Then Playing — Green Mansions; Claudine; Julieta

green mansions

Green Mansions (Mel Ferrer, 1959). This film contains one of the most spectacular triumvirates of disastrous casting choices I’ve ever seen in a major Hollywood production. Green Mansions adapts a 1904 novel by William Henry Hudson and follows a headstrong man named Abel (Anthony Perkins) who encounters a clan of Indigenous people in the wild of Venezuela. He also encounters a mysterious jungle dweller known to the locals as “Bird Woman” (Audrey Hepburn) and falls in love with her, over the objections of her irritable, protective grandfather (Lee J. Cobb). Excepting his original tenure playing the proprietor of a certain California motor lodge, Perkins is always a shaky presence on screen, and he’s especially out of his depth as a hardened soul navigating untamed terrain. Hepburn can’t find a character in her ethereal pixie dream girl character, and Cobb seems utterly lost, careening between anguish and bluster with an always evident longing to hear the director yell, “Cut!” The director in question is Mel Ferrer, who was married to Hepburn at the time. He crafts the film with a plodding intentionality and visual dullness typical of the era’s prestige films.

 

claudine

Claudine (John Berry, 1974). A rough-and-tumble slice of life from the nineteen-seventies, Claudine follows the title character (Diahann Carroll), a struggling single mother of six who works as domestic help and tries to scrape together a modest existence with the help of the welfare system. She begins a relationship with a roguish sanitation worker (James Earl Jones) while dealing with the constant whirlwind of her kids. Directed with scruffy charm by John Berry, a formerly blacklisted filmmaker making a rare return to U.S. cinema, Claudine is brutishly comic in its depiction of life in Harlem’s Sugar Hill district, giving the material the tinge of satire. Carroll is fantastic as Claudine, signaling the way her character lives on the narrow line between endurance and exasperation, teetering from one to another with every unpredictable moment.

 

juliieta

Julieta (Pedro Almodóvar, 2016). A chunky, satisfying movie, Julieta is a rare instance of Pedro Almodóvar adapting material to the screen. It’s impressive how neatly the three Alice Munro stories fold into the Almodóvar’s broad artistic vision. The film begins as Julieta (Emma Suárez) is preparing to depart Madrid. A chance encounter unlocks a piece of her past that she thought was lost to her forever, and the film flashes back to earlier in her life (the younger Julieta is played by Adriana Ugarte) and traces the tragic turns that came her way. Almodóvar crafts the film with real elegance. What could easily be cheapened into melodrama with an imbalance of emotional content is instead rendered with steady care. Suárez and Ugarte are both strong in their roles, connecting the performances with a finely crafted soulfulness. Almodóvar sometimes gets by on colorful boisterousness. Julieta is a reminder that he’s also a true craftsman.

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