Thursday, April 13, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Brave New World

Claire Bloom and Julie Harris in “The Haunting.” 
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Will "The Haunting of Hill House" be yet another triumph for Netflix? Also — Don Rickles ... Pierce Brosnan ... Happy Birthday, Botox ... and our "Brave New World."

“HILL HOUSE has stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more. Within, walls continue upright, bricks meet, floors are firm, and doors are sensibly shut. Silence lies steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House. And we who walk here ... walk alone.”

That’s Julie Harris, commenting on the bizarre mansion, Hill House, and her own fate while visiting, in the 1963 film, “The Haunting.” 
Based on Shirley Jackson’s famous book, “The Haunting of Hill House,”  the movie, directed by Robert Wise, was a chilling, more than worthy adaptation.  It also starred Claire Bloom as glamorous psychic lesbian Theo ... Richard Johnson as Dr. Markway, determined to prove that Hill House is indeed evil and haunted, and Russ Tamblyn, an heir to the old place who just wants to sell it. Or, as things work out, he suggests burning it to the ground.    
"The house is evil ... burn it to the ground!"
But it is Julie Harris, as the painfully neurotic Eleanor Lance who dominates the film and becomes the guest Hill House is in no hurry to send on her way.  Harris’ sudden explosions of pent-up anger and frustration are the most terrifying things about the movie, an exercise in horror in which we see nothing, but imagine everything.  Filmed beautifully in black-and-white by Davis Boulton, “The Haunting” is one of “the essentials” as they’d say on Turner Classic Movies. 
In 1999 “The Haunting” was remade, with Lili Taylor, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Liam Neeson and Owen Wilson.  It’s hard to improve on near-perfection, and the remake didn’t. 
Now comes the  interesting news that Netflix has ordered a ten-episode series, “The Haunting of Hill House,” directed and produced by Mike Flanagan.   No casting yet, or filming schedule. But Netflix is on quite a run, recent triumphs include “Stranger Things” ... “Narcos” ... “Bloodline” ... “Grace and Frankie” and “13 Reasons Why.”     

Perhaps nothing can shake my affection and admiration for the original movie — not to mention Jackson’s book, which is brilliant — but  I’ll bet Netflix will do something fascinating. 
Oh, one more “Haunting” shout-out — to the esteemed British actress Rosalie Crutchley, who briefly appears in the ’63 film as the cadaverous housekeeper, Mrs. Dudley.  “There won’t be anyone around if you need help ... in the night. In the dark” she intones several times.  Terrific.  (The great Marian Seldes took the Dudley role in the remake, to less effect, although that was certainly not her fault.)
"No one will come any nearer than that ... in the night ... in the dark."
THIS N’ THAT: 

... PIERCE BROSNAN looking so good in April issue of Esquire. I hate to use the old fine wine analogy, but he really is getting better with time.  It’s hard to reconcile the handsomely weathered, and increasing facile actor he is now, with his smooth “Remington Steel” days, or even his tenure as James Bond.  I feel similarly about Hugh Grant, and still think he should have been Oscar-nominated for his “Florence Foster Jenkins” performance opposite Meryl Streep.
Christian Anwander for Esquire.
... SINCE the election, sales of George Orwell’s “1984” have soared, along with the Sinclair Lewis classic, “It Can’t Happen Here.”  People are anxious, and apparently want to be more anxious.  But according to Charles McGrath and Siddhartha Deb in the Sunday New York Times Book Review, the dystopian novel that “gets it right” is Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.”   So, all you nail-biters, get to your bookstores, or turn to Amazon.  Since it’s been years since I’ve read the Huxley book, I’ll probably dip into it again.  But, really, I’d rather read the new James Patterson thriller.
... YESTERDAY, Botox turned 15.  That is, it’s been 15 years since the FDA approved the wrinkle-smoothing toxin. Although Botox is effective in treating chronic migraines, excessive sweating, Raynaud’s disease and other ailments, it is most famous for its cosmetic benefits.  It is used with a finer hand these days; the old paralyzed Botox face is not nearly as common a sight. Fillers and plumpers, laser treatments, etc, combined with Botox, have altered what the current generation think people over the age of 30 or forty or fifty should look like.  Certainly NOT thirty, forty or fifty!  The ironic sidebar for those in the public eye is High Definition cameras, which can cruelly reverse/expose all that expensive effort. (The red carpet is a harsh place in the 21st century!)
DON RICKLES was one of the kindest, most well-mannered, polite and friendly guys I’ve ever met in covering celebrities.

I was introduced to Don by Sirio Maccioni at Manhattan’s posh Le Cirque restaurant.  I waited anxiously through Sirio’s equally anxious introduction, expecting the inevitable “attack.” 

Don and Barbara. Photo: Patrick McMullan
Instead, Don leaned in, kissed my cheek and said, “I love your work!” He brought over his wife, Barbara. I knew they’d been married for many years.  He was obviously crazy about her.  And she handled herself like a pro.

Well, after over half a century with Don Rickles (dealing with the public image) she knew what was what.  It is more than likely that Barbara was with Don when got his big break, working a club in Miami.  He spotted Frank Sinatra.  “Hey, Frank, make yourself at home — hit somebody.”  The often thin-skinned Sinatra and the brash comic became friends.

Anyway, the three of us began dishing and the rest of Le Cirque seemed to lean in, expecting, I suppose, Don to let forth a string of insults.  But this was real life, not a Vegas gig or a roast.  He was, as it turned out, a lovely human being.

Before we parted, I said “Don, I’ll be honest; I didn’t think I’d escape!” He knew what I meant. He kissed me again and said, “Liz, I don’t get paid for being myself!”  His wife squeezed his arm affectionately. What a guy! I’m so glad I had that encounter. (I hope I haven’t shattered any illusions.)

My  heart-felt and sincere sympathies to Barbara, daughter Mindy, their grandchildren and to all of Don’s many fans. 
I USUALLY agree with my byline colleague, Denis Ferrara — who has worked with me for almost forty years. Usually.  But I did not agree with his negative critique of MSNBC’s Brian Williams the other day.  I think Brian is a super-pro and a boost to all men on TV. Viva Brian!

Contact Liz here.