"I like directors who come on the set and create something a little dangerous, difficult, or unusual"
Elias Kazanjoglou was born September 7. 1909 in Constantinople in what was, at the time, the Ottoman Empire. His family emigrated to the U.S. in 1913 when Elias was four years old. After attending public schools and graduating cum laude, he studied acting at Yale and, after two years, moved to New York to pursue a career in acting. There, he became a part of The Group Theater, and under the tutelage of Lee Strasberg and Harold Clurman, worked on their many productions, sometimes as an actor—where he was told he had no acting ability. Despite that, he made a sensation in "Waiting for Lefty," written by his friend Clifford Odets.
He was nicknamed "Gadget," or "Gadg," because he was such a useful jack-of-all-trades, always handy to have around. He hated the nick-name, but didn't object when old friends and colleagues used it—it was always done with affection and admiration.
In 1936, he started directing for the stage, and made his name in theatrical circles, directing such plays as Thornton Wilder's "The Skin of our Teeth" (with Montgomery Clift and Tallulah Bankhead), Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" (with Lee J. Cobb, Mildred Dunnock, Arthur Kennedy, and Cameron Mitchell) and, famously, the first work of playwright Tennessee Williams, "A Streetcar Named Desire" (with Jessica Tandy, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden, and a young actor named Marlon Brando).
In 1947, Kazan co-founded The Actor's Studio with Robert Lewis and Cheryl Crawford, which would become a mecca for young actors to immerse themselves in "The Method," a preparation style based on the work of Stanislavsky.
But, before then, Kazan began directing films in Hollywood, with an eventual body of work that garnered numerous Oscars for its actors, two for Kazan's direction as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award, which was met with controversy due to Kazan's 1952 testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), in which he disclosed the names of communist sympathizers he knew during his early days in the theater. Despite those names already being known to the committee, many in the arts community never forgave Kazan this breach, and it tarnished his reputation to the end of his life. His film, On the Waterfront, is, in part, a defense of his actions.
He told French film critic Michael Ciment: "In my own view, the solution is to talk about human beings and not about abstracts, to reveal the culture and the social moment as it is reflected in the behavior and the lives of individual people. Not to be 'correct.' To be total. So I do not believe in any ideology that does not permit—no encourage—the freedom of the individual."
A controversial figure from the start, Elia Kazan, was still controversial when he died of natural causes at the age of 92 on September 28, 2003. One suspects he wouldn't have wanted it any other way, and may have, indeed, pugnaciously seen it as a badge of honor. Kazan was never one for complacency. His movies...prove the point.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) Kazan's first theatrical film was an impressive debut, an adaptation of Betty Smith's 1934 novel about poverty and opportunity for second generation immigrants in turn-of-the-century New York, and the hardships that entailed. Dorothy McGuire plays mother Katie, married to Johnny Nolan (James Dunn), who has a big heart but a weakness for booze and in his job stability. They have two kids Francie (Peggy Ann Garner, who won a "juvenile" Oscar for this, and quite understandably) and Neeley (Ted Donaldson), who grow up not realizing their poverty, but of the rich adventures they have around their neighborhood. While Johnny looks for work and struggles to keep it, Katie washes floors, and sells rags. A visit by Katie's sister Sissy (Joan Blondell)—now on her third marriage—scandalizes Katie, but delights the children, who love their brassy aunt. Francie's talent for writing makes her try to get into a better school, which her father convinces her to lie to get into.
This is a terrific movie with fine performances throughout, and it must have touched Kazan, being an immigrant himself, to film this story of the struggles and joys of living in New York with a connected family.
It was voted to the National Film Registry in 2010.
The Sea of Grass (1947) Multi-generational pot-boiler with an undercurrent of environmentalism, which featured one of the handful of pairings of Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. Lutie Cameron (Hepburn) comes from Denver to the town of Salt Fork, New Mexico to marry her fiance, cattle rancher Colonel Jim Brewton (Tracy). But, when she arrives in town, she meets Brice Chamberlain (Melvin Douglas), a local mover and shaker, who warns her that Brewton is an autocratic bully. It certainly seems that way when Chamberlain takes her to the local courthouse where Brewton is arguing against allowing homesteading on the government-owned grasslands where he grazes his vast cattle herd. Despite the warnings, she marries Brewton and tries to make a life for herself on the prairie. But her heart goes out to the families trying to scratch out a living on the land, which Brewton opposes for the harm it will do the fragile landscape. The differing opinions on the way of life—charity versus protectionism—drives a wedge between Lutie and Brewton, and throws her into the arms of the more sympathetic Chamberlin. Nice parts here for Harry Carey and Edgar Buchanan, too.
