Sidney Pollack


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Sydney Pollack

The Slender Thread (1965), scripted by Stirling Silliphant, is a thriller of sort, except that nobody dies. It is a race against time, carefully timed, and the only drawback is to already know that this is a Hollywood movie and therefore there will be a happy ending.

Alan (Sidney Poitier) is a black student who one night a week works at a crisis clinic. Unbeknownst to him, a fisherman is leaving on a boat, looking at the picture of a woman, and that woman is driving a car. Once at the clinic, he is left alone, with the phone that rings all the time. One phone call draws his attention. It's from a woman, Inga (Anne Bancroft), who, in a sensual but desperate voice, tells him that she has just taken enough sleeping pills to kill herself. Alan keeps her on the line while he calls for help on the other line. The operators start the process of tracing the incoming call, but it takes time. Alan has to keep the woman on the line until they succeed. She starts talking and a flashback shows that she is the same woman who was driving. She tells him of a normal day at the office where she works as a secretary. But then she went home and found her fisherman husband Mark upset at her: he had just found out by accident that he is not the father of their son. She had the child from a previous relationship and let Mark believe that the child was his and born premature. Mark did not forgive her. She tried to drown herself but was saved. Mark still did not forgive her. While she is telling all of this, the operators are working frantically to trace her call, and the doctor has come back to the clinic and is advising Alan on what to tell her. Inga's husband had to leave on the boat, and still did not forgive her. He came back and still had not forgiven her. Based on her story, they find out who she is and where she lives. Two police officers knock at the door. But another woman opens, a friend of Inga to whom Inga has endeared her son. Inga has driven away, and the friend does not know why. The police begins a search for the car. A final flashback shows how that morning she wandered around the beach, and tried in vain to save the life of a dying bird, and then tried in vain to talk to someone at a mental hospital, and finally took a motel room and swallowed all the sleeping pills. An operator finally traces the call and the police and firemen are dispatched to the airport motel where she is. But Alan can tell from her fainting voice that the woman is dying. There are 200 rooms in the motel and it will still take time to find her. The woman collapses to the floor. Alan has lost her. Her husband arrives at the crisis clinic and tries in vain to talk to her on the phone. She is unconscious. When they are beginning to despair, they hear the voice of the police on the phone: they found her, and she is still breathing.

They Shoot Horses Don't They? (1969), the first film that Pollack both produced and directed, is an urban drama that manages to pack a lot of cruelty in a peaceful story. The film has the atmosphere of a film noir but it is set in an unsual underworld. There are no gangsters and no femmes fatales, but the sentiment of failure is even more profound.

Gloria (Jane Fonda) is one of the contestants to a marathon dance during the Great Depression, an idea she got while recovering at the hospital from a suicide attempt. The dancers are the entertainers of a show that the producer and host makes sure keeps being entertaining as they drop exhausted one after the other. The dancers are basically the equivalent of Roman gladiators for an audience that craves exhaustion and failure. Each couple has a desperate need to win. Every so many hours they are allowed to rest in a dark room, like animals in a cage. Gloria, who has a story of disappointments and feels that her youth is passing by, dances with a kind cowboy, Robert, who dreams of becoming a director. Gloria instead is cynical. She is willing to go through any humiliation, convinced that nothing is worth nothing. She pokes fun at a pregnant girl, who wants to give birth to another desperate soul without having the means to raise him. Every day some couples get eliminated. Some of them cry hysterically and beg sheepishly, but in vain. When Robert lets a girl grab him erotically, Gloria dumps him and joins a sailor. However, the sailor has a heart attack and Gloria has to get back with Robert. The producer comes up with a scoop: that they get married. But Gloria has had enough, both of this game and of life itself, and she leaves. She is more desperate than ever, her life more hopeless than ever. Robert follows her. She asks him to help her. He does so: he shoots her dead, just like they shoot horses when they are suffering.

