Friday, October 29, 2010

Committing Hairy Scary!

I wanted to post something Halloween related as the big day nears, but I simply didn’t have the time to devote to it because of the usual gripe of work interfering with my blogging (!) and also the fact that my evenings (prime TV & movie viewing time, as a rule) have been taken up with preparations for my annual Halloween party. Cleaning, cooking, decorating and other planning have overtaken The Underworld!

I decided to pop out a little blurb dedicated to a theme I had been considering anyway, that being hair that is scary in the world of television and films. Now these are not cases of a performer deliberately donning frightening hair on purpose. Most of these are incidents in which the participant was either trying to look good or at least the stylists were attempting to make the performer look good, but the end result fell short. These aren’t even the worst examples out there, perhaps, just ones that sprang to my mind right now. I’d love to hear some of your own favorite hair horrors from the cinema and TV.

What first led me on this path was the remark Stella Stevens made about how Gene Hackman hated to acknowledge The Poseidon Adventure because he was upset about the way they teased and fluffed up his hair for the movie. Hackman, like many a male before and since, was folically-challenged and, like many a male before and since, was sensitive about it. (He even refused to play Lex Luthor shown as bald for most of his appearances in the Superman films, even though the character had been conceived and portrayed that way in the comics for decades!)

What they did to him for the interior scenes was not very attractive, but it was hardly enough to throw a hissy fit over. Where the wheels came off were the outdoor scenes, filmed aboard the Queen Mary (docked, but facing the Pacific Ocean where breezes swept in heavily.) His homemade toupee of frizzled hair kept blowing up and off his scalp and this was kept in the film, to his apparent embarrassment.

Thing was, how could he complain to the producer when the hairstyle he’d been given was merely a reinvention/representation of Irwin Allen’s own dastardly S.O.S. pad comb over?! Allen was not likely to be all ears to hear how horrible the hairdo was to Hackman when it was a near doppelganger for his own crown-topper!

One of my least favorite hair don’ts from a classic movie standpoint is the decision to give Joanne Woodward the look she possessed in The Long Hot Summer. True, her character is meant to be an uptight, sexually repressed Southern belle, but they took things just a tad far. She dons the tightest bun in celluloid history with some “wook Mommy, I did ‘em myself!” bangs in the front that set off her eternally sour expressions in the worst way. It would have been one thing to have her hair that severe in the beginning of the movie, relaxing it a little as her character continued to soften, but, no… she sports this unappealing look throughout, easily allowing costar Lee Remick the ability to gather most of the attention (that is, on the rare occasion our eyes aren’t trained on Paul Newman!)

Speaking of Paul Newman and Irwin Allen… Miss Jacqueline Bisset starred opposite Paul and was hired by Irwin in the disaster debacle When Time Ran Out. While it can be argued (and I will certainly do the arguing!) that it is almost impossible for Jackie to not look good, she tries her darndest here to prove people wrong. Yes, I might be spoiled by the clean, auburn bob (wig) she sported in Airport or the thick brown shoulder length hair she had in Bullit, but by this time in her career, she was spending a lot of time with a frizzy, fluffy, unruly mess on her head that looked like an ungroomed French poodle. It was this way in Rich and Famous, too, among other projects. Like I said, she is still beautiful, but this unkempt, frazzled ‘do is not my favorite. (And I have a cardinal rule with regards to actors and actresses: Do not obscure the face, the chief instrument in emoting!)

At the other side of the spectrum was the time, in 1968, when she hastily replaced Mia Farrow in Frank Sinatra’s The Detective. Mia was busy filming Rosemary’s Baby and was delayed in reporting to her then-hubby Frank’s film, in which she had a role as a sort of quasi-love interest. Frank got so mad at Mia for not walking out on Baby that he fired her from The Detective and filed for divorce! Thus, Jacqueline was swiftly shuttled in, but all the clothes for the character had been deliberately asexually designed for the waifish Farrow with her close-cropped pixie ‘do. The solution was to slap a short brown wig on Bissett and be done with it, even though the look was not as flattering on her as it was on the boyish Farrow.

