A number of years ago a good friend and fellow-cinephile (thanks, Mike), exasperated by another of my perpetual, irritatingly stubborn assertions of a Truth of Cinema--in this case, "Elliot Gould is a drip"--and after vainly trying to make me admit I was lying--either to him, myself, or both of us--by demanding I recognize that at least in M*A*S*H those things I claimed made Gould drippy--self-satisfied smirk, lazy approach to acting ("Well, here I am; whaddaya think? Aw, never mind."), and general air of smugness for being able to do nothing in particular except look vaguely like Groucho on downers--were actually assets--or at least were not as prominent as I asserted--insisted I watch The Silent Partner (1978), which would not only reverse my poles, so to speak, but force me to admit that my real problem with Gould was that he had fully participated with Robert Altman in the latter's deconstruction of private eye Phil Marlowe in The Long Goodbye (1973), a film I still cannot--oh, OK: will not--entirely forgive. Of course, my friend was more right than I was, even though I was still somewhat right to begin with. Elliot Gould in the '70s did seem darned pleased with himself. Problem is, once I noticed that, I couldn't see anything else. It was the relatively small pimple on the tip of a nose that, when noticed on another's, makes it difficult to look at anything else; and, when perched on one's own, leaves one cross-eyed. When it came to Gould, I was a little of both; but naturally I would not admit it.
It was difficult for me to soften--but I did, in large part because of my persistent friend's perfectly perfect recommendation of The Silent Partner, in which Gould's mild-mannered, tropical-fish-collecting, chess-problem-pondering bank teller, Miles Cullen (a name soaked in milk if ever there were one), gets wind of a plot to rob his bank, and he shorts the thief--Christopher Plummer in ultra-scary deadpan-cum-freakout mode, narcissistic, sadistic, sociopathic; in other words, many kinds of ick--keeping a large chunk of the loot for himself. The rest of the movie becomes a compelling cat-and-mouse game with an increasingly dangerous swticheroo, as cat becomes mouse and mouse, cat. The movie is such a cure for the condition I will call--if I may be stupid (too late you say, har-dee-har)--the galloping goulds, that I have been able to appreciate him in a number of later roles--Alby Sherman in Over the Brooklyn Bridge (1984), Harry Greenberg in Bugsy (1991), Reuben Tishkoff in the Ocean's movies--and, as the Internet Movie Database reminds me, even Rabbi Goldberg on Nickelodeon's Hey Arnold!--all quintessentially New Yawker roles that are easily forgettable--but not for me, because Miles Cullen smiles faintly behind their eyes and insinuates himself like an implied question in their voices. Miles gives me the strength to revisit the heyday Gould in Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice (1969), Getting Straight (1970) (alas, the only one not on Netflix), Little Murders (1971), California Split (1974), Harry and Walter Go to New York (1976)--and helps me to stop staring at that blemish, one I may have all-but-imagined anyway.
Besides--because I haven't forgotten the title of this post--The Silent Partner has four separate scenes of classic '70s gratuitous nudity, by four different actresses--including, when you thought it simply wasn't gonna happen, Susannah York. And why? It was 1978, you square, and you couldn't have a "sophisticated adult entertainment" without it. And now that I think of it, maybe not as gratuitous as it could be, since Gould's bank teller is supposed to be on the cusp of middle age--he was forty when the movie was made, and seems to be playing his age--and appears for a time to be out of place amid all that unaltered flesh--until he goes from mouse to cat, with the requisite grin and pounce, as ready to dally as to dispose of inconvenient corpses. Of course, such exposure is a female-only trope, although Plummer looks like he'd be up for it--please excuse the imagery--if only because messing with people's heads and then killing them might be more fun "peeled," if I may be at once delicate and creepy. But no kidding: before this most recent viewing of the movie I had forgotten all about it. Tells you something about either (a) the strengths of The Silent Partner's plot and performances or (b) the state of my pre-Althzheimer’s, in which I forget lots of things, but can still recall that I have forgotten them. Or something like that. Sorry; I have always found sudden nudity distracting.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
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