Thursday, December 16, 2010

Movies That Fell Through the Cracks # 64


Seriously, can you imagine a group of actors in 1974 that could be as bland as Charles Grodin, Candice Bergen, James Mason and John Gielgud? Seriously. I ask you! 11 HARROWHOUSE brought them all together that year in a British adaptation of a suspense thriller by author Gerald Browne. I never read the book but since it was fairly popular, I'm going to presume the characters weren't as dull in the original.

The plot deals with Grodin as a diamond cutter who loses a particularly important diamond to thieves who then use it to blackmail him into using his expertise (and his girlfriend) to get them even more diamonds. Oh, and then there's a cockroach. I hate cockroaches.

11 HARROWHOUSE received mostly positive press at the time of its release but was apparently issued in two versions--one with Grodin's character doing a running voiceover and one without, a la the later BLADE RUNNER.

Star Grodin had been a small-time TV actor who suddenly had hit it big two years earlier in Elaine May's THE HEARTBREAK KID. This was his next released vehicle in which he was also credited with "adaptation" of the script.

Speaking of Elaine May, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen's beautiful but fairly vacuous daughter Candice had been eye candy in a handful of movies since 1966's THE GROUP but really got noticed in cartoonist Jules Feiffer's 1971 CARNAL KNOWLEDGE, coincidentally directed by May's old comedy partner, Mike Nichols.

Actor James Mason had once been the well-respected villain of Hitchcock's NORTH BY NORTHWEST but more recently had been appearing in vehicles such as Burgess Meredith's THE YIN AND THE YANG OF MR. GO (Jeff Bridges's first real film appearance) and Eurotrash action thrillers such as KILL, KILL, KILL (aka KILL, KILL, KILL, KILL) with Stephen Boyd and Curt Jurgens.

One of the greatest stage actors of the 20th century, Sir John Gielgud had worked steadily in films for years but without ever attaining that same level of respect. Most of his roles were small and his vehicles were often either stodgy literary adaptations or particularly poor choices such as that legendary train wreck of a movie that is CALIGULA.

What's perhaps most interesting is that all of these actors went on to prove that they were NOT as bland as they seemed at the time of 11 HARROWHOUSE. Mason stepped into Claude Rains' shoes when he played the dry comedic angel Mister Jordan in Warren Beatty's popular 1978 remake of HERE COMES MISTER JORDAN, HEAVEN CAN WAIT. After that, he was appearing in A list movies again including as Watson to Christopher Plummer's Holmes in MURDER BY DECREE as well as opposite actors such as Gregory Peck, Paul Newman and Sir Laurence Olivier in other films.

Gielgud finally became a well-known film star late in life after his role as a condescending butler in the Dudley Moore/Liza Minnelli romantic comedy, ARTHUR, netted him an unexpected Oscar! He continued to perform regularly until his mid-nineties and died in the year 2000.

Charles Grodin appeared in a series of forgettable films, usually comedies, for many years but also became a surprisingly popular guest on TV talk shows which, eventually, led to him getting his own TV talk show which was, for a while, quite popular.

Undoubtedly the biggest revelation in all of this was Candice Bergen. After years of more forgettable performances in what should have been major films such as THE WIND AND THE LION with Sean Connery, Candice decided to try her hand at television and ended up as the star of an ensemble comedy called MURPHY BROWN...and she was FUNNY! Who knew? In fact, she developed a style so different from her earlier acting range that she gained legions of new fans (excluding Dan Quayle), won a number of awards, is regularly named as one of THE great sitcom characters on one of THE great sitcoms of its era and went on to continued popularity in other venues including most recently, BOSTON LEGAL.

So in the end, 11 HARROWHOUSE itself is not a bad movie...just a dull movie made at least a little more interesting by watching the stars you know are all going to be so much better elsewhere.

2 comments:

Robert M. Lindsey said...

I like Charles Grodin, who si also in Heaven Can Wait with James Mason.
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Booksteve said...

I didn't mean to give the impression that i did NOT like Grodin because I do. I just meant that he is and always has been a more subtle and less flashy performer than...well...just about everybody. My favorite of his starring ones is SUNBURN.