Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Modest Defense of Tanya Roberts as Bond Girl Stacey Sutton in "A View to a Kill"

One of the most reviled Bond Girls is former "Charlie's Angels" actress Tanya Roberts as California geologist Stacey Sutton in "A View to a Kill" (1985).  Whenever lists of the best or worst Bond Girls are put out by know-nothing magazine writers, she usually ranks at the top of the list in terms of being among the worst examples of what a Bond Girl represents.  I've acknowledged at different times in my blog that Roberts' performance in "A View to a Kill" wasn't ideal and that I think Priscilla Barnes (a much better actress who played Della Churchill in 1989's "Licence to Kill) would have been a preferable choice in the role.  (Barnes would have brought some nuances to the role that would have given it more gravitas and depth.)  Nevertheless, I think that the level of vitriol directed at Roberts by some Bond fans through the years has become overstated and misplaced at times.  At the risk of jeopardizing my own credibility at discussing movies, I don't think Roberts' performance is as bad as people have alleged through the years.  It's a flawed character and performance, but Roberts has a couple of moments in the movie where her acting comes across okay and, even if she and Roger Moore don't exactly set the screen on fire with their scenes together, they at least seem at ease with one another and appear to enjoy each others company.  I find both Roberts's performance, and the Stacey Sutton character itself, endearingly clumsy in the movie. 

I've always felt that one reason why the Bond movies remain relevant all these decades later is because they are a cinematic Rorschach test in terms of tastes and perspectives.  Just a glance at Bond movie message boards on the internet confirms how none of the movies, or the elements in them, are seen the same way by two different people.  That's why it's fun to discuss and revisit the movies in order to debate and discuss one's favorite Bond actor or Bond movie.  Tanya Roberts as Stacey Sutton is consistently criticized by Bond fans on these message boards, but sometimes it feels like the people who are saying she is awful seem to enjoy saying they hate her just for the sake of it.  They act as if her performance was so bad that it somehow ruined their lives.  I recall someone on a message board saying how Priscilla Presley, who was also considered for the role of Stacey, would have been a preferable choice for the role.  I chuckled when I read that because whoever wrote it evidently never saw Presley's five-year stint as Jenna Wade on the hit prime time soap "Dallas" from 1984 thru 1989.  If you go over to "Dallas" message boards, you'll find that fans of that series hate Presley for what they perceive to be her whiny disposition and weak acting--which are the same criticisms that Bond fans lodge against Tanya Roberts' work in "A View to a Kill."  On that basis, Presley would not have been better than Roberts in the role.

Tanya Roberts is an easy whipping-boy for Bond fans, but I sometimes wonder if director John Glen isn't also to blame for the qualities in Stacey Sutton that people respond negatively to.  I recall Glen saying in his memoirs that he had doubts about Roberts' acting ability and that he consulted John Guillerman, who had just directed Roberts in "Sheena" (1984) as to whether he felt she could act.  I remember in college an acting professor telling us that, if an actor gives a bad performance in a movie, you shouldn't only blame the actor.  You should also blame the director because he or she made the final decision to hire that person and should have known based on their audition, or prior work, what they were capable of bringing to the role.  Since John Glen acknowledges he had doubts about Tanya Roberts' acting ability, he needs to take responsibility for hiring her to play Stacey.  I also recall on the DVD supplements for "A View to a Kill," Glen introduced some deleted scenes which included a scene between Stacey and her boss Mr. Howe (Daniel Benzali), where she tries to convince him of the dangers of arch villain Zorin's (Christopher Walken) plan to pump sea water into the Hayward Fault.  While introducing the deleted scene, Glen admits that "somehow this scene didn't work terribly well.  I think I started to shoot it and didn't bother to do any close shots in the end and I always thought I'd pick the scene up when Roger (Moore) enters the scene outside the elevators.  And that is, in fact, what happens."  When you watch the deleted scene, you don't get any sense that director Glen did more than one take of it, much less rehearsed it or gave the actors any direction on how to play it.  The fact that Glen didn't put much thought into the scene also suggests the extent to which he didn't try to work with Roberts to help develop her performance more effectively.

I think it's too bad because Tanya Roberts could've been a good Bond Girl if only she had been cast in a part more appropriate for her that allowed her to demonstrate qualities that worked well for her in other roles.  When she was on "Charlie's Angels," Roberts had a scrappy, street-wise quality that struck an effective contrast with her more refined co-stars Jaclyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd.  Her husky/raspy speaking voice, tinged with the remnants of her Bronx accent, gave her gravitas in some of her more serious scenes on that series.  On "Charlie's Angels," Roberts had a confidence and assurance that was absent in "A View to a Kill," as well as a feisty, athletic quality in the action scenes that demonstrated she could have been an exciting heroine in the Bond series.  None of those qualities were utilized in "A View to a Kill" and I sometimes feel that Roberts was miscast as the demure damsel-in-distress Stacey Sutton.  John Glen cast her in a role that didn't play to her strengths, which is why I think her performance was considered grating by some Bond fans.  In fact, I sometimes feel Roberts should have been cast as former Army pilot-turned-DEA operative Pam Bouvier in "Licence to Kill."  Carey Lowell always seemed too light-weight to have the grit required for that role, and I think Roberts' scrappy Bronx edginess might have served that role better, especially if she went back to being a brunette instead of being bleached blonde like she was for "A View to a Kill."  (As information, check out at the 6:08 mark Roberts' entrance scene in her debut episode of "Charlie's Angels."  You can see it on YouTube here.  Ironically, she's acting in this scene opposite "Licence to Kill" featured player Don Stroud, who played Heller in that movie.  I believe you will get an idea of the quality that I feel would have made her a better Pam Bouvier than Carey Lowell.) 

Ironically, as written, the role of Stacey Sutton probably sounded pretty good to Roberts from the outset.  Unlike other actresses who have played Bond Girls, and who claim that their roles are different than the ones that came before (a tiresome cliche coming from every actress who ever appeared in a Bond movie), Stacey Sutton was indeed a different kind of leading lady for the series.  She wasn't a spy, or a mistress of some villain, or someone living or working in an exotic location doing something glamorous or dangerous.  She was basically an American and a civilian, a scientist studying rocks and minerals of the Earth, living and working in the San Francisco area on her family's empty estate.  In many ways, she was similar to Kate Warner in Season 2 of "24," another blonde American civilian from California whose life is turned upside down when a government agent with the initials "J.B." unexpectedly enters her life and asks for her assistance to avert the destruction of a major metropolitan area in the state.  The only extraordinary thing about Stacey is that she was the heiress to her family's oil company but got a job working as a California state geologist once Zorin stole it in a rigged proxy fight.  We learn that she got a degree in geology with the expectation she'd run the family business someday.  For once, we actually learn quite a bit about the leading lady in a Bond movie as Stacey is provided a family history and back story that is unusual for the series.  What isn't acknowledged enough about Stacey is that she was a person of decency and integrity.  She wasn't a character in a larger-than-life situation lounging around wearing sexually revealing outfits, or someone who easily gave into Bond's charms the first night he spent at her house.  In fact, he sleeps in the chair guarding the house while she goes to sleep.  It's only at the end of the film, after Bond and Stacey defeat Zorin, that they consummate their relationship by taking a shower back at her house. 

