March 13, 2012

Screen Shot 2020-02-03 at 12.04.20 PM

This the final post in my series on the films of Robert Mulligan. Click for parts onetwo and three.

As much as Robert Mulligan is associated with the South, for To Kill a Mockingbird and The Man in the Moon, he was actually born in the Bronx. A few years after his tepidly received L.A. noir The Nickel Ride (1975), he adapted Richard Price’s Bronx-set second novel, Bloodbrothers, which was released in ’76 (the film came out in September of 1978). An epithet-laced trawl through an Italian working class family, Mulligan toned-down the language (from the book’s first page: “His hand smelled from that oily shit inside Trojans”), but captured the twitchy, carnal energies that fueled such texturally dirty talk.

Robert Surtees, who had shot Mulligan’s Summer of ’42 (’71) and The Other (’72), returns as the director of photography, although the the gauzy images of those films are replaced with hard-edged, dark blue tones. Clearly Mulligan was impressed with Jordan Cronenweth’s similarly detailed work in Nickel Ride. The film opens in a helicopter shot of a smoggy Bronx as night falls, crossing highways and subways until there is a cut to a crane shot that eases onto the facade of Banion’s Bar, seemingly the palpitating heart of the borough.  This amiable joint, the local watering hole for the construction worker’s union, is named after wheelchair bound Irish carouser/owner Banion (played with immense warmth by Kenneth McMillan) who trades handjob jokes and chummy backslaps with the volatile De Coco brothers, the insecure macho teddy bears whose family is the center of the film.

Banion’s is more home to the brothers than their walk-up apartments, filled as they are with the disheartening markers of adulthood like children, wives and bills. Tommy De Coco (Tony Lo Bianco) and his brother Chubby (Paul Sorvino) are the patriarch of a struggling clan, with Tommy’s wife Maria (Laila Goldoni) on the brink of a nervous breakdown, while his fragile, feminine youngest son has been browbeaten about his weight into anorexia. Tommy’s hope lies with his eldest, Stony (Richard Gere), a handsome, reassuringly hetero playboy who is about to enter the construction union. But alas, Stony has dreams of escape, implied in the cut from Banion’s to the elaborately outfitted cavern-disco he frequents, with faux-stalactites dripping from the ceiling in honor of his own raging, confused hormones. Focused by the straight talk of liberated chick Annette (an inflammatory Marilu Henner) Stony shirks construction for a job as a recreation assistant at the local hospital, fulfilling his dream of working with kids. Tommy is incensed, and Stony has to choose between family or freedom.

The script by studio veteran Walter Newman (Ace In the Hole) is overstuffed with incident (and received an Oscar nomination for it), and Mulligan embraces the abundance by pushing for an across-the-board hysterical style of acting. This is grating and invigorating in turn, with Tony Lo Bianco performing as an over-gesticulating stereotype, while Paul Sorvino’s papa bear routine secrets away layers of pain that well up in his often overfilled eyes (although he does have the benefit of the most emotionally naked monologue in the film). Richard Gere is effective in mumbly James Dean mode, a figure of naive charm starting to become aware of a world outside the Bronx. Although, as with all of Mulligan’s coming-of-age films, this knowledge is rife with dangers. Just as William and Jane fly away into uncertainty in The Pursuit of Happiness, so do Stony and his brother drive off into the unknown, with only a few bucks to their name, but a dream of independence just over the horizon.

There is none of this richly moving ambiguity in Same Time, Next Year, a stodgy farce that Mulligan cranked out quickly the same year. It was released in November of 1978, only two months after Bloodbrothers. It was based on a hugely successful Broadway play of the same name, about two lovers who meet once every year for a one-night stand. Written by TV scribe Bernard Slade (The Flying Nun, The Partridge Family), it ran for close to 1500 performances and netted Ellen Burstyn a Tony Award. For the film, Slade wrote the screenplay and Burstyn returned to play the role of Doris. Charles Grodin, who played George in the stage version, was replaced by Alan Alda.

It is nothing more than a filmed version of the play, taking place almost entirely in a hotel room, with little choreography inside the frame. It’s mostly Alda and Burstyn jawing back and forth at each other.  Robert Surtees returns as DP (his final film credit), and it contains the warm, nostalgic filtered light of Summer of ’42, but is only shown to its full beauty in a few exterior shots. The play itself is a clunky contraption, revisiting the lovers every five years or so, larded with cheap signifiers to denote each era. In the 60s, Burstyn dons Native American dress and talks about protesting, while Alda slides into a suit and talks about voting for Goldwater. The characters get lost in symbolism, and never crackle with erotic intensity (which comes with casting Alan Alda). The film was then of course nominated for four Oscars.

Mulligan, now deep into his 50s, began to slow down his working pace considerably. He had made ten features in the 60s, and six in the ’70s, but would go on to direct only two films in the ’80s, before capping his career with The Man In the Moon in 1991. He was still garnering awards and praise, so it is likely Mulligan could have been more productive if he so chose. But with the  turn to Jaws-imitating blockbusters, perhaps there were just not many appealing projects offered to him. His next feature, the supernatural romantic-comedy Kiss Me Goodbye (1982) would tend to affirm this theory.

Never one for “high-concept” plots, Mulligan has here agreed to direct a very loose adaptation of Dona Flor And Her Two Husbands (1976), about a woman whose dead husband begins to haunt her when she is to marry again. At the time of its release, the original was the most successful film in Brazilian history. It seems Mulligan could only make his kind of intimate drama if it had this kind of box-office goosing gimmick. And despite how ill-suited he was to this kind of genre mash-up, it ends up as a diverting treat, if not at the top-tier of his accomplishment.

He’s helped by a game cast, first and foremost Jeff Bridges, whose uptight Egyptologist at the Met Museum honorably channels Cary Grant’s similarly anal scientist in Bringing Up Baby. While not matching Grant’s athleticism and uncanny comic timing, Bridges does have a talent for embattled exasperation, his expression one of barely concealed disgust. And as Grant is drained by the  kookiness of Katherine Hepburn’s wealthy family, so is Bridges of his rich fiance, Sally Field. Field is innocuous in her usual chipper munchkin routine, so Claire Trevor (as her mother) easily sashays away with the show in her final feature film. It is worth watching just to see her grand industrial-strength bitchiness cut Bridges down to size. James Caan, as Field’s ghost husband, is woefully miscast as a charismatic Broadway choreographer, but he is nothing if not game, which could be said for this entire film, a modern contraption that Mulligan manages to make look towards the past. The film performed modestly at the box-office, finishing with $15.78 million, right in between Death Wish 2 and the re-issue of Star Wars (according to Box Office Mojo).

