Psychologically impacted by world crisis, I am, unlike the American flag, still at half-mast. Too riveted by current events to venture far from my television set, I haven’t had the heart, energy or interest to write about show business. I know my job is to tell you about movies and plays and cabaret shows, but has anybody seen any lately? As things return to normal, so will I. Meanwhile, the challenge of real history is the most compelling drama in town.
Like so many other new films, Training Day is a tense, polished, well-made action thriller that suffers from bad timing. Now that the police have regained public trust and become our best friends again after years of fear, suspicion and abuse (often for justifiable reasons), this might not be the best time for a movie about a cruel, vicious, amoral and totally corrupt cop. It might be an even worse time for a traditional movie hero like Denzel Washington to play one. Training Day is about a rookie (Ethan Hawke) who respects the law, honors his badge and plays by the book, on his first day with the Los Angeles narcotics squad. Mr. Washington is the mean, aggressive squad leader who laughs at the law, uses his badge as a weapon of terror and breaks every rule. As he drags the kid through the sewers and rat holes to teach him the ropes, he forces the idealistic rookie to smoke the dope he’s confiscated, endangers his life and finally involves him in murder and armed robbery. Despite his distinguished record-the felons he’s arrested represent 15,000 years of jail time-the seasoned cop is nothing more than a rampaging felon himself, and his bullet-riddled Monte Carlo is his moving office on wheels.
The lesson is you can’t clean up the streets and put the bad guys away without becoming one yourself. In the end, Mr. Hawke is forced to use every skill he’s been taught to save his own integrity. It’s a cynical look at law enforcement that the TV cop shows can only imply. A lot of it is gruesomely violent, and some of the plot points are confusing, but the rookie doesn’t get it any more than we do, and Mr. Hawke’s innocence, shock and self-redemption give the film the thrust and drive it needs. He is first-rate, and so is Mr. Washington, who we may be accustomed to cheering on in noble roles, but who can play an archvillain with equal skill and conviction. The question is, are we ready, at this fragile time, for so much in-your-face cynicism? Your move.
Escape To Hollywood
In days of tragedy and heartbreak, nothing soothes an aching heart like music. Here’s an excellent prescription for the blahs, and you don’t even have to leave town. Get away from the television news and rush to the Algonquin’s Oak Room instantly, where a snappy and very sophisticated new revue called Made for the Movies: A Hollywood Songbook is a thing of joy indeed. The polished, irresistible performers include three singers, two grand pianos, one bass and one drummer who tear the place apart with style and wit and a generosity of spirit that is all too rare in times like these.
Veteran jazz singer Bill Henderson dispenses sage advice layered in the lyrics of Johnny Mercer. Singer-pianist Eric Comstock, an original cast member of the long-running revue Our Sinatra who created this new show in the same style, plays his nimble fingers off on the Duke Ellington theme music from Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder , with lyrics by Peggy Lee. And a lovely, dazzlingly talented newcomer named Dena DaRose swings in chords, bends notes in tempo and cools down the kilowatts with her midnight-blue ballads. Expect the unexpected. This inventive trio eschews the merely popular and the downright boring, opting for underexposed gems like “There Is No Music,” a Harry Warren– Ira Gershwin treasure written for Judy Garland when she was originally signed to
co-star with Fred Astaire in The Barkleys of Broadway , then deleted when she was replaced by Ginger Rogers. Mr. Comstock rescues it, appealingly.
In addition to tunesmiths like Harry Warren, Sammy Cahn, Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mandel, the great film composers are also adoringly celebrated: David Raksin with his two best-known evergreens, “The Bad and the Beautiful” and “Laura,” and Bronislau Kaper, the genius of the MGM music department, with “Invitation,” the hauntingly beautiful theme from the film of the same title that starred Van Johnson and the incandescent Dorothy McGuire.
Ms. DaRose is, surprisingly, the best vocalist in the trio, with the talent to also become one of the most important jazz pianists on the contemporary scene. There are so many seriously overrated people on the cabaret circuit that it’s a privilege to discover her here. One of the highlights is her sunny, complex jazz essay in changing time patterns on Bronislau Kaper’s title theme from the Lana Turner saga Green Dolphin Street .
It is positively astounding how many sensational songs for the screen ended up buried in movies with Red Skelton or Bob Hope. There are several classics here, including “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and “I’ll Remember April,” both from low-budget Abbott & Costello turkeys as hopelessly dated now as they are forgotten. Mr. Henderson’s bravura arrangement of “Hooray for Hollywood” becomes a one-man comic travesty of everything iconic about the Land of La, and the trio’s engaging three-part vocal harmony on Bob Hope’s signature song, “Thanks for the Memory,” ends the evening with show-stopping panache. This is the kind of marvelous entertainment we need a lot more of these days. (Through Oct. 6.)
Give ‘em Hell, Melina!
Of all the fascinating, vibrant and passionate women I’ve known, the late, great Melina Mercouri was nonpareil. Her unquenchable faith in Greece while she was exiled in New York during the fascist dictatorship that took over her country in the late 1960′s could teach Americans a valuable lesson in patriotism. Hard hats used to come out of manholes and yell, “Give ‘em hell, Melina!” Many of the films she made before the colonels were defeated and she deserted acting to become the Greek Minister of Culture are now being shown at the Film Forum in a long-deserved tribute from Oct. 5 to Oct. 18. They include the famous ones, like Never on Sunday and Topkapi , both directed by her husband, Jules Dassin, as well as the U.S. premiere of Dassin’s provocative, never-released The Rehearsal , with a cast that includes Laurence Olivier, Lillian Hellman, Maximilian Schell, Arthur Miller and me! For details, call 727-8110.