Monday, August 20, 2018

The Lovely Lee Grant Blogathon Is On!

Last dance, last chance for Lee! Join us in celebrating this great lady of the silver screen, Oscar-winning actress and director Lee Grant, August 20–23, 2018. Read about Miss Grant's greatest performances in film and television and applaud her 60+ year as one of our most treasured actors and filmmakers. I'm delighted to cohost the event with the beautiful and amazing Gill of ReelWeegieMidget Reviews.

The complete blogroll is below—thanks to all for participating!


The Oak Drive-In unearths a quirky psychological thriller with a feminist bent—Lee Grant and Carol Kane as strange sisters in The Mafu Cage

Crítica Retrô climbs Mount Everest to experience Lee’s performance in Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls 

A Shroud of Thoughts expounds on Lee Grant’s film debut and star-making role in Detective Story

Moon in Gemini illuminates Grant’s memorable turn as a tough prosecutor in Albert Brooks’s metaphysical fable Defending Your Life

Great Old Movies applauds Lee’s effortless ability to transcend the made-for-TV movie genre in The Spell

Great Old Movies is nonplussed at the strangeness of The Mafu Cage, one of the weirdest films in the Lee Grant canon

In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood brings to life Divorce American Style, featuring Lee Grant and an impressive star-studded cast


Le Cinema Dreams highlights Lee Grant’s valiant attempt to breathe life into the flawed film version of Portnoy’s Complaint

Poppity Talks covers lovely Lee’s brief pas de deux with heartthrob Ryan O’Neal in The Big Bounce

Movie Rob sings the praises of Lee Grant’s Oscar-winning turn opposite playboy Warren Beatty in Shampoo

No Nonsense with Nuwan Sen celebrates Lee’s Oscar-nominated performance as a shoplifter, recreating her acclaimed stage role in Detective Story

Movie Rob presents the seriocomic gem Divorce American Style in which Grant costars with a star-studded ensemble cast

Stabford Deathrage remarks on Lee Grant’s ability to upstage the entire star-studded cast of Airport ’77 (including hubby Sir Christopher Lee) with just a few withering glances

Micro-Brewed Reviews discovered a vintage made-for-TV film called Night Slaves starring Lee Grant and James Franciscus


Silver Screen Suppers whips up a mouthwatering treat based on Grant’s delicious appearance on Columbo: "Ransom for a Dead Man"

Sports Analogies Hidden in Classic Movies proclaims another home run for Lee Grant in the all-star disaster epic Airport ’77

Movie Rob has a few complaints of his own about Lee and company in Portnoy’s Complaint

What the Craggus Saw was the groundbreaking drama In the Heat of the Night featuring Lee Grant in a small but unforgettable role


Silver Screenings reveals Lee Grant as a hilariously neurotic mother of the bride opposite Walter Matthau in Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite

Caftan Woman presents Ms. Grant as a high-powered Hollywood columnist in an episode of Ironside: “Eat, Drink and Be Buried”

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Wash This Man Right Outta Your Hair

With a screenplay co-written by Robert Towne (Chinatown) and star/producer Warren Beatty, direction by Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude), production design by Richard Sylbert (Rosemary’s Baby), original music by Paul Simon and featuring a glittering cast of Hollywood acting heavyweights, Shampoo is a satiric sex farce with an impressive cinematic pedigree.

Made in 1975, just months after the Watergate scandal resulted in the resignation of President Richard Nixon—a time of cynicism, escapism and hedonism in America—Shampoo takes place in Los Angeles (chiefly in the neighborhoods of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood) on election night in November 1968, as Nixon is poised to win his first term as President.

Warren Beatty as George

The sexual revolution sparked by the tumultuous 1960s was still going strong in Hollywood well into the 1970s, which makes this film’s 1968/1975 time warp plausible—the specter of AIDS was almost a decade into the future. It was an era where trashy novels like Joyce Haber’s The Users and Judith Krantz’s Scruples delved deeply into the (supposedly) secretly perverse lifestyles of Hollywood’s rich and famous. Shampoo reflects and exploits that mid-70s sexual obsession to satiric and titillating comic effect.