Perhaps people found Stacey uninteresting because she was probably one of the more "normal" leading ladies the Bond series ever had.  However, on the surface of it, there was potentially a lot of substance to the character had Roberts played it with a bit more gravitas and assurance.  I think one reason why Roberts is unconvincing at playing a geologist is that, with the exception of the scene where she discovers and explains Zorin's plans to destroy Silicon Valley as well as her early scenes at Zorin's estate in Chantilly, France where she appears haughty and aloof to Bond, she plays the rest of the movie with kind of a light, high pitched voice that contrasts with her normally husky/raspy delivery and considerably undermines her credibility at being a scientist.  However, Roberts is still better than Denise Richards as Nuclear physicist Christmas Jones in "The World is Not Enough" (1999).  Richards plays her role with an air of indifferent petulance that undermines her credibility, whereas Roberts gives a comparatively more sincere performance even if she sounds whiny at times.  Roberts seems glad to be in the movie and is at least trying to give a competent and sympathetic performance as Stacey, whereas Richards seems so disconnected and disinterested that she never seems to give a damn throughout her Bond movie of creating any sort of mood with her character.

Roberts' aforementioned voice also sounded terrible throughout the action scenes in the movie where Stacey is screaming "Oh James!" or "James, help me!" because her naturally husky voice wasn't suited to playing scenes that required her to be so helpless, which inadvertently caused her to sound screechy.  Especially in the scenes where Bond rescues Stacey from the fire at San Francisco's City Hall; where Bond and Stacey elude the SFPD through the streets of the city by stealing the Fire Engine; the sequence in the Main Strike mineshaft where May Day (Grace Jones) stalks Bond and Stacey and tries to pull them down as they try and climb out of the mine; the scene where Zorin sneaks up on Stacey from behind her in the blimp; and the fight on top of the Golden Gate Bridge where Stacey is dangling from atop one of the pylons, Roberts plays all of these action sequences from a hapless, helpless, at times hysterical perspective (even though Stacey's commitment to cooperating with Bond to defeat Zorin never waivers).  Her reactions to the situations going on around her would understandably be confusing to a civilian not used to espionage or action.  Nevertheless, Roberts should have played Stacey in the action scenes from the perspective of a normal person caught up in danger, who is uncertain of herself, but who stays calm and eventually rises to the occasion with grit and determination.  I think the audience would have accepted Stacey better if she had kept her cool throughout the action scenes.  Unfortunately, she didn't and, in so doing, opened herself up to the criticism she has received since then.  However, Roberts has stated in interviews that she had issues with the extent to which Stacey was portrayed so submissively in the movie, which lends credibility to my suggestion that John Glen's direction in the movie hindered her performance. 

Ironically, it's in the non-action dialogue scenes in "A View to a Kill" that I believe Tanya Roberts does good work.  The dinner scene in the kitchen of her home where Bond cooks for her has a relaxed quality that is notably different than other scenes between Bond and the other leading ladies of his movies.  Some might say that there is no chemistry between Roger Moore or Tanya Roberts in the movie as a whole, but I kind of like the fact that, for once, Bond isn't initially interested in the leading lady on a romantic or sexual level, but is trying to get at the truth of what Zorin might be up to and hopes Stacey can provide that information.  Stacey feels at ease with Bond because she senses that he has no ulterior motives with her, and I sense that Tanya Roberts and Roger Moore sincerely enjoyed working with each other.  Except for the final scene in the movie, there is an overall platonic friendship between Bond and Stacey that I find endearing.  I also think Roberts is good in the scene the next morning, after the mild earth tremor, when Bond mentions to Stacey that Zorin is pumping seawater into Zorin's oil wells near the Hayward Fault.  Roberts registers the appropriate level of outrage and determination at learning of this information.

Probably Roberts' best moment in the movie is the scene inside the Main Strike Mine where Stacey and Bond stumble upon Zorin's plans to rig explosives to try and set off both the San Andreas and Hayward Faults in order to start a double earthquake that will destroy Silicon Valley.  ("He'll kill millions!  These green lights, they're Zorin's oil wells, the ones he's been using to pump sea water into the Hayward fault.   These (tunnels) lead straight into this section of the San Andreas fault.  You know, Zorin just has to blast through the bottom of these lakes to flood the fault...Except that right beneath us is the key geological lock that...that keeps the faults from moving at once.")  Roberts has a very controlled tone to her voice throughout this sequence as she explains the scientific and technical aspects of Zorin's scheme to Bond and demonstrates the right level of awe and concern upon realizing what Zorin is up to.  Unlike the rest of her performance, she demonstrates a level of confidence and assurance that would have considerably strengthened the character if she had used it throughout the movie.  The scene shows what the rest of Roberts' performance could have been like had both she and John Glen worked more effectively at developing the Stacey Sutton character.

Even though Tanya Roberts was not one of the best Bond Girls the series had to offer, I sincerely believe she had some moments that allowed her to rank higher than Jill St. John, Britt Ekland, or Denise Richards, who I feel were far worse as Bond Girls in the series.  I think Roberts tried to create a sympathetic, down-to-earth character, a person who the audience might easily identify with compared to other, larger-than-life Bond girls in the series.  However, I think she was hampered by being miscast in a role that didn't play to her strengths and I am convinced she didn't get much help from director John Glen to bring out the best in her performance.  Nevertheless, as written, the character does have substantial screen time (perhaps too much, in the eyes of her detractors!) and does play a significant role in helping Bond defeat arch-villain Zorin in "A View to a Kill."  That's more than could be said for the leading ladies of the acclaimed "Skyfall" (2012), who I've blogged about before were saddled with the most thankless and insignificant roles of any Bond Girls in the entire series.  If there's any virtue to Stacey Sutton, it's that, whether you like her or not, she did not play an expendable role in "A View to a Kill" the way Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) or Severine (Berenice Marlohe) played in their Bond movie.  If you take Stacey out of "A View to a Kill," and I'm sure some fans would love to do that, you would be left with a considerably different movie, whereas if you took Moneypenny or Severine out of "Skyfall," the plot and structure of that story would likely have remained largely the same.  For better or worse, Stacey Sutton contributed a great deal to the overall plot and storyline of "A View to a Kill."  Tanya Roberts as Stacey Sutton in "A View to a Kill" may not have been the best Bond Girl the series had to offer, but there's something to be said for actually showing up and getting the job done, rather than just sitting on the sidelines like Eve and Severine did in "Skyfall."

