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Posts Tagged ‘Alistair MacLean’

Damn, the Reaper appears to be working overtime so far in 2011, having taken British director Peter Yates last Sunday at the age of 81, and even if I would never have ranked him among my favorite directors, attention must be paid by BOF because he did do one of my all-time favorite films.  In fact, I’ve just learned—courtesy of the mighty Turafish—that he was also an assistant director on another, The Guns of Navarone (1961), and it seems Yates received Academy Award nominations as both the director and producer of Breaking Away (1979) and The Dresser (1983).  As a director, Yates will probably best be remembered for Bullitt (1968), yet in my mind he will always be associated first and foremost with The Deep (1977), from the novel by Peter Benchley.

Yates’s resume may have had more minuses than pluses (despite points for several episodes of Danger Man), although I liked The Hot Rock (1972) very much and enjoyed The Dresser, which my wife loves.  In my opinion, Bullitt was overrated (but then I’m not a big McQueen fan); The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) was just too damn depressing; Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976) was disappointing, considering its crazy cast (Cosby, Welch & Keitel); and Breaking Away was also overrated (except for one funny scene with Paul Dooley as the father).  I hated For Pete’s Sake (1974; Streisand and Sarrazin—strikes one and two!), had major script problems with Eyewitness (1981) and Suspect (1987), and thought The House on Carroll Street (1988) was, at best, so-so.

With social venues a wee bit lacking in our semi-rustic Connecticut environs, the future Madame BOF and I attended a lot of movies during our courtship, including Krull (1983).  I may not have seen it since, so I won’t presume to call it a guilty pleasure, but I think we enjoyed it at the time, especially the cool giant spider that for once wasn’t a tarantula, and that’s certainly on our list for another look, marking as it does an early appearance by Alexandra-fave Liam Neeson.  The point is that despite my reservations about some of his work—and it should be noted that many of said reservations had nothing to do with his directorial abilities—Yates did know how to put a picture together, which brings us back to The Deep, one of those films I champion in a decided majority.

All my life, water—and more specifically the ocean—has inspired mixed feelings of fascination and dread within me; I do love snorkeling, and hope someday to scuba dive, yet I have a fear of drowning (indeed, any kind of suffocation), and what might lurk in that vast and silent expanse can be just as terrifying.  For most people, the first Benchley adaptation, Jaws (1975), is the go-to reference point for such fears, yet while I am second to none in admiring Spielberg’s movie, I noted in my obit for David Brown that I remember the circumstances under which I hadn’t seen it better than I do my first viewing.  But I sure as hell remember when Dad took me to The Deep (which, perhaps not surprisingly, I think he liked less than I did), and the impact it made on me.

If need be, you can refresh your memory with my B100 review of the film, but I will elaborate a little on its effectiveness, especially the quantity and quality of its underwater photography (UP for short).  Say whatever you want to about other aspects of The Deep, but if you like UP, I don’t think you’re gonna find a more satisfactory helping than here and in my favorite James Cameron film, The Abyss (1989); in fact, I believe they set respective records for the amount or percentage of UP in fictional features.  In those days before Imax and the resurgence of 3-D, seeing that on a big screen was perhaps the closest you could come to being underwater, and John Barry’s superb score somehow gave one an underwater feeling, as he did in the Bond film Thunderball (1965).

Special thanks to my main man Gilbert Colon for excavating my earlier Yates roundup from his invaluable e-mail archives, thus saving me a lot of time reinventing the wheel with this new post.

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I’ve only recently become aware that Elliott Kastner, who produced my favorite film, Where Eagles Dare (1968), died of cancer at 80 on June 30; it’s a strange coincidence that he and the film’s co-star, Clint Eastwood, were born the same year.  By another curious coincidence, I recently covered his three Philip Marlowe movies (see “Everybody Loves Raymond, Part II”):  The Long Goodbye (1973), Farewell, My Lovely (1975), and The Big Sleep (1978).  Born in New York City, Kastner worked primarily in England, where he died in London, and was the stepfather of actor Cary Elwes, who appeared in his films Yesterday’s Hero (1979), Oxford Blues (1984), and Never on Tuesday (1988).

During and shortly after my tenure as a publicist at Viking Penguin, I had the honor of working with Jeffery Deaver on several novels, two of which, A Maiden’s Grave and The Bone Collector, were subsequently filmed (the former as Dead Silence).  Jeff was then working with Kastner on one or more projects that sadly never panned out, and being as good a friend as he was a writer—although I’m sorry to say we’ve lost contact—he very kindly arranged a luncheon.  Kastner disappointed me by saying he never did interviews, which would have been an even bigger thrill, but entertained us with stories of how he had recruited Alistair MacLean on Richard Burton’s behalf to write Where Eagles Dare.

It’s a common but understandable misconception that Eagles was based on MacLean’s 1967 bestseller, when in fact the story was first conceived as a screenplay and only then turned into a novel, which was published before the film was released.  It turned out to be Kastner’s first of four MacLean outings, followed by the now-elusive When Eight Bells Toll (1971); Fear Is the Key (1972), which marked Ben Kingsley’s film debut; and the Charles Bronson vehicle Breakheart Pass (1975).  All but Fear Is the Key were adapted by the author himself, and along with the non-Kastner Puppet on a Chain (1971) marked the only entries in the MacLean filmography on which he received screenwriting credit.

I don’t claim to be an expert on Kastner’s career, especially his later work, but he had a number of noteworthy films in his oeuvre, including his first, Bus Riley’s Back in Town (1965), a drama penned by esteemed playwright William Inge.  Jack Smight’s Harper (1966) followed, with Paul Newman as the renamed private eye from Ross Macdonald’s first Lew Archer novel, The Moving Target, although Kastner was not involved with Stuart Rosenberg’s belated sequel, The Drowning Pool (1975).  Following Smight’s crime caper Kaleidoscope (1966), he made a Peter Sellers comedy, The Bobo (1967), and his first film with Eagles director Brian G. Hutton, the drug thriller Sol Madrid (1968).

Clearly fond of continuity as well as literary properties, Kastner hired Hutton to direct X, Y and Zee (1972) and, after Roman Polanski was forced to flee the country, the Lawrence Sanders adaptation The First Deadly Sin (1980), featuring Frank Sinatra.  He also made multiple films with Marlon Brando, who starred in the kidnapping thriller The Night of the Following Day (1968); Michael Winner’s The Nightcomers (1971), a bizarre prequel to Henry James’s oft-filmed “The Turn of the Screw”; and opposite Jack Nicholson in Arthur Penn’s offbeat Western The Missouri Breaks (1976).  Winner also directed The Big Sleep and Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy A Chorus of Disapproval (1988) for Kastner.

Kastner produced screen adaptations of works by Vladimir Nabokov (Tony Richardson’s Laughter in the Dark, 1969), Iris Murdoch (A Severed Head, 1970), Donald E. Westlake (Cops and Robbers, 1973), Stephen Sondheim (A Little Night Music, 1977), Peter Shaffer (Sidney Lumet’s Equus, 1977, with Burton), Erich Segal (Man, Woman and Child, 1983), and Harper scenarist William Goldman (Heat, 1986), many of them scripted by their original authors.  He also made the occasional genre film, e.g., Roddy McDowall’s sole directorial effort, The Devil’s Widow (1970); Alan Parker’s Angel Heart (1987); and the 1988 remake of The Blob (1958).  But Where Eagles Dare was probably his biggest box-office success.

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