Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week
In all the unprecedented outpouring of tributes to, reminiscences of and commentaries on Frank Sinatra after his recent death, everyone of course mentioned his Oscar-winning performance in the 1953 adaptation of James Jones’ novel, From Here to Eternity , but only one or two singled out for special attention the other James Jones novel he was involved with for the screen, and yet it was a far more complicated and challenging role and certainly among the five best pictures Sinatra acted in: the 1959 color and Cinemascope small-town drama directed by Vincente Minnelli, Some Came Running [Wednesday, June 17, Turner Classic Movies, 82, 8 A.M.; it’s also available on videocassette] . Sinatra very convincingly plays a sometime writer–clearly a surrogate for Jones–who after World War II is returned to his Indiana hometown, where he deals with the intensely conventional middle-class hypocrisy of his brother (a superb, layered performance by Arthur Kennedy); falls in love with a schoolteacher who can explain artists to her students but cannot understand the one she sleeps with (well typecast with Martha Hyer, though she is the weakest actor in the movie); has an off-and-on affair with an ex-hooker, done by Shirley MacLaine (in perhaps her most naked, heartbreaking performance); and becomes fast friends with a local gambler, boozer and playboy, whom Dean Martin incarnates (in one of his two best characterizations, the other being Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo of the same year).
This is one of those adult glossy Hollywood-star pictures from the end of the Golden Age (conclusively over by the close of 1962) that to fully appreciate, should be given the same kind of close attention one would lavish on a foreign film, which is why so many European directors liked this movie: To them, it was a foreign film. For example, in Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt ( Le Mépris ), released only four years later, the French writer character played by Michel Piccoli puts on a cowboy hat, and when Brigitte Bardot asks him why he wears it in the bathtub, he refers her to Dean Martin’s role in Some Came Running . Martin wears a cowboy hat throughout; indeed, the hat is a running character-joke in the movie, since Dean’s superstitious gambler claims the hat is good luck and therefore never removes it, “even in bed,” as one of his girlfriends says. The hat is beautifully paid off, by the way, in the final and most touching moment of the picture.
What makes the film so memorable–apart from all three stars working at peak believability–are the ambiguities, the boxes within boxes continually revealed about the characters by the script (excellently adapted by Broadway playwright John Patrick) and by Minnelli’s subtle camera placement and sensitive direction. None of the people in the story are quite what they seem to be, a reflection of the quality of Jones’ underrated novel.
Knowing that Sinatra, as a serious singer, always did his recordings with the full orchestra, did each song straight through, and normally required only one or two takes, Minnelli wisely staged nearly all the most important scenes in single continuous shots (which is why, for maximum effect, the movie should be seen in its original “letter-box” format). The single-shot technique also helps to give the work its acute sense of verisimilitude: There is no feeling of editorial manipulation, no interruption in the flow of what the actors are doing, of what the characters are experiencing. Scene after scene really happened exactly the way we are seeing them, only music (sometimes) has been added (from an extremely effective Elmer Bernstein score). The players have to be really good, however, to work in this way, and they all are. Sinatra, in fact, has the least showy role, but its central weight and complexity must be dead-on or the whole thing would collapse, and as an actor Sinatra has rarely been as focused or committed to the uneasy, never-black-and-white truth of his character. His presence here totally suspends disbelief, and carries with it a troubled unspoken inner gravity only a star actor can bring with such seeming effortlessness.
The picture overall is a darkly truthful piece of Americana, an honest and still contemporary look at our misogyny, anti-intellectualism, hypocrisy and Puritanism. Each of the characters is often wrong, but all of them are deeply human, and the stars are charismatic enough to make this resonate on a profoundly mythic level.
Wednesday, June 17
Charles Grodin, still not apologizing, washes up on Conan O’Brien ‘s couch on his official round of wakes–he had his first on Late Night With David Letterman –for his late, not very great CNBC talk show, a replacement, if you’ll remember, for Tom Snyder, whom Dave once rescued from cable and plugged in at 12:30 A.M. Now that slot’s been filled with–whew!–Craig Kilborn, protecting CBS from the threat of a new Grodin show. [WNBC, 4, 12:35 A.M.]