Then came the longest layoff in his career, six years, before he agreed to make Clara’s Heart (1988) for Mary Tyler Moore’s production company, MTM. He was clearly only willing to make films on his terms at this point, and this coming-of-age tale returns to his favored themes of maturation and disillusionment. Based on the novel by Joseph Olshan, it follows teenaged David (Neil Patrick Harris, in his first screen role), as he grapples with the death of his baby sister and the resultant crack-up of his parents’ marriage. He turns to his Jamaican nanny Clara (Whoopi Goldberg) for stability and strength. I harbored fears that this would devolve into one of those Hollywood wish-fulfillment fantasies where the kindly black character solves all of the rich white people’s problems, but thankfully, things simply get more complicated from there.

Mulligan had the good fortune to hire Freddie Francis (The Elephant Man) as his DP, and the film includes some of the most emotive set-ups of his career. In the opening sequence, Mulligan and Francis hold a close-up of David as a funeral ends, with flashes of black tuxedos passing him in the foreground. It is an image of a boy made scattered and incomplete by mourning. Later, they execute another shot of incompletion, during one of his parents’ arguments. In one long take, the mother is sitting screen right in a living room, the father to the left, in his study. The rooms are separated by a wall, so each are ensconced in their separate worlds. This image alone defines the dissolution of their union, and yet another rupture in David’s life.

His relationship with Clara is fraught, as he transitions from bratty teen to the realization that she is the only stable part of his life. They test and circle each other, waiting to expose each other’s vulnerabilities, as their racial and class boundaries are forefronted by Mulligan (the cut from David’s suburban mansion to the Jamaican neighborhood in Baltimore acts as a closure – there is not easy passing between these two zones). They develop their own wary love for each other, and by the time Clara reveals her own past traumas (that are as vast and unresolved as David’s), they accept each other for the imperfect, guilt-ridden creatures that they are. This is Mulligan’s kind of (ir)resolution, the recognition of limitations his own happy ending. So he ends it with another close-up of David, this time free and clear of all obstructions, aside from the ones in his memory. The film bombed, earning just over $5 million (right behind the Chuck Norris cheapie Hero and the Terror) and earned no Oscar nominations.

The Man in the Moon is a distillation of this theme of irresolution, one which opens with the idolized older sister saying, “sometimes things just don’t make sense, and all of a sudden, I get scared.” As with the opening shot of Bloodbrothers, Mulligan has his DP (Freddie Francis this time), crane his camera down into the film’s thematic heart, instead of a bar, it’s a screened in porch. This downward craning shot also has an echo in To Kill a Mockingbird, in which the camera descended a tree and outlined the main drag of the town, before backtracking to introduce Scout. The Man in the Moon‘s shot reveals another headstrong tomboy, Dani (Reese Witherspoon, who, like NPH, makes her screen debut. Mulligan was an ace talent scout). She is listening to Elvis’ “Loving You” for the umpteenth time, and is chastised by her older sister Maureen (Emily Warfield), who a few moments later will discuss her undefinable fear.

The story is utter simplicity, but rendered with subtlety in Jenny Wingfield’s original script (her first). Dani is in the process of trashing her Elvis posters and fixing her attentions on a real live boy – the dreamy new neighbor Court (Jason London). He literally crashes her childhood idyll, jumping into a swimming hole she had considered her own private domain. This rupture spurs Dani’s maturation, and engages her in a world of petty jealousies, shocking violence, and unutterable tragedy. All of Mulligan’s coming-of-age stories are steeped in death, the loss of innocence revealing the world in all its unresolved, unanswerable reality. Dani, as with Scout, or William (Pursuit of Happiness), or Hermie (Summer of ’42) has the veil removed from their childhood games, and they shift from a mythologized childhood to fraught adulthood. This transition is made visible Mulligan’s through subjective camera, the low-angles in Mockingbird and the idolizing slow-motion of ’42 changing to sober eye-line matches and close-ups.

Dani is visualized in tracking shots, speeding from house to lake in frolics of determined intensity. The first is seen before her initial encounter with Court at the lake, the last in a mournful sprint from her first funeral service. She opens by racing to something, and ends by sprinting away, into the unknown.  There is also a visual rhyme to that opening crane shot, which has its correlate in the shattering closer. The camera drifts towards the front of the house, reversing the opening shot, before cutting to the interior. It floats past the newborn baby and settles on their  Mom and Dad in bed, as Dani asks (offscreen): “Marie? Is it always going to hurt this bad?”. The implicit answer is in their father’s face, played so engagingly laconic by Sam Waterston, who has an inexplicable smile on his face as he turns and faces his wife, happy to be at home, regardless of the tragedies outside.

This reverie stops as Mulligan cuts to a static shot of the walled-in patio, where Maureen is combing Dani’s hair. Now the dreams are in the interior of the house, and the adolescents outside are growing into the no-nonsense world of static two-shots:

Dani:  “Sometimes, I think that nothing’s ever going to make sense again”

Maureen: “Maybe life’s not supposed to make sense.”

Dani: “Doesn’t that scare you?”

Maureen: [whispered] “Yes, it does.”

Maureen’s tossed-off lines at the beginning of the film, meant to assuage Dani’s own insecurities, are now repeated, and have accrued layers of resonance. It is one of those scenes that can reduce me to tears, regardless of how many times I’ve seen it, which has made this particular transcription particularly vexing.These lines are an acknowledgment that there is no governing logic to our lives, but whatever happens, that it can be endured with grace. There is no better way to encapsulate his extraordinary career than those words of Dani and Maureen, in their brave resignation.

So, watch some Mulligan.


February 28, 2012

Screen Shot 2020-02-03 at 11.56.26 AM

This is the third part of a series discussing the complete filmography of director Robert Mulligan. Click to read Part 1 and Part 2.

As the 1960s ended, so did Robert Mulligan’s collaboration with producer Alan Pakula. After seven films together, Pakula embarked upon a successful directing career of his own, beginning with the college romance of The Sterile Cuckoo in 1969 (which would earn Liza Minnelli her first Oscar nomination). Mulligan also tried his hand at courting the youth market,  starting production on The Pursuit of Happiness late that same year, although it was not released until 1971. It was the first coming-of-age story that Mulligan directed since To Kill A Mockingbird, and its melancholic sense of lost innocence pervades all of his work in the early 1970s.

