Tag Archives: Obscure

Guarding Tess (1994)

14 Mar

Emasculated Cage throws a chair

Before watching Guarding Tess we believed that a Nicolas Cage film couldn’t be boring*, but Guarding Tess feels as though it was shot on a succession of rainy Sunday afternoons, with a cast listlessly doing their homework the day before it’s due in…. It feels as though it was written by a white-collar civil servant as he died stuck in an lift, in blood, on the walls. Out of respect they filmed it. To capture the feeling of Guarding Tess without having to watch it, we at ‘Cage Wisdom’ advise you to press play on the video link below and feel the wave of melancholy wash over you as you read the following…

As immediately discernible from the dvd box, in which a suited Cage stands serious behind a wry and ironical looking older stateswoman, Guarding Tess follows some days in the life of secret service agent Doug Chesnic (Cage) in his job of guarding former First Lady of the U.S. of A. Tess Carlisle (Shirley MacLaine). Before we sat down to watch Guarding Tess, we made a few predictions for this “comedy beyond the call of duty”:

    1. There will be a scene where Cage has to hold Tess’s handbag in a public place, to emasculating effect.
    2. Tess will make innuendos not befitting a woman of her age.
    3. There will be a shopping sequence, to emasculating effect.
    4. They will walk dogs, and people shall trip over leads.
    5. Tess will accidentally hit Doug in the balls with a hand-bag.
    6.There will be a serious bit at the end where she actually gets kidnapped by terrorists.
    And most importantly…
    8. She’ll teach him how to let down his crew-cut and have a good time.

In the event of the film, only 3, 6 and 8 turned out to be true… although to call what transpired the “good time” anticipated by the overly-optimistic point 8, would be to guild a very boring lilly.

It is a very boring film. At one point we see a two second close-up of a document printing, and the script has the unfortunate habit of having Cage repeat exactly what’s been said in the previous scene to a different character, perhaps to give the audience a chance to reflect on the good times they’ve had. We cut from a comedy golf scene, shot on some desolate windswept moor, to Cage in a cafe aggressively repeating the dialogue to a cornered bystander:  ‘And then I said – I’m not getting your goddamn ball!’,  ‘Uh-huh’ replies the extra resignedly, as they help themselves to another coffee.

The Face of the Audience

Guarding Tess is the American equivalent of the British heritage film, where tiny dramas of social impropriety nudge the narrative forward like a kindly but quietly insistent teacher softly pushing a reticient young actor onto stage. At 25 minutes into the film’s running time the most dramatic incident had been Nic’s ill-judged decapitation of a flower. I employ the word ‘decapitation’ to lend the moment the excitement worthy of it. You see, Nic takes a rose – a rose, that most beautiful of flowers, carrying with it the Heavenly scene of Romeo and Juliet and the musk of those historical houses of York and Lancaster – and audaciously removes its head – that most essential part of the rose – and has the audacity, the waggish audacity, to place it within his own lapel, in obscene defiance of the fact that the rose’s owner – former First Lady no less and furthermore his employer – did not (absolutely, unequivocably not) instruct him to do so. Oh how we laugh at this mad comedy of errors while silently assenting that the rose should have been left in its place. When later in the film Nic woke the ex-First Lady of the U. S. of A. while she indulged her God-given right to a snooze at the opera (but oh how funny of her; how perfectly old-lady-like) I was so appalled I vomited all over my eiderdown.

Guarding Tess continued at this pace to a degree that was almost aggressively boring, as though it were a maiden-aunt or bearded pedagogue chastising us for wanting to play our sexy violent computer games and not being content with our cup-and-ball instead.*

I work in insurance and in my spare time compose hundred-page excel spreadsheets of the words most commonly appearing on ceefax and yet my life is still more exciting that Guarding Tess. It doesn’t even have the doily-dress delights of a proper heritage film where you get to watch Helena-Bonham Carter standing next to furnishings – everyone wears grey, has grey skin and lives in a kind of fortified castle, where esteemed and respected British actors are forced to make sandwiches and provide unfunny buffoonish diversions.

Richard Griffiths, Yes, Richard Griffiths himself sits glumly to one side in the kitchen, the “hub” of the Guarding Tess action, trying not to look the camera in the eye while an under-appreciated chef cooks constant broth for no-one. While it might seem unfair to famous and lauded actor Richard Griffiths to mention that he was in the film Guarding Tess, I do so because people have got into the habit recently of pinning all bad film choices on Nicolas Cage’s lapel. Sure, Cage is in bad films. But you know who else is in bad films? Richard Griffiths. Tom Hanks is also in bad films. Tom ‘the ham’ Hanks was in a film called The Man with One Red Shoe (1985), rivaling any of Cage’s output for hokyness – and yet it’s Cage who must be martyred for the cinematic sins of all actors. I’m not saying Nicolas Cage is Jesus, that’s for other people to say

Cage does what he can with the wet sack of Sunday afternoons he’s given. For most of the film his acting is muffled, as if he’s in a library, waiting for the Queen to arrive – but sometimes it all gets too much and he just has to shout out a line with erratic ferocity. This culminates in a bizarre scene in which Cage pre-cogs his performance in Bad Lieutenant by 15 years, and shoots the toes off a chauffeur. ‘Where’s the first lady? Where is she?!’ Doug Chesnic demands, as the chauffeur lies in hospital, gun pressed to his little toe. Another Secret Special Agent looks on with faint disgust, as if Cage is a tolerated school friend, too enthusiastic about pulling the legs off a spider.