Thursday, June 18
NYTV correspondent Paul Horwitz reports: Good Morning America ‘s fading fortunes haven’t been much of a secret lately. Just last week, even USA Today savaged the ABC crack-o’-dawn-cast (that’s Variety talk, folks!) for being a charmless clunker that lags behind NBC’s Today in the ratings.…
But maybe the show’s detractors aren’t looking hard enough. Remember what the previous Leo, Tolstoy, wrote about happy families? Each and every one of them is the same? Well, he could have been writing about morning shows’ happy families–the same chipper women, the same handsome, cheese-
doodle guys, the same synthetic good feelings and, of course, the same guests. (If we hadn’t vowed never to bring up The Truman Show , here’s the spot, but a promise is a promise.)…
But hold the phone, Hugh Downs! What we have in Good Morning America is an unhappy family–hallelujah!–full of mistakes, missteps and mistrust. Wait a minute! We might have a show here: What better way to add an extra jolt to your Maxwell House than taking a ringside seat to the quietly insulting conversations between co-hosts Kevin Newman and Lisa McRee? That’s TV chemistry–H2 plus SO4. Between Mr. Newman’s coolness and Ms. McRee’s nervous cheer, we get something a little like real life. It’s like they had Edward Albee and Mike Nichols in the control booth. Hey! Maybe they do! (That’s better than The Truman Show right there!)…
Then there’s their geopolitical struggle. Remember, Mr. Newman is Canadian. And what we have in his lightly condescending manner toward Ms. McRee is every Canadian’s revenge fantasy: a chance to get paid (American dollars) to act casually insulting and intellectually superior to a beautiful American, in public, no less. Like Alex Trebek’s haughty treatment of contestants, or Peter Jennings’ secret contempt for the President, or, of course, the more frontal assault of SCTV , Mr. Newman is one more example of covert Canadians infiltrating the airwaves to complete their secret conspiracy as the debunkers of American culture. Top that, Matt and Katie. Today’s guests: Donny Osmond and Jim Davis. [WABC, 7, 7 A.M.]
Friday, June 19
The Last Waltz : Martin Scorsese directed. [VH1, 19, 9 P.M.]
Saturday, June 20
It hasn’t been an easy decade for any of the brat pack, even G.I. Demi. The Breakfast Club ‘s radiant Miss Molly Ringwald explains why she thinks Ally Sheedy isn’t overly satisfied with all the positive press she’s getting for her new movie, High Art . “I’m of the mind that when you get the amazing reviews, you can’t even look at them, in a way. If you look at them and say, ‘Oh, they love me,’ then that means it meant something when they said you were a piece of shit. You have to be happy with the work yourself. Do you know what I’m saying? Then you’re saying, ‘Oh. It’s true. During those 10 years of my life, I was a piece of shit.’ That’s basically what people have said about me and Ally and the other actors–that we were terrible. If we listen to them and say we’re great now, that means we have to listen to them back then. For 10 years, I was a piece of shit?” [TNT, 3, 4 P.M.]
Sunday, June 21
Connecticut-born model Michael Bergin stopped selling underwear for Calvin Klein last year and joined the cast of Baywatch , which airs in 140 countries around the world. How do you all stay tan? “We use fake tan. The guys don’t worry, we don’t mind getting a little color, or our skin aging, but the women always stay out of the sun. They get the full-body fake tan.” And, does the cast ever ad-lib? “Well, I’m the only one who’s always asking if I can say this instead of that. I actually make suggestions all the time.” Why? “Well, I have a lot of tongue twisters. Like if there’s like three ‘w’ words in a row, instead of taking the chance of screwing it up, I ask if I can change it to something different. And sometimes they say, ‘Sure,’ and sometimes they say, ‘You know what? We want you to say what it says.’ I remember on, like, my first day working with Yasmeen Bleeth, I had to tell her I was ‘the Daytona Pier Killer’ and I have a lot of trouble saying the ‘the’ word with a ‘d’ word after it. Now, Yasmeen’s a beautiful girl and she’d been on Baywatch for three years, so to be interacting with her–there’s a couple of nerves. I just kept screwing it up and screwing it up, and I could not get it right, and the executive producers were laughing their asses off.” [WWOR, 9, 6 P.M.]
