Lambcast Acting School 101: Sean Connery

MovieRob, the host of Acting School 101 on the Lambcast, invited me to join him for a discussion of the films of Sean Connery. Anyone who has been here before certainly knows that I think Connery IS James Bond so I was thrilled to participate. We countdown our own top five performances by Mr. Connery and have a good time talking about toupees and other acting tools.

Sean Connery Podcast

https://podomatic.com/embed/html5/episode/8521675?autoplay=false

In preparation for the podcast, I went through my laserdisc collection and put up a wall of Connery features. Four of my five picks can be found here. Try to guess what they are before you listen to the podcast. Have fun everyone.

The Man Who Would Be King [Movies I Want Everybody to See]

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Review by Richard Kirkham

 [ This essay was originally Published on the deleted site “Fogs Movie Reviews” in the Fall of 2013]

All you film fans out there who were born after 1970 are about to eat your hearts out. You may know that the 70s were the second golden age of Hollywood, after all that’s when “Star Wars”, “The Godfather”, and “Alien” all started. You may even be aware that the greatest adventure film ever made, “Jaws”, was released in the Summer of 1975. It would be a solid argument to make that 1975 was the apex of Hollywood film making in that decade. Here is a partial list of the movies released that year: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Dog Day Afternoon, Barry Lyndon, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Rollerball, Three Days of the Condor, Shampoo, Nashville, Seven Beauties, Cousin cousine,The Passenger as well as the aforementioned fish story. ” That is a list of essential films for anyone who loves movies to partake of. Buried in the avalanche of great films from that year, is the one film that stars Michael Caine and Sean Connery together as the leading men (each had a small part in “A Bridge Too Far”) and as a bonus it was directed by John Huston.

“The Man Who Would be King” was a dream project for John Huston. He had tried to put together a version of the movie as far back as the 1950. His original choices for leads were Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart. That was the royalty of the earlier film generation. When he finally did get to put the story in front of the cameras it was to feature the royalty of the next generation of movie stars. While other names had been mentioned, someone (likely Paul Newman who turned down the film) suggested that Huston stick to using British actors. That was the best advise Huston could get because this movie is a quintessentially British story focused on a time period when the English Empire was at it’s height and the ambitions of men who were it’s subjects knew no bounds. It is this condition that allows our lead characters to work so well in the tale.

Peachy Carnahan and Daniel Dravot are recently retired British non commissioned soldiers who decide the world at home is not big enough for the likes of them. They have developed a strategy to make themselves Kings. In particular, rulers of Kafiristan, a remote region of Afghanistan

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Daniel Dravot:” In any place where they fight, a man who knows how to drill men can always be a King. We shall go to those parts and say to any King we find – “D’you want to vanquish your foes?’ and we will show him how to drill men; for that we know better than anything else. Then we will subvert that King and seize his Throne and establish a Dynasty.”

Before they begin this quest, they make the acquaintance of an English journalist working in India as well. This journalist turns out to be Rudyard Kipling, who wrote the story on which the film is based. These encounters with Kipling becomes the bookends for the film and give the story an even greater sense of adventure and  mystery. While the story itself is fantastic, the characters are ground in reality and the presence of Kipling as future narrator of the tale is all the more needed to set the mood. If you have not seen this film, be assured that when you get to the end you will empathize with the Kipling character and stare in wonder at the proof of it all. The tie in to the story concerns the masonic brotherhood that the English characters share in common. There are some great curves that follow from this early revelation. Christopher Plummer is unrecognizable in the role and he strikes just the right tone of concerned bemusement in the first act and utter astonishment in the conclusion.

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After assisting the two adventurers, Kipling fades from the story and the focus is on the travel to Kafiristan. There are several exciting incidents on the road but eventually the spine of the story begins when they arrive and connect with the remnants of an earlier English expedition. The lone survivor is a gurkha soldier named Billy Fish. He becomes their interpreter and confidant. His part in the story reminds us that the relationship of the British to their Empire was not always hostile. These fierce hill people fought valiantly alongside their English counterparts in many battles over the last two hundred years. While the relationship is not one of equality, the two adventurers are not condescending to their third partner, in fact they trust him implicitly.

