Dir: Russell Rouse | Cast Stephen Boyd, Tony Bennett, Elke Sommer, Eleanor Parker, Ernest Borgnine | US Drama
On paper this film sounds like the camp classic plenty of reviewers have already described it as; but it outstays it’s welcome, feels like a TV production (although it might have worked better in black & white) and even it’s dialogue worthy of Edward D. Wood Jr. is desperately short on the genuine wit that might have forestalled some of the flack it’s taken over the years.
The surprises start with the mouth-watering title sequence: beginning with the incredible array of guest stars listed, and proceeds through the revelation that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences actually gave special permission for Oscar statuettes to be used in this freak, to the screenplay credit for Harlan Ellison. (It’s based on a novel by Richard Sale, who I’d love to know exactly who he was settling scores with, while plenty of the gems from the dialogue could have been published separately as a book in their own right.) But we never once see Frank Fane on a film set; and it could just as easily be about a politician or a businessmen, and the dialogue does rather labour what a skunk he is.
Many of the supporting performances are as good as you would expect from the excellent cast of character actors, some of them rather strangely cast in often very minor roles, some of which make more sense when you realise how many of them are former Oscar winners themselves (Ed Begley, Ernest Borgnine, Walter Brennan – who won three! -, Broderick Crawford and James Dunn), while Edith Head was actually nominated for her work on this. Milton Berle gives an excellent straight performance, and among the femmes Jill St.John, Eleanor Parker, Edie Adams and the girl in the green dress shaking her chassis in the opening shot of the Tijuana party sequence all make the most of the little screen time they get.
Aside from James Dunn (an Academy Award winner for ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’ whose drinking wrecked his career), the most poignant piece of casting is Peter Lawford, who in 1962 had been brutally cast out of the Rat Pat by Frank Sinatra after Old Blue Eyes suffered a snub by Lawford’s brother-in-law JFK. Sinatra never spoke to him again; which makes this film’s final scene even more sardonically ironic than it already seems. (One of the film’s ‘fictitious’ nominees, Richard Burton, nominated for a Paramount Production called ‘Grapes in Winter’, later suffered a similar disappointment in reality at the 1978 Academy Awards when the Oscar for Best Actor went to “Richard… Dreyfus”.
TONY BENNETT (1926-2023)