The Bourne Identity
Robert Ludlum’s Tale Stumbles On to All-Too-Predictable Turf
You start out believing that “The Bourne Identity” will be wonderful fun, and some of it is.
Ludlum is a fine technician who tells a great story. After being shot twice at point-blank range at sea, a man (Richard Chamberlain) washes ashore in France, where he is treated by a drunken doctor (Denholm Elliott) who tells him he has had extensive cosmetic surgery.
The man knows from nothing. While he suffers from amnesia, his search for his identity leads him to a Zurich bank and a multimillion-dollar account whose identification number has been surgically implanted in his hip.
It is in Zurich where our amnesiac discovers that his name is Jason Bourne. Or is he really the international terrorist Carlos? Or is he even really Bourne? That’s the mystery. Maybe he’s not Richard Chamberlain, either?
It’s all looking pretty interesting and worth a 4-hour investment until the apparent Bourne checks into a Zurich hotel and finds in the lobby . . . the voice, the face, it could be, it may be, it has to be: Jaclyn Smith, playing economist Marie St. Jacques.
This is a fanciful if not Disneyesque pairing. Discovering Smith opposite a credible hero such as Chamberlain in a potentially good thriller is like attending an opera where Carmen turns out to be a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader.
Not that Ludlum is much good at romance anyway, compared with intrigue. Bourne spends the first part of this relationship proving that he is impossible to kill. Meanwhile, St. Jacques becomes the story’s squealing Mr. Bill, getting squished, squooshed and generally trampled as Bourne drags her around like a rag doll, leading to the inevitable gratuitous love scene. It’s slow and artificially poetic, like a theatrical movie circa 1960. The only difference is that he hits the sack wearing trousers, she in a lacy spandex body suit. Ah, television.
Written by Carol Sobieski and directed by Roger Young, “The Bourne Identity” is highlighted by glamorous international exteriors, occasional moderate suspense and nice work by the dashing Chamberlain as the apparent political assassin with a heart of gold.
Eclipsing much of that is a script with slogging predictability and a preposterous finale that plays rather like an out-of-body experience. In any event, you’ll wish your body wasn’t there to experience it.
© 1988 Howard Rosenberg
‘Bourne’ To Be Wild
Chamberlain and Smith, Together at Last
The reigning monarchs of the miniseries are cast together for the first time in ABC’s “The Bourne Identity.”
Chamberlain plays Jason Bourne, an American secret agent with a pungent past and a cloudy memory.
Smith is Marie St. Jacques, a Canadian economist who joins Bourne in a hunt for the elusive international terrorist Carlos (Yorgo Voyagis).
Their supporting cast includes Anthony Quayle, Donald Moffat, Peter Vaughan and Denholm Elliott. Roger Young directs from a script adapted by Carol Sobieski.
Ludlum is known as a writer with a fertile mind for complex plots, a heavy hand with prose and a penchant for violence.
No problem for TV. Sobieski has trimmed the story, cutting back especially on Ludlum’s constant references to Bourne’s Vietnam background. Transferring Ludlum’s prose to the screen is an improvement.
That leaves violence. The networks have raised the threshold this past year and “The Bourne Identity” carries those looser standards even further. This could be television’s most violent miniseries of the 1980s.
It’s also one of the fastest paced. “The Bourne Identity” is a sprinter among its class, zipping through its story on a dead run. It can be accused of carelessness - the plot is hardly airtight and often confusing - but never sluggishness.
The film opens during a storm in the Mediterranean. Bourne is shot aboard a ship and plunges into the roiling sea. Washed ashore in a French fishing village, he’s nursed back to health by a kindly doctor (Elliott) who finds some curious facets to this patient.
Bourne can break down a gun expertly. He proves to be a martial arts master. The number of a Zurich bank account is surgically implanted in his hip. His appearance has been altered by plastic surgery. All of which seems to suggest that his livelihood involved something more exotic than accounting.
The problem is, Bourne doesn’t know he’s Bourne. He has amnesia, and the only images
poking through it are memories of a woman and child in Indochina.
Setting off to Zurich to investigate the bank account, he finds himself hunted by professional killers and, finally, begins to suspect that he’s the assassin known as Carolos. He abducts Smith in a Zurich hotel during one escape from his pursuers. Eventually she becomes his only ally, and his lover.
Chamberlain takes his knocks as Bourne. In the first hour or so alone, he’s shot, operated on, attacked by two assailants on a street, assaulted in an elevator and grazed in the head by a bullet.
He has his left hand crunched in a car door and his head beaten against a rock. Worst of all, Chamberlain is forced to act with Jaclyn Smith, one of television’s teensiest talents.
His fingers do seem to mend miraculously, though, when he has to help Smith out of her clothes in a Swiss hotel room, in a slow-motion love scene that itself is a slight advance for network television.
The chases lead to a cuckolded French general (Quayle) and a near miss when Bourne confronts Carlos in a Paris church. Finally, the action switches to New York City for a climactic run-in with the devious terrorist and his henchmen.
The ABC miniseries changes the end of Ludlum’s novel, without any discernible damage. As for Ludlum’s sequel, “The Bourne Supremacy,” ABC says it has no current plans to film it. But robust ratings for “The Bourne Identity” could alter that.
Smith, whose role calls for nearly four hours of hysteria, is her usual superficial drag, and a few of the minor roles are acted with remarkable ineptitude.
