Monday, February 23, 2015

The Films of Warren Beatty: $, Dollars, starring Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn, Directed by Richard Brooks (1971)

Goldie Hawn and Warren Beatty in $, better known as Dollars, 1971.

German lobby card for Dollars. "Es geht um dollars!" translates to "It's about dollars!" Well, duh.

Warren Beatty with his trusty stopwatch in Dollars, 1971. His hair is pretty amazing in this movie.

Warren Beatty working the phones, circa 1970.
The most oddly titled movie of Warren Beatty’s career is the 1971 heist movie $, which is usually referred to as Dollars. The only title we see for the movie during the opening title sequence is a giant dollar symbol sign being moved by a crane. To alleviate confusion, most of the original posters for the film show both a dollar sign and the word Dollars. Ironically enough, the movie didn’t make many dollars at the box office when it was released in December 1971, despite being a decent movie and starring Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn.

In Dollars Beatty stars as Joe Collins, an American expert in bank security who is helping a bank in Hamburg, Germany with upgrading their security. Dollars was the third movie in a row in which the first name of Beatty’s character started with the letter J. His next movie, 1974’s The Parallax View, in which he played Joe Frady, would make it four in a row. Out of the seven movies Beatty made during the 1970’s, his character is named Joe in four of them. Anyway, back to the movie. No one knows better than Joe Collins what the flaws are in the bank’s security system. With the help of his hooker friend, the bubble-headed blonde Dawn Divine (Goldie Hawn) Collins sets out to steal money from the bank’s safety deposit boxes. But Collins only wants to steal money from people who are engaged in illicit dealings, as he knows they won’t report the theft to the police. Oddly enough, Dawn’s entire clientele is made up of men who are stealing and embezzling money. 

The heist itself is quite clever, but the disadvantage of stealing money from people engaged in illicit activities is that they are often quite ruthless and vengeful when they discover their money is gone. Which leads us to perhaps the longest chase scene in the history of the movies. The crooks chase Beatty through numerous different locations, including across a frozen lake. The chase scene is sort of clever, but it’s definitely too long. According to Peter Biskind’s biography of Beatty, the star hurt his ankle performing some of the stunts during the chase scene in the train yard. (Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America, by Peter Biskind, p.158) You can see Beatty limping during the chase scene at the train station. There are a ton of phone calls throughout Dollars, which must have delighted Beatty, who is famous for his long phone calls, both with his paramours and movie associates. 

Dollars is a good movie, made more enjoyable if you like the two lead actors. It was written and directed by Richard Brooks, the man behind such great movies as Blackboard Jungle, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Elmer Gantry, The Professionals, and In Cold Blood. Dollars is one of the lesser entries in his formidable filmography. The beginning of the film is muddled, as characters are introduced without any explanation. It takes a long time before the story starts to make sense. Dollars is one of those movies, much like Beatty’s 1966 caper film Kaleidoscope, that’s supposed to be “fun,” but isn’t actually funny. 

It’s hard to be engaged with the characters in Dollars, as they aren’t very three-dimensional. If you want Joe Collins and Dawn Divine to get away with the robbery, it’s because you like Goldie Hawn and Warren Beatty, not because of any emotions you feel about the characters. Beatty does a good job playing Joe, because he gets to play a guy who talks a lot. And Warren Beatty is really good at talking. Beatty is superb when he gets to play characters who are charmers, like John McCabe in McCabe & Mrs.Miller, or Clyde Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde. Dollars is yet another movie in which Beatty plays a con man/criminal. I’m not sure if the role of Dawn Divine was written for Hawn, but it certainly seems tailored for her scatterbrained persona. Hawn does a good job with what the script gives her. If you like Goldie Hawn, she’ll make you laugh. If you don’t like Goldie Hawn, she’ll irritate the hell out of you. Dawn must be doing very well, as she has a really nice apartment for a call girl/hooker. Gert Frobe, best known for playing Auric Goldfinger in Goldfinger, has a supporting role as the bank manager whom Beatty finesses, the better to unknowingly assist in Beatty’s heist.  

