The people who got burned the worst were the movie's investors.
As we mentioned back in the spring, we started watching Sunburn, but stopped ten minutes in to backtrack to Stanley Ellin's source novel first because we thought the concept of an investigator hiring a woman to pose as his wife might be fun in written form. It was that, but the book wasn't perfect, as we discussed. Returning to the movie, above you see a painted promo poster, uncredited, though pretty nice, even if the central figure doesn't look as much like the star attraction as she should. But you recognize her anyway, right? That's Farrah Fawcett, or supposed to be, who headlined along with Charles Grodin, the latter of whose presence immediately marks the movie as a non-drama. But we forged ahead anyway to see what he, Fawcett, and co-stars Art Carney and Joan Collins could provide.
Sunburn, it must be said right off, flopped at the box office. That isn't definitive proof of a bad movie, but it's suggestive. The novel's premise and plot were retained: insurance investigator Grodin needs to get close to a rich Acapulco family in order to prove fraud, therefore he rents the villa next door and hires Fawcett to smooth his cover story by playing his wife. What's added that wasn't in the book is a thick layer of slapstick and Grodin's “comedy.” Fawcett is sunny, ingenuous, and sexy without guile, which was basically her brand, and it works as expected—wonderfully—but there's definitely no spark between her and Grodin. We don't think we've seen a woman's lips that tightly closed for a kiss since PI-1 lost a bet and had to smooch a friend's slobbery German boxer. As for the other participants, Carney finds himself in a wise old advisor role that fits, but Collins is wasted as a farcical nympho cougar.
Basically, the movie can be summed up this way: Grodin stumbles and bumbles his way through an investigation, Fawcett gives unsolicited and unappreciated help, and the plot veers inevitably toward reliable woman-in-danger tropes, buttressed by a standard cheeseball car chase that ends up going through a random fruit stand, round the inside of a colonial fortress, and into a bullring. The chase is capped by Fawcett's capture, which naturally leads to a chaotic rescue and a pat conclusion. From beginning to end the filmmakers whiff on all the good music of the late ’70s, which means the too-present soundtrack consists of only the worst pop hits of the era. Unhelpful, to say the least, and a lesson on the downside of using popular music on soundtracks.
We don't watch many movies from the late 1970s that aren't hard dramas, and Sunburn reminded us why—comedic acting from that time can be very idiosyncratic, and Grodin in particular hadn't yet perfected his distracted deadpan superior-attitude schtick. But if you get the feeling we disliked the movie, you'd be wrong. Its very obviousness makes it worth a smile. And we liked it a lot better than did our new consulting critic, Angela the sunbear, who'll mostly be advising us behind the scenes but may occasionally make a public appearance or two, depending on her mood. Today, she's feeling social. Give the Pulp Intl. readership a wave, Angela.
Very good. And nice work standing on two legs. You look almost human, if that isn't offensive to say. Anyway, we could ask Angela to enumerate her many qualifications and credentials to critique cinema, including her degree from the Beijing Film Academy, but we assume you trust us to collaborate with only the most experienced and educated professionals. Also, it's 100 degrees where she lives, so she won't suffer an entire film unless it's really good. In this case, she waited about twenty minutes to see if any of her favorite fruits or wild berries made an appearance, discoursed on the tradition of comedians becoming actors (somehow tying in the Greek muses of comedy and drama—Thalia and Melpomene—which was way over our heads, if we're honest), pondered whether Grodin might get mauled at some point, then went for shade and water. So there you have it: Sunburn gets one reluctant thumbs up, but one definitive claw down. It premiered today in 1979.
Lines in the sand have a way of getting crossed.
Considering our website's focus on beautiful art, you must be asking how we came to read Stanley Ellin's 1970 novel The Bind, with its beige post-GGA cover treatment by Joe Lombadero. What happened was we decided to watch the 1979 Farrah Fawcett movie Sunburn, but stopped during the opening credits when we saw that it was based on a novel. We'd decided to see the movie because it was helmed by cult director Richard C. Sarafian, and also because its premise interested us, but we figured that premise was probably more fully and interestingly developed in the source novel. We won't know for sure until we watch the film, but it's pretty much a given when you compare literature to cinema.