Julie Christie as Jackie

Goldie Hawn as Jill
Reportedly Warren Beatty and screenwriter Robert Towne became BFFs while collaborating on the script for Shampoo, apparently finding they had quite a bit in common. Their rumored kinky sexual predilections included making love to their respective female dates on double beds in the same hotel room, thereby satisfying both their shared voyeuristic and exhibitionistic tendencies. (Later, Beatty and Towne would also share a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination for Shampoo.)

Jack Warden as Lester

The film covers a day and night in the complicated life of a free-spirited Beverly Hills hairdresser and Lothario, played of course by Warren Beatty. Warren’s portrayal of the womanizing yet guileless George Roundy is spot on—and why wouldn’t it be?  The subject of Carly Simon’s iconic song “You’re So Vain” (You had one eye in the mirror/as you watched yourself gavotte”), Beatty is cashing in on his own legendary offscreen image as playboy of the western world. Back in the day, the stories of Warren Beatty’s prowess with the ladies was mythic and epic in its proportions, and there were few famous women of the era—from Natalie Wood to Barbra Streisand—who had reportedly not succumbed to his charms.

Far from a cold and calculating Machievellian Casanova, George is a vague, foggy airhead (Beatty is an Aquarius, by the way), a not-very-bright “himbo” who’s a pushover for a pretty woman and seems to fall into his constant sexual conquests almost entirely by default.

Tony Bill as Johnny

Beatty’s George is a peacock, hot stuff indeed as dressed by costume designer Anthea Sylbert.  In his tight blue jeans (often found down around his ankles), white pirate and tuxedo shirts unbuttoned almost to the navel, chunky silver belt and turquoise jewelry, with a few gold chains thrown in for good measure, George is an establishment hippie rebel, riding his motorcycle through the Hollywood Hills with nonchalant cool, brandishing his holstered hairdryer like a gun, his overgrown, tousled “bed hair” blowing in the breeze.

But Beatty imbues his insouciant womanizing protagonist with his own brand of sweet masculine vulnerability, the kind women find irresistible. Inarticulate, unable to describe his feelings or his life with any other word than “great,” George nevertheless has his troubles, experiencing guilt and regret and feeling like a failure in life, not proud of his obsessive promiscuous behavior. “Let’s face it,” George finally admits to Goldie Hawn’s character with weary resignation, “I f*cked them all.”

Carrie Fisher as Lorna

Goldie Hawn, Oscar-winning Best Supporting Actress for 1968’s Cactus Flower, parlays the zany, kooky persona she perfected on TV’s Laugh-In (“Sock it to me!”) into a brilliant tragicomic performance. As Jill, George’s current main squeeze, pretending not to notice that her boyfriend is a notoriously promiscuous cocksman, Goldie is simultaneously hilarious and touching. She scores in scenes that include a hyperventilating panic attack, vain attempts to get a straight answer about George’s whereabouts, and displaying dumb blond naivete as she undergoes a modeling interview with Tony Bill (who later directed the charming My Bodyguard).

Veteran character actor Jack Warden scores in his role as middle aged Beverly Hills businessman Lester Karpf, who keeps a younger woman in a love nest off Mulholland and tortures his hair forward to cover his balding pate. Beatty and Warden have marvelous chemistry in their scenes together in which hairdresser George (with a a few subtly mincing gestures and breathy tone of voice) allows Lester to believe that he’s gay to cover up the fact that he’s sleeping with both Karpf’s wife (Lee Grant) and his mistress (Julie Christie). Warden would cop an Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actor, and the pair would work together again in Beatty’s next picture Heaven Can Wait.

Lee Grant as Felicia 

Julie Christie is memorable as Jackie, Lester’s mistress and ex-lover of George, a glamorous but tense gal with a drinking problem, still holding the torch for her former boyfriend. The beautiful and versatile Christie, who had achieved iconic superstardom as Lara in Doctor Zhivago and won the 1965 Best Actress Oscar for Darling, was Beatty’s costar in McCabe and Mrs. Miller and had recently been his longtime paramour and domestic partner. (Long before Annette Bening came on the scene, Christie had been the odds-on favorite to get the notoriously marriage-shy Warren to the altar.)