With its breakneck pacing and a capable performance by Chamberlain, though, “The Bourne Identity” is enjoyable, fast-action entertainment for viewers who can tolerate the violence and steer around the plot holes.
© 1988 John Carman
‘Bourne Identity’: A good plot gone awry
“The Bourne Identity” gets off to such a suspenseful, fast-paced, Hitchcockian beginning that it’s depressing when it eventually gets trapped in its own convolutions. The action, which is the two-part film’s real strength in the beginning, starts getting mired in the plot complications that not only bring the film to a halt but are neither plausible nor convincing.
Based on a novel by Robert Ludlum, “The Bourne Identity” was scripted by Carol Sobieski and it begins with a terrific premise: On stormy seas, a man is shot twice, attempting to flee ship. Cut to the same man, barely alive, on a beach on the coast of France. The local doctor, an exiled Englishman with a taste for Scotch, patches him up - after extricating a bit of microfilm from under his skin - and tries to find out who the man is. The man, played by Richard Chamberlain, realizes he has amnesia and cannot remember his name nor why he was wounded nor why he was even on the ship.
His health improves but suddenly two men arrive in the small French village and try to kill him. Realizing he must try to find out his identity, the man takes the only evidence he has - the microfilm that gives the name of a bank in Zurich and the number of an account there - and sets out for Zurich.
Some of the best scenes in “The Bourne Identity” are set in Zurich, where the man cautiously tries to trick others into telling him who he is. He learns his name is Jason Bourne, he works for a company called “Treadstone 71” - and has $15 million in the Zurich bank. He also quickly learns that a great many individuals are trying to kill him.
So far, “The Bourne Identity” is breathtakingly suspenseful as Bourne escapes from one frightening situation to another, acquiring, along the way, a Canadian woman, in Zurich to deliver a paper at a conference, whom he takes as a hostage - and the knowledge that he is an accomplished killer.
Director Roger Young takes the Zurich scenes at a breakneck pace, and the film careens from one tense situation to another. As quickly as Bourne dispatches one set of would-be killers, more take their place. Who are they? What has he done that they are so intent upon killing him?
It is at this point, however, that Ludlum, Sobieski and Young attempt to start unraveling the story and things slow down. Bourne begins to have flashbacks to a smiling Asian woman and child who are in danger. An international terrorist named Carlos begins to take on prominence. International secret organizations are discussed and Bourne begins discovering no one is who he says he is or seems to be.
Worst of all, Bourne and the woman, Marie St. Jacques (played by Jaclyn Smith), begin to fall in love. The scenes where Marie is a hostage and Bourne thinks of her only as that work very well, but when Marie starts professing undying love, things go awry. First of all, her turnaround, from victim to lover, happens too quickly. Secondly, her willingness to help Bourne, whom she believes is a dangerous killer, is unconvincing. Thirdly, and worst of all, there is absolutely no chemistry between Chamberlain and Smith. Their love scenes seem to be taking place between two mannequins. One can imagine, say, Sean Connery during the scene - the 007 momentarily distracted by love - and it would have worked. But Chamberlain and Smith strike sparks only as antagonists.
The second episode of “The Bourne Identity” finds the duo in Paris where the story takes over and becomes so complicated that it’s difficult at times to follow. And when you do follow it, there are holes large enough for the proverbial truck. Suffice it to say there’s a lot more killing - there’s an especially violent sequence that ends the film - and lots of double-crossing, revealed identities, and people whipping back and forth across the Atlantic as if it were as simple and quick as commuting between here and Bellevue.
In addition to Chamberlain and Smith, there’s a large cast of European and English performers, most of whose unfamiliarity contributes to their portrayals. There are also excellent performances by the always-reliable Denholm Elliott as the doctor who nurses Bourne back to health, Donald Moffat as someone from Bourne’s true past, Sir Anthony Quayle as an old school French general, and Peter Vaughan (so good in “Codename: Kyril”) as one of Bourne’s arch-villains.
Visually, “The Bourne Identity,” filmed on location in Europe, looks great - but we never do discover why Bourne was on that ship on the stormy seas in the first place. Probably
we’re not supposed to ask.
© 1988 John Voorhees
A Cerebral Thriller
Chamberlain takes some thrashing but comes out on top in absorbing new miniseries
The Bourne Identity is much more than TV pulp, even if star Richard Chamberlain is
beaten to one.
Seldom, if ever, has a miniseries hero absorbed more punishment in pursuit of an elusive enemy.
Pow-pow, he takes two slugs, the second one tumbling him off a ship into churning waters on a lousy night. When he washes ashore, his head is cut and his memory’s shot. Who am I? What am I? The only clue is a Gemeinschaft Bank Zurich account number tattooed? near his hip. A kindly neighborhood doctor with a severe drinking problem surgically removes this mysterious ID and sends Chamberlain on his way after two thugs bang him up some more.
Youch, shortly after he arrives in Zurich, his fingers are crunched in a car door and his head is dripping blood again. Later, a bald bad guy punches him savagely and whacks his skull against an unforgiving rock. But co-hero Jaclyn Smith saves him by drilling the hood. When Chamberlain is spilled into her car, he passes out, only to have his head bonked on the dashboard when she slams on the brakes.
This is all in part one. Be sure to stay tuned for the face slap, throat slash, shoulder stab
and leg wound he’ll endure later.
