Friday, January 5th 2018
“YOU WANT the truth? He dumped me. An’ ya know why he dumped me? Because I wanted him to kill you and he wouldn’t. Now, get outta here, and let me unpack!”
Those are the last—and most unwise!—words that Gloria Grahame spits out at Broderick Crawford, in Fritz Lang’s grimy 1954 masterpiece, “Human Desire.”
Adapted from the French, “La Bete Humaine” directed by Jean Renoir, this is Grahame’s greatest performance, in a brief career studded with stand-out work, her Oscar win for “The Bad and the Beautiful” actually being the least impressive of her performances—the briefest, anyway. But as Hollywood is wont to do, it decided 1952 was Grahame’s “time,” having appeared also to great effect in “Crossfire,” “Macao,” “In a Lonely Place,” “The Greatest Show on Earth” and “Sudden Fear.” Not to mention her role as Violet in 1946’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” which was all but forgotten. (Television exposure eventually transformed that Frank Capra flop into a Christmas classic.)
Grahame blazed briefly but brilliantly, her career in premature free-fall by the time she appeared in the 1955 screen version of “Oklahoma” as a delightful Ado Annie. Her personal life was almost as fraught, dramatic and occasionally sordid as her screen roles. With wildly exaggerated lips, and a voice of insinuating brass, what set Grahame apart from other film noir heroines was her complicated vulnerability. That is most apparent in “Human Desire.” She’s not good, but she’s bad—very bad–for a reason; she’s married to Broderick Crawford for heaven’s sake! When her lover, Glenn Ford, who also partnered her in “The Big Heat,” gets a conscience and won’t do Crawford in, one can’t help feel powerfully moved by Grahame’s rage, frustration and fear.
This paean to Miss Graham leads me—as I’m sure many of you already suspected—to the current movie, “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.” It is based on the memoir written by Peter Turner, a young British actor who became intimately involved with Grahame toward the end of her life, as she valiantly eked out a career on stage, mostly forgotten, and, as it turns out, also dying of cancer. Despite the grim subject—and few things are grimmer than the once-glamorous, dimly-remembered star, fatally ill or not–the movie, which stars Annette Bening as Grahame and Jamie Bell as Peter Turner, is saved from despair by their performances.
Ms. Bening, still Oscar-less, after four nominations and about three other performances that also should have been acknowledged with nods, wisely does not imitate Grahame in any way. That would have been an impossible and thankless task. But she conveys the odd, perverse delicacy and the sensual vibrancy that made Grahame so unique. It is wise, deeply felt portrayal.
However—and this is an amazing thing to say in a movie that features Ms. Bening—“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” really belongs to Jamie Bell. Mr. Bell, now 31, and still most often recalled for his adolescent role in “Billy Elliott,” is now a fully grown leading man, and fully formed as an actor of abundant nuance, substance and authenticity. His great performance holds a slim tale together. It is work that should be honored by more than merely flattering words. I’m looking at you, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. (I’ve admired Bell also in “Eagle,” “Jane Eyre,” “Defiance” “Snowpiercer” and the TV series, “TURN: Washington’s Spies.”)
I ventured out to see another movie, in-between avoiding most of cable news and binge-watching everything from Turner Classic Movies to Amazon and Neflix.
I took in “Molly’s Game.” This is another fact-based tale, starring Jessica Chastain as an Olympic-class skier who morphs into a very tough cookierunning high-stake poker games, and gets into trouble with the law. Directed and written by Aaron Sorkin, I was resistant to even try this one. I know that Sorkin—of Emmys and Oscars and other tributes–is considered a god, and his rapier writing skills and unrealistic but fascinating-to-some dialogue is worshipped. I am not among the flock. But as I am a great admirer of Idris Elba, who also stars as Chastain’s lawyer, I sucked up my reluctance and paid my money. Mr. Elba manages, somehow to rise above, or does not become totally entangled in Sorkin-speak. Or maybe he does, and I just forgave him. (It’s true, I’d forgive him anything.) Ms. Chastain, who is a good actress, but so very chilly, always, embraces the material with garrulous gusto. Not only does she talk, she narrates the movie. By the end, I wanted to punch a hole through the screen, and for the next two days, perhaps in reactive shock, I spoke slowly, and only in monosyllables. I’ve now read many positive reviews on “Molly’s Game” and I suppose I’m just simple-minded or a cinematic Luddite. Look, I like fast, snappy dialogue as much as the next guy—who doesn’t adore Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant in “His Girl Friday.” But Sorkin’s work generally pains me. I know I’m in the minority here!
ON SUNDAY night, the Golden Globes will be telecast over NBC, and although it’s been decades since I was truly excited about an awards show, my feeling this year, is that I’d rather be out, and not watch it at all. From the inevitable political jokes by host Seth Meyers to the ridiculousness of actors saying they will wear black in solidarity for harassed, abused women, I can’t think of two or three less palatable hours. I will only note, to any of those who decide to drape themselves funereally for the event, that the truly powerless, oppressed, abused and harassed women of this country and the world, are likely too busy working to be impressed by your One Shade of Hypocrisy and Fear choice of clothing. (When Meryl Streep is bullied into repeated apologies and a wardrobe alteration by the likes of Rose McGowan, things have gotten pretty bad.) Of course, I will watch.
AS SOMEBODY who believes that Kathy Griffin hasn’t been truly funny for fifteen years, I say with some surprise that CNN made a mistake in firing her from its annual New Year’s Eve celebration with Anderson Cooper. Yes, her beheaded mannequin pic with the president was massively stupid, but now, especially in the wake of Cooper and Andy Cohen hosting the New Year special, CNN—which doesn’t know its ass from its elbow anyway—acted too quickly on Griffin. She was funny with him, or seemed funny, which was enough.
I don’t know how smart Anderson Cooper is. But if intellectual ability was comparable to weight training, I don’t think he’d be power-lifting. Andy Cohen, despite his huge success as the man who has helped so much to coarsen the culture with his lucrative “Housewives” franchise, just seems cheerfully dumb and shallow. (Maybe he is a closet intellect and actually reads Proust in-between baiting the savagely plastic-surgeried “stars” of his shows.)
So there they were, two simple friends, freezing, struggling. They even dragged out a few of the old subjects Griffin had used on Anderson—his childhood modeling, etc—to much less amusing effect. Cohen pimped “Housewives.” They both had tequila shots late in the evening. They should have started sooner. It was not quite as grisly as I expected, but bad enough. Never thought I’d say it—bring back Kathy Griffin. (It would be great next year to have her rag on Cooper as to what a poor friend he was in supporting her. Then again, I doubt they really were friends.)
SWEET CHARITY: Tomorrow night, at Radio City Music Hall, Dave Matthews, The Trey Anastasio Band, Aaron Neville, Hurray for Riff Raff and others join for “A Concert for Island Relief.” Proceeds will benefit hurricane relief efforts in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, and the almost totally devastated Puerto Rico. Well, somebody has to do something! I don’t know ticket availability on this show, but if you’re of a mind, you can also go online and choose from such varied sources as Global Giving, Go Fund Me, United Way, etc. if you want to help out. Every little bit helps.
ENDQUOTE: “The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is,” said Winston Churchill.
These are words to live by, work for and believe in, more than ever.