Genre Work

Genre Work:

Erin a.k.a. EB brings up EVITA (1997)
Grey Zone 1 presents an article on SAMBO


Al Dekker:
Yes! Our Smithee working in the musical, war, and exploitation genres; and yet each film has that signature style we all love. Thanks, Erin and GZ, for your fine research.
It's so hard to pick, but I think you're neglecting a short-lived but important interlude in his career. I'm speaking of course of SMITHEE'S MACBETH , which had a brief run at the Thalia in 1977. Yvonne de Carlo played Lady MacBeth, Juliet Lewis in her first screen appearance played the baby she dashed against the wall in a magnificent splatter sequence (and I think it explains a lot that Lewis performed her own stunts), and the ever-popular Smithee staples Patrick McGoohan--as MacBeth, and John Saxon-- in a virtuoso turn, playing several supporting roles. The film was further distinguished by its casting of Michael MacLiammoir, who had starred in Orson Welles' OTHELLO and made something of a comeback in WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? (1971) .

Smithee intended to out-Welles Welles, asking the cast to deliver their lines in unintelligible Scottish accents, and it really worked magnificently. He also adopted a monochromatic red color scheme for the film that is nothing if not creepy, although the colors have already faded and all the prints you see now (and they don't pop up much, maybe on late night TV once in a while, I hear William K. Everson has 15 prints) look like they've been dipped in red clay. His most scholarly and, I think, most affecting effort. Yvonne de Carlo breaks your heart, she really does. It is, at the core, a love story.

Grey Zone 1:
Indeed. When Smithee's work breaks one's heart, it stays broken. I bow to the fine scholarship of Ms. Graham in regards to this criminally neglected, and so often imitated work.
toxic shakti:
And let us not forget Smithee's radical version of KING LEAR, starring Jerry Lewis in a dual role as Edward and the Fool. Maybe Jer thought he was reprising his split-personality number in THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, but Smithee coaxed the Frogs' Fave into depths of characterization that he would not approach again until Scorsese's THE KING OF COMEDY. When Jerry, as the Fool, says, "Gosh, Mr. Lear. That Reagan!! She took away you-your knights...and EVERYTHING!" one at last realizes the elemental pathos of Lear's situation. The film's only drawback is that Jerry eclipses Keenan Wynn's more stolid Lear, who does more slow-burn fuming than actual ranting. (Granted, too, Wynn seems to be reprising his star turn in the legendary SHACK OUT ON 101). Mamie Van Doren holds her own as Goneril, though: by always shooting her from below, Smithee gave her breasts the appearance of seige weapons. And Barbara Steel gave a soupcon of authentic English grandeur to Cordelia, particularly during her death-by-flaying scene Once again, Smithee proves himself equal to the most demanding material, deviating from the strictures of mere fidelity in order to rediscover the bleak heart of Shakespeare's vision
Al Dekker:
Yes! Exceptional observations, Mr. Shakti.
Smithee's Ealing productions ( MRS. EVANS' BLEPHAROPLASTY (1952) and DON'T I KNOW IT! (1954)) featured cameos from the young Peter Sellers and the even younger Paul and Mike McCartney as tap dancing siamese twins and their wacky surgeon father (MRS. E.'S B. ) and Sellers again as a dustman with a very peculiar problem (DON'T I KNOW IT). Musical sequences featuring the harmonica of Goon Show regular Ray Ellington were supposed to draw in the crowds, but people were just not in a movie mood in England in those years.
x. trapnel:
One is rarely in the mood for a Smithee film, and when one is the matter is probably best taken care of either through strong medication or the brief application of a large mallet.
Al Dekker:
Regarding the Smithee Ealing films, I recall that even more of a thud resounded with THE WRONG WIDGIT (1955), the caper comedy with Herbert Lom in eight roles.

Smithee's free adaptation of ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1967) is another interesting case from the British period. One couldn't ask for a better cast: Julie Christie in the title role, James Fox and Dirk Bogarde as the March Hare and the Mad Hatter, Ruth Gordon as the Queen of Hearts, Mick Jagger as the Mock Turtle; but everyone just looks confused. The director's continual references to '60s London culture---day-glo set design, marijuana at the tea party, "light show" effects during Christie's shrinking/growing scenes, the Queen's soldiers as fascist thugs in playing-card motifed police uniforms---grow tiresome after 30 minutes. This initially was to be a Joseph Losey project---what a different film that would have been.

I'll say!

And what a different film Norman Jewison's JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR was from Smithee's Christian-musical-bandwagon-jumping-ripoff effort of the following year (1974), THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE DESERT: JOHN THE JAZZMAN BAPTIST , starring Ben Vereen. I'll go ahead and quote the lyrics of the title song (no one took credit for the music and lyrics of course, and it was thought to have been taken from Andrew Lloyd Weber's wastebasket by Smithee's assistant while Weber was writing SUPERSTAR) to save you the trouble--I think we've all had them stuck in our heads at inopportune moments.

Crying crying! Crying crying!
Oh ho ho I'm cryin' in the desert

Weeping oh no I'm not weeping
Hear my cry! I beseech you!

Coming coming! Coming coming!
Oh Lord Oh Lord he's coming
To bring you his ever lovin'
Ever lovin' ever lovin' ever lovin'
Bringing you his ever lovin' love!

Predictably, Maltin gives it one star and calls it "turgid," but he's overlooking scenes that are downright visionary--I'm referring of course to the dream sequences in which John the Jazzman discusses man's future with a brontosaur, and another in which he sings a searching duet with Charles Darwin (John Gielgud) about doubting creationism. If the 70s was the decade that made a hippie of Jesus, Smithee was the iconoclast who asked broader theological and philosophical questions. And without losing one iota of entertainment value. I'm with Kael on this one anyway--she called it "a valentine to the New Testament."

Grey Zone 1:
My God--I'd forgotten entirely about JOHN THE JAZZMAN BAPTIST. There are treasures here.

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Copyright 1996 by the respective authors