#337. French Action Exports

It’s hard to deny that the United States is the capitol of action films. Our big-budget summer blockbusters just scream, “Explosions! Guns! Michael Bay!” While it can be simple enough to recycle the same material over and over again in a formulaic fashion without leaving the country’s borders, sometimes American films can be from foreign countries. When I think of French films, I usually think of romances, intellectual dramas, and bizarre art films. Rarely do I consider French films to be in the “action” genre. And yet, sometimes French action films can be brought over to America to give their action a high-octane boost. Sometimes, with the experts of action behind the wheel, the films become better. Sometimes they might have fared better if they weren’t exported at all. This week’s two films highlight a few examples of French action films exported to the United States.

The TouristThe Tourist
Year: 2010
Rating: PG-13
Length: 103 minutes / 1.72 hours

While the action in an American version of a French film might be amped up, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a better movie. After all, a remake is still a remake, regardless of the country where its source material may originate. This fact isn’t necessarily constrained to action movies either. Diabolique (1996), the remake of the fantastic thriller, Les Diaboliques (1955), did poorly when compared to its French original. Similarly, Point of No Return (1993), tried to capitalize on the recent success of Luc Besson’s Nikita (1990), but to middling results. At least American audiences eventually received Besson’s films directly, with such gems as Léon: The Professional (1994) and The Fifth Element (1997). It seems Hollywood will grab up any foreign films that aren’t critically panned and will rush them into production, often to poor results. Look no further than the Anthony Zimmer (2005) remake, The Tourist (2010) for proof.

On a train to Venice as a tourist, Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp) is approached by Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie), who starts flirting with him, even going so far as to invite him to stay at her hotel suite once they arrive. Elise is doing this under instructions from her actual lover, Alexander Pearce. He wants her to throw the French Police and Scotland Yard off their trail by pretending that some random guy on the train is really him. As the chase continues, Frank finds himself in plenty of dangerous situations as the authorities continue to track him down in the hopes that they can retrieve the £744 million in back taxes. When the mafia joins the chase to recover the over $2 billion Pearce stole from them, the only way out of the situation is to reveal the truth. Of course, not only does Elise have her own secrets, Frank is hiding a secret of his own as well.

True LiesTrue Lies
Year: 1994
Rating: R
Length: 141 minutes / 2.35 hours

Remakes aren’t always bad. Sometimes, they can surpass their originals. For instance, most audiences will be familiar with Some Like it Hot (1959), but less familiar with the original, French film, Fanfare of Love (1935). Even good performances in movies like The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) might be lauded by audiences who merely hadn’t seen Purple Noon (1960). Directors will even take short films and expound them into feature-length affairs, just like Terry Gilliam did with 12 Monkeys (1995), an excellent adaptation of the “artsy” La Jetée (1962). Action films are relatively easy to transfer between cultures, but comedy can be a bit harder to convey with a straight adaptation. Still, elements of the comedy can be used as a framework to create a memorable film. For example, the main plot of La Totale! (1991) was utilized for the James Cameron comedy/action film, True Lies (1994).

Helen Tasker (Jamie Lee Curtis) is fed up with her husband. Because Harry (Arnold Schwarzenegger) isn’t paying attention to her, she’s craving adventure elsewhere. This was why she started contacting Simon (Bill Paxton), a man who claims to be a secret agent and is willing to let her help with an operation. Of course, Simon’s ruse is to merely get Helen into bed, but when the two of them are captured by a Black Ops task force, Simon reveals that he’s just a used car salesman. Helen, however, receives the opportunity to participate in a mission to seduce a mysterious man. In a surprise twist, Helen and the man, who is really her husband, are captured by Palestinian terrorists. As they escape their hostage situation, Helen learns that Harry isn’t a computer salesman, but is instead a Black Ops agent. The two of them team up to thwart the terrorists, saving their kidnapped daughter and the city of Miami in the process.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 exported explosions


#321. Marilyn Monroe

What makes someone into an icon? Is it an accumulation of moments and sound bites, or can a single picture cement an individual as a piece of our popular culture? We all know that “sex sells,” so perhaps the idea of an icon isn’t as accurate as saying someone is a sex symbol. For whatever reason, Marilyn Monroe is the de-facto sex symbol of American history. A few moments from her career and life have made her into a muse for an enormous amount of artists and entertainers, even if it is occasionally in parody. From her sultry birthday song to former President John F. Kennedy to the famous subway grate scene from The Seven Year Itch (1955), her suicide in 1963 only fuels the never-ending obsession with Hollywood’s favorite “dumb blonde.” This week’s two films highlight bookends to Marilyn Monroe’s film career.

Some Like it HotSome Like it Hot
Year: 1959
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 120 minutes / 2 hours

In the decade before the end of her life, Monroe was on a hot streak on Hollywood. She appeared in such films as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), which included the song “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” and The Seven Year Itch, with its aforementioned subway grate shot. In the height of her popularity, she even started her own film company, which released The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), the filming of which was the main plot of the biopic, My Week with Marilyn (2011). Part of the appeal of her roles in these films came from the “dumb blonde” persona. When she acted like a beautiful girl without a brain in her head, often comedy would ensue. If anything, it perpetuated a negative female stereotype. At any rate, one of her final films was none other than the classic, Some Like it Hot (1959).

Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe) is a singer and ukulele player for an all-female ensemble en route to Miami for a gig. When their train leaves from Chicago, they pick up a saxophone player named Josephine (Tony Curtis) and a double-bass player named Daphne (Jack Lemmon). When Josephine and Daphne join in on Sugar’s forbidden drinking, the trio becomes fast friends. Sugar bemoans the fact she can’t find a good man and hopes to turn her luck around with a bespectacled millionaire in Florida. As luck would have it, she finds such a man, but only because Josephine is actually a man named Joe. He and Daphne (nee Jerry) dressed as women to escape the mob. Donning another disguise as Junior, Joe woos Sugar but cannot keep the ruse up for long as the mafia soon finds the two men again. In a rushed kiss during their escape, Sugar learns that Josephine is both Joe and Junior and decides to run away with him.

All About EveAll About Eve
Year: 1950
Rating: Approved
Length: 138 minutes / 2.3 hours

Even with half a dozen movies under her belt, Marilyn Monroe was still relatively unknown by 1950. Often, a pretty face will get you in the door, but you need something extra to break through into stardom. By 1953, with such hits as Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and How to Marry a Millionaire, Monroe had finally grabbed everyone’s attention by simply oozing sexuality. What is interesting about her films before this point is seeing her in minor roles and thinking, “Isn’t that Marilyn Monroe?” Despite many of these earlier films not standing up well over time, All About Eve (1950) still remains culturally relevant. As the Best Picture for that year, All About Eve focuses on what it takes to get ahead in the theater. Interestingly enough, the heavily Marilyn-influenced TV show, Smash, revealed the same amount of backstabbing in today’s theater world as well.

Margo Channing (Bette Davis) is pleased to find an endearing fan in Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) and hires her to run some of the minutiae of her life. During a surprise party Eve set up for Margo’s boyfriend, Bill (Gary Merrill), Margo gets drunk and soon learns that her producer, Max Fabian (Gregory Ratoff), has agreed to audition the beautiful arm-candy of theater critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders). Miss Casswell (Marilyn Monroe) auditions with Margo’s new understudy, Eve. Since this was news to Margo, she starts to recognize the warning signs: Eve is trying to replace her. After all, the papers are touting Eve as an up-and-coming star who fits in the roles better than the “mature” actress that Margo has become. Now Margo is on full alert, but it is already too late. Eve has played the system and is soon recognized for her accomplishments.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 marvelous Marilyn Monroe roles

Bacon #: 2 (Some Like it Hot / Jack Lemmon -> JFK / Kevin Bacon)

#320. Jack Lemmon

Comedy has many styles. From the wordplay of The Marx Brothers and slapstick of the silent comedians to the “gross-out” approach of modern comedians, very few entertainers have a comedic style quite like Jack Lemmon. If I were to put a label on it, his comedy would be “reactionary.” Life can be so full of ridiculous and hilarious situations that Lemmon’s reactions to them make his comedy relatable to the “everyman.” There are plenty of tools in this reactionary comedy toolbox, not the least of which are the double take, the sudden realization, and the moment of disbelief. Jack Lemmon is a master of all of them and more, mostly due to his incredibly expressive face. Granted, Lemmon has also had many dramatic roles, but most people remember him for his comedy. This week’s two films highlight the comedy of Jack Lemmon.

The ApartmentThe Apartment
Year: 1960
Rating: Approved
Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours

Sometimes an actor’s comedy is due to their collaborative work with the director of a film. The Apartment (1960) was only the second film Lemmon did with legendary director, Billy Wilder. By 1960, comedies were Wilder’s bread and butter and both he and Lemmon would go on to collaborate on five more of them. Even their next film after The Apartment, Irma la Douce (1963), brought back Shirley MacLaine since their combined chemistry worked so well in the Best Picture-winning The Apartment. Lemmon earned two Best Actor Oscar nominations for his work with Billy Wilder. He would earn another with Blake Edwards (another comedy director) for his acting in Days of Wine and Roses (1962), even if two more of their collaborations together wouldn’t produce another Oscar nomination.

Bud Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is shrewd when it comes to advancing his career. While he might not have any exemplary skills, he does possess one thing that can give him an edge toward a promotion: an Upper West Side apartment. Because it’s far away from the suburbs and close enough to their work, some of the managers at Bud’s job have been giving him glowing recommendations for the shared use of the apartment to conduct their extra-marital affairs. When Bud’s boss learns of this, he wants in on the action, putting Bud out of his apartment for the night but compensating him for the inconvenience. Unfortunately, Bud’s date for the evening stands him up, which is made all the more surprising when he goes home and finds her unconscious in his apartment. Being the gentleman he is, Bud nurses the woman to health, spurring them both to fall in love with each other, despite the gossip at work.

