Friday, June 19, 2015


Saturday, April 09, 2005

Pauline Kael

“In repose, Lily Tomlin looks like a wistful pony; when she grins, her equine gums and long, drawn face suggest a friendly, goofy horse. Either way, she takes the camera and holds it for as long as she wants to, with the assurance of a star. On TV, when she does one of her characters ... you feel that she is creating this character out of the possibilities in herself. She can make you respond the same way in a movie role conceive by others.... As Margo in the new detective film The Late Show … everything she does is a little off center. Margo is a nervous talker; her perceptions are faster than her ability to process them, and her conversation is a humming sound that she barely hears.... At first, Margo doesn't seem very smart, or particularly likable. But then she's so exhilarated by her prowess at driving a van away from a pursuing car that she cackles in triumph and begins to fantasize a whole new life for herself, and we see the gleam as she realizes that Ira Wells (Art Carney), the old private investigator who has been trying to find her cat, may be overweight and out of condition but he's different from the other men she knows. An instant later, she suggests that they could become a team like Nick and Nora Charles. Without any encouragement from the embarrassed yet pleased senior citizen, she dreams on, higher and higher, and her euphoria is openhearted. Lily Tomlin has the magical timing to do this dizzy, difficult scene in character and make it seem totally unrehearsed. If anyone else were playing Margo, she might be a mere kook; Tomlin makes her a genuine eccentric--she isn't just the heroine, she's the picture's comic muse.”

Pauline Kael
The New Yorker, February 7, 1977
When the Lights Go Down, p.?

Friday, April 08, 2005

Andrew Sarris

“I cannot in all good conscience pose as a consumer consultant in my review of Robert Benton's The Late Show. Not only is Benton a close friend but, in addition, he let me look at his script at an early stage, and we discussed possible revisions….

“As it happens, I remain a great believer in critical distance…. [Where the critic is present during production itself:] In extreme cases of emotional transference, the critic may begin to imagine that he or she is part of the production team. I am reminded of Walter Cronkite's bursting into tears when a rocket exploded on the launching pad back in the early days of the space program. He had been covering the preparations for the launch for such a long time that his own hopes and fears had somehow crept into the rocket….

“As far as I can ascertain, The Late Show does not seem to have blown up on the launching pad. How high it will soar may depend upon the peculiar chemistry of Art Carney and Lily Tomlin. And, amid all my disclaimers, there is a tale to tell about this particular casting. On my first reading of the script, Art Carney's Ira Wells struck me as the one juicy part in the picture….

“Yet, Benton's initial preoccupation with Ira Wells in the script may have contributed in the beginning, before production, to the strained whimsy of Lily Tomlin's Margo, an updated kook of a Lauren Bacall sidekick for the aged hero. The Margo character never seemed to come to life on the printed page. She was both too much and not enough as a kind of talk-song nag on all the new fads and foibles. It was much too easy for Ira Wells to put her down--so easy, in fact, that she seemed at times to resemble Mary Hartman trapped in reruns of The Honeymooners. Margo needed a lot of work before she could hold her own on the screen. At an early cut of The Late Show I was startled to discover how much Tomlin had gotten out of her part, but there were still moments when Carney and Tomlin seemed to be communicating on different wavelengths. In the final version of the film, however, Tomlin breaks through in a way I never thought was possible with this role. That funny, vulnerable expression of hers--half smile of complicity, half grimace of remembered rejection--seems to have been given more play in that bugaboo of modern film aesthetics, the reaction shot. The rhythms of her line readings stretch and contract to the promptings of some inner drum but without her ever losing contact with the characters on the mystery merry-go-round.

“The Late Show succeeds, therefore, primarily as a love story full of the most outrageous incongruities. Onscreen, Ira Wells comes out of his shell to an extent that seemed inconceivable in the original script. This may not be due so much to any great camaraderie between Carney and Tomlin but rather to a method of putting a picture together by implicational cutting, that is, by suggesting connections between the characters that may not exist between the performers. Above all, Ira and Margo are never lost on location in Los Angeles….

“My own feeling is that The Late Show is a very good movie in which the lyricism prevails over the drama…. Benton has had to walk a tightrope over an abyss of posturing nostalgia and asshole paranoia. It is so hard to make a good little picture in this age of colossal claptrap that Benton's own efforts strike me as heroically dedicated. But he could never have pulled it off if Carney, and particularly Tomlin, had not performed above and beyond the call of duty. Consequently, The Late Show glows with the good spirits of a fun movie felt from within.”

