Archive Movie Reviews
reasons. The acting is superb. I have always been a huge
fan of Bythe Danner even though I come from her daughter's
generation. I also adore the incredibly handsome Frank
Langella--I am a huge fan of his:) Both these actors give
their characters many special emotions and by the play's
finale I felt like I knew them both or knew someone like
them:) Anyway it is so good that such theatre works are
preserved in DVD format so future generarions can appreciate the simpler and finer things of life.
"Nightingale" is Williams' revision of 1948's "Summer and Smoke" (my favorite Williams play, incidentally). It tells essentially the same story of the spinsterish minister's daughter whose consuming love for her next-door neighbor remains unreciprocated. "Nightingale" is less allegorical than its predecessor and more tightly focused on the fascinating central character of Alma Winemiller, who Williams once claimed was his favorite character of all those that he had written.
All the roles in this production are in eminently capable hands, with particular pride of place among the supporting players going to Louise Latham as the mentally unbalanced Mrs. Winemiller, Tim O'Connor as Alma's well-intentioned but misguided father, and Neva Patterson as the two-faced Mrs. Buchanan, oozing both Southern charm and venom. As the object of Alma's affections, Frank Langella plays the most warm and romantic John Buchanan I have ever seen. Other Johns have seemed cocky or cold, but Langella seems to genuinely care about Alma rather than merely tolerating her. Played like this, it is quite easy to see how Alma could fall in love with him.
However, this is Alma's show, and in that role Blythe Danner is a raw, exposed nerve-ending, alternating between lyric melancholy and barely concealed hysteria. It is an exquisitely shaded performance, full of rich colors and nuance, and it is on a par with the sublime Geraldine Page's performance of the same role in the film version of "Summer and Smoke." Both actresses capture the character's need to burst forth from her own skin, of being strait-jacketed by the social mores of the period, and of being on the precipice of a dangerous emotional drop-off point. If Page owned the role of Alma in "Summer and Smoke," Danner clearly owns the Alma of "Eccentricities." She is simply stunning.
Don't expect stunning picture quality -- the production was filmed in 1976 on video, so it is roughly akin to watching a mid-1970's soap opera. However, the performances are what matter here, and they truly deliver. If you love Tennessee Williams, Blythe Danner, or if you simply enjoy great drama, don't let this one pass you by.
What can one say about Julie Harris's incredible performance? The entire cast was wonderful, of course, but we're talking about one of the First Ladies of the American Theatre here. My heart broke (along with everyone in the audience) when Mrs. Lincoln wrote (aloud) a letter to her beloved nephew. I tried desperately NOT to shed tears, but the floodgates were shattered all over the theatre. People were sobbing openly. I had seen nothing else that season, but was convinced that Julie would win the Tony Award for best actress. She did.
Screams of "bravo!" greeted Miss Harris as she took bow after bow. I must put this performance along side Geraldine Page in "The Trip to Bountiful," Uta Hagen in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff," Cecily Tyson in "A Woman Called Moses," Jessica Tandy in "The Gin Game," Bette Davis in "All About Eve," and Gloria Foster in "A Hand is On The Gate."
Ms. Harris' performance will keep you riveted to the screen in this astounding portrayal of the ageing, troubled, and misunderstood Mary Todd Lincoln.
Exquisitely written by James Prideaux, it's a compassionate portrait of this first lady who's love for her husband made it so hard for her to live without him, and does give insight into certain things. It was Mary who installed many improvements in the White House (like plumbing !), and was never sufficiently renumerated for them by the government.
The final seventeen years of her life depicted are not all doom and gloom, thanks to the script, which is balanced with wonderful wit. I love the dialogue with Senator Austin (well played by Denver Pyle) in a sparse hotel room in Frankfurt, as well as the repartee with a malicious gossip (deliciously played by Kate Wilkinson) during her 1875 stay in Springfield.
The rest of the cast is excellent: Michael Christopher plays her son Robert, who was the only one of their children to live to full maturity, Robby Benson her beloved Tad (two other children had died previously), Priscilla Morrill and Ford Rainey play her her sister Elizabeth and brother-in-law Ninian, and Patrick Duffy their grandson, Edward Lewis Baker Jr.
The costume design by Noel Taylor is marvelous, and I was especially delighted to see the reproduction of the beautiful gown adorned with flowers with matching flower headress seen in photographs of Mrs. Lincoln, and Ms. Harris wears it with beauty, grace and style.
Mrs. Lincoln died at age sixtythree in her sister's house in Springfield, the same house she was married in, and given the wedding ring with the inscription "Love is Eternal".
This is a remarkable drama for history buffs, and Julie Harris is truly the First Lady of the stage.
Deftly balancing Williams' poetry and Hepburn's staunch strength, this version directed by Anthony Harvey absolutely resounds with gentle power and grace.
Waterston makes a delicate Tom without any of the overpowering effiminate qualities that undermines so many other actors who essay the role. He makes the consumate Thomas Wingfield by acknowledging Tennessee Williams' autobiographical reality and marrying it to idealized forms. Like Jason Robards was born to interpret O'Neill, Waterston was born to bring Williams' to life.
