Goldman Variations – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Last time it was Sarandon Season on the Chain Reaction Film Club. We finished that with The Great Waldo Pepper, which was indeed great. Written by master film scribe William Goldman, it seemed as good a time as any to tackle some of his films that we’d not already seen. Those we have seen include The Princess Bride, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and The Sting. So he has some form for this writing lark. The only slight snag is that we can’t use him to link between films, as it has to be an actor who appears on screen and has a meaningful line of dialogue. So from Waldo Pepper we were able to get to:

Film 62: The Hot Rock (1972)

Link: Robert Redford

I’ve been in the mood for a crime caper for quite some time, so this was very exciting. A Goldman script (based on a book by Donald Westlake), Redford in the lead role, directed by Peter Yates (whose The Dresser I enjoyed very much) – all signs point to glory.

Redford is an ex con with a talent for planning heists. He’s brought back for one more job… a team is assembled… things go wrong… some stuff happens…

Rather than focussing on one big heist, this ends up being a series of escalating heists as things don’t quite go to plan. There’s a bit of silliness, but no one has told Robert Redford that as he plays it straight throughout. And the heists don’t really escalate that much. I think Goldman may have been having an off day when he adapted this one…

But wait, who’s this?

It does however feature one of Christopher Guest’s first film performances – one line as a cop in a police station. So worth it for that alone.

Film 63: A Bridge Too Far (1977)

Link: Robert Redford

Next to a crime caper, a classic war film has been pretty high on my list. And this one, about Operation Market Garden, is definitely a classic. Let’s just have a whiff of the cast:

Dirk Bogarde, Michael Caine, Gene Hackman, Robert Redford, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, Edward Fox, Sean Connery, Ryan O’Neal, James Caan, Alun Armstrong…

Redford (yet again appearing in a Goldman-penned film) doesn’t appear until quite far through. By then we’re deep in the mud and blood, but Redford is approached for a mission and turns and smiles and is just Too Much.

No smile, but you get the idea

I don’t know that much about Operation Market Garden (must watch Band of Brothers…) but the film title alone gave me the impression it wasn’t an overall success. And while I got a bit confused here and there about which bridge was which and who was waiting for back up from who, it’s a solid ensemble beast. It’s not quite in the browbeating war is hell category, but it certainly isn’t tubthumping either.

Goldman was adapting a book again here, and strikes a fine balance between the stiff upper lip facade and the grim reality. Most of the military advisers to the film had the same names as the characters, so I’m going to assume authenticity was the watchword.

Also, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Sean Connery in anything other than Bond. He’s a fantastic, muscular presence.

That’s the Chicago way…

Film 64: Absolute Power (1997)

Link: Gene Hackman

This has the honour of appearing on more shortlists than any other film so far (ok, I haven’t really been keeping track but this and Bob Roberts turn up a LOT). And for once it’s a Goldman film without Redford in tow! It is another book adaptation though, this time of a David Baldacci thriller.

Clint Eastwood is a burglar who hides when the house he’s burgling turns out to be occupied after all. He watches a steamy affair from behind a two way mirror, then things get violent, the man calls for help and… the Secret Service run in and shoot the woman. That’s right, President Gene Hackman is in trouble and has a lot of covering up to do. 

Happy Birthday Mr. President…

We watched this the same week Weinstein allegations surfaced, so it was oddly on point (let’s not even get started on White House abuses of power). 

The first half chugs along very nicely, then it all gets a bit murky. It’s one where everything could have been resolved much earlier wih a bit less faffing around. Still, seeing a pre-24 Dennis Haysbert as the President’s bodyguard was fun. Soon enough he’d be in the big chair himself.

‘I hope my presidency is much less dramatic…’

Right at the beginning, when the prez is making out with the woman, not only are the Secret Service on hand but his chief of staff is too. And so I spent the rest of the film imagining President Bartlett and Leo being caught up in that kind of situation which, I’ll be honest, sounds like more fun. 

Gene Hackman has been in quite a few films we’ve tackled so far – not only Absolute Power and A Bridge Too Far (with a Polish accent no less) but there’s also been Bonnie and Clyde, Scarecrow, Wyatt Earp, and Twilight. There’s a simple reason for this: I just haven’t seen that many Hackman films. He’s an actor who has almost entirely passed me by, with the notable exception of Unforgiven and his Lex Luthor. I’m not really sure why this is – I’ll ponder it a bit for next time because… we’ve reached the end of The Goldman Variations and it’s time for Hackmania!

What have I learned from dipping toes deeper into Goldman’s inkwell? Maybe a little of what you fancy is better than a lot. His notable films really are extraordinary (I forgot he also wrote All The President’s Men, what a guy!) but not every script can be legendary. There are still more I’d like to tackle – I’ve never seen Marathon Man for example (we almost linked to that after A Bridge… via Olivier) – but I don’t feel like a mug for not being au fait wih every single film he’s been involved in.

Hackman though… Let’s see what I’ve been missing out on.

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