Kirk Douglas and Farrah Fawcett (and a dog) star in the Martin Amis-written, Stanley Donen-directed sci-fi anti-classic "Saturn 3." Credit: Shout! Factory
'Saturn 3' Shout! Factory $26.99
In the Golden Age of Hollywood, the greatest of America’s writers — William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Chandler — were whisked out to Los Angeles to make some quick, copious, dubious bucks writing movies. There, they attached their names to material fathoms below their talent — or even adapting eachother’s novels. (Faulkner did Chandler’s “The Big Sleep,” as well helped make a masterpiece of “To Have and Have Not,” generally agreed upon as Hemingway’s worst.) Many of them turned to drink. The Coens’ “Barton Fink” is about just this subject, with John Mahoney as its own boozing Faulkner.
Decades later, Martin Amis escaped this particular patch of quicksand. The acid-tongued English novelist (and current Cobble Hill resident) never brought up his brief, dispiriting stint in Hollywood within the pages of “Experience,” his 2000 memoir. He didn’t have to: A version of the events cropped up in his beloved 1984 novel “Money.” Among the grotesques met by our self-destructive anti-hero — a British commercial director hoping to make his La-La Land debut — is Lorne Guyland, an aging ham who insists on thrusting his decaying body upon a young actress.
One need not look far for its inspiration. As it happens, Amis’ sole screenwriting credit remains “Saturn 3,” a 1980 sci-fi and bad cinema entry that boasts Kirk Douglas, 64, cavorting — in the shower, in bed, often wincingly au natural — with Farrah Fawcett on a remote space station. There’s more: There’s Harvey Keitel, with a ponytail, dubbed by a less Brooklyn-accented voice artist. There’s also a randy eight-foot robot with no head.
Even the ambitious Amis-head won’t be able to find authorial marks throughout this chamber piece, which sports only three main (human) characters, struggling to defeat the cunning and deadly killer bot. For what it’s worth, Amis’ work may have once read well: When Johnny Carson jokingly brought it up a year after its withering box office performance, Fawcett claimed the script was butchered in production.
Perhaps the strangest credit of all is its director: Stanley Donen. Best cherished for his musicals (“Singin’ in the Rain,” “It’s Always Fair Weather,” etc.), Donen adapted strangely and richly to the ‘60s, churning out the zoom-heavy likes of “Arabesque” and the devastating, time-hopping relationship saga “Two for the Road.”
Donen was a last-minute replacement on “Saturn 3,” on which he had already been a producer, but he treats the stark, bare, largely black sets like one of his early musicals. Not much interesting happens in the film, but its sleek look is always worth gawking at, even when the frame contains the wrinkled sixty-something derriere of Hollywood’s most distinctive thespians. Watch it with the sound off and it almost — almost — seems pretty good.
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