not find much of an audience. This was followed by her first comedy, “The Wheeler Dealers” with James Garner, a pleasant enough movie but nothing to write home about. “Baby, The Rain Must Fall” with Steve McQueen, “The Hallelujah Trail” with Burt Lancaster were moderately successful though neither were groundbreaking.

  lee-remick-phgtos2   In the mid 1060’s, Lee took off some time between films to appear in a couple of Broadway productions. first, the musical “Anyone Can Whistle”, which closed after one week. This was followed by “Wait Until Dark” a play written by Frederick Knott who previously authored “Dial M For Murder.” Directed by Arthur Penn, the play was a hit running for 11 months. In addition to Lee, the cast included Robert Duvall in the role of Harry Roat Jr., the leader of the drug dealers. Lee received wonderful reviews and a Tony nomination for her role as Susie Hendrix the blind heroine. According to Alexander Walker in his biography of Audrey Hepburn, he states that Warner Brothers purchased the rights to the play before it even opened on Broadway and that they were negotiating with Hepburn as early as mid 1965. The play did not open until February of 1966. Upon agreeing to do the role, Hepburn wanted it announced early to avoid accusations, which previously occurred when she did “My Fair Lady”, that she stole the role from the original Broadway actress.  lee-remikc-wait-until-dark-palybill3

    Lee returned to films in 1968, with the release of the enjoyably light thriller “No Way to Treat a Lady” based on an early William Goldman novel. That same year she played Frank Sinatra’s oversexed wife in the uneven version of the best-selling novel “The Detective.” Other movies followed; among them are “Hard Contract” with James Coburn, “Sometimes a Great Notion” reuniting her with Paul Newman, “The Omen” with Gregory Peck “Loot”, “A Severed Head”, “Hennessey” and “Tribute.” There also was a production of The American Film Theater’s version of Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance.” However, Lee’s career turned more and more toward TV movies and mini-series. She played the title role in “Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill.”, She also appeared in “QBVII”, The Blue Knight” with William Holden, “A Girl Named Spooner”, “Ike”, “Ike: The War Years”, “Hustling,”, “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” and “Haywire” among others.

    Remick was known to prepare passionately for her roles. The Massachusetts’s born actress lived with a local family in the Arkansas town where they were filming “A Face in the Crowd” and learned from their daughter the art baton twirling for her role as the overly seductive cheerleader.  For her stage role in “Wait Until Dark”, Lee spent a month blindfolded every morning at New York’s Lighthouse for the Blind. In preparation for her role as Kristen in “Days of Wine and Roses”, Lee attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

    lee-remick-daily-news2Lee Remick never achieved the stardom of say an Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn or Shirley MacLaine but her talent was just as great. She sometimes was second choice for a role (Lana Turner was originally offered her role in “Anatomy of a Murder”) yet she persevered and gave us some outstanding performances that will never be forgotten.       

    Despite her elegance, early in her career, 20th Century Fox publicity was trying to build Lee up as “America’s answer to Brigitte Bardot.” According to an interview with Joe Hyams of the New York Tribune, Lee was not happy with the comparison saying, “anyone who’d want to build me up as a sex siren would have to be crazy.”   She added, “I’m an actress and a woman and you can’t classify me with your interview number 4, nor can you dispose of me by comparing me to Brigitte Bardot or Grace Kelly.” At the end of the interview, she smiled “you can compare me with Greta Garbo, I have big feet too.”

    While never compared to Marilyn Monroe, at least that I am aware of, Remick and Marilyn’s careers intertwined three times. In 1956, Lee did a stage version of “The Seven Year Itch” portraying the sexy neighbor that Marilyn would play in the Billy Wilder movie. In 1976, she played Cherie in a West End, London production of William Inge’s “Bus Stop.” In film, a more direct connection came when 20th Century Fox announced after firing Marilyn that Lee would replace her in the ill-fated “Something’s Got to Give.”  Dean Martin who was to co-star stated that, no offence to Remick, but he would not do the film without Marilyn. 20th Century Fox smartly just dropped the production. Five years later the story was resurrected and made with James Garner and Doris Day in the leads with the title changed to “Move Over, Darling.”  Lee Remick premature death at the age of 55 in 1991 was sad, shocking and severed the short career of one of the classiest actresses of our time.

“Wild River” will be on The Fox Movie Channel on March 3rd at 1:30 PM

“Anatomy of a Murder” will be on TCM on April 29th  PM

 

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 Here a good article on Lee Remick from The Passionate Moviegoer

Here is my review of “A Face in the Crowd” from Halo-17 

NY Times Obit.

Check out The Remick Galleries website.

Review of “The Long Hot Summer” from Self-Styled Siren

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NY Times review of  “A Face in the Crowd” 

NY Times review of  “Anatomy of a Murder” 

NY Times review of  “Wild River”

NY Times review of “No Way to Treat a Lady”

NY TImes reveiw of  “The Wheeler Dealers”

NY Times review of “The Long Hot Summer”

NY Times review of “Experiment in Terror”  

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