As with all of the Pakula-Mulligan productions, The Pursuit of Happiness was adapted from a novel, this time by Thomas Rogers. The rights were purchased by David Susskind, a prolific producer of TV movies who re-entered theatrical features with this low-key story that was shot late in 1969 (he made the hit sex comedy Lovers and Other Strangers (1970) immediately afterward). Sidney Caroll (The Hustler) wrote the script, but a revision by George Sherman introduced so many changes that Caroll requested his name be changed to Jon Boothe. The final draft follows lapsed-radical William Popper (a morose Michael Sarrazin) as he argues with his student-activist girlfriend Jane (Barbara Hershey) and accidentally sulks his way into prison. There he decides to drop out of society for good.

Working on location in NYC with D.P. Dick Kratina, who had just shot seedier parts of the city in Midnight Cowboy, Robert Mulligan crafts a sympathetic, though distant, portrait of a disaffected ex-Leftist youth. Mulligan, who had joined the Marines at the tail end of WWII, was an outsider to the violent revolutionary stirrings of the 60s, saying that, “We were in the process of a nightmare that I didn’t understand. and that I didn’t feel anyone else understood. I mean, the riots were going on, the campuses were being burnt, the ghettos were being burnt, the marches were going on, people were being killed. It just didn’t make any sense.” Pursuit is his attempt to comprehend a generation he is entirely disconnected from, and the result is a film of great sensitivity and sadness, because he can never bridge that gulf.

Kratina and Mulligan open the film on a close-up of a toy sailboat, bobbing in a park pond, inter-cut with shots of William. He is instantly identified as adrift and alone, cutting through a sea of humanity, each protesting inaudible causes. Kratina’s camera roams with a cinema-verite freedom, the frames crammed with idealistic bodies that William swiftly navigates away from.William ignores them, Sarrazin’s face holding a persistent dopey calm, a smirk perpetually creeping up his lips. He slices his way to his girlfriend (an engagingly perky Barbara Hershey), who was originally inflamed by his passion, and now vaguely annoyed by his apathy and creeping nihilism. Their academic world is filled out by their Hippie pal Melvin (an adorably manic Robert Klein), who is seen mostly sleeping in William and Jane’s bed.

Their circumscribed world comes apart when William is involved in a car accident, and faces serious jail time. Then the world outside floods in, and with it the revelations that he comes from a rich, well-connected family, and political resentments ooze out of every corner. His aunt asks, “still a communist?”, while his grandmother bluntly states how her neighborhood declined once the “negroes and jews” moved in. Because of his wealth, he gets fine representation from a blustery E.G. Marshall, who pithily comments that “when you got in trouble, you came straight for the reactionary bastard.” The sense of class betrayal is ever-present, no more so in the painfully bittersweet scene when William declines his Grandmother’s offer to inherit the family mansion. She, like William Buckley Jr., wanted to “stand athwart history, yelling stop!”, but had to watch her grandson embrace the multi-cultural future instead.

When William decides to escape America once and for all, it should be a moment of triumph, and would be in a traditional counter-culture movie of the period. But Mulligan senses tragedy in this breakdown of society, no matter how nakedly corrupt he has shown it to be. Their departure sequence occurs in near-silence, after an uncomfortable barter with a smarmy pilot played by William Devane. The transaction is starkly capitalistic, as if the couple is swapping one exploitative system for another (one of crime). So when they take to the air, headed for Mexico, the overwhelming emotion is not one of release, but of unutterable sadness. The lovely Randy Newman song that plays under their escape captures this ambivalence perfectly:  “Let me go, let me go, let me go/Don’t give me the answer/cause I don’t want to know”.

Columbia Pictures delayed the release of The Pursuit of Happiness for over a year, perhaps because of how “square” the film would look next to Easy Rider (1969), and put it out to little fanfare in February of 1971. In the interim, Mulligan shot the deeply personal Summer of ’42, which Warner Brothers released to enormous box office in April of that same year. It’s a nostalgic coming-of-age tale of three young boys as they spend a summer on Nantucket. Seemingly tailored for Nixon’s so-called Silent Majority, with its loving evocation of small-town American life, it nevertheless retains the ambivalent melancholy of The Pursuit of Happiness, its youths also lost inside of different kinds of American myths.

Herman Raucher wrote the autobiographical script in the 1950s while as a TV writer, but he couldn’t get anyone to look at it. He was acquaintances with Mulligan from those days, and once the director gained enough clout, was able to get the picture funded for “a million dollars” (interview in the TC Palm). The story centers on Hermie (Gary Grimes) and his infatuation with Dorothy (a dreamy Jennifer O’Neill), the beautiful army wife whose husband is fighting during WWII.

It is Mulligan’s first collaboration with the great DP Robert Surtees (The Last Picture Show), and they opt for heavily filtered images of browns and greens, the beaches fading like old Polaroids. This sense of the movie as memory is enhanced by the voice-over, which is read by the director himself. The events are clearly past, mythologically so, with scenes of troops sailing off to war, first dates at the movie house, and fumbling over an old sex manual. These are scenes that could come out of a Budweiser commercial, but Mulligan invests them with such emotion and detail they become monumental. He shoots Hermie’s hand marching down the shoulder of his date as if he was conquering Normandy. One starts to notice the expressivity of clothes and objects, the gritty texture of Hermie’s beach shoes and rolled up slacks, as if a Victorian orphan in short pants, unfit to be seen in the presence of Dorothy’s snug cable sweaters and J. Crew yachtswoman wear. Through Hermie’s gaze, Dorothy is a mystical object.

The penultimate sequence, in which Dorothy falls into Hermie’s embrace, is a marvel of tonal ambiguity, as unexpected as the close of The Pursuit of Happiness. What should be Hermie’s glorious climax is a scene of mourning and cold comfort. Hermie enters her room, and Mulligan and Surtees isolate objects of her presence: a cigarette, a skipping turntable and a crumpled letter. The room is heavy with her presence, a ghostly atmosphere. Hermie resets the music, and Michel Legrand’s score fills the room, opening a space for Dorothy’s entrance. She enters, and it’s become clear her husband has died. The music ends and the clicking sound repeats with grief-stricken repetitions. Dorothy falls into Hermie’s arms, and Mulligan continues to focus on details: feet, hands, shadows on wallpaper. Neither are whole individuals, Dorothy is slowly collapsing, Hermie overwhelmed to keep her together. The lurid climax of the usual hetero sex comedy has turned into something tragic and uncertain. In the end, the ghostly Dorothy disappears, and Hermie is left to look at the ruins of his childhood, saying in retrospective voice-over, “I lost Hermie, forever”.