Despite all the gashing, bashing and even a little car crashing, Bourne Identity qualifies as a splendidly challenging cerebral thriller. It often moves at the pace of a runaway freight train, coming to a complete stop only for a prolonged slow-mo love scene between the emotionally and physically battered Jason Bourne (Chamberlain) and the lovely Marie St. Jacques (Smith), whom he has abducted in order to help him escape the unknown assailants seeking to liquidate him. We’re talking caressing, kissing, chest stroke, robe undo, slip drop, bed plop - the works. And say, isn’t it arty to end with a shot of four little cherubs intertwined on the bed headboard?
This easily is Chamberlain’s best role and performance since The Thorn Birds. He is especially good when in desperate straits. It looks as though he has aged noticeably in the last few years, but here he’s perfectly aged and haunted. Smith, meanwhile, is beautiful to behold and tolerable in those scenes where she is required to demonstrate complete terror. A better actress - and there are many better - could have made this drama burn with an even greater intensity.
But it does catch fire - and fast.
© 1988 Ed Bark
Richard Chamberlain and Jaclyn Smith
Unfashionably Beaten . . . Scarred . . . Disheveled in Paris
The Place Vendome in Paris, designed for King Louis XIV in the 17th century and one of the most impressive spots in an overwhelmingly beautiful city, is dominated by a tall stone column at its center. Banded in bronze melted from cannons that were captured by Napoleon’s army at the Battle of Austerlitz, it’s crowned by a statue of the emperor himself.
Tonight Napoleon is upstaged by a couple of Americans almost as famous as he - Richard Chamberlain and Jaclyn Smith - shooting a scene from “the Bourne Identity.” In the scene, Chamberlain calls Smith from a public phone, after which they meet in the street and embrace. The Place Vendome has no telephone booth, so the prop department has borrowed a dummy from the Paris phone company and placed it not far from Napoleon’s statue. Chamberlain makes the call, then rushes out into the cold, moist February air for the big smooch. But instead of quiet on the street, there is cursing. A Parisian woman, having spotted the booth but not the camera and lights, has stepped inside to place a call and is angrily pushing down on the phone’s metal bar. C’est le show biz.
Show biz is getting tougher all the time, especially in foreign locations. The “Bourne” company, having spent eight exhausting days in Zurich, where they filmed outdoors, mostly at night, in often freezing weather, had arrived in Paris two days earlier. The first scheduled scene was to feature Chamberlain in a tense meeting with a woman on board a Bateau-Mouche, one of the many boats that take tourists up and down the Seine. The night before arrival they were informed that a long period of heavy rainfall had caused the river to rise so high that the roofs of the Bateaux-Mouches couldn’t clear the bridges that connected Right and Left Banks; all boat trips had been cancelled. Sacrebleu! What to do about the scene? The location manager searched and found one boat low enough to clear a few of the bridges near the Eiffel Tower, and the scene was saved.
Just in time for another crisis. When the company was on the Riviera, Jaclyn Smith was filming driving a rented Renault 11. A matching car was shipped from London to Paris, but a detail had been overlooked: the one Smith had driven was an automatic and the car they now have is a stick shift, which she doesn’t know how to drive. In Paris they found many lookalike Renault 11s, but none automatic. They offered to give Smith lessons in driving a stick shift and she declined, afraid that she would look awkward. Where will they get a car? Alors! One day a company member spotted one in traffic and bought it from the driver for $8000.
Police permits are another problem. “The film business is not looked on with favor as far as the authorities are concerned,” says Frederick Muller, producer of “The Bourne Identity.” Anxiety about terrorists is one factor, as a result of which plainclothes security people are on the set at all times. (One day, when the company is filming on a street near the Arc de Triomphe, the bulb in a small lamp explodes and for an instant everybody thinks it’s a bomb.) “And we don’t make our lives easy,” he adds. “We go around with an enormous amount of equipment, including these huge motor homes that the stars are expected to have - they will not accept the small ones - and we have to block miles of parking. You go to the police and say, ‘We’d like to shoot for two hours around the Champs Elysees.’ And then you tell them you’ve got 24 trucks, 19 cars and five trailers and they say,
‘You’re out of your mind!’”
European security rules don’t help. This show involves many different kinds of guns, but weapons can’t be shipped fast enough from one location to another. So they’ve had to use
guns that can be duplicated by armorers in Nice, London, Zurich and Paris
(where Chamberlain’s Smith & Wesson .38 Bodyguard rents for 400 francs -
about $70 - a week).
Planning a war might have been easier, but only half the fun. This is a show that may revolutionize TV and bring it back to where old movies used to be - an adventure filled with murder and intrigue, where the love story is as important as the denting of fenders. “The Bourne Identity,” based on a novel by Robert Ludlum, with an intelligent, hard-edged script by Carol Sobieski, opens with Jason Bourne (Chamberlain) washed ashore on a Mediterranean beach, riddled with bullets, having no memory of who he is. The search for his identity leads him to Zurich, where he discovers he has a bank account in the millions and an army of assassins trying to kill him. To provide cover for himself, he abducts a Canadian economist, Dr. Marie St. Jacques (Jaclyn Smith), and forces her to go to Paris, where he continues his search, which reveals that he may have been an international hit man. As the chase progresses, accompanied by beatings, killings and a near-rape, Jason and Marie fall in love.
