Paul Newman: A Talent to Savour



By Roderick Heath

Paul Newman’s compellingly hewn face that first commanded attention—the Romanesque nobility of jaw line and nose punctuated by blue eyes sharp enough to cut paper. Then his voice—sturdy, clean, rich, yet utterly compact in its character, resonant of the American Midwest in its most pleasant contexts, its most manifold gifts. Yet he dodged being identified as a mere beefcake idol, a perception that his sometime costar Robert Redford never quite defeated. No, his eyes communicated a restless awareness too bold in a contemplation of the fault-lines in the world’s fabric, his physique pitched with an insouciance that refused to be merely ogled. He sharpened his mind, his will, his body to a fine edge of commitment and was at his greatest playing men with a raging will to win over something, anything, even if it was purely illusory. He played many men who felt their souls spilling out of their flesh despite all their efforts to keep it hidden within. He began on stage and in television, and then hit the movies with a monumental embarrassment—the garish 1954 Biblical epic The Silver Chalice, in which only Jack Palance’s Simon Magus made its torpid shenanigans even briefly intriguing. Newman had broken into cinema at nearly 30 years of age in an attempt to make him the next Victor Mature or Robert Taylor—a pitiable fate if ever there was one. But he was, of course, a New York method actor.


Like his forebearers Clift and Brando and his contemporary Dean, Newman exemplified a new concept of screen actor—gritty, tough, often perverse, slightly dangerous, no longer centred by clichéd machismo, febrile in their manly poses. Unlike these actors, he never seemed to mind the business of being a movie star. He could play a part for laughs, take a pay-cheque role and still turn in a solid job, without guilt eating at his soul. Also unlike them, he didn’t make as quick or big a splash, but he lasted far longer, in far better shape. His view? He told Rolling Stone in 1973, “A plus about making pictures is that you learn something new on every one, whether it’s a good one or a stinker.” The decline of the studios in the mid 1950s created an atmosphere unkind to many emerging movie stars. Some, like James Garner and Clint Eastwood, had to retreat into television, or, like Anne Bancroft, run back to the stage until times improved. So, too, did Newman, for a short spell, but he returned to movies two years after his disastrous debut in Robert Wise’s Rocky Graziano biopic, Somebody Up There Likes Me, a film to which Sylvester Stallone owes royalties. Newman went to town in the role of street-hardened delinquent who grows into a boxing champeen, all the while never losing his gauche, somehow innocent charm. The film sported spectacular acting from Newman—probably too spectacular. His Graziano is a more athletic version of Ernest Borgnine’s Marty—the previous year’s Noo-Yawk Italian hero—a sentimental rendering of a type combined with dashes of Jimmy Cagney’s neighborhood toughs. Rocky rises to become a champion, but remains buffeted by forces beyond his comprehension.


Newman moved on to The Long, Hot Summer (1958), a corny Faulkner adaptation. During the course of shooting, he cemented his attraction to costar and final wife Joanne Woodward; when they draw together into each other’s arms at the end, it has the unmistakable ring of the truly pleased. Newman then appeared in Arthur Penn’s debut, The Left Handed Gun. As in Summer, he’s a shiftless outsider without trust or favor, driven to gnaw frantically but hopelessly at the edges of the firmly ensconced power of ignoble men. His Billy the Kid expanded on original writer Gore Vidal’s concept as a range-riding edition of a contemporary juvie-hall escapee, dogged by his Eastern accent, his wide eyes glittering with problem-child attitude, his body contorting with oversized anger, avenging his murdered paternal substitute with a righteous fury that seems to have no checks, no mercy. If Anthony Mann’s Winchester ’73 (1950) began the age of the adult Western, Penn’s film was the first post-Western, forerunners of his own works like Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and The Missouri Breaks (1976). Billy is like a tantrum-possessed child, and yet also a cold, precise-minded killer. He erodes the life energy of the people close to him, their fidelity, their moral standards, and is finally gnawed to virtual suicide by his realisation of what he’s achieved, or rather failed to achieve. In the most vital scene, he confronts a shifty marshal during a celebration over amnesty for veterans of a range war; on the pretext of inspecting the man’s gun, he removes the bullets, and then has his grim expectations confirmed when the marshal draws on him. He drops the bullets on the floor with a glowing-eyed wrath that seems almost like a possession.


In his first few defining parts, Newman acts with his whole body—twitchy, mumbly, trying too hard to be the next Brando. It’s stagy, almost a satire on his master’s mannerisms, and works against Newman’s fundamental energy. Working at the tail end of Hollywood’s first, brief obsession with rebellious young men, Newman would retain his fascination for rebels, but he would also take it his rebels into slightly different territory. Playing Brick Pollitt in Richard Brooks’ adaptation of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Newman was suddenly all there, giving his first truly great performance. Brooks might claim some responsibility for this, as he also drew out some of Elizabeth Taylor’s least mannered acting. Newman’s Brick is a less showy creation than his earlier angry young men, and though a character as equally tortured as Rocky or the Kid, Newman now displays his soul through eyes raw and bold, trying frantically to express what the world wants him to hold in—the desperate love he had for his best friend, and the stark terror he’s facing of being unable to transfer that love to his wife. Though playing a man still cast in the dependent role of son and heir to Burl Ives’ Big Daddy, Newman here nonetheless actually plays a man and not an overgrown boy. Newman soon became sublime at playing characters for whom the men they have become and the men they should be, are a terrible distance apart. Brick is self-loathing and self-pitying, but he’s also in the process of working up the will to become a self-directing adult—something the gauche, likeable, boyish Rocky and the borderline psychotic, self-destructive Billy never did.