Some Like it HotSome Like it Hot
Year: 1959
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 120 minutes / 2 hours

A single year after winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Mister Roberts (1955), Jack Lemmon received his first Best Actor nomination for Some Like it Hot (1959), which was also his first film under the aforementioned Billy Wilder. Lemmon would not win the Best Actor Oscar until Save the Tiger (1973), at which point in his career he began earning nominations for his dramatic work, including Best Actor nominations for The China Syndrome (1979), Tribute (1980), and Missing (1982). In total, Jack Lemmon won two Oscars with eight nominations. Perhaps in his aging years, the comedy did not come quite as quickly in his younger exuberance. Of course, he used both to his benefit in Grumpy Old Men (1993) and in its sequel, Grumpier Old Men (1995). Still, I feel his best comedic performance came as a cross-dressing jazz musician in Some Like it Hot.

Jerry (Jack Lemmon) and Joe (Tony Curtis) need a gig and a quick ride out of town. Unfortunately, the only open positions in a jazz ensemble they can find are exclusively for women. Not wanting to be associated with the mobsters they used to play music for, the two men disguise themselves as women and head to Miami. While Joe manages to adopt a second disguise to woo their bandmate, Sugar (Marilyn Monroe), Jerry’s female persona earns the unwanted attention of millionaire Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown). As Jerry keeps Osgood occupied so Joe can maintain his disguise as a fake millionaire, this eventually leads to Osgood proposing. Jerry accepts the engagement in the hopes that he can get a lot of money during the divorce when his ruse is revealed. When the mob comes around searching for them, Jerry and Joe need to act fast to escape again. It’s at this moment that Jerry learns it won’t be easy to leave.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 laugh-filled Jack Lemmon roles

Bacon #: 1 (JFK / Kevin Bacon)

#104. Cross Dressing

Sometimes dressing up can be fun and exciting, but it can also get out of hand. While costume parties give us a chance to be something or someone we are not, if we dress up outside of the confines of these socially acceptable instances, things can get a little weird. When it comes to employment, you should dress for the job that you want. However, this does not necessarily mean dressing as the opposite sex. Even though affirmative action is a reality in the workplace, how far would you go to take advantage of it? If a position requires that it be filled by a man and you are a woman (or vice versa), would you let that opportunity pass you by? This week’s two films look at some individuals who have resorted to cross dressing in order to obtain their dream jobs.

Shakespeare in LoveShakespeare in Love
Year: 1998
Rating: R
Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours

A long time before women were liberated from misogynist societies in power around the world, they were not allowed to do many things. In fact, most of the time the only purposes that men of those eras thought that women could fulfill were procreation and child rearing. There was a lot of backward thinking back then that restricted women to essentially the confines of the house. They were defined by their men and their men defined what they could do. With very few exceptions (the most prominent being the Queen of England), men were the primary workforce throughout the land. This even extended to the theater, where the roles of women were actually played by cross dressing men or boys who didn’t fit into “rugged” or “rough” categorizations.

Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow) is the daughter of a famous merchant. Unfortunately, this means that her role in life is to sit around looking pretty until she is married off to further her father’s business. Her true desire is to act on the stage, but women are not allowed to act: that is a role reserved for men. And yet, when she hears that playwright William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) is casting for a new play he’s writing, she jumps at the chance. Auditioning for the part of Romeo, Viola disguises herself as a man named Thomas and impresses Will with her acting skill. Of course, when Shakespeare finds out that Viola has been deceiving the acting company, he’s not mad . . . he’s in love. With Viola as his inspiration, he completes the play and moves into production. Unfortunately, since Viola didn’t play by the rules, it’s only a matter of time before she is forced back into her life’s destiny.

Year: 1982
Rating: R
Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours

Men in drag is often a comedic trope. Monty Python did it. Saturday Night Live did it. Tim Curry did it. In fact, one of the most famous movies about a man in drag was Mrs. Doubtfire. The purpose for the cross dressing in that film was so that Robin Williams’ character could surreptitiously become close to his family especially after his divorce. And while Tootsie is somewhat similar in plot (as is Some Like it Hot), it has Dustin Hoffman trying to get an acting job in much the same way that Gwyneth Paltrow did in the above, Shakespeare in Love. After all, being unemployed can drive many of us to do things that we wouldn’t normally do. Placed at #69 of AFI’s top 100, Tootsie is a good movie to show that sometimes the best way to respect women is to become one of them.

Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) is an actor who can’t seem to get a job. That is until a role opens up on a soap opera. Unfortunately, the role calls for a woman. In order to pay the bills, Michael takes up the persona of Dorothy Michaels and gets the part. While working on the daytime drama, Michael develops feelings for his co-worker Julie Nichols (Jessica Lange), as the director, Ron Carlisle (Dabney Coleman), falls for Dorothy. Everyone falls in love with Dorothy Michaels’ personality which causes the soap opera to become a success. When Michael finds himself in a corner, he has to come clean about his cross-dressing in an impromptu speech during a live taping of the show, which shocks the cast, but is a twist all too familiar to fans of soap opera.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 job gender reversals