Saturday, September 29, 2018
straightening up the quare
by Douglas Messerli
Arthur Dreifuss and Jacqueline Sundstrom (screenplay, based on the play by Brendan Behan), Arthur Dreifuss (director) The Quare Fellow / 1962
I have wanting to see the film version of Brendan Behan’s first play, The Quare Fellow for many years now, and finally ordered it through my subscription through Netflix. In part, I wanted to catch a glimpse, at least, of a play by a writer of the 1950s at a time of my extensive theater readings of Ionesco, Pinter, and Albee, whom I had failed to read. I suppose to my young 14-16 year-old mind, a drunken Irishman, no matter how good a writer, was simply not of interest to me. How little did I know!
Accordingly, I was delighted to finally have the opportunity to make amends. Unfortunately, the film version, directed by the grade-B Hollywood German-born director, Arthur Dreifuss, never quite gave me the opportunity to experience Behan’s dark, gallows-humor work.
The first act, which in the play was mostly outside of the prison, was quickly moved within so that prisoners could release their tensions through song and complaint as the new “screw” (prison overseer) arrives. Patrick McGoohan as the well-meaning rustic new prison guard Crimmin is quite excellent in his innocent eagerness to learn and in expressing his in-born sensitivity, despite his seeming ignorance of the brutal world in which he has just entered.
Fortunately, he has Regan (Walker Macken) as a seasoned guide to help him find his way. Although Crimmin believes firmly in the criminal system, Regan, who has served in the prison for many years, has a much more skeptical view of the entire system, particularly since there are now two “quare fellows” (queer men, men outside of the normal prison population) who are about to be executed, and Regan has seen far too man executions in his service.
In the play, Behan uses this first act, removed basically from the inner workings of prison life to help break down Crimmin’s naivete through the dark humor that characterizes much of his writing. By quickly jumping into the prison itself (realistic as it is: it was filmed in the real County Wicklow prison), we lose the objectivity that Crimmin must later come to, and the real horror of a system (much like that still in US prisons today) which still consider it permissible to kill certain prisoners, including one of the “quare fellows,” named as the silver-caned murderer, who, it appears, is actually a “gay” Wildean kind of man (not made evident in this film production), whose actual crime we never discover; one must recall, however, being gay was still a punishable offence in these days. It hardly seems to matter, since his punishment is stayed; yet, despite that fact he soon after he hangs himself, the fact of which perhaps says more than even his terrible punishment.
The other “quare fellow,” whose crime in the original play was also very vaguely presented, in this production we discover, has murdered his brother. And this is where the well-intentioned film really begins to unravel, moving to a kind of social documentation against capital punishment.
In its determined attempt to decry that terrible reality, Dreifuss’s and Jacqueline Sundstrom’s script, widely swinging away from Behan’s far subtler dramatization, introduces the other “quare fellow’s” wife (Sylvia Syms), who resides in the same boarding house as Crimmin, and gradually convinces him that her affair with her husband’s brother is behind the fraternal murder committed by her husband, who refused to mention the affair during proceedings in an attempt to protect her from being described as a “whore” In short, what was a story of male intrigue and governmental suspicion is turned in this director’s vision to a kind of melodrama about heterosexual jealousy and revenge, giving the comic and far darker elements of Behan’s play an almost melodramatic flair, in which she and Crimmin attempt to save the day—without success. The drama of this film is entirely centered upon the events concerning the possibilities of saving her murderous husband, which we already know, given the dismissals and snobbery of the authorities will never happen.
There are some excellent moments in this film: particularly when two seasoned criminals drink down the rubbing alcohol that Crimmins is trying to administer to their knees. And the interchanges between Syms (as Kathleen) and Crimmins almost incriminates him in having a secret boarding-house affair, which, of course, transforms the innocent rube from the West coast into a kind of willing participant in witness tampering.
