Monday, December 05, 2022

An Evening With Marilyn, Myth of Support

An Evening With Marilyn is a new novel in German, from actress turned author Maxine Wildner, reimagining the night of Marilyn’s last birthday. Maxine’s prior subjects include Hilde Knef, the German actress who began her Hollywood career alongside Marilyn in 1946. The cover art features a 1953 photo by Gene Kornman. “Marilyn Monroe, the sex symbol of a generation, the abandoned child, the underrated actress who drove her directors mad – two months before her death, Marilyn celebrates her 36th birthday in a New York restaurant. Everyone is there: Billy Wilder, the comedy legend who helped Marilyn achieve her greatest successes; Laurence Olivier, who was voted the greatest actor of the 20th century and with whom she had the worst professional experiences; Paula Strasberg, Marilyn’s method acting teacher; Baseball-icon Joe DiMaggio; her schizophrenic mother and even guest of honour JFK might attend. Only Marilyn is late, as usual. As drinks are served, this illustrious group makes the tragic and inexplicable life of Norma Jeane Baker a.k.a. Marilyn Monroe come to life before our eyes. It takes us from the orphanage to a forced marriage and up to the stars in the Hollywood sky. The last birthday of her life turns into an unforgettable night.” 

Marilyn is also the subject of another recent novel by German authors Nadja and Claudia Beinert, part of ‘Inspiring Women,’ a 23-volume series by various authors, with other subjects including Grace Kelly, Marlene Dietrich, Audrey Hepburn and Maria Callas. Focusing on the origins of her remarkable career, Marilyn and the Hollywood Stars is also available in Spanish and Italian. (The Italian cover features another Gene Kornman photo of Marilyn in her gold lamé dress.) “Los Angeles, 1942: Norma’s childhood is lonely, her refuge in the cinema, where Hollywood actresses are so much more self-confident than she is. In front of the camera, Norma sparkles with vitality, all self-doubt is forgotten. And suddenly she knows: she wants to be in the limelight, that’s the only thing that makes her happy. But first she has to emancipate herself from the prudish rules of her time in order to become who she is today: Marilyn Monroe, the greatest icon in film history.” Source:

Tennessee Williams about Marilyn Monroe at the Actors Studio: “Marilyn was an example of the weak children who seek a guru. Having no proper balance in her life, having no available family, having no understanding of the give-and-take that is daily life, she was drawn toward Mary Baker Eddy, Buddha, Jung, Freud, and finally, the gnomish Lee Strasberg, who specialized in adopting sexually confused women and becoming the seemingly gentle father figure they desired. Strasberg lied to her and told her she was the new Duse; he told her she should play Nina; he told her to investigate O’Neill and Shakespeare. This was all folly, because Marilyn had no understanding of her talent, and it was folly because Strasberg only wanted access to privileges from her fame. Strasberg got what he wanted. At one point the Times headlines read “The bitter battle is over—Marilyn Monroe, a five-foot-five-and-a-half-inch blonde weighing 118 alluringly distributed pounds, has brought Twentieth Century Fox to its knees. It was during Marilyn’s tenure at the Studio, and particularly after her death, that the exodus of the talented began from the Studio." 

Marilyn was also remote, cloying and demanding. She knew her power and she abused it, but in the demonstration of it, the spiral of destruction deepened and intensified. Do not think for a moment that I do not see this in my own behavior and that of others: I am only offering a sobering lesson. When we can’t imagine understanding or loving a God or some other myth of support, we attach ourselves to artistic symbols: the lost soul; the waif; the abused artist. I spoke to Arthur Miller only once about Marilyn, and it was during his exhumation of her [After the Fall, 1964]. I wondered if he was satisfied; I wondered if he had exorcised himself of her spirit, and I wondered if he had expiated his own sins. He told me he thought he could help her, yes, but he also wanted to buck the odds and be the homely, cerebral Jew who got the beauty queen; he wanted to be the bookish, pedantic, shy boy who introduced the beautiful girl to books and plays and ideas. Arthur wanted to be her savior, but he also wanted to be envied; he wanted attention; he wanted to be noticed. It’s fine to cry for Marilyn Monroe. I did, and I still do.” Follies of God : Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog (2015) by James Grissom

Friday, December 02, 2022

Paul Newman: "Joanne Woodward looked like sixty or seventy million bucks"

Joanne Woodward knew that Newman was the right guy for her, but if he refused to divorce his wife, then she'd come to terms that he was definitely wrong for her. So Joanne threw herself into her work, ignoring Newman's pleas for keeping on waiting for his big decision. Joanne gave him a six-month ultimatum, and her absence during this probing time would prove to be the catalyst needed to Newman's divorce from Jackie Witte. If Somebody Up There Likes Me  had made Paul a star, Until They Sail  turned him into a matinee idol. His role as Larry Maddox in The Helen Morgan Story was somewhere between the two. Larry could love up the women as well as the army officer in Until They Sail, but he was an amoral heel. Newman and Ann Blyth play well together and have a particularly good scene when Larry confronts Helen when she comes home drunk. Newman must have felt certain frissons of recognition as the story played out, as Helen drank at first to deal with sorrow and disappointment, then became undeniably addicted to alcohol. Newman was not ready to admit to himself that there were times he relied on liquor for hope and happiness a little too much to be healthy. 

Despite its glossy, melodramatic surface, the picture works as a study of loneliness in the show-business of the 1940s against which even money and success are no barriers. Newman, who by now knew that often the worst kind of loneliness could afflict someone trapped in an unhappy marriage and separated from the one they truly loved, identified more with Helen's character than with Larry's. At least he knew Joanne was too controlled a person to turn to drink the way he and Helen Morgan did. Michael Curtiz was never a man to praise actors unduly; while getting the best out of them, he could give them a hard time in the process. He remembered Newman as thoroughly professional and attentive: “But he wouldn’t take any sass from me or anyone else.” Curtiz recalled Newman saying something along the lines of “if criticism is honest, I’m all for it. But if it’s done just out of meanness, I’ll walk away from it.” Although Larry has romantic feelings for Helen, at the film’s conclusion he seems to undergo a complete character change, picking Helen up at the nuthouse, taking her to her old nightclub where he’s assembled hundreds of her friends, and implying that he’ll never leave her again. Earlier it’s revealed that he even sent dozens of bouquets to her and signed other people’s names to the cards so that she wouldn’t feel forgotten.

Filming another Twentieth Century-Fox loan-out, From the Terrace, Newman had to battle to get Fox to cast Joanne as his wife, just as he’d had to battle to get her the spousal assignment in Rally ’Round the Flag, Boys! but at least this was a more dramatic, juicier part. In fact, Woodward as the snobby wife made Newman's ex-wife Jackie at her worst seem sylphlike by comparison. Joanne told reporters that she and Paul could get out all their own frustrations with each other by screaming at each other in character on the set. Once that was done, they could go home and make like turtledoves. Myrna Loy was appearing in a supporting role as Newman’s mother. She recalled returning to Twentieth Century-Fox, where she had made some earlier films, and discovering that her dressing room was bare. “Noticing the tributes stacked in Paul Newman’s dressing room, I realized that I was yesterday news.” But when she walked out on the set, the crew all gave her a standing ovation. They then proceeded to subject Paul to merciless teasing, asking Myrna who that “kid” she was working with was and if she was giving acting lessons on the side now. Paul took all the teasing good-naturedly. Myrna Loy told her biographer, James Kotsilibas-Davis, that “Paul Newman was very sweet about it, displaying none of the cockiness of so many young stars. He gave me a lot to work from as his dissolute mother, a real departure for me. One scene—I’m sitting in front of a mirror telling him to go for his own good—is a stunner. Paul was already a pro.” 