Executive producer Alan Shayne, formerly president of Warner Bros. Television Programming - and one of the people involved in selecting Chamberlain for ABC’s The Thorn Birds - says, “The whole interest for me is that this is about a man wrestling with his identity and his past; you know, all the things that Richard does brilliantly. What changed it from being an ordinary action-adventure was first Richard and then Carol Sobieski.” Smith was his first choice to play Marie, but she was still filming “Sidney Sheldon’s Windmills of the Gods.” The part was offered to Leslie-Anne Down. “Lesley Agreed to do it, but at the last minute she didn’t want to be separated from her husband and she insisted that he be the camera operator - and you cannot take an American camera operator on a European location. We had to delay production, and then Jackie became available.”
This will be a Jaclyn Smith not seen before. She is kicked around, battered and bruised, gets her hair mussed, wears little makeup and not one ball gown. In fact, the costume budget for the entire cast of the $10.5 million TV-movie is $32,000 (in NBC’s “Rage of Angels” sequel, one of her dresses cost $6000). Her clothes here run the gamut from plain to drab. Sitting at a Left Bank café one afternoon, at a rare moment when it isn’t raining in Paris, she says, “I’m happy about the wardrobe, because I get slammed so many times for my clothes and how I look. There’s one scene where I’m hit and they had a piece made for my mouth that changes my whole face. Then people come up to me when I’m full of cuts and bedraggled and unlike myself and they’ll say, ‘Oh, you look so real.’ I find it a bit irritating that they would make a remark like that, because I’m doing what the script calls for . . . . People love to see a person with a glamour image beat up, torn up. I think it’s stupid.”
And academic. Chamberlain says, “I was watching Jackie in makeup the other day and every feature is perfect. I’m crazy about her. She has a quality that’s so touching and vulnerable and sweet, that’s even more beautiful than her beauty.” No slouch in the looks department himself, Chamberlain, at 53, seems not too different from his Dr. Kildare days, his leonine features having taken on a vaguely Mount Rushmore air (relieved regularly by outbursts of an antic sense of humor).
Chamberlain gets even more beaten and bruised than Smith, including a bullet wound in the head and a car door slammed on his hand (through most of the production his hand is kept looking mangled with a combination of plastic, greasepaint and raisins). “Poor Bourne gets the s--- beat out of him . . . pardon the expression,” he says. On occasion he hasn’t needed fake scars. “The first day of shooting, I was doing underwater stuff in a tank in Nice, and when I came out I hit a pipe and got a big hole in my forehead, which has healed miraculously. Also, in a scene in a car where a guy is attempting to rape Jackie and I try to save her, he kicks out the window. It was sugar glass, but real thick, and a piece came out and got me in the head.” Curiously, the violence never obscures the love story, and the stars reveal a screen chemistry one doesn’t expect from two such essentially wholesome people.
Paris when it sizzles: Parisians are so glad to see Americans this year that they’ve dropped their traditional pose of bemused condescension, and waiters no longer do the scoff-sneer two-step when you order iced drinks. One reason, for their good cheer is that it’s February, when no tourists are here. Another is that they get so much American TV, including Smith’s Charlie’s Angels and Chamberlain’s The Thorn Birds. Fans follow the stars constantly, taking pictures, calling, “Reeshard!” and “Jockie!” and keep a vigil outside the Hotel de la Tremoille where they’re staying. A French publicist pursues them, half-promising Smith that if she and her husband, cinematographer-director Tony Richmond, will attend a festival of TV and film thrillers, “The Bourne Identity” will be a shoo-in for a prize. One day during a lull in shooting at the Right Bank’s Parc Monceau, Chamberlain, holding a bunch of flowers, passes by a café and spots the producers inside. Through the window, he does an impromptu troubadour act. A Parisian woman sitting behind them, thinking the act is for her, screams, “Oh, oh, formidable!” and fans herself.
Nobody even seems fazed by all the guns. One morning, the production is filming at the Trocadero gardens, facing directly onto the Eiffel Tower. Against a background of cascading water from cannon-shaped fountains, Chamberlain, in a taxi, passes another car, calls out the name of its occupant and pumps five bullets at him. On the terrace above, the crowd cheers as though he’s just scored a 5.9 and he rewards them with his “king of the miniseries” smile.
Another day, the show is filming underground at the Cite station of the Paris Metro. It is a hot, ancient, cavernous station with archways and sweeping staircases that seem to have been created for a gun chase. Even the green walls, the color of a fish tank that hasn’t been cleaned in a month, contribute to the oppressive mood that director Roger Young wants. Chamberlain chases actor James Faulkner up the steps, grabs him and keeps ramming him against the wall, holding the Smith & Wesson at his throat, while down below trains pull in, disgorging people. Most male passengers leaving the station ignore the melee as though they see it every day. But the women seem to have homing devices where Chamberlain is concerned. At one break, he’s perspiring heavily and runs up the steps toward his makeup woman, saying, in a commercial announcer’s voice, “Better than glycerin, better than Evian - real sweat!” Then he sings, “Sweat gets in your eyes.” Nearby, a mob of teen-age girls giggle and one calls out, “Such byoo-tee-fool eyes, Reeshard!”
