Sunday, February 02, 2014

Film Classics of the 20th Century

In this ongoing series on film classics of the last century, we've looked at After Hours,  Edward ScissorhandsChristmas in Connecticut, Desk Set,  When Harry Met Sally . . .,  Who Done It?,  That Darn Cat!,  Cactus Flower,  Family Plot, House Sitter,  and Outrageous Fortune.   Film classics are the films that grab you, even on repeat viewings, especially on repeat viewings.

movie montage

The 20th century proved one thing for film: multiple drafts of a good screenplay, a succession of writers brought in over and over to rewrite destroys all that was good and original and interesting in the first place.

Tootsie is the film exception.

Among the writers who took turns at the screenplay?  Larry Gelbart, Murray Schisgal, Don McGuire, Barry Levinson, Elaine May and Robert Garland.

The end result?

Sydney Pollack directs not just one of the great comedies of the 1980s but one of the great comedies of the 20th century.

The basic story?  Michael Dorsey is a controlling actor who has an opinion that must be expressed and followed as we see in a series of auditions at the start of the film.  No one denies his talent, but no one wants to work with him because of his perfectionism which has earned him a reputation as being difficult.  Michael's oblivious to this and focused on his the play he wants to do, Return To Love Canal, written by his roommate Jeff.  At a birthday party for Michael we get more insight into Michael and meet his friend Sandy who is an actress who also believes in Jeff's play.

Along with being trapped in the bathroom for a good portion of the party, Sandy has other problems as we learn when Michael walks her home.

Sandy:  I did have a good time. I really did.

Michael:   You didn't. Wait! Money for cab fare.

Sandy:  That's okay. It's cheaper to get mugged. Let's walk. The fares are really insane now anyway.

Michael:  Why didn't you have a good time?

Sandy:  I did have a good time.

Michael:  What's wrong?

Sandy:  (crying) Nothing's wrong. What?

Michael:  What?

Sandy:  Nothing! I'm perfectly fine. I just cry like this, like a tic.

Michael:  Tell me what's wrong, or I'll kill you.

Sandy:  Nothing's wrong, Michael. I'm really very up.

Michael:  You're worried about your audition. Why?

Sandy:  Because I'm not going to get it.

Michael: Why not?

Sandy: Because I'm completely wrong for it.

Michael:  What kind of a part is it?

Sandy:  A woman!

Michael ends up staying to run lines with her..  Sandy's audition is for a soap, Southwest General.  The character she's up for, Emily Kimberly, is a strong woman, a hospital administrator.  Michael and Sandy work on her bringing anger to the part and Sandy's worried that she won't be able to work up the anger on her own so Michael says he'll accompany her to the audition.

Bad news for both.  The soap's director, Ron Carlisle, won't let Sandy read.  She's wrong for the part, he insists.  Michael tells her she'll get the audition and they walk over to the receptionist where Michael asks if his friend Terry Bishop is working today.  This is where the second bad news comes.  Bishop has left the show to do The Iceman Cometh -- a part Michael was supposed to be up for.

He runs to his agent George who explains that no one will hire him, that Michael Dorsey is only a name if you're sending back a steak, that no one wants to hire him.

No one in New York wants to hire him, Michael asks?

Not just New York, California as well.

George: I can't even get you a commercial.  You played a tomato -- and they went over schedule because you wouldn't sit.

Michael:  Yes.  It wasn't logical.

George: You were a tomato! A tomato doesn't have logic!  It can't move!

Michael:  So if he can't move, how's he going to sit down?

Told that no one would hire him, Michael Dorsey dresses up as Dorothy Michaels and goes out for the part of Emily Kimberly on Southwest General.

Ron takes one look at Dorothy and says no.

Michael/Dorothy immediately realizes the problem, she's too genteel.  Ron, a sexist, believes powerful women are masculine and odd and he doesn't believe Dorothy is "threatening enough."

Dorothy:  I think I know what you want.  You want a caricature of a woman to prove some point like power makes a woman masculine or masculine women are ugly.  Well shame on any woman that lets you do that.  And that means you, Miss Marshall.

