Sunday, October 26, 2014

Love has many faces (1965)

Love Has Many Faces. [Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment] : Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, [2011]. Originally released as a motion picture in 1965. Directed by Alexander Singer. Performers: Lana Turner, Cliff Robertson, Hugh O'Brian, Ruth Roman, Virginia Grey, Ron Husmann, Stefanie Powers. Music by David Raksin. Wardrobe by Edith Head. Title song performed by Nancy Wilson.
 Summary: Wealthy heiress Kit Jordan is in Acapulco vacationing with her husband Pete, formerly an American beach boy working the shores for rich women. Meanwhile, the body of one of Pete's fellow beach boys, Billy Andrews, washes to shore. The police investigate whether it was murder or suicide. Romantic conflicts and a bullfight add to the mix.
style ****
substance ***
I just caught Love Has Many Faces recently on GetTV and absolutely loved it, so much so that I promptly ordered the DVD from Amazon. A high gloss, widescreen product typical of the era, Many Faces had its world première a half century ago, and perhaps some thoughts on the film and its charismatic star Lana Turner are in order. First comment: times have changed, haven’t they? Or have they? Plus ça change(?) ... well, that, as they say, is another story, and another post.

But as for LHMF, it’s less notable for the plotline, such as it is, than the high-powered cast, and even more so the lush tropical backdrop. Acapulco was always a favorite setting for movies, but never had it been presented in such technicolored, mouth-watering fashion, here depicted as small-town, unspoiled, and under-the-radar, just the perfect playground for the bored rich.

A kind of synthesis of Peyton Place and a Sixties beach movie, Many Faces is nominally a tale of a suspicious death. But the story line is only incidental: at its essence our movie is about beautiful people in a beautiful place, behaving not very beautifully. Like so many glossy soapers of the era, the characters have every reason to be happy and count their blessings but instead mope around and fill themselves with alcohol to medicate their neurotic state of mind. In other words, it’s an irresistible blend of sleaze and sophistication.
To further cement its bad movie pedigree, Many Faces has more than its share of dialogue clunkers, most of them delivered during the alcohol-drenched interludes, in which we’re given a goodly amount of snappy repartee, some of it good, most of it not so good. Would-be profound observations fall flat or descend into campy absurdity. There are compensations: the catty digs sprinkled throughout are absolutely delicious in their acidy meanness.
My favorite scenes in Many Faces, however, are those of Hugh O’Brian, here cast as the aging gigolo Hank, cavorting with a worse-for-wear Ruth Roman, who plays an ‘older woman’ who is his his favorite client. Roman and O’Brian have a chemistry that’s just right, and Miss Roman especially inhabits her role with perfect pitch: a world-weary character full of cynicism that drips like warm honey on, well, an Acapulco afternoon. If she’d had more scenes I’m sure she would have flat-out stolen the movie from Lana. Alas it was not to be.
The presence of veteran Virginia Grey as Ruth’s travel buddy is a plus, but she’s given little to do except lounge around the pool and make a few quips. Enrique Lucero as the Mexican cop does solid work as one of the few appealing characters, though his is a relatively minor part.

Ultimately LHMF is a lot less lurid and unsavory than it seems: most of the steamy activity occurs off-screen and far more is suggested than is shown. In this sense it harkens back to those mid and late Fifties melodramas of the kind Douglas Sirk did so well.

Whatever else it is, this is Miss Lana’s movie and further confirms her status as the queen of late Fifties and early Sixties romantic potboilers. Maybe she wasn’t a great actress – I confess I was never a big fan – but she had plenty of attitude and screen presence. And she always gave it her all no matter how bad the script. Even when she looks bored, as she frequently does in this film, she does so in an intense sort of way and always commands our attention.
Many Faces is hardly what one would call a great film, at least in the conventional sense, and it’s mostly the visual beauty of the film that makes it so … if not memorable then watchable. Few movies have looked this good – before or since. It’s well worth a visit, especially if you’re a fan of Miss Turner’s later oeuvre or enjoy movies with tropical settings stunningly photographed.