Two years before she shot to stardom as Princess Leia in Star Wars, Carrie Fisher gives a sardonic portrayal of the Karpfs’ nubile teenage daughter Lorna, who taunts George into proving he isn’t homosexual, just to make her mother crazy. In the scene with Beatty, Fisher vehemently protesting “I’m nothing like my mother” has added dimension when you know that Fisher is the daughter of establishment, G-rated movie star Debbie Reynolds. (Lee Grant’s real-life daughter, of course, is the talented Dinah Manoff of Grease and Ordinary People fame. And incidentally, another movie star progeny,  Andrew Stevens—son of Stella—has a bit role with plenty of exposure in the grotto skinny dipping sequence with Jack Warden.)

George and Felicia

Practically stealing the film out from under her very talented costars is Lee Grant as Felicia Karpf, a horny Beverly Hills housewife on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Whether straddling and humping George (to the campy strains of Herb Alpert’s “Tijuana Taxi” on the radio) still wearing her mink coat and curlers in her hair; addressing her maid in ludicrous baby talk (“Mona, Mona, Mona”); or looking daggers and baring her teeth and claws at her husband’s drunken mistress, Lee Grant’s Felicia is a thing of comic beauty, and the quintessential blueprint of the “desperate housewife” archetype.

Grant’s long and storied career, which has spanned seven decades, included the dark period in which the young actress, and many other artists were summarily blacklisted from the Hollywood film industry, branded as un-American subversives in the shameful McCarthy Communist witch hunt of the 1950s. A determined Grant would come back with a vengeance in the 1960s, no longer an ingenue, but now a skilled character actor in dozens of memorable roles, on television (Peyton Place), and in film (Valley of the Dolls, In the Heat of the Night) over the next half century.

The prolific Ms. Grant, who had been nominated for Oscar in 1951 for Detective Story and in 1971 for The Landlord, finally won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her brilliant performance here. She would receive an additional Supporting Actress nod for Voyage of the Damned the next year. In the 1980s, Grant expanded her resumé, becoming an acclaimed documentary filmmaker, garnering praise for directing the groundbreaking transgender documentary What Sex Am I? before winning her second Academy Award for Down and Out in America, while continuing to take occasional acting roles.

George does Jackie

"Let's face it...I f***ked them all."

Shampoo is a delicious romp for its talented ensemble cast, set against the backdrop of 1968 Southern California. The hippie chic, psychedelic Hollywood party sequence is replete with skinny dipping and LSD-spiked punch and a cameo appearance by Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, as the newest Beatles album (Sgt. Pepper, of course!) blares in the background. George’s hairdos for both Lee Grant and Julie Christie resemble Barbra Streisand’s 1968 Funny Girl bob— and in the Bistro black tie sequence, Lee Grant even wears a sailor suit, in another Streisand homage from costume designer Sylbert.

Punctuated by mournful Paul Simon music (a few years later, Carrie Fisher would become Mrs. Paul Simon), the soundtrack also includes hits that topped the charts in 1968, including “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys and “Sgt.Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” by the Beatles.

The Criterion Collection has recently added Shampoo to its roster of digitally restored and beautifully presented blu-ray films, so we can enjoy it in all its lush, remastered 4k glory when it is released in October 2018.

For even more on this marvelous movie, visit the fabulous Le Cinema Dreams blog here.

Thanks so much for reading this entry in the Lovely Lee Grant Blogathon, cohosted by my friend Gill at ReelWeegieMidget Reviews. Can’t wait to delve into our sizable blogroll and read everyone’s posts! 

Friday, July 27, 2018

Steel Yourself for an ’80s Guilty Pleasure

When I first saw this film version of one of my favorite stage plays almost three decades ago, I must admit—I didn’t love it. But over the years, Steel Magnolias (1989) has grown on me. 

Perhaps because our local theater’s version of Robert Harling’s intimate tragicomic play about the strength and fortitude of ordinary everyday Southern women had been performed with such depth, dimension and heart, I didn’t see eye to eye with director Herbert Ross’s cinematic vision of casting larger-than-life movie stars playing these women in such flamboyant fashion.

