By Amy Nicholson
By LA Weekly critics
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Anthony D'Alessandro
Perhaps it's just typecasting, but look at him up there on the silver screen: the effete, perfidious British male of enduring myth. See little Claude Rains, a put-upon mummy's boy in Notorious, and all opportunism and silky deceit in Casablanca. See Ronald Colman and Robert Donat, then ask, where's the beef? And David Niven? When did he ever get laid? See Laurence Olivier in Spartacus portraying Crassus, the nastiest fascist ever put on the screen, as he compounds his degeneracy by importuning clean-cut young towel-slave Tony Curtis with saucy talk of snails and oysters. See, indeed, every tyrannical emperor and sadistic Roman roué since the advent of sound -- all Brits, every man jack of 'em, from Charles Laughton, Stephen Boyd and Jack Hawkins down to David Bowie's Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ. And see James Mason in Lolita -- the most infamous child molester in cinema history -- or Richard Burton and Rex Harrison as embarrassingly camp old hairdressers in 1969's Staircase. So much for sang-froid and stiff upper lips.
This is all of a piece with the hoariest old jokes about British masculinity offscreen, too. Secretly, according to this prescription, we're all as bent as nine-bob notes ("la vice anglaise . . .") and if not, then our idea of good sex is the type one purchases in the late afternoon -- never mind the gender of the merchandise, just guarantee the roughness of the trade. Left to our own devices, we're just as likely to try on the scullery maids' uniforms as we are to impregnate their wearers, and we yearn nightly for the sweet taste of the headmaster's cane or, failing that, the sweet taste of Fotherington-Thomas minor of the Lower Remove, so tautly do his pubescent buttocks press against the seat of his cricket flannels. Et cetera. How the clichés endure.
Wait a minute. Didn't this all die in a nanosecond the moment Sean Connery walked onscreen in Dr. No back in 1962? Or when Michael Caine strutted from one bed to the next in Alfie? What about Richard Harris in This Sporting Life-- scarcely better than a domesticated rapist who transfers the etiquette of the rugby scrum wholesale to his landlady's bedroom? Or Albert Finney screwing his foreman's wife during her husband's night shifts in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning? Or Laurence Harvey as Joe Lampton, fucking his way up to the mansion on the hill in Room at the Top? Best of all, watch Connery himself, a wild animal in Saville Row threads, slinking after Honor Blackman's Pussy Galore in Goldfingeras kung fu becomes lemme-fuck-you, and 007 purrs often and hungrily, "So, Pooossie . . ."
While the nobs were all whipping each other in their country houses, wayward working-class males seemed to be pioneering the notion of sex as a liberating force, or as the best revenge, or as an aid to upward mobility, and much of this insurgent sexuality -- sexual effrontery as a means of eroding social deference -- can be detected in Oldman and Roth, improbable chick-magnets the pair of them. So there you have it. British males are all nancy-boys. Or they're all rutting like stoats. One or the other. Still, one must admit that there is about Grant and Brosnan some lingering residue of the old stereotypes. Grant's screen persona channels all the dithering, uptight Brits of yore, always rendered speechless by a beautiful woman and paralyzed by an inability, in the words of the frankly not-very-sexual John Wayne, "to haul off and plant one on her" like any real man would. And then he ends up shagging all these top-shelf birds? Please.
It's a very confusing, almost sexless sex appeal that Grant exudes, somewhere between one of James Fox's useless toffs and Niven's suave emollience. "Charm is the British disease," Evelyn Waugh once wrote, and Grant is at death's door with a nasty dose. Meanwhile, Brosnan, far from accessing the predatory sexual menace of Connery's Bond, seems unable to add even the merest hint of soul to his own expensively upholstered surface beauty. (Brosnan has thoroughly erased his own Irish origins, which wasn't wise -- they could have been good camouflage for his charisma deficit.) As Thomas Crown, he's an elegant animated ice sculpture, and not just because the script calls for it. Connery, for his part, has long since shrugged off the shackles of Bondage, and even now, at 69, he as much as any actor alive embodies unadorned masculinity seasoned with wisdom and experience, much as Gable once did. If you want someone to play God or Zeus, chances are you'll call him. He's not British anymore; he transcends nationality, which is the hardest trick a non-American can pull off in Hollywood. No wonder New Woman magazine just elected him "sexiest man of the century." Poor old Grant, opined 64 percent of respondents, is "over."
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