The Other (1972) is also about loss, but fudged into the Manichean machinations of a boilerplate horror tale. It’s adapted from actor-turned-author Tom Tryon’s best-selling novel about twin boys who have a penchant for astral projection, hallucinations and a few murders. It is 1935 and Holland and Niles Perry live an idyllic-Satanic life in Connecticut, stealing jam from the neighbors and a finger from their dead father. The family’s maid, Ada (Uta Hagen, in her first screen role), has been teaching the boys how to astral project their bodies, but has begun to suspect these lessons are not being used for good.

It retains the thrust of his other work in this period, of the tragic death of childhood illusions (and no viable afterlife), but the vehicle for this idea is a rickety one. Tryon’s script never develops a coherent character out of either twin, both just inexpressive conduits for a few slaughters, with no childhood left to mourn. Without this emotional undertone, the film becomes a slog of unmotivated plot twists. The child actors, Chris and Martin Udvarnoky, are eager but uncharismatic, never gaining the unaffected naturalness of the kids in Summer of ’42 or To Kill a Mockingbird. These tots are always over-emphasizing their lines, more or less pounding them flat. Despite all these dramatic flaws, the film still looks gorgeous, with Mulligan and Surtees bathing it in a golden-green glow, and pulling off some impressive subjective camera shots, which become fractured along with Niles’ psychology.

Mulligan followed up this misfire with one of his greatest works, The Nickel Ride (1974)Mulligan depicts the decaying mental state of an aging paranoiac through cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth’s palette of rotting browns, and lead actor Jason Miller’s remarkable ability to deflate himself into the posture of a crumpled paper bag. Miller plays Coop, a low-level fixer for the Los Angeles mob who is getting pushed out of his position by a young, sweetly psychotic Southerner (Bo Hopkins, channeling Jon Voigt in Midnight Cowboy). One of Eric Roth’s (Forrest Gump) earliest scripts, it is also his most effective, a film about the cruelty of time’s passing and the crueller tricks of an addled mind. Instead of youth passing into adulthood, it is about middle-age passing into death.

Originally called 50-50, Eric Roth recalled in Backstory 5 that it was supposed to be about “a man turning fifty, a film noir with intimations of mortality.” Robert Mulligan agreed to make it for producer David Foster, his first film after making McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), who had secured a distribution deal with 20th Century Fox. The lead was originally intended to be played by George C. Scott, but he had to drop out, leaving the part to relative newcomer Jason Miller, fresh off of The Exorcist. Miller is extraordinary, giving a performance of hollowed-out intensity. He painfully maintains his everyman persona at the local watering hole and with his painfully young wife (Linda Haynes), as his fears start to devour him. His speech becomes clipped and his face draws ever tighter into a skeletal mask. At his lowest point he is stalled by the side of the road, an infernal red tail light edging his body, sure that his life is about to end. He just sighs, “Things change.”


February 7, 2012

Screen Shot 2020-02-03 at 11.45.54 AM

This is Part Two of a four-part series that looks at the career of director Robert Mulligan. You can find Part One here.

After the success of To Kill a Mockingbird, Robert Mulligan and producer Alan Pakula made five straight films together to close out the 1960s, before Pakula departed to become a director himself. Using Mockingbird as a template, the duo chose projects that dealt with hot button issues (Love With the Proper Stranger and Up the Down Staircase), or were prestigious literary adaptations (Baby the Rain Must Fall and Inside Daisy Clover). Their final collaboration, The Stalking Moon, with a story taken from a Western novelis the exception. Regardless of their middlebrow origin, these are films sensitively attuned to the social and geographic landscapes of their subjects, to the ebb and flow of urban overcrowding and the oppressive emptiness of the open plains. These films also continue Mulligan’s interest in outsiders adapting to new realities, in “dramas of experience intruding upon innocence”, as Kent Jones eloquently put it.

Love With the Proper Stranger was filmed in March, 1963, just as To Kill a Mockingbird was opening nationwide, and was released that December by Paramount. The original script by Arthur Schulman is a downscale romantic comedy, about two struggling New Yorkers, one the out-of-work musician Rocky Papasano (Steve McQueen), the other Macy’s cashier Angie Rossini (Natalie Wood), who are thrown into a relationship after a one-night stand. Angie is pregnant and confronts Rocky, but only wants him to help pay for her abortion.

The musician role was originally offered to Paul Newman, but he turned it down to play the title role in Martin Ritt’s Hud. McQueen doesn’t look the part (he’s more Celtic than Italian-American), but his impassive, slightly hunched interpretation of his character’s protective cynicism is effective and affecting. He walks uncertainly, as if he depended on the city’s walls to hold him upright.

The movie came out a year after Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl was published (and was filmed a month after The Feminine Mystique came out), and the film channels some tenets of this embryonic feminist text. Angie, when she learns she is pregnant, initially decides to get an abortion, and repeatedly refuses Rocky’s request to get married. Above all else, she wants to live on her own and have financial independence, one of Gurley Brown’s main tenets. Natalie Wood plays Angie with a childish impudence, her stand on women’s rights emerging out of foot-stamping temper tantrums. As the film progresses, and the power roles shift, Wood is able to direct McQueen’s actions with the power of her gaze.

Mulligan has Rocky and Angie continually navigate densely populated spaces (most of which were shot handheld, on location in NYC), going with and against the flow of crowds. In the opening, in which the musicians’ union hall is shown slowly filling to capacity, Angie has to squeeze through to track down Rocky, who doesn’t even remember her. Angie’s apartment is a jungle of mattresses, loud-mouthed brothers and spiteful mothers. Rocky is only seen in his mistress’ place, filled with a half-dozen dogs and cardboard cut-outs of her burlesque act. The world only empties out when they head to the Meatpacking district and meet the black-market abortionist on an abandoned street corner. The world subsides, and decisions must finally be made.

