A roundtable chat with screenwriter Lewis John Carlino of “The Mechanic,” (2011 and 1971)

If there’s a picture of Lewis John Carlino anywhere on the Internet, I haven’t been able to find it. Does it matter?

Unlike other notables, writers are still allowed to be a little mysterious. Indeed, other than the fact that he wrote several widely acclaimed movies, an episode of the legendary television series “Route 66,” some plays, and directed a few movies, very little information is available online about Lewis John Carlino.

The Great SantiniCarlino is probably best known as the director and writer of 1979’s “The Great Santini,” a beloved sleeper about a military family based on a novel by Pat Conroy and featuring one of Robert Duvall’s greatest and most bombastic performances. “Santini” is, however, one of the more conventional films in the Carlino cannon.

In 1966, he adapted a novel by David Ely into John Frankenheimer’s famously eccentric paranoid science-fiction thriller starring Rock Hudson, “Seconds.” Less well remembered are his non-“Santini” directorial efforts. “The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea,” a bizarre and intense 1976 drama based on a book by Yukio Mishima, and “Class,” a 1983 comedy in which Jacqueline Bisset has an affair with brat-packer Andrew McCarthy, the best friend of her son (Rob Lowe). In between, Carlino also wrote the acclaimed fantasy drama, “Resurrection” starring Ellen Burstyn. After 1983, Carlino stopped directing movies entirely and his credited writing work declined dramatically.

Now a soft-spoken seventy-something intellectual, Carlino met with a group of writers to discuss a remake of one of his best known films, “The Mechanic.” The 1971 original starred Charles Bronson as a troubled but ultra-stoic hit-man who tries to end his isolation by taking on a protegee (Jan-Michael Vincent), even though his last hit was on the young man’s father (Keenan Wynn). Despite its action film trappings — including a nicely accomplished quarter-hour dialogue-free opening set-piece — it’s an often chilling look at men who have embraced death and cruelty. Bronson’s character does have a “code,” but it’s not a moral one. His aim is to embody an amoral version of existentialism that might be familiar to readers of Albert Camus’s “The Stranger.”

The new version, which stars Jason Statham and Ben Foster as the cool-blooded killer and his more hot-headed mentee, keeps enough of the original story and dialogue that Carlino is a credited screenwriter on the film. This time, around, however, Statham’s character is less vicious and the movie hits a number of more familiar action-flick beats. Viewers looking for traces of Camus will have to go elsewhere.

THE MECHANIC

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Pretty Maids All in a Row

How can anyone with a taste for swingin’ 60s residue resist the first U.S. made film by French kitsch-meister Roger Vadim (“Barbarella,” “And God Created Woman”), written by “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry, and starring Rock Hudson as a self-styled high school guidance counselor who seduces his most beautiful female students and deflowers a priapic male protegee (Jon David Carson) via English teacher Angie Dickinson? What if I throw in a murder mystery plot and supporting performances by Telly Savalas as a pre-“Kojak” homicide cop, Keenan Wynn, Roddy McDowell, James “Scotty” Doohan, and several under-clothed starlets as the misnamed maidens? Try seeing it.

For the first 15 minutes, 1970’s “Pretty Maids All in Row” is almost as interesting as it sounds. Hudson is actually giving one of his better performances and Vadim did have a Playboy photographer’s gift for presenting beautiful women. That, however, leaves another 75 minutes that is about as sloppy and offensive as a mainstream black comedy can be. Even making some allowances for the time, and the fact that Hudson’s character, “Tiger” McDrew, seems to limit his advances to seniors, there is a serious ethical problem here. Based on a novel by Frances Pollini, the film takes a step beyond unfunny 60s sexism into misogyny and, eventually, into seeming to excuse murder or just about anything else. If Roman Polanski had made this movie instead of Vadim, it would have been Exhibit A — it would also have been a lot funnier and more coherent. This one earned its obscurity.

Click to buy “Pretty Maids All in a Row”

  

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Mid-holiday week movie news report (updated)

Somewhat to my surprise, given how slow Monday and Tuesday was, we have some movie news to report. Sadly, the first item is a bummer.

* Our very sincere condolences to the friends, family, and avid readers of writer and horror/gore maven Chas Balun, who died of cancer on December 18th. Probably mostly because of my phobia of the kind of movies he championed, Balun’s name wasn’t immediately familiar to me before this, but clearly the author and longtime contributor to Fangoria and Gorezone was a writer whose work meant a great deal to genre fans as well as a very sincere film geek/cinephile, and for that he has my respect. The Fangoria blog has a very good obituary.

