Monday, June 27, 2016

LIZ SMITH: The Pendulum Swings

by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Manic Monday! Brexit and the Brit Film Industry ... Frances de la Tour, so much more than "Vicious" ... Joseph Morgan, a real fangs-out "Original."

“ENGLAND SWINGS like a pendulum do ...” sang Roger Miller in his 1965 pop hit.

Well, as of last Friday, we can only watch and wonder exactly which way England’s, Europe’s and indeed the United States pendulums swing in the wake of the UK’s Brexit referendum.
While this has potential wide-ranging political consequences, less immediately, vital aspects of the vote are likely to affect Britain’s entertainment world. Variety reports that funding for films will be hit especially hard, as well as distribution across England and Europe. 

Prime Minister David Cameron resigned as Brexit was passed, but perhaps the most tweeted and now famous remark was from “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, “Goodbye, U.K.” 

We indeed live in interesting times, as the Chinese proverb goes. And it doesn’t mean good interesting times, either!
Debbie Reynolds and Carleton Carpenter Aba daba daba daba daba daba dabbing ...
CARLETON CARPENTER, who made his mark as an MGM screen performer, on TV, on Broadway, as a songwriter and magician, has a memoir ready for release. 

Carpenter, is 90, and I am told he wrote “every word himself, on an old-fashioned manual Royal typewriter.”

Fans of the first “That’s Entertainment” movie in 1974, recall lanky Carleton and adorable Debbie Reynolds singing “Aba Daba  Honeymoon” but his career was much more fulsome than that famous number — he wrote special material for Reynolds later in her career, as well as for Marlene Dietrich. (Reynolds used to do a deliciously comic impression of Dietrich, one that the Blue Angel enjoyed just as much as Carol Channing’s impersonation — that is, not at all! Marlene didn’t have a very good sense of humor about herself.) Carleton also wrote the holiday perennial, “Christmas Eve.”

Angela Lansbury, Jane Powell, Leonard Maltin and Rex Reed have already read the manuscript and contributed glowing quotes. Debbie Reynolds wrote the prologue. 

The book arrives in October. 
Debbie Reynolds and Carleton Carpenter performing the song in Two Weeks With Love (1950).
SOMETIMES one can re-appreciate a great actor through some of their more minor (if entertaining) efforts. 

I am thinking specifically of the great Frances de la Tour. Recently, I found myself watching a little sitcom on PBS titled, “Vicious.” It starred Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi as two elderly gay men, longtime partners, whose chief occupations were to snipe at each other — viciously.  Ms. de la Tour played their good friend, Violet, who always seemed to be looking for love, or losing it, and Iwan Rheon was also on hand as the appealing young man living upstairs who became improbably fond of this trio of older folks. (Iwan is better known these days for his role as the super-sadist Ramsey Bolton on “Game of Thrones.”)
Frances de la Tour with Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi in “Vicious."
Some people liked “Vicious.” Others didn’t at all, because they felt it to be wildly stereotypical and out of touch. (“Two old queens insulting each other, what’s funny about that, what does that have to do with us?” complained a lot of young LGTB-ers.) 

It was stereotyping, but then what sitcom doesn’t stereotype somebody in some way?  In any case, I found Frances de la Tour very amusing and vaguely familiar. I just couldn’t pinpoint where I’d seen her before. Then, de la Tour popped up in the Starz series “Outlander” as Mother Hildegarde, the total opposite of her salacious, hard-drinking “Vicious” character.
As Mother Hildegarde.
It was then I turned to Google and discovered (remembered!) that she was the fabulous actress who won a Tony Award in 2006 for her role as Mrs. Lintott in “The History Boys.” I loved her in that. (She reprised the role in the screen version of Alan Bennett’s play.) How could I have forgotten?! 
Taking a curtain call as Mrs. Lintott in “The History Boys."
Then it all came back — her role in the “Harry Potter” movies ... in Tim Burton’s “Alice In Wonderland” ... in “Love, Actually” ... tons of TV and a now-classic 1970’s British series, “Rising Damp.” (I’ve never seen that but it is much beloved, from what I understand.)  There has also been a great deal of acclaimed work on the British stage — a number of Olivier awards clutter her shelves.

So, while “Vicious,” which has now departed, might not have been the greatest sitcom ever, or too politically incorrect for the current careful climate, I’m glad it re-introduced me to Frances de la Tour. 

Why isn’t she a Dame yet? I’m looking at you, Queen Elizabeth II!
In "Rising Damp."
NOW THAT I have Netflix, I admit I’ve watched some crazy stuff, binged on shows I’d never heard of and probably wouldn’t have bothered with otherwise.

One of these is “The Originals” a spin-off of the CW’s “The Vampire Chronicles” which I had rigorously avoided — it seemed to me, whether it is or not — a teen-themed, “Twilight”-like take on the undead. 
But somehow I got sucked into “The Originals” which has run two seasons (twenty-something episodes each season!)  I don’t know if there will be a third. It’s the usual stuff — vampires, werewolves, witches, all plotting against each other in steamy New Orleans. Everybody does the best with the material, which admittedly takes some imaginative turns (lots of gold-hued flashback sequences) but the real attraction of the show is its main protagonist, pouty-lipped, bad-boy vamp, Klaus Mikaelson played by Joseph Morgan.  What an intense young actor! He’s supernaturally worked up in every episode — good, bad, crying, raging, killing, saving, paternal, sleazy. He really delivers the goods, fangs out! 
Joseph Morgan as bad-boy vamp, Klaus Mikaelson.
Morgan has played Judah Ben-Hur, James Dean, Thomas Culpepper (in a TV movie about Henry VIII), has been an immortal in “The Immortals” and decorated Oliver Stone’s “Alexander,” but his 1,000-year-old vampire is just slaying me, you should pardon the weak pun.

Joseph Morgan is clearly having a good time ripping open throats, but this guy needs to be a bigger star, with less gore!

Contact Liz here.