Mulligan re-teamed with McQueen for Baby the Rain Must Fall (1965), a Southern melodrama made for Columbia Pictures about a Texas rockabilly singer and his relationship with his estranged wife. Horton Foote, who wrote the To Kill a Mockingbird screenplay, adapted his own 1954 play, The Traveling Lady for the screen version. The film follows Georgette (Lee Remick) and her daughter as they travel to the small town of Columbus, TX, to see her husband Henry (McQueen), recently released from jail. He is a talented singer-songwriter and a dedicated drunk, unable to resist the lure of the juke joints. An orphan, Henry was raised by the dictatorial Miss Kate (Georgia Simmons), who beat and belittled him as a child. Henry has to overcome his personal and family demons to have any chance at a decent life.

Shot in B&W by veteran Ernest Laszlo (Kiss Me Deadly), the look is the drab grays and hard-edged realism of WPA photographers like Dorothea Lange, while Mulligan opts for contrasts of wide landscapes and looming close-ups. Henry and Kate are connected in the opening bus ride by match cuts on their faces looking off-screen, and their relationship is closed by looking away from each other in the final shot.

The visuals are reliably elegant, but the story is a bit overwrought, with the deeply felt story of Henry and Georgette’s relationship getting overshadowed by the bizarre Southern Gothic subplot of Miss Kate, whose arch-villainy provides a too-pat explanation for Henry’s self-destructive behavior. It’s better to shut your ears and just watch Mulligan and Laszlo go to work.

Mulligan and Pakula went to Warner Brothers for their largest project to date on Inside Daisy Clover, which Natalie Wood was eager to make. Wood had known author Gavin Lambert because of his association with Nicholas Ray, who had directed her in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Lambert was a young film critic for the British magazine Sequence who later became Ray’s assistant and co-screenwriter on Bitter Victory (1957). Wood contacted him to adapt his own book, and the project started up.

Wood had a personal interest in the satirical tale of Daisy Clover, the young girl plucked from obscurity and groomed into a major studio star, a trajectory largely similar to Wood’s, who gained fame as a little girl in Miracle on 34th St.(1947). The story tracks Clover’s ascent from a celebrity photo stand in Angel Beach, CA, to the heights of Hollywood glory. Along the way she loses her mother and any sense of personal identity. Molded by Swan Studios head Raymond Swan (a deliciously supercilious Christopher Plummer), she becomes a sexless child-star into her late teens, a Mary Pickford of the ‘30s (when the film is set).

It was an odd project for Mulligan to take on, a campy, deeply ironic text put in the hands of an earnest, old-school dramatist. If directed by someone as gifted at caricature and exaggeration as George Axelrod, it would undoubtedly be funnier and more ruthless, however Mulligan does elicit fine performances from Wood, Robert Redford and Ruth Gordon (who received a Best Supporting Actress nomination as Daisy’s ditzy mother). Wood’s transition from smart-aleck street urchin to trembling neurotic is pitched at the same manic level, as if Daisy were hoping that if she kept moving she would never collapse. Redford’s Wade Lewis is the dashing leading man who marries Daisy and breaks her heart. Lewis was originally written as homosexual, although Redford didn’t want to play it that way:

“I wanted to play him as a guy who bats ten ways – men, women, children, dogs, cats, anything – anything that salves his ego. Total narcissism.”

He is Valentino-suave, a nimble seducer who can back men and women willingly into any corner. It is a impressively eroticizied performance for the young Redford, who was singled out for positive notices in the generally hostile reviews. It was also one of the few depictions of a homosexual, or bisexual, character in the 1960s that was not killed in the last reel (as Vito Russo writes in The Celluloid Closet).

Manny Farber described the film as a “thoroughly soft Hollywood self-satire”, but rightly points out the tragic heart of the film, the scene in which Daisy breaks down during a dubbing session. “One scene that is dynamite as anti-Hollywood criticism and the only scene in which Natalie Wood, snapping her fingers to get in time with a giant screen image of herself, is inside the Daisy role with the nervous, corruptible, teenage talent discovered years ago by Nick Ray.” With her image duplicated up on-screen, Daisy repeatedly tries to fill that screen icon’s mouth with her own words, but she can’t do it. The image up there no-longer represents the woman in the booth, and she breaks down, the first step in breaking free.

Inside Daisy Clover was Mulligan-Pakula’s first big failure at the box-office, so they retrenched with a smaller-scale movie, again at Warner Brothers. The two Bronx boys returned with a small high-school drama set in East Harlem, Up the Down Staircase. It was based on the novel by Bel Kaufman, and adapted for the movie by Tad Mosel. It was filmed in Benjamin Franklin High School (now the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics), and uses what looks like real students as extras.

In a return to the style of Love With the Proper Stranger, Mulligan uses a lot of mobile handheld cameras to get right into the chaotic flow of teenagers rampaging through hallways. He follows Sandy Dennis through the chaos, playing a teacher straight out of grad school and thrown into the English department. The movie, which opens in the morning herd, is all about organizing the herd into an efficient shape. The routine of the school is expertly plotted by Mulligan and his DP Joseph Coffee, looping in and around the main office as Dennis picks up the endless paperwork and adapts to the quick, repetitive rhythms of a NYC bureaucracy. Mulligan rarely slows down the speed, but when he does, it’s a stunner. He singles out one of Dennis’ students, Alice, for a particular investigation.

As in Proper Stranger’s Meatpacking District, the world empties out, and Alice wanders the hallways with a love letter in her hand. Keeping a respectful distance behind her, Mulligan follows her progress into the office as she drops it off, exits to the middle of the school, hesitates, and returns. She is aghast to see the “unpublished writer, and therefore dangerous” Paul Barringer (Patrick Bedford) holding her letter in his hand, with a smug smile on his face. This simple scene has psychological ramifications that radiate throughout the rest of the film. It is a sequence that tracks Alice’s movements as well as her thoughts, the hesitation revealing the worlds of emotion weighted beneath her surface.