The second act of the film focuses on the battles and strategy that the two employ to gain the power that brought them to the remote land to begin with. There are several small incidents that test their friendship and commitment. There is a great deal of humor involved in the training sequences and in some of the moments of conquest. That humor may be viewed as politically incorrect at times, but it is not so much based on racism as ethnocentricity. The world is still a brutal place, and while those of us living in Western cultures might view some of the behaviors as relics of the past, it may not be as true as we wish. Of course the intercultural conflicts go both directions since the English soldiers are viewed just as differently by the tribesmen they encounter as we might treat a alien from another world.

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All of this is offered up though through the performances of two of the greatest screen personae of the last fifty years of film. Connery and Caine are both Award winning performers from the generation of actors that came out of England in the sixties. Along with Albert Finney, Peter O’Toole and Richard Harris, they represent that moment in time when the culture of Great Britain was the Beatles and James Bond. Here they are in an adventure story that harkens to the glory days of the Empire and much as the Western is a romanticism of American history, a film like this served the same purpose for the English. Connery plays Daniel Dravot as the more blustery of the two itinerant soldiers. He uses his commanding voice and fierce expression to cow his enemies and establish a position of power with others. He can however take on a warm quality as he does with Kipling at one point and his subjects later on in the film. The dividing point for the two characters comes when Danny becomes infatuated with a local beauty that he sees as cementing the legacy of Alexander he has come to see himself playing.  The beautiful Mrs. Caine was cast in the part at the last minute as soon as John Huston met her.

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Peachy Carnehan has the more subdued character. Caine is more sly and cautious, except for the scene on the train in the opening of the film. Peachy does get his dander up but almost always it is in response to his partner and not the other characters. It is Michael Caine’s  delivery of the opening framing story that gives the tale it’s magical quality.

Rudyard Kipling:”Carnehan!.”

Peachy Carnehan: “The same – and not the same, who sat besides you in the first class carriage, on the train to Marwar Junction, three summers and a thousand years ago.”

It is that prologue that sucks us in and makes us want to know what has transpired in the intervening three years. Caine has a breathless line reading that is haunting and fits really well with the coda of the story. It is his willingness to hold back his voice at times that allows the ruse these two perpetuate on the populace to work. He is the brains of the outfit but he has to stand back to let his partner gain the power that both of them seek. You can also see it in his face and posture when Danny gets full of himself and Peachy has to let some of the air out of him.

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Connery has said that this is his favorite film that he appeared in. I heard him say it in person at the Archlight Cinerama Dome Theater in Hollywood three years ago. He did a short five to ten minute introduction of the film at one of the AFI Night at the Movies events. It is easy to see why he would feel this way. He and Michael Caine get to play larger than life characters who are a little bit crazed. There is action, drama, comedy and suspense throughout the story.  While there are a number of other elements of the film that make it memorable and worthy, all of them would be for naught if the two actors at the heart of the story were not perfect.

The film was nominated for four Academy Awards: art direction, costume design,editing and screenplay. Amazingly it did not win any of those categories. Even more amazing is that the two leads and the fine supporting performance from Plummer were not recognized at all. It is ideal to imagine that this was a result of the lushness of the films of the period. It was clearly not the inadequacy of the work done by the film makers. The score is by Maurice Jarre, the man responsible for the music of “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Dr. Zhivago”. So you can expect the music to reflect the grandeur of the setting and the heroics and faults of the two main characters. If you listen to the opening track that accompanies the titles, you will hear echos of “Gunga Din” and those 1960s classics as well.

As the story unfolds and you witness the relationship between Danny and Peachy, you will see why Huston thought of Bogart and Gable and later Redford and Newman. There is great byplay with the two actors. At one point they had hoped to share the screen again, this time with their pal Roger Moore, in a version of James Clavell’s Tai Pan.  It is something to lament that this coupling of actors could not be accommodated later on. That makes it all the more important to treasure this match up of two great actors the likes of which we may never see again. 800__man_who_would_be_king_blu-ray_8_

 

Richard Kirkham is a lifelong movie enthusiast from Southern California. While embracing all genres of film making, he is especially moved to write about and share his memories of movies from his formative years, the glorious 1970s. His personal blog, featuring current film reviews as well as his Summers of the 1970s movie project, can be found at Kirkham A Movie A Day.

Double O Countdown: Diamonds Are Forever

This one is a little tough because it is one of the lesser Bonds. It has it’s qualities but most of them are not particularly unique so it might sound a bit familiar as we go along here. This is one of the few times in the series that a large part of the action takes place in the states, and the setting of Las Vegas was novel for the time. Bits and pieces of the era creep in and make it one of the more dated stories.

