Wednesday, December 30, 2015

"Dynasty"s Royal Disaster

Big hair! Big sleeves! Big mistake! The cast of "Dynasty" relocates from Denver to Moldavia, with disastrous results.

Hi ho, movie lovers.

The TV series "Dynasty" was by far the glitziest, glossiest show ever to appear on network television. Supposedly set in the worlds of high finance and oil production, it was really about the scheming and double-dealing ways of the very rich, principally the Carrington clan. And because "Dynasty" was produced by the Sultan of Schlock Aaron Spelling, everything on this show was way, way over the top. Everyone's hair was pouffed sky high; the shoulder pads gave every frock worn the wing-span of a 747; the ladies all swished around in Nolan Miller gowns, while all the gents paraded about in Nolan Miller tuxes; people traveled via jets, rolls and spiffy sports cars; and the entire cast played musical beds with friends, enemies, rivals, employees and the occasional spouse (not necessarily their own).

The main characters were patriarch Blake Carrington (John Forsythe), his devoted second wife Krystal (a pre-Yanni Linda Evans), his vengeful ex-wife Alexis Carrington Colby Dexter (camp tramp expert Joan Collins) and a rotating cast of supporting players with names like Fallon, Dex and Sammy Jo.

My favorite among the sprawling "Dynasty" cast was Amanda Carrington, the "secret", quasi-illegitimate daughter of Blake and Alexis. She was played by the frozen-faced Catherine Oxenberg, an English/Serbian blue blood whose mom was born Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia.

Despite her tony accent and exotic lineage, Oxenberg's acting skills were rather pedestrian. That was no problem on "Dynasty", where bugging one's eyes, flaring one's nostrils, tossing your head, throwing drinks in someone's face, slamming down the phone and marching off in a huff were the order of the day, not acting.

Catherine Oxenberg runs the gamut of emotions from A to B as Amanda Carrington.

As Amanda, Oxenberg changed her outfits more than her facial expressions. Her most common pose was to stare into space with the look of dull surprise. She could on certain occasions pout and even squint her eyes. Thus, for her entire stint on "Dynasty", no matter what crisis befell our heroine, Catherine displayed the emotional range of a very over-dressed crash test dummy.

True to the show's over-the-top soapy histrionics, where characters painted their rival's offices with poisoned paint and tossed each other into fish ponds, the "Dynasty" scriptwriters gave Oxenberg a suitably daffy story line. After flouncing into Denver announcing her connection to Alexis via a tell-all newspaper interview ("You little bitch!" mommy Alexis hissed before slapping her), Amanda searches for her "real" father (it's Blake, of course) and develops a fixation on mummy's latest hubby, the gravelly-voiced Dex Dexter. Dex, naturally, insists he only has eyes for Alexis. In hopes of making her step-daddy jealous, Amanda begins an on-and-off flirtation with Prince Michael of Moldavia (a real country in Eastern Europe, although for the show's purposes, it was relocated to somewhere in the Mediterranean). 

Alexis, of course, is delighted that a genuine royal is taking an interest in her daughter. Turns out Michael's pa King Galen (don't you love these names?) had a romance with Alexis years ago that his parents put the kibosh on when it got too serious.

Poor Amanda can't decide if she loves or hates Dex or if she truly loves Prince Michael or just enjoys using him to annoy Dex. In due time she hops between Michael's royal bed covers (which, we were lead to believe, were quite crowded) and even takes a shower with him. Looks like true love to me! Then at breakfast, Prince Michael lowers the boom: he's engaged to the Duchess Elena of Brana. Amanda reacts to this news in true "Dynasty" fashion: she bugs her eyes, juts out her chin and stomps off to get dressed.

What's a poor girl to do? Well, in Amanda's case, not much. It's mom Alexis who springs into action, convincing her ex-cuddlemate the king to allow Michael to marry Amanda in exchange for some hefty financial investment in Moldavia. This wheeling and dealing is interlaced with the push-me-pull-you drama between Dex, Amanda and Michael. At one point, Amanda arranges to meet Dex, where she informs him that Michael has proposed. Dex encourages Amanda to accept, which causes her to wail, "How can I when it's you I love?" The granite-faced Dex insists for the hundredth time that he loves Alexis. Amanda then scrunches up her face and screams, "I hate you!" and runs off. Of course, Amanda decides to marry the prince, but that only leads to more complications and conniptions.

