Ersatz art of a very high grade, and one of the most enjoyable movies ever made. A young aspiring actress, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), intrigues to take the place of an aging star, Margo Channing (Bette Davis), on stage and in bed, and the battle is fought with tooth, claw, and a battery of epigrams. The synthetic has qualities of its own-glib, overexplicit, self-important, the "You're sneaky and corrupt but so am I-We belong to each other darling" style of writing. The scriptwriter-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz's bad taste, exhibited with verve, is more fun than careful, mousy, dehydrated good taste. His nonsense about "theatre" is saved by one performance that is the real thing: Bette Davis is at her most instinctive and assured. Her actress-vain, scared, a woman who goes too far in her reactions and emotions-makes the whole thing come alive (though it's hard to believe Anne Baxter could ever be a threat to Bette Davis). With George Sanders (as the critic Addison De Witt), Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Thelma Ritter, Gregory Ratoff, Hugh Marlowe, Barbara Bates, Walter Hampden, and Marilyn Monroe, who has one of her best early roles. Based on a short story and radio play by Mary Orr. Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Sanders), Costume Design (Edith Head, Charles LeMaire), Sound Recording. 20th Century-Fox.
Adapted by William Inge from a James Leo Herlihy novel, this ambitious and elaborately staged John Frankenheimer film is set deep in the Inge territory of homespun and gothic-that strange area of nostalgic Americana where the familiar is the Freudian grotesque. It's also a peculiar kind of fantasy, in which hideous, lecherous women (schoolteachers seem to be the worst offenders) paw handsome young men, and the one girl who might seem attractive (played by Eva Marie Saint) disqualifies herself by becoming pathetically pregnant. As the mother, Angela Lansbury at times steps free of the howling caricature she's playing and becomes extraordinarily moving. But the film turns out to be a portrait of the writer as an adolescent (Brandon de Wilde plays the part) who grows up-"matures"-when he learns that the older brother he idolizes (Warren Beatty) is an empty wreck. Does anybody really grow up the way this boy grows up? He learns the truth, squares his shoulders, and walks out into the bright sunlight, as Alex North's music rises and swells in victory. How many movies have pulled this damned visual homily on us, this synthetic growing-into-a-man, as if it happened all at once and forever? Suggested party game: ask your friends to tell about the summer they grew up. The one who tells the best lie has a promising career ahead as a Hollywood screenwriter. With Karl Malden, Barbara Baxley, and Madame Spivy; cinematography by Lionel Lindon. Produced by John Houseman, for MGM.
Edward G. Robinson is the money-hungry industrialist who ships a batch of defective airplane-engine cylinders to the Air Force, blames his partner for the crime, and causes one of his sons, an aviator, to commit suicide out of shame. Another son, Burt Lancaster, newly returned from the war, refuses to believe in his father's guilt until overwhelmed by incriminating facts, whereupon he tries to kill the old man. Meanwhile Lancaster has fallen in love with the partner's daughter (Louisa Horton), and has also had a soggy time of it at home, owing to the iron refusal of his mother (Mady Christians) to believe in the death of his aviator brother. Arthur Miller conceived this idea-ridden melodrama, and Irving Reis directed it. Surprisingly, it does work up some energy, but by then you have to be a little saintly to care. With Howard Duff and Frank Conroy. Adapted by Chester Erskine. Universal.
