Showing posts with label James Coburn. Show all posts
Showing posts with label James Coburn. Show all posts

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Dervish Dust: The Life and Words of James Coburn by Robyn L. Coburn

The Life and Words of James Coburn
by Robyn L. Coburn
Potomac Books
Hardcover ISBN: 9781640124059
424 pages
December 2021

“I take in all the impressions and information [about the character]. And when the time comes for action, I just let it go. It’s jazz acting. It’s like when Sarah Vaughan sings a song. She sings the lyrics, but she doesn’t sing it exactly the way it was written. It bears her style. That’s the way it is with roles. Each character has a style. Once you find out the character’s style it becomes really simple.. You don’t think about it. You just let it flow.” — James Coburn

James Coburn was one of the coolest actors to ever grace the silver screen. With his tall, lanky frame, wide grin, distinctive deep voice and personable nature, you can't help but be drawn to him. He just seemed like the sort of guy that you could hang out with and come away with a really cool story or two to share. Coburn made some great movies, and some not so great ones, and he elevated each of them with his magnetic screen presence. His career was bookended with some fantastic roles as either supporting player or the central star in films like The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1965), Our Man Flint (1966), A Fistful of Dollars (1971), The Last of Sheila (1973) and The Affliction (1997), the latter of which earned him an Academy Award. Beyond acting, Coburn dabbled in screenwriting, producing and directing. He was skeptical of television but the medium brought him great exposure and an opportunity to appear in numerous shows and made-for-tv movies. Here was a man who was devoted to his craft, eager to take on new challenges and beloved by his fellow cast members. At the end of his life, he still worked tirelessly as an actor, enjoying a new wave of enthusiasm for his work after earning his Oscar. He and his second wife Paula created the James and Paula Coburn Foundation (JPCF) "with the aim of supporting several arts and medical charities" which is still active to this day. The world lost James Coburn two decades ago but what remains is a joyful legacy.

“Coburn’s intense desire to control his own career and not be part of projects that were subject to the misapplied priorities, as he saw them, of the studio bigwigs... When possible he liked being hired early so he could influence the development of the script and characters.” — Robyn L. Coburn

Dervish Dust: The Life and Words of James Coburn by Robyn L. Coburn is an excellent biography that really captures the spirit of its subject. The author is Coburn's daughter-in-law, who is married to Coburn's son James H. Coburn IV.  The book avoids the trappings of a familial biography with its straightforward approach and honest look at Coburn's life. The focus is primarily on his acting career but there are also plenty of stories about his childhood during the Great Depression, his education, his marriage to his first wife Beverly, their two children, the subsequent bitter divorce, his many romances, his second wife Paula and his debilitating rheumatoid arthritis. Among Coburn's hobbies were studying Eastern culture and medicinal practices, collecting art, smoking marijuana, training in martial arts with his friend Bruce Lee and riding his beloved Ferraris. The Coburn portrayed in the book is a complicated man who was both good natured and highly driven.

Jennifer O'Neill and James Coburn in The Carey Treatment (1972)

James Coburn with one of his Ferraris.

According to the author, Nancy Mehagian was recording conversations with Coburn in 2002 for a potential memoir. Unfortunately, Coburn died that same year. Dervish Dust is the Coburn memoir we never got to read. The author adeptly uses those recordings to channel Coburn's voice throughout the book. It gives the biography a more intimate feel. Overall, this was a compelling and informative biography. There was lots to glean from it. My only small complaint is that I wish they had used an image of James Coburn wearing his signature grin on the cover.

If you love James Coburn as much as I do, make sure you check out Dervish Dust and let me know what you think!

A big thank you to Potomac Books for sending me a copy of Dervish Dust to review.

Monday, November 5, 2018

A Fistful of Dynamite (1971)

Shon, Shon... Shon, Shon

Juan Miranda (Rod Steiger) didn't set out to become the hero of the Mexican Revolution. He just wanted to rob a bank. After a successful heist in which Juan and his extended family take over a coach transporting members of the wealthy elite, Juan sets his sights on something bigger: the Mesa Verde National Bank. He gets the idea when he meets John Mallory (James Coburn), a dynamite expert, I.R.A terrorist and fugitive on the run. Juan meets John, John meets Juan... it's destiny. Juan wants John on his team but John likes being a lone outlaw just fine. John finds a way to work Juan's bank heist idea into this own plans only to have Juan discover that the bank has no money. Instead it was a makeshift political prison. Juan just freed hundreds of prisoners and has been declared a national hero. But Juan's troubles are just beginning. The Mexican army wants to rid the country of the revolutionaries. When a major tragedy befalls Juan and when one of John's allies turns traitor, this reluctant duo must come face-to-face with the oppressive regime. It's a battle that culminates into one explosive finale.

