Peter O’Toole, Orson Welles and some old Shakespearean actor discuss Hamlet on the BBC program “Monitor” (recorded in October 1963).
Fascinating chat full of very insightful bits — most of them coming from O’Toole, I have to say.
Part 2 => HERE
Part 3 => HERE
[Thank you, D.D]
Orson Welles in his masterpiece F for Fake (1973)
Starring: Orson Welles, Dean Stockwell, Bradford Dillman, E.G. Marshall, Martin Milner, Diane Varsi
Writer: Richard Murphy
Director: Richard Fleisher
The second of three films to date about the famous Leopold/Loeb murder case (the first was Hitchcock’s Rope in 1948, the third the more obscure Tom Kalin’s Swoon from 1992), wherein two affluent young men kill a boy for thrills, Compulsion is now often considered the weakest of the three. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty to recommend about it, though.
This, like Rope, presents the case with the names changed (though still more Jewish than the Shaw and Morgan used in Rope), but is more accurate in the particulars than Hitchcock’s film. Stockwell is basically the lead character, Judd Steiner, a grad student and bosom companion of fellow man-about-town Artie Strauss (Dillman). We first meet them after having burgled their old fraternity house, then nearly running over a derelict on the road. Artie is the dominant personality and more of the thrill-seeker, while Judd is more timid, rationalizing his actions both by his belief in Nietsche’s theory of the Superman being above petty morality, and because Artie “commands” him to do these things, thus absolving him of responsibility. Even if one didn’t know about Leopold and Loeb, it’s pretty clear Artie and Judd have a homosexual relationship, signified by Judd’s brother’s questions about whether Judd has any girlfriends, and why doesn’t he like baseball. And has any movie before The Big Year had an avid birdwatcher character who wasn’t gay or insane? That stuff is pretty awkward, but the point was already made more interestingly with the “commands” and Artie’s apparent surprise/jealousy when Judd starts seeing Ruth (Varsi). She’s a fairly dull character, but Varsi gives her great compassion.
We don’t see the kidnapping and blunt force trauma murder of the schoolboy, Paulie Kessler, just the aftermath, when Lt. Johnson (Robert F. Simon) starts investigating at the behest of District Attorney Horn (Marshall). Artie, a former student at Kessler’s school, is on hand to helpfully give Horn leads and faculty suspects to investigate. Dillman doesn’t seem to have gotten great reviews in the role, but he’s a lot of fun to watch, utterly confident and amused, without any obvious effeminate shtick, but of course, his helpfulness eventually works against him. But the real trouble is with Judd, who had left his eyeglasses behind. This leads to a rift with Artie, who had planned everything so carefully, and it looks like if push comes to shove, Artie might sell Judd out. Marshall takes prominence in the film at this point, with now-familiar interrogation tactics, and he convinces Judd that Artie gave a confession, causing a shrieking tantrum.
There is some misdirection to the gay subtext, which might upset those who wanted more fidelity to the facts of the case, but also provides some interesting layers to the story. At Artie’s command (this is before they’re caught), Judd attempts to rape Ruth, as part of their idea that crimes should be committed like science experiments, with no emotional attachments. Of course, this was a convenient one, as Artie is upset over Judd’s growing relationship with Ruth, so this is a good way to end it. Judd is too soft or good, and can’t go through with it, leaving some ambiguity about Judd’s evil or capacity for remorse or redemption, but for better or worse, Fleisher doesn’t come back to any definitive statement about it. Artie also brags about his many female conquests, though Fleisher doesn’t show Judd getting upset about it.
Instead, the final third of the film becomes a courtroom drama dominated by top-billed Welles as Jonathan Wilk, a stand-in for Clarence Darrow, who came out of retirement to defend Leopold and Loeb because of his strong compunctions against capital punishment. Despite typically poor old man makeup, Welles gives an excellent performance. Initially, Wilk is like a lot of Welles’ fat characters, the smartest, most quotable guy in the room, a role Welles basically lived. But while it’s easy to see him as one more corrupt, venal man, due to his defending these murderers, by the time Welles presents his defense, it’s clear he and Fleisher intend to make Wilk a character of great dignity, wise rather than cunning. He’s not trying to get Artie and Judd off, just not executed. Fleisher does muff some legal details that would probably be noticeable even in less litigious 1959, such as having Wilk plead for the judge to make the verdict rather than a jury (this is near the end of the jury trial), and changing the plea to guilty without seeming to consult with his clients. Still, the anti-death penalty speech, which seems to last about ten minutes, is majestic. Welles uses restraint rather than bluster, delivering an almost musical speech that implores the courtroom (and the audience) to understand that evil can only be eradicated with love, not death. We’re given to understand that Artie and Judd, while carrying out a premeditated act of murder, were disturbed and incapable of understanding the severity of their actions.
As good as the courtroom stuff is, it’s a little unfair to Stockwell, who is so good in several movies and commands the screen here as Judd, fragile but raging, his need for love making him susceptible to the more monstrous Artie. This is as good a performance as Farley Granger’s in Rope, Anthony Perkins in Psycho, or any tremulous, confused young criminal, but Fleisher abandons Judd and Artie once the trial begins, giving them no scenes together and few if any reaction shots during Wilk’s closing arguments.
There isn’t much benefit to keeping the film set in the ’20s, since the names and some details are changed, nor does it quite jibe with the ’50s jazz score during the opening, but after that there’s almost no music, and the period setting is no more distracting than the “real time” strategy of Rope. Rope is still the better film, but this is pretty good despite its flaws, and not only did Welles, Stockwell and Dillman all win acting awards at Cannes, Welles speech was actually issued as a hit record.
