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BetteBack: Director Mark Rydell: The Choices Are Clear….

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Article from:The Record (Bergen County, NJ) Article date:December 1, 1991 Author: Laurence Chollet, Record Staff Writer
Laurence Chollet, Record Staff Writer
The Record (Bergen County, NJ)
By Laurence Chollet, Record Staff Writer
Date: 12-01-1991, Sunday
Edition: All Editions — Sunday
Biographical: MARK RYDELL

Mark Rydell has worked in a lot of genres over his 25-year career
as a Hollywood director — comedies, musicals, family dramas, Southern
epics — but he says all of his films boil down to a single theme: people
facing moral choices.

“All my movies are different in form, but their content is always
about aspiring to excellence, about being better,” Rydell says. “As a
species, we are capable of enormous accomplishments. In our own ways,
each of us has the choice: We can mug people in the park, or we can
become virtuoso violinists. . . . If the species is to survive, we have
to make the right choices. My movies are about making the right choices
— what I think are the right choices.”

That sums up Rydell’s latest picture, “For the Boys,” which stars
Bette Midler and James Caan as a USO song-and-dance comedy team — Dixie
Leonard and Eddie Sparks — that entertains troops through three wars:
World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

It’s being sold as an old-fashioned Hollywood musical, designed to
showcase Midler’s singing talent, and numerous critics have said it does
just that: Midler, who also produced the picture, belts her way from the
1940s to the 1960s, singing tunes from Hoagy Carmichael to

But Rydell is quick to point out that at the heart of the movie is
another story that examines the issues of war, individual
responsibility, and moral choices. In that story, Dixie and Eddie
confront their responsibility for supporting war — and, indirectly, the
killing of young men.

Few directors would try to mix a musical comedy with a serious
antiwar message, especially in the wake of the Gulf war and the fervid
patriotism it stirred up. But the odds don’t seem to bother Rydell.

For nearly 25 years as a director, he’s prided himself on fighting
to make the pictures he’s felt strongly about. Some have been huge hits,
such as “The Rose” (1979). Others have collected critical acclaim: “On
Golden Pond” (1981) and “The River” (1984) pulled down a total of 15
Oscar nominations. A few, like “Harry and Walter Go to New York” (1976),
have flopped, while several are now cult classics: “The Fox” (1968),
“The Reivers” (1969), and “Cinderella Liberty” (1974).

But win, lose, or draw, the movies have been his, Rydell says —
just like “For the Boys.”

“I’m sure that all the USO performers who went to the wars had the
best intentions — I have nothing but the highest respect for them,”
Rydell says at one point. “But ultimately, when you examine it on the
larger scale, they were contributing in some way to this insanity — to
the choice of the war as a solution to the world’s problem.

“It’s very rare to make a picture like this, at a time like this,
and I have to hand a lot of credit to [20th Century] Fox and to
[executives] Barry Diller and Joe Roth, Roger Birnbaum . . . people who
stood up,” he adds. “This was a big investment, $30 million to $40
million, a dangerous investment, and they really rolled the dice with
me. And I congratulate them. They have something to be proud of.”

At the Ritz-Carlton in Manhattan last week, Rydell, 57, looked
more like 47, sleekly dressed in a crisp blue oxford shirt and denims.
He’s got a director’s gruff voice (he talks, you listen), and it still
bears traces of his Bronx youth.

But what grabs you are his eyes: They’re dazzling, Paul Newman
blue. It’s easy to see why Rydell got his start as an actor, on “As The
World Turns” (as Jeff Baker) in the 1950s, and still does bit parts —
most recently, as Meyer Lansky in Sydney Pollack’s “Havana” (1990).

“I never made a picture that I didn’t have to beg to make,” Rydell
is saying with a small laugh. “There is no shortage of people in the
world to tell you `No.’ It takes a certain kind of lunacy, a
single-mindedness, to always fight to make a picture, but there is no
making a picture of quality without a fight, because somebody is always
trying to buff off the edges so nobody in the audience will get
`offended,’ just like TV.”

One big challenge in “For the Boys” was orchestrating the various
story lines — blending music, comedy, and message — but Rydell says
Midler and Caan made the job a lot easier.

“Bette and I have a very good relationship, ever since `The Rose.’
It was her first performance on any screen, and she was nominated for an
Academy Award as Best Actress,” Rydell says. “She’s developed a sense of
trust of my judgment, which was very advantageous in making this film.

“Jimmy and I’ve known each other for 25 years. We studied to be
actors together right here in New York. There is very little he can’t
do. . . . He’s one of the four or five best actors of our generation —
you have to rank him with Brando and De Niro and Pacino and all the
other O’s.”

High, too, on Rydell’s list is screenwriter Marshall Brickman, who
is perhaps best known as Woody Allen’s co-writer on “Annie Hall” and

“It’s easy to tell a story and say, `This is a comedy team. They
are funny,'” Rydell says. “But to make it happen on screen, so that the
audience is not only told but sees Dixie and Eddie are funny — that’s a
tribute to Marshall, and Jimmy and Bette.”

At first listen, the songs in “For the Boys” may not ring a lot of
bells, especially if you were born after 1950. But the classic songs are
there; they just don’t draw a lot of attention, which is what good
moviemaking is about, Rydell says.

“In the airplane hangar, Bette sings `Stuff Like That There,’ a
famous Betty Hutton song of the Forties,” Rydell says. “She follows that
up with another classic, `P.S. I Love You.’ . . . And then in Vietnam,
she sings probably one of the top 10 songs in the Sixties — `In My
Life,’ the Beatles song.

“But you know what happens?” Rydell adds. “You’re so involved in
the drama, the songs seem part of the drama, they don’t seem like songs.
We never stopped this movie to do a song. Every song has a dramatic
intention that furthers the plot.”

The most difficult sequence for Rydell was the Vietnam segment, in
which he had to `kill’ his real-life son, Christopher, who plays Danny
Leonard, Dixie’s son.

“I couldn’t stop crying for days after I did it, but I’m sure that
dealing with the loss of my own son fed the picture with power,” Rydell
says. “Because ultimately, this is the scene where Dixie loses her only
son and realizes what she’s really been doing all these years in USO is
singing boys to sleep — and sending them off to die.”

Rydell says he has nothing planned, but he and Brickman have been
working on an adaptation of Avery Corman’s novel “50,” which he’d loved
to film.

“It’s a wonderful story about a New York sportswriter turning 50
and all the complications in his life,” Rydell says. “Essentially, it’s
a story about a guy trying to live his life in a decent manner. That’s
the ultimate drama for me.”

He smiles, and his blue eyes shine.

“Choices again.”

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