The 1950s was undoubtedly a classic period in the career of character actor, Alastair Sim. This film sees him playing Hawkins, a watchmaker who also operates as an assassin. Early scenes demonstrate how Hawkins has often adopted a variety of ingenious disguises before successfully blowing up his victims. His main target here is an adulterous politician Sir Gregory Upshott (Raymond Huntley) who he tracks to a hotel, The Green Man of the title.
It isn’t long before things take a farcical turn as a vacuum cleaner salesman curiously called William Blake (a young George Cole) and a local beauty (Jill Adams) get drawn into proceedings. With Terry-Thomas playing a philandering cad called Charles Boughtflower and a trio of elderly female musicians also becoming involved, Hawkins’ carefully laid out plans soon descend into chaos.
Although hardly groundbreaking, The Green Man is pleasantly enjoyable fare, packed with familiar faces recognisable to anyone who enjoys post-war British cinema. Can you spot Michael Ripper, Dora Bryan and Arthur Lowe?
And unlike Sim’s hapless assassin, this is a comedy which rarely misses its target.
Directed by: Robert Day
Starring: Alastair Sim, George Cole, Terry-Thomas, Jill Adams, Raymond Huntley
Quentin Tarantino – The Iconic Filmmaker and his Work, by Ian Nathan. Published by White Lion
One day, nearly thirty years ago, a young bearded man in a black suit ran across a road and was immediately hit by a car. Despite flying into and breaking the car’s windscreen, the hoodlum is soon on his feet again and pointing a gun at the unfortunate driver. As the scene is filmed from the driver’s perspective, it almost feels like we, the ones in the audience, are the ones being carjacked.
The carjacker was one ‘Mr Pink’ played by Steve Buscemi. The film was Reservoir Dogs and with its release, the career of film director, Quentin Tarantino had begun.
The years ahead would see the film’s director, Tarantino become so cool that for a while, it seemed possible that the name ‘Quentin’ might actually become cool in itself. In the end, despite the continued popularity of artist Quentin Blake, this never quite happened. But, as with his earlier fine, nicely presented coffee table books on the Coens and Tim Burton, distinguished film critic, Ian Nathan’s book on the video shop employee turned director, reminds us why Tarantino largely deserved all the subsequent fuss that was made about him.
The 1990s was a great time for Tarantino. Reservoir Dogs, a film about a robbery we never see and notorious for an ear removal scene we also never see, featured career-best performances from all its excellent all-male cast. Perhaps only Harvey Keitel and Steve Buscemi have done better work elsewhere and even they are better in this than anyone else.
Why is it called Reservoir Dogs? The book suggests the issue – as with the answer to the question, “who shot Nice Guy Eddie?”- is a mystery known only to Tarantino himsel). My own theory: the main characters’ behaviour resembles a pack of wild, stray dogs living near a reservoir, fighting each other, betraying each other to survive. But I’ve no idea whether this has any basis in fact. Do stray dogs even live near reservoirs and behave like this? I’ve no idea.
The Nice Guy Eddie ‘mystery’ is more easily explicable, however. The ‘shooting’ of the character, played by the late Chris Penn, was actually the result of a technical error. The ‘squibs’ which stimulated his gunshot wounds went off, exploding prematurely. Tarantino, cannily recognising the potential for controversy, deliberately left the mistake in the finished film. So basically nobody shot him.
Next up, was Pulp Fiction, the film where Tarantino fulfilled his promise. Then came Jackie Brown, the Kill Bills, Inglourious Basterds, the westerns and this year’s triumphant but flawed Once Upon A Time in Hollywood. I am fully aware I have not covered Tarantino’s body of work fully here. Rest assured: Ian Nathan does. The lone exception is Once Upon A Time… which is touched upon, but was obviously released too late for the book.
But in every other respect, as a crash course in Tarantino, this is second only to watching the films themselves.
Book review: Cult Filmmakers: 50 Movie Mavericks You Need To Know. By Ian Haydn Smith. Illustrated by Kristelle Rodeia. Published by: White Lion. Out now.
