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The Toronto Star from Toronto, Ontario, Canada • 120

The Toronto Stari
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
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1 1 vh tt THE TORONTO STAR Sat June 26 1976 5 TRUM AN CAPOTE Eccentric millionaire Oo ydf Bl JI tsJ ALEC GUINNESS Butler with a puzzling name RS 'S aj IIBSb Hfcl PETER SELLERS Sly Oriental 'ys KKln Neil Simon film comedy is a soggy disappointment S' I Movies Clyde Gilmour AUTHOR Neil Simon a given me plenty of laughs in the past on both stage and screen Perhaps I should just be grateful for that and not complain too much about Murder by Death But this original movie comedy written in Hollywood by king of one liners strikes me as a soggy disappointment at the Hyland Humber and several other Odeon theatres An elaborate spoof of the mystery movies of long ago Murder by Death seems to me to offer three or four good laughs and half a dozen chuckles True enough a lot better than no laughs at all But still a deplorably thin cargo of mirth in a 93 minute entertainment from the pen of the erstwhile merry fel low who gave the world Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple Not to mention his new smash hit on Broadway California Suite In current movie contralto voiced Truman Capote ap pears as an eccentric American mil lionaire named Lionel Twain He is convinced he is the greatest detective Celebrated sleuths To prove his point he sends out letters unstamped insufficiently addressed to five celebrated sleuths Each letter reads: are cordially invited to dinner and a All five respond promptly and make their way to fog shrouded English style manor house in northern California Their names their initial appearances and the actors who play them promise more hilarity than is ever delivered Peter Sellers portrays Sidney Wang a sly Oriental accompanied by his dim witted 3 David Niven is Dick Charleston a debonair retired private eye He has a rich wife named Dora (Maggie Smith) and a pet dog named Myron Peter alk is a Bogart voiced San rancisco investigator named Sam Diamond With him is his hardboil ed secretary mistress (Eileen Bren nan) He calls her either or Also in the group is Elsa Lanches ter as a famous English crime solv er named Miss Jessica Marbles Her ancient nurse (93 year old Estelle Win wood) is with her But the nurse who needs the nursing She never leaves her wheelchair And from Belgium comes the plump wax moustached gluttonous Milo Perrier (James Coco) He is petu lantly guarded day and night by his faithful chauffeur (James Crom well) The distinguished guests are vaguely and confusingly greeted by Twain's blind elderly butler (Sir Alec Guinness) whose puzzling name is Bensonmum Benson Mum: No help at all is the new kitchen maid (Nancy Walker) a deaf mute The host himself keeps popping up and vanishing mysteriously He vows be a murder at midnight and $1 million tax free to the one who solves it At the start of the screening I at tended jubilant anticipation was in the air After 15 minutes however clammy disillusionment had settled in like one of Lionel manu factured fogs We just get ting enough laughs And the themes of Neil jests had begun to look mean and anti human Clearly we were being encouraged to slap our thighs over the fumbling inadequacies of people who can't see hear speak or go to the washroom without assistance What next to giggle at? Leukemia? Torture in Chile? Child molesting? But what about those side split ting Neil Simon one liners? he keep dishing them out as usual? Well as a fair sample I offer you the scripted lulu we are given after Bensonmum murmurs to Dick and Dora Charleston: taken the liberty of putting you in the same wing as Mr The suave martini sipping Sleuth instantly says to his spouse: that nice darling? in Har dee har har Repeated joking is attempted over the fact that the rench idiom ce sounds a bit like and is therefore pre sumed to be a beverage When Miss Marbles smells some thing nasty in her bedroom she cries out: heavens! Whereupon her decrepit companion poutingly replies: help it I'm On credit side On the credit side actor alk does a better than average Bogart He is quite funny when he coarsely de clares to the fastidious Charleston that the best sex date a man can ever have it with big fat blonde and offers to find him one Sellers plays his Chan like role with easy skill though he dis guise the fact that it is thinly writ ten creepy mansion is a dandy set And there are some fair sight and sound gags including a stuffed moose with watchful eyes and a doorbell that emits a piercing scream On the whole however I felt a let down or me the laughs are scarce in Murder by Death and in a Neil Simon laughter is the name of the game The director Robert Moore used to call the shots on the television comedy series Rhoda This is his first movie for the big screen It hardly adds up to an over whelming debut ELSA LANCHESTER English crime solver 6 JMT 38 gflr Wil i JAMES COCO Gluttonous Belgian ESTELLE WINWOOD Nurse who needs nursing b99eB estivals add theatre to list of special summer pleasures By GINA MALLET Star staff writer Morley Callaghan the Grand Old Man of Canadian letters will be the star of this Peterborough Summer estival The first show of the festival which