Monday, April 29, 2013

A Morally Reprehensible "Tower" of Evil

I saw a movie recently that troubled me deeply and felt compelled to write about it.  It was a brand new disaster epic from South Korea called "The Tower/타워" (2012).  My understanding is that it has shaped up to be a financial success internationally and has even played a few engagements in theaters across the United States.  (It will be released in the U.S. on Blu-Ray and DVD through Inception Media Group on July 2nd.)  The storyline of "The Tower" involves a Christmas Eve celebration taking place at a brand new, luxury skyscraper comprising two identical twin towers that rise 108 stories into the sky in a major South Korean city.  Festivities are in full swing as two helicopters, hired by the owner of the building, spray snow upon the building to heighten the illusion of wintertime.  However, disaster strikes when both helicopters go out of control and crash into the buildings, starting a fast-moving fire that threatens the lives of not only the individuals trapped in the building, but of the surrounding area as well as the structure starts to collapse and implode under the weight of the damage it has sustained.  Who will survive this tragedy?

I was initially very impressed with the precision and scale of "The Tower" and of how well-acted and well-made it was.  I definitely got a clear idea of how an Irwin Allen-type disaster movie might look like today given the advancements in technology since he made "The Poseidon Adventure" (1972) and "The Towering Inferno" (1974).  The movie, on a superficial level, was admittedly suspenseful, exciting and very involving, even though the characterizations were, for the most part, skin-deep and made the individuals in Irwin Allen's movies, particularly "The Poseidon Adventure," appear deep and insightful in-comparison.  Among the cast members, veteran Korean actors Song Jae Ho and Lee Joo Shil are very touching as a doomed elderly couple celebrating Christmas together, Cha In-Pyo has tremendous screen presence as the ruthless and powerful owner of the building (and richly deserves an opportunity to work in Hollywood), and Jeon Guk-hyang was sympathetic as a middle-aged maintenance woman working on Christmas Eve and fighting to survive so that she can see her son again.

Probably my favorite character was Min Young as a young pregnant woman who proves to be surprisingly heroic and resilient under the circumstances.  There is a sequence in the movie where everyone is running for their lives and Min Young's character walks by a scenic elevator and hears a young couple trapped inside and screaming for someone to come and help free them.  She stops, listens, and keeps going.  At first, you assume that she's only concerned for herself and is going to leave them there to die.  Then, minutes later, Min Young unexpectedly returns to the elevator after she has found a sharp spear-like metallic object that she can use to pry the elevator door open so she can save the hapless young couple.  After that, because you don't expect a character in her delicate condition to be concerned for anyone but herself and her unborn child, I was rooting for her to survive because I felt that she had earned it.

However, as it progressed, I started feeling uncomfortable and queasy as the scenes of destruction started to remind me too much of what we all saw on the TV news at New York's World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  Not only does the disaster in "The Tower" take place at a structure comprised of identical twin skyscrapers, but the catastrophe is caused by two aircraft that had, moments earlier, been circling the towers before they each crash into the structures and burst into flames.  As a result, we are treated to images of hundreds of people running for their lives (including a disturbing image of one young woman screaming in agony and horror and bleeding profusely from the falling glass that has sliced open her scalp); people falling out of windows and plummeting to their deaths a hundred stories below; sequences demonstrating how both structures are threatening to collapse under the weight of the damage they have sustained; scenes suggesting that survivors of the fire might be buried alive as authorities decide whether to detonate explosives to implode the building under controlled circumstances, so that it doesn't cause widespread damage throughout neighboring buildings; sequences showing family members putting up fliers and photographs of their missing loved ones on bulletin boards in the hope that they may be found; and (worst of all) images of people trapped in an enclosed space, screaming for help, being burned alive.  There's a sequence involving a dozen people who are trying to escape the building through an elevator and being trapped on a level where the fire is raging, unable to escape, and are graphically shown being burned to death.  It was at that point that "The Tower" stopped being entertaining.

I'm not a prude or uptight in the least and I do feel that sometimes the public or the media becomes overly sensitive when tragic events occur in the news and cause studios to pull movies from their release schedule (or cause networks to preempt a TV show) because a sequence in that otherwise unrelated film or TV show happens to coincide with a sliver of elements that are unintentionally similar to the events that occurred in that real-life tragedy.  A sliver of elements is one thing, but "The Tower" contains sequence-after-sequence of death and destruction that bear more than a passing resemblance to the events of 9/11.  It's as if the filmmakers played back news footage from that day and wrote the script by emulating as much as they could from those tragic, unforgettable images.  If "The Tower" only contained one or two such elements, it probably would not have bothered me but, as I just outlined to you, there are far too many scenes that appear to be intentionally reminiscent of 9/11 to allow the movie's morally questionable choices (such as the inclusion of slapstick humor and comedy sequences amidst the death and destruction in an effort to break the "tension") as well as general all-around tastelessness (including a musical sequence that has to be seen to be believed involving a light-hearted pop/rap song that's at odds with the death and mutilation that follows and is just as bad as music by the American artists it tries to emulate) for it to go unnoticed.