What makes a cult filmmaker? The key qualities seem to be distinctiveness and a degree of obscurity. Hitchcock and Spielberg were and are great filmmakers, but both are much too famous now to be included in a volume like this. Hitchcock might have appeared once. Spielberg too, perhaps in the brief interim after the release of Dual but before Jaws. But not now.
Indeed, it could argued that just by highlighting the fifty directors included in this volume in a book specifically titled, ‘Cult Filmmakers’, author Ian Haydn Smith is simultaneously undermining their cult status as much as he is re-enforcing it.
That is not to attack the book, which is a good one. The author’s choices are intriguing and it is almost as interesting to see who has been left out as it is to see who has been included. Sam Raimi doesn’t feature. Nor does Wes Anderson or the Coens. Presumably, the men behind The Evil Dead, Blood Simple and Rushmore would have been considered cult filmmakers once. However, they are now ineligible as they’ve all moved onto more mainstream successes as the men behind Spiderman, Intolerable Cruelty and Isle of Dogs.
But if this is the reason, it’s odd that the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Tim Burton and Kathryn Bigelow are. Other selections are less contentious: David Lynch, David Cronenberg and ‘Pope of Trash’ John Waters, have all achieved fame, while retaining their cult status. Some such as John Carpenter seem to have lost their initial cultiness, only to later recapture it.
The book is stylishly illustrated by Kristelle Rodeia. Occasionally, the pictures look nothing like their subjects e.g. Terry Gilliam. It doesn’t matter.
Personally, I am most grateful for the chapters shedding light on Amat Escalante, Benjamin Christensen and Barbara Loden, amongst others. Until this book, they were undeniably in my eyes, cult filmmakers: I had never heard of any of them. But now I do. And this can only be a good thing.
(Special awards for people who manage to stay alive long after you think they’ve died). 1. Olivia de Haviland (103). Actress. Star of Gone with the Wind (1939). Born before the Russian Revolution. To put things in perspective, the three other stars of Gone with the Wind died in 1960, 1967 and 1943. 2. Bill Tidy: Cartoonist. Used to be on TV a lot. A British, non-perverted Rolf Harris (85). I’m sure that’s how he’d want people to think of him. 3. Kirk Douglas (102). Born 13 years after the first aeroplane flew. “I’m Spartacus!” “I’m Spartacus!” “I’m…very old.” 4. Sirhan Sirhan (75). Assassinated Robert Kennedy in 1968. In prison ever since. 5. Lady Clarissa Eden, the Countess of Avon (99). Niece of Churchill. Widow of Sir Anthony Eden (1897-1977) who was Prime Minister (1955-1957) before Theresa May was born. She was the second wife of Eden, one of only three divorced men to become British Prime Minister. The third was Boris Johnson. 6. Former senator Bob Dole (96). Widely seen as too old when he ran for US president in 1996. Sample jokes from the time: “Dole was hit hard by his divorce…his first wife got to keep the cave.” “When Clinton sees a glass of water, he thinks: ‘oh dear. It’s half empty’. When Dole sees one he thinks, ‘oh great! Somewhere to keep my teeth!’” 7. Sidney Poitier. Actor (92). Huge in the 1950s and 1960s. 8. Rose West: murderer. Not that old (65). A bit surprised she’s still around though. 9. Frank Williams (88). The vicar in Dad’s Army. 10. Betty White (97). Last of the Golden Girls. 11. Jerry Lee Lewis (83) Musician. Great Balls of Fire. 12. Kim Novak (86). Star of Vertgo. 13. Tippi Hedren (89). Why do birds suddenly appear, every time she is near? 14. Dick Van Dyke (93). “I’m Dick van Dyke! I hope you are too” Google him and it comes up with ‘Dick Van Dyke causes of death’. But he isn’t dead. Diagnosis: Old.
Director Stanley Kubrick considered withdrawing the film soon after release in response to tabloid reports that groups of young men had been launching ‘copycat’ manned space expeditions to the planet Jupiter.
Conspiracy theorists have speculated that Kubrick made the film as part of a plot to fake the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landings. This is, of course, nonsense. He was already too busy faking the Vietnam War.
The final line of the film is “My God! It’s full of stars!” This claim is untrue: in fact, there are no Hollywood stars in it. Leonard Rossiter is literally the most famous person in the film and even he hadn’t been in ‘Rising Damp’ then.
