Otto Preminger directed over 35 films in a film career that spanned more than five decades. Throughout his career, Preminger wasn’t afraid to attract controversy dealing with taboo topics of the era such as drug addiction (The Man with the Golden Arm, 1955), rape (Anatomy of a Murder, 1959) and homosexuality (Advise & Consent, 1962). He was nominated twice for the Best Director Oscar.
By the mid-sixties, Preminger’s films were no longer met with the critical and commercial success he had become accustomed. That said, nearly every Preminger film has something of value to offer, even if it’s just campy fun. The three films offered in Olive Films recently released The Otto Preminger Collection—Hurry Sundown, Skidoo and Such Good Friends—are certainly not his most respected works, but they do offer a glimpse at the Preminger’s commitment to pushing the filmic boundaries later in his career.
Hurry Sundown (1967)
Shortly after World War II in rural Georgia, Henry Warren (Michael Caine) is determined to pull off a significant real estate deal. To achieve success, he must buy up two separate pieces of land. One belongs to his cousin Rad McDowell (John Phillip Law) and his wife (Faye Dunaway), the other to Rose Scott (Beah Richards), a black woman who used to work for Henry’s in-laws. Henry is a compulsive womanizer. His wife Julie (a beautiful, but largely wasted Jane Fonda), has taken to the bottle. Also on hand, is Rose’s son Reeve (Robert Hooks), a G.I. who returned home intent on sharecropping. Diahann Carroll plays Vivian Thurlow, a local teacher and Reeve’s would-be love interest. Frank Converse is on board as Jane Fonda’s cousin Clem De Lavery, a newly consecrated Priest who freely serves communion to blacks alongside whites, angering the local judge (Burgess Meredith).
Presumably, Preminger intended to expose the South’s lack of enlightenment when it came to racial issues. Unfortunately, because the black characters are portrayed as near saints and the white characters bigoted louts, there’s no real middle ground to be had. The only good happens when the disadvantaged blacks and whites—Reeve and Rad—join forces to create a new, equal society. To Preminger’s credit, Hurry Sundown was the first film to feature black actors in lead roles. It’s just a shame they couldn’t be portrayed more realistically.
Wow. Skidoo is a real doozy. In an oft told story, Groucho Marx “prepared” for his role in Skidoo by taking a dose of LSD in the presence of writer Paul Krasner. Having seen the film three times at this point, I’ve decided that perhaps you need to be on LSD to understand what’s truly going on.
This film is real a psychedelic mess, but I’ll try to give a synopsis of sorts. Tough Tony Banks (Jackie Gleason) is a former gangster gone “legit.” He’s living a luxurious life with his wife Flo (Carol Channing). At the behest of the city mob boss (Groucho Marx), two underlings (Cesar Romero and Frankie Avalon) visit Tony and order him to kill another mobster (Mickey Rooney) who’s being kept in a high tech prison. That sounds perfectly benign, you say? The adventure includes the entire prison getting high on LSD; Flo welcomes an entire hippy commune into her home; Flo tries to seduce one of the gangsters who forced Tony to go into the prison, and Carol Channing does a striptease wearing a Napoleon outfit. There’s more, but I imagine you get the gist.
As crazy as it is, there’s something fun and joyous about Skidoo. It’s truly a film like no other. Each time I’ve watched it, I find myself wondering exactly what Preminger was trying to accomplish with this one. Somehow, I can’t help but enjoy the craziness of it all. When you have Jackie Gleason dropping acid in a prison and hallucinating Mickey Rooney doing a song and dance with bags of money, you just go with it.
Such Good Friends (1971)
Written by Elainr May under pseudonym (Joan Didion also reportedly contributed to the script), concerns Julie Messenger (Dyan Cannon) a housewife and mother of two whose husband Richard (Laurence Luckinbill) is Life magazine’s art director and the author of a recent bestselling children’s book. He goes into the hospital to have a mole removed from his neck. He unexpectedly develops complications and falls into a potentially fatal coma.
The crisis has a strange effect on Julie. While she’s worried about her husband, she finds herself befuddled by her ‘friends,’ who aren’t about to let this tragedy interfere with their personal schemes. Some of her friends avoid the subject altogether, by changing the subject when Richard’s name comes up. Some men even make overt passes at Julie, including Richard’s incompetent doctor, Tim Spector (James Coco). Surrounded by friends encouraging her to sue for medical malpractice and getting minimal support from her mother (Nina Foch), Julie starts having sexual fantasizes about various men in her life.
All of this leads Julie to some shocking revelations about her husband’s color coded address book. Richard was having an affair with one of her best friends, Miranda (Jennifer O’Neill). Julie attempts to get even by attempting to bed her lover (Ken Howard).
Despite the stories of Dyan Cannon’s dissatisfaction with Preminger’s directorial style—she was quoted as saying,” I don’t think he’d be capable of directing his little nephew to the bathroom”—she delivers a strong performance, given that that the script was written to highlight her character. The skillfully written dialogue shows just how superficial Julie Messenger’s relationships are. Everyone around her is smug, and nothing they say comes from the heart. There’s a lot of air kissing, but true affection is missing. It’s all a big joke somehow.
The biggest satirical moment in Such Good Friends comes when everyone arrives at the hospital to give blood. Once in the donating area, the wealthy people in the room turn the place into a party, ignoring nurse’s requests to be quiet. Julie’s mother regards the nurses as servants and asks them to bring in food. The scene is played with total seriousness.
Such Good Friends is actually a better than average film, deserving better treatment than it’s gotten over the years. The film still holds up very well, continuing Preminger’s non-judgmental approach to stories and filmmaking. Perhaps, given earlier disasters such as Skidoo, critics were no longer willing to give Preminger’s work a fair shake.
All three of the films are delivered via AVC encoded 1080p transfers. Hurry, Sundown and Skidoo offer a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, while Such Good Friends is presented in 1.78:1. Hurry, Sundown and Skidoo look very sharp. There’s a filmic appearance and a bright look. Such Good Friends is a bit on the soft side and color isn’t as saturated as the other two titles.
All three of the films feature lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono tracks that do a fine job of recreating the rather modest sonics. Dialogue is well presented in all three films. Fidelity is also strong throughout the entire package, although dynamic range isn’t a strength.
No subtitles are available.
None of the three films have special features.
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