In this first movie version of Margaret Landon's account of the Englishwoman who went to Siam in 1862 to teach the multitudinous children of the barbaric king, Irene Dunne is Anna to Rex Harrison's king. Harrison wears a dusky makeup and a pair of short pants that wrap around his haunches, and he speaks in a quaint dialect-a sort of pidgin Piccadilly-but he's never less than magnetically ridiculous. You don't want to take your eyes off him-certainly not to watch Irene Dunne curtsying in her starched petticoats. It's pitifully unauthentic, and not a very good movie, either, but the story itself holds considerable interest. Linda Darnell is brashly American but luscious as the king's favorite wife; with Lee J. Cobb, well-tanned, as the bare-chested Siamese prime minister, and Gale Sondergaard, Mikhail Rasumny, and John Abbott. Directed by John Cromwell, from the script by Talbot Jennings and Sally Benson; score by Bernard Herrmann. (In the 1956 musical version, THE KING AND I, the leads were Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner.) 20th Century-Fox.
One waits for an eternity for Garbo to show up and utter her first talking-picture line-"Give me a whiskey, ginger ale on the side. And don't be stingy, baby." This is not one of Eugene O'Neill's best plays, and dat-ole-davil-sea stuff is pretty hard to take in this version, directed by Clarence Brown. The cast includes Charles Bickford, Marie Dressler, and George F. Marion. MGM.
Greta Garbo is Anna in this version, directed by Clarence Brown from a screenplay that S.N. Behrman, Clemence Dane, and Salka Viertel all worked on. The picture is more MGM than Tolstoy; the cast includes Fredric March as Vronsky and Basil Rathbone as Karenin, and also Maureen O'Sullivan, Constance Collier, May Robson, Mischa Auer, and Freddie Bartholomew. God knows it isn't all it might be, and Garbo isn't even at her best, but she's there to be gazed upon.
This version of the events that led Henry VIII to make himself head of the Church of England is intelligent from line to line, but the emotions that are supplied seem hypothetical, and the conception lacks authority. Richard Burton's Henry is conceived as a weak, tentative, somewhat apologetic monarch, and though Burton delivers his speeches with considerable sureness and style, his performance is colorless; it's almost as if he remembered how to act but couldn't work up much enthusiasm or involvement. Geneviève Bujold's Anne Boleyn is a clever, wily, sexually experienced young girl who keeps the King waiting for her sexual favors for six years-until he can marry her and make their children heirs to the throne. Bujold works at the role with all her will and intelligence, and her readings are often extraordinary, but she's too tight and too self-contained; one admires her as an actress but does not really warm to her performance. The adapters sharpened Maxwell Anderson's play, and the dialogue is often much crisper than one anticipates, but the script has a structural weakness: it does not convince us that after all those years of waiting for Anne the King would turn against her when she gives birth to a daughter. And at the end we're left with Maxwell Anderson's glowing, fatuous hindsight: a final shot of Anne's posthumous triumph-the baby Elizabeth wandering about, deserted, as her foolish father, who doesn't know what we know, goes off to beget a male heir. The director is Charles Jarrott (Static Camera); with Irene Papas, Sir Michael Hordern, John Colicos, and Anthony Quayle. Script by John Hale and Bridget Boland. Produced by Hal B. Wallis, for Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
As the soused, man-hungry Miss Hannigan, the head of the New York City orphanage where Annie lives till the age of 10, Carol Burnett is both hag and trollop, and her inflections spin around and make her the butt of her own sarcasm; she's gloriously macabre. But the rest of this big movie (which is set in 1933) has the feel of a manufactured romp. Annie (Aileen Quinn) and the other little orphans seem to have been trained by Ethel Merman; they belt in unison. And when they dance it's showy leaping about, and the editing breaks it up, making it more hectic. When Annie, who is invited to the mansion of the billionaire Daddy Warbucks, arrives, his household staff dances, and the cutting is so choppy that the pump-and-tumble dancing-arms like pistons, and stamping feet-turns into commotion. Children from about 4 to about 11 will probably enjoy the picture-how often do they get to see a musical that features a little girl conquering all? Produced by Ray Stark and directed by John Huston. As Daddy Warbucks, Albert Finney (with a shaved head) gives a smooth, amused performance and models his manner of speech on Huston's awesome velvet growl. With Ann Reinking as Warbucks' secretary, Tim Curry as Rooster, Geoffrey Holder as Punjab, Bernadette Peters as Lily, Edward Herrmann as F.D.R., and the little scene-stealer Toni Ann Gisondi as Molly. The script is by Carol Sobieski; music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin; choreography by Arlene Phillips and musical sequences by Joe Layton. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
