The Salina Journal Entertainment Sunday, January 26,1986 Page! Hollywood stars shine in interviews By JOHN GROSS The New York Times PEOPLE WILL TALK. By John Kobal. 728 pages. Illustrated. Knopf. $25. In' 'People Will Talk" the film historian John Kobal has written up 41 of the interviews with vintage Hollywood personalities that he has been taping since the early days of his career— the first of them, featuring such veterans of the silent era as Dorothy Gish and Colleen Moore, dating from 1964, the most recent of them recorded within the past year or two. Their documentary interest is obvious, and even if you can't take the minutiae of the movies quite as seri- Review ously as Kobal himself'does, they make enjoyable and sometimes riveting reading. More than half those interviewed are stars or l former stars, all but one of them women. (The only god among the assembled goddesses is JoelMcCrea.) But Kobal has also found space for the testimony of choreographers, designers, several directors, including Lewis Milestone and Henry Hathaway, a producer (Arthur Freed of the M-G-M musicals) and some of the men who took portrait photographs for the studios — a special interest of his, and one to which he has previously devoted a full-length book. To say that "People Will Talk" is a labor of love would be a serious understatement. It is a labor of infatuation, of lifelong enslavement. Kobal begins by describing how he spent a childhood breathing and dreaming movies; how the first movie legend he succeeded in tracking down, when he was still very young, was Marlene Dietrich — he went to Toronto, where she was appearing, and bluffed his way into her presence by pretending to be a jour nalist; how when he met her, off-screen reality lived up to his most enraptured expectations, as on the whole it has continued to do ever since. Sooner or later, he reports, most of the stars he has met have given off the glow of whatever it is that makes them stars, and in writing about them he often strikes a correspondingly vibrant note. Playing back the tapes of his old interviews, for instance, he finds that Anna Sten's voice is "as high and bright as a chandelier and as light as a breeze stirring the crystals." Nor does he seem to have suffered from any tight-lipped inhibitions when talking to his idols. He is capable of telling someone — well, not just anyone, Joan Crawford—that her face has "wonderful truth in it," that it shows "not only great strength, but great sensitivity." (This was an observation the actress was more than ready to endorse: "Yes, I have tremendous sensitivity. And a tremendous shyness. Just tremendous.") Kobal's prose is not meant to be examined under the microscope, however. Most of the time he carries you along with him, while the main effect of the little dramas he stages in his interviews is to elicit animated answers. A less florid style could scarcely do justice to his material; a cooler approach could scarcely have conjured up so many memories or provoked so many candid opinions. For it is by no means always the case that people will talk. To get them to open up usually calls for the right chemistry, and for a considerable degree of skill. Possessing that skill, Kobal has assembled a rich spread of material — new items for the Errol Flynn dossier and the Louella Parsons dossier, aged Russian temptresses in full spate, Mae West expanding (if that is the right word) on her psychic powers, James Stewart trying to get his tongue round one of the more awkward lines in "The Philadelphia Story" ("You've got hearth-fires banked down in you, Tracy, hearth-fires and holocausts''). There are good jokes and not such good jokes, reassuring stories and horror stories, everything from the finer points of film-making technique to the hazards of being perched on a pedestal if you were a chorus girl in a big Busby Berkeley number ("She was scared purple 'cause she was scared of heights"). 'Chorus Line' fatally half-hearted Review By VINCENT CANBY The New York Times NEW YORK — Everyone was convinced that "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" could never be tamed for the screen, but Mike Nichols turned it into a group triumph for himself, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Though it was generally agreed that "Hair" would not work as a film, Milos Forman transformed it into one of the most original pieces of musical cinema of the last 20 years. Then they said "A Chorus Line" couldn't be done — and this time they were right. At one point or another in the last 10 years, just about everybody who is anybody in show business was asked to take charge of the film adaptation of this innovative, sensationally successful Broad- Best sellers way musical. Joseph Papp and Michael Bennett, the producer-director team responsible for the show, declined to work on the movie, and so, eventually, did Nichols and Sidney Lumet, among others. The job was finally accepted by Richard Attenborough at the time he'd just won the Oscar as the director of "Gandhi." Attenborough is listed as the director of "A Chorus Line," but what he seems actually to have done is to act as the escort to the screen of a reasonable facsimile of the show, not noticing it was dying en route. It's evident that Attenborough understood the problems facing him and his associates, including Arnold Schulman, who wrote the fUrn's screenplay. In the theater, "A Chorus