Generally, the acting, particularly by McGoohan and Macken is credible, and some of the moodily expressionistic cinematic images are quite arresting. But this is clearly not the Irish masterpiece of dark prison humor and suffering that the playwright intended it to be.
Although the movie received, in its day, general acclaim, Dreifuss, after, went back to grade B Hollywood films such as Life Begins at 17 (1958) and Juke Box Rhythm (1959). Too bad that the great Joan Littlewood, the original director (who died in 2002) wasn’t allowed to transfer this film onto screen.
Los Angeles, September 29, 2018
Sunday, September 23, 2018
the click of a door
by Douglas Messerli
Neil Simon (screenplay, based on his 1968 play), Arthur Hiller (director) Plaza Suite / 1971
I’ve yet to find one film source or guide that has not described the three short plays by Neil Simon written under the name Plaza Suite as comedies. Perhaps it’s just the times or my current age, but this time returning to these pieces I saw the first two, at least, as sad tales of marriage and sex. Despite the fact that Simon, once again, in this work peppers his script with one-line zingers, only the last piece might truly fit the category, to my way of thinking, of comedy, ending happily with the marriage of a young woman terrified of the ceremony in which she must play the bride.
In may be, in part, that despite the loud-mouthed, angry-old-man antics of actor Walter Matthau, he has no ability for nuance; Simon, it is rumored, hated the acting in this film in general, particularly Matthau. Or perhaps it is just that director Arthur Hiller (who died in August 2016), despite the numerous comic films he churned out in his career, is not truly a director with a light touch. But, more importantly, it is the series of events that the first two playlets that seem to me so very sad and reveal, along with the third work, a kind a cynicism of married life that is embedded in nearly all of Simon’s plays, including even early more comic works such as Come Blow Your Horn, Barefoot in the Park, and The Odd Couple.
Although I’ve never been a big fan of Simon’s works, this one, in its somewhat bitter dimensions seems to have more heft than his comic recordings of squabbling couples.
If you’ve never seen this triplet offering, all three pieces take place in the same room, 719 of the Plaza Hotel, a hotel which almost didn’t survive a transformation of its building into a condominium reconstruction—which already in 1971 the seemingly prescient Simon script wondered whether, in its aged elegance, it might be torn down.
In the first piece, Karen Nash (the always marvelous Maureen Stapleton, who played all 3 women of this work on the Broadway stage) has traveled from her suburban home to the Plaza, planning to meet her husband Sam there to commemorate their 24th anniversary in the very suite in which they celebrated their wedding night. Stapleton, who in the script is supposed to be around 48 or 49 was actually 46 at the time of filming (which is funny given Sam’s comment that when she forgets her age she always rounds it up, not down like other women); yet she looks older and speaks more like she were woman in her late 60s, probably because then, old age was defined as arriving earlier that it currently is in those decades. In any event, she has clearly lost her youth, and carries herself like an older woman, wearing plastic galoshes over her shoes, and walking with a definite death-leaning slump.
Her husband has clearly been missing in action for a long while, spending more and more nights in the city because of his work, and she hopes that this celebratory evening might even ignite new interest in their relationship. There is something wonderfully innocent in her desires, as she chattily explains to bellhops why she is at the hotel and why she is now inhabiting this particular room, as orders up the same meal, hour'dourves (without anchovies; in Simonian logic they eventually appear with anchovies) and a French white wine (which with Simonian logic arrives late).
When Sam finally arrives, he is, presumably as he has been many a night, in a huff, determined to read through a contract between busy calls to his secretary Miss McCormack (Louise Sorel). Obviously, he hasn’t a clue why his wife has trekked into the city to meet him in the city, nor in any mood, even when she explains the occasion, to take joy in her company. They argue about everything from her birthdate, the floor on which they spent their wedding night together—he claims it was the 8th floor—and even the number of nights he has gone missing from his suburban home.