The same afternoon, as stone gargoyles from the nearby Notre Dame Cathedral stare down at her, Jaclyn Smith is sitting in a small park, talking about the love story of Jason and Marie to an interviewer for Champs-Elysees, a local version of The Tonight Show. As paparazzi and scruffy fans snap pictures of her and her children, Gaston and Spencer Margaret, a well-dressed Parisian woman approaches. In halting English, she asks the actress, “This film . . . what do you call it . . . ‘Born with Identity’?”
© 1988 Lawrence Eisenberg
One Woman Who’s Cracked the Action-Adventure Barrier
Blood dripped from Richard Chamberlain’s nose. His knuckles were thick with scabs, and the 4-inch gash on his neck looked life threatening. Chamberlain was a pulpy mess. But it was all for the sake of art - or at least television.
Chamberlain spent three months in Europe last winter making “The Bourne Identity,” a 4-hour miniseries. It’s based on Robert Ludlum’s best-selling action thriller about a man with amnesia who comes to believe that he may be a terrorist/assassin.
With the help of the woman he kidnaps (played by Jaclyn Smith), he gradually solves the mystery of why people are trying to kill him.
Because it’s such a rough-and-tumble adventure, Chamberlain and Smith were initially surprised to discover that the TV adaptation was being done by a woman, veteran screenwriter Carol Sobieski.
“I thought a man would have to have written this kind of violence,” Smith said.
Chamberlain said, “I did have a whispering second thought when I heard a woman was going to write the script.”
Women seldom write action-adventure scripts. The assumption in Hollywood is that men are better suited for writing or adapting this type of material. The bias was documented in the 1987 Hollywood Writers Report, commissioned by the Writers Guild of America, West.
The report noted: “Overall, women are roughly four times more likely to be hired to write for daytime serials as for prime-time action-adventure shows.”
Sobieski says she doesn’t know why so few women writers have cracked the barriers
“Look at Ida Lupino,” she said. “She wrote some of the best action-adventure scripts ever made. She was an extraordinary talent. The important thing is to consider the ability of the writer without regard to sex.”
She jumped at the offer from executive producer Alan Shayne to adapt “The Bourne Identity.”
“I love Ludlum,” Sobieski said. “I’ve read all his stuff. In fact, when I learned several years ago that Warner Bros. planned to make “The Bourne Identity” into a feature, I made overtures toward writing the script. They hired a man.”
The film never got made. Warner Bros. TV eventually took over the project and brought in Shayne, who had been president of the studio’s television division from 1977 to 1986. Shayne approached ABC with plans to turn “The Bourne Identity” into a miniseries starring Chamberlain and Smith.
He found supporters in Christy Welker and Nina Rosenthal, vice president and director, respectively, of novels for television and limited series. Both, it turned out, are Ludlum fans.
“This is the first time we’ve developed a project in the action-adventure genre,” Welker said. “What made this one special is that there’s a great personal story in the foreground driving the action.
“We all felt that Carol would be our first choice even though she hadn’t written any action-adventure. She wrote it as well as anyone possibly could. I think it’s wrong if women are typecast and not able to write in this genre.”
A Texan, Sobieski came to Hollywood in the early 1960s and got her start writing for “Mr. Novak,” “Peyton Place” and “The Mod Squad.” She then moved to TV movies (“Amelia Earhart,” “A Place to Call Home,” “The Women’s Room”) and feature films (“Annie,” “Casey’s Shadow”).
“I really like relationship stories better than action-adventure,” she said, “but there’s room within the genre for relationships and things interesting emotionally. What I remember about ‘Smiley’s People’ (the BBC miniseries based on John Le Carré’s spy novel) was Smiley’s relationship with his wife, not the details of the plot.”
“Women can write action,” Shayne said. “They just need a director who can direct action.
That’s why I tried very hard to get Roger Young, who is famous for directing action (the “Magnum, P.I.” pilot, “Lassiter,” “Under Siege”). Roger created many of the action sequences. It wasn’t like Carol wrote every punch and fall off a banister.
“She strengthened the relationships, the love story and all the interior struggle Bourne has with his identity. An action writer would have simply skimmed the surface. This is a love story and a very complicated character development for Richard Chamberlain.
We tried to make sure it’s not just blood and guts.”
Chamberlain was also happy with Sobieski’s adaptation.
“In an action piece, so much attention goes to the mechanics of the plot,” he said.
“We had problems with simplification. Some of the book’s dazzling complexity of plot was lost, but we gained on the personal side. The characters in the book were begging for what
actors call servicing.”
Sobieski enjoyed her action-adventure experience and would like to repeat it.
“It was a stretch,” she said. “I like to write out of my personal experience. I’ve never murdered anyone. I don’t know how to use a gun. I don’t even like to drive fast. But now I’m going to start thinking of new ways to kill people.”
© 1968 Nancy Mills
Richard Chamberlain's Mini-Series Mastery
The king of the mini-series is tired and yearning for his beach house in Hawaii. ''I don't handle complexity very well,'' Richard Chamberlain says. ''I'm very simple-minded. It's so simple in Hawaii -watching the sunset is the big event of the day.''
Even though he is sitting in a restaurant a few blocks from his Beverly Hills home, he has reason to be tired. For the last eight years he has been traveling, moving from one exotic location to another as the lean-jawed hero of one mini-series after another: ''Centennial,'' ''Shogun,'' ''The Thorn Birds,'' ''Wallenberg,'' ''Dream West'' and now a four-hour series carved from Robert Ludlum's novel ''The Bourne Identity.'' This suspense thriller, an unusual subject for the mini-series genre, will be shown on ABC next Sunday night at 9, with the conclusion the following evening.
