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.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Julia ? On the Beach ? The Arrangement ?

This week I am looking at and revaluating some "prestige" films that were  big in their day,  but do they still stand up now ? JULIA, ON THE BEACH, THE ARRANGEMENT.

JULIA was one of those hits from 1977 which we all went to at the time, and have been rather forgotten about since - THE TURNING POINT was another one - I will return to that later, when I have re-seen it. 

Looking at JULIA now it screams "prestige cinema" but it sees to have been has been debunked - just how much of it is true? Did Lillian Hellman make it all up? - its part of her memoir "Pentimento". It does all seem rather phoney now. Every scene is designed to be impressive, starting with the older Hellmann fishing in her boat at dawn, then that perfect period beach shack she shares with writer Dashiell Hammett (Jason Robards, to the manner born) as they fry fish on the beach - Cape Cod presumably. It is 1934 as we see from the calendar on the wall - the time of the Great Depression and Roosevelt's New Deal. Hellmann is also a writer (after her success with the play THE CHILDREN'S HOUR), but with writer's block as we see her grappling with that old typewriter. Jane Fonda is actually ideal here, in her 70s prime, like a young Katharine Hepburn. The fastidious Fred Zinnemann carefully fashions it all - I like his other great movies like FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, THE NUN'S STORY, THE SUNDOWNERS and he always gets superior perforances from his actors, and so it is here ....

Then the plot begins - we get flashbacks to her youth with her great friend Julia, with her wealthy grandmother Cathleen Nesbitt, and then their years at Oxford - all golden spires, and Vanessa Redgrave radiant as Julia striding around in her tweeds  while declaiming the brave new future to come ... but then of course the War intervenes .... and Julia devotes her life to fighting fascism, putting her life in danger ...

The central scene has Lillian meeting Julia in a restaurant, but they have to be very careful in case they are being watched. Julia is now on crutches .... and has a mission for Lillian to smuggle money (in her hat!)  As a thriller though its rather suspense-less. Max Schell appears as Julia's friend Johann, and the young Meryl Streep has that minute appearance. There is that train journey - will Lillian get the money throiugh safely?. But then the plot goes haywire, and suddenly Julia is dead. Lillian goes to see the body in a suburban funeral parlour (with Maurice Denham) and tries to find the baby Julia supposedly had.   

It is all still watchable, but I think we have to take it with a large pinch of salt. Redgrave and Robards both won Best Supporting Oscars here and it was nominated for a slew of other including best picture and director. It was Zinnemann's last big success (he did just one more), great score by Georges Delerue, and lensed by Douglas Slocombe. Fonda of course is a far prettier Hellman. 

I really cannot find much to say about ON THE BEACH, that big one from 1959 by Stanley Kramer from the Nevil Shute novel. Shute's novels usually featured big ideas: aviation in NO HIGHWAY IN THE SKY, war in A TOWN LIKE ALICE and only the end of the world in ON THE BEACH. Kramer like Kazan, was big in the 50s and early 60s, with those self-important movies on big themes, like THE DEFIANT ONES, INHERIT THE WIND, JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBURG (with their great star turns) and this one set in Australia. Even Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner cannot make it sing as the ponderous affair also drags down Fred Astaire and Tony Perkins as the young naval husband. It is actually set in 1964 as atomic war wipes out humanity in the northern hemisphere; 
one American submarine finds temporary safe haven in Australia, where life-as-usual covers growing despair, as they wait for the radiation to reach them. The only interesting sequence is the submarine returning to San Francisco to investigate a tapping noise (which turns out to be a trapped blind cord), but where is everybody as there is no sign of dead bodies?. Did everyone just vaporise? The end coda couldn't be more in your face: that slogan "There is still time, brother"! That must have wowed them in 1959 as The Cold War escalated, it was one of the main films of that great year - but it simply does not stand the test of time and is a colossal bore now. One simply wants to fast-forward through most of it. 

THE ARRANGEMENT. Elia Kazan of course had his great decade in the 1950s, but like a lot of other once important directors may have felt left behind by the late sixties. THE ARRANGEMENT is from his own novel and it is all just too much as Kazan throws everything at us. Kirk Douglas is the business executive sick of the rat race his life as become as he deliberately crashes his car in that grim traffic scene. Deborah Kerr, getting rather matronly by then, is his worried steely wife doing all she can to help him rehabilitate himself, as he keeps flashing back to his exciting mistress Gwen - Faye Dunaway at the height of her glossy '60s glamour - who keeps taunting him about what he could have been. 
She does have that memorable line: "The screwing I'm getting is not worth the screwing I am getting". But it is all too much and too overwrought as Kirk fixates on his old Greek father Richard Boone and his nude frolics at the beach with Gwen ...
Eddie is a very rich man who has everything he wants; money, family, success, but a car crash causes him to reevaluate the life he leads. Searching for the happiness he lost, he remembers his one-time lover, Gwen, even as his wife conspires to take his fortune...
Like AMERICAN BEAUTY, Kazan's story looks anew at The American Dream and finds it wanting; looking at it now it is not as bad as some reviews said at the time, there's lots of interesting ideas here, but Kazan throws it all at us without being able to streamline it.  Right: Dunaway and Kazan.

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