Tag Archives: Marsha Mason

Blume in Love (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cheating husband seeks reconciliation.

Stephen Blume (George Segal) is a successful divorce lawyer who suddenly finds himself stuck in a break-up of his own when his wife (Susan Anspach) catches him cheating with his secretary and then leaves him. Now Blume becomes obsessed with winning her back and even starts up a friendship with her new live-in lover (Kris Kristofferson), but as his frustrations boil over he begins to react in violent ways when he can’t get what he wants.

Director Paul Mazursky delivers another insightful look at love and marriage and how the two aren’t always compatible. The narrative works in a fragmented style where clips of the different stages of the relationship are shown at various times and allows the viewer to see the many changes the two go through particularly with our protagonist whose internal flaws are ingloriously displayed for all to see. Normally this could prove a turn-off, but Segal manages to keep the character painfully human enough to be engaging most of the way even though he eventually overstays his welcome.

Mazursky gives the proceedings an artsy, cinema vertite flair especially with the way he captures St. Mark’s Square in Venice and by creating an offbeat romance that is filled with caustic humor. I also enjoyed the supporting cast including Marsha Mason as Blume’s new girlfriend who has a strong bit when she tearfully admits that she will ashamedly remain with Blume even after he acknowledges to her that he thinks only about his wife when the two make love.

Donald F. Muhich is fun as the psychiatrist. He was Mazursky’s real-life analyst and got paid back by being cast in four of his movies. His facial expressions and responses to his patients are so spot-on that it makes you feel like you’re attending an actual patient-doctor session.

Even Kristofferson does well in a part that takes advantage of his laid-back acting style though his character’s friendship with Blume gets overplayed. I felt even the most easy going of people would’ve drawn some boundaries and never have tolerated an ex-husband being around as much as he was. The scene where he finally does punch Blume, which should’ve come a lot sooner, gets totally botched because it has Kristofferson breaking down into a teary-eyed wail right afterwards for no apparent reason.

The film’s biggest flaw though is its manufactured happy ending that makes no sense. Blume was clearly too selfish and immature to have a healthy relationship with anyone and the fact that Anspach decides to accept him back even after he forcibly rapes her is absurd. Both characters were in need of some major psychological counseling and not each other. The fact that the film for the majority of its runtime plays like an anti-love story only to end up throwing in a clichéd wrap-up like all the other formulaic romances makes it a sell-out and a waste of time for the viewer looking for something intelligent and different only to find out that it really isn’t.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Mazursky

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Chapter Two (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to start over.

George (James Caan) is a famous author who has just lost his first wife. His brother Leo (Joseph Bologna) gives him the phone number to Jennie (Marsha Mason) who has recently gone through a divorce. After an initially awkward first encounter the two form an attachment and quickly decide to get married. Then on their honeymoon the memories of George’s recently deceased wife comes back to haunt him, which jeopardizes his new marriage.

The film, which is based on the hit Broadway play that ran for 857 performances and was written by Neil Simon, is largely inspired by the events of his own life as he lost his first wife, Joan Baim, on July 17, 1973 and then quickly married actress Marsha Mason on October 25th of that same year. Mason is essentially playing herself and her performance here is one of the movie’s stronger points.

An aspect of the film though that I found even more interesting is the fact that it reteams Mason and Caan just 6 years after they had starred in Cinderella Liberty. The romantic angle here though is much more realistic as both people are on a more equal footing as a relationship cannot work if one person is too severely dependent on the other. I also enjoyed seeing how Mason, a highly underrated actress, could effectively play both an emotionally weak person as she did in the 1973 film and a very strong one as she does here. My only quibble is that her character is again portrayed as being an actress just like she was in The Goodbye Girl, but there she was wracked with anxiety and struggling financially as most artists do while here she seemed too financially secure and more like a woman working in the corporate business world.

The film has a nice breezy pace and the romance is allowed to blossom naturally without ever feeling forced, which along with the excellent on-location shooting I really liked. The problem though comes with the fact that the leads are quite bland when compared to their supporting counterparts, which are played by Bologna and Valerie Harper. Bologna seems to steal any film he is in and he really should be given more starring vehicles. Harper is equally strong and nothing like her more famous Rhoda Morgenstern persona. Their characters have engaging flaws and the banter between them is far more comical. The film shifts uneasily between scenes featuring Caan/Mason to those with Bologna/Harper until it seems like two completely different movies going in opposite directions.