From the English sailor Blackthorne washed up on the beach of 17th-century Japan in ''Shogun'' to the amnesia victim Jason Bourne washed up on the beach in the south of France in 1988 in ''The Bourne Identity,'' Richard Chamberlain has become the Robert Redford of the living room, finding a stardom in prime time that has eluded him on the silver screen.
That no other actor has managed to push Mr. Chamberlain off the top of the mini-series hill is not accidental. Although a good actor is a good actor whether he's making a movie-of-the-week for television or a $30 million epic for Academy Award consideration, performing in a mini-series makes specific demands.
''You need an actor who can maintain a character over a long period of time,'' says David Wolper, the executive producer of ''Roots,'' ''The Thorn Birds'' and ''North and South.'' ''If you have a weak actor, it won't be obvious in two hours, but you'll begin to see his weaknesses over four or five days.''
''It's like the difference between speaking Pinter and speaking Shakespeare,'' says Mr. Chamberlain, whose handsome face won him the starring role of the young intern in the ''Dr. Kildare'' television series in 1961. At 53, he seems almost as handsome, Arrow Collar-ad crisp in a button-down white shirt with his long blond hair curling down to his shoulders. ''To speak Shakespeare, you have to sustain huge arcs of poetry. It's a very special knack to keep the ideas clear through a whole soliloquy with qualifying asides and pick up the line again. A 10-hour mini-series is similar. You must keep the overall design in your mind while shooting totally out of sequence.''
Today, starring in a mini-series demands physical stamina as well. Rising production costs and lower network ratings have changed the world of the mini-series actor since Mr. Chamberlain was able to tour Japan on his weekends off from making ''Shogun.''
''A five-day week is unheard of today,'' he says. ''The shows are done in an almost painful way. They get crews for a flat rate, and they work them to death. The hellish schedules are kind of a survival game. You work 14 or 15 hours a day six days a week, and you have to be extremely careful about your health. I can turn any hotel room into a gym in two minutes. I jump around to Aretha Franklin tapes and do pullups on doors. If there is ever a break during the day, I run to the dressing room and take a nap. You learn to sleep shallow and wake up instantly.''
''The Bourne Identity'' was shot this past winter in Nice, London, Paris and Zurich. ''I had four colds, and Richard never even had a toothache,'' Alan Shayne, the executive producer of the mini-series, says admiringly. The actor was even smart enough to dress defensively. ''Zurich in January, shooting at night, is not too hospitable,'' says Mr. Chamberlain. ''I had mountains of electric socks sent over.''
In ''The Bourne Identity,'' Mr. Chamberlain plays his first contemporary role and the first in which he may not be a hero at all. Shot in the head and thrown into the sea, Bourne wakes into a world of terrorists and United States Government agents, all of them shooting at him, and with no memory of his past. Is he Europe's most vicious terrorist? He knows only that he is capable of violence. There are numbered Swiss bank accounts, chases down dark streets and a steamy romance with Jaclyn Smith. Although his television career has been a costumed tour through the centuries, Mr. Chamberlain seems to belong in this paranoid world of 1988 as convincingly as he belonged in feudal Japan, the America frontier and the Australian outback.
He grimaces at being called ''king of the mini-series'' but agrees that his success is not accidental. ''It's such a funny medium, it's quite possible that Robert DeNiro and Jack Nicholson wouldn't make it at all,'' he says. ''An arrogant or intellectual person can't work as the leading character, although arrogance can work wonderfully for a number of parts. I don't mean you should pander to the audience. I never tried to make Bourne likable when he was violent and scared and in his killer mode. But when he takes the character played by Jaclyn hostage and roughs her up, there's a kind of reluctance about it.''
If Bourne isn't always likable, Mr. Chamberlain evidently is. A meditative man who is described by others as ''spiritual,'' he has run the gamut from Rolfing to yoga and even had his own guru, a holistic healer, for half a dozen years. To David Wolper, being ''a pleasant and nice man'' is one of the essentials for a mini-series star.
''You spend months and months filming,'' says Mr. Wolper. ''If you spend six months in northern Siberia, you don't want heartache. For a two-hour movie on a 20-day shooting schedule, it's O.K. to have an actor who's a pain in the neck.''
A random sampling of producers and network executives turns up the names of fewer than half a dozen actors who have proved they are bankable stars in the specialized field of the mini-series: Peter Strauss, Jaclyn Smith, Valerie Bertinelli and, at the top of every list, Richard Chamberlain and Lee Remick.
''We're dealing with intangibles,'' says Christy Welker, vice president for mini-series at ABC. ABC developed ''The Bourne Identity'' because Mr. Chamberlain was interested in playing the title role. ''That was icing on top of the cake,'' Ms. Welker says. ''Richard has the ability to grab the audience's attention and keep it. The more the audience gets to know Richard, the more they like him.'
''You have to like the people you invite into your living room,'' says Susan Baerwald, the vice president for mini-series at NBC, who refuses to make any other generalizations. ''What's fascinating about Richard is that his range is enormous. His ability to be different each time out is what makes him such a valuable property. And once you've received a 50 share for 'Shogun,' the audience is familiar with you.''
