Saturday, January 26, 2013

Those eyes, that voice: Deceased Artiste Mariangela Melato

Mariangela Melato qualifies as one of those incurably sexy European actresses who also worked very hard at her trade, and was just as happy to be performing Shakespeare or Pirandello onstage as she was appearing in TV movies or big-budgeted feature films. For a lot of us, she will remain a talented and imposingly seductive performer, best known for the three films she made with Lina Wertmuller in the early Seventies.
Melato, who died two weeks back at 71, got her big break onstage thanks to the playwright Dario Fo, who recruited her for his theater company and cast her in the wonderfully titled Seventh Commandment: Steal a Little Less. She later worked for Lucino Visconti onstage (The Nuns of Monza) and kept appearing in plays for the rest of her career. One of the most intriguing clips of her on YT finds her playing Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire onstage.
Her movie career began with a role in Thomas (1971), a horror film by Pupi Avati, but her first really significant part came with the starring role in Elio Petri’s The Working Class Goes to Heaven (1971). Her first film with Wertmuller was the brilliant The Seduction of Mimi (1972), in which she plays the mistress of Giancarlo Giannini. In Wertmuller's Love and Anarchy (1973), she played the prostitute-sister of a would-be assassin (Giancarlo again).

For me and a lot of other film buffs, the “discovery” of Melato came with Wertmuller's timeless Swept Away (1974). Yes, I was a teenager when I first saw it and, yes, she looked fantastic in a bikini (with incredible eyes), but what came across in that film besides the carnal attraction between Mariangela and Giancarlo was the fact that Wertmuller wove in some wonderful insights about the class structure into her sex comedy, and that Melato was able to play a haughty bitch (a desirable haughty bitch) wonderfully while wearing only a bikini – something Madonna couldn't carry off in the misguided 2002 Guy Ritchie remake costarring Giancarlo's son.
The international success of the Wertmuller films resulted in Melato appearing in a pair of U.S.-funded films, Flash Gordon (1980) and So Fine (1981). She looked phenomenal in both, but they did nothing to enhance her acting portfolio and she was indeed a serious performer, so she returned to Italy to work steadily onstage, in film, and on television until her death at 71.
Not many of her later films played over here, but we did see The Nada Gang (1974) by Chabrol, Petri's Todo Modo (1976), and her reunion with Wertmuller, Summer Night With Greek Profile, Almond Eyes, and Scent of Basil (1986). (I don't know if De Sica's We'll Call Him Andrew from 1972 ever played in the U.S.)

As for that last wordy title from Lina, we must remember that the real title of our fave LW film is actually Swept away by an unusual destiny in the blue sea of August. Wertmuller was the last filmmaker to indulge in that wonderful Sixties “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well...”/”Who is Harry Kellerman...?” sentence-as-title conceit.
But on to Mariangela on video. There are several dozen terrific clips of her dramatic acting on YouTube, with most of them in Italian with no subtitles. Speaking of unsubtitled clips (but it doesn't matter here): One of the many films starring MM that never had an official U.S. release was the Ugo Tognazzi film Le Petomane (1983) about the famous real-life performer Joseph Pujol, who entertained French audiences at the turn of the last century by farting onstage in creative ways (he was, wait for it... une fartiste).

The end of the film is on YouTube, and it looks just as wonderfully solemn-yet-insane as it sounds. If there was ever a project that I wish Funhouse favorite (and good friend of Ugo) Marco Ferreri had taken on, it is Le Petomane (the film was directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile).

Swept Away has always been available over here on VHS and DVD; thus the fan-generated videos saluting it. The whole film is available in an English dubbed version here (remember, the Italians pride themselves on their dubbing and watch a lot of foreign films that way – most cinephiles hate it and it's murder on comedy, but this would be okay for an Italian viewer). The film still works wonderfully nearly three decades on:

Some charitable fanboy (I'm willing to bet good money it's a guy) has decided to share some scenes from Flash Gordon, including the one in which Melato, as General Kala whips the sublime Ornella Muti.

