I’ll get the other stuff out of the way – I have a new post at Substack. And now, about Alan Arkin. He passed last week – oh, what a wonderful actor and oh, so funny. He starred in two of my favourite films, both among the funniest produced: The In-Laws and The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming. Enjoy this, the best scene – and there are many from which to choose – from the latter. Significant Other and I launch into it on a regular basis.
I understand that – just as one can live through something that seems traumatic and later see it was not a big deal – one can look back on an experience that seemed benign at the time and realize it was quite the opposite and that it had long-lasting and negative effects. (I have had both epiphanies about past experiences.) I wondered about this when I read of the lawsuit filed by Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting against Paramount Pictures in regards their Romeo and Juliet nude scene. The movie was made over 50 years ago, but California temporarily lifted the statute of limitations for some child sex abuse cases. Hussey, as recently as 2019, said the scene was no big deal and she also worked with Franco Zeffirelli again, in his television mini-series Jesus of Nazareth (a thoroughly gorgeous production). The actors are asking for $500 million to make up for emotional damage and lost revenue – they say they were duped and coerced into the scene. I imagine whatever outcome there is will depend on what contracts were signed and whether their parents agreed to what was seen on screen, as Hussey and Whiting were under-aged. (Zeffirelli’s son has responded.) But if indeed their concern is protecting young people from exploitation (a noble goal), one might think the suit wouldn’t be about such a huge sum of money, but rather a chance to discuss their experiences as teenagers in the movie industry. One might think a lawsuit would not be necessary at all – a speaking tour might suffice, or a book. For what it is worth, I adore the film in question and remember seeing it for the first time as a teen and then again in a university English class. There was nothing titillating about it.
One of the ironies of the great actor‘s death is how so many progressives/leftists are posting to their social media this late-1960s interview, in which Poitier expresses frustration with the fact that the media are only asking him questions about his race. They are posting it as a criticism – as in, “How terrible! He was not viewed as a man, but only as a black man!” – seemingly unaware of the fact that they only ever want people to talk about their race.
Poitier was indeed the first black actor to win an Oscar, and there is nothing wrong with remembering that about him. Above all, though, he was an actor and for a time, a huge box office draw. In 1967 alone he made three extraordinary movies – Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, To Sir with Love and In the Heat of the Night. I adore the first two, of course, but I want to focus on In the Heat of the Night: it was certainly Rod Steiger’s best role, but it is the last scene of the movie that, for me, is most noteworthy. Imagine the same film made in today’s climate – the ending would include either a grovelling apology from Steiger about the wrongness of his ways, or an acknowledgement of his white privilege, or a hug between the two men, or all of the above. Now watch this scene – that wonderful “You take care. You hear?” The smiles from Poitier and Steiger. Real respect has developed. And so perfectly acted.
I loved her in so many fiIms including – trigger warning – Gone With the Wind, a story about the dangers of romanticizing people, ideologies and the past (most of which, the movie tells us, were never what we thought). I loved her with Errol Flynn – what a pair! I have a fond childhood memory of watching The Adventures of Robin Hood. Probably my favourite de Havilland film, though, is The Heiress. Every woman should watch this. The last scene is extraordinary and I have tried to find it on YouTube, to no avail. I did, however, find this – a Carol Burnett Show satire, which captures the original hilariously!
Today is Bastille Day, which gives me an excuse to post this scene from Casablanca.
The great actor Sir Ian Holm died recently. He was wonderful in Chariots of Fire, of course and people tell me he was fine in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I haven’t seen. But the movie I most loved him in was The Emperor’s New Clothes, a movie that imagines Napoleon coming back to France from St. Helena, and not being recognized. The former Emperor, down on his luck, meets and falls in love with a fruit vendor, and decides to help her fix her failing business. This has to be my favourite scene in the film, a moment that captures the importance of leadership and planning. So inspiring – whatever you do, do it well!
I am a huge fan of Woody Allen – I think he is America’s finest filmmaker, rivalled only by Scorsese or Spielberg – and so I read his autobiography as soon as it was published. I was immensely relieved that it was published, as the forces of cowardice and stupidity (otherwise known as “cancel culture,” a term I am beginning to find tedious) nearly prevented that from happening.
Apropos of Nothing is a good read, and the chapters about his childhood and parents utterly charming. You can see where he got his attitude and humour. I absolutely love his approach to work – you just keep doing it and doing it and you not only ignore reviews (good and bad), you don’t even bother reading or listening to them. You do not let them get you down and you cannot stop being busy.
Of course, people want to read the book because of his private life. I always admired, in the past, how he simply didn’t rise to the criticism and similarly as with his work, just continued his relationship with Soon Yi. He seems to have found a love match there, with decades of marriage and two children. No one would deny that what he did caused immense pain and hurt to Mia Farrow, but it seems clear to me that she, in turn, used her anger about the breach of trust in a most unproductive way. Too bad – she has enormous gifts. I don’t believe that he molested his daughter – he was investigated by some heavy-hitters and neutral parties and no one saw any reason to prosecute.
Up until the publication of his book, he hadn’t addressed the charges and didn’t whine when various projects of his were boycotted/cancelled. He addresses the charges in the book, and I’m glad. The escalating invective against him from Farrow and some of her kids, as well as from some weasel-ish actors – who got great benefit from working with him and then disowned him — was creating too much noise.
One thing he points out is that Mia’s son Moses, a quiet, private young man, has defended him and painted a different portrait of the actress and her family. If you are interested in this saga, it is worth your time to read it. I find Moses infinitely believable. I grew up in a family that was cult-like (as he describes the Farrow clan) and I know that families like this don’t appreciate those who say, “Wow! This cult sucks!” That was my role in my family and I paid a steep personal price for it. When people have a lot invested in a lie, they don’t appreciate truth-tellers and they will punish them accordingly, often with shunning (it’s a bit like being Amish!).
In short, I find Allen delightful and it is worth noting that no actress has ever accused him of being a harasser – of demanding sexual favours in return for a good role, and so on. I also think his female characters are among the most fully-drawn of any filmmaker. It is clear he likes women, respects them and sees them as whole.
The one thing in the book I found amusing – in a sad way – was Allen’s mystification at how the left-wing press has abandoned him. In particular, he laments his treatment by The New York Times. Heck, I could have told him that would happen, but his reaction is one of disillusion, as though he expected them to be fair because they are left-of-centre. Ha! Ironically, one of the best reviews he got was in National Review. I also liked this Guardian interview – Woody Allen comes out fighting.
So I recommend his book and all his films- yes, all of ’em. It is the mark of a true talent that even his bad films are better than most people’s good ones (also true of Scorsese and Spielberg). I realize that your mileage may vary, dear reader, but please don’t cancel Woody Allen. We need him in this often sad world.
On the 18th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, I cannot think of a better film from which to show a scene than the Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, and I’m hard-pressed to think of a more appropriate scene than this one. Extraordinary film, and rarely shown, even on TCM. Interestingly, they aired it today (and yes, we taped it).
For St. Patrick’s Day, here is a photo from my trip to Ireland last year: it’s Maureen O’Hara’s house on Bantry Bay! (She doesn’t live there now, obviously, as she is dead.) FYI, The Quiet Man is on TCM tonight – you are a fool if you don’t watch it (or at least tape it to watch it later). And if you don’t get TCM and/or haven’t seen The Quiet Man, purchase/rent the film, pronto.