Jeremiah Johnson (1972) is, superficially, an agiographic legend of the Far West, inspired by Thoreau's "Walden". It is, however, also a metaphorical tale of a human being who would like to live like a hermit but is dragged back into the dirty world of senseless human violence.

Jeremiah Johnson (Robert Redford) has turned his back to human society and lives in the wilderness of the Far West, surrounded by mountains and lakes. The first scenes set a theme of the tiny powerless man living in harmony with the might of Nature. An Indian observes him without uttering a word, almost like a professional deriding an amateur, but also a symbol of the danger that lies ahead. Jeremiha is unprepared for the deadly winter of the mountains. He finds the frozen body of a man who, knowing he was dying, wrote his will and bequeathed his rifle to whoever found it. As he is marching through snowy fields, he meets an old man who looks like the Abonimable Snowman, who lives in the woods and collects bear claws. He gives him advise about surviving the Redskins and gives him the tools he will need. After a while, Jeremiah resumes his journey alone. His idyllic time does not last long. One day he stumbles into a farm that the Redskins have attacked. The only survivors are the settler's wife, who has gone crazy, and a boy, who has turned mute. The wife begs Jeremiah to take her child with him, so he becomes the child's surrogate father. They soon run into a white man, Del Gue, who has been buried in the sand up to his neck, left by the Redskins to die of a slow death. They help him out, but he turns out nothing but trouble. Del Gue leads them to recover his horses from the Redskins, but, instead of just stealing the horses back while they sleep, he kills them to get their scalps. Later they are surrounded by the whole tribe, and the scalper hangs the scalps on Jeremiah's horse, because he knows what the Redskins are going to do to the man who scalped their fellow men. It turns out they are from a different tribe, that converted to Christianity, and the chief speaks French. Jeremiah gives them the scalps as gifts, not knowing that tradition now requires that the chief come up with a better gift. The chief comes up with his own daughterr, and Jeremiah cannot refuse such a generous gift. So, splitting from an amused Del Gue, Jeremiah leaves the tribe's camp with a child (the mute boy) and a wife (the daughter of the chief). The wife, Swan, is a humble and gentle being (even a faithful Christian), and she eventually conquers the white man's cold heart. Jeremiah decides to settle down. He builds a house and starts a family life. Their happy routine is rudely interrupted by cavalry company that needs a scout to help them reach some wagons stuck in the middle of nowhere. Jeremiah cannot refuse to help them. He briefly refuses to proceed over the sacred burial ground of the nearby Redskin tribe, but then does so. By the time he gets back to his hut, the Redskins have exacted their punishment on him, murdering his wife and child. Jeremiah mourns, then sets fire to the hut and starts riding alone again. Now he is a man full of hatred. He exterminates the first group of Redskins he meets. He stops only in front of the one who runs away and who starts singing the death song. JEremiah seems to repent and resumes his journey alone, a devastated man but not a man searching for more blood. But the Redskins do not forget or forgive. One approaches his as he is fishing. They look at each other across the pond, then jump at each other's throat. Others jump out of the bushes, day and night, trying to kill him. When he meets Del Gue again, he advises him to leave the mountains and move to the city. JEremiah is retracing his steps. After narrowly escaping death from another Redskin's attack, he visits the hut where everything started. There are new settlers living there, scared to death that the Redskins will kill them. Then he meets again his mentor, the old man who taught him how to survive. Finally, on his way to Canada, he meets one more Redskin, but this one salutes him with gesture of peace. He responds in kind and smiles.

The Way We Were (1973) describes the difficult marriage between two intellectuals (Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford).

Yakuza (1975) e` ambientato in un mondo di gangster, e in un ambiente urbano, ma ricila gli ideali del western e dei poemi cavellereschi.