Here's the premise: insurance investigator Jake Dekker needs to get close to a secretive family to disprove a verdict of accidental death and save his employers a $200,000 payout, so he rents a house in their tony Miami enclave and hires an actress to pose as his wife. The family would be suspicious of a single man, but not a married couple. He's carried out similar scams and worked with the same actress over and over, but when she can't make the gig she instead sends down-on-her-luck colleague Elinor Majeski as a replacement. The fake wife aspect of Jake's scheme immediately gets complicated, both because this new actress is smarter and more curious than is convenient, and because she's unusually lovely. Uh oh. Professional comportment—out the window.
Ellin pushes his ripe premise for all it's worth. Jake insists on realism, which involves he and Elinor getting comfortable around each other, whatever intimate circumstances might arise. The only line they aren't to cross is sleeping in the same bed. Heh. How long do you think that lasts? Actually, it lasts a long while. Jake's shell is hard. He's borderline mean to Elinor, and therein lies the balancing act in the narrative. He's mean, but occasionally charming. Ellin's writing treads that crucial line well, but the book is overlong and its climax goes in a direction we didn't like. But we'd read him again. In any case, now we'll have to see what the filmmakers did with Farrah in the role of Elinor. Charles Grodin co-stars, so we expect the movie to be a bit silly, but who can resist Farrah?
Only my friends get to call me Corny. And you're not a friend.
This United Artists promo photo was made for the political thriller The Next Man and it shows U.S. actress Cornelia Sharpe, who was actually never known as Corny, at least not professionally. She had a minor career dotted with a few notable movies, including Serpico and The Reincarnation of Peter Proud. The Next Man was not one of those notable films, but it did star Sean Connery and was directed by Richard C. Sarafian, who helmed the counterculture classic Vanishing Point. This image dates from 1976.
Now you see him, now you don't.
The open road adventure Vanishing Point is one of cinema's most beloved cult classics. You know the story probably. Barry Newman plays a guy hired to drive a beautiful 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T 440 Magnum from Denver to San Francisco. He decides to do it in record time, and this brings him the attention of police, who try to stop him. It's austere, introspective, and mystical, and is an interesting commentary on the rootlessness and disillusionment of Vietnam War vets. Highly recommended. And as a bonus, not only do you get to watch that Challenger move at high speed, but there's the classic naked-woman-riding-her-motorcycle-through-the-desert scene starring Gilda Texter. The scene made Texter famous, but she only appeared in a few more productions. Ironically, though, she had a forty year career in another area of cinema—costume and wardrobe design. We consider Vanishing Point to be her best wardrobe work. You see two Japanese promo posters above, six production photos below, and can read further discussion of the film, at this link.
Your life can change forever in a thousand miles of open road.
Vanishing Point’s hard-driving anti-hero Kowalski is nobody special before the fateful moment he decides to deliver a Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco in fifteen hours. He has to drive like a bat out of hell to do it, and suddenly what could have been a meaningless trip becomes instead a deadly serious rebuke to authority. Kowalski burns up mile after mile of open road, ripping along in a wash of dust and noise, and occasionally stopping to meet some of the denizens of the vast American west. This is one of the best counterculture movies ever made, in our humble view. Like Easy Rider, it portrays the establishment as fiercely opposed to freedom, and exposes its patriotic rhetoric as empty of substance. The two movies are almost companion pieces, telling us that when you rattle your cage, trouble will always be waiting around the next bend, or just over the horizon. Vanishing Point premiered in the U.S. today, 1971.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1955—James Dean Dies in Auto Accident
American actor James Dean, who appeared in the films Giant
, East of Eden
, and the iconic Rebel without a Cause
, dies in an auto accident
at age 24 when his Porsche 550 Spyder is hit head-on by a larger Ford coupe. The driver of the Ford had been trying to make a left turn across the rural highway U.S. Route 466 and never saw Dean's small sports car approaching.
1962—Chavez Founds UFW
Mexican-American farm worker César Chávez founds the United Farm Workers in California. His strikes, marches and boycotts eventually result in improved working conditions for manual farm laborers and today his birthday is celebrated as a holiday in eight U.S. states.
1916—Rockefeller Breaks the Billion Barrier
American industrialist John D. Rockefeller becomes America's first billionaire. His Standard Oil Company had gained near total control of the U.S. petroleum market until being broken up by anti-trust legislators in 1911. Afterward, Rockefeller used his fortune mainly for philanthropy, and had a major effect on medicine, education, and scientific research.
1941—Williams Bats .406
Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox finishes the Major League Baseball season with a batting average of .406. He is the last player to bat .400 or better in a season.
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