The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Directed by Robert Ellis Miller. I imagined it would be extremely difficult to adapt the Carson McCullers novel, which I love. Luckily, the 1968 film adaptation is a beautiful rendering. Alan Arkin, always a magnetic force on screen, gives one of his greatest performances as John Singer, who connects all the stories in both book and film. Equally as good – maybe even better – is Sondra Locke, who really excels as young Mick Kelly. It’s Mick, a small-town girl with big dreams, who holds the narrative together. I think a lot of what she goes through is similar to what McCullers experienced in her youth and that sense of authenticity is what makes Mick such a strong character. Although the movie removes Biff from the plot and reduces Jake Blount’s role, its updating from the original Depression-era setting to the late 60s works well. Racism in the South was still an important topic and the film is unafraid to tackle those problems head on. The film also approaches Mick’s first sexual encounter with the same courage and dignity. Robert Ellis Miller proved himself to be a fine director; it’s a shame he isn’t remembered as well as some of his contemporaries. By the end of the film I was sobbing – it was just so emotional.
The Lion in Winter. Directed by Anthony Harvey. Peter O’Toole has long been one of my favorite actors (right up there with two other guys who are always watchable, Humphrey Bogart and Vincent Price) and The Lion in Winter is one of his very best performances. As in the magnificent Becket four years earlier, O’Toole plays King Henry II. Matching him is Katharine Hepburn who won an Oscar for her role as Henry’s wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. One of Hepburn’s most memorable moment in the film is her “what a desolation” monologue. Seeing her with her long hair cascading down made me realize how beautiful she still was in her early 60s – still every bit the star she’d been for the last three decades. Anthony Hopkins, in only his second film, is excellent as Richard; his “You haven’t said you love me” exchange with Timothy Dalton (making his film debut as Philip II) is especially good. The Lion in Winter boasts an exemplary Oscar-winning script by James Goldman (older brother of writer William Goldman), who adapted his own play. The combination of powerful dialogue and towering performances makes this film a classic.
The Producers. Directed by Mel Brooks. Who but Mel Brooks could have created “Springtime for Hitler”? No one, that’s who. Brooks’ debut film stars Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder as Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, surely one of the most hilarious comedic duos since Laurel and Hardy, as a bumbling pair eager to produce a surefire flop in order to make a fortune from the money left over. Laughs abound with Kenneth Mars as playwright and Hitler loyalist Franz Liebkind and Christopher Hewett as the uproarious theater director Roger De Bris and Estelle Winwood as the “Hold me, touch me” lady. (Smaller roles include Renée Taylor as Eva Braun, Barney Martin as Hermann Göring and the voice of Brooks himself during the musical’s title number.) On the down side, the “Love Power” song that Dick Shawn – as ultra-groovy Lorenzo St. DuBois, aka “LSD” – sings is incredibly dated. However, that doesn’t detract too much from the film as a whole. I love to quote Wilder’s manic Leo; whether it’s his hysteria at being wet or his shouting “Fat! Fat!” while tussling with Mostel, Wilder absolutely deserved the Oscar nomination he received.
Rosemary’s Baby. Directed by Roman Polanski. Simply put, it is a near-perfect adaptation of the Ira Levin novel that stands as a brilliant film in its own right. It is patently clear that every shot was planned down to the smallest detail. So many angles are inspiring, like the shot involving the usage of a knife to stop a cradle from rocking and the shot of Ruth Gordon as seen by Mia Farrow through the seemingly moving peephole. Speaking of Gordon, the cast is terrific: Farrow, light years away from her 80s success with Woody Allen, as Rosemary (a name which symbolizes both the biblical figure Mary and also the blood-red color and initial sweetness of a rose); John Cassavetes as the aptly named Guy; veterans Gordon and Sidney Blackmer as Minnie (like the adorable little mouse with a bow on her head) and Roman (a jab at Christianity and the Pope); and, in a particularly inspired bit of casting, Ralph Bellamy (on whom I nursed a slight crush when I was younger – and why not?) as Dr. Sapirstein. I would also like to point out comedienne Patsy Kelly’s great turn as Laura-Louise. After being somewhat ostracized from Hollywood in the 40s and 50s due to her public admissions of lesbianism, her presence in Rosemary’s Baby is most welcome. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to ignore the aura of tragedy surrounding the film: the murder of Polanski’s wife (starlet Sharon Tate) and unborn child by followers of Charles Manson in August 1969 and the accidental death of the film’s composer, 37-year-old Krzysztof Komeda, in April 1969. Bad luck followed other members of the cast: John Cassavetes died in 1989 at age 59; Victoria Vetri (credited as “Angela Dorian” to back up an in-joke in the film) was charged with shooting her boyfriend in 2010; Emmaline Henry died in 1979 at age 50; D’Urville Martin died in 1984 at age 45; and Wende Wagner died in 1997 at age 55. And then there’s the Dakota, the apartment building standing in for “the Bramford,” whose entrance later became infamous as the site where John Lennon (who lived in the building) was shot. Still, Rosemary’s Baby is unparalleled in its dissection of horrors both satanic and domestic. The film toes the line between reality and a dream world – it’s up to you to decide the truth. (Once you’ve seen the film, I recommend reading this short essay.)
Targets. Directed by Peter Bogdanovich. By 1968, Boris Karloff was dying from emphysema. Given that fact, his performance in Targets is all the more remarkable. He plays Byron Orlok, an elder statesman of horror movies not unlike Karloff himself. Orlok’s story, involving making an appearance at a movie screening, intertwines with the story of Bobby Thompson (played by Tim O’Kelly). Thompson is a Vietnam vet who snaps and kills his parents and wife. He then proceeds on a sniper rampage, keeping an eye out for Orlok, with whom he is obsessed. The violence and tension builds to a harrowing conclusion at the drive-in where Orlok is attending the screening. Targets is Bogdanovich’s first film (though released after Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, also from 1968 and starring Mamie Van Doren) but bears the mark of an impressive filmmaker. While Bogdanovich might not be considered an “auteur,” he has directed a number of solid movies (The Last Picture Show, What’s Up Doc?, Paper Moon, Mask) and is also a good actor. In fact, Bogdanovich co-stars in Targets as an up-and-coming director. As noted on Wikipedia, the film was socially relevant at the time for echoing the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Despite many famous names being attached to the film, it is not that well-known and I suggest you check it out (it can be rented from Netflix).