Un americano a Los Angeles e` nei guai con un'associazione segreta giapponese. Si rivolge al vecchio amico Mitchum che ha un credito morale da parte di un membro dell'associazione. A Tokyo Mitchum ritrova fantasmi del passato. Prestando servizio militare durante l'occupazione, aiuto` una giovane vedova e madre di familia. Il fratello, tornato in patria dopo sei anni trascorsi nella giungla rifiutando la resa, giuro` eterna gratitudine all'uomo che aveva salvato sua sorella, ma anche eterno odio per la sorella che l'aveva posto nella condizione di dover esere debitore verso un nemico. La donna rifiuto` di sposarlo proprio per non offendere il fratello. E per vent'anni non si rividero.
Il film nasce dall'incrocio fra le tradizioni giapponesi (il senso dell'onore, la fedelta`, i legami familiari) e il mondo degli affari americano.
I membri dell'associazione sono moderni samurai, legati al codice d'onore, ma al tempo stesso contrabbandieri d'armi. Il capo minaccia di squartare i figli dell'americano se questi non gli restituisce un carico di armi, e Mitchum e` li` proprio per cercare di scongiurare il massacro. Con un colpo di mano Mitchum, la giovane guardia del corpo che lo ha raggiunto in Giappone e il giapponese riescono a liberare gli ostaggi. Ora in perciolo e` il giapponese, minacciato dalla vendetta del capo. Per di piu` il taciturno giapponese rifiuta l'uso delle armi da fuoco, mentre i sicari del capo non esitano.
L'americano intanto cerca di riprendere contatto con il capo per i suoi loschi traffici. Il capo gli spiega che deve lavare nel sangue l'umiliazione subita nel raid, e che la testa del giapponese ribelle non basta. Vuole anche quella di Mitchum, e la vuole da lui.
Tutto il film e` centrato sul tema dell'amicizia e sul concetto giapponese dell'"obbligazione".
Mitchum sventa il primo attentato e strappa al sicario il nome del mandante: e` proprio l'amico per cui ha appena rischiato la vita, un cinico opportunista che deve risolvere in qualche modo i suoi problemi di soldi. Il secondo tentativo e` in grande stile: un manipolo di giapponesi contro i due americani. La giovane guardia del corpo rimane a terra con una spada piantata nel ventre e la figlia della giapponese muore colpita da una pallottola. Adesso Mitchum e giapponese hanno entrambi un motivo per uccidere il capo degli Yakuza, entrambi devono vendicare la morte di un caro. Mitchum scopre la verita` sulla donna amata: il fratello e` in realta` suo marito. Tornato in patria, trovo` la moglie convinta vedova fra le braccia di Mitchum e preferi` soffocare il dolore e rinunciare alla moglie.
Mitchum fa irruzione nell'ufficio dell'amico traditore e gli scarica addosso il caricatore. Poi si dirige con il giapponese verso il covo del capo, a compiere l'altra vendetta. Il giapponese liquida alla spada l'odiato nemico, mentre Mitchum spara all'impazzata sugli altri. Poi il giapponese si trova circondato da altri sicari armati di spada e si difende strenuamente, eliminandoli uno a uno. Mitchum avanza a fucilate nei corridoi infestati da giapponesi in agguato. Feriti e spossati, i due si ricongiungono vittoriosi.
Le due diverse civilta` sono rappresentate dal fucile rozzo ma efficace di Mitchum, e dall'affilatissima spada del giapponese, due modi diversi di compiere la stessa giustizia. Chiusa la vicenda, il giapponese si mozza un dito perche' uno dei sicari trucidati era il figlio di suo fratello, e consegna al fratello il dito avvolto in un fazzoletto.
Prima di tornare in USA, Mitchum vuole sistemare il debito di riconoscenza nei confronti del giapponese, che per anni sopporto` in silenzio la relazione con quella che era in realta` sua moglie. Percio` si mozza anche lui un dito e glielo offre in un fazzoletto, come simbolo del proprio pentimento.

Three Days of the Condor (1975), adapted from the novel "Six Days of the Condor" by James Grady, is a political thriller.

