There’s a new Region 2 Bluray of Tony Richardson‘s The Border, but no Region 1 version for the U.S. The Universal release was a bust (cost $22 million, grossed $6 million). Possibly because Jack Nicholson was somewhat miscast as a mopey border guard who experiences a compassionate moral epiphany after witnessing brutal treatment of Mexican immigrants by his colleagues.
Miscast because Nicholson was too closely identified with perverse behavior at the time, mostly due to his Jack Torrance role in The Shining, but also because of a series of jaded, cynical malcontents like Bobby Dupea in Five Easy Pieces, Badass Buddusky in The Last Detail, Jake Gittes in Chinatown, Randall P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the horse thief in The Missouri Breaks, etc.
Photo taken by Mitch Neuhauser, who’s now managing director of Cinemacon.
This issue arose when I interviewed Nicholson on a very cold January morning at the Carlyle hotel, way up on the 23rd floor. I asked for his reaction to Richard Corliss‘s Time review of The Border. Jack said he hadn’t read it so I showed it to him. The review began as follows:
“When, early in The Border, Nicholson muses about how, back in California, ‘I liked feeding those ducks,’ one’s first reaction is: ‘Feeding them what? Strychnine?’ Nicholson’s voice, with the silky menace of an FM disc jockey in the eighth circle of hell, has always suggested that nothing in the catalogue of experience is outrageous enough to change his inflection. Even when he goes shambly and manic (Goin’ South, The Shining), Nicholson’s voice and those tilde eyebrows give the impression…” and blah blah.
Nicholson chuckled faintly and rolled his eyes when he read it, and then went into a minor tirade about how he was “mad” that he’d convinced the public he was a murderer, and about being stuck in that box. This image disappeared the following year, of course, after he played Garret Breedlove, the randy ex-astronaut, in James L. Brooks‘ Terms of Endearment.
Yeah, this was the same Carlyle interview that I’ve mentioned two or three times in this space. The one in which I told Nicholson that aspects of his Shining performance seemed, to me, to be a kind of inside joke. Nicholson disputed this. He wasn’t rude but his response was basically who was I, a mere journalist, to assume I had an inside view of things? He was relaxed and droll about it, but his point was that he was “inside” and I wasn’t. As mentioned, our sit-down happened on a brutally cold day, around 10:30 or 10:45 am. When I first arrived I was greeted by publicist Bobby Zarem in the foyer. Nicholson was seated about 25 or 30 feet away, down the hall and around the corner but within earshot. “How are ya, Jeff?” Zarem asked. Manhattan had been going through a long frigid spell and I hadn’t worn a warm-enough jacket, so the first thing that came to mind was “Cold as usual.” A split second later I heard Nicholson doing an imitation of me, saying “cold as usual.”
Like a lot of X-factor guys, Nicholson has a habit of jumping the track in terms of conversational threads. We got to talking about cold-weather jackets and he mentioned he was planning to head downtown later to buy himself a nice warm one. “What are you looking for?”, I asked, meaning goose down, motorcycle jacket, retro or whatever. And Nicholson answered, “I don’t know. I haven’t known for quite some time.”
I remember he began sipping a Miller High Life in the middle of the interview, and my deciding to drink one also as a gesture of solidarity.
Same photo with marks and scratches, before it was digitally cleaned up by a friend.