I do have to admit that while growing up and discovering both movies and the actors that populate them I was very late in coming to the party where Al Pacino is concerned. Sure I saw some of his films. The obvious being The Godfather films, Serpico and Scarface among a few others. But when you’re young and pit actors against each other and just who your favorites are, Mr. Pacino, wasn’t anywhere near the list of actors that I kept track of as I did my best to see any and all film appearances that were available to me.
I would think that when we talk of Pacino it’s easy to bring up Robert De Niro. I say this because it’s De Niro that was one of those actors I followed in my earlier years of discovery doing my utmost best to see all of his work. Especially those early titles from the 1970’s and 80’s. Good or bad, De Niro’s output has pretty much doubled that of Pacino’s over the course of their careers. Then there was the magnificence of their first official on screen sparring in Heat so long as we discount The Godfather Part II. A 90’s classic to be sure and one I saw on it’s opening night here in Canadian theaters. The so-so Righteous Kill was next and now The Irishman which is set to be unleashed by Martin Scorsese before the year is out.
All of which brings us to the fact that as the years have gone by I’ve learned to appreciate Pacino and his place in both pop culture and his overall body of work in cinema. Therefore I felt it was time to catch up on some of his earlier films that I never got around to seeing. Until now.
Bobby Deerfield (1977)
From director Sydney Pollack, this proved to be a film I hadn’t expected. I thought it was a race car movie that will have Pacino in various races winning and crashing sprinkled with plenty of footage of mechanics in the pits keeping him alive and on the track safe and sound. All coming to a rousing climax as he crosses the finish line in victory giving the crowd a fist pump. Wrong!
What the film does offer is Pacino in a depressed state following the death of a fellow driver in a fiery crash. It’s while visiting a second driver on the mend in a hospital that he encounters a woman he can’t quite figure out played by Marthe Keller. My first impression was to holler at the screen, “Al, she’s a looney tune from the funny farm.” How wrong I was. Like Pacino’s quiet, self pitying individual, I too find myself drawn to this woman who is carefree, playful and full of questions as she teaches Pacino to live life as a day to day adventure.
I liked the pacing of Pollack’s direction and the location shoot in France gives the film a beautiful background and plays more like a foreign film than it does anything else I’ve seen from the director or Pacino. Yes there is a brief bit of racing to come but most of the story is off the track. Best scene in the film for me comes when she challenges Pacino to remove his dark glasses as they walk down the street in order to prove he won’t be recognized and mobbed as he claims he will. Her solution to his disappointment is a gem.
Pacino’s film appearances were sparse in these early years and Deerfield was just his 8th film since making his debut in 1969’s Me Natalie. Glad I caught up with this one having no idea I was going to veer off the beaten track of car racing. Miss Keller was on a run of Hollywood features during this era. She’d just appeared in Marathon Man and Black Sunday giving the producers a leading lady with a strong resume for the advertisers.
Author! Author! (1982)
This one casts Pacino as a well known playwright trying to keep his private life together. Between having his second wife, Tuesday Weld, run out on him and providing for the five children she’s left behind he’s trying to appease his agent Alan King and provide the rewrites for a play that is expected to be a Broadway success. The play has landed world famous actress Dyan Cannon to play the lead in Al’s latest play and we shouldn’t be surprised if she finds herself drawn to our leading man in this romcom that at times seems like it’s a distorted version of The Brady Bunch.
The kids all like Al when in fact four of them have been abandoned by Weld. She brought them into the marriage from an earlier relationship and the film could have easily veered into Kramer vs. Kramer territory but sticks to keeping things relatively light minus the tear jerking finale.
Easy to take but I guess when we talk of Pacino’s cult icon status, it’s easy to omit this title amidst the gangster roles he’s known for. Still, he’s quite believable here as a man trying to make good in both his love life and being a father to the children who clearly want to remain in his life. Weld gets the thankless role and it kind of makes me yearn for her earlier roles as the blonde haired cutie of the 1960’s. Alan King is always a welcome addition to most any film or TV production and once again Miss Cannon is a treat with her bubbly personality and on screen presence.
Again, worth checking out to see what Mr. Pacino was capable of when stepping outside of what the public had come to expect of him at this point in time.
The version of this Hugh Hudson film I caught up with is not the theatrical version released to less than stellar reviews and box-office back in ’85. The DVD I picked up is a reconstruction that included an interview with both the director and star explaining the problems they encountered and finally putting their vision of the film together for home video. What’s been changed is an added narration from Pacino, a slightly altered ending and the film being trimmed by a few minutes.
I had no problem whatsoever with the film as a whole and it’s been stunningly captured by Hudson. The film takes place during the years of America’s plight to get out from under British rule. It’s authentic looking and the sets and costumes looked good to me but I’m not an authority in such matters. The heart of the film has Pacino’s illiterate everyman trying to keep his teenage son out of the army but ends up drawn into the battles himself to ensure the safety of his offspring.
A brutally vicious Donald Sutherland co-stars as the British officer who continually surfaces in the story and will become the one man that Pacino and his son aim to see dead before the war is over. Sutherland for his part doesn’t have much in the way of a character to build upon but without a doubt his criminal behavior will have the audience rooting for Pacino to put an end to his evil deeds at the fadeout.
Also starring and looking haggard and far from the beauty she was in earlier roles is Nastassja Kinski. She’s a daughter of the revolution who is ostracized from her wealthy family when she speaks out against the British while her family led by Joan Plowright intends to marry her daughters off to British men of breeding and wealth.
A beautiful yet cruel film at times, I was easily drawn into Al’s story finding it well made and had no trouble seeing the iconic star in a period piece. Even if he did look prettier than Miss Kinski on camera.
There are still a handful of Pacino’s films I’ve yet to catch up with including that film debut from 1969, Me Natalie. I find it odd that the older he’s gotten, the busier he seems to be. Between 1969 and ’79 he made a total of 9 movies. He made just 5 in the 1980’s going four years between Revolution and Sea of Love released in 1989. He upped the ante to 14 films in the 90’s and since the turn of the century has appeared in 28 titles including the soon to be released The Irishman.
I’ve still got a ways to go to see all of Al’s performances. To date my dance card now sits at 34 titles seen out of the 61 acting credits currently listed over at the IMDB. Any favorite roles out there aside from the accepted cult titles?