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Friday, July 6, 2012

JUST TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT (1980)

Everybody's terrific in Jay Presson Allen's romantic-comedy for grown-ups, which she adapted from her own novel for director Sidney Lumet. Alan King is staggeringly right as the self-made billionaire who goes 'round-the-bend when his long time mistress, Ali MacGraw, gives him the boot for sexy, young playwright Peter Weller. The schemes, tantrums & back-stabbing ways of New York’s super-rich have rarely looked more dangerously tempting, believable, appalling or entertaining. And a sidetrip to Hollywood to spar with foxy studio chief Keenan Wynn & his fey G’kid Tony Roberts is equally sharp since Lumet & Allen know the territory and aren’t afraid to show how strong its siren call can be. (Designer Tony Walton also gets in some digs with his OTT L.A. interiors.) Best of all, in a neat bit of casting, is Mryna Loy, in her last film role, as King’s long-suffering, loyal secretary-at-arms; a gal who knows where all the bodies are buried, but who’ll never tell. In fact, great supporting types pop up all over the place, and the pleasing unpolished look from lenser Oswald Morris makes the tight story construction look like spontaneous improvisation. MacGraw gives what must be her best perf (heck, it’s just about her only perf) and Weller is charming as hell. Why doesn’t he get some of those Chris Walken gigs? But the film belongs to King, hilarious & terrifying, especially when he blows, without an intermediate gear shift, like a Yiddish-spewing Vesuvius.

DOUBLE-BILL: What a kick to see Loy bow out with a real role and not coasting on nostalgia. Funnily enough, she plays a sort of senior citizen variation on the part Jean Harlow played opposite a young Myrna Loy 44 years ago (!) in the underappreciated WIFE VS. SECRETARY/'36.

CONTEST: Lumet makes a fleeting visual reference to his own past here. Spot it to win a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of a NetFlix DVD.

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