One could opine that "The Tower" is just a modern-day version of "The Towering Inferno," but when Irwin Allen made that movie in 1974, there was no current event similar to the central premise depicted in that movie for the audience to have an uncomfortable frame of reference.  In addition, Irwin Allen demonstrated a comparative level of restraint by not showing the death and carnage up close as it is depicted in "The Tower."  This was one of the most blood-thirsty commercial films I have seen in a long time, with people suffering and dying spectacularly gruesome deaths with little in the way of compassion, sensitivity or perspective to justify it all.  (The cruel and callous deaths devised for that nice elderly couple in the movie was particularly upsetting to watch.)  I think what bothered me was that I sensed the elements in "The Tower" that reminded me of 9/11 were not merely coincidental, but were included specifically to evoke one's memories of that event.  Unlike Paul Greengrass' "United 93" (2006) or Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" (2006), which tried to put the events of 9/11 into context, I think director Ji-hoon Kim was consciously and intentionally exploiting imagery reminiscent of 9/11 with no constructive purpose in mind other than pure sensationalism.  He should be deeply ashamed of himself.  At the risk of overstating it, in my opinion, "The Tower" is one of the ugliest, most evil, most morally reprehensible films passing as escapist entertainment that I have seen in quite some time.  Because real people died in almost precisely the same manner as the characters depicted in this movie, it's hard to have enough of an objective perspective to enjoy this movie.  I grew up in the 1970s and love my disaster movies, just not when they exploit and prey on the hurt and suffering of others. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Dolores Hart: Diary of a Cloistered Starlet

I learned the other day that former actress Dolores Hart, who walked away from her promising Hollywood movie career in 1963 and became a cloistered Benedictine nun, will have her memoirs published next week.  From Ignatius Press, "The Ear of the Heart: An Actress' Journey from Hollywood to Holy Vows" promises to be an interesting and insightful story of one of the most inspirational individuals ever to work in the movies.  Hart was always a talented and intelligent actress during her short stay in Hollywood.  She projected a forthright decency and accessible warmth throughout her brief career.  I always liked her acknowledgement in an ABC 20/20 interview she gave a few years ago where she said she understood why people might be intrigued with her life story and did not find the public to be intruding upon her privacy because "Once you have decided to become a public figure, you've made an agreement with your audience and it's a lifetime agreement.  So, even if you pull away, there is a part of you that you can't just say 'You no longer belong (to them).'  You do."  I was impressed with how savvy Dolores Hart remained about her previous life as an actress and how she didn't have an unrealistic outlook about herself and the world at large.  I always felt that Hart could teach a course to her peers on humility, career management, and how to maintain a level of interest and intrigue about oneself.

While none of her films could be considered masterpieces, as accomplished and entertaining as they were, they were good enough to demonstrate that Hart was an actress of considerable depth and promise.  Probably her most notable movie role was the lead in the Spring Break comedy/drama "Where the Boys Are" (1960).  While Hart might get asked in her interviews more about her starring roles opposite Elvis Presley in "Loving You" (1957) and "King Creole" (1958), "Where the Boys Are" is probably the quintessential Dolores Hart movie.  In it, Hart's character demonstrates qualities of courage, compassion, and confusion that, based on recent interviews she has given, echo themes and events from her own real life.  I am not saying that Hart was playing herself in "Where the Boys Are," or that the movie is based on her life, but it is clear that her role as Merritt Andrews allowed Hart an opportunity to address issues she would have to grapple with in real life as she forged an independent path different from other actresses of her era.  She was probably attracted to the role for those reasons.

In an excellent interview she gave two years ago to Entertainment Weekly, Hart revealed herself to be an introspective, insightful individual who openly acknowledged the doubts she occasionally had as to whether becoming a nun was the right decision for her.  The interview detailed her long-term friendship with her ex-fiance, with whom she remained very close with until he passed away recently, and how she occasionally wonders what her life would be like if she had married him.  In so doing, Hart demonstrated a candor and accessibility as a human being that is rare in someone who used to be an actress, a profession where people are perpetually putting on a facade.  She showed that, sometimes, the decision that is right for you is not always the easiest or most expedient one and impressed me with the courage of her convictions.  In discussing her continued role as a voting member of the Motion Picture Academy, and how she reconciles herself with films containing sexually explicit content, Hart pointedly opined how "Movies reflect the time.  It's not so much that movies are ugly, it's the ugliness of the time that is reflected.  To me that indicates what we have to pray for and pray about...When I see Natalie Portman masturbating [in Black Swan], I hear the kids come in and talk about their problems with masturbating...What offends me is, Is the movie itself going to leave people without hope?  You have to help them know that there is a way through their grief and their pain."  With her candor and frankness, Hart demonstrates how cognizant she is about issues that continue to affect people in their day-to-day life and does not possess an unrealistically idealized view of how people should behave in matters of sexuality and other concerns of importance.

All of this reminds me of the issues and challenges that face Hart's character in "Where the Boys Are"  Like Hart, Merritt is an intelligent and insightful young woman from a modest Illinois background.  She has an IQ of 138, but (unlike Hart, who was successful in Hollywood) is struggling to get passing grades in college.  Merritt's academic struggles reflect her character's uncertainty as to whether this highly competitive environment is the one that is right for her, a conflict that was similar to Hart's real-life struggle between choosing the monastery, or a career in Hollywood.  (Merritt's academic struggles, as with Hart's struggles with whether to keep her Hollywood career, also demonstrate that she had no sense of entitlement about herself despite her beauty and intelligence.  Nothing was handed to her on a silver platter because she worked hard for what she had.)  Nevertheless, Merritt always comes across as an assertive and forthright individual who has a refreshingly enlightened view of the society she lives in, qualities which Hart's interviews have indicated she possesses as well.  In the beginning of the movie, we find Merritt debating with an uptight Courtship and Marriage professor whether college co-eds should engage in premarital sex. As the professor challenges her viewpoint, Merritt explains, "Well, frankly, I thought the text was a little old fashioned.  It didn't have much to do with modern college life as far as I could see...Well, take the discussion on emotional involvement on the first date.  In this day and age, if a girl doesn't become a little emotionally involved on the first date, it's going to be her last.  With that man anyhow.  Honestly, Dr. if a girl doesn't make out with a man once in awhile she might as well leave campus.  She's considered practically anti-social."

When the professor challenges her to explain her definition of "make-out" for the benefit of the class, Merritt nervously responds, "Well, Dr. Raunch.  I think they know already.  Making out is what used to be called necking.  Before that it was petting.  And going back to early American days, it was also known as bundling.  It's all the same game....Well we're supposed to be intelligent, so why not get down to the giant Jackpot issue?  Like should a girl or she should not under any circumstances play house before marriage?...My opinion is Yes!"  Merritt's seemingly radical views results in her being sent to speak with the Dean, but later in the film, when Merritt expresses concern for her friend Melanie's (Yvette Mimieux) rampant drinking and promiscuity once they arrive in Fort Lauderdale for Spring Break, she qualifies her earlier statement.  When Melanie gets upset after Merritt points out to her that she claims to have fallen in love with two different boys she has met within days of arriving for break, Merritt explains to Melanie, "I'm just trying to see that you don't get caught in some crazy merry go round....Since when am I the last word?  And what did (my opinion in class) have to do with you anyway?  I was talking about people in general.  Not kids who go out and get drunk together."