Again, Bissett is always lovely, but this was not one of the more stellar looks in her repertoire, especially when styled askew instead of neatly combed to one side! For whatever reason, she and Ol’ Blue Eyes shared virtually no chemistry together, though by then he was clearly fed up with his soon to be ex-wife and probably, however unintentionally, transferred some of his resentment to Farrow’s replacement.

I’m always going on about how Goldie Hawn seems to have kept the same hairdo for decades, long after its shelf life has expired. Then I come across something like Wildcats, where she shows off a badly sculpted, impossibly dated and unappealing mullet and I realize I should be grateful that she has clung to her long, layered locks as long as she has.

I admire some of Michael Caine’s acting, but, in my book, his hair has always been awful. Naturally curly, he used to part it and press it into an almost marcelled sort of thing. Then, as the 70s dawned, he let it get longer and more fluffy. In films like Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, The Swarm and The Hand, among a lot of others, he stuck to the same basic “style” of strawberry blonde, unruly curls, partially brushed to the side.

This was bad enough, but in The Hand his character becomes unhinged and he’s hooked up to some electrode monitors and here the horror really kicks in. He starts looking like he’s gearing up to play Art Garfunkel in a bio-pic. Fortunately, in more recent years, he has kept his mane tamed and clipped down to a reasonable length.

Then there’s the day that Henry Fonda won the Oscar for On Golden Pond. (No, I’m not nasty enough to pick on poor ol’ Hank when he was about to pass away!) He was too ill to attend the ceremony, so daughter Jane, who’d been nominated herself, was on hand to collect the statuette should he be named the winner. He was, of course, which meant that Jane came up to accept the award (I believe this practice is no longer allowed except in rare, pre-approved circumstances.) She revealed to the world, the most overly bouffant, massive mess of a hairstyle imaginable! This was in 1982, before even the most garish excesses of the 80s had come to pass, making it doubly shocking at the time.

Speaking of the 80s, one Miss Lisa Hartman (a costar of Knots Landing), who once had displayed simple, dishwater blonde locks with very little fixative, took to bleaching and frying her hair in every conceivable way. Her foray into music recording featured cover art of her permed, damaged tresses (and the back cover had her posing in lacy lingerie with a denim jacket over it!)

Before long, she was appearing everywhere in gravity defying dresses with strategic areas revealed such as her belly button or ribcage. Her hair got bigger and bigger and more and more obnoxious. (Hey, at least in this shot she was snuggled up to a then-slim, but ever hairy, Alec Baldwin.)

Finally, she went the distance and shot her hair out like possum fur, with the tips tinted dark! It was always a question: “What in the hell is Lisa Hartman going to wear and how outrageous will the hair be?” After marrying Clint Black, she started sporting far more demure looks and reverted to a darker shade for a lot of the time. In fact, for the past decade or two, she has demonstrated extreme GOOD taste in hair and her mane is surprisingly, impossibly, healthy considering what it went through before.

The opposite is true for our next star, Dyan Cannon. In the 1960s, Dyan had the most wonderfully thick, frosted head of long hair. It was off her face and looked like it would take two people to brush properly. As the late 70s came to pass, she went in for the feathery Farrah Fawcett type of hair and seemed hell bent on getting it as big and as full as was possible.

On the rare occasions that she wore it up, there was so much of it and it was so voluminous that she looked like her neck could snap from the weight of it. It began to overwhelm her! Between that and the fuzzy, fussy sweaters she enjoyed wearing, we were having trouble finding Dyan in all the mess.

It’s only gotten worse, though. For years now, she has clung to the long, curly, untamed, Cousin Itt style that obscures most of her (now heavily cosmetic surgery enhanced) features. Somewhere under all the crunchy, sticky curls is the Dyan Cannon we once knew, but good luck finding her. Someone needs to do an intervention.

