Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Movie: Throw Momma From The Train (1987)

Early in Danny DeVito’s comedy, Oprah Winfrey lavishes praise on the author of a searing autobiographical book. It turns out said author is passing off her ex-husband’s manuscript as her own.

Clearly, someone needs to stage an intervention.

Classics I Somehow Missed: Shane (1953)

That probably cost me some credibility, admitting that I’d never seen what’s widely regarded as one of the great westerns until recently.

It’s only going to get worse. I didn’t care for it.

The genre had already taken a darker, more psychological turn by this point. But George Stevens directs this film in full Cecil B. DeMille mode, trying to puff up a simple story to the level of myth. And Stevens was not at his best when filming action.

I did enjoy parts of it: the typically fine work of Van Heflin, the exploration of how a child can fall suddenly and completely in love with an adult.

Which brings me to my main problem. Brandon de Wilde.

Years ago I read a movie review – I want to say it was the New Yorker’s take on THE FULL MONTY, but I can’t confirm that – in which the critic referred to the latest miraculous performance by a child actor to be taken for granted. It’s an observation that has stayed with me, because it wasn’t always the case. Tune in Turner Classic Movies and more often than not the juvenile actors will be hopeless. Fidgeting, staring into the camera, announcing their lines flatly. There’s a reason why Shirley Temple became a huge star. She was utterly at ease onscreen, unlike every other kid in the movies.

I know Brandon de Wilde was nominated for an Oscar, and that a generation of boys identified with his character. But every time he opened his mouth, every time Stevens cut to him, all I could think of was that moon-faced kid from BAD SANTA. And he was supposed to be out of it.

SHANE remains Alan Ladd’s best-known film. My aunt Dymphna is such a fan that she named one of her sons after him. At the time, the eight-year-old me asked, “What’s so great about the host of PASSWORD?”

Website Update: Links

I’ve added Contemporary Nomad, the group blog of writers Olen Steinhauer, Kevin Wignall, Robin Hunt and John Nadler. It’s what this blog wants to be when it grows up. Critic Matt Zoller Seitz started The House Next Door only a month ago, but it’s already packed with terrific material. His tribute to the late Chris Penn is but one example.