Bisset Begins Her Long Ride
Ever elegant and compelling to watch, British-born, globally valued Jacqueline Bisset turns 73 today, and she’s thankfully still busy on movie screens in the current U.S. release 9/11 (co-starring Charlie Sheen, Whoopi Goldberg and Gina Gershon) and French director François Ozon’s 2017 Cannes Film Festival contender L’Amant Double, still awaiting stateside distribution. Fifty years ago, as her film career was on the verge of taking off, which would happen in a big way with the 1968 offerings The Sweet Ride and especially – as brooding San Francisco cop Steve McQueen’s love interest – Bullitt, audiences were just getting to know this striking actress who would go on to alternate in starring and ensemble roles with distinction and class in high-minded and crowd-pleasing projects across subsequent decades. From that early period of small showcase roles come, like her 2017 work, a French excursion and a New York-based thriller. In director Stanley Donen’s perceptive Two for the Road (1967), she’s a bit of a warmup act for this wry and time-bending look at liberated romance. Playing a character named “Jackie,” the lead singer in an all-girls choir whose tour bus breaks down while traveling on the French Riviera, she at first piques the amorous interest of roving writer Albert Finney before he then gets to know and becomes drop-dead-smitten (and naturally, who wouldn’t be?) by fellow troupe member Audrey Hepburn. Regrettably (perhaps) for her, Jackie and her fellow songbirds – except Hepburn – are sidelined by a chicken pox outbreak, and this tart tale hitchhikes down the pike to become the iconic Hepburn/Finney romance and lacerating marital study treasured ever since. However, Bisset would twice reteam quite marvelously with Finney, as a tight-lipped homicide suspect in the all-star Murder on the Orient Express (1974, directed by Sidney Lumet) and as the supportive ex-wife of Finney’s alcoholic British consul in Under the Volcano (1984, directed by John Huston). Just before the one-two punch of The Sweet Ride and Bullitt considerably raised her Hollywood profile, she appeared in another “adult” entertainment, actually stepping in after an originally cast Mia Farrow had to bail due to filming delays on Rosemary’s Baby (1968). In The Detective (1968, directed by Gordon Douglas), she even sports a somewhat tamped-down Farrowesque look as a woman who recruits disillusioned homicide cop Frank Sinatra to look into her husband’s suspicious death. Because the lawman’s marriage to straying wife Lee Remick is on the rocks, there is the fleeting prospect that the lonely widow and the investigator may strike romantic sparks; but when the dead man’s backstory reveals a self-hating homosexual side and links to a previously closed case where justice may not have been served, a conventional movie hookup is not in the cards. Although the role didn’t tap deeply into her natural charm, it did point to a growing maturity that would be more finely tuned and dramatically on point in Bullitt. For a birthday tribute lark, hitch a lift with beautiful Bisset in Two for the Road and The Detective on their sharp-looking Twilight Time hi-def Blu-rays.