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With a recent Academy Award nomination (his first) to cap Frank Langella's long, distinguished career, fans of the actor may wish to look back at one of his underrated earlier films, Those Lips, Those Eyes (1980). Langella plays Harry Crystal, star of a summer stock musical show, an actor in his forties who never made it into the major leagues but still waits for the big break - a discovery by some Broadway agent who may see his performance. This nostalgic story of theater life was a natural for Langella, an actor who has done some notable film work-from Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970) to Starting Out in the Evening (2007)-but whose first love and area of greatest achievement has always been the theater. In fact, two of his most acclaimed film roles, Dracula (1979) and the Oscar®-nominated Frost/Nixon (2008), were screen versions of performances he originated on Broadway.
Langella's Harry Crystal, however, is not the central character here. That role goes to Tom Hulce as wide-eyed, nave Artie Shoemaker, who takes a summer off from school, where he is pursuing the career in medicine his parents envisioned for him, to work backstage at a small Ohio theater in the 1950s. Along the way he meets and falls for one of the show's chorus girls, Ramona, and true to any coming-of-age story, learns some life lessons. Hulce also knows a bit about this story's premise, having started out as an usher and ticket seller for a small Michigan theater company. Cast as an understudy to Peter Firth in the Broadway production of Equus, Hulce got the chance to step in to the role after nine months on the job. A number of film and stage appearances followed, including his Oscar®-nominated performance in the title role of Amadeus (1984).
The operettas that were a staple of touring shows in the old days get an affectionate send-up in the script by David Shaber, who also penned Walter Hill's gangland fantasy The Warriors (1979), and Jonathan Demme's Hitchcock riff Last Embrace (1979). Included are numbers from The Vagabond King, The Desert Song, and other warhorses of the genre by the likes of Hammerstein, Friml, Herbert, and Romberg, many of which were adapted for the screen in the heyday of the American film musical.
Those Lips, Those Eyes was actually shot in an Ohio summer stock theater, the Cain Park Theater in Cleveland Heights.
Director: Michael Pressman
Producer: Herb Jaffe
Screenplay: David Shaber
Cinematography: Bobby Byrne
Editing: Millie Moore
Production Design: Walter Scott Herndon
Original Music: Michael Small
Cast: Frank Langella (Harry Crystal), Glynnis O'Connor (Ramona), Tom Hulce (Artie Shoemaker), Jerry Stiller (Mr. Shoemaker), Kevin McCarthy (Mickey Bellinger).
by Rob Nixon