opens on July 2 will be the world premiere of play Exit the Witch' a family drama that focusses on the rending struggle of father and son Callaghan actually wrote the play years ago then recently revised it for publication in his son literary quarterly Exiles boys at the Peterborough estival read it and wanted to do it with a non Equity Callaghan Sr explained in a recent interview said: not? Maybe it will be very interesting It may catch The play will be staged in Trent Wenjack Theatre about 90 miles east of Toronto Callaghan 73 has' flirted with the theatre before During the 1940s when he appeared to have tun dry of novels he wrote a couple of plays that were optioned by a Broadway producer Nothing came of the deal however Then one of the plays To Tell the Truth was presented at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in 1947 and he says now (Star drama cri tic) Cohen was nuts about charm Recently the Royal Shakespeare Company wrote to him about To Tell the Truth he said just want to get in volved Nothing is as time consum i as the theatre Something always seems about to happen so you do anything else You can do more talking about the I suppose its Callaghan does not want to be dis tracted just now He is finishing a new novel Too Close To The Sun and about two weeks know if very That mean that Exit the Witch important to him He describes it as something of a prodigal son story manque a point long wanted to make I happen to believe the prodigal son quit on the job You cannot simply use home and family as a place to be loved I get so tired of people who explain their whole lives on the basis of what happened at home think the family is at the core of society amily feeling is important in North American life gone to the dogs completely not mourn ing the loss of family authority the English governor feeling at all But family should be the core of social love and if it there it in society think got to start looking at families Now all we have is junk Hope for discovery Callaghan may not even leave his Rosedale house to attend the open ing of Exit the Witch not going to run down the street crying Hot he explained just hope someone will discover Exit the Witch will be playing each weekend from July 2 to Aug 29 along with two other Canadian plays Joseph Wa a Quon Asin: Grey Owl (another world premiere) and Donald Exit Muttering The plays will alternate weekly each running from Tuesday through riday Of course summer festivals are 73 YEAR OLD AUTHOR Morley Callaghan says he Exit the Witch which has its world premiere at this makes a point long wanted to make in his play Peterborough Summer estival starting July 2 Urf 1 Vt (f A Jk a 4 i hl iff 5 4 i mainly lighthearted affairs enjoyed as much for the scenery as for the theatre The best of them offer lakes and streams to picnic by before the show The show itself is often as sweet as strawberries and cream or instance the Kawartha Sum mer estival in Lindsay only a few miles from Peterborough is offering two months of light comedies Notable among the Kawartha productions are the world premiere (July 20 24) of Martin Lager's The Magnificent Slow Poke a double bill of Michel Surprise Surprise and Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound (Aug 17 21) and Way by Gwen Pharis Ringwood (Aug 10 14) Another pretty setting is Barrie where the Gryphon Theatre's pres tige production is Eugene early autobiographical sketch Ah Wilderness running from July 19 to 24 Harvey the play about the rabbit opens the season on July 5 and runs for five days Also included in the two month pro gram 55 miles north of Toronto are Neil The Prisoner of Second Avenue The Moon Is Blue by Hugh Herbert and Herb A Thousand Clowns The Huron County Playhouse at Grand Bend 13 5 miles west of Toronto opens on June 30 with the comic strip musical a Good Man Charlie Brown A diet of froth follows including Neil Star Spangled Girl Irma La Douce and Warren melodrama The Mumberly Inheritance rom Aug 4 to 7 the company will briefly step out of character and into Jean sourly funny Waltz of the Toreadors Stouter fare is to be found at the Blythe Centre for the Arts 15 miles east of Goderich where four Cana dian plays will be presented from July 3 to Aug 14: Lister The Blood is Strong Alice Munro's 1 How I Met My Husband last sea liit Mostly In Clover and a new musical about the Olympics by 7 Jim Schaefer Muskoka Summer Theatre about 110 miles north of Toronto celebrates its 29th season 5 this year with a play about the most famous son Dr Nor man Bethune who accompanied 7 Mao Tse tung on his Long March in China Muskoka has commissioned the play Dr Norman Bethune A Pil Progress from Carol Bolt 1 and it will be presented from Aug 31 to Sept 4 rom July 12 to Aug 28 two companies will be performing i two theatres) a repertory of See How They Run Rhythm and Madness Barefoot in 7 the Park and a Good Man 1 Charlie Brown Chekhovs work a reflection of his life WHEN Russian literary historians publish the private letters of Anton Chekhov they erase all the ob scenities and vulgarities This is in keeping with Soviet puritanism of course but especially useful in case because it helps to sustain the myth that most of his biographers like to spread The myth is that Chekhov pos sessed exceptional nobility of soul He was gentle of spirit