Tuesday, August 21, 2012

ACT ONE (1960)

Theoretically, this is the story of how playwright Moss Hart, Pulitzer Prize-winning co-author (with George S. Kaufman) of You Can't Take It with You and The Man Who Came to Dinner, got his start in the business, based on his autobiography. In 1929, young Hart still lives with his family and keeps trying to sell his dramatic plays, with no success, though he is told by an agent that his real talent is comedy. Hart takes a job as a director with an amateur theater group and works on a comic play about the film business. Big Broadway producer Sam Harris gets hold of the script and agrees to buy the rights if he'll let George Kaufman finish it with him. It takes a while for the two to gel—Hart is young and bouncy, Kaufman is older and acerbic—but eventually they get the knack of collaborating and after a few false starts, the finished play, Once in a Lifetime, is a hit. Though set during the early Depression years, the movie doesn’t much bother with getting period details right—it's in black & white, but it has a glossy 50s look to it. A young George Hamilton is ill-suited physically to play Hart, but he's appealing in the role. Jason Robards does not fare as well as Kaufman, as he's stuck mostly griping and bitching and generally being a pain in the ass. It's fun to see Burt Convy play the young Archie Leach—later to become Cary Grant—in a series of scenes which show Hart commiserating with other show biz hopefuls. The cast also includes Eli Wallach, Jack Klugman, Sam Levene, and George Segal. The score by Skitch Henderson is shrill and overblown. Occasionally interesting but generally drab and colorless.  [TCM] 

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