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Gore Vidal Controversial Movies: 'The Best Man' & 'Caligula'

Gore Vidal youngGore Vidal movies: The Best Man, Caligula, Suddenly Last Summer. (Image: A young Gore Vidal.) Author, playwright, screenwriter, acerbic storyteller, and political commentator Gore Vidal died Tuesday, July 31, at his home in the Hollywood Hills. Vidal, who had been living in Los Angeles since 2003, was 86.

Gore Vidal movies

Details about Vidal's life and literary career can be found elsewhere on the Web. But it's good to remember that Gore Vidal was also a notable – though hardly prolific – screenwriter.

After penning various television plays for anthology series such as Studio One and Omnibus, Vidal wrote the film version of Paddy Chayefsky's teleplay The Catered Affair. Directed by Richard Brooks, this underrated 1956 family comedy-drama starred (the recently deceased) Ernest Borgnine and Bette Davis as the working-class parents of Debbie Reynolds, who is about to get married to Rod Taylor.

Two years later, Vidal wrote the adaptation of Nicholas Halasz 's book I Accuse!, about Emile Zola's attack on French society's bigotry. Directed by the Oscar-winning actor José Ferrer, who also played the Jewish Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, I Accuse! featured Viveca Lindfors as Dreyfus' wife and Emlyn Williams as Zola. The film was not a major success.

Gore Vidal had better luck at the box office with his adaptation of Tennessee Williams' family friendly play Suddenly Last Summer (1959), which featured (however obliquely) homosexuality, incest, madness, and cannibalism.

You think Hollywood and American society have become more willing to embrace “difficult” themes? Well, think again. No major Hollywood studio would touch Suddenly Last Summer today; but back in 1959, the Columbia release turned out to be a major financial success. Joseph L. Mankiewicz directed, while Montgomery Clift, and Oscar nominees Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor starred.

That same year, Vidal co-wrote with Robert Hamer the adaptation of Daphne DuMaurier's novel The Scapegoat. Starring Alec Guinness and featuring Bette Davis in what amounts to an extended cameo, the film was neither a box office nor a critical success.

Five years later, Gore Vidal was back in form, pushing the envelope once again in the gripping film adaptation of his own play, The Best Man. In this Franklin J. Schaffner-directed political drama, low-key all-American Henry Fonda and high-strung all-American Cliff Robertson are both vying for the nomination for the presidency of the United States. One problem: Robertson's potential candidate has a skeleton in his closet – a gay skeleton.

Gore Vidal: Myra Breckinridge, Caligula

More famous – or rather, infamous – are two other Gore Vidal efforts: Myra Breckinridge and Caligula.

Directed by Michael Sarne, and featuring Raquel Welch in the title role as a transgendered woman gone Hollywood, film legend Mae West, film reviewer Rex Reed (as the Myron who becomes Myra), veteran filmmaker John Huston, and newcomers Farrah Fawcett and Tom Selleck, the film version of Vidal's 1968 novel Myra Breckenridge is considered a camp masterpiece by some, one of the worst movies ever made by others. (Loretta Young, who sued 20th Century Fox, surely belonged to the latter camp.) Released in 1970, Myra Breckenridge was a critical and box office cataclysm. The adaptation was credited to director Sarne and David Giler (one of the producers of Ridley Scott's Prometheus). [Check out Raquel Welch quotes about Mae West, Myra Breckinridge.]

Featuring a prestigious cast – Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, Peter O'Toole, John GielgudTinto Brass' Caligula (1979) was a complex, difficult production. Gore Vidal had an ugly falling out with director Brass, and was sidelined throughout the production. Later on, when things didn't quite turn out the way producer Bob Guccione wanted, the Penthouse magnate took over the film, had it reedited, and inserted explicit sex scenes to liven things up a bit. As a result, Caligula became a cause de scandale not seen since Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris (and Deep Throat) earlier in the decade.

[“Gore Vidal Movies: CALIGULA / SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER” continues on the next page. See link below.]

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1 Comment to Gore Vidal Controversial Movies: 'The Best Man' & 'Caligula'

  1. Ferdinand Lefevre

    Iconic! Brilliant! Inspiring! GORE VIDAL helped me liberate myself and come out to the world as a gay man. I adore his work and will be forever grateful. RIP my dear friend and THANK YOU!