That's Rita Marshall, the producer of the soap and she wants Dorothy to audition and then wants Dorothy for the part.

Dorothy follows George to the Russian Tearoom and sits down with him.

George is shocked to find out that it's Michael.  He thinks the whole plan is insane -- but he's an agent and not turning down a commission.

Jeff will have the money to stage the play thanks to the role.  Sandy will have a lead part in the play.

At Sandy's, while she's showering, Michael tries to see what he'd look like in her clothes.  She finds him semi-undressed and to explain it, he announces he's always been attracted to her and the two sleep together.

The next day, is Dorothy's first on the set and many things happen including meeting April whom she shares a dressing room with.

April, the actress who refers to the scripts as "s**t" and is kind of bitter and kind of suspicious of Dorothy.  Mainly though, it involves Dorothy meeting the soap's lead actress Julie Nichols.   Julie's doing a scene with Rick that Dorothy's Emily and John Van Horne's character will walk in on.  Dorothy has questions about the scene but Ron just wants to provide direction to Rick and Julie.

Ron: Now, Julie, honey, when he grabs you, you've got to be torn.  You've got to struggle because you know you've got to get those tubes stuck back up his nose.  But at the same time, you  realize you're in the arms of a man whose music was-was everything to Anthea.  It was her whole life.  I mean this is a man who stood by you after Ted's breakdown. Bernie, get me a bagel and cream cheese, will you?

Bernie: Julie, you want anything?

Ron: No, no, she's fine, thanks.  (to Julie) So it's a struggle, but you're struggling with yourself as well, do you understand?

Julie: And I lose, right?

Ron: (Squatting) Get down here.  Now Rick, it says when she comes down to her knees, it inflames your desire.  God knows, (patting her on the butt) it always inflames my desire.

The scene makes clear that Ron is a sexist and that Julie's no dumb blond.  The even-handed and cutting way she delivers, "And I lose, right?"

Dorothy never gets time from Ron so she does it her way in the scene.  It works but petty Ron explodes and Dorothy says she was wrong not to have consulted him before hand.  We also see Julie back Dorothy up ("It was a good instinct.  It would have been mine.").

At this point, the film gets even more complicated.  Dorothy and Julie become friends, Dorothy learns Ron cheats on Julie, Michael is attracted to Julie, Julie's father Les is attracted to Dorothy.  And Michael is becoming Dorothy.

Michael:  I am Dorothy. Dorothy is me.  No one's writing that part. It's coming out of me. 

George:  You're Michael acting Dorothy. 

Michael:   It's the same thing. It's a woman in me.  I'm experiencing these feelings. Why can't you get me a special? Please, I could sing as Dorothy I could do some monologues.  I feel I have something to say to women. 

George:  Listen to me, Michael.  You have nothing to say to women. 

Michael:  That's not true! I have plenty to say to women. I've been an unemployed actor for 20     years, George!  You know that.   I know what it's like to wait for it -- waiting for it to ring! Then when I finally get a job, I have no control! Everybody else has the power and I got zip! If I could impart that experience to other women like me -- 

George:  You've got to listen, Michael, there are no other women like you. You're a man! 

Michael:  Yes, I realize that, of course. But I'm also an actress. 

George:  Michael, I don't think we should argue about this, I mean really -- .

Michael:  A potentially great actress! I could do Medea, I could do Ophelia, I could do Lady Macbeth. Just like they did in Shakespeare's days. Why don't you get the writers at the agency --

George:  I got --

Michael:  I could do a great Eleanor Roosevelt. 

I got a terrific idea -- 

 We can do the Eleanor Roosevelt story! 

George:   The Eleanor Roosevelt story? 

Michael:  What's the matter with that?

George's idea is Michael attending a party.  Michael will end up at the big party -- a big party that Julie's at. He will try to come onto her using a line Julie told Dorothy she wished a man would use.  Julie throws a drink in Michael's face.  Michael's taken Sandy to this party.

