Wednesday, April 28, 2004

TV: Staccato (1959)

Aka JOHNNY STACCATO. Trio is airing episodes of this show as part of its ‘Brilliant But Cancelled’ series. I’ll give them the latter part; I suppose ‘Engaging But Cancelled’ doesn’t have the same zip.

John Cassavetes plays the title role, a New York jazz pianist who moonlights, or daylights, as a private eye. Elmer Bernstein provides the score. Last night’s episode also featured a young Gena Rowlands. Cassavetes’ accomplishments as a director tend to overshadow his work as an actor; he conveyed a certain kind of New York energy better than almost anyone. His performance in ROSEMARY’S BABY, as an actor more concerned with his career than his wife’s pregnancy, is a highlight of the film.

If you’re christened Johnny Staccato (and I have to assume that’s the case; nobody who took that as a stage name would get within a mile of Greenwich Village), aren’t you fated to become a jazz pianist/private eye? Someone with that handle is unlikely to go into plumbing or neurosurgery.

Video: The Last of Sheila (1973)

The manager of the theater where I worked in high school talked this movie up constantly. It had fallen out of circulation on video, but he had a copy that he’d taped off TV in the dead of night. When I asked to borrow it, he said no and never mentioned it again. Over the years I would run into others who numbered it among their favorites, and I was convinced they were doing so only to annoy me. A mystery written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins and I couldn’t see it? Was there no justice? But at long last, SHEILA has finally debuted on DVD.

James Coburn is a wealthy movie producer who invites a coterie of friends to join him on a Mediterranean cruise. A desperate screenwriter and his wife, a has-been director, a brittle superagent, a vacuous starlet and her boy toy. Coburn promises a trip full of games, and he’s not kidding. He believes one of his guests is responsible for the death of Sheila, a call girl turned gossip columnist. And he’s willing to reveal the secrets he’s ferreted out about all of them in order to expose the killer. Think of it as THE MOLE meets THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL.

The plot mechanics are solid, on par with a good episode of COLUMBO. But what makes the movie work is its thick aura of decadence. Every character is rich and despicable, but some are more despicable than others. You’re rooting for comeuppances all around. The disc features a commentary track with costars Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon and Raquel Welch, but I’m afraid to listen to it.

I suspect that the movie will remain a cult favorite even though it’s now readily available; the bitter taste is only for certain palates. Which should make my old boss very happy. Sometimes you want a movie not to fail, but to miss the mainstream by a considerable margin. That way, you can call it your own.

Newspapers: Variety and The Hollywood Reporter

Some days it’s tough to read the trades. Today’s papers include articles about remakes of THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (Fritz Lang’s last American film), SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON (again), and LAST HOLIDAY (with Queen Latifah in the Alec Guinness role). About all that makes it worthwhile are sentences like the following, from a story about the hunt for Tom Cruise’s co-star in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 3.

“Casting for the part had generated extensive submissions of ingénue types from Hollywood tenpercenteries.”

The role, by the way, went to Scarlett Johansson.

Movie: Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970)

IFC has been showing the Russ Meyer/Roger Ebert opus now that its original X rating has been downgraded to NC-17. I caught the ending again last night.

Jesus, is this movie nuts.