American drama gets big emotional performances

American drama gets big emotional performances

Robert Tanitch reviews the latest DVDs

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (Entertainment on Video) Tracy Letts’s bitter, cynical saga is a classic American dysfunctional family drama with big, emotional stagy performances which the screen can barely contain. Three marriages are on the rocks.  Mother is dying of cancer and taking far too many pills to ease the pain. The post-funeral lunch is the high spot. Meryl Streep is in rare form as the matriarch, a foul-mouthed monster, destructive and self-destructive, spoiling for a fight, intimidating and antagonizing everybody. There are also some very strong performances from Julia Roberts and Julianne Nicholson (as her daughters) and Margo Martindale (as her sister).

PANTANI: THE ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF A CYCLIST (Channel 4 TV). James Erskine’s interesting documentary is on Marco Pantani (1970-2004). Dynamic, mythical, awesome, phenomenal, he was the best climber. One moment he is a great popular champion. The next he is a much-reviled dope cheat. Was there a conspiracy? Steroid scandals, police investigations and trials take their toll. He takes a massive amount of cocaine. The result is complete destruction. He dies alone.

THE COMEDY MAN (Network). Most actors are out of work and are more likely to star at the Labour Exchange than on any stage.  It’s a terrible profession; the only difference between 1964 and present day is the attitude to commercials and repertory theatre.  Alvin Rakoff’s bleak vision of theatre people on the skids is headed by Kenneth More. The supporting cast is full of well-known faces in cameo roles. Edmund Purdom plays an actor who does makes in film (as Purdom had done in real life but whose Hollywood career was already over by the time of this film).

ELSTREE CALLING (Network) is a variety bill and a very poor example of popular entertainment in 1930. Was it really this bad? The chorus girls are dreary. Donald Calthrop is funny only once in a classic well-timed comic routine in which he and Jack Hulbert poking fingers at each other’s chests and slap each other’s faces. Tommy Handley tells awful jokes. Cicely Courtneidge is manic. Will Fyffe, Lily Morris and the fast-taping, blacked-up 3 Eddies give you some idea what the old music hall acts were like.

BANANA RIDGE/AREN’T MEN BEASTS? (Network). Two British farces starring Robertson Hare and Alfred Drayton. The first, an adaption of Ben Travers’s 1938 stage play, is absolutely dire and not even these highly experienced farceurs can make it funny.

The second by Vernon Sylvaine about a delayed marriage is fractionally better but severely hampered by the original 1937 soundtrack being lost for two long stretches and the viewer having to read sub-titles.

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