A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Tomorrow (Joseph Anthony, 1972)

Olga Bellin and Robert Duvall in Tomorrow
Even though Robert Duvall had earned notice as much as a decade earlier as Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962) and had played the sanctimonious Maj. Frank Burns in MASH (Robert Altman, 1970), along with other supporting roles in major films and lots of TV series, it was as if he exploded onto the scene in 1972 when he played the consigliere Tom Hagen in The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola). It earned him the first of his seven Oscar nominations. Good as he is in The Godfather, it's another film from 1972, the low-budget, barely released Tomorrow that I cherish among Duvall's great performances. Maybe it's because it's one of the few films that do William Faulkner justice, and Duvall is key in bringing that about. Faulkner films usually fail because translating the essence of Faulkner as writer -- the flamboyant verbiage, the narrative experiments, the manipulation of point of view -- into cinematic terms is nearly impossible. Horton Foote's screenplay for Tomorrow doesn't even try. Instead, Foote takes a 1940 short story from the collection published under the title Knight's Gambit, and crafts his own version, emphasizing one of Faulkner's essential motifs: the ability of human beings to endure whatever life throws at them. The main narrative of the film is about how Jackson Fentry (Duvall), discovers a sickly young pregnant woman (Olga Bellin) on the property he has been hired to watch over: a sawmill idled through the winter. She has fled from the cruelty of her three brothers and is aimlessly searching for the husband who abandoned her. Fentry nurses her through her pregnancy and persuades her to marry him after she gives birth to a boy. But she dies, and Fentry raises the boy on his own until her brothers come searching for the child, claiming their legal right to him. This story is framed by a trial, years later, of a man accused of murdering a younger man who had seduced his daughter. Fentry is serving on the jury and is the lone holdout for conviction, resulting in a hung jury. In a voiceover, the lawyer (Peter Masterson) explains how Fentry and the victim were connected. Duvall's crafting of the character of Fentry holds the film together. He's especially skillful in the peculiar spin he gives to his line readings: His inflections and emphasis sometimes fall oddly on the ear, but they give the impression of someone who is used to spending long periods alone in silence -- someone not attuned to the rhythms of ordinary speech. Though Duvall's Fentry is inarticulate, he's not unexpressive; the actor's expressions and body language communicate far more than his worls. This was Bellin's only film role of note, and while she hardly matches Duvall as a performer, she brings conviction to a role that seems like a thin reworking of a more successful Faulkner character, Lena Grove, in the 1932 novel Light in August. The location settings, near Tupelo, Miss., give a fine verisimilitude to the action.

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