The apes at the start of the film are speaking in genuine prehistoric dialect. Roughly translated, they are saying things like: “God, this is taking a while to get going isn’t it?” “Hey! Watch what happens when I throw this bone in the air!” and “Shit! Where did that big black thing come from? That wasn’t there just now…”
Ever the perfectionist, Kubrick made one extra throw the bone in the air 7,674 times, even before he switched his camera on.
The song ‘Daisy Bell’ was not Kubrick’s first choice for the famous HAL shutdown scene. He had originally planned to use the song, ‘Cinderella Rockerfella’ sung in duet with another computer voiced by Barbara Streisand. This didn’t happen only because Kubrick never thought of it.
Although authentic-looking, very few of the scenes were actually shot in space.
Stanley Kubrick originally planned to film the movie in real time, starting in the prehistoric era.
Some viewers reported finding the film overlong. Some even claimed it was longer than the actual year, 2001 itself, including those who had watched it during the year, 2001.
A pilot for a spin-off TV sitcom , ‘You Can Call Me HAL,’ in which the computer sang ‘Daisy Bell’ during the credits and occasionally killed people was made, but never aired as it was shit.
Some have noticed that if you move the letters of the name ‘HAL’ one letter back in the alphabet it spells out the initials: ‘GZK’.
Things which the film predicted correctly about the year 2001: there would be some were people around doing stuff with computers and space. Things it got wrong: manned space expeditions to Jupiter, computers don’t usually take that long to shut down, classical music wasn’t that popular.
Kubrick was reportedly disappointed that very few people really thought the flying bone had actually turned into a spaceship.
He also was surprised so many people guessed the ‘twist’ that the planet of the apes at the start was supposed to be Earth.
Alternative names for the film which were considered were: Million Dollar Space Baby, The Keir Dullea Movie, Monolithicent, Kubrick’s Pube and The Apes of Wrath.
The first ever US Academy Awards are held. First World War-based thriller Wings wins the first ever Best Picture Oscar.
In a scene reminiscent of the early scenes of the 2001 comedy film Zoolander, comedian Will Rogers opens the Best Director envelope and says, “Come and get It Frank!” Unfortunately, there were two directors called Frank nominated in that year. Frank Capra was half way to the podium before Rogers clarified that it was Frank Lloyd, director of Cavalcade who had won, not Capra. Happily, Frank Capra later won for Mr Deeds Goes To Town in 1936. In future years, the awards are always announced in a heavily scripted way, in the hope of preventing such an embarrassing error ever happening again.
Hattie McDaniel becomes the first black woman to win an acting Oscar (Best Supporting Actress: Gone With The Wind). Having been barred from the film’s Atlanta premiere due to the state’s racial laws, she is made to sit at a segregated table during the Oscar ceremony. She is only allowed to attend at all due to the Ambassador Hotel making an exception to its usual strict ‘no blacks’ policy. Her white agent sat with her at the ceremony.
How Green Is My Valley beats Citizen Kane for Best Picture. Citizen Kane subsequently became the most critically acclaimed film of all time.
Sidney Poitier (Lillies Of The Field) becomes the first black actor to win an Oscar.
A very rare occurrence: A tie in the Best Actress category.
Barbara Streisand wins for Funny Girl. Katharine Hepburn also wins for The Lion
In Winter (her third). As most Oscars are determined by votes from several
thousand Academy members, a tie is a frequent possibility.
George C. Scott wins Best Actor for Patton. He chooses not
to attend and instead stays home and watches a ball game on the other channel.
Native American Sacheen Littlefeather surprises viewers by
attending to reject Marlon Brando’s second Oscar won for The Godfather on his
behalf. t “He very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And
the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the
film industry,” she says. She is actually not a political activist herself but
a small-time actress who later appears in Playboy magazine.
In a famously impromptu remark, host David Niven comments on
a streaker who disrupts the ceremony: “Isn’t
it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in
his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?
Robert De Niro wins his first Oscar playing Vito Corleone in
The Godfather Part II. Marlon Brando played the same character in 1972’s The
Godfather. It is the only time two actors have won Oscars for playing the same
Tatum O’Neal becomes the youngest ever person to win a competitive
Academy Award (Best Supporting Actress – Paper Moon). She is ten (she turned
nine during filming).
