Elizabeth Taylor

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Michael Curtiz

Life with Father (1947) and Inside Man (2006) are equally dated. In Life with Father Michael Curtiz directed William Powell, Irene Dunne Zasu Pitts and Elizabeth Taylor in a film of a stage play based on a memoir of 1880s New York. Powell and Burns do a version of Burns and Allen that derives surely from someone’s Ur vaudeville routine. Curtiz also directed Casablana. Inside Man is an action picture and Spike Lee joint. Who done it? The Nazis. Yes, it’s 2006 and Spike Lee has discovered that Christopher Plummer is a Nazi rat. Plummer seems to have recovered the diamonds Dustin Hoffman lost in the reservoir in Marathon Man. Denzel Washington “follows the ring” as in “follow the money.” Many current films do not so much allude to other films as pastiche their scripts.

I saw Inside Man Saturday afternoon at a Staten Island plex with my 15-year-old son. He’s studying World War II in his history class, and he was reassured to learn that World War II is basically still going on;--although he might have guessed that from the History Channel. He’s been sick, so I had secured a DVD of Life with Father for viewing that evening on the computer. Elizabeth Taylor plays a 15-year-old ingenue. She’s wonderful. Nevertheless the action is so stilted, the humor so stagey and the Technicolor so degraded that the film looks like to could have been shot 130 years ago. Both Inside Man and Life with Father are good, i.e. we enjoyed them thoroughly.

Elizabeth Taylor’s mother got her into pictures. Sheridan Morley is a concise and intelligent commentator on Taylor. “For the first but by no means the last time,” Morley notes, Taylor “interrupted the shooting schedule here for reasons of shaky health: five studio days were lost (and her paypacket accordingly adjusted) at just about the moment when it was being strongly rumored that Mrs Taylor had started an affair with the film’s director, Michael Curtiz, thereby somewhat disrupting home life with mother.”