Starring: Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Orson Welles, Anthony Franciosa, Richard Anderson, Lee Remick, Angela Lansbury
Writers: Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr., based on stories by William Faulkner
Director: Martin Ritt
The film is actually called, “William Faulkner’s The Long, Hot Summer,” which is pretty unfair to Faulkner, as it’s not even based on one of his novels. It draws from “The Hamlet” and some other short stories, cobbled into more of a Tennessee Williams-style Southern potboiler, but with the sexual perversity dialed down a bit.
Newman plays Ben Quick, a handsome farmer who has come to the town of Frenchmen’s Bend with his reputation as a “barn burner” preceding him. That’s a hired hand who settles disagreements with the landowner by the heinous act of, well, burning the guy’s barn to the ground. Frenchmen’s Bend is run by the cunning, gluttonous redneck Will Varner (Welles), who takes a shine to Ben when he recognizes in him a kindred spirit—an ambitious charmer with few moral impediments. And Ben is made of sterner and smarter stuff than Will’s son, Jody (Franciosa), whose only faults are not being as good of a businessman as his dad, and being besotted with his hothouse flower bride, Eula (a frisky but underused young Remick).
Woodward is Clara, the virginal schoolmarm type who Will rails against for being an old maid at 23. Clara has been seeing a blueblood gentleman, Alan (Anderson), but he’s a mama’s boy and the relationship isn’t really going anywhere. Varner goes out of his way to demean Jody by giving Ben the same job and spending extra time with him, and then Varner interferes in his daughter’s life by trying to push Ben at her. Ben is game, but Clara’s turned off by his coarse, amoral ways, just a little more than she’s turned on by his Newman charisma.
An out-of-his head Jody tries to kill dad but saves him in time, earning his respect. Meanwhile, Clara lets Alan go, but doesn’t choose Ben, even after he goes all Method with a weepy scene about his no-account dad to show his sensitivity. And with Varner agreeing to marry his not-so-secret good time gal of the past ten years, Minnie (Lansbury), and Ben agreeing to leave Clara alone and move on to another town, everybody’s pretty happy.
Ritt, who was blacklisted from television in the early ’50s for alleged Communist ties, frequently explored themes of social injustice in his films (Paris Blues, Hombre, The Molly Maguires, among others). He also explored the theme of sons trying to step out of their father’s shadows (Hud). The Long, Hot Summer has both of these things, but neither is particularly well done. Having Varner see his son in a new, positive light after the son tried to burn him alive in a barn, is pretty ridiculous, even though Varner is established as a brutal man. And as far as social justice, while it’s clear that Varner has a stranglehold on the town, they don’t seem too unhappy about it, and Varner doesn’t learn any lessons other than that he should leave his children to live their lives the way they choose. While it’s understandable that Alan’s sexuality would be presented obliquely in 1958 (he spends a lot of time with his mom, and has never made any physical demands on Clara in five years), there’s not much of a sense that Ritt had anything he wanted to say with this or the other storylines.
There’s no real visual style, and in fact the film looks a bit cheap when Ritt has to do anything but close-ups of the attractive faces of Newman and Woodward. Frenchmen’s Bend looks to be a row of about five stores and a handful of shacks, and the Varner mansion isn’t lavish. It’s shot in CinemaScope but there aren’t any notable wide shots, and that’s not just because I saw a cropped version but because Ritt doesn’t take any time to establish the landscape, what we might assume is the beautiful land that produced a lovely creature like Clara.
The acting is overall pretty good, though it will probably read differently to viewers now than when the film came out, as Newman won an acting award at the Cannes Film Festival that year. Aside from that one scene meant to show he wasn’t a total heel, he gets by mainly on his looks and charisma, and Ritt makes sure this long, hot summer causes Newman to take his shirt off. Woodward is pretty, smart and decent, right within her comfort zone, but in truth she and her future husband don’t have much heat onscreen. Remick makes more of an impression as an ingenue, though with her character’s husband presented as so inferior to Newman, it takes away from their chemistry as well. Lansbury doesn’t do much, as she’s given a pitifully small subplot to work with, plus it’s hard to be invested in her love for such a scoundrel as Varner. Welles overacts here as he often does, though in his defense, his makeup is often terrible and the character is supposed to be a larger-than-life blusterer. He gets the most Faulknerian speeches about the ends justifying the means and so on.
Welles’ Varner is obviously a dominant presence in everyone’s lives, but Ritt and the writers give him too many scenes, and it makes the film unbalanced and thin in some areas. Franciosa gives the best performance, a Method-inspired turn as a man we’re conditioned to dislike until we realize he’s only trying to live up the expectations of a man who’s not a great role model to begin with. A little more time on his relationship with his wife and father would have been good. And if you’ve got a Paul Newman movie with “hot” in the title, you need more scenes where he’s trying to tempt Clara, as well as more examples of his complexity (there’s one good one where he gives a refund to a customer when Jody laughs at her, but then tells Jody the refund was for goodwill, in other words a small cost that would lead to bigger dividends when the story spread). Anderson and Woodward have an affecting storyline, with Anderson understandably staying away from any obvious signifiers that his character is gay, but what works about their scenes is that they have mutual respect and affection for each other. He genuinely likes her, but isn’t going to marry her because he knows he can’t give her what she needs, even if marrying her would help his social position. And she accepts him for who he is, and doesn’t resent the years she spent wondering why their relationship was missing something.
It’s an acceptable film, though the script and workmanlike direction let the fine actors down. Ritt would go on to make several more films with Newman, Hud and Hombre being the best of them, and he would continue to work on literary adaptations such as The Sound and the Fury, Sounder, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man.