Annie Hall beats Star Wars for Best Picture. Director and star Woody Allen begins a long tradition of not attending the Oscars (choosing to perform jazz music elsewhere on Oscar Night instead). He finally attends in 2002.
British actress Vanessa Redgrave (Best Supporting Actress: Julia) is audibly booed after she attacks opponents of her documentary film, The Palestinian as “Zionist hoodlums”. She also attacks former President Nixon.
Jane Fonda (Best Actress: Coming Home) uses sign language during her acceptance speech to highlight awareness of deafness. It is her second Oscar: she also won for Klute in 1972.
Robert De Niro wins his second Oscar for Martin Scorsese’s
Raging Bull. The timing is awkward as the new President, former actor, Ronald Reagan
has just been shot and wounded in an assassination attempt. His attempted
assassin John Hinckley was reportedly inspired by Scorsese and De Niro’s 1976
film Taxi Driver and a desire to “impress” his teenaged co-star Jodie Foster
(she is not impressed).
Katharine Hepburn wins her fourth and final Oscar for On
Golden Pond. No other actor, male or female, has ever won four Oscars. Cate
Blanchett later wins one for playing Hepburn herself in The Aviator in 2004.
Hepburn’s co-star Henry Fonda becomes easily the oldest ever
Best Actor winner at 76. Too ill to attend the ceremony, his daughter and
co-star, Jane Fonda collects the award on his behalf (he dies a few months
Screenwriter Colin Welland shouts “The British are coming!”
following the success of Chariots of Fire this year. In fact, the next decade will
prove a very lean one for British cinema, although Gandhi does win Best Picture
Sally Field wins her second Oscar for Places In My Heart. “I haven’t had an orthodox career, and I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect,” she says. “The first time I didn’t feel it, but this time I feel it, and I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!” Seen my many as overly sentimental, Field’s speech is often misquoted as: “You like me, you really like me!”
Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost) becomes only the second black actress to win Best Supporting Actress.
Silence of the Lambs wins in all of the “Big Five”
categories: Best Film, Actor (Anthony Hopkins),
Actress (Jodie Foster), Director (Jonathan Demme) and Adapted
Screenplay. This is the only the third time this has ever happened (the previous
films were 1932’S It Happened One Night and 1975’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s
Rumours abound that Jack Palance read out the wrong name
during his announcement of the Best Supporting Actress winner Marisa Tomei (My
Cousin Vinnie) In fact, though a surprise result, Tomei undoubtedly won. That
said, Palance did seem to be in a somewhat “tired and emotional” state as he
announced the award.
Couple Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon use the Best Film Editing category as a political opportunity urging the government to let HIV-positive Haitians being held at Guantanamo into the US.
“Oh, wow. This is the best drink of water after the longest
drought of my life.” Steven Spielberg (Best Director: Schindler’s List) finally
wins. Schindler’s List is the first black and white film to win Best Picture
since The Apartment (1960).
Tom Hanks wins two Best Actor Oscars in consecutive years for
Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, a feat not achieved since Spencer Tracey in the
1930s, He delivers highly emotional acceptance speeches both times, inadvertently
“outing” a high school teacher as gay in the first (a moment which later
inspired the Kevin Kline film In and Out) and in the second stating “I feel
like I’m standing on magic legs.”
Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction) loses the Best Supporting
Actor Oscar to Martin Landau (Ed Wood). Lipreaders can see Jackson clearly says
“shit” on hearing the announcement from 12 year old, Anna Paquin. Jackson is
unrepentant afterwards, arguing he deserved to win.
George Clooney, Nick Nolte, Ed Harris and many other actors refuse to stand or applaud Elia Kazan’s Lifetime Achievement Oscar. The On The Waterfront director testified to the notorious House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1952
Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball) becomes the first black winner of the Best Actress Oscar.
Filmmaker Michael Moore (Best Documentary: Bowling For
Columbine) provokes a mixed reaction with an attack on President George W.
Bush: “We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that
elects a fictitious President. We live in a time where we have a man sending us
to war for fictitious reasons…Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you. And any
time you’ve got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up.”