Says Stan Margulies, producer of ''The Thorn Birds,'' in which Mr. Chamberlain played a Catholic priest consumed by carnal love, ''Richard didn't get where he is by being lucky. If you run into an early 'Dr. Kildare,' you won't believe it's the same actor. He rarely gets credit for all the risks he took -going to England to train, playing 'Hamlet.'
'' After ''Dr. Kildare'' went off the air in 1966, Mr. Chamberlain, who had felt uncomfortable being considered just another pretty face, turned down other television series in order to learn his craft in summer stock and, a few years later, in British repertory thea-ter. He was the first American actor to play ''Hamlet'' in England since John Barrymore. From his role as the brutal husband of Julie Christie in the 1968 feature film ''Petulia'' to American stage performances as ''Cyrano de Bergerac'' and ''Richard II,'' his reviews were excellent, although there was always a general reluctance to believe that anyone so handsome could be a serious actor. Pretending to be a bewildered critic, Mr. Chamberlain shakes his head with mock surprise. ''I keep getting reviews that say, 'He's really good this time!''
In ruffled shirts and pantaloons, he was ''The Count of Monte Cristo'' and ''The Man in the Iron Mask'' on television and one of ''The Three Musketeers'' in Richard Lester's movie. What he was not, at least in the mind of the author James Clavell, was the hero of ''Shogun.'' Mr. Clavell wanted Sean Connery for the role. Mr. Chamberlain has said he was ''grudgingly'' chosen after Mr. Connery turned it down.
The 10-hour mini-series went on the air in 1980. Its exotic world heightened by the use of Japanese dialogue, ''Shogun'' was wildly successful. It still ranks as the fourth most-watched mini-series. Mr. Chamberlain waited for fame and fortune.
''Nothing happened,'' he says. ''No offers at all. I was stunned. Finally, because I wanted to remodel my house, I took a film in Canada, 'Murder by Phone,' a pretty dumb movie in which you sent electricity through the phone and killed people.'
' Since ''The Thorn Birds'' in 1983 confirmed his appeal to television viewers - it earned a 59 percent share of the audience and is second only to ''Roots'' - he has had to fend off offers. Although the star of major theatrical films can command at least a million dollars, even an actor with a track record like Mr. Chamberlain's is not likely to earn more than $700,000 for a four-hour mini-series.
''At last they listen to me,'' he says happily. ''It's a wonderful feeling to be listened to. For a long time, no one did. I would tell the producers of 'Dr. Kildare' that I was sick of doing dumb things and being excessively naive, and I would mark script after script and nothing changed. Needless to say, they didn't listen to me at all.''
Although he turned down six or eight other mini-series after ''The Thorn Birds,'' he did accept the roles of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved 100,000 Jews during World War II, in ''Wallenberg'' and of the American explorer John Charles Fremont in ''Dream West.''
''A mini-series has to seem special,'' he says. ''We were worried about 'Shogun' because so much of it was in Japanese. But it caught on for that very reason. 'Thorn Birds' verged a bit on soap opera, but it was filled with compelling issues, like what withholding love does to people. And the production values were exceptional.'
' ''The Bourne Identity'' also has top-level production values. Directed by Roger Young, it was photographed by Tony Pierce-Roberts, the Oscar-nominated cinematographer of ''A Room With a View.''
''There's a very odd balance between action, mayhem, suspense, surprise and the love story,'' says Mr. Chamberlain. ''Ludlum's plots are so convoluted and complicated that he's notoriously difficult to translate. You have to simplify cleverly so you don't lose the surprise. You never know until you see it put together, but I think it works.''
To better understand amnesia, Mr. Chamberlain consulted a psychiatrist and discovered that the condition ''is seldom exclusively a mechanical difficulty. More often it is a subconscious choice. The conscious man can't deal with what's going on and takes the first excuse to forget. That helped me to be the character. I felt I knew him.''
Mr. Chamberlain sighs. ''Sometimes I long for the leisure that you have - or I imagine you have - in films,'' he says. ''I do have a third eye trained on features because everyone takes features more seriously. And you never know. Look at Tom Selleck and 'Three Men and a Baby.' In Jason Bourne, I am finally playing a contemporary character. Who knows what producer or director is going to see 'The Bourne Identity' and say, 'By Jove, he'd be a perfect fit.'
'' Meanwhile, Mr. Chamberlain is going to stay home for a while, straddling his houses in Beverly Hills and Hawaii. ''If I never see another hotel room, I'll be happy,'' he says fervently. ''That's been building up for several years. I did 'Blithe Spirit' in New York last year. None of us were quite right for our parts, and Noel Coward isn't the right playright for a long run. His people are fun to spend a night at a dinner party with but not to spend six months with. That was when I started to feel acutely unhappy being away from home.'
' His homesickness was not helped by having to trudge around Europe in the dead of winter for ''The Bourne Identity.''
As to the future, Mr. Chamberlain shrugs. He has a series in development at CBS. He would, he says with a smile, play a doctor. And the series would be shot in Hawaii. Right now, he says, he is ''in a bit of a quandary. I'm in one of those churned-up periods. Where will 'The Bourne Identity' lead? I don't lead my life, you know. It leads me.''
