The Soft Side of G.C. Scott … Two Misfires at the Movies

The Soft Side of G.C. Scott

The last of the big, rugged, hard-drinking, rough-living tough guys is gone. Nobody is waiting in the wings, either, to take the place of George C. Scott. But there are memories. It was always said that you couldn’t sit in the same room with G.C. without eventually getting punched in the nose, but you couldn’t prove it by me.

I once spent the night in his Connecticut farmhouse, where there was nothing to punch but a bunch of chickens, and he seemed more like a friendly fertilizer salesman than a slugger. Settling down in front of the fire with a bottle of brandy, he practically wrote the profile I was doing for The New York Times himself. He talked about his marathon role in Patton , of course. But his mind was clearly on other things, like his weird reputation.

In the corner of the room I remember a white dove of peace, given to him by Joanne Woodward. He covered the cage with a patchwork quilt, and the other two doves in the cage began to flap their wings noisily. “Those doves of peace are going to kill each other,” he said with a dirty-old-man chuckle, but he seemed like more of a dove himself than the hawk they made him out to be.

“This is a cruel and capricious profession,” he said, “and there’s no guarantee that things will go right. You’re on top one minute and the next minute–zap! When things go wrong, I sometimes just go out and get shit-faced. Actors find shields to hide from their insecurity and pain. Mine is a bottle. General Patton created his own monster, and so did I.”

Ever since he began his remarkable career, playing the meanest Richard III ever seen by human eyes in Joseph Papp’s 1957 Shakespeare Festival, people called him “the wild man of Broadway.” He had one of the great tempers of the age. His nose was broken five times in barroom brawls. He once smashed a Hollywood set because he didn’t like the way a scene was going, and when the producer posted the closing-night notice for his first Broadway play, Comes a Day , starring the legendary Judith Anderson, he went into a drunken rage, threw his fist through a glass window and played the last act bleeding into a rubber glove before being dragged off to a hospital, where he required 22 stitches. He once threw Ava Gardner out of a hotel window.

Mellower after five marriages (two to the great Colleen Dewhurst) and the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, G.C. had changed since the days when his fellow actors feared he would murder them all on stage. “I think of myself as a fairly decent human being, and it gives me great pain to be considered for all the mean S.O.B.’s that come along. I’ve played bird decapitators, puppy stranglers, woman beaters, wife poisoners, child molesters, Dr. Strangelove–every goddamn villain you can think of. But people forget I also played Abraham, Sherlock Holmes, Ernest Hemingway, Scrooge, Mussolini and Tartuffe.” One of his unfulfilled dreams was a production of Macbeth , with Ms. Dewhurst as Lady Macbeth, and Steve Reeves and Raquel Welch doing the nude scenes as their alter egos. Malefic, focused, bizarre, edgy and eternally controversial, he also had a sense of humor.

The last time I saw him was on the Queen Elizabeth II . I looked up across the roulette wheel and there he was, sipping an orange juice and smiling at me with big coal eyes loaded with thunder. In one roll of the wheel, I won $38 and he lost $5,000. The waiter delivered a drink, courtesy of Mr. Scott, but when I looked around to thank him, he had disappeared, like Banquo’s ghost. Unique and powerful, his presence made an impact, even in silence. I miss it already.

Two Misfires at the Movies

In Double Jeopardy , Ashley Judd is wrongfully accused and convicted of her husband’s murder. Innocent, bewildered and locked behind prison walls, she discovers her best friend (Annabeth Gish) has taken her son and disappeared with the $2 million in life insurance the dead husband left behind. Things look bad. They get worse.

The husband (Bruce Greenwood) turns out to be alive, the gal pal dies mysteriously in a gas stove explosion, and nobody will listen to a criminal behind bars. Released after six years for good behavior, Ms. Judd stalks the fink down while an implacable, hard-boiled parole officer (Tommy Lee Jones) stalks her. She somehow miraculously manages a number of daring escapes, including one that takes place underwater while she is handcuffed to an automobile.

Wrecking cars, destroying property and breaking laws from the Pacific Northwest all the way to New Orleans, the game actress has a fine time and apparently performs her own stunts. This above-average thriller, slickly directed by Bruce Beresford, includes some great scenes in the exotic French Quarter and is never boring. (The title does not refer to the lightning round on a popular television game show.)

Plunkett and Macleane is a pretentious and misguided attempt to infuse an old-fashioned plume-and-sword costume melodrama with contemporary camera tricks and pop-rock tunes. It flops on every level. The story of two legendary 18th-century British highwaymen from opposite ends of the social scale who robbed the rich and fed the poor (namely, themselves), it follows the gruesome adventures of Plunkett (Robert Carlyle), a scruffy, immoral street punk with criminal experience, and Macleane (Jonny Lee Miller), a well-born, glib-talking but impoverished social climber with connections, who meet in debtor’s prison and form a bond to relieve the pampered, pompadoured upper classes of their material possessions.

Posing as master and servant, Macleane and Plunkett prey on fresh victims selected by their foppish and debauched friend, Lord Rochester (a perfect role for prissy, androgynous Alan Cumming that allows him to wear the rouge and mascara left over from his emcee role in Cabaret ). Their arch enemy is the villainous, reptilian General Chance (Ken Stott, a fine actor who stole the show from Albert Finney and Tom Courtney as the third member of the original London cast of Art ), who pursues them relentlessly and competes with the romantic Macleane for the attentions of Lady Rebecca (the hopelessly miscast and maddeningly sullen Liv Tyler, who is as noble as Gabby Hayes).

The director of this curiously leaden nonsense is newcomer Jake Scott, who has previously helmed a lot of stylized music promos for MTV, as well as commercials for Nike, Bell’s Whiskey and Lee jeans. His credentials show. Despite the 18th-century details of markets, brothels, taverns and duels at dawn, almost every scene is shot in claustrophobic close-ups that force you to spend the whole movie looking up everyone’s nostrils. Filmed in Prague (don’t ask) with an infuriating mixture of Ken Russell hysteria, Three Musketeers parody and the jarring intrusion of lousy rock music, the movie doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. One minute the filthy Robin Hoods are digging a jewel out of the intestines of a corpse in a cemetery, the next minute they’re doing the minuet at a lavish costume ball to an eardrum-puncturing disco beat. A weird combo of fireworks display, light show, and Studio 54 on Halloween, Plunkett and Macleane is an obnoxious, feverish curio worth avoiding at all costs. Everybody spent too much time watching Richard Lester movies when they should have been watching Forever Amber .

K.T. Sullivan Sings Kern

With the annual cabaret convention, concerts all over town and every club jumping, the fall music scene is in full swing. At the top of your must-enjoy list, put K.T. Sullivan’s warm, jaunty tribute to Jerome Kern (at the Firebird Cafe through Oct. 1). The vivacious soprano hugs and squeezes the coyness out of each syllable of “How’d Ya Like to Spoon With Me,” brings down the house with the witty P.G. Wodehouse lyrics to “A Bungalow in Quogue” and stops the heart with gorgeous Kern ballads like “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and “In Love in Vain.”

Accompanied by the excellent Larry Woodard, an accomplished solo performer on his own saloon turf who also sings a soulful “Folks Who Live on the Hill” and plays beautiful piano chords throughout, Ms. Sullivan has topped even her own high standards. She also provides some moving and well-researched insights into the life of Kern, a tough, demanding, unyielding little runt with a Napoleon complex who became, through sheer genius, the father of the serious American musical theater. A highlight is the “Kernocopia” finale–30 Kern songs, both famous and obscure, to remind us what a self-proclaimed S.O.B. could accomplish with a mortgaged heart.