Adrien Brody (Best Actor: The Pianist) kisses actress Halle
Berry on receiving his award.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King becomes the
third film to win eleven Oscars. The others are Ben-Hur (1959) and Titanic
(1997). All About Eve (1950) and Titanic remain the most nominated films (14
each). The Return of the King is the only fantasy film to win Best Picture (no
sci-fi film has ever won it) and only the second sequel (the first was The
Godfather Pt II in 1974).
Martin Scorsese finally wins (Director: The Departed) after years of being overlooked. “Could you double check the envelope?” he quips.
A showdown between Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker and
James Cameron’s Avatar. The Hurt Locker wins Best Picture. Bigelow becomes the
first woman to win Best Director (she and Cameron were married between 1989 and
The Artist is the first black and white film to win Best
Picture since 1993’s Schindler’s List. Contrary to popular belief, it is not technically
a silent film. Wings, the very first Best Picture winner, remains the only
silent winner in this category.
Christopher Plummer (Best Supporting Actor: Beginners)
becomes the oldest ever performer to win a competitive actor Oscar. He is 82.
Meryl Streep wins her 17th nomination (and her third win)
for The Iron Lady joking: “When they called my name, I had this feeling I could
hear half of America going, ‘Oh no. Come on… Her, again?’ You know. But,
whatever.” No actor has ever been nominated as many times as Streep has:
Katharine Hepburn won four times but was only nominated a still impressive 12
times. In 2018, Streep received her 21st nomination for The Post. Her other two
wins were for Kramer Vs Kramer and Sophie’s Choice.
Daniel Day Lewis wins his third acting Oscar for Lincoln.
Only five other actors have achieved three Oscar wins: Katharine Hepburn (who,
as previously mentioned, won four), Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, Walter
Brennan and Ingrid Bergman.
John Travolta messes up his introduction to a performance
from Frozen by Idina Menzel: “Please welcome the wickedly talented, one
and only Adele Dazeem,” he says.
The Oscars are widely criticised for a lack of racial diversity in the nominations.
Leonardo DiCaprio finally wins Best Actor for The Revenant.
In an embarrassing cock up, La La Land is briefly announced
as Best Picture, instead of the actual winner, Moonlight. The mistake – which
seems to have resulted from veteran actor Warren Beatty being given the card
revealing La La Land actress Emma Stone’s Best Actress Oscar in error, and
Beatty and Faye Dunaway’s understandably confused reaction – is only corrected
after two minutes (“There’s a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won best
picture…This is not a joke. Moonlight has won best picture”) by which time the
La La Land team are midway through their acceptance speech.
Casey Affleck wins for Manchester by the Sea despite
widespread controversy over sexual harassment allegations. Actress Brie Larson,
an advocate of sexual assault victims, presents the award to Affleck, but seems
unhappy with the result.
Comedian Kevin Hart steps down as host of the Oscars after controversy emerges over a slew of allegedly homophobic tweets he sent in the past. It is decided the Oscars will not have an official host for the first time since 1989.
Book review: Selling The Movie: The Art of the Film Poster by Ian Haydn Smith. Published by: White Lion. Out: now.
Perhaps surprisingly in the era of 3D, Blu-ray and leaked online trailers, the role of the movie poster is still vital to any film’s marketing. This large, attractive coffee table read, tells the story of cinema, not just through reproductions of the posters themselves but through a compelling narrative history of the medium.
To be honest, I’m not sure the cover image for this book (reproduced above the West Side Story image above) really does the best job of “selling” its excellent contents, so please find below some excellent examples of posters from cinema’s past and present to whet your appetite.
Book review: Movie Geek: The Den of Geek Guide to the Movieverse by Simon Brew, Ryan Lambie and Louise Mellor. Published by Cassell, a division of Octopus Publishing.
This may come as something of a shock to my most regular readers but there are other websites out there. You don’t have to read this one. There’s apparently one called Amazon which is pretty popular and another called YouTube. There’s also one called Den of Geek.
Den of Geek have been a valuable dispensary of geek info for well over a decade now, long predating the likes of the excellent Nerd Like You site or my former employers, the sadly now defunct Geeky Monkey magazine. If you want clues about the latest series of The Walking Dead or a review of the latest Game of Thrones episode, the website is the place for you.
