Monday, June 30, 2014

Deliciously loopy, THE FAN warns, "Think twice before sending a fan letter to Lauren Bacall."

As a youngster in 1979, I read a very suspenseful novel by playwright Bob Randall called THE FAN. It was a quite a snappy little read that was written, rather cleverly, in nothing but letters, memos, dairy pages, newspaper clippings, etc... which not only added to the fun but turned the whole affair into a mystery that swept the reader along as sort of a reluctant police detective. The novel ended with a bit of surprise for all concerned. (More on that later.)
 
From the KIRKUS REVIEW April 15th 1977
Write him two letters (fan letters), or maybe even three – Mr. Randall has written a whole novel of them, and it could be one of the catchiest items of the season. The letters here include the complaints that N.Y. apartment-dwelling actress Sally Ross gets from neighbors about nocturnal noise, and Sally's constant, chatty communiques to ex-husband Jake whom she really still loves (he married young Heidi in a moment of glandular distraction), and also the increasingly importunate writings of a fan, The Fan, someone called Douglas Breen, who works in a record store. Sally is 46 (Jake says she's being ""Gaborish'), and she has low moments when she feels that she looks like ""what's left in Grant's Tomb"" and needs cheering up from faithful secretary-friend Belle. But, to The Fan, Sally's an ""explosion of adorableness,"" and his communications become more and more insistent, even threatening. Then someone mugs and carves Belle up on a subway platform, and Sally is left quite unprotected. The police write memos to each other about the assailant that they can't identify. Is he perhaps the one who writes and writes and writes and is frightening Sally into a pill-hazed funk? Randall's collection of letterheads – half covert horror, half disarming humor – should sneak right up on you with all the ominous pleasures of reading someone else's mail.
 
In 1980 Paramount Pictures began work adapting THE FAN for the big screen starring a cast of Hollywood veterans. With Lauren Bacall, James Garner, Maureen Stapleton, Hector Elizondo and produced by Robert Stigwood, it was very clear that Paramount was not trying for a big-budget slasher picture. The atmospheric score was written by Brian DePalma favorite Pino Donaggio, while two new musical numbers (yes, musical numbers!) were composed by Marvin (A Chorus Line) Hamlisch and Tim (Chess, Evita) Rice.

SPOILER ALERT: At this time, it was also made clear that the script would retain the novel's original shocking ending where the deranged fan fakes his own death to flush the terrified star out of hiding and succeeds in killing her. (The aforementioned surprise.)

However, somewhere between the transfer from book to screenplay to local cinema, extraordinary circumstances, beyond the control of your average film studio, clearly got in the way. When in December of 1980, John Lennon was shot and killed by an obsessed fan, it was decided that the original ending to the story would be considered in poor taste, so a more upbeat, 'good triumphs over evil' ending was conceived - much to the detriment of the tale itself - turning the film into what the studio was probably trying to avoid in the first place; a very expensive 1980s formulaic slasher flick.

With her patented haughty glare, overconfident Lauren Bacall transparently thinks that she's outclassing the proceedings. An aging Hollywood glamour queen better known for her former show biz husbands and her digs in a landmark apartment building than for any of her creaky, Broadway musical "star vehicles," Bacall here is playing --- how did you know? -- precisely that. When servants sing "Happy Birthday," Bacall snaps, "As of today, I'm going to be forty-five forever." Secretary Maureen Stapleton mutters, "Forty-nine," and Bacall admits to "Fifty," but since none of these figures seem remotely plausible, it's all the stranger that young, hunky Michael Biehn sends mash notes that blather, "We'll be lovers soon and I have all the necessary equipment to make you very happy."

Stapleton writes back, admonishing Biehn's "tasteless pornography," making Biehn worry -- in voice-over, to us -- about Stapleton's "possessiveness," asking, "Has it ever occurred to you that she might have lesbian tendencies?" Bacall snarls at Stapleton, "We've had lots of weirdos. What about the guy who kept trying to jump into the taxi with me? Don't upset my fans." Stapleton (who has the upper hand because she can act) replies, "Did it ever occur to you that my job isn't exactly heaven? (meaning, presumably, costarring with Bacall) I'm a Secret Service escort, a butler, a nurse, a letter-writing machine, a floor mop . . . ten, twelve hours a day!" While we're mulling that one over -- "a floor mop"? -- Bacall simpers, "What would I do without you?"

Cue Biehn to start rampaging around with a razor, slicing up Stapleton, Bacall's maid, and even a featured dancer in Bacall's new show. Speaking of which, it should be noted that Bacall, while no singer, managed to score not one but two Tony Awards for her two musical stints on Broadway. But any clues as to why will not be found watching her sing and dance her way through THE FAN. Instead, your jaw will drop as one tough-to-top, insane routine follows another, with sparkling chorus boys praising -- in "you've never heard of 'em before, you've never heard of 'em since" tunes by Hamlisch and Rice -- the charms of the ageless Bacall. (The show is, of course, a triumph.)