Despite her plucky determination to offer up a beautiful evening to Sam, moreover, it becomes clear that she also has a barbed tongue and, in her pain over the failure of their relationship, is equal to his dismissals of her, mocking Sam’s attempts to think himself thin and his naturally cranky behavior. At moments, they both attempt to stop the endless bickering, but always it begins again almost immediately, as the two clearly have lost touch with any of the love they might once have shared.
When the secretary finally does show up with a set of botched papers, which means, of course, that we will have to return to the office, Karen finally pleads with him to stay and almost jokingly—but obviously with deeper inner fears—claims he might be having an affair with Miss McCormack.
We have only to wait a few dramatic beats to hear him admit the truth, that he is having an affair with her and, despite his attempts, has no will to cut it off. Clearly always ready to play the victim, Karen suggests she is willing to forgive him, but her pleas that he might give their own relationship another try goes unheeded, and he walks out the door, leaving her to imagine the loss of her husband for the rest of her life.
Our final view of her might almost be out of her early film Miss Lonelyhearts, with overnight case in hand, trudging back the next morning to the train that will take her back to her empty house. If this is not tragic—even she excoriates her husband for the banality of his love interest, secretary and boss—certainly Hiller did not intend us to laugh.
The reason I returned to this rather insubstantial film was because of the second playlet which stars Barbara Harris (who died on August 21st of this year; Simon dying five days later), in which another suburban housewife (Muriel Tate) drives into the city to meet up with a former beau, Jesse Kiplinger (again Matthau), who is now a successful Hollywood producer.
Muriel is a sort of less-wealthy housewife who might be right out of Stephen Sondheim’s musical, Company, which appeared only 2 years after the Broadway premiere of the Simon play, where the women who lunch order up another “vodka stinger.” Indeed, despite her best intentions, Muriel is quite delighted by Jesse’s clear attempts to get her into bed; and while endlessly saying, like Groucho Marx, “I must be going,” she is both attracted to the “stingers” and the possibilities of sex.
Like nearly all male seducers, once Jesse has lured Muriel back into his room for yet another round of drinks, he clicks the lock of the door shut. But in doing so, Simon, at least in the #MeToo generation, sucks any possible comic oxygen out of his work, leaving us with a kind of bitter Don Giovanni-like rape. If Muriel has another sexual round with Jesse—we never see the final conclusion of his sexual actions, but we presume it—we are certain that it will be quite uneventful for both; even if they did once, as kids, have great sex, they are no longer children and—as our nearly inarticulate President spoke the other night—the “lingering stench” of their now middle-aged bodies won’t be pleasant.
What is pleasant in this short piece is the kind of “ditzy” performance by Harris, who balances her horror of the event with her absolute delight in the fact that, given the unspoken sexual failure of her husband Larry, someone might still find her attractive. She’s ready from the start, despite her assertions, to drink herself into oblivion in order to submit, very gradually, into a salve of temporary pleasure—constantly postponing the time she must be home from 3:00 o’clock, to 4:00, and finally to 7:00 to allow herself the latitude for one last jump back into adolescent romance. She and we know, Muriel will face only utter disappointment, and that the next time Jesse is in town, she will also demur. But for Muriel it is a temporary ointment to the disappointments of her life.
If this slow dance of rape is funny, I must be missing something. It is now among the sad stories we daily hear about women, young and older, being trapped by power, fear, and sublimated desire.
The last piece of this not-so-funny comic opera might well rhyme with the central character of the piece (although never fully seen except for a couple of quick camera flicks), with the strangely waspish name—particularly given the overly stereotypical Jewish portrait of her not-so-loving parents—Mimsey (Jenny Sullivan)—“flimsy.”
Here, as in both the previous plays, a door suddenly clicks into a lock as the young would-be-bride closes herself into the bathroom of the same hotel suite, perhaps the only way to truly escape that claustrophobic suite with its mean history and her parents, equally hysteric (the male in Matthau’s case is the primary example of that word) and money-oriented life. Roy Hubley, after all, is paying for a highly expensive wedding which his daughter is refusing to attend; and his wife Norma (Lee Grant) is about to lose “face” and be treated with further abuse from her husband.