Over the years, Mr. Burt Reynolds has shown off a wide, wide display of hairpieces. Some of them, and no I am not kidding, have actually looked really good on him (primarily the ones of a shorter variety with some grey flecks in them.) My least favorite of them all is this horror, a bouffant, curly, greasy-looking beast that looks like something a prematurely bald teen would wear if he were cast as Danny Zukko in his school’s production of Grease! Burt was not doing very well at this stage, what with his jaw injury and the soul-draining marriage to Loni, but fortunately he ditched this before too long. (PS-Why do Loni's tits look like the tan lady from There's Something About Mary??)

On the subject of Burt, I can’t resist this last one, even though the look was surely meant to reflect the character rather than the actress. When he made The Longest Yard (the original, natch!), prison inmate Burt had a love scene with the warden’s secretary, a woman with the most off the charts insane tower of hair since The Bride of Frankenstein!

And who was this blonde lovely who found herself unable to resist Mr. R’s charms? None other than the legendary Broadway diva Miss Bernadette Peters!! Now we know what it looks like when she opts to blow-dry and brush out those famously tight curls and it ain’t too pretty.

As you enter the holiday weekend, be careful, but have lots of fun! When in doubt, wig it! I’ll be back soon with yet another post about something related to the endlessly fascinating world of screen stars and their works.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Let's Go on an Adventure(er)!

The notorious 1969 howler The Adventurers (based on a Harold Robbins novel) can be called many things: long, tasteless, idiotic, even dull to some folks, but it can never be called cheap. This is an expensive and often, visually anyway, quite impressive saga with many glorious scenic views and jaw-dropping interior locations. Stargazers like myself can also take pleasure in the parade of internationally known faces that pop up throughout. A rather racy film in its day, it includes plentiful violence, some nudity and even rape, among other things. The poster, incidentally, has artwork taken from a naked, poolside love scene, but someone has dicreetly drawn "bathing suit" lines on the bodies!
The story concerns Dax Xenos who, as a boy (Loris Loddi, the star of the film for the first thirty minutes), witnesses the savage slaughter of his mother and sister at the hands of soldiers in his native country of Corteguay (a sort of made-up stand-in for Colombia or similar South American nation.) His father (Fernando Rey), a revolutionary, assists the new leader Alan Badel in rising to power and taking over the nation, but pays the price when his family is slain in retaliation.

The murders ignite a hatred in the boy, who very quickly becomes a man and opens fire on some of the captive enemies. He is placed in the home of Badel where he begins to get to know his daughter, who is close to him in age. Unfortunately, that compound is attacked and the two children must flee, eventually undertaking a horrendous journey through rugged terrain. They form a bond with each other that lasts, in some way or another, for the rest of their lives.

He is sent away to boarding school where he initially fights with, but eventually forms lifelong friendships with, two other boys of privilege. The three young men remain closely knit for the rest of their days, first as schoolmates, then as playboys, then as entrepreneurs. (If young Loddi looks at all familiar, he played Caesarian, Elizabeth Taylor's son, in the epic Cleopatra several years earlier.)

Cut to a dozen or so years later and Dax (now played by Bekim Fehmiu) is an idle, polo-playing ladies man in Rome who has practically forgotten about the long ago savagery in Corteguay. He pursues the lovely Delia Boccardo (or, rather, she pursues him!) However, when new events in his homeland draw his attention, he sets out to earn enough money to exact revenge and begin yet a new regime in the endlessly war-torn country.

What better way to earn dough than to rent himself out as a gigolo to rich American wives such as Olivia de Havilland?! That's actually only step one in his plan. He uses the money from that enterprise to help build a fashion house (!) with his dethroned, Russian-royal schoolmate Thommy Berggren. When even that takes too long, he sets his sites on pretty American heiress Candice Bergen, who he meets through de Havilland, but once again he falls off the track of his ultimate goal until he finds that he has more to fight for than just his homeland. His childhood sweetheart (now played by Leigh Taylor-Young) displays to him what he needs in order to reignite his fighting spirit and rebuild Corteguay.

