Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Creator (1985)

Director: Ivan Passer                                       Writer: Jeremy Leven
Film Score: Sylvester Levay                             Cinematography: Robbie Greenberg
Starring: Peter O’Toole, Mariel Hemingway, Vincent Spano and Virginia Madsen

This is a forgotten romantic comedy gem. Few people know about it because it came and went in the theaters with little fanfare, but it is a wonderful film. Creator is based on the novel by Jeremy Leven, who also wrote the screenplay, and while the novel is very different in some respects and delivers another lesson altogether, this Hollywood version has its own special message to impart. Czech director Ivan Passer is not a well-known name today but he made some very interesting small films during his career, peaking after this with Haunted Summer before doing mostly television films afterward. This is an easy film to be cynical about because there are so many trite and overly-precious moments in the story. However, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. As audience members we suspend disbelief all the time for superheroes and space aliens, why not then for something genuinely romantic and heart felt?

Peter O’Toole is an eccentric scientist who lost his wife thirty years before. He saved her blood cells, however, and froze them with liquid nitrogen. Now, with the advent of modern technology, he is attempting to clone her and bring back the woman he loved so deeply. At the same time biology graduate student Vincent Spano follows Virginia Madsen into O’Toole’s lab and winds up becoming his personal assistant. Spano is affected deeply by O’Toole’s philosophy of life and becomes even more attached to him after his father dies. He’s inspired to seek out Madsen and, after a misunderstanding, they go to the beach with O’Toole to spend the weekend and fall in love. It’s cute and predictable and yet exactly the way falling in love should be. When O’Toole goes looking for a human egg to complete his experiment, he meets nineteen-year-old Mariel Hemingway and she gives him everything he needs. It’s only her egg at first but, though he doesn’t realize it, he needs much more than that from her to find a new kind of love.

The humor in Leven’s screenplay is delightful and manages to work both sides of the comedy/drama spectrum with equal skill. The cast is also first rate. Of course Peter O’Toole is one of the great British actors of all time, nominated for eight Academy Awards including one for My Favorite Year just a few years prior to this film. Mariel Hemingway had rocked the screen as a young girl in Lipstick, her first film with her sister Margaux, and made a real impression with Kurt Russell in The Mean Season just prior to this film. Though early in his career, Vincent Spano had already been cast in small roles in a dozen feature and television films by the time he appeared here. Though this wasn’t the breakout film for him that it should have been, he’s been steadily working ever since. Virginia Madson is simply radiant here, youthful and beautiful in only her fourth feature film. Like Spano, she worked steadily if unmemorably until her reemergence in Coppola’s The Rainmaker from 1997 and her subsequent stardom in Alexander Payne’s Sideways in 2003.

This is also a film that benefits tremendously from a very good supporting cast. The iconic Major Charles Emerson Winchester from the TV show M*A*S*H, David Ogden Stiers, plays the other famous scientist at the college. He’s a physician, an egomaniac, and driven to succeed in the traditional way. Of course he continually comes into conflict with O’Toole because the eccentric genius holds all of the research monies for the science center. John Dehner does a tremendous job as the department chair at the college, playing O’Toole’s good friend in a comically understated manner. And in an absolutely memorable small role as O’Toole’s secretary is Lee Kessler. Other recognizable bit part actors include Ian Wolfe, Jeff Corey, Kenneth Tigar and Rance Howard. Creator is a beautiful film that is not meant for cynics. But if you love a good love story, a warm and tender rather than laugh out loud romcom, this is one you’ll enjoy.

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