Part of “South Bank Show,” an ongoing series of English dox, Melvin Bragg’s interview with Peter O’Toole in Frances Dickenson’s fanciful look at the charismatic actor turns out to be a plug for his book, “Loitering With Intent,” first tome in a projected series of memoirs. Sometimes a mishmash, at other times intriguing, “Peter O’Toole” raises as many questions as it answers.
First volume deals with the actor’s early life and influences, which he freely discusses. His father, an Irish Catholic, was a gambler and charming, apparently, and his Scottish mother, a Presbyterian, was half Irish.
During O’Toole’s childhood, his father and the rise of Hitler made the deepest marks on his psyche, according to the actor; since he was child in England during World War II, the Hitler influence is plausible if not singular.
O’Toole and Bragg find the old, closed library in the town where he grew up in Yorkshire, but just who else influenced O’Toole as a youth isn’t investigated , and his free-flow, sometimes impressionistic prose isn’t that instructive.
Scenes from his films are refreshing, but his talk about acting is limited at best. He admits to blundering into thesping, and says he believes an actor’s presence onstage “amplifies” his personality.
He tours Vienna in search of tracks of Hitler and visits Lake Chiemsee, where Hitler visited during his power days. In tandem with footage from his 1976 telefilm “Rogue Male”– taken from Geoffrey Household’s novel about an Englishman fixing Hitler in his gunsight — O’Toole discusses his feelings about der Fuehrer in an area near Hitler’s aerie at Berchtesgaden.
O’Toole’s a pleasing man but his memories of childhood are scarcely revealing. Producer-director Dickenson slips in footage from “Lawrence of Arabia ,””The Ruling Class” and “My Favorite Year” to help the flow of the narrative, and O’Toole reads portions from his apparently free-verse book to illuminate the docu’s way — whichever way that is.
Program badly needs organizing and Bragg is scarcely a strong interviewer going after hard facts. As it is, that chore seems to be left to O’Toole, who looks in other directions.