001 The Theme Song

It feels like a cheat to include the theme song in so many of my lists for this project, but Bond fanatics know that the music in the movie is one of the draws. This was a triumphant return of Shirley Bassey to the fold, and she does a silky smooth opening song that mixes electronic instruments with a great bass riff.

002 The Henchmen

If they tried this today they would be crucified. The secondary killers for Blofeld are a couple on near mincing homosexuals that are exploited for laughs more than for the danger they present. It is politically incorrect, but it was one of the first times I’d encountered a gay character in any fistion, so it was memorable to me.

Wint and Kidd are closing up the smuggling pipeline and killing all the contacts along the way. They try to get Bond a couple of times, but never manage to do a credible job of it. Mr. Wint’s perfumery cologne gives him away at the end of the film.Bond does him in with his own bomb cake and a suggestive handlock between the legs that  is another gay punchline.

At least Mr. Kidd gets a more dignified death, if you consider immolation to be superior.

003 The Double Entendres

James Bond in the movie is different from the books in a number of ways, one of which is his play with language. Although the puns and risque wordplay are tiresome in the Pierce Brosnan films, they still worked coming out of the mouth of Sean Connery.

James Bond: Weren’t you a blonde when I came in?

Tiffany Case: Could be.

James Bond: I tend to notice little things like that – whether a girl is a blonde or a brunette.

Tiffany Case: Which do you prefer?

James Bond: Well, as long as the collar and cuffs match…

I did not get this joke in 1971, I was thirteen at the time. Years later I almost busted a gut when i heard it again.

Here is another one from the film that I did not get the first time around and now it would get a spit take from me.

“Hi I’m Plenty”

 “Plenty O’Toole”

“Named after your father perhaps.”

004  Mustang Mix Up

It is hard enough to make a movie, much less one where everything needs to be consistent. Bond and Tiffany are chased through old Las Vegas in their Red Mustang. In order to escape at one point Bond drive up a ramp, tips the car on it’s side and drives through a narrow pathway that the cops can’t follow through.

All well and good, except when he comes out on the other side, there is a slightyly odd issue with physics that needs to be explained and never is.

Exactly how does the car come out the opposite way it went in?

I’m not that picky, it was still a cool stunt.

005  Willard Whyte

Singer Jimmy Dean plays a reclusive billionaire who is kidnapped but no one knows it. Why? because he has not been seen in public for a number of years before it happens. Those of you not familiar with the history of Vegas and Howard Hughes will miss the sly references and outright theft of some of his story.

The above shot also includes frequently used character actor Shane Rimmer (You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me, and a voice in Live and Let Die)

Like the fictional Willard Whyte, Hughes occupied the top floors of the hotels he stayed at. He actually bought the Desert Inn while living there to avoid more conflict with the management.

The best part of the story with Whyte is the Penthouse suite occupied by Blofeld. It is another gem of design from the 007

006 The Poster

One of the best posters of the series. For a complete discussion check out my post on Bond posters by clicking the image.

http://kirkhamclass.blogspot.com/2013/06/007-posters-top-ten-list.html

007 The Elevator Fight

Bond has a lot of hand to hand combat in the films. This was a unique fight because it was so brutal and it takes place in an old style open elevator. The conflict with smuggler Peter Franks has drama and a couple of black humor bits because the quarter are so close the combatants can’t get much momentum or leverage with one another.

The best sequence in an otherwise less than thrilling film.

James Bond Will Return in “Live and Let Die.”

Double O Countdown: You Only Live Twice

Despite the exotic setting and the lush musical theme, “You Only Live Twice” is not one of my personal favorites. It feels a little long and there are plot points that make no sense, but it does have some assets and those that I find most worthy from the film are as follows:

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The lovely Kissy Suzuki, a Bond girl with few lines, a beautiful face and a name that only hints at being coarse.

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In a Pre-title sequence that seems to exist only because it is cool to show, Bond gets “killed” in bed and is subsequently buried at sea.

 

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  Not quite as cool as a shark tank, but equally gruesome to contemplate.  The evil Helga Brandt learns the fate of those who fail SPECTRE.

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This one and the next entry could be reversed and it would be alright by me, both feature the secret lair of Blofeld. This one has Ninjas.