Of course one cannot be too effusive in praising the late great Miss Hepburn. Her Amanda is subtle, heroic and painfully tragic as she tackles one of the American theatre's greatest roles. Her work in this version stands as one of the great performances waiting to be discovered.
Thankfully this version is now availbe and serves as a must own for all fans of this play. Along with Paul Newman's equally excellent version, this demands purchasing and cherishing. Absolutely brilliant.
The play is essentially a gigantic flashback told by Tom Wingfield (Sam Waterston), who is now a merchant seaman in a distant port recalling the final days he spent in the family home in St. Louis with his mother, the faded Southern belle, Amanda (Hepburn), and his painfully shy sister, Laura (Joanna Miles). Stuck in a dead end job at a shoe factory and constantly going to the movies to escape his mother, Tom wants to be a poet. Laura, made physically ill by any attempt to go out and function in the real world, has retreated to her imagination and her titular collection of glass animals. Amanda is constantly talking about the old days on Blue Mountain, browbeating Tom for his lack of incentive, or hustling subscriptions for "The Lady's Home Companion." When his mother badgers him into finding a "gentleman caller" for his sister, Tom brings home Jim O'Connor (Michael Moriarty) from work. Even better, Jim is the boy the Laura had a crush on in high school, although she certainly never would have said anything at the time. But in a Tennessee Williams play, no good deed goes unpunished.
The centerpiece of the play becomes the scene between Laura and her gentleman caller. The scene is remarkable in that it is certainly unconventional to give two characters so much time on stage alone like this. Suffice it to say that on the basis of this extended scene both Morairty and Miles won a pair of Emmy awards each, for Best Supporting Actor/ess in a Drama and Supporting Actor/ess of the Year (the Emmys have had their fair share of strange awards over the years). Hepburn was nominated for Best Lead Actress in a Drama while Miles received a nod in the Supporting Actress category.
This version of "The Glass Menagerie" has the virtue of sticking to the play's original conclusion, which is not what happened with the 1950 film adaptation with Gertrude Lawrence, Jane Wyman, Arthur Kennedy, and Kirk Douglas. It seems that Hollywood always felt a strong urge to make Tennessee Williams' plays more upbeat on the silver screen. Once you get past her accent, Hepburn's performance is as nuanced as you would expect, and the rest of the cast more than hold their own. Given that their paths would almost cross on "Law & Order," it is ironic to find Waterston and Moriarty together in this production.
Kudos to the Broadway Theater Archive for preserving these fine performances on tape and many others as well. There just are not as many televised plays as there used to be in the old days, and it is great to see that many lost treasures are again becoming available to us as lovers of the theater.
For those who were not lucky enough to watch the magic unfold on stage, this video will have to suffice. Though it suffers from the same limitations as other filmed versions of staged performances, it is nevertheless a record to be treasured by lovers of O'Neill, theatre fans, and connisseurs of great acting and directing everywhere and always.
Those of us who had the pleasure to know Jason Robards, know how close the actor's own past paralleled that of the character he portrayed in this play (James Tyrone, Jr.). Like Tyrone, Robards fought with his alcoholic demons. In his last decades, he conquered his disease, with the help of a strong, loving, Irish-American wife. Robards threw himself exhaustingly, night after night into this role, as did Dewhurst. The result was an evening of true catharsis, in the strict Greek sense of the word, for actors and audience. As Dewhurst cradles Robards in her pieta-like embrace and the lights fade out at the end of the play, we know we have all been changed by a profound confluence of talent and tears.
The story is incidental: dirt farmers Josie and her father attempt to dupe their alcoholic landlord James Tyrone, Jr. into spending the night with Josie in the hopes of initiating a vague stab at retaliation against a scheme that Tyrone has hatched against him. But when the drunken lessor shows up for the assignation, what unfolds is a series of jolting revelations that leaves all of the characters - and the audience - emotionally spent, with only a lingering sense of compassion haunting their well-traveled spirits.
This DVD is the ABC television production of this landmark theatrical event, and admirers of great acting can only be thankful that the production was preserved on video. The performances of Jason Robards, repeating the role he created in the original Broadway production and film of "Long Day's Journey"; Ed Flanders, who received both the Tony Award for the Broadway production and the Emmy for the television presentation; and most especially Colleen Dewhurst, who is magnificent in her Tony Award-winning role as Josie, all offer such brilliantly moving performances that the memory of them will linger long after the final credits unspool.
What struck me on my recent viewing was just how dark this comedy gets. Claudio is easily convinced of his fiancee's infidelity and publicly humiliates her and repudiates his vows. Although everything, and everyone, is reconciled in the end, we realize that the turf between true heroes and true villains is amply populated with fools, wimps, and cads.
