Tag Archives: Mary Steenburgen

Romantic Comedy (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playwrights fall in love.

Just as Jason (Dudley Moore), a popular playwright, is getting ready to tie-the-knot with the beautiful Allison (Janet Eilber) he meets Phoebe (Mary Steenburgen). Phoebe is a school teacher aspiring to be a playwright and hoping to team up with Jason, who has had some success in the past, but looking for new inspiration. The two soon become a successful writing team, but begin to fall-in-love in the process, which creates a strain on Jason’s marriage.

The film is based on the play of the same name that was written by Bernard Slade, who also wrote the screenplay. Slade was at one time a television producer whose most noted creation was Th Partridge Family’, but by the late 70’s had moved into writing plays with his biggest hit being Same Tim Next Year about two married people who get together once a year to have an affair, which became a runaway international hit and inspired Slade to then write this one, which is basically just a minor reworking of the same theme. While his first play was hailed as being fresh and original this thing is much more mechanical and ultimately as generic as its title.

The story’s biggest failing is that we never get to see the relationship blossom and grow. Instead it starts out with their awkward meeting that exposes their contrasting personalities and temperaments and then jumps ahead several months later to where they’ve already become lovey-dovey to each other, but with no insight as to how that came about. Part of the fun of watching a romance is seeing how it flourishes between two very unlikely people, but here that gets glossed away making everything that comes after it seem very forced and contrived.

The film also offers no insight into the collaboration process and how two people can work together to create a play, which could’ve been both interesting and amusing. It also could’ve been revealing seeing what kind of plots their plays had and why some of them are flops while others are hits. Having a story within a story concept where the two write about the secret emotions that they have for the other into their characters could’ve added a unique angle, but like with a lot of other things here becomes another missed opportunity.

Moore and Steenburgen have no chemistry and there was a big 18 year age difference between them. Moore is too acerbic and having him go from being sarcastic and abrasive to suddenly loving and tender is unconvincing. Steenburgen’s young girl voice makes her seem empty-headed and not the sophisticated, witty type who would be able to write the type of plays that she supposedly does. Why Mia Farrow and Anthony Perkins, who played the parts in the original Broadway play, weren’t cast in the same parts here is a mystery, but they would’ve been far more effective choices.

The expected drama and conflicts involving the wife never culminates into anything making her presence virtually pointless. The laughs are non-existent as well. In fact the only time it ever gets even mildly amusing is when Moore and Steenburgen would argue and it would’ve been funnier had they been portrayed as hating each other, but teamed up anyways simply because they somehow managed to write hit plays when they worked together.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: MGM/UA

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Dead of Winter (1987)

dead of winter

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trapped in a house.

Being that this has been one of the coldest and snowiest winters in Indianapolis history, which is the current headquarters of Scopophilia, as well as much of the rest of the nation I decided it would be a good time to review a film with cold weather as its theme. After all misery loves company and if we got to suffer through this crap it’s always nice to see film characters have to deal with it as well.

The film is a loose remake of My Name is Julia Ross, which came out in 1945 and starred Nina Foch, which in turn was based on the novel ‘The Woman in Red’ by Anthony Gilbert. Here the title character is Katie McGovern (Mary Steenbugen) a fledgling actress who answers an ad in a paper for an audition to a role in a low budget movie. There she meets a man by the name of Mr. Murray (Roddy McDowell) who hires her on the spot based on her resemblance to their last leading lady who walked out on the production before it was finished. He takes her to an isolated mansion that is owned by Dr. Joseph Lewis (Jan Rubes) to supposedly finish the project by playing a character named Julie Rose, but slowly she realizes this is no movie at all, but instead an elaborate blackmail scheme. Her attempts at escape are futile due to a raging snowstorm outside forcing her to try and come up with a scheme of her own in order to turn-the-tables on her captors before it is too late.

This was director Arthur Penn’s second to last theatrical feature. He had been slumming through the 80’s with movies that never quite hit-the-mark and this one proves no exception. He makes a few attempts to liven it up with my favorite being when they drug Katie and then show things from her point-of-view where everyone talks in an extremely slow way like a tape player running at a very slow speed. There are a few other touches added including some obvious Hitchcock references, which I felt really weren’t needed. Overall though the film seems pretty slow at least through the first hour with only a minimum of tension.

Part of the problem is the casting of the bad guys. While I like the novelty of two elderly men cast as the villains it really doesn’t work overall. Rubes whose character is bound to a wheelchair and speaks in a heavy Czechoslovakian accent seems almost like a cuddly grandfather for most of the way. McDowell has too much of a small frame to be intimidating and there is never any gun or other weapon used against her making me believe that since she was much younger than both of them that had she acted even slightly more aggressively than she does she probably could have overpowered them.

The characters also act pretty stupid at points. Katie goes to this very isolated place, but then when she finally is able to call the police doesn’t have the simple fortitude to know what the name of the nearest town is. She also becomes very aware that these guys are up to no good and even lets them know it only to foolishly take some hot chocolate that they serve her, which not so surprisingly is laced with a sleeping drug.  The bad guys also act dumb by disposing of her driver’s license by sloppily throwing it into the fireplace and then make no attempts to keep her away from it were she eventually spots it.

The wintry atmosphere by-and-large is well handled as cinematographer Jan Weincke deftly captures the gray unrelenting bleakness of the season. It was filmed on-location in Ontario, Canada and there is actual snow on the ground, but the snowstorm itself is fake using artificial snowflakes that they blow in front of the camera that doesn’t look quite right when compared to a real storm.

Things spice up during the final half-hour and features a few interesting twists. However the Rubes character who was stuck in a wheelchair for the entire duration of the film suddenly becomes amazingly agile and nimble using only a fireplace poker to pull himself from the chair and then uses it to balance himself as he chases Katie all around the place and even manages to somehow push himself up a long and winding staircase, which became a bit farfetched. It got to the point where I felt the writers shouldn’t have even bothered to make the character paralyzed in the first place if they were just going to completely sell-out on the concept at the end.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 6, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Penn

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video