This is a sprawling story from an even more sprawling book. The posters and ads proclaimed the fact that “nothing has been left out of The Adventurers,” but, in truth, plenty was omitted despite a long running time. (It had to be or the film would have run six hours!) The still photo shown here to the left is from a scene of the movie itself that was “left out!” Also, a chunk of Fehmiu's life is skipped over and two of his marriages aren't even shown!, but it could have been whittled down just a little if the opening scenes had been streamlined and some of the unwieldy battle sequences shortened a bit. As it stands, viewers tuning in for the action scenes are bored by the soap opera histrionics while lovers of camp and over-the-top melodrama are bored by all the explosions and gunplay.

However, for those willing to wait out the bad for the good (no matter which is which), there are a few things here worth seeing. The cinematography of the film, by Claude Renoir, is magnificent. He also photographed Barbarella and The Spy Who Love Me among many others. The scenery, the production design, the lighting, the decor and the costumes are all eye-catching. (Production design is by the same man who did 2001: A Space Odyssey.) Lawrence of Arabia’s Oscar-winner Anne Coates did the editing, though she could have pruned even more if you ask me. The battle scenes are well done and the amount of extras used is staggering to behold. Long before CGI came along, someone had to wrangle the thousands of people present in the various scenes shown here and it pays off magnificently. The director also helmed three James Bond films among many others in his lengthy career (though they aren’t considered the very best ones by too many fans: You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.)
As for the acting... Fehmiu is legendarily bad. He has a few effective moments, but is nowhere near appealing and multidimensional enough to carry a role like this in a film like this! Considered by many to be an attractive and virile (if wooden) leading man, he is something of a hatchet face with a lean, well-defined body. The character is never completely likable, but is made even less so by having such an uncharismatic, sullen, inexpressive person in the lead. He has two love scenes that are riotous. One with Boccardo by a pool has him surrounded by almost voyeuristic statues leering and looming and another with Bergen in a steamy, exotic greenhouse has genetalia-esque plants hovering and staring! Fehmiu’s character (allegedly based in part on Porfirio Rubirosa) was first offered to George Hamilton and Alain Delon, both of whom turned it down.

Bergen is very uneven. Her early scenes are a bit awkward, her middle scenes better, but her later ones are hysterically awful as she inexplicably affects a bizarre accent that comes out of nowhere and she wanders around as if lobotomized. She is undeniably lovely, however, most of the time. Her wedding gown is very unusual, but I like it a lot. As she slips further into mental deterioration, she still remains quite glamorous. In fact, this shot of her in black is probably, for me, about the best she ever looked. I love the tousled bedroom hair (I was never much of a fan of her blow-dried Murphy Brown look.) Her character is inspired by heiress Barbara Hutton and the role was first offered to Mia Farrow, who also took a pass on the rather sordid script.

She and Fehmiu have one of the all-time loony courtship montages, something that was (and I guess still is!) a popular component of any cinematic love story. They are shown strolling together, bicycling, buying balloons and other usual stuff, but then there’s a shot of her biting into a massive shank of watermelon with no regard for the juice, seeds or anything, as she makes a big ol’ mess! (You really do need to click the photo and enlarge to see how disgusting it really is...) Her character remains a virgin until her 21st birthday, an occasion marked by a splediferous celebration, topped off by the aforementioned hothouse rutting session. Bergen also has one of the all-time crazy miscarriages, which, unfortunately, is more hysterically funny than sad, thanks to the circumstances, the styling, the music and the (obvious) male stuntman who takes the hit!

Ernest Borgnine, who plays Fehmiu's longtime personal bodyguard and friend, is ludicrous in sound and appearance at first, being completely miscast, but, fortunately, improves greatly as the film wears on. His initial scenes have him in a preposterous $4.99 brown Halloween wig, but that gives way to a more natural appearance in the later scenes. In one section of the film, he and Fehmiu are reunited after a long while and Borgnine, in a dress suit, is grappled by a dripping wet Fehmiu in teeny navy blue trunks. Fehmiu goes wild, embracing him and even hopping on his back and riding him like a bull for a moment!