Later, Biehn chases Bacall -- swathed in an evening gown -- through the empty theater. Finally he stands over her, razor in hand and Bacall snaps, "You're pathetic. Here's your chance to be like one of those hoodlums who kill their victims for nothing, a thief who murders little old ladies for a quarter. Don't you think the world's had enough of people like you? I've had it," and -- having apparently monologued him into submission -- she grabs the razor and kills Biehn, then exits the theater, heading for her opening night celebration. (
Wouldn't you?)
 
As an interesting side-note, THE FAN in its cinema, VHS, BETA, and Laser Disc incarnations includes the following voiceover line in a note left behind by Biehn to Bacall, just after the scene where he kills her maid: "Dearest Bitch, See how accessible you are? How would you like to be fucked with a meat cleaver?" For some idiotic reason, The last line was omitted from the DVD! Was this just a simple oversight or was it the powers at Paramount saying that even serial killers should be politically correct? Discuss.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Delicious look at Zeffirelli's ENDLESS LOVE proves that when young love is concerned, where there's smoke, there's fire - literally!

Combatting the ruins of a recent house fire (caused when my Madame Trousseau electric hairdyer 6000 decided that life had finally become unbearable and decided to go out, not with a whimper, but with a bonfire), meant dinner and dancing with husband Jim was utterly out of the question. But romance will not be damned. If we could not make sparks on the dance floor, we would make sparks in front of the dvd player. 

A recent remake of ENDLESS LOVE had me nostalgic for my younger days when I saw the original version in theaters and swooned with delight over the acting eyebrows of Brooke Shields and Martin Hewitt. While there has never been an official US dvd release of the film, yours truly has her ways, and I trundled into my secret stash to find the old 1981 chestnut with the promise to Jim that getting my way was the only way that he would have his.

Filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli, hoping to reignite his lukewarm career with a swoony, romantic teen tragedy (aping his earlier smash Romeo and Juliet) only pulled off the swoony part with this misguided, hooty attempt to launch ‘70s prepubescent pinup Shields into adult stardom. Saddled with Brooke Shields and newcomer Martin Hewitt - two dreamy-looking dead weights who’d make better bookends than film stars - Zeffirelli tries, hilariously, to divert our attention from their inability to act by encouraging the film’s other players to overact up a storm. "Too much self-dramatizing around here!" snaps Beatrice Straight as if (1) she’d just come from watching the rushes, and (2) she weren’t guilty as sin herself.

The movie, a yarn about star-crossed Chicago teens who go mad when torn apart (already laughably preposterous when Splendor in the Grass was filmed twenty years earlier), throws together the son of two politically aware do-gooders with the daughter of two "free-spirits." whose home "is the joke of the neighborhood - into drugs, into everything - a relic of the ‘60s."

Earth mama Shirley Knight likes that Hewitt is spending the nights in fifteen-year-old Shields’ bedroom; she asks hippy hubby Don Murray, "Aren’t you happy that someone has the courage to wake up Sleeping Beauty?" (Shields looks to us like she’s been sleepwalking from beginning to end.) Knight explains, "He hides in the house till they think we’re asleep and he scuttles away at dawn. They’re rather sweet - like bats."

Bats is the word, all right, for the sequence where Zeffirelli whips up a veritable operatic quartet of Bad Acting: Murray screams at Shields, "I don’t want him in your room!" Shields wails, "You’re just jealous!" Knight shrieks at Murray, "You’re a hell of a doctor - she’s hysterical!" and Shields’ brother James Spader shouts "There’s something wrong with that guy!" - all at the same time.

Forbidden to see Shields (or even her nude body double), Hewitt goes off the deep end, takes the advice of arson enthusiast Tom Cruise, and sets fire to Shields’ house - taking the notion of "carrying a torch’ a tad far. Hewitt’s sent to a psychiatric hospital (where he has "visions" of Shields in earlier scenes) and, as is so often the case when a teen torches a house, the marriages of both families fall apart.

"Get me out of here!" Hewitt rages to his folks - a sentiment you’ll share before the movie’s over - so (get this) they do, and Hewitt hotfoots it to Manhattan, where he gets vamped by the divorced Knight, chased by Murray (who mercifully for us, is hit by a taxi and killed), and reunited with Shields, who hasn’t learned one single thing about acting in all the years they’ve been apart. What any of this has to do with love is anybody’s guess, but it’s certainly endless.

Needless to say, husband Jim did get lucky that evening - it was the least I could do.

 

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I'm just an ordinary housewife and mother...just like all you ordinary housewives and mothers out there.