Monday, June 22
Animated in “Squigglevision,” the fifth season of Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist starts tonight with an episode called “Fanny Pack,” in which Dr. Katz questions his manliness after buying one. Mr. Katz, who plays the therapist and is, as a suppressed minimalist, closer to Bob Newhart than the babbling Frasier, records the comedy routines (“hours and hours of just talking”) in his Newton, Mass., studio with guest stars like Conan O’Brien, Garry Shandling, Julia-Louis Dreyfus and Winona Ryder. The story lines are then “retroscripted” from those sessions.…
Jonathan Katz grew up in Manhattan and says he was very much like his son Ben on the show at his age. “I would never cook anything, I would eat spaghetti out of the box. Some people thought I was depressed, I think I was just storing up energy.” He began his career as a mentalist until he realized, “It’s just hard to tell what people are thinking.” Jonathan Katz’s favorite comedian? “Ronnie Shakes, he died 10 years ago. He said, ‘I’ve been in therapy for 10 years seeing the same shrink, and yesterday he said something that brought tears to my eyes– No habla inglés .’ Now, that’s my idea of a good time.” [Comedy Central, 45, 10 P.M.]
Tuesday, June 23
Your own summerlong movie series: The American Film Institute’s ” One Hundred Years, 100 Movies” takes a close look at the 100 greatest movies of all time. (Did they ask us to vote? No! Did they put Knife in the Water on the list? No! Who cares if it wasn’t made in America!) Tonight: heroic loners who fight oppression. [TNT, 3, 10 P.M.]
NYTV correspondent Abraham Levitan reports: As NBC’s television coverage of the National Basketball Association Finals fizzled out in a stream of distinctly non-probing postgame interviews Sunday night, June 14, the network begged its viewers to stay tuned through one more tele-retrospective of the Bulls’ dynasty. Enduring this, the sensitive viewer found himself choking back tears, not at the sight of great lost Bulls of the past, nor at reminiscences of Michael Jordan bawling over his first championship trophy. The real saline solution was motivated by the missing sixth man: Marv!…
“I always enjoyed Marv on N.B.C. basketball,” said Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports. “Fifteen years ago, I tried to hire Marv Albert to move from NBC to CBS to do N.B.A. basketball,” before NBC got the TV rights. “We all have to keep in mind that Marv Albert is among the very best play-by-play sportscasters in America today. I’d put him in the top five, perhaps top three.”…
“I felt a greater sense of loss of Marv Albert at the Knicks localized playoff telecast than on NBC,” said New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick. “The NBC productions are so stylized, so slick, so plastic that it doesn’t make a difference. Even to Bob Costas, one of the last remnants of broadcast journalism, Michael Jordan is ‘Michael,’ Scottie Pippen is ‘Scottie’ … He seemed more like Patty Hearst.”…
As for Mr. Costas, Doug Collins and Isaiah Thomas, Mr. Pilson said he was “not a fan of three announcers doing a sports event.” Mr. Mushnick agreed: “It’s just so cluttered. I can’t see Marv Albert working as a traffic cop with two other people.”…
Mr. Mushnick continued: “You just find the biggest available name, regardless of broadcasting skills, and this person becomes, overnight, the leading national analyst. NBC has had one of the worst records of strikeouts. Pat O’Brien, Magic Johnson … these people cost four times as much as good analysts!” On the matter of Isaiah Thomas, Mr. Pilson was diplomatic: “I don’t think he’s been as insightful as they wanted him to be.”…
NBC’s team, however, is apparently entrenched. On the contracts for Bob Costas and his cohorts, Mr. Markey said, “They’re all multiyear.” And on a return of Mr. Albert to NBC, Mr. Markey was elusive: “The only concern that anybody at NBC has is that Marv gets his life back together to where he wants to be.” Relive past Bulls championships on N.B.A. Today . [ESPN, 8, 5:30 P.M.]