Saturday, August 3, 2013

Imitations of Life

Tootsie: written by Larry Gelbart, Murray Schisgal, Don McGuire, Robert Garland, Barry Levinson, and Elaine May; directed by Sydney Pollack; starring Dustin Hoffman (Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels), Jessica Lange (Julie), Teri Garr (Sandy), Dabney Coleman (Ron), Bill Murray (Jeff), Charles Durning (Les), George Gaynes (John Van Horn), Geena Davis (April) and Sidney Pollack (George Fields) (1982): Ah, what a great comedy. The cast is terrific and in fine form in this fable of an actor (Hoffman) who learns to be a better man by pretending to be a woman in order to get a job on a soap opera.

It's really remarkable how zingy the dialogue is throughout, and how uniformly excellent is the cast (including director Pollack as Hoffman's long-suffering agent). The difficulty of working with Hoffman forms a subtext to the entire picture -- Pollack refused to direct him again despite Tootsie's massive critical and commercial success. Bill Murray drifts in and out to provide a loose, improvisational Greek Chorus as Hoffman's playwright-room-mate, Jessica Lange won an Oscar for her sweet, funny performance, and everyone else is also awesome. Highly recommended.


The Mummy: written by Jimmy Sangster; directed by Terence Fisher; starring Peter Cushing (John Banning), Christopher Lee (Kharis the Mummy), and Yvonne Furneaux (Isobel/Ananka) (1959): Enjoyable, atmospheric remake by British Hammer Studios of the original 1930's Universal horror movie The Mummy. This movie completed Christopher Lee's Hammer trifecta of playing three of the four classic horror-movie monsters originally made famous by those Universal movies of the 1930's -- Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, and the Mummy, but alas, no Wolf Man.

Lee hated the heavy make-up and costuming for the Mummy, and would avoid heavy make-up ever afterwards. Like Karloff before him, he towers over the rest of the cast (there's a funny moment in which a drunk English poacher claims that the Mummy is 10-feet tall, and it doesn't seem like that much of an exaggeration). Lee is again teamed with his Dracula and Frankenstein co-star Peter Cushing, here playing the son of the archaeologist who released the vengeful mummy into the world.

The Egyptian sets and costumes are really quite impressive, as are the moody scenes set on the moor and in the swamp nearby, with some nice staging for scenes in which the Mummy emerges from, and later descends into, the swamp. Cushing makes for an interesting hero here as he did in the Dracula films as Van Helsing, and Yvonne Furneaux is lovely in the dual role of Cushing's wife and the long-dead Egyptian priestess Ananka, whom Lee's high priest loved and was ultimately mummified alive for loving.

Lee does what he can with his eyes, the only expressive part his made-up face shows, and by the end achieves a sort of lurching, Frankensteinian pathos as the Mummy. That pathos is also partially obtained by having a cultist give the Mummy his murderous orders. The Mummy really looks like he'd rather not stir from his 4000-years' sleep. Recommended.

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