Sunday, October 12, 2014

Film Classics of the 20th Century

In this ongoing series on film classics of the last century, we've looked at How To Marry A Millionaire,  Blow OutYou Only Live TwiceSleeper,  Diamonds Are Forever,  Sleepless In Seattle,  My Little Chickadee,  Tootsie,  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.

Of actors in the latter half of the 20th century, Warren Beatty may have made more film classics than anyone.  
Though a lesser one in his canon, Dick Tracy is among the film classics of the last century.  

Against all odds, Beatty brought the comic strip to the big screen.  Yes, Tim Burton's Batman had been a box office smash but Batman was a super hero -- one with many comic books.  Dick Tracy was largely known as a newspaper comic strip (it had comic books and even a Saturday cartoon at one point). 

And the implosion of Howard The Duck was not forgotten.

So it was a gamble for Disney and its Touchstone Pictures to greenlight the project.

Warren produced and directed and, yes, starred in the film.

It's a marvel of colors and visuals.  It's got a story that pulls you in and pacing that other films based on comic books should study (if they did, they'd be able to do more than origin story films).

The only weak link?

Glenne Headly.

With that pinched face and pasty complexion, we'd run off and leave her at the table too.

Tess Truehart is supposed to be the film's romantic interest.  

When filming started, Sean Young was playing the part.  It was felt she wasn't coming across (Sean has another story) and she was replaced.

That was a mistake.

A big one.

Sean could have provided fire in the performance but Glenn Headly can only play sexless freaks (in one film after another).  She also happens to be one of the worst actresses around.

If Sean was out (and she was), Warren should have gone with someone else -- Michelle Pfeiffer, Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Gena Davis, Sharon Stone -- any number of women but he went with a sexless mouse.

It matters.

For example, Tess is kidnapped at one point.

Instead of being worried about her, the audience is largely relieved she's now offscreen for a healthy chunk of the film since she's a wet blanket when onscreen. 

Her awful performance allows Madonna to steal the picture.

Madonna comes across as she seldom has in film.

She thought this was the beginning of her film career but no other director would take the care to light her and cover her with so many takes (her performance is pieced together in editing) as Beatty did.

Regardless, she nearly walks off with the film.

Which is really saying something in a film which features Dustin Hoffman. 

And James Caan.

And Estelle Parsons, Dick Van Dyke, Catherine O'Hara, Paul Sorvino, Michael J. Pollard, Charles Durning . . . 

and Al Pacino.

And Al Pacino who Madonna more than holds her own with.

In scene after scene, she comes across as talented and skilled.

But as good as she is, she's up against one person she can't steal the film from. 

And that's Warren Beatty.

An actor whose looks quickly elevated him to leading man status, Warren's filmography attests to both talent and taste.  Even his supposed misfires -- The Fortune and Ishtar, for example -- are being critically reconsidered.

With Dick Tracy, he made another film classic.

Again, Headly's all wrong for the film.  And what was the man who played love scenes with Goldie Hawn, Julie Christie, Diane Keaton, Natalie Wood, Faye Dunaway, Elizabeth Taylor, Jean Seberg and Leslie Caron thinking when he cast Headly?

Having done that, the decision to focus on Madonna's Breathless Mahoney was inspired.  And, again, Madonna was (for once) up to the film challenge.  

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