Though I had enjoyed every member of the cast in other film performances, seeing this all-star extravaganza for the first time was a somewhat jarring experience. Though its star power packed a powerful punch, some of the lead actresses’ broad and over-the-top characterizations bothered me. 

Olympia Dukakis as Clairee Belcher

But that didn’t stop me from seeing the film again. And again. In fact, this has become one of those movies that if I land on it as I channel surf looking for something to pass the time, I’ll stay tuned and watch it to the end (even though I own my own DVD!). It’s an addictive guilty pleasure, imbued with a gay sensibility and a soupçon of camp, eminently watchable despite all its perceived flaws, far superior to a Mommie Dearest or a Myra Breckinridge (both of which I happen to adore). 

For the film, director Herbert Ross (Funny Lady, The Goodbye Girl)  and screenwriter Robert Harling (The First Wives Club, Telenovela), opened up the play (which all took place on the single set of Truvy’s Beauty Spot), actually filming on location in Harling’s own hometown of Natchitoches, Louisiana. But its casting and production design seemed decidedly at odds with a touching play that according to Harling had been inspired by real people and events in his life, including losing his sister to diabetes.

Shirley MacLaine as Oiuser Boudreau
Much of the expanded plot of the movie relies on humor and sight gags—the Pepto-Bismol pink church wedding scene; the shooting of birds from the trees for the reception; the smashed Easter eggs; the outlandish costumes of the principals. Of course, just as in the stage play, comedy gives way to tragedy as the story unfolds. 

Time and repetition have made this a movie I truly enjoy. Harling’s script is chock full of unforgettable one-liners that still zing and sting with rare wit, and tells a heartwarming story with the power to make viewers both laugh and cry. And indeed, I did become attached to these now-iconic characters as brought to life by these bigger-than-life star personalities.

Dolly Parton as Truvy Jones

As wisecracking matron Clairee Belcher, Olympia Dukakis, who I loved so much in her Academy Award-winning role as Cher’s cynical mom in Moonstruck, spews her lethal one-liners with the practiced timing of a Mae West or W.C. Fields, actually talking out of the side of her mouth in broad asides. (“If you can’t say anything nice about anybody, come sit by me.”) Funny as hell, but the stage character used humor to ease the pain of losing her beloved husband. That subtle shading is somewhat lost here. 

As Ouiser, the mean and crotchety one—“I’m not crazy…I’ve just been in a very bad mood for 40 years”—veteran actress Shirley MacLaine (who was still a vibrant, ageless, high-kicking redhead when the film was made), is more than just deglamorized. Her costumes and makeup are hideously ugly, and she’s given too much cartoonlike schtick with a sad-looking (similarly roughed up!) St. Bernard. 

Sally Field as M'Lynn Eatonton

In the play, much of the momentum is carried by the character Truvy, owner of the beauty salon, a long-winded storyteller who passes the time regaling her clients as she teases and sprays. In the film, Dolly Parton’s performance as Truvy is uneven (though heartfelt). In Nine to Five her refreshingly natural and unself-conscious portrayal of a spirited secretary charmed audiences, but here she seems to be a little intimidated by Harling’s intricate and often wordy dialogue. In Parton, Truvy’s humorous turns of phrase are delivered haltingly, but not without timing or humor. At some moments her delivery is odd and awkward — “[Miss Merry Christmas] was caught with her tinsel…down around her knees”— but in her defense, Miss Dolly does fire off a few comedic bullseyes as well. 

Don’t get me wrong, I do love Dolly and enjoy her quirky performance here. Once I learned through interviews with Shirley MacLaine that an impatient Herbert Ross had browbeaten and humiliated Parton in front of the rest of the cast, telling her to go get acting lessons, I looked at her valiant effort in an entirely different light. Now I find her performance brave and balls-out—Dolly is not a skilled actress but a natural performer with boundless charisma, enthusiasm and heart—and her chemistry with the other women is warm and real. 

Julia Roberts as Shelby Eatonton Latcherie

Two-time Oscar winner Sally Field (
Norma Rae, Places in the Heart—both Southern women, by the way) plays the role of M’Lynn Eatonton with matter-of-fact skill and far less bombast than her costars, although she does have her obligatory hysterical “Sybil” moment in the scene in the cemetery following daughter’s funeral. Somehow, though, Sally’s breakdown can still bring me to tears, too.

