Tuesday, August 05, 2008
What's in a name
Behind this unassuming title is an enjoyable New York story, circa 1957, which we caught on Turner Classic Movies on Sunday. That title makes it easy to overlook--it's a Sammy Cahn tune that co-star Julie Wilson warbles, but if you didn't know that you'd probably pass it right on by. And that would be too bad: It's sort of a benign cousin to that same year's Sweet Smell of Success, with Jean Simmons very Audrey Hepburn-like as a prim schoolteacher who takes a part-time job at a nightclub ("The Tonic") run by old softy Paul Douglas and his harder-nosed younger partner (the underrated Anthony Franciosa in his film debut, right before scoring an Oscar nomination with a reprise of his stage success in the junkie drama A Hatful of Rain.) Wilson, the one-of-a-kind Joan Blondell, Tom Helmore (specialty: urbane, slightly oily types) and "Hokey Pokey" originator Ray Anthony and His Orchestra all turn up, along with other familiar mugs, and the venerable genre-hopper Robert Wise directs in that most atmospheric of formats, widescreen CinemaScope. We were amused at a subplot about an Arab busboy, Hussein Mohammed (Rafael Campos), trying to fit into the milieu; the immigrant aspect to the 51-year-old story is right up to the minute.
But that title. I have trouble remembering it two days later. I've made my peace with Quantum of Silence, but imagine most moviegoers will simply call it "the new James Bond movie." Yesterday, before settling in with The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (don't ask), I watched/endured one of those "AMC Regal First Look" shorts on a September release with Samuel L. Jackson and Patrick Wilson, a thriller-ish flick about a bigoted cop (Jackson) lording it over his new, mixed-marriage neighbors in their comfy L.A. enclave. It reminded me a little of 1992's Unlawful Entry--a decent title.
But this one turned out to be called...Lakeview Terrace. Huh? That's like an insert the Corcoran realty group sticks in my Times. It says nothing about the film or its premise. Prior melodrama monikers along these lines--Arlington Road, Pacific Heights--didn't result in hit pictures, either. Address titles are I think best left to pre-sold soap operas like Peyton Place, or stories where the specific locale has a certain notoriety (10 Rillington Place, about England's Christie murders), just as song titles as movie titles have to have a certain zing and timeliness to them (Girls Just Wanna Have Fun was well out of the Top 40 by the time the would-be cash-in movie appeared.)
Lakeview Terrace has a certain allusiveness--"Lake View Terrace" is the neighborhood where the LAPD cracked Rodney King's head--but moviegoers and non-Angelenos won't be swarming to Wikipedia to look that up. (The film was shot in more affluent Walnut, CA.) With a poster emphasizing its star, Screen Gems has to hope it'll register as the "Samuel L. Jackson badge and gun movie," not that there haven't been a dozen of those. (And this one is rated PG-13, indicating either subtlety regarding the edgy premise, or blandness.)
One name conspicuously absent from the advertising is that of the director. If this were a play in New York, "Neil LaBute" would be all over the place; onstage he's a brand, like Tide or McDonald's, and about as compelling to me in his sameness and overexposure. I suspect this was done to remove the taint of association. In Hollywood his last film was The Wicker Man--a flop under any name.