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Two for the Seesaw

Interesting film which doesn't work as The Apartment 2
Many good reviews of this film here already. I'm just going to focus on the similarities to my personal favourite film The Apartment and make one other observation.

Clearly since Two For The Seesaw was made by the same company, the Mirisch Corporation just two years after Wilder's film this was an attempt to follow up (cash in?) on the success of that one. Shirley Maclaine stars in both but now playing a rather less idealised character. I wonder if Jack Lemmon turned down the chance to play the male lead because Robert Mitchum is not conventional enough to be really convincing. The soundtracks of both films are very similar and that can't be a coincidence even allowing for the tastes of the period. Even some of the sets look almost identical. Would they still exist from The Apartment? I'm not sure.

Someone obviously saw possibilities in the original stage play to transfer it to film as The Apartment 2. In my view however because the tone of Two For The Seesaw is different from The Apartment it might have benefited from being handled differently rather than accentuating the similarities.

And my other observation is this: At one point Mitchum whacks Maclaine across the face, knocking her to the floor and she hardly objects. It was probably shocking at the time but is beyond disgusting today. It means the film and no doubt the play will likely remain period pieces for ever more. Contrast that to the sunnier tone of The Apartment when Lemmon gets clobbered. It's funny and touching because we know he didn't deserve it, although in the context of the film he has it coming to him.

Café Society

Plot line from The Apartment
If like me you are a big fan of Billy Wilder's film The Apartment you might have noticed that the plot line during the first half of Café Society is identical. Jesse Eisenberg is trying to date a woman from work, Kristen Stewart, unaware that she is the girlfriend of his boss - in this case also his uncle. That relationship is also revealed to him using a similar device. I have to say that The Apartment is my favourite film but it's still nice to see the twist which Woody Allen puts on it at the end. Wilder's film has the famous happy ending with Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine getting together. Even for fans like me this seems slightly improbable. Maybe that's part of the appeal. However Allen ends his film just as in the original with a New Year's Eve party (itself reminiscent of Radio Days) And he comments on, as he often does, the sadder, truer reality of life because Eisenberg and Stewart fail to get together, despite regrets. I wonder what Woody Allen actually thinks of The Apartment because there's an excerpt of an interview with Robert Weide on YouTube in which Allen names Some Like It Hot, the other famous Wilder/Lemmon film, as a classic he didn't like. Most if not all of Woody Allen's films are a play on some other classic film, theatrical drama or novel. I recall a quote from Isabella Rossellinii complaining about Allen lifting the plot of Sweet And Lowdown from Fellini's La Strada - as if it was a bad thing. To me, this form of borrowing simply gives an extra depth to his films that sometimes gets overlooked.

The Terence Davies Trilogy

A great, great film.
A genuine masterpiece. I learned about this film when it was included in a list of great forgotten films in the Observer newspaper. In order to see it though I had to buy a VHS copy from America. So it doesn't surprise me that there aren't more comments about it here.

The first part of the trilogy seems clearly influenced by the first part of the Bill Douglas trilogy (also very difficult to find - I saw this on the Sky Arts channel earlier this year) to which it bears a strong resemblance in style and content. Also a caning in the headmaster's office is reminiscent of a similar scene in "Kes".

The second part is quite different to Douglas. It is much more fluid and dynamic, interweaving the major themes of the work, homosexual longing, a son's love for his mother and personal religious experience. The mother's funeral,in particular, with the soundtrack of a lovely Doris Day song has a poetic quality which is deeply affecting.

The final part is concise and the death bed scene is remarkably powerful and unforgettable. Seeing this film and realising how outstanding it is makes me sad that it is not much more widely celebrated.

The Rockford Files: Forced Retirement
Episode 11, Season 4

The "Larry Hagman" episode
This is how I always remember this episode since soon after Larry Hagman became synonymous with his role as JR in "Dallas". Curiously at one point his character says "...the more I'm involved in the oil business the less I'm surprised". The things I like here - the plot revolving around the development of a submersible craft for oil exploration and the complexities of the financing and insurance gives the episode the feel of real substance to it. The fact that Beth's client was also a former college rival and the difficulties this places her in means there is always more going on than a straightforward investigation. The scam which Angel runs in restaurants show once again what a brilliant comic creation he is. He can always be relied upon by the writers to drop Rockford in more trouble.