This movie-themed volume is the site’s first soiree into the world of books (big papery versions of websites: ask your mum) but I doubt it will be its last. Film-related articles featured include How The 1990s Changed Blockbuster Cinema, The Movie Sequels You Might Not Know Existed, Films You Might Not Know Were Based On A Comic Book and A Few Remarkable Things About Some Remarkably Bad Movies.
Do these topics float your boat? I’ll confess they do mine. But then, I am a geek. What do you expect?
But I would recommend this, genuinely. It’s a great coffee table read. Buy it. And perhaps Den of Geek, will one day be as popular as the website you’re reading now.
In 1978, Alan Moore decided to quit the job at the Northampton gas board and dedicate himself full time to breaking into the comics industry as a writer. It was a high risk strategy. He was twenty-four years old and his young wife was pregnant. But Moore saw it as his last chance to exchange the job he hated for the career he loved.
Success came slowly with occasional one-off stories (Tharg’s Futureshocks) in the new science fiction comic, 2000AD. Later, came Skizz, D.R. and Quinch and my own personal favourite, The Ballad of Halo Jones. More success came through the short-lived and inappropriately titled Warrior comic (it was not war-related at all). Moore provided the backbone to the comic between 1982 and 1985, most famously with V For Vendetta, set in a late 1990s futuristic fascist dystopia. He also wrote Marvelman, now known as Miracleman, a promising superhero strip derailed by a legal dispute with Marvel Comics. This proved an forerunner to his greatest success, Watchmen for DC.
Today, Alan Moore is still in Northampton, in his sixties and is renowned as one of the most successful comic writers ever albeit one with a bit of reputation for disputes with his employers or prospective filmmakers attempting to adapt his works (Moore has famously never seen any of the four films directly based on his own comics).
His fascinating story is detailed thoroughly by the always excellent Lance Parkin in this comprehensive biography.
Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore by Lance Parkin, published by Aurum Press (2013)
Numerous myths and legends have crept into the mythology of the film world over the decades, something the creation of the internet has done little to dispel. But what is true and what is false?
Myth: The ghost of a child appears very briefly in the film Three Men And A Baby (1987)
Speculation about this spooky image reached a pitch when this lame comedy was released on video, substantially boosting its level of rentals and sales. Some rumours claim is of a boy who died in the apartment in which the Tom Selleck/Steve Guttenberg/Ted Danson comedy was filmed, some going as far as to say the father of the boy recognised him while watching the film in the cinema. Others see it as an omen, signalling the imminent demise of Steve Guttenberg’s career. Some even claim the phantom agreed a pact with Danson ensuring only he and he alone would have a career in the year 2015 but at the price of his hair going completely white. I may have made up the last two things. See how easy it is for these myths to start?
In fact, it is a cardboard cut-out of Ted Danson’s character, which was going to be used in a scene from the film which was eventually cut. When viewed close up, it is wearing a top hat and tails and is clearly the star of TV’s Cheers rather than a dead boy. Danson’s character, like Danson himself, was an actor and the prop was intended for a scene in which he auditioned for a TV advert. The director Leonard Nimoy judged the scene to be “illogical” and so removed the scene from the otherwise flawless movie.
It does look creepy though even when we know the facts. It should also be pointed out Three Men In A Baby was not filmed in a flat at all, but on a sound stage. And ghosts don’t actually exist really. Grow up!
Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is back, this time as US president in the third season of hit US TV drama House Of Cards. Scheming and manipulative, Underwood is definitely a bad sort. But which other fictional presidents, candidates and politicians both good and evil have graced our screens in the last fifty years or so? Here are some of the most memorable ones…
Senator John Iselin (James Gregory) in The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
A buffoonish take on the malevolent Senator Joe McCarthy, Iselin is a drunken idiot leading an anti-communist witch hunt effectively inspired by his scheming wife (Angela Lansbury).
William Russell (Henry Fonda) in The Best Man (1964)
Gore Vidal’s screenplay essentially replays the 1960 Kennedy vs. Nixon contest. There are a few odd twists, however. Unlike the Democrat JFK and the Republican Nixon, both candidates are competing within the same party for the nomination. And here it is Cliff Robertson’s Nixon type who has the glamorous wife not Henry Fonda’s JFK.
