Monday, February 5, 2007

Morricone and Burton: Imperfect Together

A few years ago I had the good fortune to see the one and only Jerry Goldsmith live in concert at Carnegie Hall and one of the highlights of the show was Goldsmith telling a story about how he struck up a friendship with Sean Connery, so much so that Connery claimed that the long hair and ponytail he wore in John McTiernan’s MEDICINE MAN was inspired by Goldsmith. I was reminded of this for some reason earlier today when myself and a group of friends gathered together to watch some films scored by Ennio Morricone in honor of his recent concert at Radio City Music Hall (which I could not attend but I’m told was a great show). The focus was not on any of the classics that Morricone has scored (which are being screened throughout NYC in the next few weeks) but on some of the classic clunkers that also bear his name, all of which gain a small modicum of class by his participation. We watched Michael Anderson’s stunningly stupid ORCA (which is a great-looking film, regardless) and then two Morricone-scored films that happened to have starred the one and only Richard Burton, John Boorman’s EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC and Edward Dmytrk’s BLUEBEARD. Both films are fascinating to watch for different reasons and I don’t want to slam either one of them too hard because even though both films fail, at least they try to do something, although what that thing is isn’t quite clear even to this day. I doubt Burton and Morricone became pals because of them, although it would be nice if something good came out of these flicks (other than the Morricone scores - the one for EXORCIST II is excellent).

Much has been written about how Burton’s career began to falter in the late 60s and early 70s where he made one terrible film after another, but you’ve got to give Burton some credit because many of those pictures (STAIRCASE, THE KLANSMAN, BOOM and these two) weren't just flops, they were some of the biggest bombs of their time. I’m not really going to get into EXORCIST II right now (maybe another time) but BLUEBEARD really struck me as something to discuss, mainly because it doesn’t get covered much except in the bad movie guides and websites. That’s not too hard to understand, but BLUEBEARD deserves a least a little credit because it’s a satire, so at least its makers were trying to be this silly, although it’s a failed satire, so maybe a sharpening of the knives isn’t a bad idea. Failed satires often fascinate me because either the filmmakers have something to say but they don't know how to say it or don't say it very well and then it becomes like a car wreck caused by stupidity. With BLUEBEARD, the second the credit “Alexander Salkind presents” pops up the warning bells go off (this was just before THE THREE MUSKETEERS) and once Burton (in a sometimes amusing performance) turns to the camera to reveal that his beard is indeed blue (and the title pops up on screen) you feel like this one is already a lost cause. The first hour is incredibly disjointed, lumbering to tell the story and padding it with too much filler (such as a distastful extended hunting sequence where several real animal deaths are shown), giving only hints of the comedy the makers supposedly intended this to be. It’s only in the second hour, when the stories of Bluebeard’s previous seven wives are told in flashback does the film starts to gain some ground and you’re asking yourself, “Why couldn’t they have done this sooner?” The ladies are indeed lovely (Lola, er, Joey Heatherton... yowza!) and the sequences with Racquel Welch, Maril├╣ Tolo and Verna Lissi are indeed quite amusing. There are some clever moments of black and tasteless humor (making Bluebeard a Nazi would be more of an inspired touch if they had done anything with it) but there's no real wit here and learning that this was apparently a troubled production explains a lot. One of the few who emerge unscathed is Morricone, whose light, airy score shows that seemingly he alone understood how this should have been played. It's tough to take your eyes off of BLUEBEARD but you know that something is very wrong with it. Bad movie fans who have yet to sample its charms will certainly find much to love here, but regular movie fans shouldn't be too quick to hate. Ambition, even failed ambition, should always account for something.

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