In so doing, Merritt demonstrates how she is cognizant of the realities concerning sexuality and relationships facing modern individuals.  She acknowledges that notions of abstinence do not comport with modern society and that people should have the freedom to make the right choices for themselves, which includes engaging in premarital sex.  However, in her dealings with Melanie and trying to help her friend cope with her promiscuity, Merritt also demonstrates her belief that individuals who enjoy sexual freedom must still act with common sense and personal responsibility in how they conduct themselves.  They need to have a clear understanding of what they are getting themselves into, how they are getting into it, and what they can expect as the outcome of their actions.  At one point Merritt says "I'm not much for the drinking bit.  I'm not being prudish.  I just don't believe in getting smashed.  It's sort of juvenile, not really worth the effort."  This healthy balance between open-minded compassion and understanding, combined with sensible reasoning in terms of personal behavior, echoes the opinions that Dolores Hart expressed about modern-day sexuality and how to help young people cope with the issues facing them that she commented on in the aforementioned Entertainment Weekly interview.

In the excellent, Oscar-nominated documentary "God is the Bigger Elvis" (2011), which in my opinion should have won that year, Hart discusses how she reconciled her Catholic faith with being an actress in Hollywood "because sexually you could be aroused by boys.  And you could get involved sexually with men.  And my leading star was Elvis."  Hart explains that she was able to come to terms with this state of confusion by seeking counsel with the Reverend Mother at the Regina Laudis Monastery that she eventually joined.  Hart recalls that the Reverend Mother helped her cope with her conflicted feelings by explaining to her that "Well why not?  You're a girl...Chastity doesn't mean that you don't appreciate what God created.  Chastity says 'Use it well.'"  As such, the rational and intelligent, yet human and vulnerable Merritt, appears to have much in common with the personal views of Dolores Hart.

In the documentary, we get to meet Hart's former fiance and lifelong friend Don Robinson, an architect/real estate executive with whom she had been dating for 5 years before she joined the Monastery.  As Robinson explains, "The moment I met her, I knew that you could relax with her and have fun with her.  On our first date, we had dinner for three hours.  And, at the end of our dinner, I asked her to marry me.  She said, 'Would you give me some time?  And let's just date?'  I said, 'I'll give you all the time you want.'  She happened to be a Catholic and I happen to be a Catholic.  I knew in my heart, I could feel it was all there what I was looking for.  We dated on and off for 5 years and became engaged."  As I listened to Robinson's description of his relationship with Hart, I couldn't help but think back on her scenes with (the underrated) George Hamilton's Ryder Smith character in "Where the Boys Are."

In the movie, Merritt and Ryder establish a relationship built on mutual respect and intellectual engagement, not just physical attraction and stereotypical notions of romantic love.  Merritt and Ryder spar and debate with one another, which helps to underscore the equality of their relationship.  Ryder is attracted to Merritt's sophisticated qualities and, even after she turns him down when he propositions her, he still is interested in her because she has sincerely engaged him on an emotional level.  Clearly, Merritt has put Ryder at ease so that he can be relaxed and honest around her and, as such, brings out the best in him.  At one point, Ryder admits to Merritt "I don't know why I waste my time with you.  I guess maybe it's because I like you.  Funny, that's the first time I ever said that to a girl."  When Merritt expresses doubt that that was the first time Ryder ever told a girl he liked her, he explains, "Oh, I said I loved them, but I never said I liked them," underscoring how Ryder respects Merritt as an intelligent, forthright individual and not just another romantic fling.

At the end of the film, when Merritt and Ryder try to make sense of their deepening feelings for one another, Ryder says "Look, I don't have the answers any more than you.  But for us, anyhow, it's not the way we started out.  I'm sure of that now.  I don't want to know you just for a few days or a Spring vacation.  I'd like to know you for a long time, Merritt."  By not opting for a quick and meaningless fling with Ryder during her Spring Break, Merritt has laid the groundwork for a potentially serious long term relationship with him.  In so doing, Ryder's feelings for Merritt seem to echo the feelings Don Robinson felt for Dolores Hart after their first date, and how he was ready to think of her from a long term perspective for his life, as well as how Hart maintained his interest by not immediately accepting his marriage proposal and suggesting instead that they date so they could get better acquainted.  It's clear that both the fictional Ryder and the real-life Don Robinson were drawn to the integrity, character, and substance of what the fictional Merritt and her real-life portrayer Dolores Hart had to offer them in life. 

When I watch "Where the Boys Are" now, I can't help but think of how Hart invested the role of Merritt with enough of her personal qualities and attributes so that we can see the sort of person she was at the time and why a man of obvious substance like Don Robinson never got over her, never married, and remained her close friend until the end of his life.  Robinson appeared to realize that he could never expect nor hope to meet Hart's equal.  A lot of times, actors are not anything like the roles they play and, like I said earlier, I'm not trying to suggest Dolores Hart was simply playing herself when she portrayed Merritt Andrews in "Where the Boys Are."  But I sense that Hart personally identified with what Merritt felt and experienced in the movie to enough of a degree that she gave a performance that went beyond good acting.  She created a genuine human being who still maintains relevance and interest more than half a century later.  I think the personal struggles experienced by Merritt in terms of making the right choices for herself, more than her purported expression of sexual freedom and liberation for young women, is why Dolores Hart's work in "Where the Boys Are" remains so intriguing.  As an audience, while watching Merritt, we get a sense of the sort of introspective self-reflection and challenges that Dolores Hart must have faced in her own life, and how she was able to address them with courage and honesty so that she made the right personal decisions for herself.  For these reasons, in my opinion, Dolores Hart remains one of Hollywood's biggest success stories, and one of the brightest stars who ever graced the movies. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Annie Wersching deserved the Emmy more than Cherry Jones for Season 7 of "24"

I've never taken the Emmy Awards seriously because they nominate the same people year-after-year and always reward the sort of socially relevant or redeeming programming that doesn't really reflect the best television has to offer.  I think this has something to do with the fact that Emmy voters, in a weird way, still appear to feel that their awards aren't as significant as the Tonys or the Oscars and, as such, feel that they must vote for do-gooder type of programming that they believe will help raise the prestige of their awards.  That's why, throughout the 1980s for instance, issue-oriented shows like "Hill Street Blues" or "L.A. Law" kept being nominated for, and winning, Emmys, while shows like "Dallas" were never in the running because it was considered a lowly prime time soap, even though "Dallas" in the long run proved its relevance with the way it still has a huge mainstream following decades later, reflected in healthy DVD sales, that warranted TNT reviving the show.  (You don't see "Hill Street Blues" or "L.A. Law" being widely discussed anymore, much less rerun anywhere, because I believe people don't care about them at all.)  As such, Emmy often gets it wrong in terms of who was deserving of being nominated and/or winning.

