It’s been a personally rather stressful week in a good-news/bad-news kind of a way and Hollywood ain’t doin’ nothing to relax me. And so, we begin with a deep breath…
* The first half of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” will be in a mere 2D. Two dimensions were good enough for Rick Blaine, they’re good enough for Harry. Especially if they really were facing serious technical difficulties, smart move. No studio needs another “Clash of the Titans” fiasco.
* It’s pretty rare that I know for sure I want to see a movie just from simply knowing the topic, the star, and the director, but when it’s a biopic/docudrama about the great-but-homicidal Phil Specter, it’s being directed by David Mamet, and it’s starring Al Pacino, that’s when I know. (Here’s the original NYT post that broke the story, which gives a bit more background on Specter for you youngsters.)
* Classic film lover that I am, I also feel pretty good about “My Week with Marilyn” which has Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe, Dougray Scott as her beleaguered husband, playwright Arthur Miller, Kenneth Branagh (who else?) as Laurence Olivier, and Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh (!) among others. And check out the pic of Ms. Williams/Monroe that’s been circulating all over the net today.
Aren’t you glad I used that pictures instead of something of Phil “Mr. Fright Wit” Specter or Al Pacino?
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This 1941 historical biopic from producer-director Alexander Korda about the illicit affair between the heroic nemesis of Napoleon, Admiral Horatio Nelson (Laurence Olivier), and the vivacious Lady Emma Hamilton (Vivien Leigh) benefits from the magnificent production design of Vincent Korda and some extra acting oomph drawn from a real-life adulterous affair between its two A-list stars. On the other hand, there’s an idea out there that it has been unjustly dismissed ever since its release as ponderous wartime propaganda and an overblown romance. I might say exactly the same thing, minus the “un.”
Essentially commissioned by wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who later proclaimed it his favorite movie, “That Hamilton Woman” suffers from some ham-fisted parallels between Hitler and Napoleon as well as a certain amount of hypocrisy on the question of empire. (English colonialism good! French colonialism bad!) Far worse for the movie’s entertainment value, however, is its tediously stolid hero, an awful lot of gassy romantic dialogue, ponderous pacing, and an excessive 125 minute running time. On the plus side, the young Vivien Leigh, fresh off “Gone With the Wind,” is allowed to show her powerfully sexy and funny sides, and the film’s relative frankness in dealing with an open adulterous affair is something of a miracle considering that this British production was shot in the U.S. and made under American censorship. Nevertheless, the extras on this typically crisp Criterion DVD make the case that the making-of story here is far more engaging than the actual movie.
Click to buy “That Hamilton Woman”
Like all character actors, Karl Malden never got quite the same level of attention as costars like Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Steve McQueen, Anthony Perkins, Montgomery Clift, Michael Caine, and George C. Scott. Even the seventies TV series he starred in, “The Streets of San Francisco” found him being overshadowed in the eyes of the teenybopper set by his young punk of a male ingenue costar, Michael Douglas. That was largely because Malden was the kind of performer who understood that acting is a team sport. His best scenes were like great duets with near perfect communication between him and his scene partners. The exception were American Express travelers’ checks; those, he wiped off the screen.
Karl Malden died today at age 97, having been more or less fully retired since appearing in a 2000 episode of “The West Wing.” While he was never precisely an A-lister, he was a go-to actor for secondary leads, president of the Motion Picture Academy, and as far as I can tell a universally respected figure among actors and everyone else associated with the movie industry. He was also married to the same woman for seventy years, a rare enough Holllywood achievement to merit it’s own special Oscar. Not a bad life.
Below the fold is a video tribute I found that, from the misspellings, I gather may come from Serbia. (Malden, whose real name was Mladen Sekulovich, was the son of a Serbian father and a Czechoslovak mother.) The image quality could be better and some of the clips are a little too brief, but it does give you an excellent overview of his truly diverse film career, which included work with some of the greatest Hollywood directors including Elia Kazan, John Frankenheimer, and Alfred Hitchcock. It also includes some interesting moments from two oddball spy films, “Murderer’s Row,” which I haven’t seen, and the underrated “Billion Dollar Brain,” which included some pretty amazing scenes between Malden and Michael Caine as his old spy buddy, Harry Palmer, as well as Françoise Dorléac as his treacherous spy girlfriend (though he’s pretty tricky himself).
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