generous of heart and loved hu manity in all its forms This is what made him such a brilliant observer and great writer The truth is nothing like that it turns out and as the details slowly emerge it must be tempt ing for a biographer to spend most of his time debunking the myth Ronald Hingley who probably knows as much about Chekhov as any English speak ing scholar has not succumbed to this temptation Bui his fine book A New Life of Chekhov provides many glimpses of the great other side Hingley makes it plain that was not a tolerant easy going personality He was irasci ble and impatient and very often angry He was a hypocrite and something of an anti Semite And tie was contemptuous of women you write quite like a he told a woman author But more interestin for those of us who care about his work is that as a friend of his put it he fully opened his heart to There were no important women in his life except for his sister and his mother until at age 41 he married Olga Knipper the ac tress And that union seems to have been characterized on side by as much eva siveness as love As a rule he kept people male or female at arm's length earlier biography of Chekhov published in 1950 made very little of this point But now Hingley focusses on it as a key tohis personality and art He be lieves it explains not only the mood but also the action of many Chekhov stories and plays Chekhov's work Hingley points out is often about what happen rather than what does is a Oiek Robert ulford hov theme just as much as dis illusionment And this in fact reflects Chek own experience He avoided the commitment involved in love affairs with women and close friendships with men and he learned to picture his own kind of evasion in his art The mood of his writing comes straight from the mood of his private life But what made him that way in the beginning? Hingley seems to feel that sensibility was so fine that he toler a the feelings produced by human contact except in his art My own guess (based to put it mildly on rather less research) is different His aversion to inti mate relationships was a direct result of a childhood and youth burdened by far too many inti mate responsibilities father could only oc casionally earn a living and his older brothers were either too drunk or too silly to accomplisn much There were younger si blings whose school fees had to be paid To support this large family Chekhov worked desper ately hard at hack writing while at the same time earning a medi cal degree His life during most of his youth was an endless round of drudgery Indeed for much of his career these unasked for responsibilities were carried around his neck 'It seems only' natural then that he should regard with a cool eye every possibility of a further claim on his emotional energies But also an elaborate irony at work here Chekhov be came a writer to pay the bills and wrote a mountain of junk for that purpose But slowly his deli cate and marvellous talent emerged until finally he made himself one of the great writers of the age If he been so burdened at the beginning he might well have pursued medi cine more seriously certainly he started out believing medicine was his career A well to do or even just independent Chek hov might never have become an important writer book is most careful and detailed when he discusses transformation from hack to serious professional a change which coincided with his growth from a timorous and hypocritical youth into a man of genuine independence and integ rity But Hingley is never so elo quent as was Chekhov himself wmen he wrote of he had been brought up to think of him self as inconsequential and had somehow managed to squeeze the servility out of his soul by until finally he woke up and discovered himself a man not a slave That progress from the miser able and often beaten child in Taganrog to the brilliant and so phisticated writer who died at 44 with a great body of work behind him is one of the really engross ing stories in literary history As in a Chekhov play nothing much seems to happen but at the end everything is changed A New Life of Chekhov by Ronald Hingley Oxford Universi ty Press 358 pages illustrated $2550 BESI'SELUXG RECORDS Compiled by The Star with the co operation of seven major dealers POP SINGLES weIZTt 1 More More MoreAndrea True ConnectionQuality 2 6 2 Misty BlueDorothy MooreRCA 4 7 3 Silly Love SongsWingsCapitol 4 Moonlight eels RightStarbuckQuality 6 5 5 Roxy RollerSweeney ToddLondon 8 5 6 Afternoon DelightStarland Vocal BandRCA 13 3 7 ShannonHenry GrossPolydor 1 10 8 Got To Get You Into My LifeBeatlesCapitol 15 2 9 Love Is AliveGary WrightWEA 9 4 10 It To The StreetsDoobie BrothersWEA 11 4 11 Love HangoverDiana RossMotown 5 7 12 ool To CryRolling StonesWEA 7 8 13 Rock And Roll MusicBeach BoysWEA 21 2 14 The DayAmericaWEA 19 3 15 Take The Money And RunSteve Miller BandCapitol 10 4 POP ALBUMS ekt 1 Summertime DreamGordon LightfootWEA 2 2 2 Wings At The Speed Of SoundWingsCapitol 1 12 3 RocksAerosmithColumbia 3 3 4 HideawayAmericaWEA 6 5 5 Black and BlueRolling StonesWEA 9 9 6 The Whole World's Still CrazyApril WineLondon 5 7 A Night At The OperaQueenWEA 4 19 8 Rock And RollBeatlesCapitol 10 2 9 Royal ScamSteely DanGRT 10 Change One BowieDavid BowieRCA 7 2 'A.

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