After the artistically bankrupt experience of Exodus (Newman couldn't convince Otto Preminger to sign Joanne on board over Eva Marie Saint), Newman was ready for the stimulating challenge of The Hustler. Eddie Felson, the pool hustler, was maybe his most memorable role. The picture was filmed mostly on location in New York City, to good advantage. The director, Robert Rossen, had a terminal illness and knew that The Hustler  would be his one of his last films. “We had three weeks of rehearsals, using television technique,” Newman said, “where you lay out tape on the floor to mark the sets.” The Hustler emerged as a very suffocating and artistic film, though pool is not exactly the most cinematic of subjects. The atmospheric, moody photography of the film illuminates the bleak, depressing vistas of poolrooms, gin joints, crummy hotel rooms, and seedy bus terminals with startling clarity. Newman is completely convincing as Eddie Felson, a character nothing like Tony Lawrence of The Young Philadelphians. Newman was a winner in his role, and Eddie despite a major moral victory at the film’s conclusion, is pretty much a loser all of the way. In an early scene, after he beats the great Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), he’s so afraid people will think it was a fluke that he self-destructively plays Fats again and again until he’s sick from fatigue and has lost all of the $10,000 he’d won. 

Newman’s acting hides clues to Eddie’s character instead of laying it all out on the line as other actors might do. That’s why the picture is nearly over before we’re sure if Eddie Felson is a good guy or a bad guy or something in between; Newman keeps us guessing about him, never playing it heroically or like Eddie was nothing more than a sleaze. Paul is very convincing when he takes the girl (Piper Laurie) to a fancy restaurant for dinner and looks awkward as hell. Newman’s climactic speech after the girl’s suicide, when in disgust he parts company with Gordon, is also excellent. Actor Don Koll worked on The Hustler and recalled: “There’s a kind of caste system in Hollywood, where stars don’t mingle with bit players,” Koll said. “It just isn’t done. But when we were on location Newman told me that it was a relief to be free of the caste system, that he could mingle with everyone and be his friendly self, because basically he’s a very down-to-earth guy.” Newman received an Academy Award nomination for his work in The Hustler. When Maximilian Schell won for Judgment at Nuremburg, Joanne’s behavior backstage was for some shockingly childish. She refused to congratulate or even speak to Schell and, in her own words, “made a spectacle of myself,” cursing and rudely denouncing the Academy and the voters. When Joan Crawford heard about it, she thought the woman who had been named after her had more serious problems than just bad fashion sense. “The impression was that Paul was a basically nice guy who was run around by the nose by his wife,” Jack Garfein, a television director that Newman had met at the Actors Studio, commented. “Did Paul ever really ask or demand that she sublimate her career or needs in favor of his? Paul was just as disappointed, more so, when he lost the award to Schell, but he was gracious. I think Joanne embarrassed him terribly that night.” 

A. E. Hotchner, novelist and long-time friend of the Newmans, thinks Garfein was wrong. “Paul really was proud, if a bit startled, by her wife's support. Their marriage was one of the few authentic in Hollywood and that stirred envy and much tongue lashing. Paul laughed about Joan Crawford thinking she was more beautiful than Joanne. Geez, Joanne was a truly beautiful woman, she was gorgeous. Paul thought Crawford was a blabbermouth and not so beautiful even in her prime.” As Paul recounted to Stewart Stern: "Joanne gave birth to our first child together, Nell, in 1959, in California. The first time as an adult I remember crying—including when my father died—was when I saw Joanne in the hospital that day, ashen, with a dry mouth and lying on a gurney, headed into an elevator on her way to the delivery room. I was so staggered. Joanne came back from the hospital wearing this bellhop hat and a very stylish dress; she looked like sixty or seventy million bucks. When Lissy was born a couple of years later, I had my camera out and took billions of pictures of her. When I think of those pictures, it reminds me how Joanne handled our babies’ introduction into our home with such class and foresight." 

Newman’s next 1961 film project was Paris Blues, in which he was again teamed with his wife Joanne. Newman and Sidney Poitier played expatriate jazz musicians in Paris who become involved with tourists Joanne Woodward and Diahann Carroll. In Harold Flender’s novel, there was only the black couple, but Hollywood had to add a couple of whites or it was no sailing. The Newmans were attracted by the social consciousness of the piece, although the film is a bit dated about gender politics. Paris Blues was under the auspices of a production company, Pennebaker, set up by the one and only Marlon Brando, who was too occupied with other matters to push his—at that time, not too  considerable—weight around. Newman contemptuosly named him "Don Brando". Brando never took to other actors whom he considered professional rivals, like James Dean, Monty Clift or Paul Newman. 

Newman began filming the adaptation of Sweet Bird of Youth a short while afterward Paris Blues. His involvement with the project had begun back in 1959 when he starred in the stage play at Tennessee Williams’s request. Richard Anderson, who’d appeared with Newman in Long Hot Summer, was appearing in The Highest Tree on Broadway at the same time and compared notes with Newman on occasion. “He revealed acting wasn’t his first choice,” Anderson said. “He was really an organization man. Explaining further, he wanted to be attached to the nuts and bolts of the game. It surprised me . . . most actors didn't have other plans.” Apparently even as early as 1959, Newman was thinking of branching out into directing and even other non-acting business pursuits, although it would be some time before any of his plans came to fruition. In the film, Newman comes off as too theatrical and self-aware and, at thirty-six, too old for the part. 

Although he does have his moments, Newman clung for dear life to the guidance Elia Kazan and Geraldine Page gave him and was too afraid to play Chance on the screen. Elia Kazan recounted to James Grissom: "Paul Newman was often unsure of his performance in the play. He never fully trusted himself as Chance Wayne. He gave some rocky performances, and I noticed that when he felt confident about his work, he ran from the theatre and hopped on his motorcycle and was gone. On the nights when he felt he hadn't done so well, he would linger at the stage door. Gerry noticed this and began to bolster him from the stage, through the performance." Tennessee Williams praised his favorite actress, saying to Grissom: "Geraldine Page is a great actress. It wasn't that she simply had talent, she had a genius, a maddening intellect that came with a supernatural vision of people. She pushed me. She made me a better writer and she made my plays better plays. Geraldine Page is all about getting it right, and just above that goal is getting it brilliant, which she does. She's a solitary genius."

The Newmans bought a house in Connecticut not far from A. E. Hotchner and his wife; Newman had become professional friends with Hotchner after he’d appeared on television in The Battler, for which Hotchner wrote the script. Hotchner did not waste time using the proximity to bring further ideas to his famous neighbor. The two men bought a boat and went fishing together, although they drank more beer than they caught fish. Ernest Lehman, who had written the fine scripts for Somebody Up There Likes Me and From the Terrace, had a new story he thought Paul would be interested in, a comedy-thriller entitled The Prize, with German bombshell Elke Sommer. 

