Tuesday, 27 November 2012

ELIZABETH TAYLOR IN “ASH WEDNESDAY"



In 1981, I came across ASH WEDNESDAY (1973) while trying to unwind in front of the TV after a hectic week at work. I had gotten myself a job at Canada Post, sorting through letters all day long and I hated it. I was in my mid-teens and all I could think of was that my summer was definitely going to be ruined despite the nice pay check. So I had high hopes that the boob tube would succeed in changing my mind for a few hours at least. And did it ever. Nothing could turn me away from watching Elizabeth Taylor getting a facelift, her character, that is—but based on the star’s rep regarding plastic surgery it was just like watching the real thing. I’ve never been a hardcore Taylor fan. Sure, I’ve seen my share of her films, from CLEOPATRA to WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOLF? to sleaze factor contendees BUTTERFIELD 8 and THE DRIVER’S SEAT, but for some reason, her star appeal has always escaped me—until the arrival of ASH WESNESDAY.


In it she plays Barbara Sayer, a woman of a certain age who thinks getting her entire body worked on will save her crumbling marriage. So she goes to Switzerland and erases 20 years off her old self. Then the script demands that she beds kept man Helmut Berger just because, befriends bigger narcissistic patient Keith Baxter, endures envious stares from visiting daughter Margaret Blye who just can’t believe her mom is that hot. Taylor acts subdued to it all, almost frozen even, as if any facial movement could be fatal. But we forgive her, for she is Elizabeth Taylor. Fun fact: she supposedly wanted to return to old Hollywood glamour with this film, and she did to a certain degree. But the screenplay—talk about major droop. Penned by ALL NIGHT LONG fame Jean-Claude Tramont (starring Streisand, another diva) and produced by none other than novelist-to-be Dominick Dunne, it totally fails to capture any real excitement other than allowing their star to be all glammed up. In fact, at times, ASH WEDNESDAY almost plays like a bad Ingmar Bergman film with barely nothing to chew on. Thank heavens it still sticks to its melodrama form, for we would have had a bigger turkey in our hands.


When Taylor is not prancing around in Edith Head gowns and Alexandre of Paris hairdos, she’s hollering things like “look at these breasts. Aren’t they beautiful? What more do you need?!” to soon-to-be-ex Henry Fonda who does not give a damn. In fact, nobody gives a hoot in this flick. All they want is some adulation, and that’s fine with us as long as La Liz is around. It takes quite a few moment at the beginning before she appears on-screen, but when she does, all wrinkled up and ready to go, we’re more than willing to follow her journey. And what fun it is catching her turning into a swan—as if she can ever be otherwise. The last sequence (SPOILER ALERT) involving a leaving train and her teary but beautifully made-up face proves—finally—that underneath all that perfectness still exists a good actress. Her emotional range of a lost soul confronted to an uncertain future in that quick bit surpasses every frames she’s been in for the last 99 minutes. Add the Maurice Jarre syrupy score, not to mention the Larry Peerce gauzy soft focus direction used every time our heroine is in need of a close-up shot, and we have one highly camp bonbon at our disposition.


Alas, ASH WEDNESDAY is still nonexistent on DVD. As of this second (unless somebody knows something I don’t), the powers that be at Paramount has yet to show a real interest in this film other than its already available but costly VHS format (cover pic below). Still, I say run, don’t walk, and grab yourself whatever copy you can find of this glossy gem. Sure to enlighten your gloomy day, I promise you.



Until next post—Martin






Monday, 12 November 2012

JACQUELINE SUSANN’S THE LOVE MACHINE—THE FILM



Whenever I feel like watching some delicious trash, I always want to include my partner in the ritual. Whether it’s a soap opera (DYNASTY nowadays mostly) or an over-the-top film (you name it, I’ve seen it) I always find the need, for some reason, to share my absolute love for this genre. Since he’s such a good sport about it, he’s always game in sitting through one, no matter how bad (or so he says) some turn out to be. The latest is none other than THE LOVE MACHINE, the 1971 epic—yes, epic—screen adaptation of the Jacqueline Susann best-seller. The reason for viewing this one with my honey is simple: John Philip Law. Always preferable to have a good-looking on-screen guy in your corner when viewing time beckons. It so sweetens the pill. And believe you me, this film needs all the sweetness it can handle.

It all starts with the arrival of Law as Robin Stone, preceded by a montage of him in action (he plays a newscaster) to the Dionne Warwick theme song that keeps repeating his character’s name so you won’t ever forget it. Every time Robin is on TV women all over the world cream their panties, paraphrases Dyan Cannon, the wife of his boss. When the two begin having an affair, all hell breaks loose. Robin is a player, and won’t commit. When Cannon realizes this, she torches his bed while he’s in the shower with two bimbos. Afraid for his career (he’s become president of IBC News by then, all thanks to her), he rekindles his romance with Cannon, which gives the most outrageous climax scene ever filmed involving a bracelet, face slapping, a cat and mouse chase, and, of course, the cops. I won’t say too much so not to spoil it for you, but it’s a hoot, I promise you.


As in the novel, three central women gravitate around Robin (besides the slew of wacky secondary characters), but for time-restricted reasons only two are really spotlighted. The last chick, Maggie, played by former THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS star Sharon Ferrel, is almost rendered to a walk-on as she adds absolutely nothing to the plot. One who does, however, is model of the moment Jodi Wexler (whatever happened to her?) who’s unable to keep her hands off of Stone during the film’s first half. She’s absolutely a sight for sore eyes but is built like a boy, meaning she has no tits. It’s all fine with Stone. “Anything you haven’t got, you don’t need”, he replies almost gleefully, adding another layer of innuendo regarding the character’s sexual preferences. Indeed, from his close relationship with gay photographer David Hemmings to his brutal beating of a tranny-like prostitute, the film makes you wonder if Robin isn’t really a closet homosexual after all—or bisexual at least. Since it’s 1971 and the subject matter has been taken as far as it can go, the director keeps mum about it. But does it really matter? Because whether the protagonist digs dames or dudes, whether he looses or keeps his high-paying job after that crazed but delightful survival of the fittest scene with la Cannon, songstress Dionne Warwick says it best in the end: he’s moving on; that’s Robin Stone.
 
 
THE LOVE MACHINE is now available on DVD from Sony Pictures. The disc holds no extra features but has a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer almost free of dust and debris. The sound quality is a pleasant 2.0 stereo. Go check it out and force a loved one to submit to it.








Until next post—Martin