At the heart of this sillier pieces are numerous pratfalls, torn tuxedos, rained-upon head-wear finery, ridiculous treks across the outer ledges of the famed hotel, along with entries into other people’s bedrooms and endless calls from the panicked parents of the groom who must face the growing impatience of the wedding-goers.
So weak is this playlet, that all it takes is the rather chubby, long-haired groom Borden Eisler (Thomas Carey) to stand outside the locked-away Rapunzel and shout, “Mimsey, cool it,” and out she comes, ready to ride away on his motor-bike. Well, this, finally, is comedy, as empty as it can get, like an after-thought of the deeply disturbing betrayals we have previously witnessed. I suppose I might even have laughed—except that I am afraid that Mimsey can’t “cool it,” given her horrific childhood, for long. Someday, far too soon, she will trek back into the city to see the empty shell of her dreams.
Los Angeles, September 23, 2018
Thursday, September 20, 2018
a sad vortex into the american heart of evil
by Douglas Messserli
Joan Tewkesbury (script), Robert Altman (director) Nashville / 1975
Maybe it’s just because as I get older epic-like complex plots seem basically uninteresting to me; but I think even the director of Nashville, Robert Altman didn’t quite know what the plot of his film was. With a cast of hundreds, its twists and turns in story don’t truly matter; what does matter are the various ways in which his characters seek either love (save for a few, nearly everyone in this work jumps in and out of numerous beds) or success (in music or politics). Very few of these silly folks from the city of Nashville find either, or if they have performed at the famed Grand Ole Opry, don’t appear to be very happy about what they have attained.
Indeed, singer Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson) would rather be in politics, while the popular singer Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley) has just suffered a burn accident—apparently related to what her husband Barnett (Allen Garfield) later describes as “nervous breakdown.” The trio of Bill (Allan F. Nicholls), Mary (Cristina Raines), and Tom (Keith Carradine) (a satirical take on Peter, Paul, and Mary) are so confused in their love for one another that it might be better if they all fell into bed into a good-fashioned threesome.
White gospel singer who performs with all black choruses (another of Altman’s hilarious satirical jabs) Linnea Reese (a wonderful Lily Tomlin) would clearly rather be at home with her two deaf children (as if one were not enough) giving them her love, but since her husband Delbert (Ned
Beatty) is busy running Hal Philip Walker’s campaign in Tennessee and is lawyer for Hamilton, she finds herself instead in bed with Tom, who, the moment she rises from love-making, is on the phone to find another woman for the night. Singer Lady Pearl (Barbara Baxley), dedicated to the dead Kennedys, is mostly drunk throughout.
Naïve Sueleen Gay (Gwen Welles), like a country version of Florence Foster Jenkins, hasn’t a clue that she can’t sing, and is forced to strip so that she might get the opportunity to perform with Haven Hamilton and Barbara Jean at a political fund-raiser at Nashville’s The Parthenon, which her airport cook friend, Wade Cooley (Robert DoQui) warns her against with his honest assessment that
she can’t carry a tune. Celebrity seeking teenager Martha, now LA Joan (Shelley Duvall) just wants to get close to any of these famous folks and probably into their beds as well, although she is supposed to be seeing her dying aunt. And only God knows what BBC correspondent Opal (Geraldine Chaplin) is doing in this film, randomly interviewing some of the figures and wandering in and out of junk yards and school bus-lots.
Nor do we have a clue why low-three-wheel bike rider (Jeff Goldblum) is tooling around town, or why the nice-looking, mother-loving Viet Nam veteran, Pfc. Glenn Kelly (Scott Glenn) has come to Nashville, supposedly in admiration of his dead mother’s appreciation of Barbara Jean. Or why Elliott Gould, Julie Christie, and Howard K. Smith show up to play themselves. While we see all these figures and numerous others, we never even get a glimpse of the would-be president, running on the Replacement Party ticket—in an eerie prescience of the Tea Party and its later manifestations.
