pseudopodium
. . . Tony Randall

. . .

Lover Doll

Tony Randall, 1920-2004

"Oh, he's great. Like a comic machine. You feel like Heifetz when you work with him."
- Frank Tashlin, 1962

1960s Hollywood was no place for Heifetz. Tony Randall's first featured role (that's Rockwell P. Hunter, sweetie) remained the permanent high point of both his career and Tashlin's.

Like other virtuosi, Tashlin composed to his instrument. Although anyone could've sold the movie's big quotable gags even Tom Ewell my favorite moments in the film register solely through Randall's precise, agile delivery:

"Wait, that's 'Yankee Doodle.'"
"No. Stop that!"
"Yes, I think so."

Every nuance its own gem.

Definitively widescreen, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? is a broken-winged bird when pan-and-scanned; if laserdisks, TCM broadcasts, or theatrical showings aren't at hand, I recommend waiting for a DVD.

Those who'd like to pay Randall the fitting tribute of close attention can meanwhile console themselves with the last great performance of his seven-year reign as funniest actor on film, Send Me No Flowers. Imperturbable even in self-pity, Rock Hudson seems to transfer the burden of his fatal secret to Randall, who balances Hudson's noble-showdog obtuseness by a sentimental trajectory through denial, despair, degradation, and rage: the suburban neighbor of Dorian Gray.

Responses

Renfrew here. I had the feeling this would be a place with a fitting Tony Randall tribute. I do believe the late-great deserves as much kudos for his turns on "Late Night" at the end of his career, as, without the worries of script and plot movement to worry about, he could just do his schtick, whether it was making sperm donor jokes or having himself slopped in mud. Doing anything for a laugh put him as much in the Catskills tradition (though I think he never trod the boards there, once) as Hollywood.

I'd love to see some of those appearances. I had no idea, though I'm not surprised by his dedication to the job at hand. Not after hearing his rendition of "Poop poop poop-poop, poop poop poop."

Dude. What's My Line rerun. Dorothy Kilgallen like a recently decanted sauterne, Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams with Edie being the linear subject. I didn't catch the whole thing but in addition to B. Cerf and Audrey Meadows, and the aforementioned darling Miss Kilgallen, the fourth panel member was...Tony Randall. And he won too.

. . .

Kubrick, Critic

(Written for The Valve)

The first time I watch a Stanley Kubrick movie, I'm thrilled by its ambition and clarity.

The second time, the anticipated moments of humor, beauty, and shock re-arrive precisely in order, but thinner, like an anecdote that's outlived the memory it tells. Actors who'd conveyed life in other roles are played like tokens. My laughter and startles are a bit forced, as though I'm trying to put a lecturer at ease.

The third time, after the first ten minutes or so, there's no more movie. Just an idea I already know.

Only two Kubrick movies have interested me past that point. Both are literary adaptations, and in both, the ideas are formal. I watch them as literary analysis. With a 100-to-1 shooting ratio.

+ + +

"How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?"

Well, Lolita is a story of European guile in crass America. To make a highbrow book of it, European artist Nabokov told it guilefully. To make a commercial movie of it, American "they" told it crassly. In Nabokov's medium, Humbert Humbert takes advantage of a decadent tradition of ambiguously angst-riven confession. In Kubrick's medium Hollywood film, c. 1960 if you wanted to show middle-aged men lusting after girls, you made a leering sex comedy. And so that's the movie Kubrick made: The Twelve-Year Itch.

The logic is undeniable and, for me, anyway, irresistable. And James Mason makes an ideally sophisticated Tom Ewell, although Sue Lyon seems better suited to play the good-humored attractive wife than the drool-bespattered fantasy. (Tuesday Weld turned the role down after playing a similar part in a less prestigious movie and before playing similar parts in less prestigious movies.).

The problem is that Kubrick, as heir to Stroheim's flesh-loathing joylessness, isn't good at sex comedy. Even within the esoteric sub-sub-genre of leer noir, Lolita was bettered by Billy Wilder's Kiss Me, Stupid.

Maybe if they'd gotten Tony Randall for Clare Quilty?