Andrew Sarris
Village Voice, date ?

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Stanley Kauffmann

“[T]he initial idea is clever enough, but all the script does is have that idea and then, in terms of invention, it quits. The egg is laid but not hatched. Still that idea is appealing: a private-eye picture about Los Angeles today, à la Raymond Chandler, only the hero is an ailing old retired private detective, and the woman, instead of being sleek and dangerous, is a Hollywood whacko, a bit drugged out and transcendentally meditated and nature-fed.

“The woman is played by Lily Tomlin who gave Nashville its most valid moments as the married woman who knowingly let herself be used by a rock star. Here again Tomlin is lovely. She has an instinct for truth which she handles unsentiously. Easily and delicately she creates this Hollywood nut whirling continually in a flurry of impulses as self-protection for central insecurity.

“Art Carney is a different story…. Carney hasn't grown [since his television days], beginning with his face. It never was much of a face except for mugging, and now it's the kind of older man's face that, in a slightly obscene way, has remained babyish. Think of Lily Tomlin's face as it will be 30 years from now. That's the difference.

“Well, after the initial gimmick in character and casting, Benton has to fill in two hours, which is where he fell down….”

Stanley Kauffmann
The New Republic, March 12, 1977


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

David Denby

“…. [Ira Wells'] opposite in every way is Margo (Lily Tomlin), a young Californian (maybe 35) who is hopelessly, obsessively garrulous, launching into sentences before she has any idea what she wants to say. Margo is one of those people who seem to do a little bit of everything (acting, pushing drugs, transporting stolen goods, running "errands" for people, etc.) without ever settling into a job or even a fixed identity. Adrift in a sea of "self-realization," she's been through so many kinds of therapy and has so much jargon banging around in her head that she can't utter three sentences without contradicting herself; she’s the type of woman who spends more time analyzing her relationships than actually having them. And yet she has a gift that makes her almost wonderful, a gift of empathy: she knows what it is to be a human being. She falls in love with Wells, who's too tired and lonely to ditch her.

“The Late Show's writer and director, Robert Benton, … deserves our gratitude for having invented these eccentric yet utterly plausible characters and gotten Carney and Tomlin to play them….

“From the beginning, the odd couple of Carney and Tomlin carries the film. Earlier in their careers, both these actors found a large audience by working in a broad, caricature style; in The Late Show the caricatures have disappeared yet the comedic energy is still there, refined and subtilized, flashing out at crucial moments.... In The Late Show, most of the comedy comes from Carney's stolid resistance to Tomlin's nutbrain chatter. Locked together in a peculiar intrigue that neither of them understands (nor do we), they're like a bear and a wet hen sharing a cage and trying not to get in each other's way. Tomlin's long riffs have nothing to do with the thriller plot; all her talk has to stand on its own and interest us for its own sake (a terrible burden for any actor), and yet Tomlin almost never falls back on the tricks and mannerisms she knows we like. Keeping those gums well-covered, she makes saucer eyes at us only once or twice as she races through the nonsense with a reckless assurance that takes your breath away.

".... The suspense of The Late Show is almost entirely pleasurable: we may not know what's going on half the time, but we care a great deal about these two people, and that makes up for an awful lot.

David Denby
Boston Phoenix, March 8, 1977

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Stephen Farber

“…. The Late Show … is a sweet, likable homage to old-fashioned detective movies, flavored by some wry dialogue and affectionate performances. Benton dramatizes an encounter of two people who might have come from different planets: An aging private eye who still holds to the chivalric ideals of the forties is hired by a flipped-out, screwed-up victim of all the fads of the seventies.... With the generosity of a true star, [Art Carney] yields to Lily Tomlin, who displays her superb comic timing along with qualities of warmth and humanity that make her irresistible. The developing relationship between Carney and Tomlin holds the movie together.

“…. The Late Show is disappointing because it is too resolutely "little"; one might almost call it defiantly minor….

“However, the basic problem with this film is the detective genre itself….” [misleading, by itself?]

Stephen Farber
New West, date ?

Saturday, April 02, 2005

David Ansen

“…. Nor is The Late Show a madcap comedy, though half the audience, lured by Tomlin's name, clearly expects as much. The laughs are there, but the movie isn't built to milk them; they emerge from the incongruous gulf between Carney's laconic loner and Tomlin's garrulous, unmoored eccentric, like weeds sprouting spontaneously between the cracks of an L.A. sidewalk. Benton himself thinks of The Late Show as a love story, and certainly it's the growing, begrudged feeling that blossoms between these two disparate sidekicks that gives the movie its offbeat, beguiling charm. Like the Forties thrillers that inspired it, the romance slips in sideways, unarticulated, as befits a sleazy milieu where declarations of passion are sure signs of a setup....

