Foster Hirsch and The Crème de la Preminger


I’m worshiping Foster Hirsch’s Otto Preminger, The Man Who Would Be King, a gorgeously researched biography of the erratic, moody, but sometimes brilliant Hollywood director who wielded a whip made of chutzpah. Otto’s one of the main luminaries of my bad movie club thanks to some of his stellar misfires, like Skidoo (a lovably failed psychedelic comedy with a trash can ballet and Groucho Marx as a mobster named God), Such Good Friends (an erection-toppling marital satire featuring a b.j.-getting James Coco and a nude Burgess Meredith), Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (a feelgood film about a burn victim, an epileptic, and a disabled homosexual), and Hurry Sundown (one of the most high-lariously misbegotten racial epics ever made—though who can forget Burgess Meredith, fully clothed this time, muttering about ‘a syphilitic old [n-word] woman’?)

The hunky John Phillip Law has the amazing distinction of being in two of these kooky clinkers—Skidoo and Sundown—and having survived them, he gets to reveal a couple of fascinating things in the book. First that Jane Fonda felt she did her best work in Hurry Sundown! (I know she meant at that time, but even then, she’d done better! What about Cat Ballou? That actually won an Oscar and I honestly don’t believe Hurry Sundown did.) Also, that Law had turned down the immortal Midnight Cowboy (presumably the Jon Voight role) to do the loudly bombing Skidoo! Ouch. Not since Doris Day decided to costar in Caprice instead of The Graduate has there been a choice so. . . right for my bad movie club.

By the way, Film Forum’s current series of Preminger’s work omits Skidoo and Hurry Sundown, which I guess are considered embarrassing splotches on the face of contemporary civilization, and I’m madder than a disabled homosexual about it. I will never grace their doors again! But wait, all’s forgiven! The series just showed Bunny Lake is Missing, Otto’s twisty black and white 1965 thriller starring Carol Lynley (who runs through the whole film, probably looking for the Poseidon), Laurence Olivier (who’s half awake), Noel Coward (as an s&m fetishist with a little dog), and those ersatz Beatles, the Zombies. Bunny is a lost child who turns out to have been abducted by crazy Keir Dullea, the pretty boy Coward once wrongly shot down with “Keir Dullea, gone tomorrow.” After the screening, the still-here actor talked onstage with author Hirsch about how the real nutjob was Preminger, with his withering sarcasm and bullying screaming fits. “Remember Stalag 17, when he played the German commandant of the concentration camp?” asked Dullea. “That was Otto on a GOOD day!” Dullea also claimed that on the set of Exodus, Preminger grabbed young actress Jill Haworth, shook her violently, and ironically yelled, “Relax! Relax!” (I’m starting to perhaps understand why Haworth didn’t show up for her scheduled appearance at Film Forum the week before.) Dullea’s best day on the set of Bunny Lake? “The day I found out I got the lead in 2001: A Space Odyssey!”

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