Adapting from the novel The Prize by Irving Wallace, Lehman was hoping to create another North by Northwest, the brilliant thriller he had penned for Hitchcock. He even fashioned a scene that was to go one better than the sequence in North by Northwest in which Cary Grant evades pursuers by causing a scene at a fancy auction house. In the new scene, Newman, clad only in a towel, would heckle a speaker at a nudist colony. Edward G. Robinson plays a dual role as Dr. Max Stratman / Prof. Walter Stratman. Director Mark Robson, also of From the Terrace, gave Hitchcock's game a run for his money.

The first film Newman directed, Rachel, Rachel (1968) was inspired by a Margaret Laurence's novel entitled A Jest of God, which won the distinguished Canadian Governor-General’s Award. Joanne’s agent at the time, John Foreman, who had worked at MCA with Newman’s agent Myron McCormack, passed a copy of the book along to Joanne thinking she might be perfect for the role of the heroine, a woman in a small town who longs for love and excitement. Although this was not exactly typecasting, Woodward was often at her best playing characters with which she had nothing in common—something that was also true of Paul Newman. Paul wouldn’t read the novel at first—which was fine as far as Joanne was concerned, because she didn’t think he’d like it—but he agreed to go in with her and buy the film rights. Newman did his best to please Joanne when she got that certain look in her eye that meant she felt passionately about something. By now he often spoke of her “impeccable judgment.” To facilitate matters Newman started a new production company entitled Kayos Productions. Apparently Jodell Productions had met all its commitments, and Ritt’s and Newman’s film interests had gone in different directions. Considering the critical reaction to some of his movies, Newman figured he could probably direct as well as anyone. Besides, he’d gone to Yale to study stage direction, so at least he knew he’d be good with actors. 

The Newmans had been friends with the writer Stewart Stern since he’d written a teleplay Paul had starred in and particularly admired, Thundering Silence. Stern also did the screenplay for The Rack, as well as such notable films as Rebel without a Cause and The Ugly American. He was their first choice to turn A Jest of God into a screenplay. They got in touch with him, and he agreed to take on the project, although there were times when he nearly came to regret it. Stern would meet with Joanne and Paul at their home for story conferences by committee. Stern found that Joanne had her ideas and Paul had his, and what he had to say made little impact. Soon their story conferences metamorphosed into polite disagreements, then arguments, then finally screaming matches. One afternoon the three of them had a quarrel about whether the heroine would “pleasure” herself in bed in the prone position or face-up. Stern told them that, in essence, too many cooks were spoiling the broth and that he would work on the script with Paul or Joanne but not both of them. He stormed out of the house and went home. Now came the difficult part of finding a studio that would be willing to finance the picture. Newman was a megastar at this point, and he could probably have gotten financing for just about anything he starred in, but his wife just wasn’t as bankable. To his amazement and disillusionment, this major movie star found certain executives failing to return his phone calls. 

Newman was told by studio executives that the story was too downbeat, that it wasn’t commercial enough (which it wasn’t), that Joanne Woodward wasn’t a big enough name by then. “How about using another actress?” some inquired, gaining Newman's wrath. Newman knew that his wife’s heart was set on making this picture, and by now he wanted it for her as much as she did. She may have pressured him into getting interested initially, but he loved her and didn’t want her to be disappointed. As Stewart Stern put it with consummate insight born from years of friendship: “He is constantly trying to provide a setting where the world can see what he sees in her.” Also, Kayos Productions was going to wind up with egg on its face if it didn’t get the money to make the picture somewhere. Newman claimed that he decided to direct Rachel, Rachel because he couldn’t get anyone else to do it. Although Rachel, Rachel  is never as devastating as it could have been, it remains a picture of depth and meaning. The best line comes after surgery when the nurse tells her she’s out of danger. “How can I be out of danger if I’m not dead?” Rachel asks her.

Newman’s instincts were right in revising the screenplay and putting together so many rough cuts until it was perfect, for Rachel, Rachel is often poignant and never descends into soap opera as he was afraid it would. It was one portrait of alienation that would flourish in the next decade, with films like Five Easy Pieces or Taxi Driver. Estelle Parsons enjoyed working with Newman and was impressed by the self-effacing attention he gave to Joanne and the other actors. “He wanted to showcase his wife’s talent to maximum advantage, and he succeeded,” she said. Newman and Joanne won Golden Globes and the New York Film Critics’ Award as Best Actress and Best Director. Shortly after Rachel, Rachel was released, Newman got a strange phone call. A woman’s voice said, “You did it beautifully—what is  your name?” The woman was apparently struggling to remember who she had phoned, even though she had placed the call. When a bemused Newman told her his name, she said, “Yes, yes,” and told him it was Patricia Neal, his old co-star from Hud, calling to tell him how much she had loved Rachel, Rachel. Neal had suffered a massive stroke three years earlier and even then still had trouble remembering names of people she knew well. Newman was touched she had taken the trouble to phone him, even if he had as much difficulty expressing it as she did. 

Following the apocalyptical WUSA (1970) with low-brow fanfare like Pocket Money (1972) by Stuart Rosenberg, however, may not have been as screwy as it seemed. It may well have been a calculated attempt to win back those members of the audience—the Moral Majority and Heartland USA types who saw Newman as some kind of commie pinko. No matter how many times Newman was asked, he never gave a satisfactory answer about his reasons to make WUSA or exactly what message he was trying to get across. Robert Stone (the writer of WUSA) didn't get along with director Rosenberg. "My role was cut", explained actress Cloris Leachman, "a lot of stuff was left in the cutting room floor. The studio wasn't interested and Rosenberg gave in." —Sources: "Paul Newman: A Life" (2009) by Lawrence J. Quirk and "Paul Newman: Blue-Eyed Cool" (2022) by James Clarke

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The Misfits: The Film That Ended a Marriage

The Misfits (1961) will be screened in the Ted Mann Theatre at the Academy Museum on Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles this Saturday, December 3 at 7 pm, in a North American premiere for the 4K restoration completed from the original 35 mm negative in 2018. The film’s initial release was eclipsed by the death of leading man Clark Gable, and would also prove to be Marilyn’s cinematic swansong – but it’s now considered a minor classic, bridging the gap between Hollywood’s golden age and the 1960s New Wave. The Misfits is followed at 9 pm by another hidden gem of film preservation, Call It Murder (1934). Source:

Even though the Monroe/Miller marriage was in crisis, Marilyn was surrounded by people she liked and got on with – Gable, Clift, Wallach and Ritter, a special friend of hers from the Actors Studio. She also had her masseur Ralph Roberts, her press secretary May Reis, her makeup man Allan “Whitey” Snyder, her stand-in Evelyn Moriarty, her limo driver Rudy Kausky, her publicist Rupert Allan and the two people who did her hair, Sidney Guilaroff and Agnes Flanagan. Reis had worked for Miller in the past. Huston gave Roberts a small part as an ambulance driver in the film. The only person John Huston was concerned about was Paula Strasberg, who replaced Natasha Lytess as Monroe’s acting coach and who threatened to derail any production with her imperiousness. Slowly but surely, Miller’s script had begun to infiltrate her life. Where did one end and the other begin? Nobody knew for sure. He was getting ideas from her daily behavior. Mood changes that depressed both of them enriched his work. Monroe’s demons became Roslyn’s by proxy. Miller didn’t know why she was offended. He thought he was portraying some of her most endearing qualities – “spontaneous joy and sympathy.” 