Newman revealed a rare willingness, for a straight leading man of the time, to expose his nerves for the sake of Tennessee Williams’ complex, lacerating studies in homoerotic aesthetics. Yet it suited Newman’s ironic perspective on his own good looks to play Williams’ fetishised male beauties in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth (1962). In the latter film, he plays a gigolo in the process of being ground up by the unbounded, vampiric appetites of tyrannical patriarchy, female vanity, and a society obsessed with beauty and youth. Antihero was a word used often with abandon at the time. Sometimes it meant characters who did heroic things whilst not fitting heroic moulds, or men who occupied the centre of a narrative, but who actively refused to do anything heroic. Newman, Brando, Clift, Douglas, Lancaster, Mitchum, Eastwood all came to specialise in this brute species. Sometimes they could be out-and-out bastards. After the stilted start of The Long, Hot Summer, Newman reunited with Martin Ritt for two terrific films where he played unlikable, even swinish men. In Paris Blues (1961), he delivered Ram Bowen, a jazz trombonist and hard-sell womaniser temporarily tamed by a school teacher played by Woodward. He’s a bellyaching, often boorish jerk with a compensating factor—he’s riven with anxiety over his artistic worth and eventually chooses to commit himself to growth, rather than retreating into a romantic bubble. The number of taboos the film shatters is startling, all the more so for being blithe about it: Newman and Woodwared leap into a sexual affair, though only after Newman has made clear his preference for Diahann Carroll. As a portrait of the artist as a young prick, it’s formidably accurate.

The other film for Ritt, Hud (1963), was an adaptation of a Larry McMurtry novel—a brutal assault on the Western by the modern world, a realm of beaten-up pick-up trucks, fragile-nerved waitresses, dust-swept diners, and the caddish Hud himself. Brandon DeWilde, bland but cleverly cast nonetheless as Hud’s younger foil, reverses the finale of Shane; DeWilde walks away from Newman, refusing to bow to his shitkicker nihilism. Paris Blues was well overshadowed by another Newman film that came out the same year—Robert Rossen’s The Hustler. This film represents his greatest part, greatest performance, and greatest film—a near miracle in fusing melodrama with a kind of bitter poetic realism to which modern American cinema owes a great deal, whilst also tipping its hat to the literary traditions of Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, James Jones. Fast Eddie Felson particularly resembles one of Jones’ philosopher everymen. Like Brick, Eddie is defined by clashing qualities of youthful athleticism, great physical talent and beauty, but also a deeply ingrained self-loathing, a violent internal struggle with his own contradictions and the world’s evil. As with Brick, Eddie is consumed by a clash between his own need for love, stability, and fulfillment on his own terms and the identification of these desires as weakness by a rapacious, viciously macho culture that pays off users and vampires with far more readiness than warrior-poets like Eddie. Like some of Brando’s heroes, he has strong masochistic tones; unlike many of Brando’s, he is, at the core, articulate. Brando preferred figures who can only tangentially explore themselves; Newman liked to play men who know themselves and don’t always like what they know.

The film’s core scene, Eddie’s explanation of his delight in pool to girlfriend Piper Laurie, was rewritten at Newman’s request. He told Rolling Stone that “The way it was originally written, I thought it was a nothing scene—it just wasn’t there, it had no sense of specialness. So I told Rossen he ought to somehow liken what Eddie does to what anybody who’s performing something sensational is doing—a ball player, say, or some guy who laid 477 bricks in one day.” Eddie’s esoteric skill thus could be alchemised to represent talent in all its forms, the drive to use it, but also to respect it, and the clash that often occurs between these two urges. Eddie is sufficiently hardened in the end to win in the terms of the culture about him, but is finally disgusted by it. Rather than take the laurels of that culture, he insists on a victory purely on his own terms. In this period, Newman went from strength to strength, and even initiated his own superstition regarding playing in films with ‘h’ in the title. The Left Handed Gun. Hondo. Hud. Harper. Hombre. Cool Hand Luke. They all seemed to stand for an omnipresent Him—both Newman, but also the type of fractured males he was drawn to play.


In Otto Preminger’s Exodus (1960), he played one of his most effective heroic rebels, a rare figure with a specific cause, culture, and identity to fight for—Ari Ben Canaan, former British soldier turned Zionist warrior for the Hagenah organisation. It was also the only film in which half-Jewish Newman ever played his native ethnicity, and once more made slyly clever use of his appearance as anything but the classic caricature of a Jew. In his confrontation with bigoted British officer (the atrocious Peter Lawford), after the officer has sworn he can tell a Jew by looking in his eye, Canaan invites him to do just this. Newman inhabits Ari with a hardened purpose that stops short of inhuman fanaticism. His attempts to retain a conscious grip on his humanity whilst still keeping an iron-willed refusal to be bossed around for political expedience force him to maintain a cold rigour, as he tries consciously not to indulge himself looking at shiksa Eva Marie Saint whilst conducting his war of nerves with the authorities. In a pointed finale, he leads his soldiers off into eternal battle – not merely a nod to the ever-fractious Israeli status, but to the concept of freedom itself requiring eternal vigilance.


One of Newman’s most perfectly relaxed and entertaining performances came in Mark Robson’s Hitchockian romp The Prize (1963), in which he played party animal Andrew Craig, the youngest-ever Nobel laureate in literature whose challenging early works were commercial flops, forcing him to write trash and drink much. The situation is hilarious and rich enough to be the film’s subject, but Newman’s Craig is soon drawn into the usual shadowy conspiracies, contending with a vividly ironic, yet rather dogged heroism, and some terrifically sexy byplay with Elke Sommer and Diane Baker. This film was certainly preferable to the actual Hitchcock film he made at this time, Torn Curtain (1966), possibly the nadir of both men’s career. Two of Newman’s most popular and facetious parts came in the late ‘60s. In Cool Hand Luke (1967), he virtually embodied the paranoid, clumsily directed spirit of a nonconformist age, dabbling at the edges of society and seeing his paltry attempts at protest against an unfeeling society punished with force. This punishment is, of course, what he wants: this brand of outsider wants the gloves taken off, the mask removed,from the silent war between outsider and insider. Luke is broken finally, by the chain gang authorities, and Newman’s usually upright frame reduced to a shambling, kowtowing monkey before he regains his last surge of bravery. But he only earns a squalid death.


If Cool Hand Luke was a rather morbid, exaggerated portrait of regional, period-American fascism linked by underground wires to the counterculture anxiety, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) represented its transformation into commercialised froth. Designed as a pseudo-satirical deconstruction, it ended up more as a hokey flower-child music video with the customary downbeat finale for false gravitas. It did, however, unite him with Redford as the defining buddy-movie duo, a complementary twining of talents. Redford had a suppleness that Newman had never approached, and Newman had a gravity Redford couldn’t quite grasp. If the period from 1958 to 1969 had been a powerhouse era for Newman, the early ‘70s saw his golden touch decline briefly. His collaborations now with John Huston (in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean and The Mackintosh Man, 1973) and Terence Malick (writer of Pocket Money, 1972) produced little fanfare.