A good example of this occurred a few years ago during the 7th Season of the overrated "24" television series.  I used to be a big fan of "24" when it was on the air.  But, now that it is gone, I find that I have no interest in revisiting the series on DVD (except for the sublime Season 2 with the controversial Kate Warner character) because I realize the extent it was a purely plot-driven show, with no sense of consistency, logic, or respect for its characters.  When "24" began, it was an ensemble show with a fascinating core cast of characters.  However, over time, as the series began killing off its cast members, the only major character that remained throughout it all was Kiefer Sutherland's increasingly tiresome Jack Bauer character.  His "the-weight-of-the-world-is-on-my-shoulders" act grew really old, as did his extended 3-season relationship with the bland Kim Raver as the narcissistic and pathetic Audrey Raines.  "24" got pretty pretentious after awhile and took itself way too seriously.  But what really bothered me was the sense that the producers made the show up week-to-week without any real game plan in place as to the direction the stories were going.  This was reflected in the fact that characters would change on a dime from being good-to-bad, or vice versa, just to shock the viewers in a cheap way, and without any logic behind it.

However, in Season 7, after they got rid of Kim Raver's Audrey Raines once and for all, the show introduced a fascinating new leading lady to the series, the underrated Annie Wersching as FBI Agent Renee Walker.  The character starts out as a no-nonsense, by-the-book kind of individual who slowly, over the course of spending the day working with Jack Bauer to avert a terrorist threat upon Washington, DC, finds herself resorting to the sort of unorthodox tactics and interrogation methods that Bauer employs to get the information she needs.  Walker's moral dilemma made for compelling and exciting television.  Throughout the course of Season 7, she tortures a suspect recuperating in the hospital; holds a villain's wife and child hostage and appears to threaten to kill the child in order to make the villain reveal information; allows an innocent female civilian to undertake a dangerous mission so that Jack and Walker can pinpoint the location of one of the villains, which results in the death of that civilian; and ends the season torturing the mastermind behind the day's events in an effort to get to the bottom of who else is also involved.

For the first time since Sarah Wynter's Kate Warner in Season 2, Jack Bauer was paired with a leading lady who was out in the field with him risking her life to solve the day's crisis.  Wersching and Kiefer Sutherland had effortless chemistry that season which made you wonder why the producers kept harping on Kim Raver as being the only worthwhile love interest for Jack throughout Seasons 4 thru 6.  Walker was an interesting character because, throughout the season, Annie Wersching allowed you to see the emotional conflict and turmoil the character was experiencing between following proper procedures and protocol, and thinking outside the box in order to help save lives.  It was exciting to see how Walker wrestled with her evolving ruthless determination to do everything within her means, even to the extent of sacrificing her morality and viewing innocent individuals as expendable collateral damage, to avert the threat facing Washington, DC.  If Walker made any mistake, it was that she chose to torture arch villain Alan Wilson (Will Patton) at the end of the season after the crisis had been resolved when there was no impending threat to be averted.  There was no way for Walker to justify her torture of Wilson under those circumstances and her actions at the end of the season led to the character's gradual downfall leading into her grim fate in Season 8.  It was an unusually well-written and well thought-out character for "24" and Wersching was magnificent in it because she brought a subtle, low-key quality to Walker that continually underscored the character's intelligence and humanity.

A character and performance like this deserved Emmy consideration, but Wersching was strangely short-shrifted later that year when the nominations came out.  What was odd about it is that her co-star, Broadway actress Cherry Jones playing President Allison Taylor, was nominated for an Emmy in the Best Supporting Actress category, and won.  Throughout Season 7, I found the President Taylor character, and Cherry Jones' portrayal of her, largely flat and uninvolving.  The character often came off as a sanctimonious school marm, perpetually scolding all the other characters that they needed to behave nicely, and she just didn't seem credible as someone who is supposed to be the leader of the free world.  I thought Jones was really bland in the role.  I now recognize that this had more to do with the writers not giving Cherry Jones interesting enough material that season, because it was during the following season 8 when President Taylor suddenly turns ruthless in her determination to cover up Russian involvement with assassinating a Middle East leader (which would prevent the signing of a treaty that she has worked hard to negotiate) that I realized just how great an actress Jones truly is.  President Taylor suddenly had weaknesses and interesting nuances as an individual for Jones to explore, as opposed to playing an idealized archetype as she did in Season 7.  I had short-sightedly short-shrifted Jones during Season 7 as a stage actress whose talent didn't translate well on television, but during Season 8 I realized that Jones' Broadway credentials had genuine merit.

However, Cherry Jones wasn't nominated and didn't win for her superior work in Season 8, because she asked not to be considered since she apparently felt it was wrong to be in the running for a role she had already won for the year before.  I thought that showed a lot of professional integrity on her part, in order to open up the field of candidates who could be considered, but it seemed unfortunate that she won for the season she didn't deserve to win, and didn't win for the season that she should have.  I still believe Cherry Jones won for Season 7 because Emmy voters are always dazzled by actors with a Broadway, or feature film, pedigree.  Having hung around a few television actors in my lifetime, I always get the impression that they feel they are somehow "slumming" by working in the medium, and that only in "thee-uh-tah" can you do any sort of "real acting."  (I'm always saddened that these people can't recognize and appreciate the wonderful work they do in television.)  As such, because of what I perceive to be this sense of professional envy for Broadway actors, whenever someone from the stage does something on television, it seems like they are nominated for Emmys up the wazoo even if the actual performance wasn't all that interesting or notable.  A good example of this was the time when Ellen Burstyn was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Emmy for a 14 second performance in the HBO TV movie "Mrs. Harris" (2005), a controversial incident which led people to assume that Emmy voters didn't actually see her performance, and only nominated her by virtue of her name value as an acclaimed actress of stage and screen.