That's not all.  Sandy complains to Michael about the woman they hired to play Emily Kimberly.  "She's not tough!  She's a wimp!"  Michael defends the actress Dorothy Michaels and works to make Emily a stronger character. Michael not only wants to develop the role of Emily, he wants to develop  Dorothy.

Ron:  I'll need Alan, Tom and John. Tootsie, take ten.

Dorothy:  Ron? My name is Dorothy. It's not Tootsie or Toots or Sweetie or Honey or Doll. 

Ron:  Oh, Christ. 

Dorothy:  No, just Dorothy. Now Alan's always Alan, Tom's always Tom and John's always John. I have a name too. It's Dorothy, capital D-O-R-O-T-H-Y. Dorothy.

Complications continue to increase.  Ron's ticked off that Julie's friends with Dorothy and crediting Dorothy (and not Ron) for improved acting.  John Van Horne's stalked Dorthy and under the impression that Jeff is her live-in lover.  Les proposes to Dorothy.  Sandy has a loud break up with Michael.  (Sandy: "I don't care about 'I love you!' I read The Second Sex and The Cinderella Complex! I'm responsible for my own orgasms! I don't care! I just don't like being lied to!"). Michael, as Dorothy, will realize how he can be just as despicable as Ron and lose Sandy as a lover and a friend.  (Sandy: "No, we are not friends. I don't take this s**t from friends, only from lovers!") Julie breaks up with Ron.  Michael learns he can't leave Southwest General after a year on the show because his option has been picked up.  And he wants off the show.  Michael comes on to Julie -- while dressed as Dorothy.  Julie now thinks Dorothy Michaels is a lesbian and asks her to break the news gently to her father Les.  George is just confused.

George:  What happened?

Michael: Yes, yes, she thinks I'm gay! I told her about Julie.  Now she thinks I'm gay.

George:  Julie thinks you're gay?

Michael:  No, my friend Sandy.  I mean, it's crazy.

George:  Sleep with her, and she'll -- 

Michael:  I slept with her once.  She still thinks I'm gay.

George:  Oh.  That's no good, Michael.

Michael:  Look, I gotta get back to my life.  Now you've got wall-to-wall lawyers in this office.  There must be some kind of way to get me out of this show.

George:  We've been through this a million times.

Michael: Why can't I die?  Why can't Dorothy have an accident?  I mean we can use our imaginations.  This isn't the toughest problem.

George: You want to kill somebody and bring me back the stiff?  That's okay.  But she'd better look exactly like you because, I'll tell you something, those people don't miss a trick.

Micheal: These are nice people, these are good people, George.

George:  Something -- what is weird about you?  Since when do you care so much about what other people feel?

Michael: I mean if I didn't love Julie before, you should have seen the look on her face when she thought I was a lesbian.

George:  Lesbian?  You just said gay.

Michael:  No, no, no.  Sandy thinks I'm gay.  Julie thinks I'm a lesbian.

George:  I thought Dorothy was supposed to be straight?

Michael:  Dorothy is straight.  Les, the sweetest man, the nicest man in the world, tonight, asked me to marry him.

George: A guy named Les wants you to marry him?

Michael:  Yeah.  No, not mar -- Wants to marry Dorothy.

George: Does he know she's a lesbian?

Michael: Dorothy's not a lesbian!

George:  I know that, but does he know that?

Michael: Know what?

George:  That -- Well, I  -- I don't know.

With all this taking place, a videotape of an episode not yet aired is accidentally destroyed and they have to perform the episode live on air, an episode based on a big party where Emily Kimberly gives a big speech.

Which is when Dorothy Michaels decide to ignore the script and ad lib a speech for Emily Kimberly.

Dorothy:  I can't tell you all how deeply moved I am. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would be the object of so much genuine affection.

Dorothy stops speaking.

Ron (in the booth): Uh-oh.

Dorothy:   It makes it all the more difficult for me to say what I'm now going to say. Yes, I do feel it's time to set the record straight. You see, I didn't come here just as an administrator, Dr. Brewster, I came to this hospital to settle a little score.

Ron (in the booth): What score?

Dorothy:  Now you all know that my father was a brilliant man.  He built this hospital. What you don't know is that to his family he was an unmerciful tyrant. An absolute dodo bird.