You could see why liberals Kazan, Tracy and Hepburn (and Douglas) were attracted to the material, but the film is full of soap opera that tends to overshadow the problems that caused The Dust Bowl in the late 20's. Kazan entered into the project hoping to film on the plains, but M-G-M kept the production in the studio, and that, along with other studio mandates made the end product a disappointment for the director (although a success for the studio—it's the most profitable of all the Tracy-Hepburn movies) and warned anyone and everyone not to see it.
Boomerang! (1947) Kazan filmed the script (from a real-life Reader's Digest story) for Darryl F. Zanuck, filming in a semi-documentary style. The reason? Viewers probably wouldn't believe the story, otherwise. A popular minister is killed, the town is outraged, but the police are baffled. Under public pressure, a drifter (Arthur Kennedy) is arrested and charged and tried, even though the prosecuting attorney (Dana Andrews) doesn't "buy" the evidence provided by the cops. So, instead of trying the case as a prosecutor, he goes through the trial acting as an objective investigator, proving why the vagrant couldn't have done it, rather than following his role of proving his guilt. It's along the lines of what the judicial system would be if you took the politics out of it.
And, again, it's a true story, and while the town of Bridgeport, Connecticut, where the events happened, did not give permission to shoot there, it was shot in the town of Stamford, some twenty-three miles away. With Lee J. Cobb and Jane Wyatt, this was also the first film appearance of Ed Begley.
Gentleman's Agreement (1948) It's no secret that the movie studios at the time of Gentleman's Agreement were run by Jews. Why the topic of anti-semitism wasn't addressed earlier is a mystery. Perhaps it was concern about "stirring the pot and making things worse." At least that's what was said to the one non-Jew, Darryl F. Zanuck—a Dutch Protestant—who made the movie of Laura Hobson's novel about a reporter, Skyler Green (Gregory Peck) assigned by a weekly to write about anti-semitism ("For or against?" asks a scientist played by Sam Jaffee later in the film). Green struggles with his approach, moving to New York for the job with his family, and wooing the niece of his publisher (played by A Tree Grows in Brooklyn's Dorothy McGuire). He decides to pose as Jewish—but he's not, so he has no history of prejudice, it will all be new to him, not established and not a part of his life. "You aren't insulated yet" says his Army buddy Dave Goldman (played by fellow leading man John Garfield, who just wanted to be part of the movie). There's a theatricality to the thing (Moss Hart wrote it), and even though there are places where Peck is as relaxed as he's ever been in a part, there are moments of stolidness with him and McGuire. Garfield is impeccable, as is Celeste Holm (who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar). There's some speechifying, but the way the screenplay attacks all sides of the problem—that societal "restrictions" against Jews are never stated outright (they're "policies", or "practices"), that it makes it very tough to fight...except by intolerance for the situation and exposing it to the light of day. The Hollywood community awarded Gentleman's Agreement its Best Picture Oscar and Kazan his first Oscar for directing.
Not sure why, but this groundbreaking film hasn't been added to the National Registry.
Pinky (1949) There seemed to be a passing of the torch on this film from Old Hollywood to New Hollywood. Darryl F. Zanuck, who, while helming 20th Century Fox, vacillated between films of social content and high adventure, gave this one to the man who directed the best of Zanuck's "statement" films, John Ford, then fired him after a week, unhappy with how "the dailies" were turning out. Chosen to replace him was Elia Kazan, who was more than happy to do the film, but didn't like the choice of Jeanne Crain to play the "colored" nursing student passing for white (Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge both wanted to play the part) and walks through life not sure of who or what she is (there is a bit of cowardliness to the choice). Returning to her hometown after going to school in Boston, she is re-confronted with her past and the bigotry she had to endure previous to leaving. At the request of her grandmother Dicey (Ethel Waters), a local washer-woman, she tends to the obstinate Miss Em (Ethel Barrymore) who looked after Dicey when she had pneumonia. The two start out with a prickly relationship, but grow to an understanding—not affectionate, mind you, but respecting—which sustains Pinky for the trying times ahead. As opposed to the understood, cowardly racism of the earlier Gentleman's Agreement, here the racism is overt, stated out loud, and without any shame. Pinky has to learn the same tactics if she is to find some sort of closure.