No disrespect intended to Cherry Jones (because she is a superb actress who deserved to win for Season 8) but I sincerely believe that her Emmy for "24" was due more to her Broadway pedigree than anything she actually did in Season 7 playing President Taylor.  Ms. Jones' work that season was competent and professional, but she was continually eclipsed each week by the subtle, superb work of Annie Wersching as morally conflicted FBI Agent Renee Walker.  Week-after-week, Wersching created a character who I was curious to see what was going to happen with next.  The places that the writers, and Wersching, took Walker throughout Season 7 was nothing less than breathtaking.  I have no doubt that, if Wersching had come to "24" with extensive Broadway credentials (rather than a year-long stint on "General Hospital"), she would have been rewarded with the Emmy nomination she richly deserved.  Since then, Wersching has had a prolific career guest-starring on "NCIS," "CSI," "Hawaii Five-0," and "Dallas," as well as the Lifetime TV movie "The Surrogate" (2013).  She continues to do good work on these shows, but deserves better roles.  One reason I wish Wersching had been nominated for an Emmy that season is because I feel it would have brought more luster to her career and given her even better career opportunities once her tenure on "24" ended.  Annie Wersching remains an underrated actress who deserves another shot at a good regular role on a hit weekly series that hopefully will be as interesting and challenging as when she played FBI Agent Renee Walker on "24." 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Steve McQueen is a cooler cat than Paul Newman in "The Towering Inferno"

Irwin Allen's "The Towering Inferno" (1974) was hardly my favorite 1970s-era disaster epic.  Bloated and overlong, it featured a cast of mostly wealthy fat-cat characters (except for Jennifer Jones' heroic, yet tragic, Lisolette) who you barely cared whether they would survive.  Next to Jennifer Jones, probably the most sympathetic character in the movie was Steve McQueen's smart, cool-headed San Francisco Fire Department Battalion Chief Michael O'Hallorhan.  From the moment McQueen arrives on the scene, at the 43 minute mark of the movie, you know that there is finally someone who can take command of a situation that has gone dangerously out of control.  This is due in no small part to the commitment that McQueen brings to the role, in contrast to all the other actors who just show up to collect a paycheck.

My understanding is that McQueen was originally offered the role that Paul Newman ultimately played in the movie, the architect responsible for designing the 138 story Glass Tower that is the centerpiece of the movie.  However, McQueen was more attracted to the comparatively smaller role of the fire chief who helps resolve the catastrophe with his steely calm and ingenuity, a role originally slated for Ernest Borgnine.  McQueen wanted to play the fire chief because he felt O'Hallorhan was the character who is working to solve the situation, whereas the architect was the character who McQueen felt was, in essence, responsible for the disaster for having designed the building.  McQueen proposed to Allen that he play the fire chief, if the role could be beefed up, and suggested that Allen cast a star of equal magnitude to play the architect instead.

Evidently, when Irwin Allen cast Paul Newman as the architect, this tickled McQueen because it allowed him an opportunity to verbally chastise Newman on-screen throughout the movie because of his character having designed such a dangerously tall fire trap.  (Steve McQueen purportedly always felt a sense of professional rivalry with Paul Newman ever since he played a bit part in Newman's 1956 movie "Somebody Up There Likes Me.")  According to press releases, McQueen researched his role by accompanying fire chiefs to the location of a blaze that broke out at the legendary Goldwyn Studios and lent a hand to help put out the flames.  If it were any other movie star, I wouldn't believe that anecdote, but because we're talking about the daredevil Steve McQueen, I'll give the story the benefit of the doubt.  All of this demonstrates to me the level of commitment and enthusiasm that McQueen brought to this role, which is why his performance stands out from all the others in this film.

McQueen's O'Hallorhan makes a spectacular late entrance in "The Towering Inferno," the last of all the main characters to be introduced, pulling up to the scene of the fire in his fiery red fire chief's sedan at such a high speed that he looks like he's dangerously close to spinning out of control.  But O'Hallorhan is such a cool, controlled cat that, just as the sedan looks like it's on the brink of crashing into the barricades, he suddenly brings the car under control within seconds and pulls to a fast stop.  O'Hallorhan cuts a dashing figure as he leaps out of the vehicle wearing black slacks, white short sleeved dress shirt, and black tie.  He quickly dons a firefighter coat over his uniform, with his dress shirt and black tie still showing through, which allows O'Hallorhan to look both enviably dapper and rugged at the same time.

Unlike the other characters in "The Towering Inferno," there is no backstory to O'Hallorhan (except that he wears a wedding ring, suggesting that he has a wife and family that he wants to stay alive and go home to) and none is needed.  McQueen's textured performance provides all the details we need to understand the essence of this man.  The moment McQueen's O'Hallorhan meets Paul Newman's blandly named architect Doug Roberts, you can sense the mild contempt O'Hallorhan feels for Roberts for having designed such a tall building.  O'Hallorhan doesn't even shake Roberts' hand when he is introduced to him and, as they ride up the elevator to the 79th floor, he can't help but mutter under his breath "Architects."  When the self-pitying Roberts responds, "Yeah, it's all our fault," O'Hallorhan explains himself, "Now you know there's no sure way for us to fight a fire in anything over the seventh floor.  But you guys keep building them as high as you can."  When Roberts lamely challenges O'Hallorhan by saying "Hey, are you here to take me on or the fire?" O'Hallorhan stares back and doesn't bother responding, knowing full well that he's already made his point.

One reason why O'Hallorhan is such a likeable character is because Paul Newman's Doug Roberts is a self-pitying Henny Penny, spending the entire film ineffectually warning everyone that the sky is falling.  Despite his concerns, he never really does anything effective to warn people of the disaster that could result due to the substandard electrical equipment that he has discovered the building has been wired with, and doesn't do enough to defy the owner of the building James Duncan (William Holden, wearing the worst pair of glasses known to mankind) when he urges Duncan to call for an evacuation of the guests celebrating the opening of the building on the 135th floor Promenade Room.  Roberts warns Duncan about the fire and is overruled, and Roberts meekly accepts this and doesn't do anything further.

In fact, it's not until Roberts informs O'Hallorhan of the party taking place on the top floor that something is finally done to warn the guests.  When O'Hallorhan sagely asks Roberts "Well why didn't you get the them the hell out of there?" Roberts lamely challenges O'Hallorhan with, "Why don't you go upstairs and talk to Duncan?  He ain't exactly listening to me."  O'Hallorhan simply responds with, "I will" and goes up to carry out the job that Roberts wasn't man enough to do.  I like the brief scene in the elevator going up to the Promenade Room where O'Hallorhan thinks for a moment, hesitates, and then reaches up to take off his fire chief helmet and firefighters coat so that his appearance doesn't cause a sudden panic the moment he steps off the elevator.  The subtle choices that McQueen makes in this scene demonstrates the degree to which he was continuously conscientious about doing justice to this role.

