THOUGH forgotten now, David and Lisa (1962) was one of the first American 'art' movies, financed independently and shown in cinemas which usually programmed foreign films. Its subject was not the sort the studios favoured: the faltering steps towards love of a teenage couple in a mental home. The boy, Keir Dullea, was neurotic about any physical contact; the girl behaved like a wild thing except when speaking, which she tended to do in verse. She was played by Janet Margolin, who was chosen by Frank and Eleanor Perry after seeing her in a similar role in Daughter of Silence on Broadway.
Margolin won the Best Actress award at the San Francisco festival, drawing Hollywood's attention. Indeed, the American reception for the film - if not equalled abroad - presaged major careers for all concerned. Margolin, however, hesitated, and went to Argentina to play the childhood friend of a young Fascist terrorist. This was El Ojo de la Cerradura (The Eavesdropper, 1964), made by another husband-and-wife director-writer team, Leopoldo Torte Nilsson and Beatriz Guido. It too is forgotten, but in this case unjustly: Torre Nilsson was an uneven director who at his best could combine artifice, corruption, obsession and claustrophobia in a way that was uniquely his - when compared, even, to Bunuel.
Arriving at last in Hollywood, Margolin was one of the many names in George Stevens's The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), Mary to the Martha of Ina Balin and the Jesus of Max Von Sydow. The film's reception was not what had been hoped for, and as much may be said of Morituri or The Saboteur: Code Name Morituri, as it was renamed after flopping initially. The star was Marlon Brando, proving to be fallible as a member of the Gestapo on a German cargo-ship bound for Tokyo in 1942. Margolin, as a Jewish prisoner, had her finest screen chance but was not controlled by the director, Bernhard Wicki.
Had she been - to judge her from her sensitive performances in her first two films - she might have become a star. The failure of these two didn't help, and she was to make only just under a dozen in all - for the cinema, that is, since she was active in television. She may be remembered for Nevada Smith (1966), as an Indian girl nursing Steve McQueen back to health; Buona Sera, Mrs Campbell (1968), as the Neapolitan daughter of Gina Lollobrigida and any one of the three ex-GIs from whom she is claiming maintenance; and, notably, as the anthropology student who is a delight and then a danger to Roy Scheider in Jonathan Demme's clever thriller Last Embrace (1979), surprising both us and him by her whore's make-up and suspender-belt in reel seven. She was also Woody Allen's wife in Take the Money and Run (1969), but when he sent for her again she was a woman who had only briefly featured in his life. This was Annie Hall (1977), the semi-autobiographical account of his affair with Diane Keaton, who starred.
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