Tag Archives: Maureen Stapleton

Reds (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He fights for socialism.

The film centers on the life of John Reed (Warren Beatty) who was a socialist activist that covered the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and later published his account in ‘The Ten Days That Shook the World’.  He became instrumental in forming the Communist Labor Party of America and marrying noted feminist Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) before returning to Russia and eventually dying there becoming only one of three Americans buried at the Kremlin Wall Necropolis.

The project was a labor of love for writer/star/director/producer Warren Beatty who first became inspired by Reed’s story in the mid-‘60s and spent over15 years battling to get it produced. Unlike most actors-turned-directors Beatty was notoriously disliked by his cast and crew for demanding many different takes for even the simplest of scenes forcing his friend Gene Hackman, who agreed to appear in the film for free, to do 100 takes to convey only a few brief lines. Beatty also strangely decided to keep the camera running continuously even between takes resulting in three million feet of footage that weighed five tons to ship and if played continuously on the screen would’ve resulted in taking two and a half weeks to complete.

The story is okay and moderately compelling, but I felt too much emphasis was placed on Reed’s and Bryant’s relationship. Supposedly this was a biography on a famous historical figure, but the story gets lodged more on the rocky, unconventional marriage aspect and seemed at times to be more focused on Keaton’s character than Beatty’s.

I was also confused as to what exactly had Reed done that was so special, or elicit us to sit through such a long movie about him. In a normal epic the main character is instrumental in causing the events that we see, but here the protagonist is nothing more than a sideline observer with no direct control on what goes on. Technically he doesn’t change anything and the film is just one long look at how whatever he strived either fizzled or got corrupted before he eventually dies in virtual obscurity, which hardly seems inspiring or worth the time to watch.

The supporting cast helps significantly particularly Jack Nicholson as Eugene O’Neill who has an affair with Bryant. It’s always interesting to seeing Nicholson play a subdued character since he’s usually so flamboyant and Jack makes the most of it, which helps give the story a little extra edge. Maureen Stapleton won the Academy Award for supporting actress even though her character is only seen sporadically, but she probably deserved the Award either way since she became a victim of Beatty’s overzealous need for multiple takes, which so infuriated her that she apparently screamed ‘Are you out of your fucking mind?” when Beatty demanded that she redo her scene for the 80th  time which got the rest of the crew to cheer their approval.

It’s also fun to see Jerzy Kosinski as the communist politician Grigory Zinoviev. Kosinski was best known for having written the novel ‘Being There’, which inspired the film of the same name, but later he was accused of having plagiarized the story from an earlier Polish novel and it was revealed that many of his other stories were ghost written by assistant editors, which is ironic since his character in the film gets accused by Beatty of having tampered and re-written his speeches and writings.

As a whole it’s adequately done, but the pace ebbs and flows. The interviews with people who actually knew Reed, or were connected to his life in some way are a highlight as is the scene where Reed tries to escape Russia by riding on a hand cart along a train track in the dead of winter, but everything else gets overblown.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 3, 1981

Runtime: 3 Hours 15 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Warren Beatty

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Nuts (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fighting for her sanity.

In celebration of Barbra Streisand turning 72 on April 24th we will be reviewing three of her films, one from each decade during the week. This one is based on the Broadway play by Tom Topor dealing with a high priced call girl named Claudia Draper (Barbra Streisand) who murders one of her customers (Leslie Nielson) in self-defense and is arrested. Her mother (Maureen Stapleton) and step father (Karl Malden) think she should be diagnosed as incompetent to stand trial and sent to a mental institution, but she with the help of her lawyer (Richard Dreyfuss) fight for her right to stand trial.

The story and characters evolve in layers, which I liked, but Streisand doesn’t seem right for the part. Her presence makes it seem too much like a star vehicle instead of the character driven story that it should be. Her cantankerous outbursts become a bit excessive and self-destructive making it hard at times to cheer for her or empathize. In the Broadway play the character was played by a woman in her twenties, which made more sense and would’ve worked better instead of casting someone who was already 45.

Seeing her in provocative poises in snapshots that her lawyer obtains is a bit weird but fun as a novelty as is the scene where she spreads her legs without the benefit of any underwear for Dreyfuss, but having her constantly shown with a bright spotlight around her seems disconcerting. It gives her a ghostly appearance and makes her stand out in the wrong way.

The veteran supporting cast comes off better since they wisely underplay it as opposed to her overplaying. Stapleton is quite good especially the moving scenes showing her crying as she listens to her daughter’s testimony. James Whitmore is solid as the thoughtful judge, but it’s Dreyfuss who carries it as the feisty and sometimes exasperated counsel.

This film is also a milestone as it is the last time Leslie Neilson performed in a non-comedic role. He is surprisingly chilling as the psychotic attacker who was apparently so convincing that it scared Streisand during the filming of the scene.

There are times when it gets a bit too theatrical. The judge advises Claudia to quit disrupting the proceedings, but then she continues to do so anyways, which would have gotten most people thrown out of the courtroom. The scene where she sits on the witness stand and describes being a hooker in a very sensual and seductive way seemed over-the-top in a court of law as is the part where she is allowed to wander around the courtroom going on a long rant while everyone else just sits there and passively listens.

Still on the whole I found most of it to be quite riveting and as a drama its first- rate. I just felt Striesand’s presence didn’t help it. She can be quite good in certain other roles just not here. The part was originally intended for Debra Winger who I feel would have fared better.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 20, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated R

Director: Martin Ritt

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video