Beatty and Goldie Hawn have a good chemistry together, even though their acting styles are rather different. Beatty and Hawn would later star in Shampoo and Town & Country together. Hawn’s three movies with Beatty ties Julie Christie as his most frequent co-star. Hawn and Beatty have remained good friends ever since making Dollars together in 1971. Hawn described her relationship with Beatty in an interview with Beatty biographer Suzanne Finstad: “He’s a very deep person…He has become the brother that I never had, and will always be till the day I die.” (Warren Beatty: A Private Man, by Suzanne Finstad, p.402) 

If you compare Dollars to Kaleidoscope, another caper movie pairing Beatty with a dizzy blonde, you can see how much movies changed in the five years between 1966 and 1971. Dollars was rated R, and there’s a lot of nudity in it, including some full frontal shots at a strip club. That would not have happened in a Hollywood movie from 1966. With the demise of the Production Code in 1968, filmmakers were free of excessive censorship, which led to movies that dealt with more explicit subject matter. 

After Dollars finished filming in April of 1971, Beatty took a long break from making movies. His next movie was 1974’s The Parallax View. In between, Beatty immersed himself in the 1972 Presidential campaign of George McGovern, and he worked on his long-gestating script about a hairdresser, which would eventually become 1975’s Shampoo.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Films of Warren Beatty: The Parallax View, starring Warren Beatty, directed by Alan J. Pakula (1974)

Poster for The Parallax View, 1974.
Warren Beatty volunteering for George McGovern's Presidential campaign in 1972.
Lobby card for The Parallax View, with Warren Beatty and Hume Cronyn, 1974.

Warren Beatty, with the best 1970's hair, in The Parallax View, 1974.

Director Alan J. Pakula and star Warren Beatty on the set of The Parallax View, 1974.

Whenever I think of classic Warren Beatty, I always imagine him from the 1970’s. Despite all of his successes throughout other decades, the image that springs to my mind is always the shaggy-haired Beatty from Shampoo and Heaven Can Wait. Maybe it’s because those were the first two movies of his that I saw, besides seeing Dick Tracy numerous times when I was 9 years old. I’ve long thought that the 1970’s look suited Beatty extremely well. He was always a strikingly handsome man in his movies from the 1960’s, but I think he got even better looking in the 1970’s. Beatty always had a fantastic head of hair, and the changing fashions of the 1970’s allowed to him to wear it longer, which worked well for him.

The Parallax View, a conspiracy thriller from 1974, shows Beatty in his full 1970’s glory. When The Parallax View was released in June of 1974, it was Beatty’s first movie since the confusingly titled $, also known as Dollars, was released two and a half years earlier at the end of 1971. In the interim, Beatty had spent 1972 volunteering for George McGovern’s Presidential campaign. Beatty had also turned down many hit movies during this time. According to Peter Biskind, Beatty turned down roles in The Godfather, The Way We Were, The Sting, and The Great Gatsby. (Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America, by Peter Biskind, p.166) Personally, I think Beatty would have made a fantastic Jay Gatsby. He would have brought the right amount of charm and unease to the part.

George McGovern said of Beatty’s work for him in the 1972 campaign, “He was one of the three or four most important people in the campaign. And he never sought credit.” (Biskind, p.174) It was during the McGovern campaign that Beatty first met Gary Hart, future Senator and Presidential candidate. Hart was McGovern’s campaign manager, and was instrumental in helping McGovern secure the Democratic nomination for President. Hart and Beatty quickly became good friends, and Beatty was a key supporter when Hart ran for the Democratic nomination in 1984 and 1988. 

