Sunday, August 28, 2016

Olive Films' new Blu-ray of Preminger/Kellogg TELL ME THAT YOU LOVE ME, JUNIE MOON

Otto Preminger's reputation as a mini-tyrant may have somewhat over-shadowed that of his reputation as a major filmmaker, and while his work, overall, was hit and miss, certain of his movies -- from Laura through Anatomy of a Murder -- have stood the test of time very well. One of his later efforts, TELL ME THAT YOU LOVE ME, JUNIE MOON, from 1970, seemed (and still does) such an odd choice for this often ground-breaking-in-terms-of-subject-matter movie-maker that even film buffs like me tend to forget that Preminger (shown below) was at the helm. Also, the movie flopped critically and at the box-office and so was promptly relegated to the forget-about-it bin.

Based on the 1968 best-seller of the same title by Marjorie Kellogg, who also penned the screenplay, the story tells of three social misfits who meet in a rehab hospital, bond, and decide to make their way in the outside world together. Admission time: TrustMovies knew and became a good friend and neighbor of Ms Kellogg and her long-time companion Sylvia Short in Manhattan in the early 1980s. He'd read the original novel on which the film was based but didn't see the movie during its theatrical release and by the time he'd met Marjorie, the film had disappeared from view.

The "Junie Moon" movie has also never appeared in disc format on either DVD or Blu-ray. All of the above makes its current release by Olive Films something rather special. And while the movie is no great shakes as filmmaking, it does offer a good deal of positives to recommend, starting with the very fine performance by Liza Minnelli (above, left, and below) in the title role, as a young woman whose face has been permanently scarred by a crazy would-be boyfriend (Ben Piazza, above, right) who feels "spurned." (Among the movie's many ironies is the fact that the guy was not being spurned; Junie was simply behaving honestly, if a bit heavy-handedly).

What was ground-breaking about this film (leave it to Mr. Preminger, of course) was that, so far as I can recall, this was the first film to show a movie heroine's scarred countenance so up-front and in-your-face. Preminger, Minnelli and Kellogg conspired to make us keep looking at until we could finally understand something from which audiences and the general populace would prefer to look away. And of course, in the end, we get used to it, accept it, maybe even almost "appreciate" it. We can, at least, as do the other characters here, look beyond it.

At the time of its release, the film's director was accused to not being able to find the right "tone." I don't think so. Rather, most critics and certainly audiences of this time were not ready to deal with a tone that wasn't full-out sentimental when dealing with "problemed" people like these. The other two "misfits," played by Ken Howard (below) and Robert Moore (above), are, respectively, an epileptic mis-diagnosed as mentally deficient and an acerbic young homosexual who has evidently never heard of the closet (or is simply unable to keep himself in it).

The three do indeed form that bond -- they are joined by James Coco as the town's helpful fish monger -- and it is strong enough to carry the movie home, despite some missteps along the way. Minnelli, Moore and Coco are terrific. Only Mr. Howard, in both the character as written and the performance he gives, is too bland, lacking much specificity. Kay Thompson, too, is crackerjack, as the wealthy and bizarre owner of the little house they rent who tries to get the Moore character walking again via pure will-power or faith (maybe she's a Christian Scientist?)

Preminger guides the film along, keeping sentimentality mostly at bay. Only the finale, with what seems rather like an unearned demise, smacks of  too-much. And for a film in which so many of the characters are oddball, the movie stays on track and doesn't continually swat us with cutesiness and moral tips, as does the recent Israeli clunker, Is That You?  Preminger does fall for the need to strut his stuff by giving us, in the flashback scenes of the orphanage into which the Howard character is thrust as a child, weird camera perspectives and color-draining that come off more "arty" than necessary.

Granted, when I sat down to watch, I wasn't expecting much. But when I got up, post-viewing, I felt surprisingly fulfilled -- especially at seeing Ms Minnelli working at full steam and creating one of her fuller and most believable on-screen dramatic characters (in a non-musical, at least: Cabaret is still her triumph).

Running 113 minutes, the movie has been given a so-so Blu-ray transfer by Olive Films. (I am not sure from what kind of materials the transfer was made, but the quality looks somewhere between a good videotape and a DVD.) It hit the street earlier this month and is available now for purchase  (you can order here or elsewhere) and I would hope for rental, too. Netflix, which should offer it, does not -- as yet.

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