The idea of “moving-as-thinking” is key to The Stalking Moon (1968), a spare Western with no social significance or literary pedigree (it was based on a book by Theodore V. Olsen). For their final collaboration, Mulligan and Pakula make a film that is simply pure cinema, a chase between reluctant hero Gregory Peck and the vengeful, displaced Salvaje (Nathaniel Narcisco). In 1881, Peck is working his last day as an Army Scout, but finds an American, played by Eva Marie Saint, who had been a captive of the Apaches for 10 years. Peck, after much harrumphing, agrees to help Saint and her child travel to Columbus, OH. When he discovers that the legendary Apache warrior Salvaje is the child’s father, he invites them to stay at his cabin, and protect them the best he can. It is an extended chase film, in which one side (Salvaje), is barely seen. The perspective is restricted to Peck, whose looks and hesitations express more than the minimal dialogue he is given.

There is a moment in the cabin, in the low-light of the room shot by DP Charles Lang, in which Peck sits and stares, waiting for Salvaje to enter. Everything is dark except for Peck’s face, the only point of contemplation, in this frame-as-sensorium, where every little movement or sound gives one away. In the end it is a sliver of light that marks Salvaje’s downfall, and the beginning of a new, protective family unit, awake to the world around them.

I am very indebted to Kent Jones’ article on The Stalking Moon in Film Comment.


January 31, 2012

Screen Shot 2020-02-03 at 11.37.34 AM

As part of the 100th Anniversary of Universal Pictures, the studio is remastering a series of classic library titles for Blu-Ray, including a 50th Anniversary edition of To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), which comes out today. The movie has become embedded in American culture, but the quiet craftsman behind the adaptation has been largely forgotten. Over the next four weeks I will be doing an exhaustive (but hopefully not exhausting) film-by-film analysis of Robert Mulligan’s directing career. You have Kent Jones to blame for this, who organized the revelatory 2009 retrospective at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, in which I discovered Mulligan’s masterful use of point-of-view and his innate, deeply affecting sympathy for society’s outsiders. He was trained in television like Sidney Lumet and John Frankenheimer, but his elegant style and temperament is straight out of the old studio system. Today I’ll cover his work from Fear Strikes Out (1957) through To Kill A Mockingbird (1962).

Robert Mulligan was born in the Bronx on August 23rd, 1925. After Navy service in WWII and completing a bachelor’s degree from Fordham University, Mulligan got a job as a messenger with CBS. He climbed the ladder to become a television director, most prolifically for “Suspense” (1949 – 1954), a live half-hour drama for which he directed 29 episodes. In 1957 Mulligan made his first theatrical feature, Fear Strikes Out, an adaptation of Boston Red Sox center-fielder Jimmy Piersall’s memoir. It was the first of seven films that Mulligan would make with producer (and later director) Alan J. Pakula (The Parallax View), who also hailed from the Bronx.

In the first of Mulligan’s neurotic protagonists, Fear Strikes Out (1957) stars Anthony Perkins as Piersall, an insecure outfielder who has a nervous breakdown soon after getting called up to the majors. After a year of therapy, and dealing with the excessive pressure pinned on him by his striving father (Karl Malden), Piersall returns to the bigs. He ended up playing parts of 17 years in the league, with two All-Star appearances and Gold Gloves to his credit (here is his Baseball Reference page). Paramount paid a modest $50,000 to secure the rights to Piersall’s pop-psych bestseller, with a production budget of just under a million dollars.

Production head Don Hartman assigned his old assistant Pakula to produce and Mulligan to direct, both first-timers. It is an assured debut for both, shot B&W in the VistaVision process (Paramount’s widescreen competitor to CinemaScope) by veteran DP Haskell Boggs (The Furies, The Geisha Boy).  The live TV shows in which Mulligan cut his teeth used a very mobile camera to create different set-ups on the fly, and Mulligan carries this over to Fear Strikes Out. In one striking sequence, the Piersall family’s poverty is expressed in a few wordless shots. Karl Malden walks inside their spartan home (that overlooks a baking factory), exchanging a bitter look with his wife. Then the camera follows as he walks to the sink, and starts doing the dishes. Mulligan pushes the camera closer to their backs until he finally starts speaking, and it becomes clear he had lost his job, equally embarrassed to tell the camera as his wife.

Anthony Perkins presents another wounded bird for his remarkable menagerie of neurotics, his Piersall a jangly-limbed obsessive who’d rather practice his slide than talk to girls. As Piersall’s world constricts to the one on the field, and his state-of-mind is determined by his batting average, Perkins taps into his inner psycho and rips out a freak-out more outsized than Norman Bates’ sneer. After a slump-busting home-run, Piersall races to the stands behind home plate, and in a full-throated roar asks a dumbstruck Malden if that was good enough, screaming the question until his body convulses into a spastic fit. Francois Truffaut was a young admirer, calling it one of the best of the year, describing it as a “bitter and disillusioned film that doesn’t make you want to live in America. But if there were French directors as lucid and talented as Mulligan…the image of our country on the screen would be a bit less simplified.”

The Rat Race (1960) is not likely to lead anyone to book an American vacation either. The first of two star vehicles Mulligan made with Tony Curtis, it an adaptation of a Garson Kanin play (again made for Paramount), for which Kanin also wrote the script. Curtis is a Midwestern jazz musician who moves to NYC hoping to join a big band, auditioning for the likes of Gerry Mulligan. Debbie Reynolds is his disillusioned roommate, her dreams of modeling already diminished into a job as a taxi dancer who endures harassment from her pervy boss (a menacingly seedy turn by Don Rickles). It’s a dark romantic comedy, with laughs derived from robbery, poverty and desperation. It is another portrayal of outsiders adapting to an antagonistic society, with Curtis and Reynolds forming a shell of defense through their rapport of wisecracking flirtation. Reynolds is especially affecting as a worn-down cynic in one of her first purely dramatic performances. Mulligan does seem hamstrung by the simple studio sets, making do with the materials of what is little more than a filmed play, but it is still a tough, affecting little farce.

Mulligan and Curtis moved to Universal to make The Great Impostor (1961), a comedy based on the true story of Ferdinand Waldo Demara, Jr., a talented con man who passed himself off as a doctor, a warden and a monk. Mulligan and screenwriter Liam O’Brien present Ferdinand as another disillusioned kid, using con-games and play-acting to deny the reality of his impoverished upbringing. While in the army, Ferdinand realizes he can’t get a commission because he lacks a high-school diploma, so he forges a whole illustrious educational career, and he’s off to the multiple-identity races.  While the characters of Fear Strikes Out and The Rat Race find ways to defend themselves from reality (through therapy or love), Ferdinand simply decides to ignore it.