This sophisticated slapstick romance starring Gene Hackman and Barbra Streisand is a happy surprise. Hackman, doing the kind of comic acting that rings true on every note, plays a Los Angeles business executive who gives up the phony obligations he has accumulated, drops out, and tries to find a way to do what he enjoys. Streisand plays a soft-spoken bleached blonde-intuitive and cuddly-who joins him. Directed by Jean-Claude Tramont and written by W.D. "Rick" Richter, it has a distinctive comic sensibility; at times it suggests Tati, at other times W.C. Fields, and then, maybe, Lubitsch or Max Ophüls. With Dennis Quaid as Hackman's muscular, inarticulate son; Diane Ladd as Hackman's wife; Kevin Dobson as Streisand's husband; and William Daniels as a lawyer. The poignant music that is heard is José Padilla's "La Violetera," which was also heard in Chaplin's CITY LIGHTS. Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
Steve Martin is Roger, a lawyer who has been sent to revise the will of Edwina (Lily Tomlin), a rich, bedridden spinster. Edwina has imported a Tibetan swami (Richard Libertini), who at the moment of her death is supposed to capture her spiritual substance in a bronze pot and transfer it into the curvy body of the lovely Terry (Victoria Tennant), who has agreed to vacate it. Edwina instructs Roger to arrange for Terry to inherit everything she has, but he thinks she's crazy and refuses. The argument precipitates her demise, and in the confusion her spirit pops into Roger's body, and enters into joint occupancy with him. This is the nifty premise of a romantic comedy about how two antagonists in the same body fall in love. Martin and Tomlin are both uninhibited physical comics. They tune in to each other's timing the way lovers do in life, only more so, and in her early scenes Tomlin presents a distinctive enough caricature for us to sense Edwina's presence when Martin simulates her being inside him. He's a wizard at keeping her vivid for us. And the director, Carl Reiner, seems to have an intuitive rapport with the two leads, with Libertini as the disoriented Tibetan, with Jason Bernard, who plays a black musician pal of Roger's, and with the talented Madolyn Smith, who plays Roger's nasty fiancée. Reiner's weakness is that the gags aren't thought out visually in terms of the LA locations; the camera setups are often klunky, especially in Edwina's mansion (it's Greystone, where THE LOVED ONE was also shot, and which was for some years the base of the American Film Institute). The film has a halfhearted subplot about Dana Elcar as Roger's philandering boss; it also suffers a dip in energy when Edwina's spirit finally enters Terry's body, because the beautiful, mild Victoria Tennant doesn't indicate that Terry is at all changed. Edwina seems to disappear (but she comes back). Parts of this picture give viewers the kind of giddy pleasure that is often what we most want from the movies. The ingenious script, by Phil Alden Robinson, was adapted from an unpublished novel, Me Two, by Ed Davis. Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.
Over a hundred million people have gone to theatres to see it and have-perhaps-responded to its pacifist message. One could be cynical about the results, but the film itself does not invite cynical reactions, and the fact that it has frequently been banned in countries preparing for war suggests that it makes militarists uncomfortable. Erich Maria Remarque's 1929 novel, on which it is based, was already famous when Lewis Milestone directed this attack on the senseless human waste of war, made in Hollywood. It follows a handful of young German volunteers in the First World War from school to battlefield, and shows the disintegration of their romantic ideas of war, gallantry, and fatherland in the squalor of the trenches. Except for Louis Wolheim, who is capable of creating a character with a minimum of material, the actors-Lew Ayres, Slim Summerville, Russell Gleason, Billy Bakewell, John Wray, Raymond Griffith, Ben Alexander-are often awkward, uncertain, and overemphatic, but this doesn't seem to matter very much. The point of the film gets to you, and though you may wince at the lines Maxwell Anderson wrote (every time he opens his heart, he sticks his poetic foot in it), you know what he means. (The year 1930 was, of course, a good year for pacifism, which always flourishes between wars; Milestone didn't make pacifist films during the Second World War-nor did anybody else working in Hollywood. And wasn't it perhaps easier to make ALL QUIET just because its heroes were German? War always seems like a tragic waste when told from the point of view of the losers. It would be an altogether different matter to present the death of, say, R.A.F. pilots in the Second World War as tragic waste.) George Cukor was dialogue director, coaching Lew Ayres, in particular; Arthur Edeson did the cinematography; George Abbott, Del Andrews, and Milestone also had a hand in the script. The cast includes Beryl Mercer, Vince Barnett, Heinie Conklin, Edwin Maxwell, Marion Clayton, Yola D'Avril, and Fred Zinnemann, who had just arrived in Hollywood after studying film in Paris and Berlin-he does double duty as a German soldier and a French ambulance driver. Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director. Originally 145 minutes; cut when it was reissued in 1939. (Remade in 1979 as a film for TV, with Delbert Mann as director.) Universal.