But perhaps we have since spotted him and the disasters he threated (although Altman and writer Joan Tewkesbury’s candidate seems far more liberally or, at least, Libertarian- oriented than our current “outsider” President).
If anything, this Altman masterwork shows us just how crazy we USA citizens are as a people for whom desire plays the major roles in our lives. And the film, in the end, in its vast expression of those facts cooks up, finally, to be a kind insanely messy stew. But also there is a kind a sanity, which appears in several scenes throughout the film through its gentle and reassuring music, much of it by cast-members themselves—Keith Carradine’s “I’m Easy” and “Honey; Ronee Blakley’s “Bluebird,” “Tapedeck in His Tractor (The Cowboy Song),” “My Idaho Home,” “Down to the River,” “One I Love You,” and “Dues”; Henry Gibson’s (with Richard Baskin) “Keep A-Goin'” and “200 Years”: Karen Black’s (yes, she too stars in this movie) “Memphis” “I Don’t Know If I Found It in You,” and “Rolling Stone”; and Lily Tomlin’s lyrics for Richard Baskin’s music to “Yes, I Do.” Apparently, Altman required all of his major actors to compose as well as sing. Has there ever been a musical motion picture that has asked so much of its actors? Or, perhaps, looked at differently, that has given them so much opportunity for expression?
We know that when you have opened the pulsing heart of USA values, it will inevitably end in some kind of violence. Here, music itself turns against its performers, as loner Kenny Frasier (David Hayward) opens his violin case to take out a gun and shoot down Haven Hamilton and Barbara Jean. We can’t even quite imagine his motive in the shooting, just as it is so difficult to imagine hundreds of shootings throughout the USA each year.
But, finally, Altman pulls off a miracle by transforming the tragic-stricken audience as miraculously being given the opportunity, as Hamilton passes off the microphone to the shy, wannabe musician Winifred who has changed her name to Albuquerque (the always amazing Barbara Harris), who slowly settles in, Streisand style, to Keith Carradine’s “It Don’t Worry Me.” The song might almost be seen as a statement of so many poor American’s slavery to the system; but she slowly transforms some of the saddest lyrics of US existence, “Tax relief may never come,” “The economy may be depressed,” “You may say that I ain’t free,” etc, each stanza followed by “It don’t worry me.” “Life may be a one-way street,” “But it don’t worry me.” Somehow Harris turns this kind of “Trumpland” song into a kind of anthem of survival, a choral statement that whips up the shocked audience into a kind of delusional sense of possibilities simply by tuning out of the problems of their life
In retrospect, Altman’s satiric ending and Carradine’s nihilistic lyrics become almost a mirror to the pit of American horror, while at the same time restating the resilience of the American poor and middle class. It’s a painful if slightly ending to this bitter presentation of the greed and the endless chase of its characters for something that will never make them happy. Sex, success, celebrity and the implied money that goes along with this has not satisfied a single figure in what is not really a comedy, but a sad vortex into the American heart of evil.
Los Angeles, September 20, 2018
Friday, September 14, 2018
going too far
by Douglas Messerli
Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Fumio Hayasaka, Hideo Oguni (screenplay), Akira Kurosawa (director) 生きものの記録 (Ikimono no kiroku) (I Live in Fear) / 1955
In many respects Akira Kurosawa’s Ikimono no kiroku (I Live in Fear) is his most Japanese film, simply because it recounts the horrific fear that most Japanese must have suffered during the Cold War of the 1950s, particularly after being the homeland of the only 2 major atomic bombings on ordinary citizens in history. Every character in this complex work does, indeed, have fears of nuclear annihilation (as did numerous citizens around the world; as a child I was one of them).