I only learned one thing from you. - Juan
Oh what's that? - John
How to get fucked. - Juan

Director Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dynamite (1971) is a Zapata Western, a sub-genre of the Spaghetti Western in which the stories are set in Mexico, often during the Mexican Revolution of the 1910s. This sub-sub-genre sets out to take a look at the revolution that is vastly different from the Hollywood stories that came before. Leone's film has a long and complicated history. The story is based on an original idea by Sergio Donati. Leone and Donati fleshed out the story and worked with writer Luciano Vincenzoni on the screenplay. Leone didn't intend to direct the film. Both Sam Peckinpah and Peter Bogdanovich were considered but neither worked out for different reasons. For the two leads Clint Eastwood, Jason Robards, Eli Wallach, Malcolm McDowell and George Lazenby were all considered. In fact Wallach, who was initially reluctant to take the part, dropped his current project upon Leone's encouragement. However, United Artists had already hired Steiger for the role of Juan Miranda and wouldn't budge. As a result, Wallach sued.

There are so many versions of this film that it's hard to keep track. First off there's the title. In Italy it was released as Giu la Testa which translates to Keep Your Head Down. Leone historian Sir Christopher Frayling has said that Keep Your Head Down would have been an excellent title for the movie and I agree. Instead the English-language title was Duck, You Sucker, a line often repeated by James Coburn's character John Mallory. However that title wasn't going to jive with American audiences so it was changed to A Fistful of Dynamite, a reference Leone's landmark Spaghetti Western A Fistful of Dollars (1964). And in Europe the film was also referred to as C'era una volta la rivoluzione or Once Upon a Time.. a Revolution. The different releases worldwide came with different cuts. Several scenes were deleted or shortened depending on the market. For example, in one version the extended slow-motion flashback scene at the very end when John is remembering a menage trois with his girlfriend Coleen (Vivienne Chandler) and his best friend Nolan (David Warbeck) is shortened to 30 seconds essentially removing a bit of storyline essential to understanding John's relationship with Nolan.

A Fistful of Dynamite was shot in Spain and Ireland. While its set during the Mexican Revolution, the film serves as a general commentary of war, imperialism and is even influenced by the Italian political climate of the time. Several scenes were inspired by works of art depicting important moments in history. Leone's film has great depth that really can't be fully explored in just one viewing. I'm not well-versed in Leone's Spaghetti Westerns and I came to this mostly to watch Rod Steiger and James Coburn, two of my favorite actors. I was particularly fascinated with Coburn's John Mallory and the film's slow-motion flashbacks to his life back in Ireland. And the possible suggestion that John and Nolan had a romantic relationship. The movie meanders, takes its time with its characters and even with that explosive finale. There was no rush to tell the story and it allows viewers to settle into this world.  The true hero of the film though is Ennio Morricone's music. The various themes and the chants (Shon, Shon... Shon, Shon) are entrancing.

A Fistful of Dynamite (1971) is dark, gritty Leone classic ready to be rediscovered. It's available on Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber. When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thanks!'

The Blu-Ray contains two separate audio commentaries by filmmaker Alex Cox and film history Sir Christopher Frayling, 6 featurettes ranging from 7-22 minutes each, 2 animated galleries, 6 radio spots and several Sergio Leone movie trailers. The case comes with a reversible jacket.

Thank you to  Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of A Fistful of Dynamite (1971) on Blu-Ray to review.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Carey Treatment (1972)

The Carey Treatment (1972)

Dr. Peter Carey is too cool for school. This pathologist from northern California just landed a new job at a Boston hospital. He saunters into this new life dressed in hip clothes, with a swanky Beacon Hill apartment to live in and a gorgeous dietician to showcase on his arm. But he also means business and despite his chill look he’s got no tolerance for hypocrisy. His fellow doctors don’t know what’s coming to them.