Politics has been one of Warren Beatty’s key interests outside of the movies throughout his life. Beatty once said about politics, “You’ve gotta have a life. You’ve gotta relate to people. Otherwise, you’ll make movies about movies and it just won’t be very interesting. So you’ve gotta make movies about life, and my avenue into life, my way of getting to know people, has been political.” (Biskind, p.174-5) There has been occasional speculation throughout his career about Beatty running for office. According to Suzanne Finstad’s biography of Beatty, he thought briefly about running for Governor of California in 1974 after a poll named him as the favorite candidate to replace outgoing Governor Ronald Reagan. (Warren Beatty: A Private Man, by Suzanne Finstad, p.412) 

The Parallax View was directed by Alan J. Pakula, who had previously directed Klute, and would go on to direct the superb All the President’s Men in 1976. The Parallax View was based on the 1970 novel of the same name by Loren Singer. The word parallax means “the apparent difference in direction of an object as seen from two different points not on a straight line with the object.” (Thanks Merriam-Webster’s phone app!) Parallax basically means how things change, or appear to change, depending on which angle we look at it from. 

In The Parallax View, Warren Beatty stars as newspaper reporter Joe Frady, who begins investigating suspicious deaths of witnesses to the assassination of a Senator, and ends up discovering a shadowy company, the Parallax Corporation, that recruits potential assassins. The Parallax View is an excellent film, and it reflects very well the troubled tenor of the time in which it was made. Released on June 14, 1974, less than two months before Richard Nixon resigned, The Parallax View was released into an America that had suffered from many traumas during the previous eleven years. The assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King had shocked the country. During the same period, it became obvious during the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal that the United States government was systematically lying to the country. People’s trust in institutions was shattered. The Parallax View combines both of these threads, as the mysterious Parallax Corporation trains future assassins to kill whoever it views as enemies, and the government is shown lying to the American people through the commissions that investigate the assassinations in the movie. The Parallax View was a perfect movie for the paranoid atmosphere of 1974. 

The title is very clever, as by changing the way we look at Joe Frady, the newspaper reporter that Warren Beatty plays, we can see him as either a potential assassin or a hero. Ultimately, Frady is killed by the Parallax Corporation and framed as the lone assassin of Senator George Hammond. He’s shown in the movie to be something of a loner, a misfit. It’s not too much of a stretch for him to apply to the Parallax Corporation and pretend to be an anti-social loner. By looking at him one way, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that the government commission does at the end of the movie, “He was dangerous.” As viewers of the movie, we know the truth, which is that Frady was not an assassin, so we can say, “He was not dangerous.” If you look at Frady’s life assuming that he was the killer of Senator Hammond, you’ll see all the red flags and disregard anything that doesn’t fit the theory that he was a killer. You’ll see him through the lens of a killer. But if you look at Frady’s life as we saw it in the movie, you’ll come to the conclusion that he wasn’t a killer, and see him as a hero who prevented the bombing of an airplane. Just as the parallax view changes how we see objects relative to one another, how we see Joe Frady changes as we view him through different lenses. 

Warren Beatty gives an excellent performance in The Parallax View, and it shows what he was capable of when given a good script and a good director to work with. It sounds as though Beatty and Pakula got along well together, and it’s too bad they didn’t collaborate again. Craig Baxley, Beatty’s stunt double on The Parallax View said, “I’d be very surprised if any director that worked with Warren on a film wouldn’t say that Warren was as responsible for that film as that director was. Warren was a true collaborator and he did it in such a way that it was such a positive experience.” (Warren Beatty: A Private Man, by Suzanne Finstad, p.412)

The supporting cast of The Parallax View is excellent, as Hume Cronyn, Paula Prentiss, William Daniels, and Walter McGinn all give terrific performances. Look for Kenneth Mars, best known as Franz Liebkind, the Nazi playwright who is the author of Springtime for Hitler in Mel Brooks’ The Producers as the retired FBI agent who meets Frady at the park, where they ride a kiddie train.

I watched The Parallax View right after watching Mickey One, and it’s amazing to see the difference in Beatty’s acting between 1965 and 1974. He has so much more confidence in The Parallax View, and he delivers a much better performance. Gone are all the little method mannerisms, the James Dean tics. Beatty seems to finally trust himself as an actor. 

Odd Warren Beatty fact: His character’s name is Joe Frady, which is just one letter different from the character he played in The Only Game in Town, Joe Grady. Beatty also played characters named Joe in Dollars, and Heaven Can Wait. He’s played characters with a first name starting with the letter J in 7 of his 22 movies.