Lee Strasberg had seen something in Marilyn that most other acting coaches missed. “What was going on inside was not what was going on outside,” he said. “That always means there may be something there to work with.” Of all the stars he'd worked with, he said, Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando were the two who stood out for him. One of the reasons Strasberg took such an interest in Monroe was to rebuild his reputation. It suffered some damage from Brando’s renunciation of him in favor of Stella Adler. Marilyn performed many interesting pieces at the Actors Studio, from Golden Boy to A Streetcar Named Desire to Molly Bloom’s soliloquy from James Joyce’s Ulysses. No doubt this was the biggest stretch for her. 

The Hollywood Studio Club, a building near the Paramount Studios that housed hundreds of young hopefuls, had opened in 1926 and it would close definitely its doors in 1975. Marilyn Monroe, Dorothy Malone, Kim Novak, Donna Reed, Barbara Hale, Barbara Rush and Sharon Tate had lived in the Hollywood Club for a while (the tops was 3 years). “I heard there was this place for girls in show business who hadn’t made it yet and you got two meals a day for $15 a week,” said Rita Moreno, so she and her friend Louise Martinson moved in. After “playing a lot of Indian maidens,” Moreno signed a contract with Fox. Sparks flashed when Moreno met Brando on the Fox lot. Soon, she was taking his calls on the hallway phone, grabbing her nail polish on the way because, she says, “he was on the phone for hours at a time.” Curled up on the floor with the receiver on her shoulder and the cord stretched as far as it would go, she gave herself a mani-pedi. “All the girls wanted to know what happened on my dates with him, so Louise said, 'Let’s write down your whole experience and read it out loud'.”

One night their bedroom was packed as Rita Moreno recounted accompanying Brando to an Actors Studio party in San Fernando Valley—where she met Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward (whose romance was blossoming) and also James Dean. While Dean seemed fixated on Marilyn, and since Brando was busy dancing with Moreno, Marilyn seemed intrigued by Newman, although it was evident that Marilyn was not Newman's type. Actually, Newman was not enthused with the occasional antics of Woodward as glamour queen, that he called "Joanne's fantasy of being like Marilyn Monroe." 

John Huston hated the way Monroe treated Miller while shooting The Misfits. She insulted him in front of others. He’d act like he didn’t care: “He would pretend he wasn’t listening.” Her hangers-on carried on the humiliation: “I think they hoped to demonstrate their loyalty to Marilyn by being impertinent to Arthur. On these occasions Arthur never changed his expression.” In his book Conversations with Marilyn (1976), journalist WJ Weatherby gives voice to Marilyn's intimate thoughts about her failed marriage with Miller: "I had asked why she had yelled at the film crew of The Misfits, in particular a shy, well meaning man who had taken it badly. 'I can be a monster,' she replied seriously. 'Some of my friends want me to be innocent. If they saw the monster in me, they'd probably never talk to me. Sometimes I think that's what happened in my marriage to Arthur. He saw me as so beautiful and innocent between the wolves of Hollywood, I tried to be that person. When the monster showed up, Arthur couldn't believe it. But I felt he knew and loved all of me. I put Arthur through a lot, I know. It would've been easier with a more party-going kind of man. But I want someone different from me. A challenge." 

Monroe always looked out for Clift. When his jeans sagged, she told the makeup people to moisten them so they became tight. Though the overt romantic relationship in the film is between Gable and Monroe, the one between Clift and Monroe is in some ways deeper. Clift patted Monroe’s bottom on the set one day and she was amused. At other times she tantalized him with her body, rubbing her breasts across his nose. It was said that she was “determined to get him into bed for the hell of it,” thinking of his affair with Liz Taylor. Clift tried to make love to her once but they were both too drunk at the time for anything to happen. Instead they just “fooled around.” —The Misfits: The Film That Ended a Marriage (2022) by Aubrey Malone

Friday, November 25, 2022

Hollywood: The Oral Story, Sweet Bird of Youth

RIDGEWAY CALLOW: This is the true story of Hollywood. The most ruthless town in the world. RICHARD SCHICKEL: Or at least that’s the way people like to picture it. GEORGE CUKOR: . . . there are all sorts of stories . . . usually untrue . . . STANLEY DONEN: . . . because it was simply a group of people who kept working there in those pictures, going from one job to another . . . HOWARD STRICKLING: Everything was done carefully, thoughtfully, and in real detail. Everybody working together. We got on the same page, film by film. It was a business made up of creative, intelligent, hardworking people. RAOUL WALSH: Work. That’s the true story of Hollywood. But who wants to hear it? They’re looking for something else. Who took off whose panties behind the piano while the director shot the producer in the head? People want to know stuff like that, even if it isn’t true. BRONISLAU KAPER: Hollywood drew envy. All that money and power. People liked to ridicule Hollywood. “Oh, that’s Hollywood.” Everything is “typical Hollywood.” “Oh, he’s going Hollywood.” Nobody says “He’s going San Francisco.” No. “He’s going Hollywood,” where everyone really secretly wanted to go. GEORGE CUKOR: Hollywood throughout the years was always a real stop on the bus. People were very interested in everything that went on in Hollywood. It was exciting. It had all the glamorous people. Everybody wanted to come to Hollywood. 

FRANK CAPRA: Hollywood! What the hell good could come out of a Hollywood? Three thousand miles west of the Hudson River, where nothing west of the Hudson was any good anyhow? A little town way out in the west, a little bit of a dusty burg called Hollywood? Ah, but here film was being made, being sold, being canned, being shipped. We invented it. We created it . . . this enormous thing that has the tremendous power to move and influence. An art form and a business. Hollywood! VINCENT SHERMAN: What started out as a nickel-and-dime, honky-tonk business grew to be a great industry. It gave employment to many people doing all kinds of jobs, all of which had to be coordinated and put together. Some great films were turned out during this period. A town was created as a result of the picture business: Hollywood. I would say that the films that Hollywood made stood at the forefront of the entire world. Hollywood became a legend. ALLAN DWAN: In the beginning, of course, it wasn’t Hollywood. Films were being made all over the country: New York City, New Jersey, Florida, Chicago, St. Louis, Arizona and New Mexico, Oregon, San Francisco, and San Diego. Everywhere. And nobody knew they were going to work in the movies because there was no such thing, really, when they were born. TAY GARNETT: As a matter of fact, I don’t think it ever occurred to anybody that the movies would ever be a business. 

LEO MCCAREY: I planned to be a lawyer. I even practiced. I started out very young, and they mistook me for the office boy. I was a very poor lawyer. A discouraging factor in my legal career is that I lost every case. JEANINE BASINGER: A movie maker had to be ready to pull up stakes and run! The patent wars are a complicated story—but very colorful. In 1908, after months of negotiations, the two biggest companies, Edison and Biograph, former enemies, got together and became The Motion Picture Patents Company. These big guys licensed successful smaller companies to “legally make films”: Vitagraph, Essanay, Lubin, Selig, Kalem, Kleine, and Méliès and Pathé. It was an attempt for MPPC to own it all. By 1912, this controlling and threatening company was weakening, and in 1917, it was dissolved by court order. The motion picture game was afoot! And it was anybody’s game. ALLAN DWAN: I started directing early. I know I directed in 1909. I know that for sure. When I say 1909, it could have been down to almost Christmastime. In California, you don’t remember—there’s no snow, so we don’t remember there’s a winter. 

