1960s Oldies

Mr. Topaze (I Like Money) 2020 Restoration

Mr. Topaze is a gray and bland comedy I will more than likely forget. I don’t know if it was due to the restoration or maybe it always looked so muted, but the overall look was visually uninteresting. It reminded me of watching ungraded footage that was shot flat, which is unpleasant to look at.

The film is shot like a play, which makes sense considering it’s based on Marcel Pagnol’s Topaze, but I felt the cinematography hurt the film more than it complemented its stage roots. The blocking was simplistic and the performances felt underplayed to a fault. Mr. Topaze needed way more energy than Sellers and the majority of his actors provided. The film also needed to embrace its absurdity more than it did.

Director Peter Sellers’s film has a boring plot and he didn’t present any of it in an interesting way. Everything is portrayed in such a nonchalant manner that I found myself caring about nothing that was happening in the movie. Topaze is an uncharismatic and non-sympathetic stooge and the other characters are conniving or just as goofy his Topaze. I felt Leo McKern was the only actor to provide satisfying laughs as his character Muche.

I don’t think Sellers ever had a chance at making Mr. Topaze a great movie due to its dull source material, but he definitely could have done more as a director and performer to lift it to higher heights.


1960s Oldies

The Swimmer (1968)

I’m not quite sure I fully understand why The Swimmer is a cult classic. The cinematography is beautiful and the script attempts to critique the rich, but it doesn’t always do it successfully. I think it’s because the filmmakers liked their lead too much.

Burt Lancaster plays rich socialite Ned Merrill, the kind of guy to sleep with your wife and ask you not to harsh his mellow when you catch them in the act. He’s a narcissistic and entitled creep that goes on a swimming pool bender. Surprisingly, the bender isn’t the weirdest part. Going from pool to pool, crashing party to party, without a care in the world is the most head-scratching part of Merrill’s actions. It doesn’t take long to realize that Merrill is the kind of man who has gotten everything he’s ever wanted his entire life. He thinks it’s absurd for anyone to think he should have to ask first. Manners are just a formality for him, he never feels sincere. I absolutely detested Ned Merrill.

Almost everything Merrill did made me very uncomfortable. His interactions with women are downright gross. Right from the very beginning he’s being touchy and flirty with the wives of his “friends.” Then he convinces the former babysitter of his kids to join him on his pool quest and tries to put the moves on her. That’s not even his worst moment. Near the end of the film he attempts to sexually assault Shirley Abbott, a woman he had an affair with in the past. Merrill’s behavior toward women in The Swimmer shows he has disgustingly manipulated and seized any woman he’s ever desired his whole life, only caring about himself. The filmmakers seem to want to comment on social classes, racial divide, and the overall behavior of the rich. Instead, Frank Perry and Sydney Pollack weaken the arguments that were on the page by doing everything they can to try to humanize Merrill.

One could read The Swimmer as the story of a man crippling with a mental illness, but it never commits to that approach. Even if it was, which I don’t think it is, it’s hard to feel sympathy for someone who has lived the life Merrill has. His actions are those of a man who has done them throughout a lifetime, not those of someone who has recently lost self-control. As he continues to interact with people throughout the film you learn of all of the bad things he’s done. I don’t think it’s fair to see The Swimmer as a deconstruction of the rich American man who seems charming and honest, but is actually a terrible person. When the lead character is this unlikable and questionable from the beginning, it’s hard to give any weight to this possible approach.

Maybe everything is a fantasy in Merrill’s mind. Almost all of the characters in the film go along with what he says about his wife and kids even though they know the truth. He could be going through therapy or he’s been committed into a mental institution. Or maybe it was all a dream turned nightmare of his. Regardless, The Swimmer was a fantasy I wasn’t happy to take part in. 

1960s Oldies

Tom Jones (1963)

Of the Best Picture winners I have seen so far, Tom Jones has got to be one of my least favorite. I can understand why it probably won. It was bold at the time, a little experimental, and different approach to the typical British period piece. When you watch it now, in 2020, it doesn’t work the way it must have back then. Since 1963, we’ve gotten many comedic and bold period pieces that stay faithful to the genre as much as they draw attention to it and make fun of it.

Tony Richardson and screenwriter John Osborne were definitely having fun. They use several wipe transitions, there’s plenty of iris shots, and they break the fourth wall quite a few times. By the time the credits roll, it feels like Richardson has done just about anything and everything. He even starts the film out like it’s a silent film. As much as I admire the ‘let’s just have fun’ approach, it doesn’t always make for an intelligible film.

Tom Jones felt chaotic and nonsensical to me. The cinematography is certainly interesting, but it sometimes feels like the shots were all put in a blender and that’s how they got the edit. The cinematography and editing at times felt like absolute chaos. I realize that was part of the point, but it didn’t work for me. I don’t think their approach complemented the setting, acting, or story for that matter.

I found myself constantly checking my watch. I struggled during the first half, mildly enjoyed the third quarter, and limped during the last quarter to the finish line. Tom Jones is a little over two hours, but it felt like it was over three hours long. I’ve never been a fan of quick, short scenes. I’ve noticed that they can often result in a movie feeling longer if not executed well. There are some points in Tom Joneswhere Richardson and Osborne bounce from scene to scene quickly like it’s a tennis match. The pacing is so inconsistent that watching Tom Jones was exhausting.

When I look back on Tom Jones I still don’t really understand what it wanted to be. I know it wants to be a comedy, but why? There are other times it seems like it doesn’t want to be one. Oftentimes Tom Jones doesn’t transition well from scene to scene tonally. There are hints of biting satire and social commentary in there, but it commits way more to being a late-night comedy, overshadowing its other possible intentions.

When I look at Tom Jones through that lens, I simply didn’t find it that funny. I didn’t find the situations that funny, the techniques felt forced sometimes to overcompensate from what was on the screen, and you can only see a man-child sleep with women so many times for comedic purposes. Much of Tom Jones feels very sexist.

It’s hard to try to watch Tom Jones for anything other than for its potential comedic value because the characters are pretty unlikable. They’re all pretty terrible people and you probably won’t root for them. They also receive no consequences for their actions. Tom Jones is practically rewarded for his misogyny and narcissism. I’m growing so tired of watching movies of entitled rich people being entitled and rich without any consequence.

Even though I didn’t enjoy Tom Jones at least that’s one less Best Picture winner I have left to watch now.