The historical Frank Butler behaved very sensibly: when he realized that his wife, Annie Oakley, was a better shot than he, he retired from competition and managed her career. (He was an excellent manager: when the remarkable old lady died in 1926, she left a half million dollars.) In this MGM version of the Broadway musical, Annie, discovering that "you can't get a man with a gun," convinces Frank that he's a better shot; this plot allows for 10 Irving Berlin songs, which are surprisingly exhilarating in their simple crudity. The whole movie has a kind of primer mentality ("Folks are dumb where I come from/They ain't had any learnin'./Still they're happy as can be/Doin' what comes natur'lly."), but it comes across as a rousing, good show. Betty Hutton's all-out comic desperation is very appealing; she seems emotionally naked and even strident, but in a way that works for her (as it did also in THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK). Her performance didn't get the praise it deserved, though-probably because she had replaced Judy Garland (who had suffered a breakdown). There were other calamities on this production, which started with Busby Berkeley as director; then Charles Walters took over, and then George Sidney-who is probably the one to thank for the film's happy spirit. Howard Keel was a fine choice for Frank Butler; cast against type, Louis Calhern is an effective Buffalo Bill. (Frank Morgan, who started in the role, died, and his scenes had to be reshot.) The cast includes Edward Arnold, Keenan Wynn, Clinton Sundberg, Benay Venuta, and J. Carrol Naish. Produced by Arthur Freed; adapted by Sidney Sheldon, from the Herbert and Dorothy Fields text for the Broadway show; choreography by Robert Alton; the Irving Berlin songs were scored by Adolph Deutsch and Roger Edens.
Barbara Stanwyck was an amazing vernacular actress. As the backwoods girl who joins Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and becomes internationally famous for her marksmanship (and showmanship), she's consistently fresh and believable, and she brings a physical charge to the role. The film, directed by George Stevens, makes some of the points about race he made later in GIANT (and that Arthur Penn made in LITTLE BIG MAN), but here they're lighter and better. They seem to grow casually out of the American material; the movie feels almost improvised. (It covers much of the material that seems strained in the improvisational style of Robert Altman's 1976 BUFFALO BILL AND THE INDIANS.) The screenplay, by Joel Sayre and John Twist, from a story by Joseph A. Fields and Ewart Adamson, emphasizes Annie's instinctive unwillingness to humiliate the handsome World's Champion Sharpshooter (Preston Foster) by outshooting him. She settles for the title of the World's Greatest Woman Rifle Shot. (The movie makes the case that she's a realist even when she's in love-that she's a realist because she's so completely in love.) Maybe the cast intuitively responded to Stanwyck's talent: everyone in the Wild West troupe seems to know that Annie Oakley is no ordinary person. As for Preston Foster, he's blandly unexciting yet he brings a masculine charm to his role. With Moroni Olsen as Buffalo Bill, Chief Thunder Bird as Sitting Bull, and Melvyn Douglas, Pert Kelton, and Andy Clyde. RKO.
Apparently, Lillian Hellman couldn't shake off the predatory Hubbards after The Little Foxes; she wrote this play about the same family, setting it back 30 years earlier in their dark history. The Hubbards, who are supposed to be rising Southern capitalists, are the greatest collection of ghouls since THE OLD DARK HOUSE of 1932. Hellman must combine witchcraft with stagecraft-who else could keep a plot in motion with lost documents, wills, poisonings, and pistols, and still be considered a social thinker? Fredric March is the profiteer paterfamilias (he betrayed 27 local soldiers during the Civil War); son Ben (Edmond O'Brien) robs and blackmails Papa; son Oscar (Dan Duryea) organizes Ku Klux Klan raids-need we go on with this? The others are Ann Blyth, Florence Eldridge, John Dall, Betsy Blair, Dona Drake, etc. Mostly, they act as if they were warming up for an American version of IVAN THE TERRIBLE. Michael Gordon directed. Universal.