 Ron (in the booth):  Oh, no! Not live.

Rita (in the booth):   Let's see where she goes.

Dorothy: He drove my mother to drink. In fact, she-sje went riding one time and lost all her teeth.

Rita (in the booth): What?  What?

Dorothy:   -- the oldest daughter, the pretty, charming one, became pregnant when she was 15-years-old and was driven out of the house. In fact, she was so terrified that she would -- That-that the baby daughter would bear the stigma of illegitimacy that she changed decided to change her name and she contracted a disfiguring disease . . . after moving to Tangiers, which is where she raised the little girl as her sister. But her one ambition in life --

Ron (in the booth):  Any preference of shots on this one, Rita?

Dorothy:  --was to become a nurse. So she returned to the States and joined the staff right here . . . at Southwest General. When she worked here and had to speak out  wherever she saw injustice and inhumanity. God save us.  You do understand that, don't you, Dr. Brewster?

John Van Horne:  I never laid a hand on her.

Dorothy:  Yes, you did. And she was shunned by all you nurses too.

Ron (in the booth to the camera men):  Give me something, one. I don't need backs. Two and three go left and right. No, two go left! Three go right! 

Dorothy:  Her outspokenness threatened you doctors. But she was deeply, deeply, deeply loved - by her brother.

Rita (in the booth):  Her brother?

Dorothy:  It was this brother, who on the day of her death swore to the good Lord above that he would follow in her footsteps. And-and-and-and-and-and  just-just-just-just-just-just --

Rita (in the booth):  Don't, don't, don't panic.

Dorothy: -- owe it all up to her! But on her terms!

Ron (in the booth):  God. Here come the terms.

Dorothy:  As a woman.  And just as proud to be a woman as she ever was.  For I am not Emily Kimberly, the daughter of Dwayne and Alma Kimberly. No, I'm not. I'm Edward Kimberly, The reckless brother of my sister Anthea.

Sandy watching at home screams.

Ron (in the booth):  Holy Christ!

Dorothy:  I'm Edward Kimberly, who's finally vindicated his sister's good name.

Les watches at home stunned.

Dorothy:  I'm Edward Kimberly. Edward Kimberly.

Rita (in the booth):  I'll be damned. 

Dorothy:  -- but proud and lucky enough to be the woman that was the best part of my manhood. The best part of myself. 

Jeff, watching the episode at home, will declare, "That is one nutty hospital."  As they go to commercial break, Julie will storm over and punch Michael in the groin while John Van Horne will wonder, "Does Jeff know?"

The amazing cast is headed by Dustin Hoffman who plays Michael, Dorothy and Emily.  The director of the film, Sydney Pollack, plays Michael's agent George.  Teri Garr plays Sandy, Bill Murray plays Jeff, Jessica Lange plays Julie, Dabney Coleman plays Ron, Charles Durning plays Jeff, Doris Belack plays Rita, George Gaynes plays George Van Horne and, in her film debut (and a very strong debut) Geena Davis plays April.

The film was a huge hit and received ten Academy Award nominations.

Though nominated for Best Actor, Dustin Hoffman did not win.  A real shame.  He lost to a so-so performance by Ben Kingsley in a well meaning but poorly made film (Gandhi).  (Dustin would win a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.)

Which is really too bad because Kingsley's mechanical performance in that lifeless film is so easily forgotten but, as Stan has noted, Dustin Hoffman's performance of Emily Kimberly as played by Dorothy Michaels who is really Michael Dorsey is one of the most complicated and skilled performances -- in fact, it's the best lead acting by a man in the 20th century.

No one topped Dustin's performance in that role.  Not Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, not Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, not Jack Nicholson . . .

Al Pacino, in Godfather III or Dog Day Afternoon, may match Hoffman's performance, but he doesn't top it.

With ten nominations, you might think the film cleaned up Oscar night.

It didn't.

Only one award went to Tootsie.

The best supporting actress category found Teri Garr and Jessica Lange both nominated for Tootsie and vying with three other actress for the award.