PAUL NEWMAN: My time in California didn’t have an auspicious start. I drove there from New York, alone, and literally didn’t know where I was going. I was booked for a room in Hollywood, at the Roosevelt Hotel, but I got off at the wrong exit on one of the freeways—I’m not even sure whether it was the Ventura or the Pasadena; I must have cut all the way through Kansas. Anyway, I don’t really remember ever coming into Los Angeles itself, but I ended up exiting at Santa Monica Boulevard. I later, of course, found out there was a much easier way to get where I was headed, but I had to drive a long way on local roads along Sunset. It took forever until I found the Roosevelt. [...] My vacillations about divorcing Jackie went on for years, despite I knew I had fallen in love with Joanne. —Hollywood: The Oral History (2022) by Jeanine Basinger and Sam Wasson 

In The Hustler (1961), Paul Newman delivers what easily might be his best performance (and it's probably the best film he ever made), a literate and psychologically probing drama set in the grubby world of pool halls. Robert Rossen directed with a conspicuous anti-Hollywood grit and maturity (and he couldn’t resist a heartbreaking ending). As “Fast Eddie” Felson, a born loser with the pool-shooting talent to become a winner, Newman excellently delivers the cocky bravado, the sexy charm, and the self-destructive tendencies, a believable combination of drive and defeatism, finally fulfilling his mission of the Method with ostensibly “personal” acting. Newman often appears semi-paralyzed in his early films, not yet free enough to be great, unable to give of himself fully. In The Hustler, he is somewhat shown up by the superb work around him, from George C. Scott’s electrifying portrait of cool malevolence, and Piper Laurie’s aching, unadorned work as Newman’s sad girlfriend. Laurie and Newman had previously shared one brief scene together in Until They Sail (1957). The Hustler is about mind games, in and out of the poolroom, and it's self-consciously reaching for profundity while also providing a satisfying conclusion. Newman deserved his Oscar nomination and was favored to win the gold-plated prize, but Maximilian Schell (Judgment at Nuremburg) was the victor for a far less intricate, though showy, role. 

Despite the steady stream of film work, Newman had opted to spend the bulk of 1959 starring on Broadway in Tennessee Williams’ new play Sweet Bird of Youth, which opened just after Newman received his Oscar nomination for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, making him very much the Williams actor of the moment. It was only a matter of time before Sweet Bird of Youth made it to the screen, and there was no need to look for a bigger movie star than Newman to play Chance Wayne. With four major cast members from the Broadway production (Newman, Geraldine Page, Rip Torn, and Madeleine Sherwood), Sweet Bird of Youth has more heavyweight original-cast members on hand than any Williams film since A Streetcar Named Desire. 

Chance Wayne would appear to be an ideal Newman role, a virile and ambitious operator out to climb the Hollywood ladder. About a decade ago, he was a good-looking star athlete (a swimming diver) who fell for Heavenly Finley (Shirley Knight). Her father, Tom “Boss” Finley (Ed Begley), a former governor on the Gulf Coast, wanted Chance out of the way, and so he disingenuously encouraged Chance to leave St. Cloud and seek his fortune in New York. Chance found minor success in show business, including a cover of Life magazine as one of three chorus boys in a Broadway show (identified as Oklahoma! in the play, but nameless in the movie). Though he continued to believe in his potential for film stardom, Chance scored bigger as a sexual companion to wealthy ladies. As a beach boy in Palm Beach, he had latched on to Alexandra Del Lago (Geraldine Page), an apparently washed-up movie queen who is afraid to face the press and the public.

Like The Fugitive Kind, Sweet Bird of Youth is concentrated on a male character but utterly dominated by female forces. Geraldine Page’s Alexandra has about half the screen time allotted to Newman’s Chance, but the person you remember is Page's Alexandra, just as in The Fugitive Kind it’s Anna Magnani and Joanne Woodward's characters who overshadow Marlon Brando's. Chance is a fairly naïve young man, never quite sharp enough to be the equal of the monsters he will encounter throughout this Easter weekend. (The play takes place entirely on Easter Sunday.) Chance, in the movie more than the play, seems surprisingly innocent despite his past, and his and Heavenly’s unwavering love is treated as something eternally pure, no matter what, all of which seems intended to provide balance with the film’s more sordid elements. Chance is presented as a love-struck man trying hard to be a shameless conniver, though conniving doesn’t come as naturally to him as it does to most of the characters around him. 

The Hollywoodized version by Richard Brooks is quite faithful to 
Tennessee Williams' play, where Chance, however sleazy his actions have been in the past, will be redeemed by his lost love. The only problem presented to the viewer is that Newman is simply too good-looking to be totally convincing as loser Chance Wayne. We suspect any Hollywood studio would sign this guy about five seconds after looking at him. Years ago, Chance, content to remain in St. Cloud and marry Heavenly, was swayed by Boss Finley into following the go-getting hordes destined for New York's show-business, staked with a train ticket and a hundred dollars. Newman is convincingly guileless as a starry-eyed hopeful, but this scene stresses the point that Chance’s dreams were not his own. In the play, in the Act Two, Chance's tactics to show the town of St Cloud that he is now somebody are obvious. After popping pills and drinking vodka, he brags to Scotty and Bud that Alexandra Del Lago has signed a contract, giving him the lead role in a film called ‘Youth’. Immediately, Scotty and Bud point out the ridiculousness of the title, seeing through Chance’s transparent lies. 

However, Chance’s fantastical schemes reveal that he still buys into the Hollywood dream of glamour and youth. He even keeps in his wallet the snapshots that Chance took of Heavenly on the beach, capturing and immortalising her young body when they were dating. Williams, in essence, reveals that there is no way to turn back the clock, no way to wipe the slate clean, and thus there is an uphill battle to achieve real redemption. The passing of time, as Williams writes in his 1947 essay ‘The Catastrophe of Success,’ is "Loss, loss, unless you devote your heart to its opposite. It goes tick-tick, it’s quieter than your heartbeat, but it’s slow dynamite, a gradual explosion, blasting the world we live in to burnt-out pieces. Time... who could beat it, who could defeat it ever? Maybe some saints and heroes." Chance is ultimately a hero.

The lighthouse sequence is among those scenes that make us feel for two crazy kids in love simply trying to beat the outside forces against them. This particular myth, rooted in the American consciousness, commonly referred to as ‘the American Dream’, recalls a tradition depicted in American Realist novels such as Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy (1925). Like Clyde, the protagonist of Dreiser’s novel, Chance strives to rise above his poverty and in doing so, he compromises his ethical and moral codes. Del Lago’s character is not merely a diva, she's struggling to survive in the movie industry that turned her into a monster, her alias leads back to Williams’s discussion of the ‘Cinderella story’ as well as suggesting that before being consumed by this Hollywood dream, she was capable of kindness, generosity and grace – traits that in fairytales lead the princess to winning her prince. Like Chance (and Cinderella, who cleaned and toiled for her step-sisters), Del Lago was not always rich and famous. She began, like all them, with only beauty to boast of. 

