Elvis Mitchell

TV Review: Elvis Mitchell: Under the Influence

By Marilyn Moss

July 3, 2008

AIRDATE: 5-5:30 p.m. Monday, July 7 (TCM)

Turner Classic Movies’ new half-hour interview series puts a spotlight on the lives and work of contemporary actors and directors. Film critic Elvis Mitchell is a savvy host who poses good questions and engages in insightful conversation with his subjects.

“TCM Presents Elvis Mitchell: Under the Influence” kicks off with an auspicious moment: Mitchell’s interview with director-actor Sydney Pollack, who died after the show was taped. With Pollack’s death, as it is sadly yet joyously demonstrated here, we’ve lost a man who impacted filmgoers’ lives more than any of us may have realized.

Mitchell knows how to ask Pollack the right questions, and the series’ title sets the stage: Who influenced you when you were a kid, when you started out in the business and as you developed your craft? Pollack answers with panache, with just the kind of style and intelligence that marks his films — both as actor and director — especially those smart, questioning movies he helmed, including “Tootsie,” “The Way We Were,” “Out of Africa,” “Three Days of the Condor” and “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”

As a director he was influenced at a young age by Gene Kelly’s work in “An American in Paris,” saying he even went out and bought black loafers and white socks. As an actor (about which he is much too modest) Pollack was influenced by those talents who came out of the Actors Studio: Marlon Brando, James Dean and, just before them, Montgomery Clift. George Stevens’ “A Place in the Sun,” which showcases Clift’s great talent, is one of Pollack’s favorite films.

Mitchell asks a tougher question of Pollack: What do you think your influence on others in the business might be? Pollack gracefully says he has no way of knowing. This is the right answer, of course, and it marks Pollack’s smart view of himself as a director. He makes no apology for having made big studio pictures with larger-than-life celebrity actors. This, he indicates, identifies what he does best.

The series is smart to look at, bathed in grays and browns to give it a classic feel. Having a live audience gives the episodes a more animated touch. Mitchell is dressed to the nines, at least for this premiere installment with Pollack. His elegant attire, along with his casual yet intimate connection with his subject, adds much panache to “Under the Influence.” This may be viewed as yet another interview show, but with Mitchell on board, we can’t deny that it’s one of the classiest to grace the airwaves in a long while. TCM keeps its class act intact.

Future installments include interviews with Laurence Fishburne, Quentin Tarantino, Joan Allen, Richard Gere, Bill Murray, Edward Norton and John Leguizamo.

Reprinted with permission from The Hollywood Reporter.

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