The tone ranges wildly, from madcap farce (like the Novacane overdose teeth-pulling session) to sober melodrama (a prison riot). Curtis is an able chameleonic blank, turning off the charisma spout and turning on the sobriety where necessary.  Mulligan does a workmanlike job with this star vehicle, although unwisely tries to goose the antics with punchline zoom-ins that over emphasize jokes that work well enough on their own. The Great Impostor is a winning trifle that is major in its own way, for it was the first time Mulligan worked with legendary art director Henry Bumstead (Vertigo). A relentless hard-worker and polymath, Mulligan told Bumstead biographer Andrew Horton that the art director “knew infinitely more about the practical, nuts and bolts business of putting a story on camera than you did”. Bumstead had to quickly erect sets for all of Ferdinand’s professions, the most memorable being the arches of the Holy Cross monastery, which seeming recede infinitely into the distance, the sense of divine infinity nicely contrasting with Ferdinand’s get-identity-quick schemes. They would collaborate four more times, culminating in Bumstead winning an Oscar for his work on To Kill a Mockingbird.

The duo would work together again for Universal on Come September (1961) the first of two big-budget spectacles they would make starring Rock Hudson. This one is a frothy generation-gap comedy in which stinking rich capitalist Hudson sees his Italian mistress Gina Lollobrigida every September at his villa in Portofino. Unbeknownst to him, the villa’s caretaker turns the estate into a hotel the rest of the year. So when Hudson shows up unannounced for a summer dalliance, his place is stuffed with a busload of rebellious American teens in heat, including Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin.

Rock Hudson is presented as pretty adolescent himself, secretly sketching a scantily clad woman at a business meeting and expecting Lollobrigida to to be charmed by the scraps of attention he gives her. Considering that he is Rock Hudson, and wears form-fitting white suits, this works for a time, although eventually she rebels and reveals him to be the sniveling juvenile he really is.

Shot in CinemaScope and Technicolor by William H. Daniels (Some Came Running), the frame oozes with bright daubs of color to offset Hudson’s dazzling whiteness, which Lollobrigida obliterates in whirling dervish performance of screwball mania and lithe sexual intensity (her character’s last name is Fellini – coincidence?). Anytime she’s off-screen the pace lags, especially with the milquetoast Darin-Dee couple, but thankfully her absences are brief.

Alas, The Spiral Road (1962) is sans Lollobrigida, and is a long slog at 145 minutes without her. An awkward combination of medical soap opera and psychological thriller, it is about an atheistic young doctor who travels to Indonesia to learn about the containment of leprosy, and then shifts into a nonsensical adventure tale when he pursues (and is driven mad by) a voodoo medicine man. It is adapted from the novel of the same name by Jan de Hartog, and not even an early score from Jerry Goldsmith, cinematography from Russell Harlan (Gun Crazy) and a wily performance from Burl Ives (channeling his wacko survivalist routine from Wind Across the Everglades) can save it from its paternalistic moralizing and slack pacing.

By the time The Spiral Road was released in August of 1962, Mulligan had already shot To Kill a Mockingbird, which received its official premiere in Los Angeles on Christmas Day. Russell Harlan returns as DP, Henry Bumstead as art director and Alan J. Pakula as producer, with whom Mulligan had formed Pakula-Mulligan Productions, Inc. Graced with his finest script to date by Horton Foote, and very comfortable with his regular group of collaborators, Mulligan was free to experiment with his visual style, tinkering with subjective camera-positions for the first time since Fear Strikes Out, a technique he would hone the rest of his career.

After the credit sequence, Mulligan lays out the geography of a small Alabama street. In an elaborate crane shot, which starts high in the tree branches, the camera lowers to eye level and travels left along the turn in a road, before getting distracted by a horse and gliding back to the right. It is as if an impatient eye was diverted by the stout animal, and right as if on cue, Scout (Mary Badham) swings from one of those same tree branches off-screen right into the edge of the frame, announcing herself as the enunciating force of the movie.

Mulligan experimented with POV shots in Fear Strikes Out, memorably so in an aural hallucination of crowd noise, but with To Kill a Mockingbird he structures the whole movie around the technique (with a few necessary cheats in the courtroom scene). The movie exerts such an emotional pull because Mulligan masks the adult world from Scout’s view, choosing low-angles that peer half-obscured truths that she can not yet process. She is shown peeping into the courtroom (with no matching counter-shot), staring over a fence at the Radley home, which is lit like a haunted house of a child’s imagination, and when they get close, Boo Radley’s shadow passes over them like Nosferatu’s when he climbs the stairs – Scout and Jem’s own Universal horror movie.

When societal horrors come to the fore, and Atticus reveals the nature of his case, the POV subtly shifts, from a birds’ eye view of Scout in the balcony to Atticus’ eye-level view down on the courtroom floor. This shift in POV matches Scout’s maturation, that her stubbornly gained knowledge of life’s real terrors are often more awful than her imagination. It is a beautiful, trembling film, that all of the cast and crew bring to shuddering life, highlighted by Gregory Peck’s performance of exhausted virtue, each of his dignified acts becoming more wearying with age.

The Universal Blu-Ray is predictably pristine, the funereal grays of Harlan’s cinematography popping out in granular detail. This will likely be the only Robert Mulligan film to make the leap to HD, but it is only the beginning of his stylistic experimentation with the subjective camera – he uses it to brilliant ends in horror (The Other), gangster movies (The Nickel Ride) and coming-of-age tales (The Man in the Moon). Next week I’ll look at the rest of his films from the 60s, from Love With the Proper Stranger (’63) through The Stalking Moon (’68).


December 13, 2011

nickel ride

It’s that festive time of year again, when family ties are maintained through the ritualized exchange of fabrics, wrought plastics and optical discs. This joyous occasion ensures that husband and wife, or parent and child, can contentedly ignore each other until the next wallet-busting holiday. I am here to ensure the smooth operation of this essential human activity, providing an idiosyncratic list of new DVDs and Blu-Rays that, if wrapped in glossy paper, will blind your favored loved one to your significant shortcomings. To prove my goodwill, my wife and fellow writer Andrea Janes will close out the list with her thoughts on a movie I asked her to watch, as a distraction from my lax grooming habits. Seasons Greetings!