In 1974, he took a role in Irwin Allen disaster epic, The Towering Inferno, top-billed alongside Steve McQueen, who had been trying to chase down Newman since debuting in a small role in Somebody Up There Likes Me. Newman played Doug Robarts, the architect of the ill-fated Glass Tower, tallest building in the world, studding the San Francisco skyline like a contemporary Babel. Newman’s design is good—it’s the corner-cutting construction that results in disaster, prompting Newman’s desperate efforts to prevent a holocaust of aging movie idols and cheesy TV stars. As some purely mercenary parts can manage, it exemplifies Newman’s on-screen persona: introduced as a triumphant knight of vision, indulging in an afternoon delight with girlfriend Faye Dunaway, he soon finds his success is quite literally built on rot—the low-grade wiring that Richard Chamberlain’s corrupt contractor has filled the tower. Newman sheds his golden allure in favour of angry self-recrimination: “What do they call it when you kill people?” he demands of the Tower’s owner (William Holden). Later in the film, he finds another perfectly complementary male partner in McQueen as they join forces to save the day. Regarding the smoking ruin in the end, Newman muses, “Maybe they should leave it the way it is – kind of monument to all the bullshit in the world,” A more salutary line he rarely uttered.

Newman was aging now. Always a bit older than her looked, his golden hair was now flecked with grey, his face stiffening, his voice huskier. His persona altered again—now his men became old hands, urgently trying to make one last score before inevitable degeneration. As with Martin Ritt, his second two films with George Roy Hill achieved a kind of perfection on a rough sketch: The Sting (1973), a floridly entertaining Depression lark—a contradiction in terms integral to the film’s drama—that saw him play “the great Henry Gondorff,” as he’s contemptuously described when discovered by Redford’s Johnny Hooker sleeping off a drunk in a bathtub. The film makes us cheer a mob of criminals without hesitation as they take on a far worse one, as well as a world that rewards voracious cruelty and greed while leaving everyone else scrabbling in the filth. The third film was Slap Shot (1977), one of the few authentic comic classics of the ‘70s, a shot of neat bourbon amidst the low-cal soft drinks in the modern comedy pantheon. Written by Nancy Dowd, it captured like virtually no film before or since the peculiar, individualist insanity of a medium-sized, working-class town—the tomboy girls, the foul-mouthed, brutal sensibility that can disguise a rich tolerance and multiplicity of lifestyles.


Slap Shot possibly had as much or more impact on modern American indie film as films like The Hustler or Hud. It’s hard to imagine a The Full Monty, a Friday Night Lights, or any of Will Ferrell’s straining attempts to reproduce blue-collar comic value without it. Newman’s Reg Dunlop was the last of his heroes of great physical prowess, now waning, caught inelegantly between the young stud he was and the sad old guy he sees himself becoming. Dowd’s script is still utterly contemporary in many ways, taking aim at the insecurities of a town seeing traditional values disintegrate and papering over sexual anxieties and false social rituals by concentrating on bloodlust. Dunlop is defined by his impatient bark, his willingness to ignore fragile civility and go for the jugular, when the moment is right, as in the film’s most hilariously gauche sequences. After he listens with bewildered equanimity to a girlfriend’s account of a lesbian orgy with fellow housewives, he will, of course, rock right up to her husband, captain of an enemy team, and use this knowledge to provoke a fight, or later, when he cuts down the snooty, dismissive owner of the team. His approach might not be sensitive, but it still seems like some of Newman’s most purely heroic moments in its the refusal to allow a retreat into empty politeness or evasion in heartland America.


Entering the 1980s, having gone entirely white-haired, Newman did not actually lose his looks so much as ease into them at last. Sidney Lumet’s The Verdict (1982) saw him in one of his finest elder parts, a pathos-inducing ambulance chaser who seems to have arrived at middle age having barely registered the period since leaving college as anything more substantial than one long advertorial. His rediscovery of moral impetus, and the shocks he receives along the way, are presented with uncommon rigour both by Newman and Lumet. Extending the reach of courtroom drama—doing much the same thing for the genre that Coppola did for the gangster film—they invested the film with a careful visual and rhythmic shading that gave it rare dramatic depth. Newman finally gained a proper Oscar in 1986 for The Color of Money, his reprise of the part of Eddie Felson which I’ve written about in-depth before. It wasn’t equal to his best performances, but neater star turns are still hard to come by. After The Color of Money, Newman did not go into decline exactly, but almost inevitably, his starring roles became fewer, and the films in which he did appear were box office misfires, like the eminently forgettable Blaze (1989) and Message in a Bottle (1999). Fat Man and Little Boy (1989) was a sticky, not exactly truthful account of the Manhattan Project, though Newman did good work in projecting the steely, unpersuadable Gen. Groves.

Two of his last films of prominent billing were Nobody’s Fool (1994), which gained him an Oscar nomination in competition with the likes of John Travolta and Morgan Freeman, and Twilight (1998). Both films were directed by Robert Benton, an authority of middle-brow cinema. The Road to Perdition (2002) presented him in full Grand Old Actor mode working in an inferior project, a state in which one often finds former greats. It’s a dangerous area, for so often what looks like just another part can be an accidental career-capper. What can we say of Newman here? He presents a performance remarkable in its restraint, his blue eyes now seeming as grey as his hair, frigid with a lifetime of contemplating, not backing away, from moral terror or harsh necessity. Surveying his career, there many more parts and films worthy of looking at in depth: The Rack; The Young Philadelphians; Winning; WUSA; The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean; Buffalo Bill and the Indians; Quintet; Fort Apache, the Bronx; Absence of Malice; Mr. and Mrs. Bridge; The Hudsucker Proxy. And his films as a director, like Rachel Rachel and Sometimes a Great Notion, his badly underappreciated adaptation of Ken Kesey’s first novel, betray a careful, mood-aware craftsman at least as talented as Eastwood behind the lens. For once, surveying Newman’s career is not a task of saving gems from a disordered career, or regretting wasted talent, but of accounting talent savoured virtually to the last drop.