Teri's Sandy is a comic gem and one of her great performances.  Had Jessica not been in the cast, Teri would have rightfully won.

But Jessica is in the cast and she's amazing.

Her character Julie is funny, she's wry, she's lived in but dreamy, aware but not too aware.  She's allowed herself to be fooled by Ron and knows that on some level but, early in the film, can't admit it.  Dustin Hoffman is so amazing in his role that it's easy to overlook how the film would fall apart without the skill of Jessica Lange.

Julie's not a dumb blond.  But she's taken in by Dorothy in ways that no one else.  A false note from Lange and the whole film falls apart.

As great as she is in the part, the part's pretty great itself.

1982 saw two films where people disguised their sex: Tootsie and Victor/Victoria -- Blake Edwards' remake of First A Girl.  (Yes, he cited Viktor und Viktoria as the source material but the attitudes in the film are from the first English language remake, 1935's First A Girl.)  Both Tootsie and Victor/Victoria were huge steps forward for the US film industry which had a very poor track record when it came to gay characters. In Victor/Victoria James Garner is relieved to find out that the Victor he's attracted to is actually a woman (Julie Andrews).  Which takes a way a bit from the notion that he was seriously in love.  In fairness, his bodyguard (Alex Karras) comes out in the film and is a real character and not an insulting stereotype.  While both advanced the way the movie industry addressed gay issues, it was Tootsie that did the better job.

It helps that the film's setting is the US and modern day.  While it's true that there are no gay characters in the film, the breakthrough is Julie.

After Julie breaks up with Ron and returns home, where Dorothy has been babysitting Julie's daughter Amy, Dorothy attempts to kiss her.

And Julie assumes Dorothy is a lesbian.

There's no  storming off -- like Days Of Our Lives handled it in the late seventies.  Julie's surprised.  She's concerned about her father, who is in love with Dorothy, and she wants Dorothy to let her father down easily.  But her own reaction is, "No, it's me.  I'm not well-adjusted enough.  I'm sure I've got the same impulse -- I mean obviously I have the same impulses."  Because, right before Dorothy moved in for a kiss, she'd spoken of a longing -- one for Dorothy.

Julie:  And I don't want you take this the wrong way, but since I met you, I'm so grateful to have you as a friend and  yet at the same time I've never felt lonelier in my whole life.  It's as though I want something that I just can't have.  You know what I mean?  Do you?

When the two next meet, Dorothy's visiting Julie's dressing room with a present which Julie's not going to accept until Dorothy explains it's for Amy.  In the talk that follows, Julie makes it clear she's not pleased that Dorothy didn't end it with Les, but she also has none of the typical disgust with gays present in so many films (such as Leslie Ann Warren's character in Victor, Victoria) -- thrilled to pall around with strangers who are gay -- a lark, a walk on the wild side -- but nasty and mean when she thinks someone close to her is gay.

Julie's not seeing Dorothy as unnatural.  In fact, she allows that Dorothy's urges are not just understandable but, on some level, shared.

Julie:  Dorothy, I wouldn't be honest if I didn't tell you how much you've meant to me these past couple weeks.  You taught me how to stand up for myself because you always stand up for yourself.   You taught me to stop hiding and just be myself because you're always yourself.  And I'm grateful to you.  But -- Well, I just -- I just can't see you anymore, you know?  I just feel that it would be leading you on.  It wouldn't be fair to you.  I really love you, Dorothy.  But I can't -- I can't love you. 

In the world before Tootsie and, sadly, in the world after Tootsie, a film character being revealed as gay or assumed gay was a chance to howl with laughter or express disgust.  And in this way, film perpetuated homophobia.  Adults and teenagers saw that the 'normal' reaction to someone being gay was to attack them, to draw a line between them, etc.

Jessica Lange's Julie reacts to Dorothy in a different way.  Not only is Dorothy not 'strange' or 'unusual,' Julie's even willing to admit that she had the same impulse.

It was a huge step forward.

And Tootsie is still amazing to this day, a film classic that more than holds up and one of the best comedies of the 20th century.

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