Panic in the Streets (1950) Kazan moves out of the studio completely and films this combination police procedural/disaster film in a semi-documentary style, albeit with some pretty dramatic lighting. New Orleans is being threatened with an outbreak of pneumonic plague with casualties starting to increase, and it's up to Naval doctor Richard Widmark and police commissioner Paul Douglas to stop it before it can spread—unfortunately "Patient Zero" has been murdered and his killers are on the loose, carrying the disease like the mark of Cain and spreading it throughout the city. And, being murderers, they don't want to be caught, making the public good that much harder to achieve. Taught, tense, maybe allegorical little thriller that also features Jack Palance (just plain creepy) and Zero Mostel (in a rare dramatic role) as the targets of the investigation in the film, which displays some strict adherence to filming on location as well as using non-acting professionals for color in pivotal supporting roles. Kazan continued this practice in the future whenever doing location work (check out Baby Doll sometime) and was particularly adept at bringing verisimilitude to this kind of drama.
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) Three years after it made a sensation on stage, Tennessee Williams' landmark play was brought to the screen by the man who directed it on Broadway with most of its New York cast (and a lot of its text, surprisingly) intact.
Kazan's second film in a row to be filmed in New Orleans, it follows Blanche duBois (Vivien Leigh, taking over Jessica Tandy's role on stage) as she visits her sister Stella (Kim Hunter) after a personal crisis in her life. Her presence upsets the household, dominated by Stella's husband Stanley (Marlon Brando), who sees Blanche as a phony and takes every opportunity to needle her. It's a power-play between the two in-laws for control of the house as the two sisters bond and Stanley sees his power as "king of the castle" slipping away.
The battle royale between Blanche and Stanley shows the stark contrast between her Southern gentility (which can turn on a suggestion into passive-aggressiveness) of author Tennessee Williams' youth and Stanley's modern-age blunt force (it's also represented by the clashing of acting styles—Leigh's formalism and Brando's "Method") The crushing of niceties of Southern hospitality by the rest of the world's post-war sudden hostility weighed heavily in Williams' work, and Blanche becomes an embodiment of charms of the South, no matter how two-faced and deceptive those conventions might be (and Blanche is no shrinking violet so much as a Steel Magnolia). But, she's an angel compared to Brando's boy-man, who isn't conscious enough to not push limits, while playing the "pathetic" card when he goes too far. Bullies are always the biggest whiners.
A Streetcar Named Desire won Oscars for Best Actress, Supporting Actor (Karl Malden) and Supporting Actress—and quite deliberately, apparently, not Best Actor for Brando—as well as best Art Direction, and was voted into the National Film Registry in 1999. It also features a revolutionary jazz score by composer Alex North.
Viva Zapata! (1952) The life of Emiliano Zapata Salazar during the Mexican revolution, produced by Darryl F. Zanuck with his full power on display, highly fictionalized by John Steinbeck, and directed by Kazan with an eye toward Italian neo-realism, combining his brand of theatricality with a documentarian's eye (much as he had with Boomerang! and Panic in the Streets). The life-journey of Zapata (played with darkening make-up by Marlon Brando)—short enough (44 years) that one film can encompass it in the broad strokes of the movie—from itinerant farmer of Morelos to President of Mexico (which didn't happen but makes a philosophical point) and beyond is, under Steinbeck's re-working, a fascinating look at a reformer's efforts to gain control of his life and his peers from the autocrats who would oppress them, then finds himself becoming part of the same problem he was initially fighting against.
