Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 7 February 2014

'60s rarities continue: The Sea Gull

Finally, the 1968 film of Chekhov's THE SEA GULL is available (a no-frills Warner Archive all region release). This has been one of my holy grails - as it never appeared anywhere here in the last 40 years or so. Hard to fathom why, as its a Sidney Lumet film with a stunning cast of the time. James Mason, Simone Signoret, Harry Andrews and David Warner (briefly) had all appeared in his 1967 London thriller THE DEADLY AFFAIR, and here they are again for this film of the Chekhov play.

Love yearned for and love cast aisde. The powerful, all-star film version of Chehov's classic. A brilliant cast brings playwright Anton Chekov's masterpiece of the capricious power of passion to the screen. The story is set during two gatherings, two years apart, on the same Russian country estate and among six lovers, most of whom are not loved in return. Those who are hard-shelled and wordly shrug off romantic disappointment. Those who are not, cannot ... and tragedy ensues. With direction by Sidney Lumet (NETWORK, DOG DAY AFTERNOON, THE VERDICT) and the talents of James Mason, Vanessa Redgrave, Simone Signoret, David Warner, Denholm Elliot and more lights of film and stage, THE SEA GULL resonates with profound emotion.

That's the dvd blurb. I am not familar with this play, but know Chekhov's THE THREE SISTERS (Theatre label) very well, from various productions (Janet Suzman and Joan Plowright were ideal Mashas, but the best one and still vivid in my memory is a 1968 production at London's Royal Court with Glenda Jackson ideal, and the young Marianne Faithfull a radiant Irina). Also, having last seen Vanessa Redgrave as the dying wife of Terence Stamp in last year's SONG FOR MARION (review below) another of those tedious movies for the older generation, it is marvellous to go back and see her in her '60s prime here.

First of it, it looks lovely (as staged by Tony Walton, and photographed in Sweden by Gerry Fisher), set in that countryside by the lake, with the woods and the trees and that country house estate where they gather to watch the play, which the bored mother, actress Arkadina, soon interrupts. Konstantin the son (David Warner) is distraught, he loves Nina who was playing on stage, but she gets to meet Trigorin (James Mason) the companion of Arkadina (we earlier see him sleeping naked in bed, while she sits at her dressing table). Arkadina is visiting the estate of her brother Sorin (Harry Andrews), and also to hand is Alfred Lynch (WEST 11- London label) as the schoolteacher who is in love with Masha (Kathleen Widdoes, from Lumet's THE GROUP) - the one who wears black as she is in mourning for her life - daughter of the estate bailiff Ronald Radd. Eileen Herlie is the bailiff's wife, and also to hand is Denholm Elliot, a doctor, sporting an odd wig. We spend the first act watching them gather and interact as Konstantin stages the play. Vanessa's Nina is spellbinding and luminescent here, and Warner suitably intense. The last absorbing if melancholy act takes place two years later ...

Lumet had already done the highly-regarded 1962 film of O'Neill's LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, among other successes, but somehow comes a cropper here, as it all gets tedious, there are long speeches shot with few close-ups, with some odd casting choices, the chief one being that Simone Signoret with her Franch accent seems all wrong here, playing with her English brother and son. Pauline Kael's long review came to hand in her book "Going Steady" so let's quote a bit: she calls it a badly-filmed play as characters playing educated middle class and professional people - mixed with bohemians - mingle just before the turn of the 20th century. They are beset by financial problems (the schoolteacher does not earn enough), unrequited love, unrealised aspirations, they indulge in unhappiness and nostalgia and despair. Signoret's accent gives her lines the wrong shadings and emphases. Because her style isn't in tune with the others and because her lines sound heavy, Arkadina loses her charm and becomes the villainess of the piece - a selfish, stingy, son-devouring Freudian mother. And every time this monster speaks she stomps on the remnants of the fragile play. But its interesting to see actors wrestling with real roles, even when the actors are wrong for them. Simone Signoret is bad here, but she is still Simone Signoret. And THE SEA GULL is a terrible movie, but it is still a movie of THE SEA GULL". (Signoret though was terrific in SHIP OF FOOLS, GAMES, THE DEADLY AFFAIR, ARMY OF SHADOWS in those years).
Well that certainly gives one food for thought when watching Lumet's film, at least it is in circulation again. (Kael is also very pertinent on another Lumet filmed play, Arthur Miller's A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE from 1961, which I may get around to soon too). Maybe time soon for Chekhov's other drama of loss and regret UNCLE VANYA ...

Next: Another rarity, Maximilian Schell's 1970 film of Turgenev's FIRST LOVE (more Russian costume drama angst), plus Warner & Redgrave again in MORGAN A SUITABLE CASE FOR TREATMENT in 1966, and Warner as MICHAEL KOHLHAAS in 1968, Sophia Loren as MADAME SANS-GENE with Robert Hossein in '61, and our 1962 favourite THE CHAPMAN REPORT, also finally on dvd - all more '60s rarities; plus Terry and Julie again (AWAY FROM HER and THE LIMEY) and back to Peplums with HELEN OF TROY.

No comments:

Post a Comment