Persons of Interest: Frank Cottrell Boyce

Persons of Interest
A semi-regular feature on the underappreciated, the promising, and the very cool

Frank Cottrell Boyce


By Roderick Heath

A genre-bending, radically original, yet deftly humane writer, Frank Cottrell Boyce has become one of the major creative forces of modern British cinema. Like one of the loopier heroes he has invoked—Tony Wilson in 24 Hour Party People (2003)—Boyce inhabits many worlds at once without effort, if not without the odd disaster. Particularly through his partnership with Michael Winterbottom, Boyce has helped weld together previously disparate strands of Cinematic Britannia— the knowing, pop spirit born sometime around A Hard Day’s Night (1964); the mocking allusiveness of the quick-witted Oxfordian best exemplified by Monty Python; the madcap, yet purposeful anachronisms of Ken Russell; the musty highbrow historical and literary classic genre; the gritty, down-and-dirty Loach-and-Leigh realist stream; and a fractured but vivacious post-modernism.


Boyce found a true collaborator in Winterbottom, a director of enormous inventiveness and unique restlessness of style and theme. Yet Boyce maintains his individuality. A film as anarchic and yet intelligent as Pandaemonium (2000) could only come from the hand also responsible for Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2005). Boyce, born in 1961, was an Oxford graduate in English and palaeontology, a detail not unimportant to his writing’s sense of history and humanity entwining in chaotic ways. After working for many years as the TV critic for the magazine Living Marxism, he attempted to break into writing for television proper. After some scattered work, he finished up on a dreary assignment (penning a script for an anti-smoking programme) for a company that also employed frustrated trainee editor Winterbottom. The two met and decided to help each other along. Both men made their feature film debut with Forget About Me (1990), which made exactly nil impact at the time and yet is now much beloved by a small band of fans. Boyce’s spell as a staff writer on the seminal Brit soap Coronation Street began soon after, the reason, some suggested, that Living Marxism was often seen on sale in the news agency on the show. In 1995, he and Winter- bottom returned for their second shot with the loopy road movie Butterfly Kiss, featuring Amanda Plummer as a mad punkette who accidentally becomes a serial killer whilst falling in love with bewildered Jane Lynch. The film was an earthy mixture of indie grit, new queer cinema, and ’90s-breed film noir, and was a breakthrough.


Boyce followed up by penning two biopics for director Anand Tucker—the characteristically eccentric Saint-Ex (1996) and the more standard, and acclaimed, Hilary and Jackie (1997). A signature sequence in the latter film, in which Emily Watson’s Jacqueline du Pré and other young classical music students blithely bash out The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” is, in a way, a key to Boyce’s oeuvre. Often in his films, high culture, pop culture, low culture, new and old, collide and transform each-other, making new and witty connections. In his most distinctive scripts, the heroes are fools of fortune caught in webs of past and present, fiction and reality, all mashed together and made inseparable by that tyrannous agent, time.


In between those two films for Tucker, Boyce and Winterbottom pursued a highly personal and urgent project, Welcome to Sarajevo (1997), inspired by the death of a journalist ex-boyfriend of Boyce’s sister in the titular war-torn city. The resulting film was shot on location in an environment still virtually at war, and as a result, the film almost reeks of blood, dust, and cordite. Though the film’s of-the-moment immediacy often overwhelmed the compact drama of Boyce’s script, it was still filled with his trademark referential wit and pithy, outraged humanism:

Annie McGee (Kerry Fox): This could be the most important story in this war.
Michael Henderson (Woody Harrelson): More important than bombing people in the street?
Annie McGee: Compared to that, this is like fucking Jane Austen.
Michael Henderson: I never fucked Jane Austen.

The turn of the millennium saw the release of perhaps the two best films Boyce has penned, but both barely recognized as such. The Claim was an adaptation of The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy, a literary hero of Boyce and Winterbottom, the latter of whom had scored with Jude (1996), his relentless, rigorous adaptation of Hardy’s Jude the Obscure. The Claim transposed the setting of Hardy’s novel to frontier America and channeled elements of Altman, Leone, Cimino, and Herzog in its often spellbinding realisation, a rare melding of Hardy’s intense psychological tragedy and epic cinema. Not surprisingly, it sank virtually without a trace in the year of Gladiator.


Indeed, like its models, The Claim a hard film to love, with its chilly locales matched by Winterbottom’s restrained, melancholy style. Boyce blamed its failure of the producers’ insistence on pulling the teeth of the tale by forcing the story’s key moment—when “The Mayor,” here christened Dillon and played with great force by Peter Mullan, sells his wife and daughter for a claim that will later make his fortune—away from its natural place at the start and into a flashback. Perhaps this does sap the film’s thematic directness, but I found it impossible not to be moved by staggering sequences like that in which Dillon, attempting to comfort his crippled wife (Nastassja Kinski), has an entire house dragged across a mountain for her to live in. Later, the perversities of screen adaptation encountered here would provide, in themselves, rich material.


The other film was Pandaemonium, realised on the screen by Julien Temple, once a bad-boy of punk-era Brit cinema as director of the Sex Pistols rock-doc The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle (1980) and the infectious sci-fi musical Earth Girls Are Easy (1988). Pandaemonium tells of the strange, troubled friendship of poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Linus Roache) and William Wordsworth (John Hannah), with William’s diarist sister Dorothy (Emily Woolf) caught between them.

William Wordsworth: I wandered lonely as a cow…
Dorothy Wordsworth: Perhaps “cloud” would be better, William.

If the thought of watching the likes of Becoming Jane or Miss Potter makes you want to gouge your eyes out with a spoon, then this is the biopic of Limey literary greats for you, combining antic elements of Ken Russell’s wayward biographies with an allusive, satirical purpose. No one would ever mistake it for a truthful account, not with Wordsworth proves to be a nefarious Royalist agent who sets out to destroy the radical Coleridge and get him addicted to Laudanum whilst leeching his talent. But Boyce is after larger game than the usual artist biopic, which often work as conservative warnings against the dangers of being unusual as much as celebrations of various lives and oeuvres.  Pandaemonium works as a vast cultural parable that analyses the nature of British art for the past 200 or more years. Coleridge, his wife Sara (Samantha Morton), Dorothy, Lord Byron (Guy Lankester), and others who collect around them are progressively identified as prototypical lefty radicals, beatniks, hippies, feminists, rock stars, punks, and environmentalists thrilling in new intellectual possibilities in the age of the French and Industrial revolutions. Boyce’s script zeroes in on a split between establishment values and radicalism in artistic life, an evergreen theme, particularly in this peculiarly British version. The narrative begins with Wordsworth in respectable middle age expecting to be awarded the Poet Laureateship, whilst Coleridge and Dorothy have both been consumed and destroyed by laudanum addiction. At stake is the unpublished, near-mythical fragment Kubla Khan, product of Coleridge’s most feverish visions, which Byron is seeking to publish:

Guest: Is it true you offered a hundred pounds to publish Kubla Khan?
Byron: I would have paid Wordsworth that not to publish his last poem.