+ + +

What most rewards me with pleasure viewing after viewing is Barry Lyndon.

I realize this reaction isn't universally shared. It's not, however, unique. I've watched the movie with others who've enjoyed it I even remember one very successful pan-and-scanned commercially interrupted viewing on late-night television. And maybe it's helpful to see it in such irreverent circumstances: I laugh pretty much all the way through, but acolytes seem to find (or seek and not find) a different experience the fresco series of sadness described by Mark Crispin Miller.

Although I admire Miller's argument, do I really care about Barry's sad fate? Or the sad fates of all who surround him?

Of course not. It's a Kubrick movie. I don't care about these characters any more than I cared about the fates of the Haze females, or HAL's or Alex's victims, or all life on Earth. And, in this case at least, Kubrick's coldness is no betrayal of his source material.

William Makepeace Thackeray attempted at least four simultaneous goals in The Luck [or Memoirs] of Barry Lyndon, Esq.:

This was an extraordinarily ambitious combination for a second novel. It was also kind of a mess.

In place of Thackeray's stew, being more a pastry chef, Kubrick neatly separated each ingredient and layered them in a tidy pattern.

First, to resolve the mix of fictional conventions, his movie splits down the middle. Its first half, naturally enough, is assigned the eighteenth-century: painlessly ironic misadventures of a young man, fairly good-hearted but amoral and far from bright, attractive through sheer boisterous health. This picaresque story ends in the hero's ascension to landed prosperity and a good marriage.

After an intermission, we enter the nineteenth-century: domestic melodrama, the horrors of class mobility, cross-generational tensions building and snapping, tragic accident, and villainy brought down, with lingering regret.

The problematically unreliable narrator was resolved by relocating out-of-character quotes from Barry into the omniscient third-person voice of Vanity Fair or Trollope's novels. The feeling of unreliablity was maintained by persistent discords between the dismissive tone of the "author" and the evidence of screen and soundtrack.

This solution kept Barry's character inarticulate and opaque, well within the scope of Thackeray's original blundering creep (or Ryan O'Neal's acting), and able to inhabit both halves of Kubrick's new scheme without dissonance. The new narrator was similarly at home, perhaps a bit more detached and worldly in the first half and a bit more censorious in the second.

Other techniques help bind the two halves. Kubrick's slow zoom-outs begin scenes as formally as the chapter titles and introductory paragraphs which were common to both centuries. Natural lighting, location shooting, and period costumes push material reality forward, while the meticulous care lavished on them reinforce the abstraction of pre-naturalistic style. As with Barry's character, so with others: Kubrick tones down Thackeray's vicious caricatures (which, photographed directly, might give us something more like Fellini's Satyricon or Welles's Don Quixote than like Richardson's Tom Jones) and adds flaws to Thackeray's more admirable (but almost blank) figures, resulting in fairly even affect.

The result, I admit, is cold and schematic but also intellectually engaging and very funny. It even induces, yes, a pleasant melancholy.

Not directly, though; not through parodic extravagances such as The Death of Little Bryan, with its "sad music" (that one piece of sad music, used whenever "sad music"'s needed), its angelic pain-free child, and its bravely tear-choking parents. That scene is pure clip art, like the Spooky House, Soul-Shattering Perversity, and Horrors of War sequences in other Kubrick movies.

No, the sadness is one uniquely suited to Kubrick's abilities. It's the sadness of distance. The distance between these dehumanized figures, each forever their own framed portrait, nailed to the wall, untouched and untouching. The distance between them and us, separated by time and telling. The implied identity with ourselves, and our own distances.

Even the voiceover dies as we watch, and a printed epilogue emphasizes the point:

It was in the reign of George the III that the above named personages lived and quarreled; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now.

"... and [to complete the quote] do not the Sunday papers and the courts of law supply us every week with more novel and interesting slander?"

. . .

The Face of Another (1966)

  1. It's true: Tatsuya Nakadai's face doesn't fit.
  2. I wish Seconds had cast Doris Day as the wife and Tony Randall as the doctor: "Well, I don't know how she knew, George; you certainly would have fooled me, George...."

 

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.