Parallel scenes of the Morelos farmers petitioning Mexico's president Diaz—and Zapata being a respectful but persistent irritant in that meeting only to have his name marked for punishment—then, when he is in power, finding himself doing the same action, point to the inevitability of a cynical institutionalism corrupting and crushing the most idealistic of men. The movie-Zapata is smart enough to realize that it is the government, not the men in charge who ultimately prevent change, and steps down, only to despair witnessing the same thing happening to his brother Efiamo (Anthony Quinn in an Oscar-winning performance), who uses a governorship to become a petty dictator. There is also an amazing performance by Joseph Wiseman as a revolutionary agitator, who preaches an idealistic message...but who is just as corruptible.
This is overlaid with a love story where Zapata, illiterate but street-smart (the former false, the latter true) must prove his worth to the well-to-do family of the woman he loves (Jean Peters), and some extreme symbolism involving Zapata's beloved white horse. It's romanticized as most of the story is, a revolutionary fairy tale, or, if you will, a fable about the fragility of ideals with the iron will to back them up.
Man on a Tightrope (1953) If you're facing charges of being a communist, what do you do? If, like Elia Kazan, you're hauled before HUAC and coerced to testify, you make an anti-communist movie (it's also why James Cagney made the very patriotic Yankee Doodle Dandy), but Kazan has the advantage of a true story about the Birnbach circus' dramatic escape from behind the Iron Curtain during one of the vagabond band's tours across Europe and gilded the lily somewhat by casting the volatilely anti-communist Adolph Menjou as a party official, who eyes the suspiciously mobile caravan, suspecting it of attempting to cross the border from occupied Europe and setting up stakes in free Europe. Leading the cast as ringleader-clown Karel Chernik is Fredric March, who finally got to work with Kazan (after turning down the role of Willy Loman in Kazan's production of "Death of a Salesman" on stage). March's Chernik is a nervous man, doing his own high-wire act of keeping the circus performers and their conflicts at bay, while facing down the suspicions of the Party directors—everyone in the caravan knows what the plan is, but Chernik must keep an innocent mask on to allay suspicion. Friends are enemies and enemies friends: there's a potential double-agent in the caravan, and he must put aside differences with the charismatic leader (Robert Beatty) of a rival troupe (the film's best scene), his wife (the always dependable Gloria Grahame) has divided loyaties, and his daughter (Terry Moore) is demonstrating to Dad how annoying resisting authority can actually be. Whatever planning, whatever arrangements made and deals worked out, it's still a circus and Chernik must make one last desperate act to get his troupe to freedom. There is a romance story that tends to distract, but for the most part Man on a Tightrope is good, focused Kazan.
On the Waterfront (1954) Budd Schulberg wrote it as an indictment of Union corruption on the New York docks after Arthur Miller's original treatment called "The Hook." Elia Kazan saw it as a rationalization to his naming names before the House Unamerican Activities Committee. The two couldn't be more diametrically opposed, but there are so many shades of gray in this black-and-white film of the black-and-white world of good and evil being presented that it somehow comes together as a parable of the crisis of conscience. Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) has taken too many hits in the ring and settled for a job on the docks, thanks to his brother Charlie (Rod Steiger), who's an accountant for the corrupt Union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb). But, when things start to get a little rougher, and one of Terry's friends is killed during a shakedown, Terry's addled brain must wrestle with being a "cheese-eater" and testifying about what he knows about that murder before a Grand Jury. In one corner is his brother and Friendly and a good but tainted life, in the other corner are Father Barry (Karl Malden) and his friend's sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint, her first movie role) who are both trying to get to the truth of who killed her brother. Malloy's guilt for his part in it and his growing feelings for Edie finally deliver the knockout punch that makes him testify. It's a raw war of the conscience and it features the only original film score of composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein.
A classic film on all fronts, it won the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director for Kazan (his second), Best Supporting Actress for Saint (her first film role) and Brando's first acting Oscar. It was voted into the National Film Registry in 1989.
East of Eden (1955) Kazan returns to Steinbeck for this compression of the author's multi-generational story of the Trasks and the Hamiltons post-Civil War in the Salinas Valley. The movie concentrates on the latter half of the book (adapted by Paul Osborn) about the familial wars between the Biblically-named Aron (Richard Davalos) and Cal (James Dean) for the affection of their father, the practically impractical Adam Trask (Raymond Massey). Aron is the pride of his father—steady, in a relationship with a nice girl Albra (Julie Harris) and destined for college. Cal, though, is the bad seed in Adam's eyes—shiftless, inarticulate, and no matter how desperately Cal tries to prove his worth to his father, the elder Trask will always find something wrong with it. Adam is convinced there is a dividing line between human beings—you're either good or you're bad (in the novel, Adam has a different, more complex philosophy) and, despite Cal's good intentions, Adam sees him as the shade cast to Aron's bright light.