But for Doug Chesnic this is a victorious moment. Tess always made him leave his gun outside the door when he came knocking, but now the proud gun has been proved right all along. If Chesnic did not have the maverick sensibilities needed to torture a chauffeur as he lies in a hospital bed, Tess could not be victoriously rescued from the hillbilly’s hidey-hole where she’s been stowed away. And if Chesnic couldn’t roll up his shirtsleeves, grab a spade and start manfully digging the former first lady out of a hole, he would be doomed to a life of emasculated chair-breaking (and probably bicycle-wheeling too).

Thank God for the gun, as Cage proves once again that he’s no-one’s fancy man. Grab your clapping-hand hats everyone, it’s going to be all-right.

Such a thing as I could never imagine in my most lucid daydreams

* I gently remind the audience at this juncture that Adam was absent while I was reviewing The Boy in Blue.

*At this juncture I am obliged to note that Jay much prefers a cup-and-ball to sexy violent computer games.


The Boy in Blue (1986)

23 Nov

"Cute, isn't he?"

It’s The Boy in Blue, described by the Radio Times as “energy and tension” and by the New York Times as “a caricature of several better films”. A deservedly forgotten Cage, this film is of use only to fan boys and girls who want topless fodder for their diaries, people who’ve made some perverse pledge to watch Nicolas Cage in all available forms and those who really enjoy a good sliding seat.  But nevertheless, let’s soldier on and define our terms:


Cage plays Ned Hallan, a turn of the century Canadian rower who “becomes the first to successfully utilise the ‘sliding seat'”. Of which more later. The entire film seems to be background to Cage’s eyes: his shirt is blue, his headband is blue, the boat is blue, the water is blue, the whole film seems to be tinted grey-blue. Cage’s eyes are delicate rock-pools of blue in his hulking meat-sculpted body (of which more later).


He wears a baby blue shirt to row in, and consequently gets nicknamed ‘the boy in blue’ by a journalist, a nickname that causes Ned to exclaim with a look of extreme dismay: “that makes me sound like some kind of fancy boy!”

‘Fancy Boy’ sounds like something my grandma would use as euphemism for gay, but perhaps in this context it just means a mannered, slightly foppish man. In any case: Ned is NOT THAT. He’s rough and tumble, rough and ready, a “young thoroughbred”, a moonshine-brewing, sex-out-of-wedlock having, Canadian “common John”. This point has to be rammed home to make the difference between him and his aristocratic belle more prominent.

The film only differs from the standard sporting achievement movie in that people are wearing caps and crinolines. At Ned’s first race, his manager runs alongside the bank shouting: “Row Ned, row! It’s a hundred to one, Ned! A hundred to one!” and, to paraphrase Terry Pratchett, when the odds are exactly a hundred to one, it’s as good as certain. Old scruffy Ned also has his eye on prim and proper young Margaret, a woman both far above his social status and also engaged. Could he possibly win her heart by the end of the film? (hint: “It’s a hundred to one, Ned! A hundred to one!”)


For most of the film, Ned is too much of a lunk-head to get very overcome by emotion. I was momentarily distracted during this part of the film, but I suspect that his distraught pose was something to do with a rejection from the ever-so-unattainable prim Margaret. The fact that he has one sock on and one sock off strikes me as a charming Cageism in a performance that’s not as charismatic as usual.

But you can hardly blame him. The dialogue is all: “quit your lollygagging!”, “you balmy coot!” and “For God’s sake man, row!”, and all the film really requires of him is to get some impressionable men to buy a rowing machine.

Available at Argos now.

In the above scene, Ned ‘practices’ on a primitive rowing machine, while various whiskered men watch him and eat cucumber sandwiches. One of them comments “It’s like a moving sculpture”, effectively summing up Cage’s role in one dismissive sentence. The appeal of the film is in the appreciation of  finely oiled machines – both Ned’s rowing boat and his body. Both are glistening and burnished, both lavishly caressed by the camera’s soft-focus gaze.

Even prim Margaret can’t help but check Ned out when he stands in a stable, sticky with sweat from the strenuous exercise he’s just been performing (he’s so sticky in this scene that a fly lands on his shoulder to have a taste, but of course Nic’s a pro and doesn’t bat an eyelid). It feels like not commenting on Nicolas Cage’s buffed-up body is doing him a disservice in this film. All three stills on the DVD menu show the muscles bulging under his skin like rats in a sack; this is what he’s here for: eye candy and sailing propaganda.

Man meets Seat

The film’s partially financed by a Regatta, which perhaps explains why the rowboat’s ‘sliding seat’ is Nicolas Cage’s co-star, whatever the DVD box has to say about Christopher Plummer.The rowing seat as we know it today began here, sliding Ned Hallan up and down. “Slides boy, slides, slides like butter!” exclaims the mad scientist who built this outlandish creation. Undoubtedly, the sliding seat was an important development in the rowing world, but to someone un-athletic, idly making fun of a mostly-forgotten film, it seems like an endearing eccentric object to structure a film around.

“Every era has it’s own kind of hero” half-rhymes the DVD box, and perhaps too, every development in sporting technology has it’s own poorly-recieved movie.


Highlight of the film.