Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

Custom Search

© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

More passings

Gallic Hitchcock (1930-2010)

I wonder if Claude Chabrol ever got tired of being referred to as the French, or Gallic, Alfred Hitchcock. Since Chabrol was a strong admirer of Hitchcock (along with fellow director Eric Rohmer, who died in January, he wrote an influential study of Hitch’s work in 1957), I’m guessing he didn’t.

Apart from making more than 50 films over the past five decades, Chabrol is worth remembering because he is credited with having made the first movie of the vaunted French New Wave. That would be Le Beau Serge, starring Jean-Claude Brialy as a young man who returns to his provincial home village to find that his titular old friend, who was very promising as an adolescent, has sunk into a drunken state since his marriage. While this film is a major landmark to film historians, for most of us it is eclipsed in our movie-going memories by the subsequent work of Chabrol’s fellow New Wavers like Rohmer, François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais and Louis Malle.

As with all Next Big Things, what seemed like such a major departure in French cinema at the time now seems to fit naturally enough between what went before and what came after. This is especially true of Chabrol, whose films were nothing if not commercial and sometimes even crowd-pleasing. His best known film internationally would be Le Boucher, the 1970 movie in which his then-wife Stéphane Audran plays a repressed schoolteacher who becomes involved with a butcher, who may or may not be a serial killer. But there were lots more movies over the years, including Bluebeard, Ten Days Wonder (a murder mystery whose international cast included Anthony Perkins and Orson Welles), Wedding in Blood, Violette (with Audran as the mother of a very depraved Isabelle Huppert), The Story of Women, Madame Bovary and L’Enfer. His final feature film was a low-key police thriller, Bellamy, which marked his first and only collaboration with Gerard Dépardieu.

With the death of the putative kick-starter of La Nouvelle Vague, it is fair to reflect and ask what it was all about. Perhaps the best summation is a line that was often attributed to Chabrol: “Il n’y a pas de vague, il n’y a que la mer.” “There is no wave; only the sea.”

Dr. Miles Bennell (1914-2010)

In the course of his lengthy acting career, Kevin McCarthy had no fewer than 200 roles on the big and little screens. According to the IMDb, his c.v. runs from the 1944 George Cukor war movie Winged Victory to the 2012 release The Ghastly Love of Johnny X. He starred in such movies as Death of a Salesman (reprising his stage role as Biff Loman), The Annapolis Story, The Misfits (as Marilyn Monroe’s ex), A Gathering of Eagles, The Best Man, Hotel, The Hell with Heroes, Robert Altman’s Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson and some memorable Joe Dante movies (the original Piranha, The Howling and Innerspace). In addition to a ton of guest TV appearances, he starred in a couple of primetime soaps: 1969’s The Survivors with Lana Turner, Ralph Bellamy and George Hamilton, and the 1980s series Flamingo Road, as Morgan Fairchild’s father. He also played the recurring role of Lucas Carter on The Colbys, in addition to a different character on a couple of episodes of Dynasty.

But despite all this work over so many years, it was inevitable that when McCarthy died (which he did on Saturday at the age of 96), he would be remembered for one particular role. That, of course, would as Dr. Miles J. Bennell, the handsome bachelor doctor in a small California town who realizes that local citizens are being replaced by pod people from outer space. In Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, he and Becky Driscoll, played by Dana Wynter, spend the movie trying to warn the world about the danger and avoid becoming pod people themselves. Fair or not, our collective dominant memory of this actor is of him running in terror and panic and telling people things like “They’re here already! You’re next! You’re next, You’re next…!” and “Listen to me! Please listen! If you don’t, if you won’t, if you fail to understand, then the same incredible terror that’s menacing me WILL STRIKE AT YOU!” When the movie was remade 22 years later, in 1978 by Philip Kaufman, McCarthy was again credited as Dr. Miles J. Bennell, in a cameo that had him throwing himself at a car driven by Donald Sutherland and screaming, “Help! They’re coming! Listen to me!” He also played “Dr. Bennell” in yet another Joe Dante movie, 2003’s live action/animation mixture Looney Tunes: Back in Action.

