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  • David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (25/1/2023)

(A review of I Need Another Take, Darling by Alvin Rakoff)

Canadian director Alvin Rakoff will turn 96 on 6 February. Judging by his second volume of reminiscences - I Need Another Take, Darling - he's still going as strongly as he was when he published I'm Just the Guy Who Says Action a couple of years ago.

In addition to contributing to the scripts of several of his film and television assignments, Rakoff has also penned the novels, & Gillian (1996) and Baldwin Street (2007). He writes with brio and brevity and his articulate reflections on an eventful life are a pleasure to read. Yet, thanks to some negligent editing, this lively collection of anecdotes feels a bit thrown together.

Take, for example, Rakoff's remembrance of his clash with Peter Sellers on Hoffman (1970). He notes that Sellers had proved equally difficult on Billy Wilder's Kiss Me, Stupid (1964) prior to suffering the heart attack that nearly killed him. En passant, Rakoff mentions a brief encounter with Wilder, but avoids a digression with the line, `but that's another story'. This would be fine, only he had already outlined their meeting during the production of One, Two, Three (1961) several pages earlier.

This account of a transatlantic screening of Some Like It Hot (1959) is somewhat marred by the fruity misspelling of Jack Lemmon's name. And this isn't the only slip. Donald Pleasence has his surname muddled, while Irving Rapper's Now, Voyager (1942) is denied its comma and a superfluous `g' appears in the title of Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen's Singin' in the Rain (1952).

Small blips, but they matter, even though Rakoff isn't much of a stickler for names and dates. He does spin a good yarn, though, whether it's about Rod Steiger fulminating about being asked to go for a second take after mugging through an extreme close-up on The World in My Pocket (1961) or Cary Grant negotiating his way out of a walk-on in The Comedy Man (1964). A particular gem mocks the ignorance of a Hollywood producer who optioned John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids without having read it and then lambasted Rakoff for writing a script about `vegetables that move'.

This has a nice pay-off line, as does the reliving of the childhood smashing of Edward VIII coronation memorabilia in his father's Toronto store in December 1936. Adding to the allure is the presence of Ava Gardner in her London flat around the time that Rakoff directed her in the 1979 disaster movie, City on Fire. Her geniality contrasts with Bette Davis's haughtiness when having Rakoff fired from the dark Hammer comedy, The Anniversary (1968) after he questioned the need for co-star Elaine Taylor to have a concealed scar on her ear in order to help the two-time Oscar winner define her attitude towards Taylor's character.

This incident took place a year after Rakoff had behaved like a wide-eyed fan by posing as a workman to sneak on to the Pinewood set of Charles Chaplin's A Countess From Hong Kong (1967) in order to meet his hero, Marlon Brando. His Method style of acting contrasted markedly with the classical stage technique that Laurence Olivier had adapted so effectively for the screen. Rakoff recalls a number of run-ins with Olivier during the making of John Mortimer's A Voyage Round My Father (1982), but they're not particularly riveting. Indeed, he even recycles the tired chestnut about Olivier telling Method advocate Dustin Hoffman to try acting while they were shooting John Schlesinger's Marathon Man (1976).

Much more intriguing is the anecdotage regarding playwright Terence Rattigan, who once exacted cool revenge on Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor for inviting him to dinner and offering him hamburgers. Yet, a story about a visit that Rakoff and Rattigan made to a trans bar in Paris feels as nudge-winkingly inappropriate in the #MeToo era as the one about Burton inviting a number of female passengers on a Roman bus to his hotel room in order to show off his sex appeal. Details of a corpsing jag on the set of Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Cleopatra (1963) are less toxic and more amusing.

Rakoff has seemingly never forgiven the producer who had insisted on imposing the title Say Hello to Yesterday on the 1971 Jean Simmons vehicle that had originally been called Whatever Happened to Happy Endings. Final flourishes clearly mean something, which makes the throwaway nature of Rakoff's farewell here feel so abrupt. It's out of keeping with the post-prandial smoothness of tales that have evidently been polished in their frequent retelling. Indeed, the material would suit a one-man stage show or a pod/vodcast, if Rakoff is up to the challenge. Whatever he elects to do, one wishes him well and hopes that there's maybe another volume or two left in the memory bank.

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