The power struggle between Chance Wayne and Alexandra Del Lago is, in part, fuelled by their recognition of their similarities. The demanding and self-absorbed actress constrasts starkly with Heavenly: "a nude image of a fifteen-year-old girl with the tide beginning to lap over her body like the sea desired her as Chance would always desire her’; Heavenly's nude photograph that Chance took signifies youth and Chance’s desire to possess that youth forever. Del Lago, like others of Williams’s heroines, 'she is an agent of truth forcing lost men to face their reality.’ Miss Lucy, w
en she makes her entrance in Act Two, Scene Two in the play, she is described as ‘dressed in a ball gown elaborately ruffled and very bouffant like an antebellum Southern belle’s. A single blonde curl is arranged to switch girlishly at one side of her sharp little terrier face’. Like Scarlett O’Hara, to whom Chance compares her, she holds on to her dignity and pride even under attack and scorned by her former lover Boss Finley. But her gentility and girlish behaviour is, Williams suggests, a façade. Like a terrier, she is quick and wily, and Miss Lucy wastes no time in retaliating. She immediately approaches a heckler and tells him ‘come to hear Boss Finley talk.’ 

Chance and Heavenly are just as much in love in the play but appear much more bruised by their traumatic experiences. In the play, Chance accuses Boss Finley's son: "Hear that, Tom Junior? Give your father that message. This is my town. I was born in St Cloud, not him. He was just called here down from the hills to preach hate. I was born here to make love to Heavenly. Whatever happens to me, it’s already happened." In the previous act, Alexandra asks Chance: "What are you trying to prove?" Chance: "Something’s got to mean something, doesn’t it, Princess? Well, something’s still got to mean something." Like Joanne Woodward's climactic car-ride offer of Carol to Marlon Brando's Valentine in The Fugitive Kind, sparked by another premonition of doom, the gesture of help by Alexandra is rejected by Chance, but Sweet Bird of Youth turns imminent horror into romantic redemption. The message of the film disparages the hunt for big success and promotes true love above all else. Chance is thereby decontaminated of his erotic opportunism, leaving Alexandra and Boss Finley to continue fighting their nasty battles to stay on top.

Chance runs to the front of the Finley mansion, screaming Heavenly’s name when two cars pull up and four men emerge, including Heavenly’s violent brother, Tom Junior (Rip Torn). As he is beaten, Chance continues to call her name before being dragged by his legs to one of the cars. Tom Junior, holding his daddy’s cane, tells Chance he’s about to “take away loverboy’s meal ticket.” Bloodied and swollen, Chance is reunited with Heavenly in a bittersweet happy endingwith the added bonus of political trouble for Boss Finley, ignited at a rally when heckling about Heavenly’s abortion raised questions about his family values. Behind the production, Newman had pushed his wife Joanne Woodward for the role of Heavenly, which probably would have been expanded and resonated more. Although The Long, Hot Summer (1958) and From the Terrace (1960) were blazing box-office hits, Newman's next film with Joanne Woodward Paris Blues (1961) was a sound failure, thus halting them as a popular screen team for a while.

It was under Sidney Lumet that Newman hit a new peak, playing the alcoholic, ambulance-chasing lawyer in The Verdict (1982), a very fine courtroom drama, satisfying and well-paced and handsomely crafted by David Mamet. The Verdict is basically good pulp, featuring a femme fatale, corporate evil, a surprise star witness, and Newman’s do-gooding crusader, an underdog desperately seeking redemption through a medical malpractice suit. Its archetypal components were freshly spruced, creating a compelling character study. Newman was finally a skillful enough actor to encompass a multi-faceted role, which brings real value to the melodrama of the court case. Newman rarely was better, charting his character’s reckless struggle to regain his idealism and fight his insecurities. Without Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’s Brick making him the hottest new leading man of late-fifties Hollywood, and without Sweet Bird of Youth’s Chance confirming his legitimacy as a theatre star, perhaps he wouldn’t have gotten all the way to The Hustler, meaning that his career might not have lasted long enough for him to do The Verdict, The Color of Money, or Blaze. 

Audrey Wollen’s “Sad Girl Theory” bears resemblance to the anti-optimism of Lauren Berlant, Jack Halberstam, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Sara Ahmed, all of whom point to the ways that everyday culture asks us to buy into an aspirational fantasy of “the good life,” while keeping that life ever more inaccessible. In this context, sadness, failure, and shame might constitute a kind of resistance, or, as Halberstam puts it, “not succeeding at manhood or womanhood can offer unexpected pleasures.” —Sources: "Tennessee Williams and Company: Paul Newman" (2011) by John DiLeo and "The sacrificial stud and the fugitive female in Sweet Bird of Youth" by Cambridge University Press (1998) edited by Matthew C. Roudané 

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Paul Newman (Cool Hand Luke), Steve McQueen

Cool Hand Luke
, directed by Stuart Rosenberg in 1967, is maybe the most iconic role of Paul Newman as Lucas Jackson, a veteran of World War II. Luke has just committed a petty crime and is subsequently sentenced to the brutal punishment of a prison chain gang in the oppressive rural regions of Central Florida. The danger that Luke posesone could argue like Jesus did returning to Nazarethis that he sees completely through the game. He sees that the whole established order is built upon the absurd notion that human beings are enslaved by some kind of paternally malignant "God", and that taking this position allows humans to rationalize their exploitation, control, and destruction of other human beings. According to Albert Camus, the world is not in itself absurd; life becomes absurd due to the incompatibility between human beings and the world they inhabit. 

Maybe the central theme of Cool Hand Luke is the cruelty of man’s will for power over his fellow man. In the attempt to gain power, one must not only mislead others into “Laws of God and Nature”, but he must also lie to himself for misleading the rest. The chains the prisoners wear are symbolic of the chains that our civilization itself puts on the individual. "Everywhere man is born free and everywhere he is in chains," as the French philosopher Rousseau put it. He also says in his political treatise, The Social Contract, “Show me where I wrote my signature on the contract agreeing to accept the laws and dictates of my fellow man”. Luke is an enigma at first to the powers that be, after destroying municipal property, a rather ridiculous crime. “Ripping the heads off parking meters”, Luke tells the Captain, who replies, “We never had one of those before.” The Captain becomes even more puzzled when he reads Luke’s war record, where he was decorated with medals. Even the prisoners have a pecking order, with Dragline (played in an academy-award winning performance by George Kennedy) is top dog on the chain. “You don’t have a name until Dragline gives you one”, another inmate (ironically named ‘Society’) tells the new inmate.

Luke is on a collision course with the established order, first with Dragline, who beats him mercilessly in the Saturday boxing ring made for inmates to settle grudges. Luke is a man whose nature is to be free and he can not change that fact, and he keeps rising with every punch. “You will have to kill me”, he tells Dragline, and consequently earns the respect of the inmates but raises the radar of the bosses, who intuitively understand that Luke is an existential threat to their authority by making that declaration. When Luke answers the punitive measures of the Captain with sarcasm and is cane-whipped, the Captain (Strother Martin) replies with one of the most famous movie quotes of all time: “What we have here is a failure to communicate”. That line struck a chord in America, especially at a time when the gap between generations was growing and the traditional structure of society was unraveling. The line signified, on a deeper level, the alienation of man (and woman) from one another. Here in Cool Hand Luke these are all men (prisoners and guards alike) who are mimicking a game on the micro level that is also being played on the macro societal level.