As Shelby, daughter of M’Lynn, the feisty bride who loses her life to a battle with diabetes—a difficult role that required her to transition from light comedy (“I’ll be the one in the veil, down front”) to high drama (literally expiring in a hospital vigil as the beeping EKG machine slows and stops)— a young Julia Roberts acquits herself with grace and aplomb. (This is despite the fact that director Ross had been equally hard on Roberts as he was Parton.) For Steel Magnolias, Roberts was nominated for her first Oscar, as Best Supporting Actress—the one and only Oscar nod the film received. Roberts would receive a Best Actress nomination for Pretty Woman a year later, and finally win a Best Actress statuette for Erin Brokovich in 2000.

Daryl Hannah as Annelle Dupuis

As Annelle, the new girl in town (“with a past!”), Daryl Hannah displays a great comic flair. Revealing herself to be more than the sex symbol she played in Splash and in Wall Street and the tabloid-selling paramour of JFK Jr. and nemesis of his mother Jackie Onassis (who reportedly put the kibosh on her son’s marriage plans with the actress), Hannah gives one of her most solid film performances.

Ironically, Jackie O’s sister Lee Radziwill was married to Steel Magnolias director Herbert Ross at the time of filming. (Perhaps that even played a part in how Daryl got the role.) Ross had recently been widowed after a 28-year marriage to ballerina Nora Kaye. Together, their cinematic labor of love had been the exquisite 1977 ballet drama The Turning Point, starring Shirley MacLaine and Tom Skerritt. Lee Radziwill, also a lover of ballet and patroness of the arts, had been a friend of Ross for years before their 1988 marriage, but the union was not to last. Ross acrimoniously divorced Radziwill in 2000 and then he died in 2001.

The male characters of Steel Magnolias do not appear in the all-female-cast stage play at all and are painted by Harling as little more than comical cartoon characters, as colorfully described in amusing anecdotes by the women in the beauty parlor. But in the film, Tom Skerritt (Alien, Top Gun), Sam Shepard (The Right Stuff, August Osage County) and Kevin J. O’Connor (Peggy Sue Got Married) manage to imbue their performances with depth and humanity.

Sam Shepard as Spud Jones
As Drum Eatenton, M’Lynn’s husband and Shelby’s dad, Skerritt is affecting in the final act of the picture as his daughter and wife undergo a kidney transplant (after playing Drum as a “dumb redneck” in the first two thirds of the picture).

Sam Shepard gives the most naturalistic portrayal of all as Truvy’s husband (despite his comical character name of Spud). Parton’s best and most touching scene, in fact, is a somber moment opposite Shepard, who plays her husband, as as they prepare for Shelby’s funeral. 

Tom Skerritt as Drum Eatonton

As Shelby’s sardonic husband, handsome Dylan McDermott is properly macho and tongue-in-cheek as he humorously refuses to take anything his mother-in-law Field says seriously, but his shallow character is given very little screen time.  In contrast, Kevin J. O’Connor makes the most of his brief scenes as Daryl Hannah’s gentle bartender boyfriend. 

His knack for writing rich female characters of all ages has turned into a cottage industry for Robert Harling, who parlayed his little play into a successful, still-going-strong career as screenwriter and producer. Harling would work with Sally Field again in Soapdish and with Shirley MacLaine in Evening Star, the sequel to Terms of Endearment.

Dylan McDermott as Jackson Latcherie

All in all, for me the years have been kind to Steel Magnolias; it’s a film I really do love. (I haven’t yet seen the African-American TV film version made in 2012. Now I’m so attached to the film version, I hesitate, because I know it so well after umpteen viewings!) The actors are unforgettable and iconic. Having helmed the musical numbers in William Wyler’s film of Funny Girl (as well as directing its sequel Funny Lady), director Ross gives the film a rhythmic musical flow. Lively southern music and the picturesque Natchitoches Louisiana locations lend charm and authenticity to the proceedings. And ultimately, it achieves, in the words of Truvy,  a  mixture of “laughter through tears—my favorite emotion.”

Director Herbert Ross and his all-stars