Friday, February 23, 2018

Wrestling with THE MAN WHO HAD POWER OVER WOMEN (1970)

Recently, on his blog News From Me, writer Mark Evanier brought this film to my attention. For years he has desired to rewatch it for the first time since it premiered in 1970 but, because it's a hard to find title, his attempts have failed. Mr. Evanier is a fan of Rod Taylor (as he should be) and remembers this film as being made up of parts both good and bad. His wish to revisit the film to see if, decades later, his memory and feelings would mirror his initial reaction struck a cord with me. He states that what he remembers is that, although the actors were very good, there was something about the movie that just seemed a little off or that somehow didn't work. He made note of the fact that Turner Classic Movies was screening the movie several months ago and, being a Rod Taylor fan, I had the DVR grab it. Now that I've seen the movie I can understand his mixed emotions.

There are almost no likeable characters in THE MAN WHO HAD POWER OVER WOMEN (1970). In a way I think this is good because we see both good and bad aspects of a few of the characters but none of these people are folks that I would like to spend any time around in anything other than a finite feature-length slab of time.

Rod Taylor plays a PR man or fixer for a music company and he spends most of his time dealing with the problems and emotional upsets of the company's most profitable music star Barry Black. Mr. Black is exactly the caricature of the nightmare egomaniac we all fear highly successful music stars are in real life. He's vain, self-centered, illogical, needlessly cruel, craven, quick to anger, twitchy and just generally a miserable person striving to make all around him just as miserable and unhappy as he is. The music company is currently in the process of dealing with the fact that Mr. Black has gotten one of his teenage fans pregnant and once again the company is arranging for an illegal abortion to make this unfortunate problem go away. Rod Taylor's character is not happy about this situation and seems very upset that they're pushing this girl to do something that she probably doesn't want to do. He also seems upset that this is seen as just another budgetary line item for the company in dealing with their profitable but unstable star. It's not clear just how much his frustration with having to make Black's life smooth is playing into his anger at this horrible situation but it's clear his disintegrating marriage is adding to his problems.

This is a well done film and overall I liked it but I can understand Mr. Evanier's conflicted feelings. I'm not someone that needs likeable characters to enjoy a film but there is precious little light in the dark world that this movie presents. Even the deserved comeuppance in the final scene - while satisfying - seems like just another step down the descent into hell for everyone concerned. It's a well made, well acted, smartly scripted story that feels like there was a vital part missing. It might have been hope or it might have been joy but I fear it could have been heart.

As a side note, this film is based on a novel by Gordon Williams but it reminded me of Harlan Ellison's book Rockabilly a.k.a. Spider'sKiss first published in 1961. Ellison's story is about a very talented country boy singer that rises to the top and uses his fame and power to lure any woman he can into bed. He leaves broken hearts and nasty scandals everywhere he goes all of which have to cleaned up by his greedy manager who doesn't want anything to taint his cash cow. Eventually the singer's growing megalomania and paranoia has him treating everyone around him like crap until he is caught in a scandal that takes some serious criminal action to cover up. These two stories feel like American vs British versions of the same tale although both of them owe a huge debt to the classic Elia Kazan film A FACE IN THE CROWD (1957) with Andy Griffith being the insufferable music star with a heart of black ice. Somebody should write an article about these three tales and any others that fit the template. Wish I had more time. 

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