Melato had a wonderful, smoky voice, which she used quite well in her acting and in her singing. However, I didn't know until I began to research this piece that she also danced on Italian TV variety shows. Here she is in 1986 doing a “Last Tango”-derived tango number:

Here Mariangela dances to Joe Tex's “I Gotcha” (!) on the show Canzonissima '72:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

They swang in the Sixties: a Deceased Artiste roundup

I love researching the Deceased Artistes I write about, and I'm not bound on these Net-pages by either a deadline or writing-for-payment (heaven forbid!), so I do wind up saluting a bunch of these folks some time after they've left this mortal coil. In the case of the “departures” of 2012, although several folks linked to the Seventies kicked off in the last annum (including a number of sitcom stars), I wanted to salute some of those dead folk associated with the Sixties, since that “rupturous” era produced some very strange and exceedingly absorbing pop culture. Included were some pop stars, a director of audience-pleasin' fare, and two very ubiquitous TV performers.
The first pop artist I need to salute is "one-hit wonder" R.B. Greaves, who died at 68 and whose catchy-as-hell pop tune “Take a Letter, Maria,” has been stuck in my head since I was but a mere child, thanks to repeated plays on AM radio. Greaves’ version of the song (which he wrote) bulleted to #2 on the charts back in 1969, but his rendition wasn’t the first — in a curious twist, Tom Jones and Stevie Wonder had recorded the song before Greaves, but he had the hit with it.

Born in British Guyana, Greaves was raised on a Seminole reservation and started his musical career in England. He also was related to pop royalty, as his uncle was the legendary Sam Cooke. His musical career continued for a few years following “Maria,” but he finally moved into the technology industry in the Seventies. Here he is doing his unforgettable ode to attentive secretaries on a Sixties variety show (anyone have any idea which one?):

The label “one-hit wonder” is reductive and insulting to artists who worked for decades in show business, but the overwhelming success of a killer pop tune is that sharpest of double-edged swords: a calling card that will keep the artist in “oldies” gigs for years, but will also detract from all of their other work. Such is the case with Fontella Bass, whose 1965 hit “Rescue” Me” was one of the biggest pop-soul tunes by a solo female artist in the Sixties. At various points people who knew no better attributed the song to Aretha Franklin, who quickly usurped Bass to be dubbed “the Queen of Soul.”

Bass had a very active career in the years before “Rescue Me”: she started out as a gospel singer and was discovered by Little Milton, with whom she worked as a pianist and singer. After recording a few unsuccessful solo singles (produced by Ike Turner), she secured a contract at Checker records, a Chess subsidiary.

Following her time as a best-selling pop artist, she collaborated with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, whose members included her then-husband Lester Bowie. She retired from performing to raise a family in the early Seventies, but returned full-time to singing gospel and blues in the early Nineties. She also won a lawsuit around that time that established her as one of the co-writers of “Rescue Me,” which was at that point being used in an American Express TV campaign.

The most interesting bit of trivia in her obits was the fact that “Rescue Me” was used in a Pizza Hut campaign, where the song was retitled “Deliver Me.” Bass, who was extremely available for the gig at that point, wasn’t chosen to sing the tune — instead, Aretha Franklin sang the song, and thus DID finally sing the song wrongly attributed to her by some, but in a goofy, rewritten version. Here is the original, from an appearance Bass made on Shindig:

Joe South was another pop star who achieved fame and then faded away, leaving some extremely catchy melodies in his wake. Chief among them was his Grammy-winning song (made a hit by Lynn Anderson), “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.” 

South's career began, curiously enough when he started his own pirate radio stations as a teen in order, among other reasons, to get a platform for his music. His first song to break the Top 100 was “The Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor,” a double-barreled novelty hit that was also recorded by the Big Bopper.

Joe was a session guitarist heard on hits like Tommy Roe's “Sheila” and Aretha's “Chain of Fools,” as well as Dylan's Blonde on Blonde album.  He had several hits as a songwriter, most notably “Hush” and “Down in the Boondocks” (his versions are in the link). The former was a truly archetypal Sixties hit for Deep Purple, and the latter is one of my fave slices of Sixties pop, turned into a hit by Billy Joe Royal:

South had two giant hits as a performer, in addition to the pop lamentation “Don't It Make You Want You Want to Go Home,” “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” and the 1968 chart-topper “Games People Play.” Named after a then-popular psychology book, the song finds South not only singing but playing an electric sitar (the same instrument he played on “Chain of Fools”). It's quite an aggressive little ditty, performed live here by South (on what would appear to be the Smothers Brothers variety show – note the E! Logo):


Another 2012 departure inextricably linked to the Sixties was producer-director William Asher. He worked his way up from the mailroom (in this case the one at Universal) and wound up writing and directing for Our Miss Brooks, and directing many, many episodes of I Love Lucy, as well as The Twilight Zone, The Patty Duke Show, Gidget, The Paul Lynde Show, and Temperatures Rising.

