We appear to be in the home stretch here. The pain is not as it once was, but it still means I can not type for longer than a few minutes without my wrist hurting or my fingers from going numb. So the dictated reviews and a ridiculous posting schedule continues on.
Everyone has a celebrity that they dislike for no known reason. For me, that has always been Richard E Grant. I cannot for the life of me tell you why that was, but whenever I see him in something I get annoyed. I think that’s been broken after watching Withnail & I. He is extraordinary as the central character of this strange period black comedy.
I first had this film quoted at me back when I was part of the student cinema at university. I’ve since had this quoted at me intermittently. Most of the time it is that famous line about the wet fish. Now that I’ve seen in context I can see why it was so funny. There are a lot of quotable lines in this; so many that it would probably do better if it were released in the age of the Internet. I can just imagine the number of memes that this film would have inspired.
My main context of this film came from the partner of a friend that I had in university. I think it was because I had told him that I did not drink and so he told me about how Richard E Grant prepared for this role. The fact that despite his incredible alcohol intolerance (as he lacks the enzymes to digest it) the director made him get drunk on spirits so that he could experience the sensation. Obviously, this meant he was violently ill. Watching this film I guess it paid off.
As much as I enjoyed the interaction between Withnail and the other unnamed protagonist I just felt that the film lacked a bit of structure. The entire plot just seems to meander around (much like a drunkard) and doesn’t amount to more than a bunch of hijinks until the last 20 or so minutes. That’s fine but it would have helped if the lighting had been a bit better for some of the cottage scenes.
Whilst Richard E Grant undoubtedly steals the show there is a lot to be said about Paul McGann and Richard Griffiths. Without Paul McGann doing a fantastic job as the straight man this film would not have worked at all. As much as you can mine hilarity from the character of Withnail it is the “& I” of the title that helps generate pathos. It’s pretty apparent just how lost Withnail would be without someone to keep him alive. He also realises this just a bit too late.
I cannot help but think that Withnail & I would have had an influence under Black Books which is still one of my favourite sitcoms of all time. Just watching Richard E Grant in action made me think of Bernard Black getting drunk in his bookshop and fishing mushrooms from his hair.
I have to say that the good old Golden Age Hollywood melodrama is really hard to beat and Written On The Wind is precisely that. From the title I assumed that I would be getting into some western (be honest, it would be a good title for a western) so imagine my delight when it opens on that dark and stormy night at a mansion with a woman concealed by shadow. Oh how I love beginnings like that.
Now I’ve seen this I’m very much looking forward to the moment when either Dallas or Dynasty gets picked from the TV bucket. I can only imagine how much an influence a film like Written On The Wind would have had on these and all future dramas with a soap-like quality.
With Rock Hudson and Lauren Bacall as the poster leads you know the quality of acting that you’re going to get. However, it is Dorothy McGuire who possesses the best role in the movie. She won an Oscar for her portrayal of spoiled oil heiress Marylee Hadley and I must say that she must have had a whale of a time playing such a meaty role. Somehow she manages to veer off into the territory of pantomime yet still be this larger than life almost villain.
In fact, as rolls go Rock Hudson and Lauren Bacall ended up with the boring end of the stick. In essence they are both outsiders in this crazy world of the Hadley children (Robert Stack playing Kyle, the older brother of Marylee) trying to bring some normality into the world. The problem is the siblings don’t play nice. Kyle is a drunk and a playboy; Marylee is bored and sleeps around. She also has a crush on Kyle’s best friend (Rock Hudson) which is not at all reciprocated.
If I’m being honest this is not exactly high cinema. However, Douglas Sirk has directed an intelligent soap opera. It could so easily have descended into camp humour and alien abductions (don’t ask), but it maintains sincerity throughout. That is why this is such a good film. At its very core of is an extraordinary sense of self awareness that you don’t tend to find with other films of this ilk. It isn’t something to be written off because it’s melodramatic in fact that is why it should be celebrated.