Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Failed Films, Fascinating Lives

Half a century apart, life does not imitate art but overcomes its shortcomings to tantalize us about the people who create it.

Just as Arthur Miller in 1961 stripped bare Marilyn Monroe’s psychic fragility in her last movie, “The Misfits,” a 2007 failure titled “Evening” unwittingly reveals more about the actors than the tale it unfolds.

Watching on Netflix out of curiosity about the production that brought together the brilliant Claire Danes and her husband Hugh Dancy, I found real-life fascination about others as well abounding in it.

In what was labeled by the New York Times a “miscalculation” and “kitsch romance,” Danes and Dancy fell in love despite a horrendous lack of on-screen chemistry--she as a wobbly narcissist and he an almost unplayable hysteric. Their scenes together, through no fault of theirs, are too soggy to betray a spark.

But there is so much more mismatching. Vanessa Redgrave unbelievably plays Danes as an older woman, who would “rather eat a grand piano than surrender the spotlight. Her character may be dying, but she’s dying importantly, with flattering lighting and not a pearl of drool.”

Heartbreakingly, Redgrave’s real-life daughter, the radiant Natasha Richardson, who would die soon afterward in an accident, plays one of her grown children, full of life and promise.

Late on, Meryl Streep turns up to underact as Redgrave’s blowsy old friend, whose younger embodiment is her own daughter, a beautiful Mamie Gummer who marries the wrong man in the mishmash.

Other talented actresses like Glenn Close, Eileen Atkins and Toni Collette emote but without much purpose.

But like “The Misfits,” “Evening” should be seen not as drama but unintentional biography. Back then, Arthur Miller’s farewell to Marilyn was not only a cruel exposure of an actress and a woman, it also revealed and probably even hastened the last days of two movie icons, Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift.

Both are occasions when the camera tells much more than those in front of or behind it consciously mean to reveal. Incorrigible old movie-lovers can’t help relishing them.

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