He is best remembered for two things: having directed the fun but truly brain-damaged “Beach Party” movies series with Frankie and Annette (Asher's tenuous hold – let's be honest, complete disconnect – with real teen behavior is spoofed mercilessly in George Axelrod's Lord Love a Duck) and having created the long-running “I married a witch” sitcom Bewitched for his then-wife Elizabeth Montgomery.
To salute Asher, I spotlight a clip that is from neither of those squeaky-clean, frighteningly optimistic creations, but is instead representative of his “darker” side. The crime thriller Johnny Cool (1963) stars super bad-ass Henry Silva as a hitman (dubbed an “international murder machine” here).

This trailer introduces the cast, which includes the Rat Pack (sans Dean and Frank, who had severed from Peter Lawford before this) and several comedians playing serious roles, including Mort Sahl. Sammy Davis is the only one as cool as Johnny himself, sporting an eyepatch and taking no guff from anyone:

From a TV director to two performers who were constantly on TV back in the Sixties. The first is William Windom, the very busy actor who appeared in comedies, dramas, action shows, westerns, sci-fi,  thrillers, and “message dramas.” To those in my age group, he is most fondly remembered for his starring role on the long-unseen Thurber-derived 1969 sitcom My World and Welcome To It, in addition to his scene-stealing work on cult-favorite genre programs. 

Windom could play sensitive, but he also played a hard-ass very well — he in fact fought in the infantry in WWII and entered acting while studying at the Biarritz American University in France. Although he was definitely known for his work on television, he also appeared in many films, most notably To Kill a Mockingbird and a cult masterwork by Funhouse god Robert Altman, Brewster McCloud (Windom in fact serves as the “ringleader” in the Felliniesque closing credits and has the last line in the film).

Windom’s first major TV role came when he starred in the cute family sitcom The Farmer’s Daughter (1963-66), where he played a Minnesota Congressman; interestingly enough, his real-life great-grandfather (who was also named William Windom) served in that capacity and later wound up becoming Secretary of the Treasury.

He won an Emmy as Best Actor for My World… (and mockingly thanked NBC for cancelling the show as his acceptance speech), but did have one long-running TV role awaiting him: he played Angela Lansbury’s doctor friend Seth Hazlitt on Murder, She Wrote from 1985-96.

A few Windom memories: the credits for the third season of The Farmer’s Daughter, the first one done in color and the season where they killed the show off by marrying Windom’s character to his nanny, the lovely (and gone-too-soon) Inger Stevens. Here is the “set-up” for the series:

Windom gave a hell of a frenzied performance in the Star Trek episode “The Doomsday Machine” as a starship captain who survived an attack on his ship:

One of Rod Serling’s final great scripts was the one for “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar” on Night Gallery. Sadly, the producers persuaded him to change the ending (the original is in the paperback novelization), but the show still is a brilliant work, continuing on from Serling’s Patterns, “Walking Distance,” and “A Stop at Willoughby”:

The alternately sweet and cynical My World and Welcome to It hasn’t been released on DVD and hasn’t been in syndication for years (although I seem to remember the show being rerun in the early Seventies). Thankfully we have examples of it available on that hub-site with the arbitrary rules, YouTube. Here is a promo for the show included in an 1969 NBC special touting the new fall season:

Two full episodes of the show are up on YT. The first is a non-family show, in which Windom’s cartoonist character (who ordinarily dwelt half in the real world, half in his cartoons) has fantasies of seducing his neighbor (Lee Meriwether). It’s a fun episode, and I’m assuming it has been preserved so carefully by fans because of Meriwether’s sexy performance and the catfight her character has with Windom’s wife (Joan Hotchkiss) — neither of those elements was common to a low-key show like My World