"Can you pass the shampoo?" Prince Michael and Amanda enjoy a steamy moment.

Remember the Duchess of Brana? Well, no sooner has the royal wedding been announced than ex-fiance Elena begins throwing her aristocratic weight around. She insists on telling anyone who will listen that Prince Michael loves her and that Amanda isn't cut out for the royal drill. Elena even slinks into the prince's bedroom, declares her love for him and promptly strips naked. Who should suddenly stumble in but Amanda? Horrified, she pulls off her pricey engagement ring and stomps off.

Things get ironed out, after a fashion, because the show is heading for "The Moldavian Massacre", the ultimate "Dynasty" season-ending cliff-hanger. Amanda and Michael no sooner say "I do" than a platoon of commandos burst into the church and shoot up the wedding party, invited guests, dignitaries and possibly even the catering crew. Who survived? Who didn't? In those pre-Internet days, magazines, newspapers, tabloids and TV morning shows endlessly debated this state of affairs. "Dynasty"s ratings and popularity were at its peek. Unfortunately, the long awaited season premiere was a total let down. Only two cast members (Ali McGraw and Billy Campbell) and the predictable posse of the extras were offed; everybody else was just fine, thank you. That included Amanda, who had neither a hair out of place nor a smudge on her puffy gown.

Concerning "The Modavian Massacre", I have always had a few questions.

Question #1: Why wasn't the Moldavian royal wedding televised, at least in Moldavia? When the Crown Prince of Greece married heiress Marie-Chantal Miller in England, the wedding was televised in Europe and in Greece, even though the Greeks threw their royals out in 1969.

Question #2: How come "Dynasty" had Michael and Amanda have their religious wedding first and their civil wedding second? It is always the civil wedding first, and then the religious wedding the next day. Didn't the producers watch tapes of Grace Kelly's wedding?

"With this ring I thee dread..." Prince Michael and Amanda make it legal.

Question #3: How could all those commandos spray all those bullets into a church and only two people die?

Question #4: What kind of government did the revolutionaries in Moldavia want to replace the monarchy with? Communist? Socialist? A republic? A junta? Military dictatorship?

Question #5: Didn't anybody think it was a bit odd that the king's head of security was a weaselly guy named Yuri who sported a black eye-patch?

Naturally, the marriage of Michael and Amanda doesn't survive the upheaval in Moldavia and they divorced. Catherine Oxenberg didn't stay with the show much longer, leaving over a contract dispute. Although she appeared in several TV movies (including a badly received remake of "Roman Holiday") and the feature "In the Lair of the White Worm" (co-starring Hugh Grant), appearing on "Dynasty" became Catherine's best known role.

Of course, it's only in the wonderful, funderful world of Junk Cinema that a show like "Dynasty" could exist--and Catherine Oxenberg is one of the many interesting personalities you will find there. Her mom, born Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia remember, would marry four times and become engaged to Richard Burton. Catherine is also related to every royal house in Europe and can claim Catherine the Great as a relative. Where else but in Junk Cinema would a real European blue blood end up on a prime time soap opera cast as "the secret daughter" of Joan Collins (now herself a Dame) who marries and divorces a prince? In fact, Catherine would play a princess a total of four times in her career: twice as Princess Diana, once in "Roman Holiday" and then on "Dynasty". Later on, Catherine would appear in a reality show titled (what else?) "I Married a Princess".

The flag of Moldavia

Will wonders never cease?

Until next time, Save The Movies!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Enjoy This Holiday Cheese Platter Courtesy Of Candice Bergen (And Junk Cinema)

Big hair, big name: Candice Bergen in her modeling days. 

Happy holidays, movie lovers.

Before she won our hearts (and five Emmy Awards) as the take-no-prisoners TV journalist Murphy Brown, before she co-starred in the quirky drama series "Boston Legal", before she earned an Oscar nomination for her turn as a tone-deaf disco singer in "Starting Over" and before she published two best-selling memoirs (Knock Wood and A Fine Romance), Candice Bergen was one of the premiere cheese whizzes of her generation.