For Kazan's first color film (and in widescreen CinemaScope), he filmed in Mendocino, California and the Salinas Valley, where the expanses fill the screen in beautifully static shots. Then, in the cities and the households, that camera becomes unhinged, playing at odd angles, even following the arc of a swing. There is a tangible energy to East of Eden that the long frame cannot seem to contain despite its size. Part of it is that it has to move to contain the raw performance of James Dean (his film debut), which is in marked contrast to the deliberately controlled work of Massey—the tension between the two actors is palpable. Dean never gave a better performance (this is the only movie, and performance of his, he lived to see), and the filmed emerged as something more than Steinbeck, or even Kazan, might have intended; beyond a critical look at the American Dream and a psychological blunting of the nature of Good and Evil, it became a symbol of the struggles of youth to find a niche in the world, and make its way, shepherded by the incandescence of Dean's performance. Kazan would take note of that, and continue it with Splendor in the Grass.
|"Tell her I hate her..."
Baby Doll (1956) Kazan returned to box-like perspectives and black-and-white for his adaptation of Tennessee Williams' one-act play "27 Wagons of Cotton." But, by the time it hit screens in 1956, it was titled Baby Doll. It was immediately condemned by parents groups and religious organizations (and Time magazine!) for its content, which mixed in manipulative sexual politics to a story about rival business interests in rural Mississippi. The film was banned in many parts of the U.S. But, you look at it today, and, except for its smoldering quality, you gotta wonder what everybody was getting so exorcised about.
Archie Lee Meighan (Karl Malden) sets fire to a rival cotton gin in his district that threatens to eclipse his business—especially at a time when he's struggling with mechanical problems. The owner of that arsoned cotton gin is an out-of-stater, Silva Vaccarro (Eli Wallach), seen as something of a carpet-bagger around town. Vaccarro suspects Archie Lee of the arson, but won't get any cooperation from the local authorities unless Archie Lee confesses, so he attacks his rival where he is at his most weak—he's an older man married to 19 year old Baby Doll (Carroll Baker), but has promised the girl's dying father that the marriage would not be consummated until the girl's 20th birthday, only days away. Vaccarro goes out to Meighan's crumbling mansion, Fox Tail, to try to force that confession by any means necessary. It's a dark comedy of ill-manners, full of shifting loyalties, filmed on location in Benoit, Mississippi, and used many locals for speaking parts. It marked the film debuts of Eli Wallach and Rip Torn.
One of the most controversial scenes of Baby Doll is Vaccaro's seduction
of Baby Doll on the swing outside the Fox tail mansion:
You don't see anything happening—and it's all filmed in close-up, not because
there's anything provocative happening out of frame, but so audiences wouldn't
see the heaters nearby to keep the actors' breath from fogging on the cold day of shooting.
Pornography really IS in the mind of the beholder.
A Face in the Crowd (1957) A movie that was waaaay ahead of its time in predicting the "cult hero" in mass media. It was particularly prescient as television had only started saturating American households in the early 1950's. Once again, it's an original story and screenplay by Budd Schulberg, but it plays like the evil twin of Frank Capra's Meet John Doe.
Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal), a rural radio reporter, finds Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes (Andy Griffith, shedding his "good ol' boy" image like a snake sheds its skin) drunk and disorderly in a jail in backwater Pickett, Arkansas. He may be D&D, but he's got a charm and when he's sober he's got a way with a song. Jeffries lands him a spot on a local radio station and the ratings go up. Soon talent scouts are offering him bigger jobs in bigger markets, and although he has no respect for his sponsors, the audiences seem to like that and the profits for the advertisers go up.