A more representative episode is the Christmas show, which finds Windom shopping on Xmas Eve, picking an odd gift for his daughter (a flag), and discovering that it pisses off his neighbors (who think he’s doing something subversive). The show was extremely well-written and utterly charming; it is one of the many network series that developed a cult because it was (the old Trio network phrase — and we know what happened to Trio) “Brilliant but Cancelled”:

The last, and undoubtedly most important, Sixties TV performer to “depart” in 2012 was the inimitable living cartoon that was Phyllis Diller. Diller was one of the true pioneers of standup comedy, blazing a trail that would be followed by many other (more sensibly dressed) woman standups. Her only predecessors in this regard were Jean Carroll (who is a “subject for further research” for comedy fans, as there is little footage of her and only one LP) and the one and only Moms Mabley (who finally broke through nationally after Diller, but started working as a standup before her).

Diller, who died at 95, started her show business career rather late in life. A “housewife comic” who really had been a housewife, she started performing professionally as a standup at 37 and worked for five decades onstage (1955-2004). She honed her character throughout the Fifties and Sixties, gradually turning into the gaudy, tacky soul whose act consisted of self-deprecating quips, comments about her lazy, dumb husband “Fang,” and barbed comments on the latest pop-culture fads and crazes.

For a woman who made a living being “ugly” professionally, she was not as horrible as she dolled herself up to be, although she was one of the first celebrities to publicly acknowledge that she had had cosmetic surgery (yes, she created the template for Joan Rivers, except for the sex-talk, cursing, and verbal abuse of other celebs). 

A short time ago, when Anderson Cooper was serving as interim host of the Larry King show on CNN, there was an episode devoted to female comedians. Diller was included (via satellite), but one of the women sitting in-studio (I can't remember whether it was Kathy Griffin or Joy Behar) noted that they considered Joan Rivers the "real" beginning of female standup comedy in America because she didn't have to "dress up" onstage like Diller did. This is fascinating, given that Rivers' initial act was a copy of Diller's, and Rivers later became the foremost victom-of-bad-plastic-surgery standup comedian.

Listening to some of her comedy LPs one is struck by the fact that she had a decent singing voice. She also was a pianist of some skill, playing gigs with symphony orchestras in the Seventies. But music was a sideline for her, as she appeared constantly on variety shows, talk shows, and sitcoms, and in some very meager movies.

I noted when I wrote about the Mark Twain Prize a few years back that Diller deserved the award for her important place in the history of standup comedy — she never received the award (but Tina Fey has!), and the other seminal standups I nominated in that entry (Dick Gregory, Sahl, Berman, Nichols and May, the Smother Brothers) probably won’t either (why Mel Brooks hasn’t is still a major mystery, and now that Sid Caesar is in poor health, he will also never be honored in the way that inferior talents have been).

Those who grew up watching TV in the Sixties and Seventies knew Diller’s stage persona well, though, and were aware that no one could put her down because she took care of that very well herself.

There are literally a few hundred Phyllis clips on YT, including what would seem to be her last TV appearance, on the short-lived Rosie O’Donnell show on the Oprah network, and her farewell standup show. I will go backward in the chronology here, but first I should spotlight her in classic form doing her trademark self-deprecating shtick:

Here is a clip from the 1987 NBC special aired to celebrate Bob Hope’s 85th birthday, shot at the Pope Air Force Base. Phyllis looks like a rogue Kabuki space demon:

A clip from the VERY unusual 1975 kiddie show Uncle Croc’s Block starring the chortling wildman, Mr. Charles Nelson Reilly. Diller plays “Witchy Goo-Goo” — this era of kiddie show was clearly aiming not only at toddlers but also at stoners:

A classic blooper that occurred on The Tony Orlando and Dawn Show that was left on-air; it demonstrates Diller’s good-natured willingness to make fun of herself:

Phyllis and Liberace were a natural pair, given their wardrobe. Here she guests on a 1969 Liberace TV special made for British television. The other guests are Millicent Martin and Dusty Springfield:

From that same show, a piano duet with Lee and Phyllis:

Phyllis’ “monstrous” charm and witch-cackle laugh was well-utilized in the Rankin Bass feature Mad Monster Party? (1967), which found Phyllis providing the voice of the “monster’s mate” — and obviously serving as the model for her character:

Her two TV series last only one season, but The Pruitts of Southampton (1966-'67) definitely did boast a very catchy theme tune:

Sixties variety at its silliest and most endearing: Phyllis hosts The Hollywood Palace, performing “I Feel Pretty” and appearing singing Andy Williams’ hit “Music to Watch Girls By,” with her guests Frankie and Annette, the Fifth Dimension, and Phil Harris!