Joe Turner (Robert Redford), code-named Condor, is a simple, humble employee of an office that works for the CIA. Their job is quite innocuous: scan spy novels to check if there is any reference to real spy operations. While Joe is out for his lunch break, a suspicious-looking individual, wearing gloves and glasses, Joubert, and a man dressed like a postal officer but holding a gun walk into their offices and coldly kill everybody. When Joe returns to the office, he finds dead bodies everywhere. He calls the CIA headquarters but is coldly told to leave the scene and not go home.
At that point, an executive who has an office in one of the city's skyscrapers, receives a call confirming that the operation went well. But he also realizes that only six, not seven, people were killed. So one is missing, and they soon find out his identity.
Joe/Condor is scared, and, guessing that the hitmen are after him, is paranoid about everything and everybody. He is right to be: the executive who is after him works for the CIA. When he calls back to get instructions, this very man gives him instructions to proceed to a narrow alley. Condor is suspicious, but the CIA executive guarantees that his friend Sam will also be there. They do take Sam along, but it is a trap: Joe escapes again but Sam is killed by the hitmen in order to remove a witness.
Joe jumps into a taxi and forces a woman at gunpoint to take him to her place. She is a photographer. He begs her to help him hide for a few days. She clearly does not believe a word of what he says, so he has to tie her up.
Joe hears on tv that his friend Sam has been killed, and decides to pay a visit to his wife. They were expecting him for dinner. Joe tells her to get out of there and go to a secure location. She enters the elevator and Joubert walks out of it. Joubert follows Joe into another elevator, but Joe manages to escape again.
Back at the apartment, the captive woman is suddenly very sympathetic and grants him a whole night of sex.
The following morning, while she is taking a shower, someone dressed like a postal worker tries to kill Joe, but Joe manages to kill him first. This time she believes him. But now she is also in danger and has to flee with him. A note on the body of the hitman leads Joe to understand that it is his own chain of command that wants him dead. Joe can relate what is happening to a report he sent to headquarters about the possibility that there exists a shadow organization within the CIA. Maybe such an organization truly exists and they are hiring mercenaries to kill everybody who knows about the report.
The woman, Kathy, helps Joe kidnap the CIA executive, Higgins. Joe interrogates Higgins, who seems as eager as him to find Joubert, and then lets him go. Joe is beginning to see the light: maybe the CIA knows that there is a shadow organization and is using him like bait to capture the people who run it.
Joe found a key on the body of the dead mailman, and uses it to discover the hotel where the hitman, Joubert, is staying. Then calls Higgins and gives him the information. By intercepting a phone call that Joubert makes, Joe also has the address of his boss. In the meantime, he has put Kathy on a train (destination: her man).
Joe enters the house of the mysterious boss and begins interrogating him. Joe understands that this is all about oil fields. Just then Joubert walks into the room with a gun and... kills his own boss. It turns out Joubert is a mercenary and has now been hired by the CIA to kill his old customer. Joubert is no longer interested in killing Joe. In fact, he treats him like an old friend and even gives him a little advice.
Joe is pathetic as he holds his moral lecture against the cynicism of the CIA. Joe is so disgusted that he has already sent the whole story to the press. Higgins is hardly disturbed: he knows that it won't be published, and Joe will be more lonely than ever.
The film is theoretically an indictment of the establishment, but it uses all the two stereotypes that the establishment loves: the lonely ordinary citizen who fights the evil giant, and the woman who is willing to give her life for him.

Electric Horseman (1979)