Line" unfolds inside an unadorned, backstage setting with all of the spontaneity of the sort of group audition it records. The theater audience is in the privileged position of sitting in on an open call for dancers — "gypsies" — for the chorus of a new musical show. As the audition proceeds, the dancers become identifiable personalities, interacting with each other and with Zach, the show's no- nonsense choreographer, who remains a mostly unseen presence, a voice heard over the public-address system. Then- audition behavior and their stories are often corny, but Bennett's expert staging and choreography, and the fine score (music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban), combine to produce the kind of coup de theatre that seems to have been created in a single burst of • breathtaking inspiration. Attenborough has elected to make a more or less straight- forward film version that is fatally half-hearted. From time to time the action is interrupted by what Attenborough describes as "flashcuts," which are simply shorter versions of flashbacks, and which interrupt the narrative flow as effectively as a loud snore. Impossible to defend are some key casting choices and the overall staging. To the now beefed-up role of Zach, Michael Douglas brings a singular lack of charm and conviction. Equally without charm, and without special graces as a dancer or singer, is Alyson Reed, who plays Cassie. Some members of the chorus do stand out, especially Gregg Burge, who tears things up effectively in "Surprise, Surprise," a new Hamlisch-Kleban number choreographed by Jeffrey Hornaday, and Charles McGowan, who sings and dances "I Can Do That." N.Y. Times News Service (Last week's ratings in parentheses) FICTION 1. The Mammoth Hunters, Jean Auel (1) 2. Lake Woebegon Days, Garrison Keillor (2) 3. Texas, JamesMichener(3) 4. Contact, CarlSagan(4) 5. Secrets, Danielle Steel (5) 6. Cyclops, CliveCussler(-) 7. The Accidental Tourist, Anne Tyler (8) 8. Galapagos, KurtVonnegut (6) 9. London Match, LenDeighton(ll) 10. What's Bred in the Bone, Robertson Davies(lO) 11. The Storyteller, Harold Bobbins RobertA.Heinlein(13) 13. World's Fair, E.L. Doctorow (15) 14. Lucky, Jackie Collins (7) 15. Skeleton Crew, Stephen King (12) NON-FICTION 1. Yeager: An Autobiography, Chuck Yeager and Leo Janos (2) 2. lacocca: An Autobiography, Lee lacocca with William Novak (1) 3. Dancing In the Light, Shirley MacLane (4) 4. Elvis and Me, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (5) 5.1 Never Played the Game, Howard Cosell with Peter Bonventre (3) 6. On the Road with Charles Kuralt, Charles Kuralt (6) 7. House, TracyKidder(7) 8. Comet, Carl Saganand Ann Druyan 9. A Light in the Attic, Shel Silverstein (12) 10. A Passion for Excellence, Tom Peters and Nancy Austin (10) 11. Common Ground, J. Anthony Lukas (11) 12. Only One Woof, James Herriot( 13) 13. Made in America, Peter Ueberroth with Richard Levin and Amy Quinn (-) 14. You Can Fool All of the People All of the Tune, ArtBuchwald(9) 15. Smart Women, Foolish Choices, Connell Cowan and Melvyn Kinder (-) ADVICE, HOW-TO, MISC. 1. Fit for Life, Harvey Diamond and Marilyn Diamond (1) 2. The Be (Happy) Attitudes, Robert Schuller(2) - 3. Women Who Love Too Much, Robin Norwood (-) 4. Jane Brody's Good Food Book, Jane E.Brody(3) 5. The Frugal Gourmet, Jeff Smith (5) New books at the Salina Public Library The Two Mrs. Grenvules, Dominick Dunne ' The Secret Life of Eva Hathaway, Janice Weber Everything to Live For, Susan White-Brown Head of State, Richard Hoyt Fraternity of the Stone, David Morrell - ... Tone of Troll' is not clever By JANET MASLIN The New York Times "Troll" takes its inspiration, if it can be called that, from those late, great, bargain-basement science- fic- Review tion films that managed to be funny without trying. Innocence like that is not easily imitated, as "Troll" unwittingly demonstrates time and again. Directed by John Buechler, whose background is in creature- related special effects, and written by Ed Naha, "Troll" has a knowing tone that's more smart-alecky than clever. And it hovers uncomfortably between comedy and horror, without ever landing decisively in either camp. The film is as funny as it gets in a sequence that has Sonny Bono pretending to be a great ladies' man. "Troll" tells what happens when the all-American Potter family moves into an apartment building that has a haunted laundry room. They have barely finished unpacking when cute little Wendy (Jenny Beck) wanders into the basement and meets the hairy, wizened gnome of the title. The troll, whose name is Torok, casts a spell over Wendy, so that she herself can turn into a troll at will, and the rest of the film has to do with Torok's and Wendy's empire-building plans. They apparently want to, take over the entire building and turp. each apartment into a different branch of Fairyland. In Bono's apartment, for example, they turn Bono into a large, tendril-covered green pod. The special effects of "Troll" are mildly interesting at first, then much too excessive. The cast includes Michael Moriarty as the good- natured patriarch of the Potter clan (we know he's good-natured because he wears a pork-pie hat at a silly angle), Shelley Hack as the family's weirdly imperturbable Mom, Noah Hathaway as Wendy's justifiably suspicious brother, and June Lockhart as the elderly witch upstairs.
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