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BOGDANOVICH DIRECTS GAZZARA IN HEFNER'S SAINT JACK

Signed by Bond actor George Lazenby
THIS IS ORSON WELLES is a book full of various interviews conducted by Peter Bogdanovich and Welles throughout an entire decade, obviously centering on the eclectic, ultimately tragic but initially brilliant career of the "boy wonder" theater and radio, filmmaking, acting, producing genius, who became a sort of wishbone between Peter and an ultra-indie filmmaker who makes John Cassavetes seem like Steven Spielberg...

According to an add-on prologue and/or introduction, Peter lost his mentor to super-low-budget arthouse guru Henry Jaglom after not fulfilling a promise to have Welles direct this 1979 (taking place in the early 70's) adaptation of the Paul Theroux novel, SAINT JACK, about Jack Flowers, a low-rent, backroom yet determined American pimp in Singapore trying to run a "house," which isn't so easy with torturous thugs who, at one point when his wish finally comes true to own a brothel/manor, doesn't last long... All this before, using mostly one-shot/non-cut direction, the camera turning and almost showing the actor where to go but not in a contrived fashion... more like director and actor as one in the same flowing motion... we learn about Jack's occupation by basically following him around, from location to location, at times with his new endearing accountant, Denholm Elliott's William, while some of the other dialogue mirrors the improvisational vibe of Ben Gazzara's most famous role helmed by John Cassavetes, THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE, which this is extremely similar to in rhythm, style and substance, and most of all, spontaneity (plus irony: in CHINESE BOOKIE, Ben's character fights to not "sell" Americans to an Asian, and in JACK, his job is to do the complete opposite)...

release date: 1979
For liken to Cassavetes and unlike Bogdanovich's earlier style of being a wannabe Mogul, filling his movies with genuine movie stars, there's a hybrid of non-acting locals with real ones, making Gazzara sporadically dumb-down his performance into an ultra-realistic monotone that, at times, seems contrived but still believable, although not always altogether interesting... But that's only when he's striving to connect with various women (one in particular) who seem to be taking acting classes right on the spot... After all, you can only do so much with a mannequin... Making his yearly meetings with Denholm Elliott truly stand out, and, despite not being particularly deep conversations, they really mean something since he's a true friend played by a fantastic English actor.

At one point, Jack's comeback becomes a bit too "good to be true" as he's hired by a shady, wealthy, cigar-smoking businessman to run a mansion whorehouse/way-station for soldiers, starting out lucrative but ultimately providing a sort of anti-war consciousness haunting Korean War vet Jack, concerning his stance on (and his greedy feeding upon) the infamous Vietnam war, a left-leaning annexation familiar to most Roger Corman projects yet isn't at all preachy – discernible by Gazzara's expressions alone. Meanwhile, taking a peak behind the scenes once again: co-producing Playboy icon Hugh Hefner and last-word girlfriend Cybill Shepard sealed the deal to have Peter direct; the latter probably felt her man needed proof he could still make a decent motion picture...

Cool Book Cover
Following the 1974 semi-classic PAPER MOON, Peter made a string of inspired yet clumsy bombs (including a famously horrendous musical), and SAINT JACK's use of location and slow-burn suspense is wielded perfectly by the diverse, unpredictable director, who, after taking over the film himself and, as already abundantly mentioned in this writeup (yet with a new point intact), completely lost his twenty-year Welles friendship since the CITIZEN KANE legendary has-been needed a comeback more than anyone on Earth... But if only Orson could have, instead, taken the role that Peter (who's just not powerful enough and isn't the actor he yearns to be) portrayed the same persuasive businessman who hires Jack on an 11th hour "mission" that turns this indie pimp tale into a sort of calculating spy flick... Ironically, it's one-time (FOR HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE) Bond actor George Lazenby he's after (while earlier on, in an unrelated scene, Jack hires two transvestites to dance for a man to the lounge-laden theme from the Sean Connery classic GOLDFINGER): And so, once again, the second time dealing with the shady, now limo-riding entrepreneur, an ambiguous Jack must choose between what's right or wrong while figuring if there is such a thing given his shady occupation, and while that turnout won't be spoiled, the best element of SAINT JACK is watching the man, Ben Gazzara, act like he owns a location he simply shouldn't be in, just like the perpetually in-debt Cosmo Vitelli's resilient nightclub owner in the mobster Neo Noir CHINESE BOOKIE. No one can play desperation, cockiness, charm and obliviousness better than Ben who, even when getting beaten to a pulp, seems completely untouchable, somehow.