A more serious side of Diller: as a guest on David Susskind’s Open End in 1964, back when she was still “the housewife comic”:

Her rather curious movie debut, playing Texas Guinan in the Elia Kazan drama Splendor in the Grass (1961):

And her first significant national TV appearance, as a guest with “the one, the only… Groucho!” on You Bet Your Life in 1958:

Friday, January 11, 2013

Ingmar's reflection: Deceased Artiste Erland Josephson

I'd gladly say farewell once and for all to 2012, but for the fact that there are still a few talented souls whose work I admired who kicked off during that annum. I have a short list of people I'd still like to pay tribute to (as I note on the Funhouse TV show, we never stop loving these people's work, so why only do obits for them in the week following their death?). One of the performers I most wanted to get around to is Bergman's onscreen alter-ego, the estimable Erland Josephson.

Josephson died at the age of 88 of “complications from Parkinson's disease.” (There is a PSA he did about the disease on YouTube.) As was the case with all of Bergman's regular actors, Josephson was a nuanced performer who brought his characters to life magnificently – even when he was a “villain” of sorts (as was the case in the Liv Ullmann's Faithless, scripted by Bergman), he underplayed rather than overplayed the part.

He stayed away from the Hollywood mill and instead worked with other auteurs besides Bergman – Tarkovsky (Nostalghia, The Sacrifice), Philip Kaufman (The Unbearable Lightness of Being), Greenaway (Prospero's Books), and fellow 2012 Deceased Artiste Theo Angelopoulos (Ulysses' Gaze).

There are several perfect examples of Josephson's work hidden in plain sight on YT, but interestingly enough, the best interviews with him that have been posted only have subs in foreign languages. For those who can read Spanish, here's a great dual interview he did with Bergman.

In it they reveal that they have been lifelong friends (they met when Ingmar was 21 and Erland was 16). After six decades of working together, they spent their final years having a weekly phone conversation on Saturdays. The inevitable topic of death enters the conversation at the 42:00 mark and is addressed directly by Josephson at 46:00. He says that Bergman is far more at ease with the notion of dying and he's scared of it.

Filmmaker Alexandre Barry did the other two great slices of the real Josephson, both subtitled in French. The short “Lointain secret” features EJ talking about how to discuss the most important topics in life: “the answer is silence.”

This short piece by Barry finds Josephson and Liv Ullmann talking about death – it begins with Liv asking Erland if he would attend her funeral. (I'm not sure whether Ms. Ullmann attended his last year.). Since this was made the year after the final Bergman film, Saraband, it is quite possibly their last meeting on film:

As a final tribute to Josephson, I will point you toward a Bergman fan who has posted a number of Bergman films on YT, including a few that are unavailable in the U.S. (including the telefilm In the Presence of a Clown).

He has uploaded all of the great films that Josephson had either a lead or a supporting part in: It Rains on our Love, To Joy, The Magician, Brink of Life, Hour of the Wolf, The Passion of Anna, Cries and Whispers, Autumn, Face to Face, and Fanny and Alexander. One major rarity (at least on these shores) is the telefilm After the Rehearsal (1984) starring Josephson, which is not on DVD in America.

His best-remembered role would have to be the husband from Bergman's masterpiece, Scenes from a Marriage (1973). Here is the 1973 feature film version Bergman assembled from his own TV miniseries. And here is the sequel Bergman made with Ullmann and Josephson 2003, Saraband:

Friday, January 4, 2013

The character actor as quiet hero: Deceased Artiste Charles Durning

The other stalwart character actor who left us on Xmas Eve was Charles Durning, an extremely familiar face. Durning, who died at 89, appeared in over a hundred theatrical features and dozens of TV movies and series, but the most impressive facts in his obits concerned his earlier experiences as a bona fide war hero.
Before I rhapsodize about his scene-stealing work in movies by legendary modern directors, I should briefly run through his war history: drafted at 21, he became a rifleman in the infantry and proved his mettle on D-Day, when he took an active role in the Normandy invasion and landed on Omaha Beach.

