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Friday, January 27, 2012


After legendary stints @ Warners (‘31-‘45) & Paramount (‘45-‘70), producer Hal Wallis took his unit over to Universal for a final handful of hit-&-miss pics (‘69-‘75). First out was ANNE OF A THOUSAND DAYS with Richard Burton & Geneviève Bujold, a solid Tudor historical that was both a critical & commercial success. Two years later, much the same creative crew re-upped for MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS, a less well-received follow-up with Vanessa Redgrave & Glenda Jackson. Seen now, the film’s respective reps seem flip-flopped; ANNE’s a bit of a stiff and MARY’s a pip. Go figure. Some of the change stems from director Charles Jarrott, who’s a good deal looser in the later pic. (A faceless megger at the best of times, he’d self-destruct right after MARY on the disastrous LOST HORIZON musical remake.) He also gets a huge boost from lenser Christopher Challis who completely outclasses Arthur Ibbetson’s dutiful work on ANNE. (Dark glowering skies & dynamic angles help, but just have a look at the Old Master lighting he achieves in the chamber scene right after MARY’s Intermission Break.) John Hale did both scripts, but where ANNE never quite shakes off the poetic goo of the Maxwell Anderson lyric drama it's adapted from, MARY uses a freer dramatic structure and, of course, has the ultimate Wild Card in Glenda Jackson’s phenomenal Elizabeth Tudor. They add two meetings for the Queens who never met, which turn out to be one too many, but you hardly need to see them together to cast your lot against a sanctimonious hypocrite like Mary. The supporting casts of both pics look equally good on paper, but again, MARY gets the edge with undervalued scene-stealers like Patrick McGoohan, Timothy Dalton, Ian Holm & Daniel Massey harking back to the unmatchable character roster of Warners in the ‘30, where the young Hal Wallis got his start.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Vanessa Redgrave always made the controversial political headlines, but it was Jackson who gave up acting to serve as a British M.P. Redgrave is generally considered the actress of her generation, but sometimes it seems like cinema might have been better off if these two had reversed their career choices.

READ ALL ABOUT IT: Hal Wallis was usually considered one of the coldest executives in Hollywood. But he comes off as a reasonable, if frustratingly terse, character in STARMAKER, his auto-bio. Worth it for the Jerry Lewis stuff alone. (And don’t forget, Wallis also did all those early Elvis pics.)

DOUBLE-BILL: Well, naturally.

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