Tag Archives: Arthur Penn

T.G.I.F. – Ten From Arthur Penn

Arthur Penn died earlier this week. Although he wasn’t a prolific film director, his batting average was incredible, and his films were an accurate reflection of the mores and zeitgeist of their times. His most famous epic, Bonnie and Clyde, was not only a cultural phenomenon in the 70s, but the critical and popular success of its tone and style opened the doors for other landmark films that would revolutionize the film industry.

Penn got his start in television, directing live dramas for shows like Playhouse 90, and was also a very successful Broadway director, winning Tony Awards three times in a four-year span. His work included dynamic shows like Clifford Odetts’ Golden Boy and the original productions of Wait Until Dark and The Miracle Worker.

But although he received three Academy Award nominations for Best Director, he never took home the statuette for his film work. No matter – his impact was huge. Despite a short filmography, he worked with all of the greatest actors of his time – Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty – and was adept at extracting eclectic performances from them. Ironically, he hated method acting, although he worked often with some of its biggest practicioners.

Arthur was often mistakenly identified as the father of the successful Penn brothers – actors Sean and Christopher and musician Michael; their father Leo was also in the industry but no relation.

So in tribute to Arthur , I give you Ten From Arthur Penn. These are his ten best films – also his first ten films – and I suggest those you haven’t seen go on your “must see” list. And if the independent film era of the 60s and 70s  interests you, I highly suggest you grab a copy of the fascinating documentary Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.

01. The Left Handed Gun (1958) – Newman as Billy The Kid, an underrated Western with some great performances.

02. The Miracle Worker (1962) – Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke in the award-winning smash

03. Mickey One (1965) – An underknown classic with Beatty as a nightclub comic fleeing the mob. Sadly not on DVD yet.

04. The Chase (1966) – An amazing cast in an oddball combination of a Southern melodrama and an action film, scripted by Horton Foote and Lillian Hellman.Trainwreck great.

05. Bonnie and Clyde (1967) – One of the best films ever made, period.

06. Alice’s Restaurant (1969) – Arlo Guthrie’s song took up an album side and Penn made it into a counterculture classic.

07. Little Big Man (1970) – The oddest history lesson ever and a great anti-Western; Forrest Gump stole the concept.

08. Night Moves (1975) – One of the dozens of reasons that Gene Hackman might just be the best of his generation.

09. The Missouri Breaks (1976) – At this point directors let Brando do what he wanted just to get him in the film; he was rarely odder than this one.

10. Four Friends (1981) – Craig Wasson leads a lesser known cast in one of the better films made about growing up in the turbulent 60s. Written by Steve Tesich, who gave us another coming-of-age classic in Breaking Away.

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Fifty Years of Fred Flintstone

Always love a little alliteration.

When I was a wee lad, I took The Flintstones at face value, just another entertaining and colorful cartoon with great characters, fun sight gags and lots of puns. It wasn’t until later that I realized the hit cartoon was based upon The Honeymooners, the landmark sitcom from the mind of Jackie Gleason.

Creators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera publicly disagreed about the influence, although the similarities are too numerous for it to have been accidental. Pompous man with sane but dominant wife, goofball neighbor, blue-collar job, constantly scheming for something better and screwing up every time? Legend has it that Gleason wanted to sue but decided not to when told he’d be vilified as the guy who got the show pulled off the air.

The show ran for six seasons and was a hit for the first three years. Cartoons and animation have come a long way since the days when a chase scene passed the same tree and rock every second, but like any form of entertainment, without great writing it’s worthless. The Flintstones was usually corny, occasionally subversive, but it always had some great puns and tons of heart.

And damned if that theme song doesn’t sound great, even after fifty years.

Great cartoon. But avoid the live action films like the plague.

In the Flintstone world they would be mourning the passing of Stoney Curtis, but here in reality it is actor Tony Curtis who left us yesterday, unfortunately completing the trifecta with Greg Giraldo and Arthur Penn.

A bona fide movie star, Curtis was adept at both comedy and drama, and although the studios sought to capitalize on his handsome face in lighter fare, his dramatic roles probably left a bigger impression on me. Athletic and rugged, he was solid and believable in films like Trapeze, Spartacus and Houdini.

He was never better than his brilliant comic performance opposite Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot and his fawning, soulless hustler in Sweet Smell of Success (parrying with an equally brilliant Burt Lancaster).

After the 70s, his film career waned – there’s actually a film called Lobster Man From Mars on his resume – but he became an accomplished painter and writer. It is almost inconceivable to me that Curtis was 85 years old; then again, today also marks the fifty-fifth anniversary of James Dean’s death. I guess I always think of both of them as young and indestructable. Dean lived fast and died young, while Curtis was truly one of the very last of the old guard.

Time is a bitch.

Tomorrow, a TGIF tribute to Arthur Penn.

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R.I.P. Greg Giraldo

I was all set to type an essay about Arthur Penn, the distinguished director who just passed away at 88, when I received word that Greg Giraldo passed away this afternoon. Arthur, you’re going to have to be patient with me.

I was saddened to hear that you passed on today, but you’ve had a long life filled with achievements and recognition. When you’re pushing 90, the news is sad but not shocking. Giraldo, on the other hand, was literally half your age. This year, thanks to some major network face time, it seemed like his career was finally transcending from revered cult audience to the widespread acclaim that he so richly deserved. And now he’s gone, forever, four days after being rushed to the hospital in critical condition.

I am heartbroken.

My condolences to his family and many friends, as well as the millions of people around the world whose days – hell, lives were brightened by his comedy.

Video: Just For Laughs

Greg, I hope you are finally at peace.

I hope you can tell Mitch Hedberg how much we miss him. Please give Richard Jeni a hug, and I’ll bet Robert Schimmel could use one as well.

And please confirm that Andy Kaufman is really up there. If Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix could hold their tongue for two years, there’s still a chance Andy is laughing his ass off somewhere in Minnesota. With Elvis.

There will be a hole in my heart every time I watch a Roast knowing how much better you would have made it. But I can only imagine how great the roasts are on the other side, with Hedberg and Kinison and Pryor and Hicks and Lenny and Carlin and Rodney…that room is a little too full, if you know what I mean. Tell the people in charge we need the giants down here, especially now.

And thank you for every smile you put on my face, every laugh that overtook me, every tear that flowed from my eyes because I was doubled over and gasping for air. You had a gift and you shared it with me. I’ll have to make do with the albums and DVDs and internet videos…and memories.

Rest in Peace, brother.

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