De Havilland (still showing off quite a trim figure atthis juncture) does what is probably the closest thing she ever had to a nude scene, with only a sheet thrown over one shoulder as she romances Fehmiu and, at one point, a sliver of outer breast exposed as he snuggles up to her in bed. Her elegant character longs for the affection she doesn’t receive from her husband John Ireland. (Ireland, by the way, only appears in one scene, with his hands in his pockets for nearly the entire time, revealing something quite petrifying going on down below. No wonder Joan Crawford liked to take very long lunches with him during their movies together!) Anyway, Olivia manages to get through the movie relatively unscathed, as does Rossano Brazzi in a smallish role as one of Rey's Roman contacts and the father of Boccardo (though in one scene Brazzi has the dubious honor of having to traipse through a mansion full of strategically naked young people, worn out after a night of heavy partying and carousing!) Taylor-Young is handed a fairly colorless role, but is able to bring a little heart and appeal to it. She always drives me crazy due to her affinity for whispering every one of her lines, but at least she’s easy on the eyes. Ali MacGraw was offered this part and wisely said no thanks!

Charles Aznavour, one of France’s most beloved singing and acting personalities, has a sizeable role as one of Fehmiu’s business associates. He doesn’t perform any songs this time out. One hilarious camp highlight of the film is his secret den of iniquity, which, truly, must be seen to be believed. Words cannot do justice to the red velvet carpet, wrought iron and female nude statuary/furniture that combine to make up his soundproofed lust nest. He winds up regretting that he ever constructed the whole thing, however. One of his many female companions is (real life) opera singer Anna Moffo, who warbles part of a song as Berggren asks, “Is she that loud in bed?” Moffo, an American born child of Italian immigrants did quite a bit of work in Italy, including hosting a television program of her own from 1960 to 1973, which helped bring opera to the casual viewing audience.
Berggren, by the way, was a very popular Swedish actor who worked a few years prior to this in the highly successful Elvira Madigan and later worked with Ingmar Bergman-scripted Sunday's Children. He plays the friend who designs all the crazy clothes for the fashion house. Check out the hat his paying customer has on here, one of two she displays in her brief part in the film! It looks like it was designed by Mister Softee.

Another sequence not to be missed by any fan of 60's culture is the preposterous, ludicrous and thoroughly irresistible second fashion show (complete with it's "plethora" of seven outfits!) As the planet's funkiest song radiates across a flashing dance floor, the models thrash around in a wide array of styles that seem highly unlikely to be part of a particular “collection.” Their choreography is scream-out-loud hysterical. All sorts of people have gathered together to witness this rib-tickling spectacle that is more performance art than runway show.

Cinema fashion shows are always a riot because the style is antiquated sometimes as early as the film's release date and this one is high in the pantheon of rancidness and wondrousness. Reporting on the clothes is none other than "Teen Magazine reporter" Jaclyn Smith in one of her very earliest roles! I said second fashion show because there is an earlier one set inside a cave (!) with footmen and chariots bringing each model to the audience area (I am not making this up!) That one is hooty as well, but can’t hope to measure up to the one with the pulsating disco lights and throaty rock song.
The Adventurers is long, it's tacky, it's wacky and it's empty-headed, but it's also stylish, attractive, intriguing and quite a treat for fans of all-star casts and hopeless kitsch. Robbins’ pulpy novels were really best suited to the miniseries format where a few of them wound up such as 79 Park Avenue and The Dream Merchants. Typically, when his novels were adapted for the big screen, such as in The Carpetbaggers, Where Love Has Gone, The Betsy or The Lonely Lady, hilarity ensued, though that’s fine by me, too! I devour each of those wedges of cinematic cheese with relish.