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What is the best place to hide a secret rocket base in Japan… where else but in a freaking volcano. The Ken Adams design on this is marvelous and the use it was put to was extensive. Reportedly, the set cost more than all of the money spent making Dr. No.

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Little Nellie

Q comes to Japan with a couple of suitcases and Bond wipes out the SPECTRE air force in an afternoon. The Frank McCarthy painting is spectacular

but the actual shots of the gyrocopter are pretty cool as well.

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Finally face to face with Ernst Stavro Blofeld. After appearing in two films from only the back or chest down, the master mind behind the massive criminal cartel is revealed. A lot of Bond fans don’t care for the diminutive scarred criminal that is shown here, but the Mao Jacket and the scar go a long way in establishing an ethos for Blofeld that will be unshakable for the future. Hats off to the late Donal Pleasance.

Monologuing his way into our consciousness, while all the while petting the cat.

James Bond Will Return in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”.

Double O Countdown: Thunderball

James Bond returns in the biggest Bond film yet. If “Goldfinger” was an explosion, “Thunderball” was an earthquake. This film is the closest thing to today’s event blockbusters. It did incredible box office, broke records everywhere and set a standard of “BIG” that all the Bond films since have emulated.

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For me as a kid, the most memorable images of ugly death from a James Bond film, came in this film.  The treacherous Angelo, operated on to resemble Derval, lands the hijacked bomber in the ocean. For his last minute demand for more money, Largo takes the opportunity to kill him by cutting his oxygen while trapped in the seat of the plane. Watching him flail and then stop was traumatic for my nightmares for years.

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As a last minute replacement, so the opening song of the film would include the title, Tom Jones wails his heart out (and reportedly collapsed after sustaining the last note).

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Every spy film lampoon since has used some variation of the shark tank, an original created for this film.

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Upping the stakes and the gadgetry starts with the Jet Pack that 007 uses to escape in the pre-title sequence in this film. The artwork for the poster exceeds the actual shot which has Bond donning a helmet in the middle of the chase.

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John Barry Rules

Maybe his greatest work for the series that he did from it’s inception to “The Living Daylights”. Here is a section of Barry Awesomeness that you can enjoy for ten minutes.

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It goes on too long, and the setting ends up being a hindrance to the intensity of a real fight, but the underwater battle scene is the highlight of the visual moments in the film.

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In a boardroom meeting among killers, we should expect brutality, the send up in Austin Powers is what most of today’s audiences will remeber, but my guess is after the new film opens, and the organization is revealed, there will be more respect than laughter in the audience.

James Bond will return in “You Only Live Twice”.

TCM Film Festival Day 2: The Wind and the Lion

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It is a little hard for me to believe that I got a chance to see two, that’s right two Sean Connery films from the same great year, 1975, on the same day of the TCMFF. I also was very confident when I heard this was programmed that Michael would be joining me. He commented on a post I did on this movie a few years ago. We are both fans of this film. The crowd was a little sparse for the line up, although the theater did fill in quite a bit, so we decided to move our location down closer to the front of the theater for this presentation. We had to move over in the aisle we selected because some of the seats were reserved, but we were dead square center for the program.

Stuntman and coordinator Terry Leonard shared a lot of stories about the making of the film. There was a nice Video Tribute to Mr. Leonard right before he was introduced. I could not locate that, but I did find this featurette on the TCM site that I thought I would share here.

http://i.cdn.turner.com/v5cache/TCM/cvp/container/mediaroom_embed.swf?context=embed&videoId=1452

The jump off the balcony that looks so spectacular in the opening kidnapping scene turned out to be far more hazardous for the rider, Mr. Leonard, than for the horse. It turned out that he did have a fracture in his back as a result but it was not discovered until nearly a year later.

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The subject of his work on “Raiders of the Lost Ark” also came up in the conversation. Terry Leonard did the truck chase gag where Indy goes under the truck he is chasing and then gets dragged by his whip as he tries to get back into the truck. It is an amazing sequence and one of the best known stunts from the days in which practical effects and in-camera effects were still part of the film making business.

