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September 19, 2009

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Tom Russell

Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes. I love this film and you really nail the many reasons why.

"...the ultimate melding of dramaturgy and the cinematograph..."

That's the quality about Preminger's work, here and in ADVISE AND CONSENT especially, more-so than in something like MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM, that I find really intriguing and rewarding. A lot of film people look askance at dramaturge-in-cinema and I've never quite understood why.

Brilliant film, brilliant director, brilliant actor. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

The First Bill C

This, ADVISE, and BUNNY LAKE are my fave Premingers. I also love that ANATOMY takes the rummy archetype you find in Hawks movies and gives him genuine pathos. And hearing such frank-for-the-day language in it still makes me gasp a little.

bill

"Don't ask the question if you don't know the answer." That's what my dad said about this moment when I watched ANATOMY OF A MURDER with him many years ago. The film is hazy to me now, but I still remember that moment pretty clearly.

Scott was one of America's greatest actors, but I feel like his reputation is fading in the public's mind, and I'm unable to figure out why. He was central to the greatness of so many enduring classics, but outside of, say, PATTON and DR. STRANGELOVE, he rarely gets talked about. Look at THE HUSTLER, for Christ's sake. If anything, I think he's BETTER than Newman in that film, but Newman gets all the ink. It's not like I can't understand why people loved Newman so much -- I loved the guy plenty myself -- but Scott should be remembered just as fondly.

Tom Russell

Bill-- It might have to do with Scott's personal life, which was frequently messy: tried to kill one wife, dangling fellow actors off of rooftops, stalking and frequently beating Ava Gardner so badly that Frank Sinatra apparently killed Scott's dogs in retaliation.

It shouldn't detract from his monumental presence as an actor, but at the same time, that's awfully hard stuff to overlook, too.

bill

Um...you know, I never knew too much about Scott's personal life, and if all that you just related is true, then I wish you'd never told me.

Is all that stuff sourced, as they say? Paricularly the "tried to kill one wife" part.

Tom Russell

Bill, all that I got from David Sheward's biography "Rage and Glory". I had to stop reading about a third or half-way through. Of course, one can't take everything they read at face value, but I haven't seen any kind of rebuttals for Sheward's claims.

christian

Scott sometimes seems like the greatest screen actor ever. He just takes hold.

The Siren

The story of Scott beating Ava Gardner is also in the Lee Server bio of Ava too, and stems from the fact that she showed up on the set of The Bible, John Huston's misbegotten epic, with fearful bruises that the makeup department had to fix. Scott also lunged for her in a hotel bar in front of witnesses including Huston himself, who had to wrap himself around Scott until enough people came to help that they could get him down. And Scott came after her several times after she ended the affair. Server also recounts the story about Scott trying to kill his mistress--twice--but in that case it's hard to tell what his sources are because of the way the notes are structured. Server is considered a good, serious biographer, however.

I don't know about the dogs, but it sure sounds like Sinatra.

For what it's worth, Server notes that Scott had previously quit drinking in an attempt to get his violence under control, but of course teetotaling was an impossibility when dating Gardner.

I'm sure all the stories, which have been around for years, have affected Scott's profile. His acting was so good so often it's impossible to deny, but it's pretty much impossible to develop the sort of affection for Scott that tends to keep actors in the memory of the general public.

I find for myself that when I first read about stuff like this it takes a while to put it aside, but eventually I can. Took me years to get over reading about Busby Berkeley killing two people while driving drunk.

Anyway, re: Anatomy -- me, I love Lee Remick in this one. LOVE. Talk about underrated, as an actress and as a beauty.

As I (coincidentally) said this week, I give a slight edge to Advise and Consent but this one is mighty fine. Laura will always be my favorite Preminger, though.

Bruce Reid

The Siren: "[I]t's pretty much impossible to develop the sort of affection for Scott that tends to keep actors in the memory of the general public."

True, but the hard cases often make for fervent personal favorites; you can fall for the guy with the world in his hands, but the one who tosses it aside or stumbles and breaks it when the dogs nip too close to his heels? That can lead to a Morrisonian deep-down spooky love. I've seen a sardonic, professorial type, who can dissect anything with dispassionate aplomb, get misty over Gene Tierney; when Mitchum and Stewart's deaths overlapped, everyone was sad about the latter but you could spot in the crowd of commiserating film geeks the ones who were shattered by the first (guilty).

And Scott was a great personal favorite of mine, drunk bastard that he was. I used to joke that when I made my millions, I'd hire a funk horn section to shuffle along behind me, blurping walking music and punctuating my gestures, and George C. Scott as my public speaker--I'd whisper ostentatiously in his ear, Prince- or Warhol-style, and he'd roar my comments to the crowd. It was a surprisingly emotional moment when one friend greeted me after Scott's passing with, "sad to hear that your voice died."

I second your Remick love (LOVE, even). On Preminger, my favorite tends to be whichever of his several great films I've caught most recently. So, currently, THE CARDINAL, so detailed and human even as it sweeps along with history.

