Today is the birthday of Tony Richardson (1928-1991). His relevance to the themes of this blog rests on three of my favorite movies, all directed by him:
The Entertainer (1960) stars Laurence Olivier in one of his most memorable roles as broken-down music hall hack Archie Rice. Funny I didn’t mention it in my recent post about Olivier — it may well be his strongest performance on film. What’s especially cool about the movie is that it captured the death of music hall in the very instant that was happening (I can’t think of anything comparable having been done about American vaudeville, for example, when it died in the ’30s). That’s just the backdrop of the plot of course; the anti-hero Rice has many other dragons to slay over the course of this tragicomic film, shot at the English seaside resort of Morcombe.
Tom Jones (1963): One of my very favorite films – -I mention it in Chain of Fools for its use of silent comedy homage in certain scenes (some are sped up, MOS and done to old-fashioned music for comic effect). One of those rare movies that absolutely captures the spirit of the original novel, and I think it was a major influence on Richard Lester, thus really helping to set the free-spirited, liberated tone of a lot of pop culture of the 60s.
The Loved One (1965): Just watched this one again a few days ago after not having seen it since I was about 20, and WOW it totally reaffirmed its existing slot near the top of my list of favorites. Much like Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux, which it resembles in some ways, the movie flopped at the time it was released, but only because it was ahead of its time. It must have influenced EVERYBODY: John Waters, Hal Ashby (who was the editor on this film, but went on to emulate it in Harold and Maude), Robert Altman, David Lynch, I could go on.
Adapted from an Evelyn Waugh novelette by Terry Southern (who was fresh off of Dr. Strangelove), this black comedy movie is set in and around a high-priced Beverly Hills cemetery (and the less impressive pet cemetery that adjoins it). The crux of the plot is a love triangle between Anjanette Comer (a mortuary cosmetologist), Robert Morse (a wastrel poet who has to bury his late uncle, the flamboyantly swishy John Gielgud) and Rod Steiger, as the embalmist Mr. Joyboy, who lives with his grossly corpulent, bed-ridden mother. But the satire is spread far and wide, with a supporting cast that includes Jonathan Winters (in two HILARIOUS roles, possibly his best work ever), Liberace, Milton Berle, Robert Morley, Lionel Stander, Roddy Macdowall, David Doyle, James Coburn and Dana Andrews. And the alarming sight of Paul Williams playing a precocious ten year old genius despite being a young man in his 20s at the time. And in addition to Hal Ashby as editor and Terry Southern as writer, it has Haskell Wexler as cinematographer and producer. This is an ALL-STAR movie.
As funny as Winters is in the movie (and like I say it might be his best showcase ever), Steiger practically walks away with the picture as Mr. Joyboy — not just because he’s funny but because he’s predictably insane and disturbing. And so we share with you this scene, well worth watching in its entirety:
Please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc