From Japan to France to New York: movies and a play

THE MIKADO was the second time Durham Savoyards have done Gilbert and Sullivan’s most famous show since I moved up here (there’s a limited number of shows so this is inevitable) and the lesser of the two (TYG agreed). The cast were in fine form, particularly the Southern-accented actor playing the arrogant, venal Pooh-Bah as a Boss Hogg type, and the play is great. However to get away from doing the story (involving an executioner, the heir to the Japanese throne and the old battle-axe he’s supposed to marry) as yellow-face they tried an unconventional approach: Koko is staging a fashion show, the models rebel and dress in the clothes of their choice, then decide to put on a show of their own, which happens to be The Mikado. That might have worked if they’d explained it in the program; as they didn’t (I believe it was in the publicity, but as I know I’m going I never read that stuff) I couldn’t figure out a lot of what was going on like the actors frequently (and obviously faking) struggling for lines. Still worth going to, but I’m more excited about Patience (one of my favorites) coming next year. “It’s a great insult to offer a Pooh-Bah money — but I swallow the insult.”

MY NIGHT AT MAUD’S (1969) has a lonely French bachelor reluctantly spend the evening with a friend and the man’s girlfriend Maud (Francoise Fabian, above). Maud is sexually liberated and obviously interested in luring the protagonist into bed; he’s a devout Catholic so instead they wind up having Deep Thoughts about love, sex and religion until daylight. Eric Rohmer’s direction makes this talk-fest surprisingly easy to watch: the actors body language, the sets and the camera work make it more visually interesting than, say, My Dinner With Andre. The intellectual discussion, however, wasn’t interesting at all (it reminds me of the journal Cahiers du Cinema‘s complaint that French films are all pretentious talk and no action) and I gave up midway through. As I was equally unimpressed the last time I tried Rohmer, I suspect he’s not my cup of tea.“Pursuing women no more estranges a man from god than pursuing mathematics.”

NERO WOLFE (1979) stars Thayer David as Rex Stout’s legendary detective (like a lot of older mystery characters, I’m not sure if he’s a legend to younger generations or just forgotten), who’d rather eat gourmet food or grow his prize orchids than actually put his brain to work on a case. In this TV movie (based on Stout’s The Doorbell Rang), a wealthy realtor (Anne Baxter) tells Wolfe and leg man Archie (Tom Mason) that the FBI have been harassing her since she gave away hundreds of copies of a book criticizing the agency (which lord knows, did lots that deserved criticism). Wolfe is reluctant to take on an adversary that powerful, but he could use the fat fee he’s offered … It’s a good yarn (and nice to see TV actually skeptical of the feds, instead of the tongue-bathing of recent shows such as Quantico) and David (best known for Dark Shadows) is really good as the cantankerous Wolfe. Unfortunately he died so this 1977 pilot sat on the shelf for two years, then we got a competent but not as satisfying William Conrad as Wolfe in the eventual series. Brooke Adams plays a woman in the case. “To watch Nero Wolfe pour a beer is a demonstration of precision; to see him drink it is an exercise in patience.”

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