Redford e` un vecchio eroe del rodeo ridottosi a fare pubblicita` che tiene discorsi e fa passerella, quasi sempre ubriaco, vivendo di rendita sulla sua fama. Fonda e` una reporter televisiva, fredda e determinata, che lo affronta con domande imbarazzanti su questo suo squallido crepuscolo alla conferenza stampa indetta per annunziare l'inizio delle registrazioni del film a cui partecipa. La verita` e` che lui e` piu` famoso oggi che quando era un campione del rodeo. La moglie, rurale e procace, vuole il divorzio. Il tutto si svolge nel grande circo di Las Vegas. A pagamento lui trotta sul palco del casino' con una giubba tutta illuminata. Ma lui e` scandalizzato dal fatto che al cavallo siano stati somministrati tranquillizzanti e se lo porta a spasso in campagna. Redford viene accusato di furto dalla societa` che lo aveva assoldato. Fonda si mette sulle sue tracce. Lo trova, ma adesso lui ha deciso di rompere con il mondo dello show business e la pianta in asso. Lei organizza una trasmissione in cui sostiene di avergli parlato per ore (e` il suo mestiere): lui si infuria perche' e` falso, i padroni del cavallo la interrogano perche' vogliono che gli aiuti a catturare il ladro. I media adesso ne parlano come di un drogato, alcolizzato e pazzo, ma Fonda vuol far luce sul suo passato. Redford le telefona e le da` un appuntamento sulle colline per filmare un'intervista. Redford dichiara che non intende restituire il cavallo a gente che lo tortura, e intende lasciarlo libero nella prateria. Fonda lo aiuta a evitare la polizia, e poi pretende che lui la porti con se`: sente che ha per le mani lo scoop della sua carriera. Al termine di un inseguimento spettacolare (lui a cavallo e la polizia in auto e moto) e catastrofico, Redford torna al camper dove lo aspetta Fonda. Mentre continua la caccia della polizia, Redford e Fonda avanzano soli nella prateria verso il luogo dove Redford ha deciso che il cavallo debba essere lasciato libero. E fanno l'amore. La fama del cavaliere e` ormai enorme in tutta la nazione, ma Fonda nel frattempo si e` innamorata davvero e gli confessa di aver avvertito la propria tv del luogo dove stanno andando, ovvero che i cameramen sono probabilmente gia` li` che li aspettano. Lui fa finta di prendersela a morte, ma in realta` non la sta portando li`, ma in un altro posto, perche' non si e` mai fidato di lei. Lasciato libero il cavallo, Redford se ne va per conto proprio e Fonda torna, piu` umana, alla televisione.

In Absence of Malice (1981) it is the reporter who is the villain.

The president of a workers' union has been missing for a while. A government investigator wants his men to investigate Michael Gallagher (Paul Newman), a successful businessman who happens to be the son of a famous gangster. Megan (Sally Field) is a reporter who overhears of the investigation. She asks to see the investigator. Officially, he refuses to comment but then lets her read the file on Gallagher. She now has a story: Gallagher is the prime suspect in the disappearance of the labor leader. She has no evidence to back her story, but her boss still wants her to print it because Gallagher has no way to hurt the newspaper. Gallagher gets furious when he reads the article, but has no way to prove his innocence and the newspaper is not interested in his plea of innocence. It turns out the investigator knows that Gallagher is innocent, and this is only a trick to force him into collaborating with the Justice Department to incriminate his father's accomplices.
Theresa, a shy, slightly neurotic woman who works at a Catholic school is a life-long friend of Gallagher and rushes to see him.
The manipulative and unscrupulous Meg calls him pretending to be interested in printing his side of the story, but instead she wants to trap him into saying something embarrassing and goes to the appointment with a hidden tape recorder.
The article costs Gallagher dearly: the union believes that he killed their leader and decides to boycott his business. The workers walk out on him, and he has to shut down operations. He calmly decides to seduce the reporter.
Theresa calls Meg and tells her that she is sure of Gallagher's innocence. Meg manipulates Theresa, who is a devout Catholic, to confess the reason that she is sure: Gallagher was helping her get a secret abortion the days when the labor leader was kidnapped. Meg ignores the woman's feelings and situation, and writes an article about it (certain to destroy Theresa's reputation at the Catholic school and within her Catholic family). The poor woman runs early in the morning from driveway to driveway to collect the copies of the paper before her neighbors can read it. But then still kills herself. Her cynicism has a limit: she finally feels guilty. She goes to see Gallagher and tells him the name of the investigator who framed him.
Instead of looking for revenge, Gallagher contacts the district attorney to make a deal: if they clear him of any suspicion, he will help them get the information they want. The district attorney accepts and a press conference clears him of all charges. In the meantime, Gallagher has been contributing to the political campaign of the very same district attorney, apparently without telling the beneficiary.
However, the investigator who started the bogus investigation is determined to continue his persecution and decides to start an illegal 24-hour surveillance program. The first thing they discover is that Gallagher and Meg are now having a relationship. Then they see Gallagher meeting with the district attorney, and they conclude that Gallagher bribed the district attorney to call off the investigation.