For the moment, he is leading himself to his house in Hawaii. He started out to be an artist and he fantasizes taking courses at the University of Hawaii and starting to paint again. Within a week, he will stand in the warm ocean and watch the sunset and wait for the next mini-series to crash across the horizon.
Photos of Richard Chamberlain in ''The Bourne Identity''; in James Michener's ''Centennial''; as an English sailor in James Clavell's ''Shogun''; as a Catholic priest racked by carnal love in ''The Thorn Birds''; as the daring Swedish diplomat in ''Wallenberg: A Hero's Story''; as the American explorer John Charles Fremont in ''Dream West''
© 1988 Aljean Harmetz
The Bourne Identity
About The Score
The Bourne Identity may be considered a classic example of the unmistakable idiom created by Robert Ludlum in his celebrated novels of international intrigue and mystery. In this ingeniously devised narrative, and in its dramatization for television, the gripping suspense and unrelenting terror begin in the blackness of the very first movement and hardly abate until the final resolution. Despite deceptive moments of calm - in the politely impersonal atmosphere of a Swiss bank, bastion of secret and sacrosanct numbered accounts, or even in a stolen moment of intimacy, a desperate interlude of love - the pervading climate is the chill of the unknown, the wind of ever-present danger. The drama is preponderantly dark, cheerless, frightening.
I knew at once that the score which accompanied this story would have to reflect its characteristic ambience. To begin with, the cosmopolitan settings - Zurich, Paris, New York - as well as the scale of the action and the strong personal undercurrents of love and friendship, set against a host of faceless terrors, suggested to me a large orchestral complement. But other elements, visions racing back and forward in time, shattering dreams of Vietnam, and the imminent presence of the demonic master-terrorist, Carlos, invoked sounds which needed to be dehumanized, abstract, interior, definitely electronic. These sounds often appear in the score as sudden, unexpected eruptions, tearing through the orchestral fabric into another musical and psychological dimension. At the heart of the film and the score is a man whose own identity is unknown to him. The opening music
(Main Title) crashes in over images of a ship being tossed wildly by a raging storm at sea in
the dead of night. Shots ring out, a man overboard, into the depths. Finally, in the morning calm, a half-dead body washes up on a Mediterranean beach. The very opening notes of the theme suggest the enigma which informs the entire film: six notes over an unresolved seventh-chord, three two-toned questioning intervals, each rising to an unresolved harmony. The next statement compounds the non-resolution on a higher pitch. And so, these six notes will dog our hero until the final confrontation with his arch-enemy.
Along the way, we pass through many contrasting episodes: the life- saving surgery by an alcoholic English doctor (second part of Main Title); a romp on the beach with some neighborhood youngsters (The French Children); the arduous struggle to regain strength and mental stability, and the first inkling of danger as he is recognized by two strangers in an alley (The Fishing Village); and the clue leading him to Switzerland, where he desperately searches for something that will jog his memory and solve the mystery of his very identity (Arrival in Zurich).
The Incident at the Bank, which begins with a chillingly nervous meeting in a private office and ends in a withering blast of gunfire in the lobby, thrusts upon him the knowledge that his name is Jason Bourne, that his balance is fifteen million dollars, and that unknown hands are trying to kill him. From there on, the story descends into the labyrinthine convolutions of Ludlum's plot. We meet Marie, the beautiful Canadian economist, who eventually becomes Bourne's passionate lover and ally (Jason and Marie; Discovery). There are heart-stopping encounters with foreign agents of unknown loyalties (Chernak Dead; Wild Goose Chase); terrorists posing as bank officers (The Valois Bank); nightmares in a shabby rooming-house (The Red Door); a Paris fashion salon serving as contact-point for a terrorist network, and a rendezvous near the Eiffel Tower (The Trocadero); and finally the infamous Carlos himself, disguised in monastic robes, conducting terrorist business from a confessional booth, and signaled in the score by an electronic drone seeming to obscure
the sound of a chapel organ (The Church; Carlos as Confessor). The final sequences of the film bring three musical elements into sharp relief:
1) Bourne's discovery of David Abbott, veteran of the CIA's secret unit - codenamed Treadstone 71 - introducing a theme which evokes Bourne's childhood as Abbott's foster-son, a nostalgic, yearning melody which comes as healing balm after the bone-crushing agonies he has endured. (I noticed only after the score was completed that the Abbott theme turned out to be a kind of transformation and resolution of the second half of the opening, questioning Bourne theme, one of those curious unconscious operations of the compositional process.)
2) The inevitable life-and-death struggle with Carlos himself in the house on 71st Street, a paroxysm of violence with an ambiguous outcome.
3) The reunion of the lovers, surrounded by a holocaust at Treadstone, as Jason finally cracks emotionally and psychologically, amid descending, melting harmonies in the strings and timpani.
All the musical elements have been brought into confrontation, and now a quiet resolution
brings the score to a close (Abbott; Epilogue).
I was delighted by the proposal of Douglas Fake and Intrada Records to do the digital tape editing and mastering of the Bourne Identity album at the superb facilities of Fantasy Records in Berkeley, California - almost in my very backyard! The meticulous care taken by Intrada with every aspect of the production of the compact disc has been most gratifying. My wishes and intentions were conscientiously heeded by both Intrada and Fantasy, and I feel the results come as close as possible to a true representation on disc of the original soundtrack.
© 1988 Laurence Rosenthal