Luke is the only one who can see that Western civilization became fundamentally absurd the moment that atomic bombs were thrown on other human beings. Robert Oppenheimer, chief engineer on The Manhattan Project once remarked after completing his task, "it's perfectly obvious that the entire world is going to Hell, and the only way we can possibly prevent this is by doing nothing." It is no accident that the emergence of existentialism coincided with the end of the second great world tragedy, just as in the visual arts the surrealist and dada movement came out of the first world tragedy. How can man do such unspeakable crimes to man? What is it that drives man to throw out rationality and reason, not to mention the emotional empathy and compassion, for the sake of murder? These are not easy questions to answer. Philosophy and psychology are fields of study which can explore the reasons, but if they are honest in their practicality, they recognize their impotence in finding a solution to the question of “why?” I think it is only art, the field that seeks to find answers through the negation of that which has been rigidly structured into binded patterns of the mind, that can break open the hard shell of the absurd state of existence in which we find ourselves. 

Paul Newman as Luke is the Everyman. Like Jake Gittes in Chinatown battling the entire bureaucracy of Los Angeles, Luke is engaged in a losing fight. As isolated as Christ, he must ultimately be sacrificed. It is clear that Rosenberg has purposely chosen the Christ motif to affirm this point. Luke lies prostrate with his arms stretched as if on a cross when he accomplishes the impossible (“No one can eat 50 eggs”), and the scene where he tells the others to “stop feeding off me!” is reminiscent of Christ in the Garden of Gethsmane, Christ already in spirit moving beyond the body. The final frame pans away from the road where the inmates are sharing tales of their savior, and the roads from which they toil form a cross. Although the other inmates are incapable of the courage to be so free in spirit, they are redeemed by the example of Luke. Even his prison number (37) is a reference to a higher spiritual cause. Luke 1:37: “For with God nothing shall be impossible." Luke the Existentialist is pointing this out to all of us. The philosopher Alan Watts (author of 
Myth & Ritual in Christianity) remarked: "I have often contemplated the stars in the heavens and wondered if at one time they were also planets which became self-aware and in an atomic blaze of glory blew themselves up, spewing debris into the fields around them which eventually formed new planets, and so the game goes throughout this particular universe. The secret of life is knowing when to stop.

At Paul Newman’s forty-fourth birthday partyheld at his Benedict Canyon houseRobert Stone (author of A Hall of Mirrors/WUSA) and his wife Janice (Mattson) met Anthony Perkins, Cloris Leachman, and Jay Sebring, a celebrity hairstylist who would be murdered by the Manson Family in the doomed house on Cielo Drive, in August 1969. The WUSA's producer John Foreman introduced Janice as a character from Stone’s novel and script—“the real Geraldine.” Maybe Foreman was stoned at the time. Robert and Janice Stone were surprised that dope-smoking was as prevalent in Hollywood as in other places they’d recently been, though Newman and Woodward didn’t indulge in it. Newman had a pool table in his home, where he also liked to cook for guests; he taught Janice how to eat an artichoke leaf by leaf.

As for the lifting of conventional constraints on the movie business, Stone’s feelings were mixed, more on the negative side. “I thought liberation from the failing grip of the censors did not seem to be making pictures any better. In fact, it seemed increasingly permissible to trivialize on a more complex level, and to employ obviousness in treating stories whose point was their ambiguity.” That was a bad augury for Stone’s film adaptation of A Hall of Mirrors. Stone’s first conversations with the director Stuart Rosenberg were enough to let him know “that we had very little in common in terms of the stories we wanted to tell.” Janice also mistrusted Rosenberg and she even thought his recent picture with Newman, the iconic Cool Hand Luke, had been a failure, at odds with the audience that shelled out $16 millions. 

The critic Pauline Kael, in her review of Slapshot, asserted: "Paul Newman is an actor-star in the way that Bogart was. His range isn't enormous; he can't do classics, any more than Bogart could. But when a role is right for him, he's peerless." Although I'm not sold on her Bogart-Newman analogy, I tend to accept that Newman defined a sort of damaged masculinity far better than the fellow actors of his time. 
“Nobody should be asked not to like Paul Newman,” Kael suggested. The director John Huston went further, calling Newman “a moral and ethical man. Superb in every way.” And many would agree.

Along with Paul Newman and Warren Beatty, Steve McQueen was the biggest of the young male movie stars of the sixties. The UK had its share of exciting young leading men like Michael Caine, Albert Finney, and Terence Stamp, but of the young sexy guys in America—that were also genuine movie stars—we had Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Warren Beatty. On the next level down: James Garner, James Coburn, and 
George Peppard. James Garner was actually popular enough to get scripts from time to time that weren’t covered by the top three, but not often. Once McQueen became a movie star with The Great Escape, he made a string of pretty good movies. In the sixties the only real dud in his filmography is Baby the Rain Must Fall. And that’s mostly due to the ridiculous sight of Steve trying to play a folk singer. Whereas Paul Newman for his whole career did a considerable amount of low-profile movies along with some iconic ones. I mean, some of the movies Newman agreed to do over the years are really baffling. When I was writing my adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch (which I retitled Jackie Brown), and I had to consider who was to play the novel’s likable lead male Max Cherry, I had a few choices. Gene Hackman was an obvious choice, as was Paul Newman. I also considered John Saxon. But there was something about Robert Forster in Alligator that really stuck with me. So I started writing the script right down to the discussion with Jackie about Max's thinning hair.

In real life everything suggests Steve McQueen could be a real hothead. In Don Siegel’s autobiography he relates that a few times during the making of Hell Is for Heroes the two men almost came to blows. Apparently McQueen and his costar on that film, Bobby Darin, also couldn’t stand each other. When actor/writer James Bacon once mentioned to Darin that McQueen was his own worst enemy, Darin replied, “Not while I’m alive.” But McQueen’s Lt. Frank Bullitt is no hothead. He is the epitome of cool. Paul Newman's kind of cool was different from McQueen, a more reserved kind. Oddly, actress Lita Milan had brief flings in the same year 1958 with both Paul Newman (co-star in The Left-Handed Gun) and with Steve McQueen while filming Never Love a Stranger (directed by Robert Stevens).

Lee Remick also had a brief affair with McQueen while filming Baby the Rain Must Fall (1965) and allegedly she had appeared interested in Newman while she played Eula in The Long, Hot Summer (1958). Of course, Newman ignored Remick as he'd go on to shrug off other of his co-stars' advances. One of the key differences, besides their acting styles between Newman and McQueen, is that Newman was only macho onscreen. Offscreen he was much more progressive and left-leaning than the womanizer and Republican McQueen.

Former MCA Producer Jennings Lang offered the role of Dirty Harry to Paul Newman (probably sometime soon after Harper). But Newman turned it down. According to Lang, “Newman said he thought it was too tough a role, that he couldn’t play that type of character.” Universal sold the script by Harry Julian Fink and R. M. Fink to Warner Bros., where it was going to be made with Frank Sinatra playing Harry and directed by Irv Kirshner. Then Sinatra sprained his wrist, seriously limiting his ability to wield Callahan’s .44 Magnum. Warner offered it to Clint Eastwood, who agreed on the condition that he could bring Don Siegel over from Universal to direct. 
It was also Siegel’s most political film since his earlier masterpiece, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. With Body Snatchers, the liberal-leaning Siegel was able to have his cake and eat it too. On one hand, it can be read as a subtextual attack on McCarthyism (its most popular reading). But on the other hand, the film also plays into the Red Nightmare paranoia of the fifties, being the communists referred as The Pod People. In many of Siegel’s stories working for producers and studio executives he didn’t respect, the director referred to them as 'Pod People'. 