Lina Wertmüller finished this film early in 1974, just before starting SWEPT AWAY. It's a noisy, sprawling, incident-filled, slice-of-life comedy-melodrama about the corruption of the Sicilians who go to Milan. Several aspects of the film, such as its poignant hero, Carletto (Nino Bignamini), and the scene showing the monotonous dehumanization of labor, are reminiscent of René Clair's A NOUS LA LIBERTÉ (1931) (which also influenced Chaplin's MODERN TIMES). But Wertmuller's point of view is chaotic. The women workers are shown as tightfisted petit-bourgeois schemers who manipulate and exploit their likable proletarian men, and there's a ballet in a slaughterhouse, which has comic bravura but is so ambiguous that we seem to be asked to laugh at the dead animals. Lina Polito, who was the dark Tripolina in LOVE AND ANARCHY, is here thin and blond as the lovely Mariuccia, who has quintuplets; Isa Danieli is the dark, soft-faced Elizabeth Taylor-type who turns prostitute. Cinematography by Giuseppe Rotunno. In Italian.
A trashy love story about the attraction between a natural man (Rock Hudson, as a New England tree surgeon) and a frustrated-by-respectability rich widow (Jane Wyman) who is some fifteen years older than he and has two grown children. Hudson and Wyman are hardly an electric combination, but this Ross Hunter production is made with so much symbolism that some people actually see it as allegorical. Its reputation derives from the slurpy, peculiarly glossy intensity of Douglas Sirk's direction-the same sort of pop spirituality that he had brought to Ross Hunter's MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION, with the same two stars, the year before. Sirk's blend of Germanic kitsch and Hollywood kitsch was a major influence on the young German director Fassbinder, whose work is a further formalization of Sirk's schematic sentimentality. With Agnes Moorehead, Conrad Nagel, Virginia Grey, Gloria Talbott, and Charles Drake. Written by Peg Fenwick. Universal.
Broderick Crawford's Willie Stark might just make you feel better about the President you've got. Robert Penn Warren's novel about the rise of a bullheaded demagogue (modelled on Huey Long) was turned into a rousing melodrama, full of graft, double-dealing, and strong-arm excitement. Robert Rossen adapted the novel and directed; the film took the Academy Award for Best Picture, with Broderick Crawford also winning Best Actor, and Mercedes McCambridge, as tough Sadie, winning Best Supporting Actress. It's by no means a great film, but it moves along. With John Ireland, Joanne Dru, John Derek, and Shepperd Strudwick; cinematography by Burnett Guffey. Columbia.
This adaptation of the Tad Mosel play, set in Knoxville in 1915 and based on James Agee's semi-autobiographical novel A Death in the Family, is terribly earnest, pictorial, and well-intentioned. And a terrible mistake. Robert Preston had been a favorite actor of Agee's, but he's clearly in the wrong age bracket to play a young married man, and even the lovely Jean Simmons can't do anything to save her role as his wife, who soon becomes his widow. Michael Kearney is extremely unengaging as the bereaved child. With Aline MacMahon and Pat Hingle. Directed by Alex Segal; adapted by Philip Reisman, Jr.; cinematography by Boris Kaufman. Paramount.
The title of this Humphrey Bogart picture is taken from the Johnny Mercer and Arthur Schwartz song (which is sung in a nightclub sequence) and doesn't provide a clue to what the story is about. Some people might think this is one of the good Bogarts that they've missed; on the contrary it's a sugar-coated anti-Nazi message comedy, and so negligible that you've forgotten it ten minutes after you've staggered out. (It feels long.) Concocted by Leonard Spigelgass and Edwin Gilbert from a rattlebrained screen story by Spigelgass and Leonard Ross, and directed (ineptly) by Vincent Sherman, it's set in New York (a studio version) during the Second World War. Bogart is "Gloves" Donohue, a Broadway gambler-promoter, and he and his bunch of meant-to-be-lovable Damon Runyonesque demi-racketeers (among them, Frank McHugh, William Demarest, Jackie Gleason) rout an entire Nazi fifth column organization, headed by the supersuave Conrad Veidt, dachshund-loving Judith Anderson, and baby-face hit-man Peter Lorre, who operate under cover of an antiques-auction business. This movie oozes sentimentality, and the coy, frolicsome music is like a TV laugh track. With Jane Darwell at her folksy phoniest as Bogart's Irish ma, Phil Silvers as a nearsighted waiter, Kaaren Verne as the heroine, and Martin Kosleck, Sam McDaniel, Barton MacLane, Wallace Ford, and Ludwig Stossel. Produced by Hal B. Wallis and Jerry Wald, for Warners.