President Jordan Lyman (Frederic March) in Seven Days In May (1964)
Lyman’s liberal president is ahead of his time by about a decade in seeking détente but unfortunately provokes an attempted right wing military coup by Burt Lancaster’s General Scott in the process. Can Kirk Douglas save the day?
President Merkin Muffley in Dr Strangelove (1964)
“You can’t fight in here: this is the War Room!” One of three characters played by Peter Sellers in the film, resembles twice defeated 1950s Democrat presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson.
Unnamed President (Henry Fonda) in Fail Safe (1964)
Oops. After the US blows up a Soviet city by mistake, the US agrees to sacrifice New York to appease the Russians. Henry Fonda plays the president (Richard Dreyfuss reprised the role in the 2000 live TV version) and soon finds his decision will take on a tragic personal dimension.
Bill McKay (Robert Redford) in The Candidate (1972)
Robert Redford’s candidate sacrifices so much in his campaign for the Senate that he doesn’t know what to do once he’s won. Quite a tame film by modern standards.
Senator Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris) in Taxi Driver (1976)
Bland presidential candidate who narrowly escapes assassination by Travis Bickle. This unfortunately probably partly inspired the real life assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan in 1981.
President Richard Monckton (Jason Robards) in Washington: Behind Closed Doors (TV: 1977)
Basically it’s Richard Nixon, although Robards stops short of actually impersonating him.
President Barbara Adams (Loretta Swit) Whoops Apocalypse (1988)
The first woman president tries and fails to prevent Peter Cook’s mad British Prime Minister from starting World War III in this largely unfunny British satire.
Bob Roberts (Tim Robbins) (1992)
Director/star Tim Robbins plays the country western singer turned right wing 1990 Senate candidate in this winning mockumentary. His defeated liberal opponent is played by Gore Vidal.
Dave Kovic/Bill Mitchell (Kevin Kline) in Dave (1995)
A professional presidential lookalike Dave stands in for the nasty US president temporarily. When the president has a stroke during a sex act, however, the job becomes more permanent.
President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) in The American President (1995)
One of many Nineties “like Clinton but a bit better” liberal dream presidents, Shepherd is a widower leaving him free to woo lobbyist (played by Annette Bening) much to nasty Republican opponent Richard Dreyfuss’s glee.
President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman in Independence Day (1996)
Hurrah! Bill Pullman’s heroic US president saves the world from alien invasion.
President James Dale (Jack Nicholson) in Mars Attacks! (1996)
Hurrah! Jack Nicholson’s over the top US president fails to save the world from alien invasion.
President James Marshall (Harrison Ford) Air Force One (1997)
There have been two presidents Harrison and one Ford, so why not President Harrison Ford? In a slightly bizarre premise, the president ends up machine gunning lots of terrorists who have invaded his plane while female Veep Glenn Close rules the roost on the ground. A spoof called Vatican One in which an ex-martial arts champion becomes Pope was sadly never made.
President Beck (Morgan Freeman) in Deep Impact (1998)
It may be the end of the world as we know it but President Beck feels fine.
Governor Jack Stanton (John Travolta) in Primary Colors (1998)
You remember Bill Clinton? Basically, it’s supposed to be him.
Senator Jay Billington Bulworth (Warren Beatty) in Bulworth (1998)
Beatty’s Senator basically has a crisis and arranges his own assassination. After snogging Halle Berry, however, he soon regrets this decision.
President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) in The West Wing (TV: 1999-2006)
Perhaps the most fully realised fictional US president, Bartlet is a hugely intellectual New England academic who serves two terms as president in the long running series, surviving MS, scandal, government shutdowns, assassination attempts, the kidnapping of his daughter and numerous political reversals along the way. Sheen had played JFK in a memorable mini -series nearly twenty years before and is no less brilliant in this.
President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) in The Contender (2000)
Perhaps the most laidback president ever, there’s more than a hint of Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski about Bridges’ Democratic incumbent in this West Wingy style drama. He even likes bowling.