“"You're a slob and I'm a Virgo," explains the hyperventilating Margo in a scene that is the undisputed emotional high point of the movie. Having saved their lives from an assassin by careening her van off the road and crashing across the front lawns of a sedate neighborhood (a chase scene that miraculously puts the fun back in car chases), Margo is tripping on the rush of danger. "I feel like I just dropped acid" she exults, her former contempt for detection turned into a schoolgirl's delirious desire to play Nick and Nora Charles for the rest of her life. Ira's excited too, but he lives by a code--the Philip Marlowe code--that won't allow him to show it. And this Margo is just too dizzy: no way they could ever be a team. "I'm a loner, doll, I've always been a loner, and I always will be," her demurs, echoing every hard-boiled shamus in the annals of pulp fiction. Margo's a loner too, but her code changes every day, every hour, with every contradictory sentence she utters. Actress, dress designer, small-time dealer and occasional runner of hot merchandise, she "goes with the flow" like a ship without an anchor, not by choice but by necessity.

“What this scene craftily, touchingly suggests is that both their lives are fiction, even if their genres are radically different. Margo's fiction fluctuates flakily with every changing breeze of the L.A. Zeitgeist. Ira's solidified in the Forties. Like Elliott Gould's Marlowe, he's on a different wavelength from the rest of the world, a courageous anachronism determined to prove himself by standards everybody else has tossed aside. Whereas Marlowe willed himself into a Forties persona, Wells has no option: he's the genuine article. Like The Long Goodbye, The Late Show is as much about movies as about life--or rather about the intermingling of the two. Ira and Margo are the products of two different pop cultures, the Forties and the Seventies, coming to terms with each other in a mutual fiction that can accommodate them both.

“It's therefore appropriate, if disquieting, that Art Carney and Lily Tomlin initially seem to be acting in different movies. The problem for me was that while I instantaneously accepted Carney as Ira Wells, it took some time before I could get beyond Lily Tomlin to Margo. My admiration for Tomlin approaches idolatry; I'd stay home glued to the set to watch her in anything, which perhaps explains why I'm oversensitive to her mannerisms. Yet in Nashville I had no trouble, so submerged did she seem in her role. There's a lot of shtik in Margo's character; she could easily take her place alongside Susie Sorority or Bobby Jeannine the cocktail organist in Tomlin's brilliant repertoire of characters. Benton calls the character a collaboration, and there are times that make it quite clear she had a hand in the writing.

“If Tomlin stands out, she stands out delightfully. With another actress in the part, Margo could have degenerated into cute kookiness, a condescending hippy-dippy joke left over from the Sixties. Tomlin's gift is that she can do a comedienne's turn and at the same time bring real pain, joy and confusion into the part. Her originality as a stand-up comic isn't simply her fresh material, it's in the way she blurs the boundaries between comedy and drama. Are you watching a routine or a slice of life? You laugh and empathize simultaneously; what starts as a put-down turns into self-revelation. There's a little of Imogene Coca, Elaine May and even Lenny Bruce in her, but none of them vanished so utterly inside a part. It was clear long before Nashville that she had the makings of a gifted actress. If the wires occasionally show in her Late Show performance, it's the hazard of the role--it's essentially a solo flight, and she has to walk the thinnest line between parody and pathos. That she never falls off is a remarkable accomplishment.

“Art Carney, on the other hand, is invisibly effective….

“Benton is so fond of Margo and Ira his movie comes out a bit lopsided…. [Y]ou realize after the crime's solved that you don't know any of the criminals, or particularly care. But because you care so much about Ira and Margo, it's a minor drawback. The loose threads in Hawk's Big Sleep never spoiled our pleasure in the movie and the same holds true for The Late Show….

“…. [Regarding the script,] I would argue only with Benton's resolution of Ira and Margo's relationship, which falls a little flat on the screen. To me, The Late Show is a love story whose poignance is in its transience, not its continuation. The thrust of Tomlin and Carney's performances, shooting off in different directions and meeting, magically, in the heady excitement of danger, doesn't point to the ending we're given…. But this is back-seat driving, and I'm grateful for what The Late Show, warts and all, has pulled off. It reminds us of the major satisfactions that little movies can provide….”

David Ansen
Real Paper, date ?