The genius of Invasion of the Body Snatchers was that its paranoid storyline could be interpreted to suit the politics of the viewer. Depending on your persuasion, it was either about Communist infiltration or about lock-step acceptance of McCarthyism. Said -ism would refer to Senator Joseph McCarthy, not the actor. As far as I know, he was not related to the infamous Wisconsin politician, nor should he be confused with the California congressman who currently represents my birthplace, Bakersfield. The actor was, however, a distant cousin to one-time presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy. He was also a brother of novelist Mary McCarthy, author of The Group. But back to the movie: its theme of people having their minds being taken over by some external force would be echoed in subsequent movies like The Stepford Wives, and the plot device of people having to force themselves to stay awake or be doomed would resurface in flicks like A Nightmare on Elm Street and its sequels.

Rest easy, Dr. Bennell. It’s safe to sleep now.

Rhoda’s dad (1923-2010)

Some character actors put you in a good mood by merely showing their face. Harold Gould was such an actor. He was an instantly familiar man, although many people may not have remembered his name or have known exactly why they recognized him. Although nearly a decade younger than Kevin McCarthy, Gould had as nearly as many screen credits.

Most people will know him mainly for one movie role and one TV role. In George Roy Hill’s 1973 movie The Sting, Gould played Kid Twist, one of an ensemble of con men, led by Paul Newman’s Henry Gondorff, who were helping Robert Redford’s Johnny Hooker get revenge on crime boss Doyle Lonnegan, played by Robert Shaw. The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won seven, including Best Picture. Gould did not get a nomination and, in fact, never got an Oscar nomination. He never won an Emmy either, although he was nominated seven times, always in supporting or guest categories. One of those nominations was for playing Martin Morgenstern in an episode of Rhoda called “Happy Anniversary.”

Gould first played Martin in two episodes of the Mary Tyler Moore show: in 1972 when Rhoda’s parents visit Minneapolis and in 1973 when Mary and Rhoda attend the wedding of Rhoda’s younger sister Debbie (Liberty Williams) in New York. (When Rhoda was spun off into her own series, Debbie mysteriously disappeared and was replaced by the single Brenda, played by Julie Kavner.) He went on to play Martin in some 20 episodes of Rhoda’s five-year run. He was paired with Nancy Walker as his wife Ida, and they were arguably the gold standard for what parents of adult children should be in a sitcom. The arc of the Martin character led him to separate from Ida to pursue a longtime dream of being a lounge singer in Florida. As the series ended, he had returned and was trying to win her back.

Long before Rhoda or The Sting, however, Gould was a very recognizable face, frequently playing the suave charmer. He made appearances on every sitcom from The Donna Reed Show to Dennis the Menace to Mister Ed to The Jack Benny Program to Hazel to The Farmer’s Daughter. But he also appeared on dramas, such as The Untouchables, Route 66, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Perry Mason, Dr. Kildare and The Virginian. Over the past five decades, he worked steadily, and within just the past couple of years he appeared on Cold Case and Nip/Tuck. He also played a couple of other immortal TV fathers albeit briefly. In the pilot of That Girl, he played Marlo Thomas’s father Lou but was replaced in the regular series by Lew Parker. In a 1972 episode of Love, American Style, he played Ron Howard’s father Howard Cunningham, but was replaced by Tom Bosley when the characters were spun off into the series Happy Days. In 1985 he guest starred on The Golden Girls, then returned four years later as a different, recurring character: Miles Webber, the dashing beau of Betty White’s character.

A few other memorable movie roles: He played Engulf (to Ron Carey’s Devour, of Engulf+Devour) in Mel Brooks’s Silent Movie. He was Anton Inbedkov in Woody Allen’s Love and Death. He was the mayor in Billy Wilder’s remake of The Front Page (with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau). And he was Lindsay Lohan’s grandfather in the 2003 remake of Freaky Friday.

-S.L., 16 September 2010

If you would like to respond to this commentary or to anything else on this web site, please send a message to Messages sent to this address will be considered for publishing on the Feedback Page without attribution. (That means your name, email address or anything else that might identify you won’t be included.) Messages published will be at my discretion and subject to editing. But I promise not to leave something out just because it’s unflattering.

If you would like to send me a message but not have it considered for publishing, you can send it to

Commentaries Archive