He was severely wounded by shrapnel, but stayed in the hospital for only six months – he returned in time to take part in the Battle of the Bulge. He was taken prisoner by the Germans and escaped, but his injuries were such that he was sent home. He was awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and not one but three Purple Hearts. He recounted some of the stories in this speech he gave at a Memorial Day Concert in 2007; the breaks in his voice while telling the tales have nothing to do with acting.

He worked several blue-collar jobs while attempting to carve out a career as an actor. His obits noted that his fortunes turned in 1962 when he auditioned for Joseph Papp, who cast him in a few dozen plays over the next few decades, with the turning point being his 1972 performance in That Championship Season. He won a Tony as Best Supporting Actor for the 1990 revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof ; other notable B'way credits including playing Ned Buntline in Arthur Kopit's Indians (later made into Buffalo Bill... by Altman, with Lancaster playing the role). Durning often declared in interviews that he preferred acting on stage to TV or films.

His work in stage plays continued as he scored role after role in the movies; key titles in the Seventies included The Sting and Dog Day Afternoon. Durning impressed in a number of films, among them True Confessions, Tootsie, and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but his two Oscar nominations in the Best Supporting Actor category came for two underwhelming Eighties titles, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and To Be Or Not to Be. His best-remembered regular roles on TV were in Burt Reynolds' Evening Shade and as Denis Leary's father in Rescue Me.
So there is a LOT of Durning footage that could be featured here, but I'll center in on some choice clips discovered on YouTube, and the montage I created for this blog entry. Firstly, I knew I'd have to spotlight his solo number from Best Little Whorehouse... (1982). As a governor, he teaches us the central political lesson: how to “Sidestep.”

A low-key moment from Tootsie (1982), one of those let's-tidy-up-the-loose-plot-strands moments, where Hoffman and Durning talk after Hoffman has stopped his drag ruse:

And proving that there are just TOO MANY clips on YouTube at this point, I draw your attention to one poster who has had various performers recite terrific poetry for his video camera. Among them are Marion Seldes (one of her clips has as low as 7 hits), Willie Nelson (his vids have a more respectable amount of hits, but three of the four got no higher than 130 hits), and Durning. His recitation of a short Ogden Nash couplet (I should interject that I am a major fan of Nash) has a mere 25 hits and this very sober and affecting reading of E.A. Robinson's “Richard Cory” has only 27 as of this writing:

Given the above, perhaps it was foolhardy of me to post yet another clip to the site that is the visual linchpin of the Internet (one that has extremely dubious and fluid rules about content and “copyright violation”). However, I felt that the movie clips featuring Durning didn't convey his best sides as an actor.

Thus I offer you in the montage below:

– The extremely funny opening of Brian De Palma's Hi, Mom! (1970) featuring Durning (credited for some reason as “Durnham”) as an unscrupulous and slovenly super showing a callow youth (Robert De Niro) a really, really shitty apartment (this scene is the best representation I've seen of searching for an apt). Durning later had a major supporting role in De Palma's terrific Sisters.

– Another amusing sequence, this one from Big Trouble, a film starring Alan Arkin and Peter Falk that was scripted by Andrew Bergman and directed by John Cassavetes (his last completed film as a director), who was asked to take over after Bergman decided not to direct the film.

Here we see Durning essentially playing a brutally honest and foul-mouthed version of Edward G. Robinson's character from Double Indemnity. I have the feeling that Eddie G. always wanted to tell MacMurray and Stanwyck, “you're both full of shit and I'm going to prove it!”

– Durning as the proud and defiant cop “Sperm Whale” Whalen in Robert Aldrich's wildly rambunctious adaptation of Joseph Wambaugh's The Choirboys (1977).

– And Durning as the U.S. President in Aldrich's wonderful nuclear paranoia thriller and political drama Twilight's Last Gleaming (also '77). Here we see him react to the news, divulged by renegade general Burt Lancaster, that the Vietnam War was a piece of genocidal gamesmanship cooked up by the U.S. to compete with the Soviet Union.

The film is superb, and one of its strong points is most certainly its letter-perfect casting. Durning plays the president as a well-meaning politician who can't believe that the government would engage in a war strictly for “p.r.” The character was clearly Aldrich's defense against the possible charge that his movie was anti-American.