DVD Article

When Actors Yell 'Action'

Barbra Streisand, Marlon Brando, Richard Pryor and others have stepped behind the camera to add directing to their resume

Jack Nicholson (The Two Jakes) and Kevin Costner (Dances With Wolves) are just two recent examples of movie stars becoming movie directors. Here are the major one-shot efforts of actor-auteurs on video:

Night of the Hunter (1955, MGM/UA)
Charles Laughton didn't appear in the only film he directed, but his personality — a strange mixture of the effete and the physically foreboding — comes through more strongly than in any of the films mentioned above. A unique, dreamlike parable of two children menaced by a bogus preacher (Robert Mitchum, in easily his best performance), Night of the Hunter is close to folk art in its naive power. A+

The Kentuckian (1955, Playhouse)
This frontier adventure remains Burt Lancaster's sole stint behind the camera, and, like Lancaster, the film is both rugged and spry. What starts out as an uninspired action saga takes a philosophical turn when Lancaster's character falls for a schoolmarm and the movie debates the values of civilization versus frontier spirit. The wide-screen photography has been poorly cropped on video, but any movie that features Walter Matthau (in his film debut) as a whip-wielding bad guy is worth renting. B

Yentl (1983, MGM/UA)
Echoes of the Barbra Streisand persona interlace her musical adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer's story: Just as Yentl disguises herself as a boy in order to study the Talmud — to get what she wants against all objections — so Streisand overcame gender and gawkiness to become a Hollywood mogul. That personal dimension makes Yentl her most touching film. B

One Eyed Jacks (1961, Goodtimes or Paramount)
After having Stanley Kubrick fired from the project, star Marlon Brando decided he could be a directorial contender. The result? An overstuffed Method Western that features a mumbling Brando as vengeful bandit Kid Rio. The movie's a fanny-warmer at almost 21/2 hours, but by trying to refashion the horse-opera into existential myth, Brando came close to inventing the spaghetti Western three years before Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars. C+

Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling (1986, RCA/Columbia)
Director-cowriter-star Richard Pryor used his own flaming brush with death as the jumping-off point for examining the life of a famous comedian; but because he fictionalizes his story, we're never sure what to take as real (and therefore meaningful). While one hopes Jo Jo gave its maker some needed therapy, the finished film is a creepy exercise in heartfelt voyeurism. C-

TV Listings Alert: Some additional directing projects by well-known actors that aren't currently available on cassette: Short Cut to Hell (James Cagney, 1957), Scalawag (Kirk Douglas, 1973), Charlie Bubbles (Albert Finney, 1968), Kotch (Jack Lemmon, 1971), Gangster Story (Walter Matthau, 1960), Panic in the Year Zero (Ray Milland, 1962), Lady in the Lake (Robert Montgomery, 1946), and None but the Brave (Frank Sinatra, 1965).

Originally posted Mar 01, 1991 Published in issue #55 Mar 01, 1991 Order article reprints
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