Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Last Tango in Los Angeles: From Here to Eternity

Last Tango in Los Angeles: From Here to Eternity: "Angie and I watched the wonderful, old film from 1953, 'From Here to Eternity' last night and seeing it again only confirmed my suspicions t..."

From Here to Eternity

Angie and I watched the wonderful, old film from 1953, 'From Here to Eternity' last night and seeing it again only confirmed my suspicions that I've become an old codger. It's a great script. Some archaic, old-school, studio acting in it, but also some clear traces of what was coming. Monty Clift is brilliant, as usual. It's almost as though he's working from an entirely different place. But saying that, everyone is quite good, considering it was 1953. Having read the trilogy of novels by James Jones (this film was based on the first one), that follows a group of soldiers from Pearl Harbour to the end of the war and after, I know that it is a remarkably accurate treatment. Although the novels are much more graphic, as one might expect. They opened the door for Mailer's 'Naked and the Dead' some five years later, the great book on WWII from that generation of writers.

Lancaster is picture perfect as Warden, the top sarge of the bunch. Borgnine dead on as Fatso, the evil guard sarge. Donna Reed and Deborah Kerr both good in very typical leading lady roles of the era. The one weak spot, ironically, is Sinatra, who won an Academy Award for his portrayal that marked, arguably, the greatest 'comeback' in Hollywood history.

Sinatra has never been a favorite actor of mine. He got by on sheer personality, which, frankly, wasn't a very interesting personality. As an actor, he's incapable of throwing a line away. He wanted so badly, escpecially later in his career, to project the 'devil may care' attitude that Dean Martin did so well. In fact, I think it fairly safe to say, Sinatra wanted to be Martin in terms of his acting career. Martin was by far the more gifted natural actor. Take a look at Martin in a film called 'The Young Lions.' It's a dramatic role, not his usual leering, smirking stuff. And he's really, really good in it.

Don't get me wrong, Sinatra is quite possibly, the biggest phenomenon that popular music ever produced. Even more so than The Beatles for students of music history that know anything about his 'bobby sox' years. He was the first 'super star.' But he never took acting seriously, certainly not as seriously as he took his singing. In the business he was known as 'One Take Charlie' because he often refused to do re-takes. One shot, that was all. He claimed it messed with his illusion of the first time. And that is apparent throughout his film career.

There are others famous for this approach, Bogart comes to mind. But Bogart really did have a personality fascinating to watch. Sinatra's personality all by itself just wasn't.

But after all is said and done, it is Clift that shines. He, like Brando, was quite simply decades ahead of his time. In fact, according to Brando's autobiography, he considered Clift to be the finest actor of his time. He says when he saw 'From Here to Eternity' he left the theatre in despair because he didn't think he could do what Clift had just done. He is quoted (and this is quite telling for any actor, I think) as asking, "How does he stay so still and do so much with it?" Montgomery Clift had perhaps the most visible 'inner life' of any screen actor I've ever seen.

In any event, the film is dated in many ways, of course. Sappy underscoring throughout, lots of 'stage' shots of three or four people in a group, slightly turned out. Cut away shots to waves breaking or planes flying. Sometimes stilted dialogue. But when one considers this was all part of that era of making movies, it is quite remarkable. And smack dab in the middle of this picturesque movie-making style is Montgomery Clift being as real as the guy next door. It really is quite remarkable.

So, as the film is finishing up, there I am sitting on the couch thinking, "I can't make it through a half hour of 'Inception' and yet this movie from 1953 has me on the edge of my seat." Old Codger. No use trying to get around it. Just blatant Old Codger-ism.

Speaking of films, I have an audition later today for a full-length, small budget thing. A mousy little guy (one of the two leads in the film) that lacks the courage to change his life after his family dies in an accident. It's a nice role and something I could shoot during the day while in rehearsal at night for my next stage project. Not a scad of money, but a nice script and a very young, ambitious director. I like working with really young talent sometimes. Tends to pump some new ideas into my opinionated veins. Physically I'm really not right for the role, but for some reason this guy wants to see me read it. We'll see.

For only the second time in my life I purchased four 'mega millions' lottery tickets yesterday. It's up to something like 180 mil. Which means an after taxes, one-time check of about 107 million or so. That would certainly be the bees knees. For one thing, I'd finally be able to get those cool rims for our Saturn. The ones that make it look like they're turning in the opposite direction the car is going. If I could get those silvery rims for the Saturn station wagon, I would no doubt be the envy of all on the road. They'd all think, "How does that guy go forward when the wheels are going backward?" And that, Gentle Reader, is just about as good a metaphor for my life as any I can think of.

See you tomorrow.