Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Paris

Can there be anyone who is not charmed by Audrey Hepburn? Or who doesn’t like “Charade,” the rom-com/thriller Stanley Donen made with her and Cary Grant with Paris backdrops in 1963? Something of a gender-reversed “North by Northwest,” I’d hope that Alfred Hitchcock regarded it as an homage. There is no cornfield buzzing and the hanging over a precipice is more prosaic than Mount Rushmore. And Martin Landau’s villain is multiplied to include three then-rising stars with Oscars in their futures: James Coburn, George Kennedy, and Walter Matthau. It’s not hard to recognize any of them, but there are the pleasures of looking back to when they were less well-known than they became.

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There is a plot involving a quarter of a million dollars of gold bullion that the four (plus Ned Glass) GIs liberated from the Nazis and did not deliver to their own government at the end of World War II. Hepburn’s husband, who is thrown off a moving train in the first scene seems to have returned first to claim it, and his partners believe Hepburn must have it.

She is befriended under suspicious circumstances by Cary Grant, who was the male star and suspect in Hitchcock’s “Suspicion.” before being pursued for reasons unknown to him in “North by Northwet.”  He goes through a series of names and exchanges snappy dialogue with Hepburn and the competitors for the loot. There is a pretty obnoxious child, if not as horrible as the one in Donen’s 1967 “Two for the Road,” —the American girl there may count as someone who did not like Audrey Hepburn.

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Donen, who died 21 Feb at the age of 94, was on a roll, having made the move from musicals (of which “Singing in the Rain” is his most famed) to nonmusical movies with major stars (Surprise Package, The Grass Is Greener, Arqbesque). My favorites both starred Audrey Hepburn: “Charade” and “Two for the Road.” (Donen also directed Hepburn in a musical with another of her many aged costars, Fred Astaire, “Funny Face” in 1957). For uncomplicated enjoyment, “Charade” has to be the choice. Among other things, it has better music from Henry Mancini. Both have attractive French backdrops (18-times-nominated for Oscar cinematographer Charles Lang shot “Charade”; Christopher Challis “2 4” and “Arabesque.”)

 

The Criterion Edition has an entertaining and informative commentary track laid down by Donen and screenwriter Peter Stone.

 

©2019, Stephen O. Murray

 

 

Summary of my treatment plan

Having survived nine rounds of chemotherapy (two different kinds), I am headed to autologous transplant of my stem cells.

First, I have ten consecutive days of getting two shots neupogen to stimulate white blood-cell production. (My blood hasnot been tested since last Monday, so platelets and red blood-cells may have crashed.

Then, a temporary (Quinton ) catheter is going to be installed to filter/spin blood(apheresis, the stem cell collection) for 2-3 days.

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Then the stem cells are going to be shipped off to UC-Davis and enhanced (this is the clinical trail part, of which I am the fifth patient).

Then, hospitalized for BEAM chemotherapy with four double daily doses of cytarabine and of etoposide, plus a starting dose of carmustine and and closing one of malphalan,

I assume it will take a few days for those drugs to make me feel really terrible and am told it takes 10-12 days for the start of recovery of (first white) blood cells. I’ll be receiving my enhanced stem cells immediately after the heavy-duty chemo (which aims to eradicate any hiding traces of lymphoma).

 

And then I’m likely to feel very weak and to have an immune system with no immunities (eventually, I will have to be vaccinated for the childhood illnesses I had, plus polio and more).

And then I may be healthy? It’s hard to conceive that from here…

 

A mature 1967 look at love being ground down by marriage

Producer-director Stanley Donen’s 1967 “Two for the Road” made me glad not to have children, The movie is less shocking a revelation of marriage killing romance than it was at the time, but in a rare instance of the elfin but often emotionally tough Hepburn being paired with younger man, Audrey Hepburn was beautiful and funny as Joanna. As Mark, Albert Finney was already something of a bully (officially 5’9”, perhaps compensating for his lack of height?) but there is chemistry between him and Hepburn. When she says, “I’ll never let you down,” he realistically responds, “I will” —and does, though they are still together (if bickering) at the end of the movie.

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The American couple (Eleanor Bron and William Daniels) with a very spoiled daughter (Ruthie) is horrifying, yet Hepburn accepts Finney’s marriage proposal when it comes, and soon they are estranged with a difficult (if not as monstrous) a daughter. He has casual infidelities, she one (with Georges Descrières) that is open and definitely pains her husband.

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Screenwriter Frederic Raphael (1931-) was no romantic, having already won an Oscar for the screenplay of “Darling” and later to adapt Schnitzler for Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” (he also adapted Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd with a sometimes pragmatic, sometimes passionate Julie Christie and Henry James’s Daisy Miller for Bogdanovich, a film I think much underrated). His screenplay for “Two for the Road” was Oscar-nominated.

I don’t remember films jumping back and forth in time without any date titles back in that day. Hepburn had many, many changes of clothes. I noticed a long list of coutures in the opening credits. There are also multiple cars driving through the south of France on annual summer trips over the course of 10 or 12 years of the relationship.

I don’t like Henry Mancinni’s soundtrack. The movie did not earn back its production costs, btw, even with that pop Midas touch.