I like the manner in which McQueen is always able to get his way in this movie without being overbearing or smug.  He plays O'Hallorhan with a direct firmness that demonstrates his natural leadership abilities.  In the scene in which O'Hallorhan tries to convince William Holden's Duncan that the partygoers should be evacuated, McQueen never raises his voice to get his point across, nor seems annoyed or perturbed when Duncan tries to pull rank on O'Hallorhan by informing him that the Mayor of the city is in attendance and that he can order O'Hallorhan to cease his efforts to ruin the party by calling for an evacuation.  O'Hallorhan calmly tells Duncan, "When there's a fire, I outrank everybody here.  Now one thing we don't want is a panic.  Now I could tell 'em, but you ought to do it.  Just make a nice cool announcement to all your guests and tell 'em the party's being moved down below the fire floor.  Right now."  McQueen is the epitome of authority while delivering that line.  I especially like how McQueen subtly looks down at William Holden's hand when Duncan grabs O'Hallorhan by the arm to try and stop him from making a public announcement about the fire, almost as if to silently say "Did you just touch me?"  McQueen makes it clear in this scene that O'Hallorhan is a politically savvy individual who doesn't suffer fools gladly.

And we're glad that O'Hallorhan knows how to handle any situation because those skills prove to be invaluable in dealing with genuinely life-threatening situations.  When O'Hallorhan and the other firefighters realize that the elevators aren't working and they must rappel down several floors by rope through the elevator shaft, a cowardly firefighter (played by Paul Newman's late son Scott Newman) says "I can't make it.  I'll fall.  I know I'll fall."  O'Hallorhan never loses his cool nor raises his voice at the cowardly firefighter.  He simply says "OK.  Then you better go first.  That way when you fall, you won't take any of us with you."  O"Hallorhan demonstrates that he has no time for self-pity at a time like this, and McQueen delivers the line in a matter-of-fact manner, not with any jokey sense of irony that a contemporary actor might have played it.

O'Hallorhan's lack of self-pity is another reason why his character is more sympathetic than Paul Newman's Doug Roberts character.  Not only is Roberts ineffectual at trying to resolve the crisis, but he spends the entire movie feeling sorry for himself, almost as if to absolve himself of the guilt he feels for having designed the building which led to the deaths of so many people.  O'Hallorhan is a man who has, evidently, faced death before and has learned he doesn't have the luxury for self-indulgent self-reflection because he's too busy trying to stop the fire.  But O'Hallorhan also has compassion and human decency as well.  After he and the cowardly firefighter are able to rappel down the elevator shaft, McQueen shoots Scott Newman an approving smile that silently says "You did good, kid" to let us know he still respects him.

Throughout "The Towering Inferno," McQueen brings a lot of subtle touches to the role that help bring depth to the character and to the film.  After the harrowing sequence when O'Hallorhan rescues the women trapped on the dangling scenic elevator that had been blown off its tracks by an explosion, and holds onto a young firefighter by one hand from the roof of the scenic elevator until it is brought to the ground, there's a striking scene showing O'Hallorhan sitting on the ground in the lobby of the Glass Tower, his back to the wall amidst a row of other firefighters also taking a well-earned rest from their duties.  McQueen blankly stares straight ahead, as if O'Hallorhan is lost in his thoughts, until he is called to duty once again.  In one brief shot, McQueen demonstrates the emotional toll that weighs on the conscience of rescue workers in times of disaster.  In so doing, McQueen reminds us that O'Hallorhan is no larger-than-life Superman, but a courageous and talented human being who is simply doing his job.

At the end of "The Towering Inferno," O'Hallorhan is getting ready to leave when he stops and takes a look at the body bags for all the firefighters who lost their lives in the course of the evening.  McQueen looks quietly and calmly, without any sense of self-pity, but with a genuine sense of respect, sadness, and gratitude for their sacrifice, and turns and walks away.  As McQueen's O'Hallorhan exits, Paul Newman's architect sits on the steps outside the building with his girlfriend Faye Dunaway (in one of her most thankless roles) and muses aloud "I don't know.  Maybe they just ought to leave it the way it is.  A kind of shrine to all the bullsh-t in the world."  Newman's line helps underscore the whiney, defeatist attitude that turned me off to his character, Doug Roberts, and which probably turned McQueen off to the role when Irwin Allen originally offered it to him.

It's easy to see why McQueen was more interested in playing the fire chief, especially since O'Hallorhan ends the movie by looking down at the seated Roberts and telling him, "You know, we were lucky tonight.  Body count's less than 200.  You know, one of these days, they're gonna kill 10,000 in one of these fire traps.  And I'm gonna keep eating smoke and bringing out bodies until somebody asks us how to build 'em."  A humbled Doug Roberts can only look up to O'Hallorhan from where he is seated and respond with, "OK, I'm asking."  O'Hallorhan smiles and says "You know where to reach me.  So long architect."  O'Hallorhan calmly turns around, gets into the fire chief sedan he arrived in and, unlike almost all the other characters in the movie, leaves the same way he arrived.  As with the rest of their interaction in "The Towering Inferno," Steve McQueen remains in control of the situation over Paul Newman, even after the disaster has been resolved.

I always liked Steve McQueen better than Paul Newman.  There was always a genuine ruggedness about McQueen, both on-screen and off-, that made him more appealing to me than Newman, who always struck me as being entitled and elitist.  The stories I've read concerning McQueen's difficult childhood definitely gave him more grit and gravitas compared to Newman's bourgeois middle class upbringing.  Yes, both McQueen and Newman raced cars and rode motorcycles, but with McQueen it seemed more like a natural extension of his personality, whereas with Newman it always seemed affected, like he was a spoiled rich kid putting on airs.  Steve McQueen was a real man, whereas Newman always remained a pretty boy.  One thing I enjoy about watching "The Towering Inferno" is studying their interaction on-screen together.  They don't have any genuine chemistry, because I get the impression the two men don't particularly care to be acting opposite each other, but that tension and disconnect between them is fascinating and actually works in favor of the movie.  Newman always comes off in the movie as overly self-conscious as to how his character will be regarded because he designed the building, whereas McQueen doesn't give a damn what anyone thinks of him in the course of the story.  Newman's listless sincerity just doesn't seem as impressive next to McQueen's can-do self-assurance.  In so doing, Steve McQueen's fine work in "The Towering Inferno" helps to demonstrates how he was a cooler cat than Paul Newman ever was.