Having Caan’s character go from being really crazy about Mason to suddenly and quite literally overnight becoming aloof towards her is too severe and comes off like he is afflicted with a Jekyll and Hyde disorder. Likewise Mason is too forgiving with it when most people would simply get a quickie divorce since they had known each other for only 10 days. Yet even with all of these weaknesses I still found it a soothing and easy-to-take movie that should please romance aficionados everywhere.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1979

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Moore

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD (Sony Choice Collection)

Cinderella Liberty (1973)

cinderella-liberty-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sailor falls for prostitute.

John Baggs (James Caan) is a sailor who checks into a Seattle, Washington naval base medical facility for a check-up and while there has his files lost and is unable to receive pay or new orders until they are found. While the navy tries to find them they give him a ‘Cinderella Liberty’ pass, which allows him to come and go from the base as long as he returns before curfew. During his excursions into the city he meets up with Maggie (Marsha Mason) a prostitute and goes back to her place for sex. It is there that he meets her biracial son Doug (Kirk Calloway). Despite the tremendous odds John finds himself falling-in-love with Maggie while trying earnestly to make a better life for Doug.

This is one of those films I enjoyed quite a bit the first time I saw it, but could not get into it as much the second time around, which is a shame as it does have a lot of good things going for it. Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography and the way he captures the seedier side of the city is one of the film’s chief assets particularly the vivid look at Maggie’s squalor of an apartment that no studio could possible recreate quite as effectively. Trying to mix romance with gritty reality while getting away from the soft focus and idealized view of love, which permeated a lot of romance films of the ‘70s is a noble and interesting effort. I also really enjoyed John Williams’s ragtime sounding score and the bouncy opening tune sung by Paul Williams.

The performances are excellent. For Caan this may be the best performance of his career and the role that most effectively works into his acting style. Mason is equally good and deserved her Oscar nomination alone through the strained facial expressions that she shows during the delivery of her child. The supporting cast is great too and includes Dabney Coleman, who wears a wig, as Caan’s crass, blunt superior and Eli Wallach as an old timer in the naval system who seems genuinely shell shocked at the prospect of having to survive as a civilian.

The film’s main fault is that I just could never buy into the idea of why John would ever want to get into the situation that he does. There might be some cases out there where a prostitute and one of her customers do fall for each other and start a relationship, but I would think they’re few and far between and usually doesn’t last. If anything it couldn’t be as extremely bad of a situation as it is here where the woman is a complete emotional mess living in squalor with a delinquent son and pregnant with another.

Several characters throughout the film keep asking John why he would want to get involved in something like this and his answer of ‘because it makes me feel good’ is not sufficient. A good relationship needs a healthy dose of give-and-take, but here John is doing all the giving. There isn’t much to love with the Maggie character anyways as she is extraordinarily irresponsible as a parent and at one point even abandons her son with not much more than a second thought.

Had the film emphasized John’s bonding with Doug and made this the focal point then I could see him wanting to have some limited involvement with the mother in order to help the kid, but the romance angle in this situation given the circumstances bordered on the insane and prevented me as a viewer from fully getting into it.

cinderella-liberty-2

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 57Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark Rydell

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Audrey Rose (1977)

audrey rose 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dead daughter gets reincarnated.

On October 3rd, 1965 at precisely 8:20AM a young Audrey Rose dies in a fiery car crash. At 8:22AM on that same day Ivy (Susan Swift) is born to Janice and Bill Templeton (Marsha Mason, John Beck). Several years later after talking to a couple of psychics Audrey’s father Elliot (Anthony Hopkins) becomes convinced that his dead daughter has been reincarnated in the body of Audrey. When he approaches Ivy’s parents about it they scoff and then when he tries to take her they have him arrested. He then goes on trial where he tries to get 12 jurors to believe that reincarnation is a reality.