But in the seventies cop thriller, the subtextual attack is of a much different political bent. Dirty Harry tells the story of the quintessential Siegel protagonist taken to its logical extreme. Eastwood’s Harry Callahan is the baddest-ass cop on the San Francisco police force. In a different era he’d be portrayed as a by-the-book type. Except in the era and location the movie takes place (San Francisco in the early seventies), in Callahan’s opinion, the book has been rewritten in favor of the scum. Society is screaming police brutality. The public is siding with the crooks. And the gutless police brass, local government, and the courts are cowed into compliance with an increasingly permissive social order that favors lawbreakers over law enforcement. The genius of the film is it takes that transgressive character and pits him up against a fictionalized version of San Francisco’s real-life “Zodiac Killer” (this fictionalized “Scorpio” is another calculating mastermind). 

Master bank robber Doc McCoy, who’s just served four years in prison, is given parole in exchange for orchestrating a robbery for a local bigwig named Beynon (played in the movie by Ben Johnson), who sits on the parole board. The deal is brokered by McCoy’s robbery accomplice wife, Carol (it’s inferred in the movie it was her mistake that put Doc behind bars). The Getaway was put into production during a serious time of transition in Steve McQueen’s life. He and his wife, friend, and confidant Neile McQueen were finalizing their divorce. Steve had moved out of their Malibu home and taken up residence at the Chateau Marmont. After passing at the last minute on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (due to his rivalry with Paul Newman), McQueen embarked on three offbeat projects that all ended in failure. 
Who would play the female colead, Carol McCoy? Robert Evans had been aggressively pushing the idea of a teaming between his wife Ali MacGraw, and Steve McQueen. In retrospect, this is ironic, because it would be while she was making The Getaway she would leave the mogul and marry her costar Steve McQueen. I asked Walter Hill who he thought would have made a good Carol McCoy. He said he had favored Stella Stevens, but McQueen didn't want Stevens, he wanted Ali MacGraw. Hill said the actresses that got the most consideration were Lauren Hutton and Geneviève Bujold. But that idea ended up blowing up when McQueen waited in a bar to meet Bujold to discuss the film, and she came walking in with Maximilian Schell. Neile (ex-wife of McQueen) had decided to retaliate by having an affair with Max Schell. So when Geneviève Bujold walked through the barroom doorway with the man who screwed his wife, McQueen got distracted and proceeded to beat the living shit outta Maximilian Schell.

For Sam Peckinpah, Carol bedding Beynon was very important in the context of the story. For first time viewers it’s easy to assume, to get her man out of Huntsville, she was forced against her will into the sexual bargain. But Peckinpah decidedly does not dramatize it that way. The film insinuates she was not just willing to do it for Doc; she was willing to do it for Beynon. It even tries to insinuate that Carol has to debate her choice of which man to stay with. And in the confrontation scene where Carol shoots Beynon, the movie tries to convince us that maybe Carol is in league with the Texas power broker against her husband. Later Doc accuses her, “I think you liked it. I think he got to you.” Carol answers Doc back, “Maybe I got to him.” If Beynon wasn’t played by Ben Johnson, this whole three-way sexual dynamic could have worked. It’s not just you can’t imagine Ben Johnson having sex with Ali MacGraw, you can’t imagine Ben Johnson having sex. No less Ali MacGraw’s Carol seriously considering leaving Steve McQueen’s Doc for Ben Johnson’s Beynon. This whole subplot could have been far more effective if Beynon had been played by somebody a little closer to McQueen. Joe Don Baker would have been the fantastic natural choice. But I can also see Robert Culp or Stuart Whitman delivering what was required to make the triangle dynamic work.

“The Getaway was the last time Steve was in a movie as ‘the Steve McQueen’ we liked to see,” Walter Hill stated. “He did a few other movies and he did good performances, but that special quality that made Steve—‘Steve’—was really never on display again.” And I agree with Hill. I don’t even see The Getaway as a crime thriller about a pair of on-the-lam robbers, with a massive manhunt coming from both sides hot on their trail. I now realize what Peckinpah made and what McQueen and McGraw performed was a love story. The crime story is literal. The love story is metaphorical. Nevertheless, when it comes to Peckinpah fans, Steve McQueen fans, the one thing everybody seemed to agree on is that in the role of Carol McCoy, Ali MacGraw was lousy. And for the last forty years, I too was one of those Ali MacGraw bashers. That is until recently. It took me over forty years, but now I see Ali MacGraw’s performance differently. First off, let me start by saying, she’s not the Carol McCoy of the book or Walter Hill’s screenplay. If you want that Carol, then nothing is going to replace Peckinpah’s first choice of Stella Stevens (except possibly Linda Haynes). No, MacGraw’s Carol might not be one-half of the greatest bank robbing couple in crime film literature. But instead she is one-half of one of the greatest love stories in crime film cinema.

While she doesn’t offer the characterization of a professional armed robber, she does offer up the minute by minute, scene by scene, emotional reality of a woman trying to keep a relationship from crumbling into pieces. The couple pass through a physical and emotional gauntlet, and lurch from one catastrophe to another. While McQueen alternates between keeping his cool and losing his cool, Carol feels, Carol hurts, Carol is afraid. She’s heartbreaking and heartbroken when she loses the suitcase full of loot to Richard Bright’s cowboy con man thief. She waits there in the train station for Doc, not knowing for sure if he’s going to return, in utter despair. "Did I blow it? Did I just ruin everything? How could I be so stupid?" It’s my feeling that Ali MacGraw’s moment to moment work in this film is sensational. In real life she was living through everything that she was hired to portray as Carol. Carol with Beynon—MacGraw with her husband Robert Evans. She’s a woman having to deal with a very difficult, mercurial, masculine man amidst a grueling endeavor. Carol on the lam with Doc—MacGraw making this incredibly difficult movie with McQueen and Peckinpah. She’s a woman in love—so was MacGraw. When the film came out in the States and England, MacGraw was roasted by the critics. Everywhere,  except in France. From the very beginning, the French always saw the film as a love story. And in France the critics praised the emotional content of McGraw's performance.

While the couple rests in that torn apart Volkswagen bug at the garbage dump, Carol threatens to “split.” If Carol loses faith, all is lost. It’s Doc’s savvy and survival prowess that keeps them from getting caught. It keeps them getting a little further down the road. But it’s Carol that keeps them together. It’s Carol that saves Doc from his self-destructive impulses. It’s Carol that knows if they don’t make it together . . . they don’t make it. If she throws in the towel, it was truly all for nothing. Until Doc can not only forgive her for Beynon, but trust completely that she did it for the right reason, he’s still in Huntsville. Finally, Doc comes to this realization. But Carol demands from her husband, “No matter what ever else happens, no more about him.” And he agrees, “No matter whatever else happens—no more about him.” And the two finally are reunited. Walking together, one arm draped around her, holding her close. His other arm carrying the pump-action shotgun he stole from the sporting goods store. Backed by a sea of garbage, those terrible trash-eating birds flying around in the sky, and the dump trucks moving mountains of trash, yet for the first time in the movie we know they’re going to be alright. “Whatever else happens.” Cinema Speculation (2022) by Quentin Tarantino