The Last of the Cowboys

Elegant John and the ladies
It has to be said that this is a pretty terrible film. Nevertheless I watched it again recently and quite enjoyed it so I feel I ought to say something positive. First of all you would think that a film with a cast which includes Henry Fonda, Eileen Brennan, Dub Taylor and Susan Sarandon should have something going for it. The tone of the overall film is of a rather cartoonish comedy but the early scenes hint at something more substantial. Henry Fonda as Elegant John is ill and probably dying and the cross country drive he undertakes is his way of defying death. Yet this theme is never explored any further. Elegant John's reminiscences about meeting Eleanor Roosevelt in the Depression era clearly evoke Henry Fonda's role in John Ford's film "The Grapes of Wrath". Indeed when Elegant John picks up Beebo this exactly parallels the opening scene of "The Grapes of Wrath" when Tom Joad hitches a lift. None of this is played out in the rest of the film The women from the whorehouse are endearing and funny and if the film had stuck to playing out their adventures it might have been much more rewarding. But half way through the film something goes horribly wrong. Perhaps the filmmakers lost their nerve, ran short of funds or had the film cut to ribbons in editing but the latter part of the film bears no relation to what has gone before. The women virtually disappear without explanation. The irritating John Byner and Austin Pendleton characters appear and take over. This whole element of the film feels like a reshoot or reedit grafted on to the earlier picture. Pity. There is also, incidentally, a really excellent score by Craig Safan which deserved far better.

Bad Ronald

Captures perfectly youthful feelings of loneliness and isolation
I watched this TV movie in January 1979 on television in England one weekday afternoon when I was off school. I was 15 years old and having a miserable time in my life. Bad Ronald captured perfectly my feelings of loneliness, isolation, being trapped and retreating into myself. You can imagine that I identified closely with Ronald's experience and the film made a lasting impression on me as it seems to have done on others. A couple of years ago I did manage to get hold of it on video and saw for the first time in a quarter of a century. Happily I can watch it now with much greater detachment. The director Buzz Kulik is better known, I believe, for Brian's Song but Bad Ronald deserves to be remembered too.

The Rockford Files

Full of great character actors from that era
A cable channel in England is currently showing the whole of the Rockford Files in sequence on week days (in the middle of series 3 at the moment). As an only slightly reluctant house husband and baby changer in the mornings over the last few months my one luxury has been to see almost all the episodes to date back to back. I enjoyed Rockford as a teenager when it was first broadcast in the late 70's and many episodes again on late night TV in the mid 80's. Seeing them so close together now I am really astonished at their enduring quality. They have not dated at all unlike series like Ironside, Kojak and Starsky and Hutch. They are beautifully shot and the editing and music enhance even the most routine episode. They look so fresh in fact that it is hard to believe that you are watching actors many of whom have long since passed away. One of Rockford's achievements, I think, is that countless remarkable and familiar character actors of the period are captured in their prime. I believe that The Rockford Files will only be held in higher and higher regard in the future.

The Rockford Files: Sticks and Stones May Break Your Bones, But Waterbury Will Bury You
Episode 13, Season 3

Waterbury Watergate
An episode written by David "Sopranos" Chase one element of this story is a witty and quite subtle light parody of Watergate. Jim becomes aware that several local PIs have had their licences revoked and sets out to prove that a large corporate investigative agency is trying to ruin the opposition. One of the ironies is that the case can be solved by breaking into the Waterbury (Watergate - get it) building. Becker even asks Jim who his "secret source" (Deep Throat!) is. At Waterbury a John Dean-esquire character asks his boss who casually resembles Nixon "Do you want him killed?" "I never said that" says the boss! The Watergate spoof adds an element of realism to a story which otherwise wouldn't seem very plausible. After all nobody guessed at the truth behind the Watergate break-in when it first broke. Excellent.

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