Daniel Day-Lewis is born in London, 1957. A big day in his career came on March 7, 1986, with both the Ivory Merchant period drama A Room with a View and the Stephen Frears-directed comedy-drama My Beautiful Laundrette released in New York. The parts the actor played in both films couldn’t have been more different—a gay punk in Margaret Thatcher’s London and an upper-class snob in Edwardian England—and critics were unanimous with praise. In his review of A Room with a View, Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote, “Spectacular, too, is a new young actor named Daniel Day Lewis, who plays the insufferable Cecil Vyse with a style and a wit that are all the more remarkable when compared to his very different characterization in My Beautiful Laundrette.” About My Beautiful Laundrette, critic Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times wrote, “The character of Johnny may cause you to blink if you've just seen the wonderful A Room with a View. He is played by Daniel Day-Lewis, the same actor who, in Room, plays the heroine's affected fiancée, Cecil. Seeing these two performances side by side is an affirmation of the miracle of acting: That one man could play these two opposites is astonishing.”
Entries in roger ebert (9)
If you’re part of the marketing team in charge of promoting a suspense thriller where the climactic shock—indeed the last minute of the movie—reveals the murdered corpse of a major character, then why, oh why, would you show an image of said corpse on the movie poster? That was the question some critics and fans had about What’s the Matter With Helen?, a 1971 schlock horror film in the same vein as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), where two big female movie stars play cat and mouse while bodies pile up around them.
The film was an example of “the macabre genre of the menopausal metaphysical mystery movie,” as film critic Roger Ebert categorized it, with plots that “seem to involve a couple of middle-aged ladies with shameful pasts, who make lots of trips up and down dark stairs and into unlighted cellars, get the hell scared out of them when dust mops fall out of the shadows, and end up hideously, with blood and feathers all over the place.”
What’s the Matter with Helen? concerns Adelle (Debbie Reynolds) and Helen (Shelley Winters), Midwestern dames who move to Hollywood and open a dance studio after their sons are convicted of a gruesome murder. Adelle schools young Shirley Temple-like hopefuls while Helen bangs out “Goody, Goody” on the piano. Eventually Adelle is wooed by a Texas millionaire (Dennis Weaver) while Helen is drawn to an Aimee Semple-like evangelist (Agnes Moorehead) and goes increasingly nuts, finally knifing Adelle to death and stringing her body up on a ladder.
Perhaps the Helen marketers thought the poster would not overtly suggest the grisly end of the Reynolds character. An image showing a bloodstained bosom and a red trickle down her chin, however, might not have been the way to go.
William Friedkin films the “spider walk” scene for The Exorcist, 1973. The director later decided to cut this brief moment from the original film for a couple of reasons: 1) it was too showy an effect and 2) audiences could see the wires supporting the performer. "It was quite early in the story,” Friedkin recalled, “and we hadn't yet seen any of the massive manifestations that were to come. At that point in the narrative, I just thought it was too much." Here’s the gist: Regan O’Neill (Linda Blair) is in the early stages of being possessed by the devil and screwy things begin to happen. Her bed shakes. She wets her pants at a party. And, originally, she was to walk down the stairs, upside down on her hands and feet, and release a mouthful of blood.
The grotesquerie became a legendary missing scene, appearing in both the book and screenplay, but not in the final cut. It was filmed with a stunt double for Blair, a contortionist named Linda Hager, who was attached to a rig and suspended by wires above the staircase. She is lowered down the stairs, her hands and feet merely touching the steps. The scene was added to a special 2000 re-release of the film—re-titled The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen—with the wires digitally removed. Wrote film critic Roger Ebert at the time, “We see the ‘spider walk,’ an infamous scene much discussed by Exorcist buffs in which Regan is seen walking downstairs upside-down, crab-style. This shot strikes me as a distracting stunt, and since it exists in isolation from the scenes around it, feels gratuitous.”
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He was that rare film critic who was a household name, a movie star reviewer among reviewers of movies. He could lay waste to a cinematic stinker with wit and charm, and succinctly—even politely—explain why a particular element or scene or entire movie wasn’t working. He could also wax rhapsodic about why a picture was a work of art and almost convince you to believe it as well. Simply put, his weekly 1,000-word essays were a joy to read, and his voice will be missed. Here’s a sampling of what Roger Ebert had to say about ten films—five terrific and five terrible.
The United States Supreme Court rules unanimously that anti-miscegenation laws are unconstitutional, 1967. The landmark case, called Loving v. Virginia, was decided during post-production of a movie about interracial marriage―the Stanley Kramer-directed Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967) starring Katharine Houghton and Sidney Poitier (above) as the couple and the venerable pairing of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in their last film together. Even with the court’s new ruling, Kramer decided to leave in a line where one character says to the pair, “In 16 or 17 states you'll be breaking the law. You'll be criminals.” In his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert praised the film as entertainment in spite his observation that “Kramer has taken a controversial subject…and insulated it with every trick in the Hollywood bag…glamorous star performances…shameless schmaltz…[and] minor roles are filled with crashing stereotypes.”