The Carey Treatment (1972) is an MGM film directed by Blake Edwards and based on the novel A Case of Need by Michael Crichton. It stars James Coburn as Dr. Carey and a motley cast including Pat Hingle, Michael Blodgett, James Hong, Regis Toomey, John Hillerman, Mel Torme’s daughter Melissa Torme-March and the director’s daughter Jennifer Edwards. Opposite Coburn is actress Jennifer O'Neill who plays dietician Gloria Hightower and Carey’s love interest.

Dr. Carey’s first day at the fictional Boston Memorial Hospital gets off to a rocky start. The staff and other doctors don’t know what to make of him and he’s already causing trouble. He falls for Gloria, who is married to someone else but separated, and they quickly start a romance together. When Karen Randall (Melissa Torme-March), daughter of chief surgeon Dr. Randall (Dan O’Herlihy), dies in the hospital’s emergency room from a botched abortion Dr. Carey’s new best bud Dr. David Tao (James Hong) gets thrown in jail. Dr. Tao has been illegally performing abortions at the hospital to prevent desperate young women from risking their lives getting the abortions elsewhere. He didn’t perform Karen’s abortion and Dr. Carey sets out to solve the mystery of who really killed Karen.

James Hong and James Coburn in The Carey Treatment (1972)
James Hong and James Coburn in The Carey Treatment (1972)

"A doctor plays god in a lot of crappy ways. I thought this was a good way." James Hong as Dr. Tao

A mystery with a medical twist, James Coburn is both doctor and detective. I love stories of rogue detectives and this one fits the bill perfectly. If you don’t take the story too seriously, it’s a lot of fun. I love watching James Coburn in pretty much anything and he really shines in this movie. Unfortunately the female characters in the story are weak and they're overshadowed by much stronger male counterparts. Torme-March’s Karen is the object of mystery and outrage, O’Neill’s Gloria only functions to give the movie a love story and to add to Coburn’s sex appeal and the rest of the women just serve as obstacles who get in the way of solving the mystery. This is a lost opportunity to have a more balanced story. The film serves as a bit of a time capsule of the still pervasive sexism in the industry at the time. Even the press materials focused on Coburn’s macho character and O’Neill’s diet and exercise regimen.

The history of this film is a bit complicated. It was a difficult time for Blake Edwards who was losing creative control over his work with MGM. After he directed The Carey Treatment, MGM heavily edited it down to 1 hour and 41 minutes and Edwards asked to have his name removed from the credits. Unfortunately for him they kept the credits and an infuriated Edward fled Hollywood with wife Julie Andrews to Europe. Even the three script writers didn’t want to be connected with the film and were grouped together under the one pseudonym James P. Bonner. I would love to get my hands on the original script to see what they cut out! The Carey Treatment was an adaptation of Michael Crichton’s first novel published under the name Jeffrey Hudson. He wrote the book while attending Harvard Medical School and didn’t want to use his real name because characters were based on doctors he knew. The movie was originally called A Case of Need then changed to Emergency Ward and A Case of Murder before they finally settled on The Carey Treatment. Had the film been of better quality and more successful it could have easily been a series of Dr. Carey mysteries.

James Coburn, Jennifer O'Neill and the Boston skyline.

Boston natives, especially those who loves to see how the city looked back in the old days, will love catching glimpses of different neighborhoods. Dr. Carey lives in Beacon Hill, there are plenty of shots of the Orange line (one branch of our subway system), the USS Constitution, Comm Ave, the Charles River and the famous Boston skyline. If you look closely, you'll spot the John Hancock Tower still under construction. There is a fantastic shot of the Weston tolls on the Mass Pike. These toll booths are changing over and the original ones will disappear by the end of this month. This makes me nostalgic for the old days and it was nice to revisit this with the film. Coburn has a wild scene where he drives erratically down Atlantic Road in Gloucester which is known for it's seaside mansions. It was fun to see Atlantic Road, a drive my husband and I do quite frequently.

Despite its flaws The Carey Treatment (1972) is a fun movie. It oozes with 1970s cool and has some great dramatic sequences. There is a particularly creepy scene when Coburn confronts Michael Blodgett that still makes me squirm.

Warner Archive

The Carey Treatment (1972) is a new favorite of mine and I can’t wait to watch it again. I'm already planning a filming location search for this one.

This film is available from the Warner Archive on DVD-MOD.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I bought this movie straight from the WAC shop.

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