They also tell Meg about their new suspicion, and Meg feels betrayed by Gallagher and decides to publish the story. This time the story is about the government, not just about suspected gangsters, so the boss of the organized crime division (boss of the evil investigator) calls everybody (evil investigator, district attorney, Meg, Gallagher) for a meeting to clarify the matter. At the meeting it is soon obvious that Gallagher has duped them all and framed the very government that framed him. he has used everybody: the evil investigator, Meg, and the naive district attorney. He knew the investigation would continue illegally. He knew it would look bad that he was dealing secretly with the district attorney. And, most important (and humiliating for her) he knew Meg would print it. They all lose: the boss asks for the resignations of the district attorney, and fires the evil investigator, while Meg has lost her reputation as a reporter.

Tootsie (1982)

Michael (Dustin Hoffman) e` un attore forse brillante ma dal carattere difficile, che si e` progressivamente inimicato tutti e adesso ha difficolta` a trovare lavoro. Sopravvive insegnando ad altri aspiranti attori, in particolare all'amica Sandi. Il suo sogno e` di trovare il denaro per produrre la commedia scritta dal suo housemate Jeff e poi interpretare la parte del protagonista. Il suo agente lo abbandona pero`, in quanto e` diventato impossibile trovargli lavori. Michael, disperato, si traveste da donna e ottiene subito un lavoro. Va a letto con Sandi, che e` ancor piu` disperata, molto insicura e un po' nevrotica. Tootsie ha successo e fa amicizia con le altre ragazze dello studio. In particolare, Tootsie si affeziona a Julie (Jessica Lange), un'attraente e matura attrice e single mother che e` anche l'amante del regista. Per aiutarla a studiare una parte, si dimentica della cena con Sandi, facendo cosi` ingelosire Sandi. A un party in cui presenzia come se stesso, tenta di approcciare Julie ma e` troppo aggressivo e lei gli tira un drink in faccia. Sul set Tootsie e Julie sono le migliori amiche. Cominciano anzi a frequentarsi fuori dal set. Tootsie le fa da babysitter quando lei esce con il produttore. Julie le si confida sempre piu`. Julie le deve la propria resurrezione come donna e come attrice.
Ma Michael comincia a rendersi conto di essere entrato in un vicolo cieco. Firma un lucroso contratto per un programma televisivo, ma significa che sara` costretto a fare la donna per il resto della sua carriera. Uomini di mezza eta`, compreso il padre stesso di Julie, si innamorano di "lei" e diventa sempre piu` difficile respingerli. Julie teme che la loro amicizia rischi di diventare un rapporto lesbico e decide di tenerla a distanza. Sandi scopre che Michael ama un'altra donna e lo lascia.
Michael/Tootsie approfitta di una trasmissione dal vivo per cambiare lo script della puntata e rivelare la sua identita` di maschio. Julie, esterrefatta, approfitta di un commercial per sferrargli un pugno allo stomaco.
Michael la confronta giorni dopo e riesce a placare la sua ira. Ridiventano almeno buoni amici.
Paragonato ai grandi film della sua carriera, e` un film leggero, una commedia sofisticata, benche' sullo sfondo si intraveda la tragedia privata di un uomo troppo intelligente per un mondo che vuole soltanto robot e zombie e la tragedia pubblica di una societa` in cui tutti lottano per il successo e molti sono destinati a fallire. Il ritmo e` lento e la presentazione gradevole.
If English is your first language and you could translate the Italian text, please contact me.

The Interpreter (2005) (Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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