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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

VHS Vednesday: A Man of Passion

A MAN OF PASSION (1989). Directed by Jose Antonio de la Loma. Starring Anthony Quinn, Maud Adams, and R.J. Williams.

As Shari Shattuck Month continues, it's important to note that Shari Shattuck didn't just work in exploitive B-movies...she's also appeared in acclaimed science-fiction TV series (Babylon 5), popular nighttime soaps (Dallas), big-budget summer action movies (On Deadly Ground), and some things that defy categorization. A Man of Passion falls more-or-less into that last group.
For the most part, this movie is a nostalgic coming-of-age tale concerning the relationship of the 12-year-old narrator George (R.J. Williams) and his grandfather Mauricio (Anthony Quinn), a celebrated artist living in a picturesque Spanish village. Dropped off by his actress mother (Elizabeth Ashley) while she's on tour with a play, George spends the summer getting to know his eccentric relative and other colorful characters, such as the cranky caretaker Basilio (Ray Walston). Encouraging the musically gifted George to pursue his talents, Mauricio makes a deal with a wealthy patron, painting his portrait (the one artistic motif Mauricio hates painting) in exchange for a piano.
It's difficult to say what audience the film was aimed at; the general life-affirming storyline and George's narration suggest a family-oriented picture, but the occasional instances of nudity and adult themes (embodied by Shari Shattuck as Mauricio's model/mistress) take the movie to an "R" rating and away from a potentially wider circle of viewers. It seems neither fish nor fowl; too racy for the viewers who might be drawn to the family-bonding/art-appreciation themes, too tame for those that might be drawn in by the promise of titillation.
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
Anthony Quinn delivers the kind of "lusty man as life-force" characterization that became his trademark in Zorba the Greek; on the one hand, you might feel as though you've seen him do it all before, but on the other, he embodies it so well that it's hard to fault him for it. Ray Walston's cantankerous performance is likewise familiar but enjoyable. Young R.J. Williams manages to hold his own alongside his potentially overwhelming co-stars, though he sometimes falls victim to over-precious dialogue/narration. The weakest performance comes from Maud Adams as Mauricio's potential love interest; director Jose Antonio de la Loma may have been trying for a contrast between Adams' icy sophistication and Quinn's raw energy, but she simply comes across as bland and colorless by comparison. In her smaller part, Shari Shattuck is much more interesting and has better chemistry with both Quinn and Williams, gradually warming up to the boy after her initial surprise and resentment over the disruption of her routine.

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