I have a hard time understanding how this film was not nominated for the Academy Award for screenplay. Maybe the story was crowed out by other pictures that year, but if you hear the words being said by the characters you will know that the script is sometimes poetic in the way it portrays the conflicts of the characters. It was nominated by the Writer’s Guild for the year award that year. Look at this example:

“Raisuli: Woman, I want you to understand this: I am not a barbarous man. I am a scholar, and a leader to my people. I am not a barbarous man. These four men have dishonored me. They have eaten from my trees, they have drunk water from my wells; they have done all of these things to me, and they have not even evoked my name to God in thankfulness. I am treated this way because I make war upon the Europeans… You see the man at the well, how he draws the water? When one bucket empties, the other fills. It is so with the world: at present, you are full of power, but you’re spilling it wastefully, and Islam is lapping up the drops as they spill from your bucket.”

The final letter from the Raisuli to President Roosevelt is also a moment of movie poetry and it contains the line that provides the title for the film. I will share it with you at the bottom of this post.

It was fortuitous that Michael and i moved down from our previous seats in the theater, for as the interview with Terry Leonard ended, the host pointed out that we were being joined for this screening by the writer/director himself, John Milius. We turned to look at where he might be seated and waving to the crowd, but we did not have to look far, he was right behind us in the next row.  This may have been the coolest moment of the whole weekend for me. The applause and ovation for him was thunderous and at the conclusion of the movie it was repeated. I wanted very much to turn around and speak with him and share my love of the movie, but I thought better of it. I’d seen the documentary about him last year and I believe he has some medical issues. He struggled a bit to stand when he was acknowledged,  and since he did not speak as part of the festival, I thought he might not be able to deal with a crowd so I just held back and slapped my hands together a bit harder so that the world would know my appreciation.

Coincidentally, I wrote a post focusing on the performance of Brian Keith as President Roosevelt for a blogathon back in February.This  is my entry into the 31 days of Oscar Blogathon hosted by Paula’s Cinema Club, Outspoken and Freckled and Once Upon a Screen. It also means that this is the second time I’ve watched this movie in the last two months, something that made me very happy. Just while I’m thinking about it, “The Wind and the Lion also has my favorite score by my favorite movie composer Jerry Goldsmith. You will find a note of appreciation for Mr. Goldsmith’s career at this link.

To Theodore Roosevelt – you are like the Wind and I like the Lion. You form the Tempest. The sand stings my eyes and the Ground is parched. I roar in defiance but you do not hear. But between us there is a difference. I, like the lion, must remain in my place. While you like the wind will never know yours. – Mulay Hamid El Raisuli, Lord of the Riff, Sultan to the Berbers, Last of the Barbary Pirates.

Oscar Blogathon–Neglected Supporting Actor Performances of 1975

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This  is my entry into the 31 days of Oscar Blogathon hosted by Paula’s Cinema Club, Outspoken and Freckled and Once Upon a Screen. This week focuses on Oscar Snubs. For forty years I have been stewing on this injustice and I am thankful to have an opportunity to vent. Please be sure to check out the other posts on this project at the sites listed above. I have also included links to relevant posts of my own in this entry.

I have always maintained that 1975 was one of the great years in American movie history. Along with 1939 and 1982, this year from the middle of the last golden age of cinema had a plethora of worthy films. I would never denigrate “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, or “Dog Day Afternoon”. “Barry Lyndon” is lovely but I despise “Nashville”. The picture that deserved to win the big award is featured on the masthead of this blog so it is no secret that I harbor an admiration for Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws“. It was an oversight to neglect that movie but it was understandable given the fine work done by all in the eventual winner.

What I do find unforgivable however is the negligence of the Academy’s Actor’s branch to include two performances from that year in the supporting actor category. Not only were the two performances I want to highlight for you ignored, they were far more deserving than any of the roles that did receive nominations. Just to refresh your memory, in case you don’t carry that sort of trivia around in your head for just such a discussion, the nominees in the Best Supporting Actor category were, Brad Dourif as Billy Bibbit in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Burgess Meredith as Harry Greener in “Day of the Locust”, Chris Sarandon as Leon in “Dog Day Afternoon” and Jack Warden as Lester Karpf in “Shampoo”. The eventual winner was sentimental favorite, comedian, vaudevillian, and TV personality George Burns, as Al Lewis in “the Sunshine Boys”. All of these men did fine work, and no one should be embarrassed to have been included, but the five selected did not include career defining work from two other well known and worthy actors.

imagesLet me start with the performance that is least likely to be remembered by today’s movie goers. Brian Keith was maybe best known as a Television actor. He starred in two separate successful series, one in the 1960s, “Family Affair” where he played Uncle Bill, the bachelor guardian to his brother’s orphaned children. In the 80’s he costarred in Hardcastle and  McCormick, he had two or three other series that did not last more than a season or two as well. He made an appearance in many films since he started in the business but worked most consistently in TV. In 1975 he showed up and off in the John Milius written and directed “The Wind and the Lion“.