The Nickel Ride (1975, DVD)

Released today on DVD from the canny studio library raiders at Shout! Factory (in a set with John Frankenheimer’s dire 99 and 44/100% Dead), this gorgeously elegiac gangster film should be exhibit #1 when making an over-enthusiastic case for the work of director Robert Mulligan. Remembered mainly for his adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), he was an elegant craftsman who could completely inhabit a character’s point-of-view. In Mockingbird and The Man in the Moon (1991) he restricts it to children through low-angles and gliding, youthfully quick tracking shots. In Nickel Ride Mulligan depicts the decaying mental state of an aging paranoiac through cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth’s palette of rotting browns, and lead actor Jason Miller’s remarkable ability to deflate himself into the posture of a crumpled paper bag. Miller plays Coop, a low-level fixer for the Los Angeles mob who is getting pushed out of his position by a young, sweetly psychotic Southerner (Bo Hopkins, channeling Jon Voigt in Midnight Cowboy). One of Eric Roth’s (Forrest Gump) earliest scripts, it is also his most effective, a film about the cruelty of time’s passing and the crueler tricks of an addled mind.


Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)

For the 70th Anniversary of the Pearl Harbor bombings, 20th Century Fox released a handsome Blu-Ray edition of this sober, ambitious docu-drama of Dec. 7th, 1941. Darryl Zanuck was eager to recreate the box-office bonanza of The Longest Day (1962), and takes that film’s gimmick of telling the historical event from different points of view, and with entirely different crews, an idea which Clint Eastwood adopted for his WWII diptych, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. In this case, Richard Fleischer was tasked to direct the American side, and Akira Kurosawa the Japanese (Joseph McBride notes that John Ford was eager to take on the project, but was never considered for it). Kurosawa dropped out early in the production, after endless disputes with American production supervisors. Fleischer, in his autobiography, writes that Kurosawa, “felt this was a gross intrusion and an insult to national honor.” He was used to total artistic freedom, and that wasn’t the Hollywood way. Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasaku (Battle Royale) took over. Fleischer claims the only scene in the film shot by Kurosawa was one of the American ambassador in the U.S. embassy in Tokyo, and “it is the worst scene in the picture.” The film was hugely expensive to make, and was a massive failure at the box office. Part of the problem was that The Longest Day dramatized a victory, and Tora! Tora! Tora! an ignominious defeat, hardly an audience grabber. As a film, it is fascinatingly dry, a top-down version of history, in which gray-suited men sit in mahogany chairs and make history. Massive amounts of research went into the film, with Dr. Gordon Prang, appointed by General Douglas MacArthur as the official historian of the Pacific War, hoarding material at the University of Maryland. Fleischer, Masuda and Fukasaku create some pleasing diagonals out of the lines of secretaries, functionaries and soldiers, but for the most part the film plays as a luxuriously illustrated lecture.


Rapture (1965)

John Guillermin is not a director whose work I had sought out, although The Day They Robbed the Bank of England (1960) lingers in the memory as a bracingly cold-hearted and fleet-of-foot heist film. (In)famous for the cheap thrills of The Towering Inferno (1974) and the King Kong remake (1976), I was totally unprepared for the psychosexual  intensity of Rapture, which Twilight Time has just released in an excellent Blu-Ray, available through Screen Archive. Shot in silvery B&W CinemaScope on location off the coast of Brittany, it’s an easy movie to get lost in. The novel Rapture in my Rags was initially adapted by frequent Fellini collaborator Ennio Flaiano (8 ½), although the final script credit goes to Stanley Mann (Conan the Destroyer). It follows the blighted life of Agnes (Patrica Gozzi), a young girl who lives in a crumbling mansion with her eccentric, haunted father Frederick (Melvyn Douglas) and blowsy blonde maid Karen (frequent Bergman actress Gunnel Lindblom). Frederick is an ex-judge who writes crackpot newsletters in his study, while Agnes’s only wish is to build a scarecrow so she can have a friend to call her own. Agnes’ married sister recommends she be confined to an insane asylum. But after she builds her scarecrow, a soulful escaped prisoner (Dean Stockwell) appears wearing its clothes, and it looks to Agnes like her sexual desires have blossomed violently to life. While it has its narrative lulls and repetitions, this is the rare coming-of-age film that captures the inchoate madness of adolescent lust.


Fright Night (1985)

Recently re-made with Colin Farrell, the original is an amiable bit of Hammer horror nostalgia graced with a delightfully mischievous Roddy McDowall performance. Another lovely Blu-Ray from Twilight Time, it shows high-schooler Charley (William Ragsdale) discovering a vampire-next-door, played with evident self-regard by Chris Sarandon. Ragsdale and his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse from Married, With Children) seek out Peter Vincent (McDowall) for help, an ex-star of Hammer-style gothic vampire flicks who now hosts a late-night horror movie show. Recently fired and facing eviction, Vincent readily accepts Amy’s cash to flush out the would-be demon, which he assumes is Charley’s childish fantasy. When Chris Saradon’s flowing locks and insatiable thirst for blood prove to be all-too-real, the trio has to fight for their lives. The imaginative creature design from the team under visual supervisor Richard Edlund (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ghostbusters) is refreshingly physical, and an appropriate homage to the menacing effects of the Hammer titles writer/director Tom Holland (Child’s Play) is clearly so enamored with (Christopher Lee is even glimpsed on TV). McDowall is the main reason to see the film though, adding unexpected layers of pathos to this beaten down ham.


Special Capsule review by Andrea Janes:  Night Watch (1973, Warner Archive)

At first Night Watch evokes such circa-70s portmanteau films as Tales from the Crypt, with its Gothic tale of a rich neurotic housewife obsessed with the decaying house behind hers (which she views from a Rear Window-esque vantage point through the back garden). Then the 1973 thriller — stuffed with creepy neighbors, incredulous policemen, remote husbands, and resentful housekeepers — froths into a soapy, pulpy revenge drama. Ellen Wheeler (Elizabeth Taylor) navigates this labyrinth of menace in a haze of cigarette smoke, her trembling hands restlessly rearranging the pieces of the enormous jigsaw puzzle perennially strewn across her parlour table, while the haunting memory of her dead former husband keeps her nerves unstrung and her beautiful cameo face blanched with worry. At long last, though, the smoke clears and, as Ellen says of her jigsaw puzzle, “It’s easy to figure out once you see where all the pieces should be.” A third-act reversal is none the less enjoyable for being somewhat expected, and Taylor hammers it home with good old fashioned bloody delight.