President David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) 24 (TV: 2001-2007)
Before there was “No Drama” Obama there was “Even Calmer” David Palmer. A black US president, Palmer’s presence on the series ended before Obama’s first presidential campaign got going.
President Mackenzie Allen (Geena Davis) in Commander In Chief (TV 2005)
Taller than Bartlet, Geena Davis is easily the best thing in this short lived drama about the first woman president. Like most fictional women presidents, Allen comes to power as a result of her predecessor’s death, rather than being elected herself.
Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) in The Ides of March (2011)
Anti-big business, anti-car, handsome and charismatic Morris seems to be the perfect presidential candidate for the Democrats in this drama. But lo and behold: campaign aide Ryan Gosling soon uncovers skeletons in his closet.
Joss Whedon was born to be a writer. Not only were both his father and grandfather, successful writers of radio and TV but he even managed to have an unhappy childhood. How could he fail?
As one of Whedon’s colleagues puts it: “if Joss had had a single happy day at high school, none of us would be here.” He proved equally socially awkward in the UK as well as the US, attending Winchester School in Hampshire the early Eighties. In short, he was geek long before it was fashionable.
As an adult, Joss Whedon would become one of the most accomplished TV and movie writers of the last twenty years. But he’s certainly had his ups and downs as Amy Pascale’s wonderfully thorough biography reveals.
His first job, writing for sitcom Roseanne was generally frustrating with only one of his scripts really getting to the screen, albeit in a particularly good episode in which cynical daughter Darlene (Sara Gilbert) has a poem read out at school. Whedon’s first film also had a neat twist: what if one of the dippy high school girls (a “Buffy”) typically killed off in horror films early on, asserted herself and became a vampire slayer herself? But Whedon was young and lost control of the project. The end result in 1992 (the film Buffy the Vampire Slayer starring Kristy Swanson) was technically a hit but pleased few people who watched it, least of all Whedon himself. Something similar happened with Whedon’s later attempt to revive the Alien franchise, Alien Resurrection. Whedon’s script was good but the directors, the Jeunet brothers went their own way.
Whedon’s attempts to save Waterworld from disaster also fell on deaf ears largely due to resistance from star Kevin Costner. Whedon found the production of the 1995 sci-fi film in disarray. “This guy has gills man! What on Earth were you guys thinking?” Whedon recalls thinking on his arrival.
However, when Whedon’s script doctoring has been given full rein as in the cases of Toy Story and Speed, he not only “saved” both movies, but made them amongst the most memorable films of the Nineties. Actress Sandra Bullock to some extent owes her career to Whedon’s love of strong female characters for transforming her winning turn in Speed into her breakthrough role.
It was the return of another such character Buffy, now played by Sarah Michelle Gellar now on TV which brought about Whedon’s most perfectly realised project and the main topic for much of this book. Building on the foundations of ground-breaking mid-Nineties teen dramas My So-Called Life created by Winnie Holzman and Christopher Keyser and Amy Lippman’s Party of Five, Buffy was never massive ratings hit but nevertheless changed TV forever. With the characters speaking in their own witty highly sophisticated lingo reflecting Whedon’s love of Shakespeare, Buffy also spawned classic episodes Hush (in which all of the main characters are temporarily rendered speechless), The Body (in which Buffy’s mother dies suddenly, echoing the death of Whedon’s own mother ten years earlier) and Once More With Feeling (the hugely acclaimed musical episode).
Buffy also spawned the successful spin off Angel. Yet Whedon’s career faced a setback in 2003 and 2004 when he suddenly went from being the master of three series – Buffy, Angel and sci-fi drama Firefly – to the master of none when all three shows ended. Just as Whedon revived the failed film of Buffy for TV with huge success, acclaimed but short lived TV show Firefly was revived for the big screen as Serenity. But though good, the film too failed at the box office.
Although clearly a huge Whedon fan Amy Pascale never shirks from dealing with Whedon’s failures (TV show Dollhouse flopped, various projects such as an animated series of Buffy never got made) to his successes which include a production of Much Ado About Nothing to the current TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as well as the recent huge smash hit movie Avengers Assemble. Amy Pascale has produced an essential guide to one of the greatest screenwriters of our time as he enters his fiftieth year.