Brian

Love Lee Remick as well. although my memories of her performance in the harrowing DAYS OF WINE & ROSES are so strong and disturbing that I always feel a slight shudder whenever her name comes up. Perhaps that's not fair, but I also think it's a testament to just how good she is in that film, and how much her work (along with Lemmon's) really shattered me. It also makes her work in the Follies revival concert all the more affecting.

Love ANATOMY, although my own favorite Premingers are FALLEN ANGEL and BUNNY LAKE-- those movies where, as Andrew Sarris noted, narrative falls away in favor of brilliant, haunting mise-en-scene.

Brian

Hmm...thought I'd placed a link to the singing Remick in that comment above, but it didn't seem to take. Here it is:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3xlWdytBb8

The Siren

Bruce, beautifully put. I have several deep personal favorites with deep personal failings; Crawford and Davis, anyone? In fact it isn't surprising Davis was his idol, since people were terrified of her too.

Brian, that's a marvelous version. I think I saw it years ago but I am more familiar with Alexis Smith. Smith is wonderful but Remick doesn't punch things as much--"Wait, I'm just beginning!" still has the feel of an argument, not a monologue.

Nick

I think that Glenn gets close to the reason Scott hasn't taken hold as a great actor in the public mind when he cites Scott's "natural overstatedness." Scott's characters, even when they are being tender or are thrown into situations where their control on the world has slipped - in films like Petula, Hardcore and The Hospital - don't become blatantly emotional or vulnerable. They stay in the face of the other protaganists. This is something that is probably inate to Scott's personality and presence. Things shift under the surface for Scott's characters. The latent threat, the calm masculine rulership over the immediate world exercised by characters like Patton or Bert Gordon (in The Hustler) gives way to confusion, but the confusion stays under the surface. Scott's genius was conveying those shifts while simultaneously dramatizing his characters' efforts to hang onto scraps of the power they once commanded. That's great acting, but it doesn't contain an easily labelled quality like dash or swagger or boyishness that fans can attach to.

Brian

Campaspe, I love Alexis Smith in the part-- she's so tough and commanding in the part, and pairs so well with John McMartin's Ben. But Remick's more vulnerable, conversational style works really well, too (especially for that song).

Dan

Most actors who are remembered for a long period of time, and it kills me to say this, are remembered because of one vivid image that can be slapped up on a dorm room wall. Just like Sam Jackson is never quite going to shake Jules. Scott had many great roles, but never that one picture.

Tom Russell

Dan-- I respectfully disagree. Scott standing in front of the flag as Patton is such an image-- reproduced on posters and parodied many times over-- and such a picture.

bill

Yeah, PATTON is that picture in spades.

Dan

Normally I'd agree, but at the film school I go to, out of three classes I've mentioned Patton, the only one who's seen it has been the teacher. :-/

Tom Carson

And anyhow, my bet is that most people who do know that image don't think of it as iconic Scott. They think of it as iconic Patton.

Tom Russell

You might have a point, Dan, especially given your college dorm room litmus test-- but I'm not sure if the ignorance of film students, many of whom are in their twenties, is representative of Scott's place in American pop culture consciousness as a whole. I know film students who have, unbelievably, never heard of Robert Redford, of Casablanca, of The Godfather. I don't think that makes them any less iconic, though, or any less remembered by the general populace.

Your experience w/ film schoolers does remind me of a Movie Buff I met who had never seen Citizen Kane, never heard of Quentin Tarantino or Pam Grier, and said that Brad Pitt was "not really an actor", whereas Eddie Murphy is "actually quite good. He understands the power of a stare. Like Karloff and Lugosi." (If one is curious, you can find more on the Movie Buff and his incredible knowledge of, not to mention taste in, cinema, as well as a story about the unhinged friend of a supposedly comatose actress, here: http://turtleneckfilms.blogspot.com/2009/09/crazy-people.html .)

The Siren

Jeez, what on earth is going on at film schools?

Stephen Bowie

All of George C. Scott's early work is filled with those kinds of razor-sharp moments of perception, where he gets across exactly what he's thinking or feeling with a rare precision. If Scott is thought of as a ham (even during his decline), I think it's a misreading of his trademark intensity; or, worst case, his unsuitability for certain types of comedy.

Always reluctant to plug my own stuff, but my research on the production history of EAST SIDE/WEST SIDE has some anecdotal material on Scott's alcoholism:

http://www.classictvhistory.com/EpisodeGuides/east_side_west_side.html

And of course, Glenn's screen caps are a reminder that ANATOMY OF A MURDER remains unavailable in R1 in its correct aspect ratio: surely one of the most important films about which that can be said.

bill

I just ordered HARDCORE. Maybe I'm building it up too much in my memory, but I feel like, apart from the rote ending, that movie is close to a stone classic. Scott is just phenomenal in that film, and the only thing queering that "classic" status is the, you know, rote ending.

What the hell happened there, anyway? Did Schrader get to the end of the script and panic?

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