The poem proves still to exist only within Dorothy’s scrambled memory, and the hilarious sting in the tail sees both men bypassed for the laureateship by their middling lawyer acquaintance Robert Southey, who happened to write an amusing story about three bears that eat porridge.


24 Hour Party People was an only slightly less ambitious survey of a culture, this one through the eyes of Manchester TV star, record producer, pop culture gonzo, and prat Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan). Wilson’s tale involves the rise and fall of punk rock, the great British band Joy Division, and the eventual birth of the rave scene. Enabled by Winterbottom’s dexterous direction, the look, tone, and social background of the times are dead on. If the film refuses to live up to Pandaemonium’s richly eccentric tragedy or The Claim’s chilly equivalent, it’s largely deliberate. It is in keeping with the playful nihilism of its core subject—modern hipster, particularly punk, culture—and because Wilson is essentially a fool who makes solemn and dramatic actions look absurd (like signing contracts in his own blood) but whose eyes behold a vast panorama. Wilson, like Boyce himself, I suspect, is driven by the intense conviction that classical and pop cultures are one and the same and only divided by snobbery. Discussing the Sex Pistols’ epoch-changing show in Manchester: “The smaller the attendance, the bigger the history. There were 12 people at the last supper. Half a dozen at Kitty Hawk. Archimedes was on his own in the bath.” Unlike Boyce, Wilson has no discipline, or perspective, and mumblingly compares whichever singer he’s lately signed to Keats and Shelley. In such terms, then, 24 Hour Party People continues the theme introduced by Pandaemonium from the opposite end, contending the likes of Curtis are the inheritors of the shambling, artistic anarchy of Coleridge.


The third work in this virtual loose trilogy, also made by Winterbottom, was Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2005), a film that is as much a spin on Truffaut and Fellini’s filmmaking epics as it is of the eponymous Laurence Sterne novel, “a postmodern novel before there was any modernism to be post about.” The film is as much about the difficulty in constructing a film as Sterne’s book is about that of telling a story. It begins as straight adaptation, but then steps back to contrast the comic hero Shandy with the people laboring to film his story, most particularly the clash of egos between costars “Steve Coogan” and “Rob Brydon.” As in 24 Hour Party People, its creative folk are both ridiculous and yet highly dedicated as they attempt to wrangle the best possible picture out of an unfilmable novel. Winterbottom and Boyce succeed in filming the unfilmable by deliberately failing. A Cock and Bull Story was a last hurrah, as Boyce provided the screenplay under a pseudonym and dissolved his partnership with Winterbottom. Boyce has turned to writing novels, including the prize-winning Millions, an adaptation of the screenplay he wrote for Danny Boyle’s film of the same name in 2004 and widely regarded as Boyle’s best film since Trainspotting (1996). Boyce’s most recent script was for the Grow Your Own (2007), a general disappointment, and perhaps the call of literature will soon be greater for him. But I hope he still has interesting places to go in his screen writing. He has seven kids, so we know he needs the work.


Persons of Interest: Roy Scheider

A semi-regular feature on the underappreciated, the promising, and the very cool


By Roderick Heath

One of the first films I ever saw was Jaws. My first viewing of Jaws was an auspicious event—a double bill with Raiders of the Lost Ark at a university movie theatre when I was five years old. I caught lice from some unkempt member of the collegiate crowd, and my dreams were haunted for weeks afterwards by melting faces and people being masticated by massive teeth. But a love affair with a medium had begun. Once we obtained the movie on videocassette, I memorised it. It’s also the film that made me appreciate acting. With Jaws, Spielberg perfected his Everyman hero, in the shape of Roy Scheider’s aquaphobic but resolute Police Chief Martin Brody. Brody reminded me of a skinnier edition of my father, with whom he shared a propensity for singing shanties after sinking a few beers. Spielberg chose Scheider, passing on the studio’s pick, Charlton Heston, who, at that stage of his career, was guaranteed to have reduced Brody to a pillar of smarm.


Scheider was a bony, self-contained screen presence, pushing 40 when he lurched into the public eye in 1971 with the one-two punch of Klute and The French Connection. Playing Buddy Russo to fellow late bloomer Gene Hackman’s explosive Popeye Doyle, Scheider’s cool provided a perfect counterpoint and the kind of distinctly real presence beloved of the American New Wave. He’d been around the block a few times by that stage. Born in Orange, New Jersey, in 1932, he had been a young sportsman, playing baseball and boxing, where he gained his jagged nose, thus joining the long list of male actors who had their features interestingly rearranged in the ring (Yves Montand, Bob Hope, Gabriel Byrne, Mickey Rourke, Liam Neeson, etc). In college, he became interested in theatre, a passion that survived his conscription service. Scheider’s stage career began professionally when he played Mercutio in a 1961 New York Shakespeare Festival production of Romeo and Juliet, and reached its height when he won an Obie award for the play Stephen D in 1968. His film debut at the age of 32 was in a trash horror epic, The Curse of the Living Corpse (1964). His work in TV and film was sporadic until his 1971 breakthrough. His lean physique and toughened, fairly proletarian demeanour first made him appeal as a modern heir to a tradition of screen male presences like Gary Cooper and James Stewart, but with a tougher, savvier, utterly contemporary edge.


Klute and The French Connection established Scheider as a star of the new urban-noir genre. He followed them up with a memorable turn as Lenny, a creepy hired killer, in Jacques Deray’s uniquely cool Franco-American thriller, Un homme est mort (The Outside Man, 1972). Tracking down Jean-Louis Trintignant’s on-the-lam patsy, Scheider anticipates future merciless forces of underworld thuggishness, like Karl Urban’s super-assassin in The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men (2007), taking out hippies and housewives without a blink. At one point, Trintignant attempts to convince him that they’ve both been used, and Scheider promises they will now join forces, but tries to shoot him anyway at the first opportunity.