He's groomed for television, even given a writer (Walter Matthau) for his "off-the-cuff homespun humor," but there's only so much grooming one can do with Rhodes. He's effective on-camera, alright, but when the studio lights are off, he's still the same jerk, but he has a way of boosting ratings and proving more and more popular and influential. Pretty soon, he's being approached not to sell mattresses, dog-food and "energy pills," but political candidates and their agendas. It's a razor-thin line between entertainment and propaganda, and how easy it is to fake genuineness (Hell, Kazan had been teaching that all his life). A Face in the Crowd is a cautionary tale that must be learned and re-learned every time another media "darling" comes out of the wings.
A Face in the Crowd features Lee Remick's movie debut and was voted into the National Film Registry in 2008.
Wild River (1960) Interesting idea. It's the depression. As part of its revival efforts one of the work projects is the Tennessee Valley Authority, designed to stop the regular flooding in the region and build a dam to bring electricity to the populace. When Montgomery Clift's Chuck Glover comes to town to take over the TVA office, he meets with the same resistance from the townsfolk as his predecessors, particularly in the form of Ella Garth (Jo Van Fleet), who will not leave her vulnerable river island no way, no how, no matter what "fair price" the government is going to give her. But, it has to be done or she will drown along with the land she's been caretaking for 80 years. The ironic line is "all in the name of progress," but Ella stands for the natural order of things and Glover for Big Government. On the other hand, she's an obstructionist and he's trying to bring Tennessee out of the dark ages. The other thing is he gets involved with Ella's granddaughter (Lee Remick) and she's courting somebody else (Frank Overton). Like Gentleman's Agreement before it, this is a good multi-faceted story in which the issues are complex, and instead of being dumbed down, they're articulated by their best advocates. Clift's most focused and best work after his near-fatal auto accident, even doing his own stunts. Favorite line: "I just wish I could win one of these" after Glover's been beaten up in a fight.
Bruce Dern's first film role.
Splendor in the Grass (1961) I've long been of the opinion that love is a shade of insanity and Splendor in the Grass could be Kazan's statement on that. William Inge's bittersweet love story (but aren't all of Inge's work?) tells the story of Wilma Dean Loomis (Natalie Wood) in love with Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty, his first film), scion of the local oil baron (Pat Hingle). Bud and "Deanie" are high school seniors on the cusp of adulthood, but the intensity of their relationship, the pressures of intimacy and responsibility, and their parents' focus on their own agendas, leaves the kids broken and confused. It's one of Inge's least sentimental stories (Kazan's influence, perhaps) and a story that any teen with a conscience can relate to (including its scenes of hysteria fueled by hormones), and Wood's performance in the lead may be her career best, moving her out of the ingenue roles she was routinely doing and segueing seamlessly into more dramatic, edgier parts within this very movie. Kazan brought out the best in her, and the conclusion brings out the melancholy truth that the journey out of adolescence isn't achieved reaching adulthood, but maturity.
America, America (1963) Film-making doesn't get more personal than this. The Warner Brothers studio logo erupts with a bang and the director's voice says: "My name is Elia Kazan. I'm Greek by blood, Turk by birth, and I'm an American because my uncle made a journey."
Kazan then tells his uncle's story (starting in 1896), a story told to him by his parents and their families, of Stavros Topouzoglou (Stathis Gialellis, who'd never acted or appeared on film before) and his journey from selling ice he'd transport daily from a mountain in Turkey to his eventual landing on the shores of New York. That journey will lead him to Constantinople, where, having lost his family's meager fortunes through various circumstances, he must scrape together a living, working various jobs and compromising any ideals he might have left, never losing his goal of finding passage to America and a new life for himself, and possibly—hopefully—his family.
It is a raw and gritty film, shot in black and white by Haskell Wexler, edited by Dede Allen and entirely dependent on the complex performance of Gialellis—23 at the time of filming. The actors are a mix of character actors and locals (who are dubbed), and Kazan works exotic miracles on a shoe-string budget. You can see where Francis Coppola was inspired for the Italy and immigration scenes in The Godfather Part II. Would that the ghosts of HUAC see this film, as it's a love letter to this country, right up until Stavros kisses the ground when he gets off the boat. Film-making doesn't get more personal than this. It rarely gets better.
America, America was inducted into the National Film Registry in 2001.
The Arrangement (1969) America, America is based on Kazan's book of the same name. The Arrangement is also based on an original work by Kazan, a pot-boiler bestseller about a man going through a crisis of conscience and self-doubt, in which everything he has done is boiled down to simple existence and trying to stay alive in a world that is changing around him.