The opening credits are very unusual, in that Beatty is the only credited actor. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before in a movie that isn’t just a one-person show. 

The Parallax View is a terrific conspiracy thriller, and it’s a classic example of great 1970’s moviemaking. The cinematography is by Gordon Willis, who worked on all three Godfather movies, plus Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and Manhattan. There are many images from The Parallax View that will stick with you long after the movie is over.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Films of Warren Beatty: Kaleidoscope, starring Warren Beatty and Susannah York (1966)

Warren Beatty and Susannah York in Kaleidoscope, 1966.

French poster for Kaleidoscope, 1966. This was similar to the British and American posters, and makes the movie look much more interesting than it really is.

Another French poster for Kaleidoscope, 1966. That drawing of Beatty and York is fantastic. I also love that this poster shows you the ending of the movie.
Kaleidoscope was Warren Beatty’s seventh movie, and his sixth bad movie. After starting his career with a bang in the terrific Splendor in the Grass, Beatty’s subsequent movies had all proved to be flops at the box office. Kaleidoscope was a typical mod mid-1960’s caper movie, trying to capture some of that James Bond-style magic. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work very well. 

Beatty plays Barney Lincoln, a wealthy American playboy living in London. Just for kicks, Barney breaks into the Kaleidoscope playing card factory in Geneva and makes small marks on the presses that print the cards so he can identify which cards his opponent has, and which card he’s about to get. Since Kaleidoscope seems to have a monopoly on supplying all of the European casinos with playing cards, his plan seems pretty fool proof, and he wins a ton of money. Along the way he meets flighty English girl Angel McGinnis, played by Susannah York. Angel tells her father about Barney and his prowess with cards. Her father happens to be is a Scotland Yard inspector, played by Clive Revill. Inspector McGinnis asks Barney to come in for questioning. But it turns out he doesn’t want to arrest Barney, and is willing to drop the charges if Barney can beat businessman and drug dealer Harry Dominion (Eric Porter) at poker and hopefully bankrupt him. Since Dominion is using Kaleidoscope brand playing cards, Barney does very well against him. But then they switch the brand of playing card! Oh no, can Barney still beat Dominion without cheating? Spoiler alert: yes, he can. After Dominion loses he goes back to his castle, and for some odd reason, Angel goes with him. Why does she do this? I don’t know, I think it’s because Dominion looks like Napoleon Bonaparte. No, really. It’s established when Angel first meets Barney that she’s obsessed with Napoleon. (Since I just finished reading two biographies of Napoleon, Angel sounds like my kind of girl.) It’s also established by his awful combed-forward hairstyle that Dominion sort of looks like Napoleon, and he has several portraits of Napoleon in his casino. When Angel first sees him she shouts out, “Vive l’Empereur!” Dominion takes this as a compliment, and begins calling her Josephine. Apparently Angel becomes so besotted with Dominion that she just takes off after him once he loses. He doesn’t kidnap her or anything she just gets in his car. So Barney chases after them, and they almost get killed by Dominion and his henchmen, but thanks to Scotland Yard, Dominion is arrested. 

Ultimately, Kaleidoscope just isn’t a very good movie. As film critic Lawrence Quirk wrote of Kaleidoscope, “Had all this been told with some wit, style, literacy and a correct blend of writing, directorial and photographic skills, Kaleidoscope might have been a smash sleeper of the kind that Beatty desperately needed.” (The Films of Warren Beatty, by Lawrence Quirk, p.126) I was really disappointed that Kaleidoscope didn’t have a groovy theme song, sung by Tom Jones or someone like that. It seems like the kind of movie that would have had a theme song.

