28 July 2007 | litlgrey
Extraordinarily unsatisfying viewing for none and null
Despite the producers attempts to make a film with some semblance of a budget and cinemascope and bright, pretty colors, the film just seems to be an extraordinary cheat on all levels. Unlike "M*A*S*H," also from 1969 but from 20th Century Fox, "The Extraordinary Seaman" clearly uses stock newsreels as a cheap crutch and as a substitute for advancing action - and when that wasn't enough, they further padded its meager 80 minute running time by manipulating the footage. The attempt throughout to blur the line between newsreels and the film's own footage is clumsily handled. For contrast, try the way this same line was more deftly and more trippily blurred by Richard Lester in 1967's "How I Won the War" with John Lennon. As others here have observed, the breaking of this film into six named "parts" was a pointless exercise. Hell, it didn't work any better when "Frasier" did it on TV years later, did it? Major comedic talents - in particular Mickey Rooney and Jack Carter - are simply wasted in subservient roles, and are allowed to disappear before the film's ignominious conclusion. The casting of the secondary leads, Alda and Dunaway, was just really strange, considering that neither actor projects any kind of romantic vitality. (I would insert that Alda has clearly never developed as an actor, and from that day to this - and as many have observed - he just plays himself in role after role, and merely runs his lines without adding either depth or nuance to characterizations.) I'd say it was astounding how Paddy Chayefsky used Dunaway's reputation as an on screen ice-bitch to monumental advantage in 1976's "Network," with perhaps the most hilarious sex scene ever filmed: the one with William Holden in which she never stops yammering about work for a second. In "The Extraordinary Seaman," there's no clear reason why her character is even there. In fact, the only actor who projects any warmth or depth is David Niven, who makes it all look easy as befits a grand actor of his caliber. However, the role he makes look easy is itself a stupid cheat - a gimmick role that I feel most people in the audience would have figured out long before Alda's character did, due to their 1960's training with twist-ending TV shows such as "The Twilight Zone" and "The Outer Limits." Niven's ever-refilling bottle is the only decent throwaway gag in the entire proceedings, and thankfully John Frankenheimer displayed the judicious restraint to keep the gag from filling the center of the frame as a hack director might have. Alda's character made sure to point each! and! every! other! facet! of Niven's character's quirks to the audience... several times. Even his attempt at mutiny and his repeated man overboard gags are ineptly handled. As a further "goof," one reaction shot of Alda in full face (Part V or VI) is quite clearly reversed and is as painfully obvious as some shots of William Shatner you find in the miserable last year of "Star Trek" in which the same thing was repeatedly done. And by the way, didn't some of those overturned trees in the run-aground sequence look awfully fake? Before TCM ran this film, I had never even heard of it, and now it's clear I know why. It never should have been made.