Keith played President Theodore Roosevelt, perhaps the most accomplished man we ever had in the job of President of the U.S.. It is also a role that is parodied in films, depicting Roosevelt as a reckless headstrong cowboy, whose bellicose manner was defined as the “Big Stick” policy. What may not be said as frequently is the first part of the policy, “speak Softly”. Keith manages to to convey this dual nature of Roosevelt in this adventure film inspired by a real historic incident.chi-president-election-movies-20121105-004

In the story, Sean Connery is a Berber brigand who has taken an American woman hostage for political purposes in Morocco. As he is preparing to run for the office he inherited, Roosevelt seizes upon the event as a potential campaign issue. Keith never raises his voice or shouts. His whole performance is level but with a lot of vocal nuance. Keith had a naturally gruff voice that fits with our image of the Rough Rider Teddy. He uses tone and pacing to emphasize some deep philosophical ideas well at the same time laughing at himself for taking things so seriously.

Keith has a bit of an advantage in his performance by playing opposite Director/Actor John Huston who plays Secretary of State John Hay. Huston had another one of those great voices and the two of them crossing swords in the White House or out on the shooting range made for some wonderful scenes in the movie that contrasted nicely with the action adventure scenes set in Northern Africa. Keith gets some nice moments of power conveying the certainty of his foreign policy. Roosevelt was know as a man of action and that’s exactly how he is represented here. Not by having him run around in circles crying Bully every five minutes but by speaking forcefully and decisively. His actions are not shown to be short sighted or politically motivated but rather, that he understood the political advantage his manner and policies provided him.

The closest the film comes to mocking Roosevelt is in a scene where he tries to Picture 3describe to a man from the Smithsonian, how he wants the grizzly bear he shot to be displayed. He poses with hands up and growls, and encouraged by his daughter, repeats the pose and growl on a table. Part of it is political theater, but mostly it comes across as the enthusiasm of a man who knows what he wants. Keith’s jovial nature in the scene contrasts effectively with an earlier scene in the wilderness with an entourage in tow as he speaks about the taking of the bear with a magnificent vista behind him. He is proud of the accomplishment but also sad. He expresses an admiration for the grizzly that seems heart felt and warm, again mostly because of the vocal variety he uses. He smiles with his voice and speaks wistfully about America’s place in the world.

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Connery and Keith never shared any scenes in this film. Their characters are an ocean apart but very similar in nature. In the closing of the movie is the closest we come to an interaction as Roosevelt, suffering from blindness in one eye, sits at the foot of his bear and reads a note from the Rasuli, describing their places in the world. The two actors would share the screen a few years later in the execrable “Meteor” but nothing there matches the power of Connery’s voice over narration as Keith sits in silence and acts with just his shoulders and hands in the scene.

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While Brian Keith being ignored is a disappointment since he never had another part equal to that role, the second actor ignored is a crime beyond my comprehension. If you were to ask almost anybody in the movie business, what are the most culturally influential films of the 1970s, there are really two main answers. “Star Wars” is a juggernaut that turned the geek audience into the main driving force of popular culture today. All the comic book movies that dominate the screen these days are descended from that George Lucas film in 1977. Yet it was two years earlier that the ground began to shift, the blockbuster mentality began to rule, and the talent of Steven Spielberg was recognized by the world. The failure to nominate Steven Spielberg for the best film he ever made is probably a result of jealousy by other Academy members and hubris by Spielberg himself. The failure of the actors branch to mention Robert Shaw is inexplicable.

“Jaws” is a film that everyone who watches movies knows about, and anyone who loves  movies cherishes. The story behind the making of the film has been told before. So has the story of the impact of the film. This is not the first time I have complained about the neglect of Robert Shaw either. As a vocal advocate of this movie I will freely admit that this is not an unbiased opinion. I consider it a duty to remind the world on a regular basis of the greatness of this film, and this post gives me the opportunity to do so through the means of promoting a great screen performance.

