Thursday, November 09, 2006
Oscar's cross to bear
By Edward Copeland
I recently re-visisted The Ruling Class, getting to see it for the first time letterboxed, the way God intended, and while the film itself is even odder (and much longer than I remember), one thing remains unchanged: I still believe Peter O'Toole was robbed in 1972 when he lost best actor to Marlon Brando for The Godfather.
Don't get me wrong — Brando is great and I know some argue that he's actually supporting and Pacino is lead in Coppola's masterpiece, but his win to me has seemed another example of the Oscar ripple effect where a mistake one year, bubbles over into the next year and beyond.
If O'Toole had won, they wouldn't have had to finally break down and give him an honorary Oscar (buzz for his current film Venus notwithstanding) and then Brando could have won the following year for his even more substantial turn in Last Tango in Paris. I'm sure Sacheen Littlefeather could have waited a year for her classic Oscar moment.
As for The Ruling Class itself, I still enjoy it despite its bloated length and bizarre tale. I imagine if I were British and lived in England, I'd get even more out of Peter Barnes' adaptation of his play about the maneuverings in the upper crust of British society when a bonkers man (O'Toole) inherits his father's seat in the House of Lords and his estate — much to the chagrin of his uncle (William Mervyn), who doesn't think an Earl who believes he's Jesus Christ will be a good thing for the family and conspires to gain control of the estate.
However, the film doesn't play like a straight-forward game of machinations as director Peter Medak's film frequently goes on bizarre tangents, frequent musical numbers and, finally, a particularly dark turn in the latter half of the film.
O'Toole is not alone in the excellent cast — there also are great performances by Arthur Lowe as the estate's boozy butler and closet leftist and Alastair Sim, the best screen Scrooge ever in 1951's A Christmas Carol, as a befuddled bishop.
The Ruling Class certainly is not made for everyone, but it is a fascinating artifact and I still think O'Toole was robbed.