Scheider was a self-effacing actor, not given to exercises in cunning ham and award grabs that made notable careers for costars like Hackman and Dustin Hoffman, the latter his costar in John Schlesinger’s gritty 1976 opus Marathon Man. Scheider played Hoffman’s older brother, a shady CIA operative who survives one brutally memorable scene: when an assassin tries to garrote Scheider, Scheider gets his hand between the wire and his throat, the wire digging into the flesh of his palm. Scheider played the Yves Montand role in William Friedkin’s big-budget, big-flop remake of The Wages of Fear, Sorcerer (1977), and appeared in two Hitchcockian dramas, making for a soulful stand-in for Jimmy Stewart in Jonathan Demme’s Last Embrace (1979) and Robert Benton’s Still of the Night (1982), opposite Meryl Streep’s mysteriously comatose impression of a Hitchcock blonde.


Hoffman later beat out Scheider in vying for the 1979 Best Actor Oscar, Hoffman for the egregiously bland Kramer Vs Kramer, Scheider for his emotional and physical high-wire act in Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz. Playing Fosse’s alter ego, Joe Gideon, Scheider is dynamite in one of the few parts that stretched his capacities to the limit, requiring him to sing and dance as well as put across with compulsive force the drama of a man whose lust for life and creation rapidly destroys him. All That Jazz was and is a litmus test, unbearable to some, hypnotic to me, but I don’t think anyone can doubt Scheider’s commitment to and impact in the role, whether in scenes as grimly memorable as when Gideon tries to ignore his heart palpitations during a cast reading or when he escapes his hospital bed to yak it with a cleaner, or when he sings, in Gideon’s imagined farewell extravaganza, “Bye Bye Love,” with its suddenly meaningful lyric, “I think I’m gonna die!”


At this point, Scheider decided to go back to the stage, winning a Drama League award for Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, before returning to the screen for Still of the Night. In 1983, he played another policeman in John Badham’s cheesy techno-crime thriller, Blue Thunder, a film stuffed with almost every fashionable “Screw The Man” cliché of its period. The hero is a haunted Vietnam veteran who tries to expose government corruption and the fascist threat represented by the titular chunk of super-expensive steel, an Apache helicopter, ready to deal with any potential civil disturbances (read “race riots”) during the L.A. Olympics. Scheider’s boss (Malcom McDowell, another terrific actor in B-movie purgatory) was also his ‘Nam commander, lending an edge of national, psychological struggle to their final confrontation as Scheider’s sturdy hero repurposes Blue Thunder to kick authoritarian ass.


Peter Hyams’ 2010 (1984) the sequel to Kubrick’s mighty 2001: A Space Odyssey, was a good film that has been deliberately forgotten mostly because it substituted Kubrick’s poetic mysticism for a more spelt-out, standard, scifi drama. Scheider played Dr. Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester in the original), the man who conceived the disastrous Discovery mission to the Black Monolith at Jupiter, and hitches a ride with a Russian salvage expedition to find that HAL 9000 was reprogrammed by evil government types, and that the aliens behind the Monolith are now protecting a new experiment in life-creation, apparently disappointed by the still-festering tribalism of their human progeny. Amidst an excellent cast (including Helen Mirren, Elya Baskin, and John Lithgow), Scheider is laid-back and so unutterably down-to-earth, he slices through the bunk with barely a raised eyebrow and provides an easy emotional centre, like when he holds onto a frightened Russian girl as their spaceship makes a dangerous entry into Jupiter’s gravity. It’s easy to imagine him circumventing the original by demanding in his Jersey honk, “Hal, just open the goddamn pod bay doors, for chrissakes!”


He also contributed to Peter Medak’s largely, unfairly trashed but intriguing The Men’s Club (1986), an adaptation of Leonard Michael’s novel, about a group of professional men, aging golden boys all, who attempt to start an encounter group and end up fleeing to the boyish dream world of a high-class brothel. With a few flops behind him and now over 50, Scheider ceased to be a star around this time. He did feature in two substandard John Frankenheimer films, 52 Pick-Up (1986) and The Fourth War (1989). A solid TV movie, Somebody Has to Shoot the Picture (1990), saw him play a photographer documenting an execution who tries to save the condemned man’s life. Steven Spielberg had found a younger, better-looking actor in the Cooperesque mould, Harrison Ford, for the Indiana Jones films, but handed Scheider a good role as the stoic captain of a huge futuristic submarine in the expensive TV series SeaQuest DSV (1993-1995), an ambitious enterprise that unfortunately proved a dull update of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, something Scheider publicly bitched about. After this, Scheider was officially an aging character actor with more roles than good films to his credit, and a smattering of genuine cult films: David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Naked Lunch (1991) and, working for Peter Medak again, the utterly perverse Romeo Is Bleeding (1993). But the last 10 years of Scheider’s career are not much to look at. He had made some missteps from which he never recovered, like not taking the role offered to him in The Deer Hunter that eventually went to Robert De Niro; instead, he made Jaws 2 (1978). He never achieved that sort of late-career recharge that Michael Caine gained with The Cider House Rules or Peter O’Toole had with Troy. Scheider died on February 10, 2008, of bone cancer.


For most people, he will always be Chief Brody—and that’s fair enough. Jaws still rocks, and remains a rich, tart study of male behaviour. Brody is one of a trio of men engaged in a primal rite of hunting a rampaging beast, the utterly ordinary man between Robert Shaw’s Quint, the ancient mariner and bullying blowhard full of patriarchal arrogance and a Conradian sense of horror, and Richard Dreyfuss’ Hooper, the rich kid with a billion-dollar brain, convinced of his own brilliance. Hooper’s willing to go toe to toe with Quint in a game of one-upmanship, whilst Brody, whom we’ve seen barely able to hold his own against his chaotic family life and politicking small towners, is reduced to watching as they compare scars—he can only glance furtively at his appendix scar. And yet, both Hooper and Quint’s attempts to be technological in taking on the Jungian nightmare gets one of them killed and the other very nearly. Brody is the only one to confront the beast directly with no protection other than his guts and wits, building to one of the great climaxes in cinema, where Scheider’s joyous, triumphant whoop rings in the ears. He’s just as good in the inevitably contrived sequel, Jaws 2, where Brody’s warnings about history repeating get him sacked, even more impotent than before in confronting the indifference of civil authority. He gets drunk and mopes, and the next day, embarrassedly kicks aside a stack of beer cans from the front lawn. You just gotta love the guy. And you know he’s gonna be proved right.