Part of the problem is that the supporting actors, Clive Revill and Eric Porter, are much better written than the two leads. Beatty and York simply don’t have much acting work to do. Beatty never breaks a sweat, as he’s playing another glib sarcastic guy. Even when Revill questions him at Scotland Yard, Beatty makes it clear that he’s bored and doesn’t take it seriously. Beatty really doesn’t have much to do other than look good in a tuxedo. Which he succeeds at, by the way. But Revill’s character is fuller, as we can tell from the writing how much he despises Dominion and how badly he wants to see him in jail. Even in that little moment he shows more emotion than Beatty does during the whole movie. Beatty isn’t really miscast, it just that as Barney Lincoln he has nothing to do. York is fine, but her character isn’t so much a full-fledged character as just a collection of quirks. Sandra Dee was originally going to play Angel McGinnis, but Warner Brothers bought her contract out and replaced her with York. That proved to be a good move, because the movie would have been worse with Dee in it. She was not a very good actress, and I’m sure her British accent would not have been good.

Kaleidoscope was not a hit with either the critics or the public. Time magazine got off a funny jab in their review, writing, “Hero Warren Beatty tries so hard to act like Sean Connery that once or twice he almost develops a line in his face.” (Quirk, p.127) 

Behind the scenes, filming seemed to go smoothly. Director Jack Smight said, “I was warned that Warren would be difficult to deal with, both as an actor and as a human being.” (Warren Beatty: A Private Man, by Suzanne Finstad, p.348) But Smight shut down Beatty’s method tendencies and was able to have a good working relationship with him. Finstad’s biography of Beatty also mentions that Beatty doesn’t like to gamble, which is ironic, given all of the times that he’s played gamblers on screen.

Jack Warner, head of Warner Brothers, though that Kaleidoscope would be a major hit for his studio, and he was worried that Beatty’s next picture, Bonnie and Clyde, was going to be a flop. Warner had given Bonnie and Clyde the green light without reading the screenplay, and once he actually read the screenplay he had reservations about its commercial potential. He wrote in a memo: “I don’t understand the whole thinking of Warren Beatty and Penn. We will lose back whatever we happen to make on Kaleidoscope…this era went out with Cagney.” (Pictures at a Revolution, by Mark Harris, p.195) Of course, history proved Warner to be very wrong, as Kaleidoscope didn’t make any money, and Bonnie and Clyde made tons of it. But mostly for Warren Beatty, who got 40% of the profits from it. 

Beatty promoted the film heavily, attending the premiere at Radio City Music Hall on September 22, 1966. Beatty also appeared on What’s My Line, where he’s quite awkward, and on the Today show with Barbara Walters. Walters later wrote of their encounter in her 1970 book, How to Talk with Practically Anybody About Practically Anything:  “He answered me monosyllabically with an expression of extreme boredom bordering on distaste. Finally I resorted to the hackneyed but spoil-proof, ‘Tell me, Mr. Beatty, what is your new picture about?’…after an endless pause he said, ‘Now that’s really a very difficult question.’ I’d had it…I said, ‘Mr. Beatty, you are the most impossible interview I have ever had. Let’s forget the whole thing and I’ll do a commercial.’” (Walters, p.39. The story is also recounted and quoted in both Peter Biskind and Suzanne Finstad’s biographies of Beatty.) 

Peter Biskind opines in his biography of Beatty, “Another picture like Kaleidoscope, and Beatty would have gone the way of Troy Donahue.” (Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America, by Peter Biskind, p.101) While Biskind might be exaggerating, it’s certainly true that Beatty’s career was in very rough shape. Beatty was probably lucky that he was still getting offered leading roles. As Beatty himself said, “It got to the point where I would have to make a good picture or get myself into trouble. That’s when we made Bonnie and Clyde.” (Biskind, p.58) And that’s when Warren Beatty made Hollywood history.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Films of Warren Beatty: Mickey One starring Warren Beatty and Alexandra Stewart, directed by Arthur Penn (1965)

Poster for Mickey One, starring Warren Beatty, 1965.

Warren Beatty and Alexandra Stewart on the set of Mickey One.

Warren Beatty as Mickey One, a paranoid stand-up comedian.
In Mickey One, Warren Beatty plays a stand-up comedian who goes on the run from the Mob and ends up in Chicago. Does that sound like an interesting premise for a movie? Sure. Unfortunately, Mickey One is pretentious, self-consciously artistic, and needlessly opaque.

