The President We Deserve

Timothy Carey (on throne) plays a self-proclaimed messiah who starts his own political party in the underground satire, The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962).

You might not know the name but you know the face. One of the most eccentric character actors in American cinema, he has had the rare distinction of working with everyone from James Dean and Elia Kazan (East of Eden) to Marlon Brando (The Wild One; One-Eyed Jacks) to Stanley Kubrick (The Killing; Paths of Glory) to John Cassavetes (Minnie and Moskowitz; The Killing of a Chinese Bookie) to The Monkees (their feature debut Head) to Mr. T, Bill Maher and Gary Busey in D.C. Cab. Let me add a few more to that already impressive filmography which includes appearing with Clark Gable (Across the Wide Missouri), Francis the Talking Mule (Francis in the Navy) and Shelley Winters and Debbie Reynolds (What’s the Matter With Helen?) and god knows who else. We’re talking about Timothy Carey and probably his greatest role is the one you’ve never seen – The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962).  Continue reading

Robert Altman and the Cult of James Dean

A young Robert Altman ponders a camera set-up.

A young Robert Altman ponders a camera set-up.

While it is rarely shown in retrospectives of his work, Robert Altman’s The James Dean Story (1957) is easily one of the more offbeat and poetic examples of documentary filmmaking. Officially cited as his second feature (Altman’s first was The Delinquents, 1957), The James Dean Story was co-produced and co-directed with George W. George, a former writing partner of Altman’s, as a serious exploration of the young actor’s mystique and impact on the youth culture of the fifties.   Continue reading

Fishing with Dynamite

La_grande_strada_azzurra_plakat_itaGillo Pontecorvo began as a documentarian and his interest in social and political issues was already evident in early works like Giovanni (1955), which follows a textile laborer and her female co-workers through punishing work conditions into a full-blown protest against the factory owners. So it comes as no surprise that his first feature length film, The Wide Blue Road (aka La Grande Strada Azzurra, 1957), has an underlying social agenda even if it looks like a slice-of-life melodrama on the surface.   Continue reading

Christopher Plummer: The Von Trapp Who Didn’t Want to Sing

Christopher Plummer, out of his element and comfort zone in The Sound of Music (1965)

Christopher Plummer, out of his element and comfort zone in The Sound of Music (1965)

In interviews over the years Christopher Plummer would often jokingly refer to The Sound of Music as “The Sound of Mucus” or “S&M” but one can easily understand why he’d rather talk about almost any other film or theater production in his career because that 1965 blockbuster film was really a showcase for Julia Andrews. Plummer’s role as Captain Von Trapp was, in his own words, “very much a cardboard figure, humourless and one-dimensional.” Even though screenwriter Ernest Lehman collaborated with Plummer on improving the part, Captain Von Trapp was not destined to be one of the actor’s favorite roles. And having to sing was another drawback for him. As he confessed in his memoirs, he was “untrained as a singer. To stay on a long-sustained note was, for me, akin to a drunk trying to walk the straight white line…”    Continue reading