Persons of Interest

Persons of Interest: Donald Pleasence

A semi-regular feature on the underappreciated, the promising, and the very cool



By Roderick Heath

Christopher Lee would say that turning down a role in an unknown director’s cheap horror film was the greatest mistake of his life. The part in John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) went to Donald Pleasence instead, giving him the kind of heroic role he’d never managed to land before. Nobody could play a kinky little creep, shifty fella, or cracked genius like Pleasence. Over his 40-year film career, Pleasence was one of those actors who make standard definitions of stardom irrelevant. A short, bald Englishman, he outlasted generations of pretty boys and starlets in carving out a niche in the psyche of committed cinemagoers. Early in their respective careers, in the 1958 Ealing Studio version of A Tale of Two Cities, both Lee and Pleasence can be seen playing the kinds of characters they would be typecast as. In this less well-produced but more dramatically intriguing adaptation than the 1935 version, Lee plays the Marquis St. Evrémonde, a splendidly nasty, aristocratic monster. Pleasence plays Barsad, his agent in nefarious schemes—a seedy turncoat who fakes his own death to escape the fallout of one such scheme only to turn up again as an official in the revolutionary government. Barsad establishes Pleasence’s ability to play mole-eyed little men of no character and fewer principles. Yet the film’s most splendid moment comes when Barsad, blackmailed by Carton (Dirk Bogarde) to gain access to his imprisoned romantic rival and double Charles Darnay (Stephen Murray), is so moved when he realises Carton plans to die on the guillotine in Darney’s place that with a quiver in his voice and awe in his eye, he offers to shake Carton’s hand. Carton won’t, but he does pat Barsad on the shoulder for reassurance.


Pleasence, born in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, in 1919, was the son of a stationmaster. He made his London debut in 1939 in a production of Twelfth Night. His World War II experiences were dramatic. Beginning as a conscientious objector, he later joined the Royal Air Force. He served as a radio operator in the 166 Squadron of Lancaster bombers, was shot down in September 1944 and held until the end of the war in a German POW camp. He passed the time by staging plays with his fellow prisoners, including a production of The Petrified Forest that saw the diminutive Donald playing romantic lead opposite a 6″1’ Canadian as the heroine. The atmosphere of psychological entrapment, sexual ambiguity, and blackly funny absurdity of this image also underpins so much of Pleasence’s best work. With his rubbery body and hairless head, Pleasence was fearless in evoking emotional retardation, sexual anxiety, and outright perversity.


The Great Escape

Pleasence was therefore the only actor in The Great Escape (1961) to have been an Allied POW. Fittingly, Pleasence’s turn is the most affecting, portraying Flight Lt. Colin Blythe, known as “The Forger,” who covers counterfeiting operations as lectures in bird spotting, communicating the details of their colouring and songs as gimlet-eyed Germans patrol. The film is filled with symbiotic, crypto-romantic male relationships, like that of Danny (Charles Bronson) and Dickes (John Leyton) and Hilts (Steve McQueen) and Ives (Angus Lennie); the strongest is that between the gnomish nerd Blythe and the charming Yankee gopher Hendley (James Garner). In the course of his relentless work, Blythe strains his eyes to the point of going temporarily blind. Desperate to join the escape, his attempts to fool Hendley and his CO Bartlett (Richard Attenborough) into thinking he can still see with a cheery façade is painfully superb acting.


The Greatest Story Ever Told

Pleasence made his cinema debut in The Beachcomber (1954), and gained profile playing Prince John in the Robin Hood TV series (1955-1960). Amongst his more noteworthy early roles was the grave robber William Hare in his first horror film, The Flesh and the Fiends (1960); a Labour Party faction leader who manipulates Peter Finch’s soft-headed MP into a back-bench revolt in No Love For Johnny (1961); and the most notorious of mild-mannered English murderers, Dr. Crippen (1962). His stage career was on fire at this point, originating as he did the role of the sinister derelict in The Caretaker (1962), the play that also made the name of its author, Harold Pinter. Pleasence recreated the role in a film version the following year, coinciding with The Great Escape, and making Pleasence a sought-after character actor. He played villains, religious fanatics, and other miscreants, including the ultimate—Satan—in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) taunting Max Von Sydow’s bloodless hippy Jesus.


Fantastic Voyage

Fantastic Voyage (1966) he described thus: “…My funniest moment was when I was eaten up by the antibodies at the end of film because, predictably, I turned out to be the Russian agent who was trying to run them down in some attempt in the miniscule microscopic-sized submarine when they were trying to rescue the great scientist by burning out his blood clot with a miniscule laser beam. And, of course, the submarine, I think, began to leak and the antibodies began to creep in, and I was swallowed and eaten up by them and thus they came out by the eyeball, which is as good a way to get out as any, I suppose…we spent two days trying to work out what it would be like, cinematographically, to be eaten up by antibodies, and we tried all kind of things, y’know like porridge and polycell and anything, blancmange, custard, I forget what we finally settled for, haggis or something, anyway every time we tried this and the goo poured over my head, I was in this body-molded rubber suit and sitting there looking mad and Communist and wicked….”


You Only Live Twice

1967 gave him two indelible roles, one of which became a pop-culture icon. He landed the part of Ernst Stavro Blofeld in You Only Live Twice when the actor who provided the voice for the hitherto unseen supervillain, became ill. Pleasence’s incarnation was indelible shorthand for exotic evil—bald, with a scarred eye, alien accent, and taste for sadism explored with a pool of piranhas whilst stroking a snow-white Persian cat—the direct model for Mike Myers’ Dr. Evil. The other role was Major-Gen. Kahlenberg in Anatole Litvak’s The Night of the Generals. Kahlenberg is one of three German generals in Warsaw during WWII suspected of brutally slaying of a prostitute. The casting plays on Pleasence’s evil image, covering the fact that Kahlenberg is a hero, albeit and anxious and alcoholic one. His mysterious absences are caused by his involvement with conspiracies against Hitler that culminate in the ill-fated July Plot.