The third in the series, and without any new ideas except a bad one: still airily casual, Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) are now the parents of a baby boy. The screenplay (once again Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett) tosses shootings and skullduggery and repartee at us before we're ready, and then Nick Charles takes an unconscionable amount of time sorting things out. The plot involves a weekend at the estate of an explosives manufacturer (C. Aubrey Smith) who expects Sheldon Leonard (looking very young and sleek) to kill him. The film is dispiriting, but a lot of amusingly familiar faces turn up, among them Otto Kruger, Ruth Hussey, Virginia Grey, Nat Pendleton, Tom Neal, Marjorie Main, Abner Biberman, and, of course, Asta. Directed by W.S. Van Dyke. MGM.
Woody Allen's (unofficial) version of Ingmar Bergman's WILD STRAWBERRIES features Gena Rowlands as a firm-minded, judgmental philosophy professor who has just turned 50. Having taken a year off to write a book, she has rented a workplace, but "reality" leaks through: the voices of an analyst's patients come through an air vent, and she becomes obsessed with the voice of a distraught pregnant woman (Mia Farrow), whose confused feelings awaken the professor to the risk-taking she has put out of her own fearful, prudent life. As if by magic, she begins to encounter people she used to know and to flashback to scenes from her past. And she realizes she has missed out on passion, on motherhood, on everything that matters. The picture is meant to be about emotion, but it has no emotion. It's smooth and high-toned; it's polished in its nothingness. The only resonance comes from a few of the performers-especially from Gene Hackman, who comes through with some sexual magnetism, and Sandy Dennis, who lets loose with bursts of smudgy, chaotic anger. The huge cast includes Martha Plimpton, Blythe Danner, Bruce Jay Friedman, Ian Holm, Harris Yulin, Philip Bosco, Kenneth Welsh, Betty Buckley, John Houseman, and David Ogden Stiers. Cinematography by Sven Nykvist. Orion.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.
Not Fredric March's finest 2 hours and 20 minutes: he wasn't a physical enough presence to play a dashing, swashbuckling hero. This turgid story involves a lot of crowds and plenty of travel. March takes part in the Napoleonic Wars, as well as in the slave trade, and along the way he misplaces his wife, Olivia De Havilland. When he finds her, it turns out that she has been even busier than he; she has managed to become a great opera star and a famous shady lady. Which might have been an entertaining plot development if the director hadn't been humorless Mervyn LeRoy, drudging away. Claude Rains plays a haughty, gout-ridden marquis, and Gale Sondergaard, whose leer was her fortune, is the superwicked villainess; with Anita Louise, Louis Hayward, and Akim Tamiroff. The novel by Hervey Allen was adapted by Sheridan Gibney. Warners.
An unjustly neglected version of the Sophocles drama, adapted and directed by George Tzavellas so that the action is lucid and uncluttered, the characters are driven by instinct and passion, and the voices (speaking modern Greek) are eloquent. The commenting chorus (the bane of movie adaptations of classic Greek plays and of many stage versions, too) has been reduced to a minimum. The action moves from the formalized setting of the palace at Thebes to the natural landscape of hills and plains without sacrificing the formal power of the performances, though it may take viewers a little while to adjust to this mixture of stylization and naturalism. The young Irene Papas is the strong yet defenseless Antigone, daughter of Oedipus, who rebels against the kingly authority of her uncle Creon (the great Manos Katrakis); she breaks an unjust law-a law that violates her deepest feelings and her sense of justice and obligation-and is condemned to be buried alive. Papas and Katrakis give splendidly matched antagonistic performances, and there are memorable sequences, such as that of Antigone stealing into the countryside to bury her dead brother, who has been left exposed in the sun, and powerful images, such as that of the blind, decrepit Teiresias in the shocking daylight. The English subtitles, by Noelle Gillmor, are a demonstration that subtitling can be a branch of the fine craft of translation.
Jane Fonda is millionaire businessman Jason Robards' tax deductible mistress, in the film version of Muriel Resnik's long-running boudoir farce. Most of the movie takes place in the mistress's apartment (which is charged to Robards' company); maybe the various characters' entrances and confusions had some fizziness on the stage, but here there's an element of embarrassment in watching Fonda and Robards trying to activate the static, thudding material. The film would be easier to take if it weren't for the unpleasant moralizing tone: the businessman is sulky and selfish, and our sentiments are meant to be with his supposedly adorable, foolish mistress who wants babies and with his wife (Rosemary Murphy, who does more for her role than the others do with theirs). Dean Jones is the juvenile provided to replace Robards in Fonda's love life; also with King Moody. Directed by Robert Ellis Miller; the adaptation is by Julius J. Epstein. Warners.
