Friday, July 14, 2017

Movie review - "Sylvia" (1965) **

Michael Caine once wrote when he arrived in Hollywood in the 60s every male film star was called George - George Peppard, George Chakiris, George Maharis, George Segal. This one stars Maharis, a smug 60s type whose name I was familiar with but who I don't recall from much - his claim to fame is being in Route 66. He feels like a TV star. He's definitely not a film star - too bland, too smug. Maybe he would make a good villain.

This uses the Citizen Kane/Laura template of someone putting together the pieces of someone's life. Maharis is investigating, Carrol Baker is the subject. Maharis gradually comes to fall in love with Baker, which is a stock story line... it can work, but here Maharis doesn't meet Baker until the last half hour. We see them fall for each other but it's very late in the day and a bit yuck too because Maharis uses everything he's found out about Baker to get her to like him. It's like he's being rewarded for being a stalker.

I think we're meant to go "gee isn't he great for not minding she was a hooker and rape victim" but he's creepy. And Maharis plays him smug and creepily. Maybe it would have worked if first choice Paul Newman played the role but even with him it would have retained elements of dodginess.

The film is mainly of interest for a cast. It's structured to be a lot of two handers - Maharis interviewing someone, who gets a chance to do some juicy emoting. We've got Peter Lawford as a prospective husband, Ann Sothern as a drunken lady, Edmond O'Brien as an ex, Aldo Ray as a rapist, Viveca Lindfors as a librarian, Lloyd Bochner as another rapist, Joanne Dru as an ex-prostitute, Paul Gilbert as a nasty cross dresser, Nancy Kovak as a stripper. The quality of acting varies - there's a fair bit of ham going around.

And some bad writing. Sylvia isn't a terribly interesting character - men seem to like her and want to have sex with her; she's a loyal friend... but that's about it. Baker is okay in the role - I always like her, but she can't surpass the material. Maybe someone better could have made more of the role, but I doubt it (Jane Fonda? Natalie Wood?) At least she's got a bit of charisma. And even Vanessa Redgrave at her peak would struggle to make all that gunk about Baker's love of poetry and poetry writing work (and there's a lot of it, especially in the last half hour when she meets Maharis).

The whole film has an unpleasant sixties male vibe - with this man investigating a woman, as if he's going to understand her, and these censor-pushing items like two rapes (I mean two, come on...),  and a cross dresser and alcohol, and these women seeming to find Maharis super attractive (not just Baker but also Kovak and Lindfors). It's a misfire, only for completists of the actors.

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