I only hope that this fan made poster is right and we get an anniversary release this coming summer.

I only hope that this fan made poster is right and we get an anniversary release this coming summer.

I have done maybe a dozen posts over the years on some aspect of this film. It is a film I know I can say I have literally seen at least a hundred times because every year since it has been available to rent or or buy on VHS, watch on cable or on laser disc or DVD, or Blu ray, I have done so approximately four times a year. It is downloaded on my Kindle right now, waiting for an opportunity during a long wait in line or a medical appointment that is taking too long to get to. One of the reasons that it is so repeatable is the performance of the aforementioned Mr. Shaw. It is a part that is fascinating every time I watch it and there is always something new and amazing to discover.

To begin with, 3450810_stdthe character of “Quint”, although introduced in the first act of the film, doesn’t reappear in the story until halfway though the movie. That first introduction is incredibly memorable, with Shaw scraping the chalkboard and chewing his food during the town council meeting. He condescends to everyone in attendance and then walks out of the scene. The force of his personality lingers over the meeting and the rest of the film. We know this smug, superior fisherman in the ancient sweater jacket and muttonchops is going to return and be a pivotal player in the story.

While he does pop up in one brief moment, chuckling to himself over the amateurs who think they can bring in the shark, his return to the story takes place on his ground. The business he runs is filled with stewing cauldrons of shark cartilage and homemade liquor.  His self assurance is spat out at the way he mocks Richard Dreyfuss’s characters attempt to provide some credentials by mentioning the America’s Cup. Shaw’s English background helped make the flinty New England  accent more realistic. His devil may care costuming impresses us with his working class manner of thinking. He is a man who knows his place in the world and is completely confident in it up to the end. Look at the body language as he surveys the equipment that Hooper is bringing aboard, he might just as well have spit. screenshot-med-31

The on set legend is that Shaw disliked Dreyfuss and that dislike carried over to his performance. Shaw was also an alcoholic who needed just one drink to turn mean. It sounds like he was the perfect fit for the role. I recently saw “The Godfather” and Sterling Hayden who played Captain McClusky in that film was originally supposed to take the role of Quint, but tax complications kept him out and fortuitously put Shaw in. I can imagine Hayden fitting the part with his haggard look and somewhat raspy voice, but the character would have played very differently. I think he would have come off as an old man set in his ways and believing in them. Shaw provides some of that, but he also manages to suggest that he is just a little off hinged.

For example, the Limerick he recites as Mrs. Brody is dropping off her city slicker husband to go on the shark hunt, sounds so much more snarky and odd coming from a younger man and one who is taking such glee in sharing it out of nowhere. Quint projects it across the sounds of the Orca being loaded and he smiles knowingly as he gets to the somewhat dirty payoff. Shaw almost puts a chuckle in his voice but stops just short of being cloying. Shaw plays Quint as if he is tickled at the chance to show up all these land lubbers. Of course he is also the master of his own boat and while Brody does complain back at one point, Shaw makes it clear in near silhouette and with a frozen posture, that he is having none of it.

quint_indianapolis_speech_jaws_robert_shawCarl Gottlieb, the credited screenwriter along with book author Peter Benchley, largely gives credit to Shaw for the most famous monologue since Shakespeare. The story he shares is a ghost story about the demons who have haunted him and turned him into the character he is. The fact that Shaw sells the story makes it all the more jaw dropping. This one scene would have won the award for any number of actors. The five minutes in this scene trump the whole five minute performance of Beatrice Straight in “Network”. Of course the role was not limited to that one scene and just about everywhere else, he burns up the screen with his stare, his grin or his hat. The by-play with Roy Scheider as Chief Brody, exists in a friendly but condescending universe.

The three leads are all well cast and well played, but it is the prickly off-kilter Quint who gets the best scene and makes the most memorable impression. Robert Shaw played a series of tough guy roles over the years. Some of them steely like Red Grant in “From Russia With Love“, or Doyle Lonnegan in “The Sting“. Others were playful and heroic like the pirate in “Swashbuckler“. “Quint encapsulates both spirits and puts a haunting backstory in the mouth of a master actor. It’s nice that George Burns got an Oscar and a new career from his role in “The Sunshine Boys”, but history shows that the Academy can make a mistake in the interests of sentimentality. It is my opinion that they did so in 1975.