Friday, July 19, 2013
Half The Time We Part That Way
SECONDS, but one I would be very interested in seeing screened is Richard Quine’s underappreciated STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET from 1960, the year when MAD MEN’s first season was set. Beginning his career as an actor, Quine went on to be one of those intriguing journeymen from the era who seems mostly forgotten now despite making successful star vehicles featuring the likes of Jack Lemmon, Audrey Hepburn and Kim Novak who he directed in four films. He was based at Columbia for a while and his career interests me for a variety of reasons, partly because of his association with Blake Edwards who had early screenplay credits on a few of his films and together they even created the short-lived THE MICKEY ROONEY SHOW: HEY, MULLIGAN in 1954. There seems to be an intriguing commonality in their approaches and thematic sensibilities—Quine’s pleasant Jack Lemmon service comedy OPERATION MAD BALL which Edwards was a writer on almost feels like a warmup for his considerably crazier WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR DADDY? that he directed later on. In 1963 Andrew Sarris even wrote, “As Blake Edwards’s stock has risen, Richard Quine’s has fallen” and his book “The American Cinema” is rather dismissive of Quine, dumping him in the ‘miscellany’ section but in pointing out that his more successful films aim for ‘lower key seriousness’ as opposed to their comic goals much as I might enjoy something like HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE—and why don’t I own that one on DVD?—maybe Sarris isn’t entirely incorrect in this viewpoint. websites have even catalogued where certain scenes were filmed and I was surprised to discover how often I drove down a few of these streets when I spent time in that part of town. There’s also the site of the house construction off in Bel Air, presented as a sort of untouchable Eden that Larry is adding his genius too. The architect as played by Kirk Douglas is someone who wants to express himself through his designs, not by erecting some grand city that he never even visits but a single thing that he really cares about that he can work over while walking through it, feeling the land, feeling the layout, feeling what it could be. He wants this without being smothered by his suburban existence of friendly neighbors asking advice about crabgrass during dinner parties in a way that only Kim Novak can provide and he brings out something in her as well, a lonely housewife resigned to people being the same everywhere. And they’re more similar than they ever realize, down to each spending time getting their sons to drink up their milk. TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN featuring Douglas, a film with different goals but also both a portrait of its time and place as well as a ‘what the hell do I do now?’ storyline that the lead finds himself in the middle of. Kim Novak’s Margaret, or Maggie as Larry begins calling her, with her deepest secrets revealing the crack beneath the perfection of her own surface, brings to mind VERTIGO but practically all of Novak’s films bring that to mind anyway. It’s the two halves that we associate with Novak—the cool detached Madeline Elster that everyone seems to think Margaret is and in the pleading way she asks her husband, “Don’t you think I’m pretty?” the more lost Judy Barton of that film’s second half. Played by John Bryant, her all-business husband barely seems to be a person in how he doesn’t seem to notice it’s Kim Novak that he’s married to, living in his very own house, treating her desire for an evening at home as if he’s been taken over by the pod people in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and he doesn’t seem to think that she would have any kind of desires at all which has its own weight to it—every line in the screenplay by Hunter, every moment as staged by Quine seems to comprise both text and subtext at once. A key scene involving Walter Matthau late in the film plays as if his character simply decides to drop the pretense of what he’s avoiding saying midway through, turning it into gradually more imposing text making what’s still left unspoken all the more unnerving. More often than not the film is focused on the continuing battle between everyone being the same and the individual wanting to deny this. And what is more desirable deep down. article by Philippe Garnier the making of STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET could have been a film itself—for one set in 1960, it probably would have been a hell of a lot better than HITCHCOCK. The Bel Air house that Larry Coe is so passionate about was actually being built during production. Very much involved at the time, Quine and Novak were engaged and the studio was going to give it as a present upon wrapping--“Home For Kim Novak Movie May Be Honeymoon House” read one headline. The marriage never happened—Novak was the one who ended the affair—but Quine apparently kept the house. The degree that the film goes beyond his earlier, pleasant comedies like OPERATION MAD BALL as if genuinely trying to make a grand statement about existence, about the need to stand out and make the art that matters to you more than anyone, makes it seem as if the film was as important to Quine as the house being built is to Larry Coe, a chance to express everything he has with this particular woman there to guide him. The director actually worked one more time with Novak after this and although some of his later films in the 60s like SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL and HOTEL have their qualities they feel more like the work of a director-for-hire than someone looking to make a personal statement. His work in the 70s included three episodes of COLUMBO. The final film he worked on, leaving partway through production and not receiving credit, was 1980’s THE FIENDISH PLOT OF DR. FU MANCHU which also turned out to be Peter Sellers’ last. After a period of illness and depression, Quine shot himself in June 1989. Blake Edwards was quoted as speculating that he was just tired of waiting for the phone to ring. trailer from several years earlier. THAT’S LIFE! was also about an architect. Played by Jack Lemmon, a star who worked with both filmmakers, this architect was considerably older and yet also worried that he hadn’t lived up to his potential. No matter how hard you try, no matter how old you get, it’s impossible to not care about what other people think. It’s even harder when all the people around you don’t care anyway. And as you wonder about the serenity of having books in one arm and a girl in the other, it’s the person who you want to care most of all that never seems to hear what it is you say, at least not the way you want them to. That’s just the way it is. Time doesn’t stand still. And eventually you stand there alone. Still a stranger.