Elder Welles
RATING: ****
TRIVIA: Adding onto the broken friendship between Bogdanovich and Orson Welles, the two, unlike Welles and his "idolizing replacement family-rich millionaire yet still perpetually struggling indie icon" Henry Jaglom, were basically equal in statue after THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, which some critics compared to CITIZEN KANE and what might have inspired Welles to make his ultimately unfinished THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND about a relationship between a has-been old director and a hot new one, obviously based on Orson and Peter (the latter as himself, and the first played by John Huston)... Meanwhile, Jaglom himself has an "Orson Room" at one of his homes where a plethora of tapes exist of conversations with Orson; some used in his own book called LUNCHES WITH ORSON. Orson was always kind of wary that his friends would constantly tape him whenever he spoke; but when hearing what the man says, sounding brilliant even when he's reading a menu, it's no surprise, and if given the chance, anyone would do it. Orson also used young exploitation filmmaking hippie-era cult filmmaker Gary Graver as his cinematographer, who, in the early 1980's, directed a movie wherein character-actor Peter Jason rapes Marcia Brady... and Orson was close friends with the character-actor, who said to Peter, upon meeting him, "You don't look like anybody," something Jason still doesn't know was a knock or a compliment, but Welles loved working with the LONG RIDERS and 48 HRS performer in various projects, like WIND (soon to be a Cult Film Freak written interview), all unfinished as well as a number of live performances. And the best documentary made about Welles is called MAGICIAN, free on Amazon Prime, mostly driven by Welles's own words and steered by Orson historian Simon Callow, who, an actor himself, is best known as the partier who paid Tom Hulce's Mozart to write (at that time) "banal" plays (later considered brilliant, like THE MAGIC FLUTE), although the Bogdanovich and Welles interview novel THIS IS ORSON WELLES, Cult Film Freak's personal cinematic Bible, is recommended the most.

Considered his masterpiece
And for the record, at the 11th hour before Orson's death, he made up with Peter, telling his once-beloved young (and at that time, unsuccessful protege) something along the lines of when he (Orson) dies, everyone will really miss him, and we all do. If only, during the 1970's, someone with money also had a brain, wrote a few crime scripts and let Orson Welles direct them: knowing/foreshadowing that however these projects turned out, they'd be instant cult films with an eternal built-in audience. But while you hear, over and over, about CITIZEN KANE, Welles' best direction is in the ultimate Noir, TOUCH OF EVIL, which includes a non-cut 3 1/2 opening sequence (without credits covering it up in the reissue) that provides groundbreaking visual and audio aspects, inspiring directors ranging from George Lucas (AMERICAN GRAFFITI) to Steven Speilberg (JAWS) to Robert Altman (whose 6 minute non-cut opening shot for SHORT CUTS was a homage to Welles, and even mentioned by a character played by Fred Ward). Also, in the MAGICIAN documentary, and in other articles, what you'll hear concerning Welles' Shakespeare trilogy of MACBETH, OTHELLO, and CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, the latter, also titled FALSTAFF, is his best; but in this reviewer's opinion, OTHELLO is the most stunning and smoothly flowing, while MACBETH, a Shakespeare Noir, is visually stunning, using magnificent use of shadows and filmed on second-hand cowboy movie locations as the false King wears a crown looking like a 6th grade play. So far, MIDNIGHT has failed to impress. But THE TRAIL starring Anthony Perkins is also something to behold, and his maligned "sell-out" Noir, that Welles directed to prove he could work with studios, THE STRANGER, is actually better than the famous LADY FROM SHANGHAI. And of the three versions of his flawed but intriguing Noir MR. ARKADIN (inspired by a radio show based on his Harry Lime from Carol Reed's THE THIRD MAN), the second version, made in 1963, is recommended over the original post-edit-catastrophe called CONFIDENTIAL REPORT and the recent "Director's Cut" based on Orson's notes (by Bogdanovich), that doesn't move the story like the second version.
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