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Posts Tagged ‘ben gazzara’

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In 1993, the film Philadelphia was released – starring (and earning an Oscar win for) Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, the film was classed as groundbreaking for it’s storyline about a gay lawyer with AIDS and having to battle the stigma prejudice associated with the disease. I actually loved that film and saw it twice at the cinema within one week. However, a full eight years earlier, there was An Early Frost a made-for-television movie about a gay lawyer with AIDS, having to deal with the stigma and fear surrounding the disease…starring Aidan Quinn as Michael, with Geena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara as his parents, who have very different attitudes towards his illness, and Sylvia Sidney as his grandmother.

An Early Frost was obviously made on a fairly low budget, and watching it 34 years later, in terms of therapies and treatments available, it’s clearly very dated. But while the world is more informed about AIDS and the way it is transmitted, there is still a lot of prejudice towards the disease, and this film is still very relevant. Scenes where the ambulance drivers refuse to take Michael in their vehicle or where nurses refuse to enter his hospital room to give him his meals are thankfully a thing of the past, but as I watched this film I remembered the special assemblies which we had at school when I was about 13, telling us about AIDS and what was known of it (which was little at the time). The callous actions of some of the people in this film seem awful with hindsight, but people were terrified. I remember going on holiday abroad with my parents and another lady at the hotel would not get into the swimming pool because she was worried about catching AIDS.

Anyway, this film – the cast were all excellent just as you would expect. There were a couple of ‘lifetime movie’ dramatic scenes, but overall this was played with just the right note. Michael’s parents do not even know he is gay, so he is faced with not only revealing his homosexuality but also his illness in one fell swoop. His partner Peter (D.W. Moffett) has had to cope with being Michael’s secret and also knowing that he may have been the one who infected Michael.

I think this film is important not just for Michael’s personal story, but also for witnessing the hysteria and terror surrounding AIDS. It’s rarely shown on television these days, possibly because it is now fairly outdated, but if you get the chance to see it, I would highly recommend it.

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James Stewart is Paul Biegler, a former District Attorney turned small town defence lawyer. He is called upon to defend Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara), an Army Lieutenant accused of shooting dead the man who Manion believes raped his wife Laura (Lee Remick). As Paul digs deeper into the circumstances surrounding the crime, he realises that things are not as clear-cut as they initially seem. And that is before he has to face the fearsome – and fearless – prosecutor Claude Dancer (George C. Scott)…

Well….WOW! This is a superb film. I actually put off watching it for a long time because of it’s length; it runs at 2 hours 40 minutes, and I don’t generally like films that are much longer than two hours (blame it on my attention span). However this film gripped me from the word go, and once the action moved to the courtroom – about an hour into the film – it really became compelling viewing. The role that James Stewart will always be most remembered for is probably George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life. And while that certainly is a wonderful film, I preferred him here, and thoroughly enjoyed his performance as the morally ambiguous Biegler. He was not let down by the rest of the cast either – it’s hard to pick any one performance as outstanding, because everyone in the cast was excellent. Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Eve Arden (as Biegler’s smart, loyal but long suffering secretary), Arthur O’Connell (as Biegler’s friend, the alcoholic Parnell McCarthy, who finds a reason to stop drinking and start living, as he works with Biegler on the case), and George C. Scott. If this were any other cast, Scott would probably steal the show with his excellent performance!

The story ticks along nicely, with plenty of twists and turns, and I found myself switching points of view, and never quite sure what the truth was. There was tension, atmosphere and even a few laughs as the story unfolded.

However, I do have one gripe with this film and that was the ending! By that, I mean the last 7 or 8 minutes, which is not too bad for a film of 160 minutes. I won’t give anything away, but for me, the ending was unsatisfactory and not what I was hoping for. Nonetheless, it was a hugely enjoyable film, and I would certainly recommend it, especially to fans of courtroom drama – this is one of the best!

Year of release: 1959

Director: Otto Preminger

Producers: Otto Preminger

Writers: John D. Voelker (book), Wendell Mayes

Main cast: James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O’Connell, Eve Arden, Kathryn Grant, George C. Scott, Murray Hamilton

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