The Narrator couldn’t decide which of the two shows for this date he wanted to cover, so he decided to make this week’s article cover both. Please forgive his indulgences.
This is one of the rare Siskel & Ebert shows where Gene and Roger’s thumbs remained up for the entirety of the show. The first film they cover is The Fabulous Baker Boys, and Roger praises the three stars (Jeff and Beau Bridges, and Michelle Pfeiffer), noting that they had such charm, charisma, and chemistry (probably some other “ch” words too) that he never for a moment wasn’t interested in them, making the film’s old-fashioned showbiz story work like a charm. Gene also loved it, although he found more originality in the story than Roger did, especially in the way it refuses to play its story as a light romantic comedy, instead opting to go darker and be more grounded in reality. Roger agrees with Gene, and notes that he likes how the film parallels the Bridges’ characters being stuck in a rut and never being able to do what they want to do with Pfeiffer’s character finally getting a chance in life to do what she wants to do. Their next film is Bill Forsyth’s Breaking In (written by John Sayles), and right off the bat, Gene is impressed by Burt Reynolds’ solid, no-flash performance in the lead, as a burglar who decides to take a clueless kid under his wing. Gene also enjoys the unpredictability of the story and the well-drawn relationship between Reynolds and his protege. Roger likes it too, liking the off-beat moments that Forsyth and Sayles use to reveal character, and he concurs about how refreshing it was to see Burt Reynolds try for once.
Their next film is Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Roger starts his review by proclaiming it to be one of the very best films Woody Allen had made at the time (he’s right). He’s impressed by the film’s structure, juggling back and forth between comedy and drama, and he loves how the film manages to handle weighty questions about human nature while still operating like a thriller. Gene loves it too, noting that its questions of “Will this help my career?” and “Can I get away with it?” suggest nothing less than the very essence of the 1980s. He holds special praise for Allen’s presentation, which doesn’t cop out or cave in despite numerous opportunities to, and sighs that Allen’s incredibly pessimistic (although, as Roger says later, Allen himself called the film realistic rather than pessimistic) view of the world is probably completely right. Both Gene and Roger especially like it as a counterpart to TV and movies that hold “right-thinking” people on a pedestal and dutifully strike down those who misbehave.
From that to just about its exact tonal opposite, Gene and Roger cover Look Who’s Talking, and they both like it. Gene thinks that both Kirstie Alley and John Travolta are appealing as the leads, and he found the baby’s thoughts (courtesy of Bruce Willis) amusing, particularly the way Willis doesn’t even try to disguise his voice. He finds it to be very good for what it is, and so does Roger, who didn’t have high expectations for the film based on its Willis-heavy ad campaign, but praises Alley and Travolta in particular.
The last portion of the show pays tribute to Bette Davis, who died on her way from a film festival in Spain. Roger singles out her Oscar-winning role in Jezebel and her role in Mr. Skeffington to show her versatility even when she plays very similar characters. Of course, he also talks about her in All About Eve, as well as her feud with Joan Crawford when they made Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and her final film, The Whales of August, with another screen legend, Lilian Gish. Gene looks more generally at what her death means, at a time when the “women’s pictures” which Davis starred in had basically died out in favor of action and kids movies because they are no female stars on Davis’s level to keep filmmakers making them.
To put it gently, this show from 20 years ago is more mixed in terms of the quality of the films Gene and Roger cover. They start off with Roland Joffe’s notoriously misguided “adaptation” of The Scarlet Letter, and neither of the two are fans. Gene opens his section by expressing his disagreement with the film’s happy ending (geez, spoilers, Gene!), and the film’s general “playing fast-and-loose” policy with its source material (he isn’t a fan of the added nudity/violence, or the numerous scenes that were invented wholesale for the movie). He concludes by deeming it closer to Pretty Woman than Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel. Roger isn’t impressed either, not liking the film’s scrubbing of the Reverend Dimmesdale character from a hypocrite who fans the town on the mother of his child to a “regretful bystander” or its general message of “letting it all hang out in Puritanical New England”. Gene adds that the CliffNotes of the book are much more valuable than this film, with Roger chiming in that the film isn’t just valueless in comparison to the book, it’s valueless in comparison to anything. Their next film is a little bit better; it’s the documentary on gay representation in Hollywood, The Celluloid Closet. Roger likes its set-up as a movie-lover’s trip through a forgotten and ignored era. Gene likes it even more than Roger, stressing its importance and anger (especially as films begin to openly portray gays), and feeling that other minority groups could make documentaries about their cinematic history with the same structure.
The second big stinker of the night is William Friedkin’s Jade (right after Gene calls Friedkin’s Cruising “hateful”), which Gene calls so convoluted that he eventually just gave up on following it. He calls it “claptrap in luxurious surroundings” and says that it’s solely about “obnoxious rich people treating each other with contempt”, with sex scenes included solely as turn-ons for the audience. Roger’s first viewing (before they reedited the last reel) left him incredibly confused about what exactly happened, and this new version, while he brags that he could “probably pass a test” on it, isn’t much more coherent and it requires a great deal of thought to map out what happens with the two central mysteries, more thought than what went into Jade in the first place. Gene almost seems unwilling to engage in that kind of talk about it as a mystery, preferring to just leave it as what it is; trash.
Their next film is Wayne Wang’s Blue in the Face, a semi-sequel to Wang’s Smoke, using many of the same actors (including the lead, Harvey Keitel) and locations. It’s mostly improvised, and Roger feels that’s to its disadvantage, allowing the actors to get too broad and too indulgent for their own good, although he does enjoy it as a companion piece to Smoke, and recommends that those who liked that film see it and those who didn’t see it give it a pass. Gene saw and loved Smoke, however, and he didn’t like this at all, feeling it was much too self-indulgent, although he did like Harvey Keitel’s, as always, smooth and steady performance in the midst of rambling.
They next cover another adaptation of a classic novel, Les Miserables, which is updated for Nazi-occupied France (Jean-Paul Belmondo plays the film’s Jean Valjean, of sorts). Gene feels the film accurately captures the alternate epic scope and intimacy of Victor Hugo’s novel, and he feels the film breathes new life into the novel. Roger loves it too, especially enjoying how it takes the lessons of Hugo’s novel and applies them to World War II and to the world in general.
In place of the Video Pick of the Week, Roger does a Special Report where he travels to Madison, Wisconsin for a tour of several restored classic films by the Library of Congress, in an effort to spread the word about the importance of film preservation. He got to speak in front of an audience about one of the films included, and one of his favorites, Dr. Strangelove, which was in danger of complete destruction before its restoration. He also delivers the sobering fact that, at the time, more than half of the silent films that were made no longer existed. He also spoke to the Library of Congress’s film curator, who delivers an equally sobering fact about how every print of West Side Story was, at the time, faded beyond repair.