Truth be told, I’m not sure whether we’re the richer or poorer for the consignment of the Old School melodrama to history. The silver lining is that we have the originals, many now available on DVD, and for that we are grateful. There’s also the, far too infrequent, worthy homage like Far From Heaven that gets pretty close to the heart of the matter.

Time has been kind to Love Has Many Faces. A masterpiece of its kind – even if its niche is that of kitsch masterpiece – it actually gets better with repeated viewings, and is eminently deserving of its reputation as one the best bad movies of all time.

Memorable lines:

“Love is thin ice” (inscription on bracelet of dead man).

Margot: “Honey, when someone asks you to tell them the truth, always lie … and when you lie, make it a big one.”

Kit: "There's a world out there. Let it stay there."

Hank: “Haven’t I seen you around?”

Margot: “It’s possible. I’ve been there.”

Kit, to Hank: “You're ninety-percent MAN, ten-percent RAT!"
Further reading:

Lana Has Many Costumes

Stefanie Powers, One from the Hart, N.Y., Gallery, 2010, pp. 50-54.
Lana Turner’s Million Dollar Wardrobe (fascinating behind-the-scenes featurette)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Movies I hate to love: The Hunger (1983)

The Hunger. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer presents a Richard Shepherd Company production; screenplay by Ivan Davis and Michael Thomas ; produced byRichard A. Shepherd; directed by Tony Scott. Originally released as a motion picture in 1983. Director of photography: Stephen Goldblatt; editor: Pamela Power; music: Michael Rubini, Denny Jaeger. Performers: David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon, Cliff De Young, Dan Hedaya, Beth Ehlers.

“You said forever”

Guilty pleasure or no, The Hunger is one of my favorite vampire movies. Hunger’s gauzy, velvety look recalls the London fog vampire movies of the early Thirties, and despite the sensationalist themes and their execution, it's mostly about style - and what style! Beautiful people, clothes, sets and music. Seldom has a movie been shot so lovingly. Some commentators see similarities in Hunger to Blade Runner and the comparison is apropos. Both films are dripping in atmosphere and have a fondness for the below-mentioned dark blue tones. BTW did anyone ever notice that: all movie vampires are rich, good looking, dress stylishly, speak with smoothly mellifluous accents, and have a thing for classical music.

As to the principals: it’s impossible to imagine a better actress to portray a modern day vampire than Catherine Deneuve, here fortyish but cast as a 6,000 year old Egyptian vampire. She’s positively (pun perhaps intended) otherworldly stunning, in fact a strong front runner as the most beautiful vampire in cinema history. And David Bowie’s no slouch in the looks department either, the younger, earlier version of him in the film, mind you. In fact in these scenes Bowie and Deneuve look enough alike to be twin brother and sister, which adds to the film’s creepy, kinky feel.

Moreover, Hunger’s topical message about angst over aging strikes close to home in our own times: its themes of everlasting youth and beauty are even more relevant today than they were three decades ago. A curious bit of irony in casting is that in the early Eighties the ethereal beauty of both Bowie and Deneuve was teetering on the cusp of fading, while Susan Sarandon was just peaking both as an actress and beautiful woman.

But getting back to style: the opening six minutes or so is a mind blowing virtuoso piece of editing and cutting. From a purely technical standpoint, it’s arguably the best part of the entire film. However … for better or worse, the lesbian scene with Deneuve and Sarandon - the one we wait two thirds of the movie to get to - is what Hunger is best known for, and well worth the wait. It’s a doozy of a sequence both visually and emotionally. The seduction motif firmly cemented Delibes’ “Flower Duet” from Lakmé, superimposed so suggestively over all the steamy goings on, as opera’s ultimate lesbian moment. But in a movie this gorgeous and with a cast so cinegenic, what’s not to like about lesbian, or in this case bisexual, vampires? 

Aside: The Hunger’s look is a wonder and has a decided preference for evanescent blueish tones. I’m not enough of a vampire scholar to read any symbolism into this but it is rather interesting from a visual point of view. 

Highly recommended, then, with the usual not-for-all-tastes caveat for this kind of material. Another warning: for all that The Hunger is a horror film, it does move at a very deliberate, stately pace. Suave and classy, it’s probably the ultimate synthesis of art movie and horror film we’ve yet to see.

style ***1/2
substance ***