Both Finney and Donen died earlier this year. I think that “Two for the Road” has aged better than Donen’s other 1967 movie, which I once liked, “Bedazzled.” (Then he made the really terrible “Staircase”, the mediocre “The Little Prince,” and “Lucky Lady,” which I may be the only person to like, having been at the Mexican location where some of it was filmed).

 

©2018, Stephen O. Murray

 

 

 

Mishima’s Frolic of the Animals

Had I not known that Frolic of the Beasts (originally published in Japanese in 1961 as Kemono no Tawamure) was by Mishima, I’d have guessed it was by Tanazaki. It is, perhaps, not kinky enough to be Tanizaki fiction, and warped relationships were by no means missing in Mishima’s works translated into English sooner. But there are no suicides. There is an attempt to maintain purity from carnal desire, a refusal to enact the frolicking beasts that the husband longs to watch.

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I found the opening of the book quite confusing, but the reader learns why Kôji is in prison relatively soon. A university student, he had been employed by a dandyish former professor turned merchant, Ippei. Ippei, “who may have lost his, [but] made use of the youth of others,” was a flagrant womanizer, eager to make his beautiful young wife, Yûko jealous (Ippei is the very Tanizaki character for me). She refuses him the satisfaction, though she discreetly hires a private detective and knows what he is up to.

The three of them and Ippei’s current main mistress are together. Ippei twice knocks Yûko to the floor and Kôji brings a wrench down on Ippei’s skull (also twice), after which Ippei is paralyzed on his right side.

Yûko takes over a set of greenhouses that supply orchids etc. When Kôji is released from prison (17 months, even though his attack was ruled to have been premeditated—which it was not, at least not by him!) he goes to live and work at the enterprise. He is intent not to have sexual congress with Yûko, who is sometimes teasing, sometimes needy, and cares for her disabled husband.

A typhoon threatens and we learn that the other employee raped his daughter after his wife died. Plus there is another triangle interlude centering on a ukulele (the daughter works in a ukulele factory). This inner(-narrative) triangle has some relationship to the 14th-century nô play (Motemazuka) the translator, Andrew Clare, believes Mishima was parodying.

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There is so much description of settings that I find it hard to think the story derives from a nô play. Moreover, the fiction is followed by an epilogue (for me the best part of the book) in which Mishima recounts how he heard the story and got somewhat involved (visiting the model for Yûko in prison, where his fiction does not consign her). The fictional priest does not resemble the one whom Mishima admired, btw.

 

©2018, Stephen O. Murray

Lorraine Hansberry’s (posthumous) third Broadway play

Lorrraine Hansberry  (1930-65) knew the South Side of Chicago (where she grew up, and where “Raisin in the Sun” is set) and New York’s Greenwich Village (where she lived as an adult, and where she set “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window”) better than she knew Africa. Nonetheless, I find her primary African character in her posthumously produced play “Les Blancs,” Tshembe, more credible than the American journalist, Charlie, who is its seeming protagonist. Charlie strikes me as a device to stimulate exposition by other characters, including Tshembe and “Madame,” the wife of a medical missionary who seems to be based on Albert Schweitzer but who is on the other side of the river and does not appear in the play.

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Tshembe has left Africa, and married a white woman, who has borne a child. He returns for the funeral of his father, a Kwi chief—who was also covertly the local head of the “terrorists” (based, I think, partly on Kenya’s Mau-Mau, partly on Algerians rebelling against their French masters). Tshembe’s brother, Abioseh, is also part of the resistance passing as a simple-minded servant of the European missionaries.

When the play premiered late in 1970 (which is to say after Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia had become known and led to furious protests, especially on college campuses, including Jackson State and Kent State, where protesters were shot), it divided the audience and critics, much as the plays of her idol, Sean O’Casey had in their day.

She was accused of supporting genocide of whites in Africa by some and of displaying (stereo)types rather than individuals (I would agree in regard to Charlie, but not Madame and not the Matoseh brothers).

 

The sanest response seems to have come from Harold Clurman in The Nation

“Les Blancs” is not propaganda, as has been inferred; it is a forceful and intelligent statement of the tragic impasse of black and white relations all over the world. It clarifies but does not seek to resolve, the historical and human problems involved. It does not provide an Answer. It is an honest play in which tought-provoking matter is given arrestingly theatrical body.

Despite a much-praised, powerful performance by James Earl Jones as Tshembe, the play did not run long on Broadway and seems largely forgotten. Whereas I thought that “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window” read better than I can imagine it playing on stage, I think that “Les Blancs” is playable, as well as interesting to read, and is a worthy companion to, for instance, Yulisa Amadu “Pat” Maddy’s 1973 novel No Past, No Present, No Future.

(The title is a strike at Jean Genet’s (1959) Les Noirs, which she disliked, but the French title gives the unfortunate impression that it is set in a French rather than and English African colony. Genet’s play deals with black identity, anger at colonialism, and the murder of a white woman, btw. And James Earl Jones also appeared in the first American production of Genet’s play, off-Broadway.)

 

©2018, Stephen O. Murray