Starting off as the ice cold "Lakey the Lesbian" in 1966's "The Group", Edgar Bergen's little girl (and Charlie McCarthy's kid sister) accumulated an astonishing array of cinematic stinkers to her credit. Some were big budget bombs, a few were European flavored art house flops, others were just dumb duds. The net result was that before Ms. Bergen showed the world she could act, she showed the world that she couldn't...repeatedly.

Firmly enshrined now as a national treasure, let's take a long, loving look at the celluloid cheese Candice churned out over the years--a Junk Cinema rap sheet that would eventually earn her a nomination as "The Worst Actress of All Time" by the esteemed Golden Turkey Awards (fellow nominees were Vera Hruba Ralston, Maime van Doran and the eventual winner, Raquel Welch).

"The Day The Fish Came Out" (1967)-- This totally mental "satire" about missing H-bombs on an obscure Greek island featured Candice as the go-go boots-and-hot pants wearing "assistant" to a visiting archaeologist. No more than 21 or 22, Bergen is thoroughly upstaged by her wacky wardrobe and the on-going on-screen hysterics of this over-the-top oddity. Previously reviewed on this blog ("Cowabunga, Dudes! It's, Like, Nuclear Catastrophe!"), "The Day The Fish Came Out" has since become "a cult failure" and a prime example of cinematic over-indulgence on a massive scale. Bergen herself has describe her performance as "terrible."

Candice Bergen as a futuristic dental hygienist (actually, a professor's assistant) in "The Day The Fish Came Out."

"The Magus"(1968)-- Based on the novel by John Fowler and starring Michael Caine, Bergen is cast as Lily, the cuddlemate companion of puppet master Anthony Quinn. She spends the whole movie changing into weird costumes and acting even weirder. The movie also takes place on a Greek island, but that hardly matters. In its review of the flick, the New York Times opined that Candice was "not a remarkable actress." Ouch. Bergen herself called the movie "awful" and recalled, "I didn't know what to do and no one told me. I couldn't even scrape together the semblance of a performance."

"The Adventurers"(1970)--With a cast that included Ernest Borgnine, Olivia de Havilland, Fernando Rey, Charles Aznavour and the sensational newcomer Bekim Fehmiu (as the lead "Dax"), this south-of-the-border potboiler is based on the Harold Robbins trash classic. A schlockbuster of epic proportions, Bergen is cast as "poor little rich girl" Sue Ann, who is based (very unsubtly) on the much married Barbara Hutton.

A world famous but broke playboy, Dax deflowers Sue Ann on her 21rst birthday and puts a bun in her oven. The duo marry and Bergen asks her rent-a-hubby to push her on a rickety swing--with disastrous results. Sue Ann and Dax divorce and the jaded jet-setters spend the rest of the movie shedding spouses like a snake sheds skin. At one point, Bergen marries fashion designer-turned-lush Tommy Berggren, but that marriage ends when he finds Candice making out with another woman at a swanky party.  "Well," her husband shrugs, "at least we have something in common."

Candice admitted she did "The Adventurers" "for the money" adding, "Selling out wasn't as hard as I thought it would be."

Bekim Fehmiu consoles Candice Bergen about appearing in "The Adventurers": "Remember, Candy, we're getting paid."

"The Hunting Party"(1971)--Ugh. This is a very brutal, very nasty western where cattle baron Gene Hackman abuses his young wife (Bergen), various hookers and the audience.

 Outlaw Oliver Reed kidnaps Candice, believing her to be a schoolmarm. He wants her to teach him to read; she wants to escape, as well as avoid getting beaten and raped. She doesn't make it. Hubby Hackman, meanwhile, heads up a posse to track everybody down. He intends to knock-off the outlaws, of course, and his wife. Why his wife? Because Gene figures the kidnappers will have assaulted Candice and he isn't about to pass off their "little stranger" as his kid. Plus he's just mean.

It all ends, as violent nonsense like this must, with everybody dying in the dust in a hail of bullets. Off screen, Candice was bullied by co-star Reed, who was miffed she wouldn't have an affair with him. In fact, he wouldn't talk to her except when the cameras rolled. Bad form, Mr. Reed.