Jon Voight is a prizefighter suffering from a type of working-class alienation that is indistinguishable from bellyache. He mopes through the picture looking puffy, like a rain cloud about to spritz. Charles Eastman wrote and directed this disgracefully condescending view of America as a wasteland populated by grotesques, stupes, and sons of bitches; they are incapable of love and have false values-and to prove it Eastman sets Voight to walking the Antonioni walk. This is probably the only movie on record in which you can watch boxers working out in a gym while you hear a Gregorian chant. With Carol Androsky, Art Metrano, E.J. Peaker, Anne Archer, Ned Glass, Harry Northup, Rosalind Cash, Jeanne Cooper, and Jaye P. Morgan. Warners.
Tony Randall as Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, with Robert Morley as Major Hastings. Frank Tashlin directed this attempt at a stylish comedy-thriller; it goes very wrong-there's no suspense, because we have no idea what's going on, and the spoofy, slapstick embellishments are almost painfully self-conscious. Randall-perhaps just because he's so talented and inventive-mugs too much: he's always doing something, and then when he does something really good, we're too tired of him to react. Adapted from The ABC Murders, by David Pursall and Jack Seddon. With Anita Ekberg, Maurice Denham, James Villiers, and Guy Rolfe. Made in England.
Jean-Luc Godard ventures into science fiction, with mixed results. The picture is brilliant, yet it's no good. Godard found enough of the future in present-day Paris to create a vision of a new world without constructing sets; it's a sleek, dark, glittering society-at first, the dehumanization is funny and alluring and a little eerie. The modern corridors and ramps and the flickering lights suggest something almost supernaturally impersonal. But the people of Alphaville are ruled by a giant computer, and soullessness can be very monotonous. The movie was shot at night, and it seems to give off powerfully soporific vapors, especially since the comic-strip story is an uninspired mixture of sci-fi and private eye that never takes hold. With Eddie Constantine as cool, tough Lemmy Caution (his face is so tired and leathery he's like an old shoe); Anna Karina-she's the most radiant of robots; Akim Tamiroff; Laszlo Szabo; Michel Delahaye; and Howard Vernon. Written and directed by Godard; cinematography by Raoul Coutard; the score, which has elements of parody, is by Paul Misraki. (In the 1968 WEEKEND, Godard has a very different vision of the dehumanized future: the consumer society regresses to barbarism and cannibalism.) In French.
An aggressively silly head-horror movie, the result of the misalliance of two wildly different hyperbolic talents-the director Ken Russell and the writer Paddy Chayefsky. The picture deals with the efforts of a psychophysiologist (William Hurt), who has lost his belief in God, to find the source and meaning of life by immersing himself in an isolation tank, and ingesting a brew of blood and sacred mushrooms. Chayefsky's dialogue is like a series of position papers. Russell uses a lot of tricks to spare you the misery of hearing the words declaimed straight, but no matter how hopped up the delivery is, you can't help feeling that you're in a lecture hall and that the characters should all have pointers. There are some effectively scary Jekyll-and-Hyde tricks, and Hurt, making his movie début, brings a cool, quivering untrustworthiness to his revved-up mad-scientist role; this young scientist is neurasthenic, charismatic, and ready to try anything. But Russell clomps from one scene to the next, the psychedelic visions come at you like choppy slide shows, and the picture has a dismal, tired humanistic ending. With Bob Balaban and Charles Haid, and with Blair Brown in an updated version of the thankless role of the worrying, hand-wringing wife. She's an anthropologist with a job at Harvard, but all she does is fret. Cinematography by Jordan Cronenweth. Released in the U.S. by Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
Soft-core porno from Australia, said to be the most financially successful film made there up to that time. It's reminiscent of Russ Meyer's THE IMMORAL MR. TEAS, but the director, Tim Burstall, isn't innocently clunky like Meyer; his film gives one the impression of a director who is trying to regress to a pubescent state. The premise is that every girl and woman, and even a fella, wants Alvin (Graeme Blundell); as a high-school boy, he is besieged, and when he goes out into the world it's even worse. He functions without a visible erection, which probably accounts for the R rating. A half hour of this picture, and you feel sentenced to eternal giggly imbecility.