Eddie Anderson (Kirk Douglas) is an advertising executive suffering from a suicidal nervous breakdown. He is riding on top of the world by coming up with the line for a brand of cigarettes—"the clean smoke." But, he's reached the point where the lies have to stop, or he's doomed himself, by being different things to different people. His wife (Deborah Kerr) wants him to snap out of it and return to the fast-paced false world of advertising, where he's made his success. But, instead he begins an affair with a research assistant (Faye Dunaway) with whom he feels a certain fantasial passion. At the same time, he must deal with the failing health of his father (Richard Boone) and come to grips with their contentious relationship, while also trying to do the right thing for his old man in his last days.
It is not a successful film, perhaps cutting a little too close to the bone for Kazan, having written it, and being too familiar, feeling a need to embroider it a bit. The fantasy elements don't feel like fantasy, despite Eddie's slipping in and out of them. Along the same lines, there also seems to be a need for the director to make a film about a mid-life crisis while employing the more youthful techniques of the newer generation of movie-makers. It's jarring, and feels a bit like Kazan abandoning his strengths as a film-maker for flash.
|Kirk Douglas' Eddie Anderson is beside himself in The Arrangement
The Visitors (1972) The Vietnam War comes home with a vengeance. In rural Connecticutt, Vietnam vet Bill Schmidt (James Woods) is living with Martha Wayne (Patricia Joyce) and their son Hal (this was filmed at Kazan's house). Living with them, and attempting to write a novel, is Martha's irascible father, Harry (Patrick McVey), a Hemingway type, living vicariously through others and pining over his "glory days." On this particular winter Sunday, they are visited by Bill's old platoon-mates Mike (Steve Railsback) and Tony (Chico Martinez). Bill is guardedly welcoming, but Martha and Harry are gracious hosts, Harry being especially fulsome and wanting to talk to the soldiers about the war, over beers and any other alcohol he can find.
Vainglorious Harry is the catalyst for everything bad that happens in this film. Seems that Bill and Mike and Tony have history, and Mike has just gotten out of prison after a two year stretch for an incident to which Bill was the accusing witness. If this sounds a bit like the plot of Brian DePalma's Casualties of War, it is because Kazan and his son Chris took the original New Yorker article by David Lang (who subsequently wrote Casualties...) as the root-inspiration for this story, The Visitors being a fictional sequel of sorts from that article. It's an intense little bottle-world of a film with only five active characters in a contained space and a taught suspense hanging over the whole thing. Kazan made this with a miniscule budget and a tiny crew—producer Nicholas T Proferes served as both cameraman and editor—and the results are unnerving.
The Last Tycoon (1976) F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished novel (supposedly based on M-G-M's Irving Thalberg) forms the basis of this film, which was made under the same wave of publicity (and production momentum) that followed Paramount's version of the author's The Great Gatsby. What there is in the novel is choice material, if slightly disassociated, and it fell to playwright-scenarist Harold Pinter to construct a third act that did not exist in the original form. In effect, he doesn't really do it, so much as try and bring the threads of the many sub-plots to something like an end, by imagining the typical Hollywood downfall (Kazan must have appreciated that) and then tying it all together with a reprise of the novel and film's best "bit"—as Stahr tries to explain to a British playwright (heh) how "movies" work. The cast is stellar with Robert DeNiro (the latest star from Kazan's stomping grounds at The Actor's Studio) headlining and proving to be just as stalwart as the rest, including Robert Mitchum, Ray Milland, Tony Curtis, Jeanne Moreau, Jack Nicholson (when he was taking smaller, more character-oriented roles), Dana Andrews, Donald Pleasence, even John Carradine...a wide swath of Hollywood legends from the previous 30 years of movie-making, a period that was dominated by directors like Kazan.
Fitzgerald's last book would prove to be his last film.
|"Gadg" on the set of East of Eden with a visiting Brando, Julie Harris, and an uncomfortable James Dean
Elia Kazan started out acting—here he is in City for Conquest with Cagney and the film Blues in the Night.
The Hollywood Reporter wrote he may have trouble being cast, so he went to directing.