You’ve seen the ad: “To save his planet, an alien must find a woman on Earth to have his baby. There’s just one problem.” The accompanying image features a man’s tunic-clad torso, with hands resting near each other below waist level and a bent tulip dangling from his fingers, head terminally down. It’s droll, allusive, absurd, and elegant at the same time — a promise of good comedic fun from cable-TV comedy legend Garry Shandling and ace director-satirist Mike Nichols.
[Originally written for Mr. Showbiz, March 20, 1998]
Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View
presents reviews of films released 20 years ago, written by our contributors
for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for
It will be fascinating to see what Primary
Colors, Mike Nichols’s smart, creepy, scrupulously ambivalent movie
inspired by a certain 1992 campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination,
plays like in two months. And six months. And next year. Likewise, it wouldn’t
have seemed quite the same movie if it had been released two months ago, before
l’affaire Lewinsky. And surely it’s
not quite the same film that Nichols, screenwriter Elaine May, et al. thought
they were going to make after buying the screen rights to the 1996 roman à clef by veteran political
reporter Joe Klein—even if it’s still, word for word and shot for shot, the
movie they envisioned at the time.
The timing wasn’t planned but it is fortuitous. The Fortune (Twilight Time, Blu-ray), a screwball comedy directed by Mike Nichols, debuts on Blu-ray a month after Nichols passed away. The 1975 production is set in the 1920s and stars Warren Beatty as a con man trying to get his hands on the fortune of a madcap heiress (a bubbly Stockard Channing in her first major film role) and Jack Nicholson as his dim-witted stooge who slowly figures out he’s really a partner in crime. Beatty plays it like a second-rate con man’s idea of what a cool customer acts like and Nicholson is a greedy, lazy idiot with a maniacal grin who thinks he’s clever but panics at every disaster, and truly every attempt to knock her off is a disaster.
The film was major flop, quite a surprise given the talent at work here, including screenwriter Carole Eastman (under the psuednym Adrian Joyce, which she also used on The Shooting) and production designer Richard Sylbert, who gives the west coast settings a low-rent, sun-baked handsomeness. Maybe it was the odd sensibility and collision of old Hollywood screwball and contemporary sensibilities; the jazz age was all the rage apparently after the successes of Bonnie and Clyde (with Warren Beatty), Chinatown (with Jack Nicholson) and The Sting. This isn’t really a black comedy, as Channing’s dizzy dame seems all too willing to fall into every scheme and the not-so-wise guyes are too incompetent to pull any of them off, and the timing doesn’t match the screwball situations, though all three are game to play their parts with all the screwy idiosyncrasies and big character flourishes of thirties movie stars and that is a pleasure to see.
The film has never been on DVD in the U.S. and it makes its disc debut on this Blu-ray-only release. It’s a great looking film, with cinematography by John Alonzo who even makes the California hills look like they cam from another era, and the disc preserves the period colors and tone of the film along with the crisp image. It includes Twilight Time’s trademark isolated musical score and an eight-page booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo. Limited to 3000 copies, available exclusively from Screen Archives and TCM.