By MATTHEW BAKER
Man Of The Century (1999)
Directed by Adam Abraham
Michael Allinson was a widely loved president of The Players at the turn of the 21st century and everyone knew and remembered him for his Broadway performances in My Fair Lady, Sleuth, Angel Street, Shadowlands, and An Ideal Husband. While many of his friends at the club saw him onstage, and enjoyed his re-creations in concert, less was said about his work on film and television. Yet he had an impressive body of work on camera, some of which is easily accessible.
In Man Of The Century, Mr. Allinson plays Hastings, butler to our young hero, Johnny Twennies (Gibson Frazier). Johnny looks like Harold Lloyd, dresses like John Barrymore, and talks like Humphrey Bogart. There is no trace of irony or sarcasm in his demeanor. He is completely and earnestly a character from a 1920s detective flick, even as he walks about gritty 1990s New York City where everyone else wears t-shirts, leaves voicemails, and casually drops four-letter words. None of these modernisms penetrate Johnny.
In the midst of all this silly fun, Johnny charms two very different ladies: Virginia (Cara Buono), an aspiring opera singer with a schoolgirl crush, and Samantha (Susan Egan), his gallery manager girlfriend who loves his style but can’t understand why he won’t so much as give her a proper kiss.
Hastings and Johnny’s mother (Anne Jackson) are the only other characters who share Johnny’s otherworldly sense of chivalry and high manners. But in their way, they clash with him as much as the modern characters do. When Johnny invites a jazz band into his mother’s Victorian mansion, Hastings quips, “I’ll lock up the silver!” When he finds Johnny answering the door by himself, he complains, “I’ve been answering that door for 47 years!” Those who knew Michael Allinson at the club can easily hear his voice as they read these lines.
Also featuring such New York legends as Bobby Short and Frank Gorshin, Man Of The Century is a delightful way to pass an hour and 20 minutes. And it can be seen for free on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrgmn7AnzQM.
Matthew Baker is a New York City historian and tour guide, newsletter editor for the National Federation of Tourist Guide Associations, and producer of the annual GANYC Apple Awards. A Player since 2000, he is artistic director of Poetry At The Players. His "Players On Screen" posts feature lesser-known appearances by our members.