Reviews — July 12
I suppose I should stop being surprised by the remarkable talent and range of Kirk Douglas, but he always catches me off guard. “Spartacus” forever cast him as emblem of chiseled masculinity, but he did much more. Take “Lust for Life,” for example, where he plays the painter Vincent Van Gogh, a role that requires him to lose his mind by the film’s conclusion.
The scenes of the painter’s descent into madness are convincing, but what sticks with you is his childlike naivete in some of the early scenes, particularly one where he barges into the home of a young woman he wishes to court. It clearly hasn’t occurred to Van Gogh that she’s just not into him, and he sulks away after holding his hand in a flame too long in a show of determination.
I’ve seen one description of the film as “slow.” I don’t understand that.
Douglas’ energy propels Vincente Minnelli’s film forward at a quick clip, and Anthony Quinn enlivens things further in his Oscar-winning portrayal of Van Gogh’s brutish colleague, Paul Gauguin. It’s not a transcendent film, but it’s entertaining enough, and inspires curiosity to learn more.
“Lust for Life” (1956) Directed by Vincente Minnnelli. Starring Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn and James Donald as Van Gogh’s brother, Theo. 122 minutes. Unrated.
I had mixed feelings when I spotted “Something to Remember You By” on the new book shelf at the McMinnville Public Library. I was excited, because I didn’t realize actor Gene Wilder wrote novels. Yet I was wary: What if it wasn’t any good?
In 1974, I fell hard for Wilder as the Waco Kid in “Blazing Saddles,” then fell again and again as I saw him in other classics — “Young Frankenstein,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” “The Producers.” He was so cute! So funny! And I was so 14!
How eagerly I anticipated seeing “Willy Wonka,” with Wilder as the title character in an adaptation of one of my favorite childhood books, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” But how disappointed I was when I saw the film, which was not only bad, but embarrassingly so.
Skip ahead 39 years, and there I am at the library, wondering whether or not to risk tarnishing my teenage crush further by reading “Something to Remember You By.” Yes, I decided; I’d give my Waco Kid another chance.
The 164-pages novel takes place during World War II. American medic Tom Cole, a Jewish musician who was drafted into the Army, is wounded in Bastogne.
Sent to England to recover, he is given the royal treatment by everyone he meets, including Anna, a comely Danish woman. She tells him she’s a radar operator with the British forces. But the morning after they declare their love, she disappears.
The radar service has never heard of her. But never fear — Anna actually is a VERY secret agent fighting against the Germans, so she and Tom are on the same side.
When Anna is captured, Tom volunteers to rescue her. This he accomplishes like Superman, mowing down a number of SS troops on the way. He rescues some French resistence fighters, too, easily defeating their Germans captors.
It’s a fine story with a happy ending, well worth reading.
But don’t expect nuances or complexity. The characters are one-dimensional: either very, very good or very, very bad.
Don’t expect a lot of description, either. Wilder, who’s penned four other novels, describes a bombing raid or a night of passion or prison escape in just a sentence or two. Maybe that’s the actor in him: It’s as if he’s writing a script, waiting for someone to bring it to life.
“Something to Remember You By: A Perilous Romance,” by Gene Wilder, 2013, St. Martin’s Press.