Night of the Generals

Pleasence also gets the best lines, delivered with caustic style, as Kahlenberg assiduously mocks the pomposity and savagery of his Waffen-SS superior, Gen. Tanz (Peter O’Toole): “What constitutes resistance? A rock thrown at his golden head?” He teases phony war hero Cpl. Hartmann (Tom Courtenay) by reading out his press clippings: “I see that you are the reincarnation of Siegfried, a German hero from the Golden Age.” Later, he gives Hartmann the job of being Tanz’s driver, informing the corporal of his duties in catering to the general’s taste: “Let us hope that whatever it is, that it is not you, Corporal. However, if it should be, remember that you are serving the Fatherland.” At the end of the ’60s, roles in major movies became scarcer for Pleasence, and he joined British horror cinema in its waning years, in films like like Tales that Witness Madness and The Mutations (both 1973). One good part came in an episode of the anthology film From Beyond the Grave (1973), “An Act Of Kindness,” in which he plays a shabby WWII veteran who encounters his superior officer (Ian Bannen), himself maintaining a façade of petty respectability with methods barely above criminality. Pleasence presents a pathetic eagerness to please his former CO, and, to top it off, his own daughter Angela plays Pleasence’s daughter who soon bewitches the CO into marriage. The payoff comes when father and daughter, Satanists both, celebrate with wedding cake over the corpse of the dead officer, sacrificed to the dark gods. Though blunt as a ghoulish yarn, as a satire on the social wake of the war’s official heroism, it’s almost without equal.



Pleasence also gained his first role from one of the up-and-coming Movie Brats, in THX-1138 (1971), George Lucas’ directorial debut, playing a semi-crazed inhabitant of a futuristic, repressive regime’s apparently boundless prison of white. He aided the budding Australian film industry by coming out to appear in Wake in Fright (known internationally as Outback, 1971). Pleasence also made a great contribution to an early episode of Columbo, “Any Old Port in a Storm,” portraying Adrian Carsini, a winemaker who murders his spendthrift brother to maintain control of their vineyard. With Pleasence’s peerless ability, he evokes a figure both fatuous and despicable, but also sympathetic and vaguely tragic. And at the end of the decade, Pleasence played Dr. Sam Loomis in Halloween, the haunted psychiatrist driven by guilt and fear to track down an escaped patient, the now-grown child murderer whom he realised possessed no soul. Over the hill and faintly unstable, Loomis is both hero and comic relief. This, along with Pleasence’s delivery of his portentous dialogue with the utmost seriousness, gave the balance needed for the cat-and-mouse game of the unstoppable Michael Myers and virginal victim Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). Halloween became the biggest independent film in history, making $50 million back from a $500,000 budget. The pleasures and ambiguities of Halloween were killed by lousy sequels in which Pleasence appeared gamely, feathering his retirement nest. Asked by producer Moustapha Akkad how long he’d stick with it, Pleasence replied “I stop at 22.” Carpenter would use Pleasence again in Escape from New York (1981) and Prince of Darkness (1987). The former film sees Pleasence playing a weak, media-inflated, Texan-accented President of the United States who is forced to crash-land in an alternate-reality Manhattan that is used as a walled prison—typically barbed sociopolitical subtext from Carpenter. The overwhelmed POTUS is held by gang leader The Duke (Isaac Hayes), who ties him to a wall and uses him for target practice, before he is rescued by Kurt Russell’s asocial renegade Snake Plissken. The presidential worm only shows his teeth right at the end when he lets man’s man Snake dangle on a rope helplessly whilst he shoots The Duke, giggling and mocking his enemy with the hysterical bravado of a nerd dropping a water bomb on a jock’s head.


Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Pumaman

On the other side of the ledger, Pleasance also starred around this time in the limp Anglo-Italian superhero flick Puma Man, the film he personally described as the worst he ever made, and although it did make for a cracking Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode, it does seem a career nadir. Woody Allen gave Pleasence a cameo that serves as a fine, if grisly, career send-off, in the horror satire Shadows and Fog (1992). Pleasence plays a doctor who performs autopsies on the victims of a mysterious pathological killer, in a surgery filled with perverse curios and morbid paraphernalia. As an intellectual and rationalist, the doctor expects evil can be analysed and understood, theorising on the biomedical nature of madness and desiring to get hold of the killer’s brain. But the killer comes instead for the doctor, who tries to meet his face with cool, but ends up being strangled as scared and trapped as anyone else. Pleasence died at the age of 75 in 1995 following heart surgery. I’d seen him shortly before that interviewed on television, bags under his eyes so thick they could be pillows, a kind of sad, weary, good humour about his life, which had seen him through four marriages, five daughters, and many bottles of booze. He had been set to play Lear on stage with three of those daughters. If Pleasence’s career had been littered with trash, unworthy and facile parts, he had at least once, on screen, risen to the heights of his ability. Cul-de-sac (1966), my favourite of Roman Polanski’s films, was also the summit of Pleasence’s. Polanski’s stark, neurotic modern drama cast Pleasence alongside Lionel Stander, the great, exiled American. Pleasence plays George, a retired industrialist who’s obviously previously dedicated himself to ledger books and production quotas and is now playing at arty bohemian. He’s bought the island castle where Walter Scott wrote Rob Roy, and retreated from the world with his young trophy wife, Teresa (Françoise Dorleac). Their marriage is tense and odd, as he submits to her humour in dressing him and making him up as a woman. It’s clear she thinks he’s a joke, and is having an affair with a pretty boy.



Stander plays Dickie, a gangster who hides out in the castle, not even really needing violence to browbeat George into submitting to his authority. Dickie alternates between gentlemanly presentation and tough guy authority, between complimenting his “classy” home and labelling him a fairy. George won’t even drink because of his ulcer until Dickie forces him to. The centrepiece of the film is an astonishing 10-minute take in which George confesses his misery and frustration to Dickie, and the pair strike a mutual, if far from equal, amicability. It’s a part that brings together almost all the aspects of Pleasence’s screen personae, as well as his gifts both as a comic and a tragedian. George is silly, weak, foolish, intelligent, sexually and emotionally confused, friendly, frustrated, intense, determined, weird, curiously upright and honourable, and lost. George grows up a little and empowers himself, telling off friends for helping ruin his last marriage to his long-time companion Agnes. But instead of making him happy, George, with the manipulation of the passively malevolent Teresa, is driven to destroy his friend Dickie, and then shed everything he possesses—wife, castle, and veneer of giving a damn—exiling himself on a rock to moan for his dear, lost Agnes. It’s possibly the cinema’s greatest-ever ode to a man who realises too late what he’s thrown away.