Yet foundry owner Kiichi Nakajima (the always wonderful Toshiro Mifune) has, as most of his family perceives, gone a bit to far, first attempting to build a nuclear bunker at considerable expense in the south of Japan, but upon discovering information that if there was another bomb the residue would probably move from the north to the south, becomes determined to move his very large and urban family to a large plantation in Brazil.
Almost from the beginning of the film, as the family has gathered in a domestic court to air their grievances—Nakajima’s wife has flinchingly filed, with the help of her sons and daughters, a petition to that court to declare her husband mentally incompetent—and a local dentist, Dr. Harada (Takashi Shimura) has been asked to join two other judges in hearing their case.
It is clearly a highly contentious one, with family members exciting the hearing room to each utter their anger and pronouncements, while inside sits the resolute and stubborn father, flapping his fan endlessly in torture and anger, convinced that is family— including his immediate children and those he has fathered from an illicit relationship, all of whom we gradually come to perceive as a fictious and ungrateful lot, desperate to keep up their own financial support proffered them from this terrified industrialist.
If at first, we might certainly side with the family members, who perceive their father’s concerns, despite their own private fears, as “going too far” and as do two of the judges, through the careful and deep-thinking Dr. Harada we begin to realize just how deeply embedded are his fears in the society at large. Might not everyone, to a certain degree, silently and less explosively, be suffering the same fears? Even Harada’s son admits to such inclinations, but what can one do, he argues.
"Everybody has to die," Nakajima counters, "but I won't be murdered."
Ultimately Harada feels that if this man is indeed cantankerous, a danger for this contentious and selfish family, he is certainly not mentally insane simply to fear the worst, and, after all, it is his money with which to do what he wants.
The careful and caring Harada, in the end, is done in by the angry and impetuous businessman, who attempts to quickly work around the family and their financial restraints which the court eventually applies, by attempting to buy up property in Brazil and force his family to join him. But, his anger, in the end, does him in, and he is left simply as an old man in a kind of fever, ready to die before his time. Even Harada’s attempts to meet and talk with him have been to no avail. The fear, in which he lives, dominates everything else.
He is not even willing to discuss how this deathly “anxiety,” which poet W. H. Auden described a problem of the decade in his phrase “The Age of Anxiety,” has come about. Had he witnessed or imagined the Hiroshima or Nagasaki attacks? Or had he simply worried so much about his own country’s history that, despite his great financial success—working as, strangely enough, a kind of Hephaestus, a forger of war in the underground—he has become obsessed with nuclear destruction? If his family members are petty and selfish, so too has he himself been in his various affairs and business activities. Are his feelings of absolute terror a result of his own terrorizing of others, his absolute control over his sons and daughters?
In the end, I realized this film was far more Western and international in its subjects than merely representing a post-war Japanese statement of angst. It reminded me more than any other film of Andrei Tarkovsky’s masterful The Sacrifice, a movie wherein another family leader, terrifyingly fearful of nuclear war, is equally committed to saving his family and his society from the inevitable, in this case by burning down the house which he and his contentious family so loved. Nakajima also burns down his own “house,” so to speak, in destroying his factory, leaving not only his family but his loyal employees without any possible means of survival.
Perhaps in the process his has destroyed his own past connections with the capitalism that made nuclear warfare possible, or perhaps, just as in Tarkovsky’s films, it simply represents those acts of a kind of madness, of a man who has “gone too far” in his own thinking to retreat into rationality, the possibility of which composer Fumio Hayasaka (who died shortly after composing the music for this film, and a man who created some of the greatest of movie music through the years) eerily conveys through his combination of jazz music and Theremin.
Los Angeles, September 14, 2018
Tuesday, September 11, 2018
the heart of the matter
Stewart Stern (screenplay, based on the fiction by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick), George Englund (director) The Ugly American / 1963
It’s hard to talk about the film version of the William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick fiction of 1958 and the movie of 1963. Everybody seemed to have read the book, along with the Alan Paton novel of a decade earlier, Cry the Beloved Country, as major political texts of the time. Even a much more serious reader, such as I, read both these popular fictions. I became determined in our own time of a truly ugly American in office to revisit both the film and book, placing them in context with the kind of new “ugliness” which Trump has visited upon the office of President and with which he has involved the country.
