Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Friday, June 20, 2008

THE OSCAR


THE OSCAR (1966). Director: Russell Rouse.
Frankie Fane (Stephen Boyd, pictured) is a low-level garment worker who sort of falls into acting because he "impresses" a lady talent scout named Sophie (Eleanor Parker). Sophie gets him a top agent in "Kappy" Kapstetter (Milton Berle), who manages to convince studio head Kenneth Regan (Joseph Cotten) to sign him to a contract even though Regan senses something off about the guy. Fane becomes a star, but keeps biting the hand that feeds him -- even though some of his remarks to those who helped him have a point. When his career starts slipping badly, he has nightmares of going back to being nobody, and hitches upon a desperate plan to nab an Oscar and put himself back on top. The Oscar does show how undeserving louts can become movie stars simply because somebody has the hots for them -- which has happened more often than anyone imagines. The movie might have had more bite had Fane been someone desperately committed to the art of acting, but this can't be confused with the far superior Career -- it's basically entertaining trash with mostly one-dimensional characters and often hokey dialogue -- and not a few tedious moments. Once Fane begins to slide, however, the pic picks up. The fact is that the narcissistic, ambitious, self-absorbed Fane is all too typical of most Hollywood actors.
Although miscast as some low-bred tough guy, Boyd is not at all bad as Fane, and has his best moment at the very end of the movie (you almost feel sorry for him). As his pal and procurer, Hymie, Tony Bennett seems amateurish until he has some powerful moments at the climax. Jill St. John gives it a good try, but she hasn't the real acting chops to make the most of her scenes as the girlfriend Fane stole from Hymie. Elke Sommer is okay as Kay Bergdahl, a designer Fane makes a play for and eventually marries, and Berle is at least flavorful as Kappy. Eleanor Parker gives the sauciest performance as Sophie, and makes St. John and Sommer look like a couple of kittens in comparison. But Edie Adams and Ernest Borgnine almost walk off with the movie as a husband and wife who are celebrating their divorce in Mexico when they encounter Fane and Kay and re-enter their lives in an unexpected fashion. Peter Lawford has a small but significant scene where he plays a once-famous actor who is now a headwaiter at a Hollywood restaurant; Lawford is excellent and this is probably the best scene in the movie. There are some celebrity cameos and Hedda Hopper as well. One of the screenwriters was Harlan Elison, who became better known as a science fiction writer.
Verdict: Not exactly Eugene O'Neill but fun. ***.

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