SUNSET OVER MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2019)
Featuring Connie Sawyer, Anne Faulkner, Madie Smith, Dena Dietrich, Wright King, Maggie Malooney, Brett Hadley, Joel Rogosin, Deborah Rogosin, Daniel Selznick, Jerry Sedley Kaufmann, Duke Anderson, Phil Haberman, Ted Witzer and Tony Lawrence.
Written by Uli Gaulke and Marc Petzke.
Directed by Uli Gaulke.
Distributed by achtung panda! Media. 97 minutes. Not Rated.
Screened at the 2019 Philadelphia Film Festival.
The Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital has been a community for aging Hollywood artists – from actors to directors to writers to crew – since 1942. It was an offshoot of the Motion Picture & Television Fund, which was formed in the 1920s by such luminaries as Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Conrad Nagel, Milton Sills, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., and D. W. Griffith.
The fund was made to save people in the film (and later television) industry from becoming destitute. The House was later added to give them a nice retirement community to live in and medical services close and hand. It is all handled on a sliding scale as far as expenses are concerned. If the artist can afford to pay for his or her housing, etc., they will. If they can’t it is little or no charge.
Famous residents of the community over the years have included Bud Abbott, Mary Astor, Eileen Brennan, Yvonne DeCarlo, Norman Fell, Larry Fine, Annette Funicello, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Curly Howard, DeForest Kelley, Elsa Lanchester, Ida Lupino, Joel McCrea, Donald O’Connor, Louella Parsons, Richard Schaal, Allan Sherman and many, many more.
It seems like a brilliant opportunity for a fascinating documentary. An opportunity which is only sometimes captured by German director Uli Gaulke in this good-natured but slightly surface level doc.
The filmmakers don’t look at the bigger names living on the campus, instead they focus mainly on long-forgotten character actors and mid-level executives – with the occasional bigger named exec like Daniel Selznick popping up. (Of course, this may have to do with the fact that the biggest names I can find out for sure that currently live there are Helen Reddy, Allan Garfield and Glynis Johns.)
In fact, as far as the actors are concerned, the only one I knew by name was Dena Dietrich – a 60s and 70s sitcom staple who is probably best remembered for a long series of Chiffon Margarine commercials in the 1970s in which she imperiously exclaimed “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.”
Some of the other character actors whose names I didn’t recognize I did remember when the film showed some little clips of their past work.
Interestingly, the place is not a retirement home – at least in the most basic aspect of the idea. Most people in the neighborhood are still looking to work – coming up with project ideas, pitching movie ideas, auditioning for roles, working on books – no matter how old the people may be, nor how unlikely it may be that the projects will ever pan out. This continued motivation keeps the people young,
Longtime actress Connie Sawyer (who sadly has died since this was filmed in 2016) good-naturedly acknowledged that it is hard for her get cast in roles because lots of the production companies find it difficult or impossible to insure a 103-year-old actor. However, that didn’t stop her from auditioning regularly, because it is what she had always done. Occasionally she was still given interesting roles, including a significant part on Showtime’s Ray Donovan in 2014.
Sawyer, despite her age, is still a pistol. Just the interview sections with her and some sweet and good-natured squabbling by long-time couple producer Joel Rogosin and his former psychiatrist wife Deborah Rogosin are worth the admission. Believe me, the Rogosins are a hoot, their scenes are by far the funniest ones here.
Some of the other parts are a little overworked, though. For example, it is cool to see that these imaginative people are not giving up on their talents just because the world says they are too old, but honestly some of their ideas are not all that great. The film spends way too much time on the idea of a sequel to Casablanca in which Rick and Ilsa run into each other again as seniors. The idea in itself could perhaps work (though there have been several film or literary Casablanca IIs, none of which quite clicked), but the actual cram sessions – and a too early in the film imagining of the idea over the opening credits – seem sort of silly.
Still, in a film world obsessed with youth, it is nice to see some nice, happy, smart, talented and vital seniors and to learn their stories. Someday, there could probably be an even better film on the subject of The Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital, but Sunset Over Mulholland Drive is a sweet and charming introduction to this interesting little corner of the world.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2019 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 20, 2019.