In retrospect, however, the handsome Harrison MacWhite (an endlessly pipe-smoking Marlon Brando), fighting a conservative Senate confirmation hearing to become ambassador to a non-existent southeast Asian country, Sarkan—the movie was primarily filmed in Hollywood and Thailand, trying to suggest a kind possible Viet Nam reality—hardly appears, at least on the surface as a truly “ugly” American, not only because of his still handsome physical demeanor, supported by his loving wife (the photogenic Sandra Church), but also because this man is an idealist who has spent a great deal of time in Sarkan, getting to know, at least, some of the language, and befriending a major figure in Sarkanese politics, Deong (Japanese actor Eiji Okada). The relationship between MacWhite and Deong, indeed, is so intense, that—even after an intensely threatening arrival, in which he, his wife, and assistants might have been killed—he seeks out and spends the entire night with his long-time “friend,” discovering in the process that his dear friend, what one might suspect as an almost homoerotic attraction, has ordered the protests.
If previously, the intelligent and rather rational ambassador has appeared to be anything but visually or politically “ugly,” he now suddenly appears to sense betrayal and jumps to the conclusion that Deong is a Communist determined in the downfall of American interests.
Unfortunately, the film, directed by George Englund does not make clear MacWhite’s sudden conservative transformation, except for Brando declaring that he had been lied to and was wrong. Moreover, we never quite comprehend why the Ambassador becomes suddenly determined to force the controversial American gift to this country, the “Freedom highway,” into new territory that moves toward its northern borders, threatening long-time racial issues and territorial disputes.
What he, unfortunately, is not able to comprehend is that a people of another country might be simply anti-American because of our country’s blatant disrespect for their own values, language, and politics, without them necessarily having come into the sway of Soviet and Chinese dictates.
The film hints of both alternatives, at one point showing Deong meeting with just such representatives, but at other times having his wife and others muttering that Deong is no Communist. And this is at the heart of the movie’s failure: it simply doesn’t quite show where it stands in the political spectrum. Are the US representatives simply fools who cannot perceive the actual political realities of this country or are they wild idealists who hope in investing on the inter-structure of this world that they will simply be loved and respected
There are some wonderful scenes where the US has brought into the rural area small hospitals which nurse and care for Asian children, providing them, through the existence of the highway, prolonged and better lives. But at same time there is a smug vision in this, presuming that only an intrusion of another culture upon the world they have come to inhabit, can bring meaningful change. And these extremes reveal some of the major concerns of the book as well.
Even the way Brando sucks on his pipe and swaggers his way through scenes in a world about which he is still fairly clueless gives us only vague hints on how you can be a caring man but still appear “ugly” to the culture at large. And, ultimately, it appears his deep friendship with Deong was based more on the liquor they shared that any true and deep inter-relationship, the fact of which MacWhite hints even while he is being interviewed by the truly uncaring Senate committee members.
If we hate the Senate committee interviewees, as we might well feel even today about some similar events, MacWhite, in the end, is also quite clueless in that he cannot comprehend that hate is a far deeper passion that cannot be resolved in a few friendly rounds of homebrewed liquor.
Despite the quite excellent performances by the major cast-members, however, Englund is never able to really put his finger on the substantial problems. Why is Deong so angry and why is the otherwise intelligent and sensitive MacWhite so ignorant of the role he has been asked to play? They seem to walk through this rather melodramatic work without quite knowing why they are behaving as they are, and with no idea why they cannot bring back the bon-vivant feelings of the old days.
It takes the ironic and intelligent view of someone like Graham Greene in The Quiet American to truly get to the heart of the matter.
Los Angeles, November 11, 2018