Based on the Frank De Felitta novel, and who also wrote the screenplay, this odd hybrid of a horror film never really takes-off.  Director Robert Wise does a terrific job of capturing the Manhattan skyline and a late 70’s New York City ambience as well as the gorgeous classic paintings that line the ceiling of Janice’s and Bill’s apartment, but he has a story that is light on action. The restrained and genteel narrative creates a film that seems more like a conventional drama than a horror film despite a storyline that is brimming with supernatural elements.

Every effort is made to keep the proceedings as realistic as possible only to have the entire second hour delving into a court room drama with a defense strategy that is so outlandish it becomes almost ludicrous. Having Elliot become convinced of the reincarnation through talking to psychics is another weak point. The few so-called psychics that I have been to have proven to be inaccurate and unreliable and most people that I know have had the same experience. In the past few years several famous psychics have been outed in the media as being frauds and charlatans. Having the film treat these people like they are a reliable source puts the entire premise on poor footing from the very beginning.

Mason can play a distraught and beleaguered character about as well as anyone and her teary-eyed presence helps give the film a few extra points. Beck is also good as her husband and their contrasting personalities and approaches to the situation add an interesting subtext.

Not to necessarily sound cruel but Swift as the young girl has a big pair of buggy eyes that to me became more of a distraction as it went along. Also, with her long brown hair she starts to resemble the Linda Blair character from The Exorcist, which was a far more intense, scary, and exciting film than this one. The producers would have done well to have cast a blonde or redhead in the role simply to avoid the comparison.

The scares are almost non-existent and the only slightly spooky moment is the scene where Swift looks into a mirror and chants the Audrey Rose name repeatedly, which is the only time where her buggy eyes come into good use. The several scenes showing her running around the place and banging onto the widows while screaming become old pretty fast. The direction is slick and the production values good. It is compelling enough to be entertaining, but the ending is very unsatisfying and as a thriller it is transparent and unmemorable.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 6, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Wise

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Goodbye Girl (1977)

the goodbye girl 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Goodbye doesn’t mean forever.

Paula (Marsha Mason) is a ‘dumped on’ single parent, whose live-in boyfriend has just left her, and now must contend with Elliot (Richard Dreyfuss) a rather obnoxious man who is subletting the apartment. Despite long odds the two end up ‘falling in love’ in this rather obvious, mechanical love story that is finely tuned to the female, especially those from that era. (The macho guy viewer will have run out of the room long before David Gates even has a chance to sing his soft rock title tune).

This was made when writer Neil Simon was still considered in vogue, although his patented one-liners are sparse and when they do come they are more cute than funny. This in some ways seems a retooling of his earlier ‘lovers in a New York apartment’ film Barefoot in the Park. Only here it’s a little rougher around the edges so it can appeal to a ‘hip’ audience. No clean-cut, cutesy newlyweds instead these people are more jaded to modern sensibilities and will routinely live with their partner even when they are not quite yet divorced.

If you can get past a rather strong late 70’s feel (gotta love that Fonzi poster hanging in the bedroom) then the characters remain solid and believable. No beautiful models living lavish and exciting lifestyles. These are average people just trying to make ends meet and find a little happiness along the way. It also doesn’t just show them when they are together, but also when they are out and alone in the ‘real world’, which allows us a rounded and sympathetic view of them.

Dreyfuss basically plays his usual opinionated, abrasive self. Whether the viewer sees the intended charm underneath is completely up to their own personal tolerance. His performance is good, but not exactly screaming for an Academy Award, which he won anyway, but then poked fun of it when he later hosted ‘Saturday Night Live’ on May 13, 1978.

Mason, who at the time was married to Simon, is the one who should have won it. Her performance is both believable and fluid. You truly see a lot of everyday people in her characterization and she clearly carries the film.

Quinn Cummings, as Paula’s daughter, is cute without being too precocious. Her sensibilities help compensate for the sometimes emotional immaturity of her adult counterparts. Though it really looks and seems dumb to have a ten year old still smearing food on the edges of her mouth and wearing a big napkin around her neck while eating.

Although I don’t always have a great eye for continuity errors this one has a doozy. When Dreyfuss comes home one night drunk he knocks over a table with a lot of stuff on it. He sticks his head out the window to shout something into the night air and then two seconds later comes back to where the table is standing and everything on it is neatly set.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 30, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video