Athough this is more of a filmed stage production than a movie version of the play, it is cleverly filmed and engaging. Personally, I prefer this version to Branaugh's filmed version (which I enjoyed immensely but felt it was less faithful to Shakespeare's text.) Unfortunately, there are no real DVD extras to this landmark production; but the performance is worth the purchase price.
This version is for those who want to savor every moment of the play. As far as I could tell, it includes almost every word of Shakespeare's text, and to that are added quite a few sequences without dialogue, making the entire length of the production closer to three hours than to two. For this play, this is definitely to my taste, but may not be to everyone's.
The DVD includes nothing but the performance and scene selections (by acts only). Since this play was originally filmed for television, the visual and sound quality are not exceptional, although they're not actually bad.
Alice at the Palace appeared on TV in 1982, and at that time my family had a Beta tape recorder, so Alice was immortalized on tape. At some point the last 10 minutes were recorded over and it was transferred from Beta to VHS. Ever since it aired, my family has been on a quest to obtain a copy of the full musical...and at times I was desperate enough to go searching for just the transcript to read and relive it.
Alice at the Palace is low on grand theatrical gimmicks and high on incredible talent, songs, acting, and humor. It's a delight for both adults and children. I give it two thumbs up and five stars out of five for sheer entertainment. You'll be singing the songs for years afterwards....my family did.
And for anyone who says, "Meryl Streep? In a musical? Singing??!" I say, "Just wait..."
Though Lumet may not be in the same league as Jose Quintero as far as O'Neill directors are concerned, he nevertheless wrings solid performances out of every cast member involved in this historic production.
If you can, you may want to purchase this in conjunction with the 1976 Broadway Archive tape of William Saroyan's "The Time of Your Life." Both plays have similar bar room settings, about the same size cast, and similar themes. It's interesting to see how two major playwright's handle diologue and monologue, dramatic conflict and themes of dissipation. Personally, I've always felt O'Neill digs a lot deeper than Saroyan, but both productions are superb, as are most plays in the Broadway Theater Archive series.
Just a note to bear in mind that these plays are film versions of the plays exactly as they were staged on Broadway at the time, so don't look for cinematic production values. Sometimes the camera work is not ideal, but that doesn't get in the way of the consistently powerful performances, and that's what great theater is all about, anyway. I'm just grateful that most of the series is available and hope that the unavailable titles are just being restored and will be rereleased soon.
The defendant, Wirz, as excellently played by Richard Basehart, is an immigrant from the European school of miltary theory, and he is by turns hateful, confused at the sudden shift in the meaning of his duty, and pathetic (Wirz is still considered something of a hero in the local area outside the present-day National Cemetery near Andersonville). Jack Cassidy, as the defending attorney, is fully aware of the prosecutor's dilemma, and seems to be taking great pleasure in pointing up the US Army's hypocracy in trying a man for following malicious orders, yet refusing to allow that he would have been militarily justified in refusing them. Cameron Mitchell is the presiding officer, Gen. Lew Wallace (of "Ben-Hur" fame), and portrays a man who is about to lose control of the proceedings through the unsettling forays of the Army's own prosecutor. I gave the film four stars because it is a little too long and drags a bit in some places. However, the depth of the story, and the exploration of the ethical problems dealt with in the courtroom, make it superior to a very similar movie, "Judgment at Nuremburg."
The production also features two other actors playing against type in pivotal and revealing roles, Buddy Ebsen and the late Jack Cassidy. The two match Basehart in the acting department and do justice to the George C. Scott-directed presentation.
"The Andersonville Trial" ranks as one of the best productions ever shown on PBS.
First and foremost, it is a damn fine production, and a very powerful stage play captured on video. Second, the play has many famous names among the cast, some of whom appear in early roles (Martin Sheen, for one). William Shatner, of course, is oddly Kirk-like, but does very well as Lt. Colonel Chipman. Richard Basehart? Wonderful, and the ultimate professional, as always. Buddy Ebsen plays a doctor. Even Alan Hale Sr., who blazed a trail of adventure in many of Errol Flynn's films, is on hand (though in a non-speaking role). None other than George C. Scott directed the enterprise, and introduces the feature in a short segment.
Another thing that makes this production unique is that it harkens back to the best of PBS, before they started worrying about ratings, hype, and marketing. Shows like "I, Claudius" and "Masterpiece Theater", among others, made their way to the network about the same time, and "Sesame Street" had yet to become the moneygrubbing exercise it is now (Elmo, this means YOU!). This was back when PBS really lived up to the ideals of being a Public Broadcaster, and shows like "Andersonville Trial" were an offshoot of those ideals. Like other PBS shows, it was the BEST the arts offered at the time; a famous cast in a dramatic play, coming right into our living rooms.
On the tape, we even get to see the old PBS logo, with "PBS" spelled out in that funky 60's-70's type they used to use (with the orange letter "P"). That alone is worth the purchase price.
Hopefully a DVD will someday be released. Until then, if you can latch on to a copy of the tape, you should by all means do so. It is a dramatic telling of a famous war crimes trial, with superb acting and a moral message about war that will stay with you for some time to come.