"Oliver's Story"(1978)-- If you thought "Love Story" was a bad movie--and it was--its totally unnecessary sequel "Oliver's Story" is even worse.

Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O'Neal) appears to be affecting a mourning even more prolonged for his wife Jenny than Queen Victoria did for Prince Albert. He mopes at work, he mopes around friends, he mopes on blind dates and he even mopes at singles bars with his father-in-law. Everybody tells him to stop moping and get on with his life, but Oliver can't stop moping. Then he meets peppy department store heiress Candice Bergen...and mopes around even more. Wasn't Candice suppose to help O'Neal move on? Guess nobody told the filmmakers. Or the cast.

Candice Bergen and Ryan O'Neal try to laugh off the rotten reviews for "Oliver's Story."

It's not often that a bad movie is preceded by a sequel that is even badder, but "Oliver's Story" pulls it off. The shame and the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of Ryan O'Neal, who gives a performance that makes Ali McGraw's obnoxious Jenny look good. Interesting tidbit: film critic Pauline Kael once said the only flair in Ali McGraw and Candice Bergen's acting "was in their nostrils."

"Hollywood Wives"(1985)-- Made during the Golden Age of TV mini-series and based on the best seller penned by the High Priestess of Potboilers (the late Jackie Collins), Candice is cast as the wife of a fading movie star. Fretting that her hubby's dwindling box office appeal will fatally impact her cushy life style, Elaine (that's her character's name) becomes a compulsive shopper to cope. She's even arrested for shoplifting! The horror, the horror.

Featuring more big hair, puffed sleeves, bugle beads and frosted eye shadow than you can shake a stick at, "Hollywood Wives" also co-starred Stephanie Powers, Suzanne Sommers (as a bimbo star who wants to be taken seriously), Roddy McDowell (as a decorator), Angie Dickinson as a big-shot agent and (say it isn't so!) the future Sir Anthony Hopkins.

"The Mayflower Madam"(1988)-- Sydney Biddles Barrow (Candice Bergen) was an upper crust lady who could trace her family back to the original passengers on the Mayflower, which should earn her the never-ending respect of right winger Ann Coulter. A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, Syd was all set for a career in high fashion...that, sadly, never materialized. Things got so bad, in fact, that she had to accept a job as the phone scheduler for a paid escort service. Eww!

Realizing she was bred for better things, Sydney decides to start her own escort service, but she'll do it with class. Is such a thing possible? Of course not!

Sisters are doin' it for themselves? High class madam Sydney Biddle Barrows teaches her "girls" how to be "real (80's) ladies".

As the woman dubbed "The Mayflower Madam" sets out to work, she recruits pre-med students and acting hopefuls into her operation--no skanky, chain-smoking, disease ridden crack whores for her! Sydney tutors them on etiquette, takes them shopping, screens her clients and always pays her taxes. Business at "Cachet" is booming and the madam rewards her employees with fun picnics (complete with balloon rides) in Central Park. Sydney is such a super boss, in fact, she even helps one hooker prepare for an important acting audition! (Needless to say, she gets the part.)

But the good times can't last. Soon the police get into the act and Sydney is busted. The uproar over her high class call girl business costs Sydney the love of her rich beau (Chris Sarandon) and her mom is drummed out of the social registrar. In real life, Sydney paid a fine and was unapologetic. The TV movie, of course, had to have Sydney suffer for her sins, which meant her fellow high society snoots gave her the cold shoulder and struck her name off their guest lists.

As Sydney, Bergen has no problem carrying off her character's upper crust poise. Unfortunately, her acting is stiff and wooden, like she didn't have time to rehearse. And her working girls are all standard-issue TV Tropes, all planning on hooking part-time until something better comes along.

"The Mayflower Madam" was Candice Bergen's final hurrah in Junk Cinema, because the next year saw the premiere of "Murphy Brown" and the rest is history. But one could argue that her years churning out cheese were what made Bergen's break-out role possible. A true late bloomer, Candice finally started acting lessons, began accepting scripts for reasons other than money or the location and realized what she did best was comedy, not drama. This hard won knowledge totally turned her career around and her status today reflects that. Candice Bergen: Junk Cinema salutes you! Or, better still, Junk Cinema: Candice Bergen salutes you!