Director Arthur Penn was heavily influenced by the French New Wave films of the time, and Mickey One comes off as paint by numbers surrealism. Is there a mysterious mute character? Check. Are there tons of close ups of ugly people to get across your contempt for humanity? Check.

The audience is never invested enough in Mickey’s story to really care what happens to him. Perhaps the most successful part of the movie is the opening credit sequence, which introduces us to Beatty’s character, a high-living nightclub comedian who suddenly has to split town when he owes the Mob a lot of money over a gambling debt. He ends up in Chicago and steals a Social Security card. The name on the card is Mickey, and when a worker can’t pronounce the last name, he dubs Beatty “Mickey One,” which is how he’s known for the rest of the movie. Mickey starts working as a comedian again, and he meets Jenny, (the gorgeous Alexandra Stewart) a sweet girl who accepts his many eccentricities. Given the chance to play a classier nightclub owned by Ed Castle (Hurd Hatfield) Mickey must overcome his paranoia and embrace life again.

Part of the problem with Mickey One is that we never know if Mickey is crazy or not. Is he really in danger? Are there really people out to get him? We never really find out. While I understand that the ambiguity in this matter was deliberate, I don’t think it’s the best choice for involving viewers in the narrative. If you want me to care about Mickey, you need to do one of two things. If he is really in danger, you need to demonstrate that so that I will care about Mickey’s survival. If he isn’t in danger and is really just slowly going insane, then you need to show his mental deterioration in a more clear way, so that I will care about Mickey’s survival. But Penn decided to leave it up to the viewers to decide which interpretation is correct, which leads to a movie without much tension.

Part of the problem with Mickey One is the script, and the character of Mickey. As played by Beatty, he’s another callow jerk, just like every other character Beatty had played to this point, with the exception of Bud Stamper in Splendor in the Grass. Mickey is unlikeable and unrelatable, and his stand-up jokes aren’t funny at all. That might be part of the point, I suppose. Mickey is a jerk to Jenny when he first meets her, and he’s very lucky that she talks to him at all. With the rage that Mickey quickly displays, most women wouldn’t have given him the time of day.

Beatty doesn’t give a good performance as Mickey. He isn’t acting, he’s “acting.” He sometimes lapses into a sort of “tough guy” voice that isn’t his real voice. He’s still hung up on his James Dean mannerisms, and he hasn’t yet developed his own style of film acting. That would come later, when he played Clyde Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde. Also, Beatty was hamstrung by the fact that nearly all of his early characters lack any humor or charm. Two of the things that Warren Beatty does best on screen are humor and charm, and when he’s asked to play someone without those qualities, his performance suffers. 

The supporting cast does as good a job as they can. Alexandra Stewart is beautiful and sexy in that mid-1960’s art movie way, with her long straight hair and perfectly chiseled cheekbones. Stewart’s performance is low-key, but effective, and she is the rock that the neurotic Mickey leans on. Hurd Hatfield gives an excellent performance as nightclub owner Ed Castle, who eats only organic food. I don’t know if the audience is supposed to think that Castle is gay or not, but Hatfield gives him just enough insistent charm to make us wonder why he likes Mickey so much. Franchot Tone, most well-known for starring in Mutiny on the Bounty in 1935, has a small role as Ruby Lapp, who tells Mickey in the beginning of the movie that the Mob is after him. Fun fact, Tone was married to Joan Crawford from 1935-39. And on the poster for Mickey One Tone gets the coveted “and” billing, plus he also gets his name in a box. If you’re name isn’t above the title, the next best thing is to have your name in a box. Japanese actor Kamatari Fujiwara, a favorite actor of Akira Kurosawa’s, plays the mute character known only as “The Artist,” who keeps showing up and wordlessly beckoning Mickey to join him. “The Artist” also creates a self-destructive sculpture that is a reference to Jean Tinguely’s famous sculpture, “Homage to New York,” which partially self-destructed in the garden outside of MOMA in 1960. In real life, as in the movie, the fire department had to come to extinguish the blaze created by the sculpture. The scene where Mickey and Jenny watch the sculpture self-destruct was filmed in the skating rink at the then brand-new Marina City apartment complex. Since Mickey One was filmed in 1964, the year that Marina City was completed, it must have been the first movie to make use of these Chicago icons. 

