Saturday, August 1, 2015

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE's Cruise vs Hitchcock

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE -- ROGUE NATION could make Tom Cruise a top man at the box office this weekend.  A few film critics whose reviews I respect wrote that this is one of Cruise's best in the Mission: Impossible movie franchise.  Not bad considering this franchise, based on the hit CBS series from Desilu, the production company and studio started by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, is now almost 20 years old.
Critics note that Tom Cruise, with his trademark sunglasses, gets his Mission: Impossible action movie star mojo back in this installment.
Here's a trailer for Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation.
I want to see this new adventure.  But I still have a gripe about a previous one.  If I could interview Mr. Cruise, I'd like to talk about Mission: Impossible 2 from the year 2000.  It was directed by John Woo and had an allegedly original screenplay by Robert Towne.  He's an acclaimed and Oscar-winning screenwriter but, seriously, that screenplay was as original as a Xerox copy.  In that adventure, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) was ordered to recruit a woman with a shady past into service with Hunt's team.  A global villain had to be smoked out and she was once the object of the bad guy's desire.  Hunt finds the woman and, after some flirtatious dialogue, she realizes that he's a secret agent.  She makes the discovery during a high speed car chase.

In the critics' screening of the movie before it opened, I said to myself "This is Hitchcock's Notorious!"

That 1946 classic starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman is one of Hitchcock's most famous films and one of my all time favorite movies.  When I've seen features or TV specials about Alfred Hitchcock's films, scenes from Notorious are always included.  Scenes like the racetrack meeting.  The notorious yet patriotic party girl played by Ingrid Bergman agrees to charm the Nazi in Rio who had the hots for her once. She will let him romance her so she can get secrets about a new Nazi plot he and several others are cooking up to harm the world.  She falls in love with the secret agent while she's doing undercover work under the covers for Uncle Sam.  At the racetrack, she and the secret agent act like old chums who spotted each other but she's really passing important information to him while her jealous Nazi boyfriend watches from a distance.

That famous Hitchcock sequence with binoculars and undercover information was recreated in Mission: Impossible 2 with its "original" screenplay. 

Thandie Newton plays Ingrid Bergman's notorious woman role in this sequel.  Tom Cruise is in the Cary Grant role.  Just like the characters in the Alfred Hitchcock classic, these two Woo characters will fall in love.

Oh, if you saw the Hitchcock movie, remember how Devlin (Grant) had a boss in the office who made a snide comment about the sexual past of Alicia Huberman (Bergman)?  He did so even though she's doing the hardest work in the mission as a spy who has to live with and bang a Nazi in a big house that's a daily meeting place for his Nazi henchmen.  The boss was played by Louis Calhern.
Who shows up in a Mission: Impossible 2 cameo as one of Hunt's superiors who does basically the same thing as that Louis Calhern character?  Anthony Hopkins appears to make disparaging remarks to Ethan about the notorious young woman's sexual respectability.
One more thing.  In the last act of Notorious, Alicia is ill and needs to be rescued.  There's poison in her system.  How did it get there?  The Nazi and his wicked witch of a Gestapo mother discover she's an American agent.  They lace her morning and after dinner coffee with poison.
Thandie Newton's character gets a poison in her system in the last act of Mission: Impossible 2.

Here's what pissed me off about that Tom Cruise action sequel.  Robert Towne wrote the screenplay to the classic Chinatown starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway.  He won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay thanks to his brilliant script for that 1974 private eye drama.  If someone today like, say, Jon Favreau wrote and directed a crime story screenplay about a wealthy, elegant, mysterious woman who has a creepy, corrupt old buzzard of a multi-millionaire father who seeks to control all the water in a town and may have ordered the drowning death of his daughter's husband, a death figured out by a private eye who's falling for the wealthy, elegant mysterious woman...wouldn't Robert Towne recognize that as having been lifted from his Chinatown script?  And wouldn't he be upset if he wasn't credited?

Ben Hecht, veteran screenwriter of several Hollywood classics, got a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination for Notorious.  He didn't get credited for inspiring the Mission: Impossible 2 screenplay even though famous scenes and plot points are copied.

If you've never seen Hitchcock's Notorious, add it to your "must-see" DVD list this weekend.  Grant and Bergman and Claude Rains at their best -- which is excellent.  Bergman was a three-time Oscar winner -- twice for Best Actress and once for Best Supporting Actress.  Hard to believe she didn't get a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Notorious.  Plus, for a 1940s Hollywood film, Notorious by Hitchcock and Hecht makes some bold statements about narrow-minded male attitudes towards a woman's sexuality and social class despite her intelligence and contributions. Notorious is a most complicated love story and a terrific thriller.

Then watch Mission: Impossible 2 and tell me if that script really seems original.

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