* Sony has not been including a screener DVD for Duncan Jones’ highly regarded science fiction film, “Moon,” in its pre-Oscar promotional package. The result: “Twitter storm“!

Moon

* It’s now Sir Peter Jackson to you.¬† Considering the positive impact his LOTR tour de force must have had on the New Zealand economy, they might have considered making him king. Okay, New Zealand doesn’t have one. Also, I gather it’s more of a British Commonwealthy kind of a thing.

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“Inglourious Basterds” DVD launch: A less deadly Operation Kino kicks some Nazi ass

So, while I was procrastinating conducting in-depth research for this post, covering a promotional screening for the rather glorious “Inglourious Basterds,” I found myself going over numerous reviews and think pieces. One piece for a very respectable and staid looking website started out normally enough but, while praising “Pulp Fiction” and other older films in the Quentin Tarantino catalogue, it quickly became unusually vicious. Tarantino is a filmmaker who has a special gift for generating a certain degree of critical anger, the cinephile hubbub kicked up by critic and film historian Jonathan Rosenbaum over the film’s non-portrayal of the Holocaust being one prominent example, but this was different.

As I noted the attention this particular review seemed to be paying to the ancestry of the cast, crew, and characters, I realized that the hate was not over anything so conventional as concerns that “Basterds” might be trivializing the Holocaust or World War II. I was reading a “white nationalist” web site. Yes, even more than some overly sensitive liberals, Nazis hate “Inglourious Basterds.” Considering it’s a movie in which a bunch of Jews, a part Cherokee good ol’ boy lieutenant, an African-French projectionist, a traitorous movie star, and a few odd others defeat the Third Reich in a painful and fiery manner, displeasing Nazis is kind of the whole idea.

IB Cast LR

Certainly, no one was feeling conciliatory towards facists or racists of any stripe as a good portion of the “Basterds” cast and crew turned up at the last of L.A.’s revival houses, the legendary New Beverly Cinema, to celebrate the DVD/Blu-Ray release of the the award-winning, genre-blending war flick. Indeed, as neighbors from the heavily Hasidic West Hollywood-adjacent neighborhood¬†ignored the commotion, a few of us less observant entertainment scribes got the chance to talk to a select group of not-quite superstar basterds, including players in two of the more acclaimed sitcoms of all time, a personable musician and Tarantino-buddy turned actor, and a passionate producer who is not about to let any conservative climate deniers take away his Oscar…but that’s all ahead.

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RIP Army Archerd

Army ArcherdHe might have seemed as much of a permanent Hollywood fixture as the Chinese Theater or Musso & Frank, but columnist Army Archerd, for decades the writer of the “Just for Variety” column, past away yesterday from cancer at the age of 87. Growing up in Los Angeles with a permanent eye fixed on the movies, I was nevertheless rarely a regular Variety reader except when I was lucky enough to be working someplace with a subscription, but Archerd’s importance was obvious.

He was a fairly far cry from the muckraking and abrasive Nikki Finke and a much further cry from the punishing, often vindictive, gossip/entertainment columnists of the past like the mean-spirited but powerful Walter Winchell and Hedda Hopper. Indeed, I had kind of forgotten that the younger Archerd had fought the Hollywood blacklist. Winchell and Hopper had done very much the opposite.

When Archerd broke a personal story about a celebrity it wasn’t to try and “destroy” them and, in the most famous instance, it was a social good — though not everyone thought so at the time. For those who can’t remember the news that aging onetime superstar Rock Hudson had AIDS, it’s hard to explain the importance of the event. It was the first time many had even heard of the disease, which was already devastating the lives of untold numbers of people. Even in L.A., where Hudson’s sexual preference was an open secret even outside the show business world, the news raised the awareness of the quickly spreading disease far beyond the confines of the gay community, where it was already a devastating fact of life. Outside of Hollywood, it was also maybe the moment where “middle America” became aware that some of their favorite performers were not heterosexual.

For me, however, however, Archerd was always the pleasant, calm guy I grew up watching at the Oscars or at the Hollywood Christmas Parade. I was never a regular reader of his column, but he was just always there. I don’t know what to say except that I half expect those cement footprints in front of the theater Sid Grauman built might go away, too. Nikki Finke and, of course, Variety have excellent obituaries up.

Also, see Finke’s comments. Starting off with one by actor/activist Mike Farrell (“MASH”), it’s a pretty moving tribute.

  

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