Liz Smith: Hollywood Going Holy? Marlo Thomas, Blonde, Bitter and Brilliant in “Relatively Speaking”

And  more from our Gossip Girl: Courtney Love resumes a movie career? … “Anonymous” rewrites history … retro TV in trouble

“OH, MOSES, Moses, you stubborn, splendid, adorable fool!” So moaned Anne Baxter to Chuck Heston in Cecil B. DeMille’s luridly entertaining “The Ten Commandments.”

Miss Baxter gives the over-the-top performance of all time as Queen Nefretiri, eventually slugging it out with the pharaoh, Rameses — Yul Brynner — in some wacky B.C. version of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

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RELIGIOSITY will never be as much fun as it was back in the grand old days of Mr. DeMille, but Hollywood can’t let go of a good sand, sex and sandals movie — with a little faith on the side.

Coming in the next two years we have Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” … a film about David and Goliath coming from producer Wyck Godfrey Steven Spielberg considering an adaptation of John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” (to be titled “Moses.) … and Mel Gibson’s Maccabee/Haunkkah epic.

I don’t know if people are more religious these days, but for sure there is heightened interest in the historical aspects of religion. Cable channels such as History are chock full of the Who-What-and-Where of Biblical prophecy … the true meaning of the Ten Commandments … did Sodom and Gomorrah really exist? … What was Jesus like as a rebellious teen? … debunking (or asserting) “The Da Vinci Code” … and of course what was up with Mary Magdalene? (Were she and JC an item? After all — he appeared to her first, after his resurrection. Pretty special, I say.)

All of this is fine. The CGI effects on “Noah” should be spectacular. But will anything ever come up to Hedy Lamarr betraying Victor Mature in Mr. DeMille’s “Samson and Delilah?”

After she has cut his hair and turns him over to his enemies, Hedy/Delilah saunters up to Victor/Samson and whispers: “Nobody leaves Delilah!” And then she goes off with — George Sanders!

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THE GLOOM AND DOOM before the opening that surrounded the three one-act plays of Ethan Coen, Elaine May and Woody Allen in “Relatively Speaking” is, I think, unnecessary. Because the evening has its moments – and especially that of Ms. May. She has a real “find” in her rich, insensate, narcissistic, self-involved character of a brand new widow, played by Marlo Thomas. (I’ve been saying, “that girl can really act” ever since seeing her in an unheralded play “New Year’s Eve” by Arthur Laurents. It never made it to Broadway.)

Ms. May’s work about an insanely deluded, middle-aged “baby” who is still waiting for her true life to begin when her husband, who she hardly cares about, suddenly dies. She runs away, throwing herself on the unhappy daughter of a former nanny. You have to see Marlo’s terrible blonde virago of selfishness to believe her. (She would make a great lead character in a true TV sitcom!)

Lisa Emery as the put-upon wife and Patricia O’Connell as the old nanny are excellent, proving that in moments of stress, most people revert to what they really are, dropping all veneer.

I didn’t care for the “realistic” ending, but I liked the playlet, “George Is Dead” best! Ethan Cohen’s brief discussion between an asylum inmate and a shrink is okay; it’s harmless and the P.S. of the playlet, name-dropping Hitler, is very funny. At the end, the audience seemed to embrace Woody Allen’s retro Borscht Belt humor, which proves he is more anti-Semitic and antediluvian than the most ardent Episcopalian. I found his drunken rabbi simply horrid. There’s satire and there’s excess.

But at least these are tries at plays — comedies and dramas – not British musicals!

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“WELL, I’m 47, but miracles can still happen!” That was Courtney Love at the Circo after-party for Roland Emmerich‘s new film, “Anonymous.” (Evening sponsored by Columbia Pictures and The Cinema Society.) We complimented Courtney, as we always do on her talents, and she said: “People have been urging me to go back to movies for years. But I just couldn’t get it together. Then I saw Sean Penn’s movie in festival, and I thought, ‘This is great. I want to be a part of this again.’ I put out the word and I already have three scripts. Of course, we haven’t gotten anywhere near the insurance part of it, but I hold out hope.”

Courtney is brilliant but exhausting (I’ll never forget my two hour phone conversation with her, when she was hot to film the story of nightclub icon Texas Guinan. It was fascinating, but I had to take a nap after.) Miss Love is thin and pale, and from a distance, this doesn’t look so good. But up close she is still lovely, with flawless, translucent skin. I hope she makes her comeback. Others at the Circo fete included Tony Danza Judd Hirsch Paul McCartney and his new bride Nancy Shevell … writer/ filmmaker Rob Feld and his fiancee, CBS producer Flora Tartakovsky, … the publisher Esther Margolis … cast members Joely Richardson, Rhys Ifans, and director Emmerich.

The movie? A beautiful murky, mess that plays fast and loose with history — and not just the identity of William Shakespeare. Emmerich’s Queen Elizabeth — played in her youth by Richardson and in her slightly doddery old age by her mother – Vanessa Redgrave – is presented as a randy little strumpet, dropping bastards all over England. The movie is confusing and difficult to follow — one too many plot lines — though it has a great look to it.

All performances are splendid — David Thewlis and Edward Hogg are nicely malevolent as William and Robert Cecil, the Queen’s advisers, and Rhys Ifans is properly torn, as the “real” author of “Hamlet,” ”Macbeth” and “Richard the Third.” Xavier Samuel and Jamie Campbell Bower are delicious eye candy. Miss Redgrave is brilliant as a monarch whose sense of reality is drifting.

“Anonymous” is worth seeing. But be prepared to utter several “huhs?” as the tale progresses.

I did enjoy one of Vanessa’s pronouncements toward the end of the movie: “Henry, Bloody Mary, Mary Queen of Scots, the French, and four Popes have tried put me away. But it is the Cecils who have kept me alive!”

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GIVE IT a chance! What is it with TV these days? ABC has canceled its new “Charlie’s Angels” after only three weeks. What a bummer for the three beautiful stars — Rachel Taylor, Annie Llonzeh and Minka Kelly.

Insiders say the show might return, “retooled” — perhaps set in Los Angeles, rather than Miami. (Miami was too expensive!) And execs confide the show was “not right” for an 8:00 pm slot. People want comedy on Thursday night at eight. So, maybe “Charlie’s Angels” will return on another night, set in another city and with a more “adult spin.” (More cussing, more flesh.)

Hmmmm …. it’s not such a good time for retro, suddenly. “The Playboy Club” has been canceled and “Pam Am’s” ratings are falling.

I say, blame it on cable and the short-circuiting of the average attention span. There are 500 channels to choose from and plenty of ways to get your fix on a TV show without actually watching the TV show, in the moment — Tivo, Hulu, You Tube, etc.

Or, blame it on the memory of the three fabulous women who launched the “Charlie’s” series back in the 1970’s — Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith and the immortal Farrah Fawcett. Hard to top those gals.

One comment so far.

  1. avatar Dan Patterson says:

    I’ve admired Marlo Thomas for years. I only saw her live once, in SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION, but I thought she was spectacularly good, and I’ve liked every television performance of hers that I’ve seen. I also admire her continuing work for St. Jude’s.