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

Thursday, April 6, 2017


THINGS I'VE SAID, BUT PROBABLY SHOULDN'T HAVE: An Unrepentant Memoir. Bruce Dern with Christopher Fryer and Robert Crane. John Wiley and Sons; 2007.

Bruce Dern has had a long career as a working actor, mostly in films, with occasional television work, and sometimes he's given the lead role, as in Silent Running. He was married to actress Diane Ladd (who directed him in a movie where she apparently hurled out her bitterness over a bad marriage which he admits was all his fault) and is the father of Laura Dern. He apparently had a weird relationship with his wealthy family. The films Dern covers the most include John Frankenheimer's Black Sunday, Coming Home (in which he was especially excellent), The King of Marvin Gardens, The Great Gatsby (with Robert Redford), Alfred Hitchcock's Family Plot, and Monster, but he doesn't neglect more embarrassing assignments such as The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant, more power to him. I also admire him for coming out in support of Elia Kazan, because "three quarters of the room did not stand up" when the director received an honorary Oscar. Appalled by this, Dern asks "What were Kazan's choices?" (One can only imagine what Kazan's detractors would have done were they in the same situation). Of course, Dern can be as guilty of egomania and diva behavior as anyone. In an unintentionally comical anecdote Dern writes how he and very beautiful co-star Maud Adams supposedly had to fight to keep their hands off of each other off-set during filming of the erotic film Tattoo, but one senses Adams wasn't really that interested in the first place. While Dern does talk about the changes in the movie business, different approaches to acting, and other things of interest, the book isn't well-edited, and even two other writers can't make Things I've Said especially coherent. There is no linear, chronological progression; Dern bounces all over the lot. Long, long conversations from decades in the past are reproduced verbatim (either Dern has an encyclopedic memory or he is merely capturing the gist of these conversations -- even so), and some of his memories seem a little suspicious. (I simply can't believe some of the comments he attributes to Alfred Hitchcock.)  Most criminally, Dern mentions Bette Davis with admiration more than once, but says virtually nothing about Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, or about Joan Crawford's participation before she walked off the movie. Inquiring minds want to know! Dern can be forgiven his "name-dropping," however, because these were all people that he knew and worked with.

Verdict: Good actor, mediocre book. **1/2.


angelman66 said...

Thanks, Bill, I always prefer unauthorized biographies of actors rather than autobiographies...stars and actors are so insecure and ego-driven that they have trouble being objective about their lives. (One big exception comes to mind as I write this--Shelley Winters! Now she was a great raconteuse and storyteller, on paper as well as verbally...)

Bruce Dern is so brilliant in so many things, especially Coming Home with Jane Fonda...and I adore his talented daughter Laura...

William said...

You are so right about most star memoirs.

I'll have to look up Winters' book -- I read it many years ago.