Behind the scenes, Mickey One was a difficult shoot. Arthur Penn and Warren Beatty did not see eye to eye. In a 1972 interview Beatty said, “We had a lot of trouble on that film because I didn’t know what the hell Arthur was trying to do. I didn’t know what Penn wanted…I’m not sure that he knew himself.” (Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America, by Peter Biskind, p.69) In a 1967 article in Cahiers du Cinema, Penn said, “Warren did not want to play the role the way I wanted him to play it.” (Warren Beatty: A Private Man, by Suzanne Finstad, p.317) Penn also later said of Beatty, “At that stage in the game, I don’t think Warren was as adept an actor as he later became.” (Biskind, p.69) During filming Penn forced Beatty to perform multiple takes of numerous scenes, which ironically enough, would later become Beatty’s preferred way of working as a director. In what must have been a highlight for Penn, both Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut, the heavy hitters of the French New Wave, visited the set of Mickey One.

To the surprise of no one, Mickey One was a commercial and critical flop when it was released in September 1965. Warren Beatty later humorously told author Mark Harris, “The morning after Mickey One opened, I called the studio and said, how did it do? They said, it did thirteen dollars. I said, is that good?” (Pictures at a Revolution, by Mark Harris, p.137) Beatty also said of the movie, “It was a very good picture, but nobody understood it.” (Finstad, p.347)

Associate producer Harrison Starr said of Mickey One, “I thought we should have looked hard and found an extraordinarily eccentric guy who had still a sufficient charisma to hold the center of the film. Warren was almost too big for the film.” (Finstad, p.314) Even Peter Biskind, who really, really likes Warren Beatty, writes in his biography of Beatty: “This was one of the worst performances of Beatty’s career.” (Biskind, p.69)

1964 was a difficult year for Warren Beatty. He needed to come up with another hit movie, and he had hired Woody Allen to write the screenplay that would eventually become What’s New, Pussycat? Beatty had high hopes for the screenplay, but was annoyed when his part started getting smaller and Allen’s part kept getting bigger. When Beatty objected to producer Charles Feldman casting his girlfriend Capucine in a large role in the film, he dropped out. Beatty thought that they couldn’t do the movie without him, and that Feldman would woo him back and give Beatty what he wanted. No dice, as Beatty was replaced with Peter O’Toole, who was a much bigger star than Beatty in 1964. Of course, much to Beatty’s chagrin, What’s New, Pussycat? went on to become the huge hit that he so sorely needed. Incidentally, the film’s title comes from Beatty’s preferred way of starting a conversation with members of the opposite sex. The What’s New, Pussycat? debacle had taught Beatty one thing: that in order to get what he wanted, he would have to become a producer.

Beatty suffered through lots of bad publicity in 1964, as he was named as a corespondent in the divorce of Leslie Caron and her husband, British theater director Peter Hall. Beatty had met Caron just before rehearsals for Mickey One started. They quickly began a relationship, and she visited him on the Chicago set of Mickey One. (The Chicago studios where Mickey One was filmed eventually became Oprah’s studios.) Caron’s marriage to Peter Hall was pretty much over before Beatty came into the picture, but Beatty took the blame for breaking them up. A nasty custody fight over Hall and Caron’s two children followed, and Beatty temporarily took up residence in England with Caron while the legal battle played out. Caron’s divorce was the reason that Beatty’s next movie, Promise Her Anything, in which he co-starred with Caron, was filmed in England, even though it was set in New York City. 

Even though Mickey One was not a successful film, there was still something good that came out of it. The best thing that Mickey One did was to bring Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn together, as they would collaborate again on a much more brilliant film that would play a significant part in altering 20th century cinema: 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde.