Sunday, February 26, 2017

You Can Call Me MISTER Fane

This pretty much sums it up. . .

The hysteria of Russell Rouse’s The Oscar (1966) – and what a strange 1966 it is: no Vietnam, no Beatles, no drugs, no black people – is the hysteria of the Hollywood Studio Sytem as it was passing away. For the movie photographs only those who've already passed on: has-beens and never-weres days from the Monrovia Rest Home for Retired Actors: Jill St. John, Elke Sommer, Broderick Crawford, Ed Begley, Eleanor Parker, Milton Berle, Joseph Cotten, Jean Hale, Edith Head, Hedda Hopper, Peter Lawford, Ernest Borgnine, Edie Adams, Walter Brennan, Merle Oberon. The movie seethes with the bitterness and panic of all those no longer getting phone calls returned, no longer getting the good tables at Chasen’s (as it then was). And yet. Two hours of rug-chewing by desperate actors trying hard not to go down for the count gives us a heightened reality and earnestness more true and human than over-produced “this is Hollywood” Artworks such as Sunset Boulevard, Bad and the Beautiful, The Last Tycoon, The Player, Mulholland Drive, Short Cuts, and the god awful Barton Fink. In The Oscar, every actor plays every scene as if the house were burning down with only ten minutes left to collect the valuables.

In particular, the two leads: Stephen Boyd as Frankie Fane and Tony Bennett as, yes, Hymie Kelly. The Irish-born Boyd’s self-loathing and rather insane self-involvement must've been well-earned. A remarkably talented and noble actor, his movie career (much like Frankie’s) the result of pure accident, his life was short, unappreciated, and tragic. (He would die at the age of 45.) Though the movie is shot full of speed and smarm, there isn't a moment of camp or dishonor in Boyd’s performance. Neither is there in Bennett’s. Saddled with that ridiculous character name, and often hooted at by the superior types who take all their cues from Vanity Fair, Bennett’s accomplishment here at times approaches the tone and greatness of his singing: sincere, gentle, with good cheer and naked emotion that seems grandly modest. There is no ego in Tony Bennett’s sound, nor in this his only movie role.

A berserk, cheap, buggy opera of rot (Percy Faith’s score is at one with the movie’s major key: it oozes), The Oscar seems like some preposterous combination of Visconti, Sirk, and Harold Robbins. A combo of lust and disgust toward a Hollywood already gone.