A GUY NAMED JOE made Steven Spielberg cry when he was 12; his remake can make you want to cry at the waste of his talent and your time. All he seems to want to do in each scene is get an audience reaction; almost everything is grandiloquent, rushed, confusing. And the whole idea has a voyeuristic queasiness. A miscast Richard Dreyfuss is the daredevil hero. The ace pilot of the wilderness-fire-fighting service, he is in love with Holly Hunter. He dies, but returns to serve as the spiritual guide of a shy young pilot (amateurish Brad Johnson), who replaces him in her (grief-stricken) affections. As Dreyfuss's supervisory angel, Audrey Hepburn delivers transcendental inanities in the cadences that have stoned audiences at the Academy Awards; she's become a ceremonial icon. As Dreyfuss's best friend, John Goodman is turned into a fat-jolly-buddy icon; he saves himself from darlingness, but just barely. With Marg Helgenberger as Rachel. The new screenplay is credited to Jerry Belson, though it plays like an amalgam. Amblin Entertainment, for Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.
Peggy Cummins is the girl who goes from hotel to hotel playing a deserted bride in a suave little confidence game. The English had a phenomenal streak during the 50s; they made so many pleasant, deft comedies that this one didn't get much attention here. Peggy Cummins is a fresh comedienne; it's a pity she couldn't have been paired with someone livelier than Terence Morgan, but she does have Ronald Squire as her father, and the cast includes James Hayter, Marie Lohr, Jacques Brunius, Charles Goldner, and Sebastian Cabot. The director, Ralph Smart, wrote the script with Peter Jones.
The lofty playwright Peter Shaffer has the minor composer Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) declaring war on Heaven for gypping him, and determined to ruin the incomparable Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) because God's voice is speaking through him. The story is told to a priest (and to us) many years later, by the mad, suicidal old Salieri, and there is the suggestion that what we're seeing is his delusion, but the weight of the production, which is reminiscent of big biographical movies such as THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA and A SONG TO REMEMBER, asserts its own kind of authority. The director, Milo Forman, trudges through the movie as if every step were a major contribution to art, and he keeps the audience hooked. Some redeeming qualities: Amadeus Mozart's music, Twyla Tharp's staging of the dances and opera excerpts, Abraham's eager, slimy Salieri, Jeffrey Jones' amusingly vapid Emperor Joseph II, and downtown Prague as 18th-century Vienna. Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director, Actor (F. Murray Abraham), Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup, Sound. Produced by Saul Zaentz; an Orion release.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.
An anxiously inspirational compilation film put together by the American Film Institute for the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration; you can't just enjoy the clips as reminders of the 83 movies they're from, because the whole enterprise has such an official, high moral tone. You feel as if you're supposed to go out determined to do better on your next report card.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
Elia Kazan's account, drawn from his own family background, of the fierce struggle of a Greek boy at the turn of the century to escape the persecutions that the Greeks suffered in Turkey and to make his way to the fabled land of opportunity. Though the picture is flawed by the miscasting of the central role (Stathis Giallelis doesn't convince you that he has the will or the passion-or the brains-to realize his dream), and the main narrative line is unconvincing melodrama, there are some fine images, such as the sealed, stifling, yet warm and inviting interiors of a rich merchant's home in Constantinople, and some memorable performances, such as Paul Mann's as the merchant and Linda Marsh's as his daughter. You can feel the desperate ambitiousness to create an epic (this film was intended as the first of a trilogy), and some of the crowd scenes that the cinematographer, Haskell Wexler, has shot have scale and turmoil and a feeling of authenticity. Yet the hero is so blandly uninteresting that there's nothing to hold the movie together, and the tired ideas in the script (by Kazan)-such as a Judas figure who robs the hero and a Christ figure who gives his life for the hero-become embarrassing. With Lou Antonio, Salem Ludwig, Frank Wolff, and John Marley. Music by Manos Hadjidakis; editing by Dede Allen; production design by Gene Callahan. Warners.