Bing Crosby, in a mildly entertaining version of the Cole Porter Broadway musical comedy, with a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, about multiple cases of mistaken identity on board a liner crossing from New York to Southampton. Paramount 30s musical comedies like this one are so openhearted in their disorganized frivolous silliness that they're not offensive, and sometimes the performers lift them to a surreal, happy state. However, the craziness here isn't crazy enough; the gags often suggest a dog-eared jokebook. Crosby's relaxed, lackadaisical manner sets the tone for the whole revue-like production; he's likable though he doesn't supply any tension. Ethel Merman (in weird puffy little short sleeves that stick up and out from her shoulders) has more energy than the others in the cast, but it's a gruesome sort of belting energy (her version of "I Get a Kick out of You" has no romance), and even when she lowers her high, strident speaking voice she sounds bossy. With Ida Lupino, very shiny-blond and pretty as the ingenue, Charles Ruggles as Public Enemy No. 13 disguised as a clergyman, Arthur Treacher (looking like a moose), Grace Bradley, the Avalon Boys, Chill Wills, and, in a bit, Jack Mulhall. Lewis Milestone directed, from the adaptation (i.e. bowdlerization) that Guy Bolton, Lindsay, and Crouse did. There are a few classic Porter songs; also, Richard Whiting and Leo Robin's "Sailor Beware" and Edward Heyman and Hoagy Carmichael's "Moonburn." Shown on TV as TOPS IS THE LIMIT; without the visual vitality-the Art Deco black and silvery contrasts-of the original 35 mm prints, things really sag between the musical numbers. (Remade in 1956, also with Crosby.)
The central film of Satyajit Ray's great Apu Trilogy is transitional in structure, rather than dramatic, but it's full of insights and revelations. Ray takes the broken family of PATHER PANCHALI from its medieval village life to the modern streets of Benares and follows the boy Apu in his encounter with the school system, and, later, when he has left his mother, with the intellectual life at the University of Calcutta. (There is a luminous moment when Apu recites a poem in a classroom-you understand how it is that art survives in the midst of poverty.) The film chronicles the emergence of modern industrial India, showing it to be not a primitive society but a corrupted society. However, Apu himself embodies Ray's belief that individuals need not become corrupt. Adapted from a novel by B.B. Bandapaddhay, by Ray; music by Ravi Shankar. In Bengali.
A dog of a movie about a horse. Marlon Brando is a sullen misfit cowboy who, along about 1870, enters a border-town church to do penance for his sins and has his horse stolen by a girl (Anjanette Comer) who is trying to get away from a sadistic bandit (John Saxon). Brando broods and suffers a multiplicity of physical humiliations. Presumably out of despair, the director, Sidney J. Furie, abandoned himself to closeups of tequila bottles, decayed teeth, and bloodshot eyes. The screenplay by James Bridges and Roland Kibbee was based on a novel by Robert MacLeod. Cinematography by Russell Metty. Universal.
This is one of those heavily contrived romantic comedies in which everything rests upon postponing sexual consummation. There's nothing memorable about the picture, but under the circumstances the teamwork of Margaret Sullavan (she's a doctor) and Charles Boyer (he's a playwright) is amazing. They had worked together earlier in 1941 in BACK STREET, and they seem to have kept their rapport going here; they act as if they were in a wonderful movie. Directed by William Seiter, from a script by Bruce Manning and Felix Jackson, based on a short story by Ladislaus Bus-Fekete. With Rita Johnson and Reginald Denny. Universal.
No matter how phenomenal Richard Dreyfuss is in other roles, it's not likley that he'll ever top his performance in this teeming, energetic Canadian film. His baby-faced Duddy is a force of nature, a pushy 18-year-old con artist on his way to becoming an entrepreneur. Mordecai Richler's screenplay, based on his exultant, Dickensian 1959 novel, really enables us to understand "what makes Sammy run." Duddy waits on tables, he drives a taxi, he deals in pinball machines, he sets up a company to film weddings and bar mitzvahs. He jiggles impatiently and sweats and scratches himself. His drive for success is a comic passion. We feel with him every step of the way; he's a little monster, yet we share his devastation when his suave uncle (Joseph Wiseman) tells him, "You're a pusherke, a little Jew-boy on the make. Guys like you make me sick and ashamed." The work of the director, Ted Kotcheff, is often crude but it has electricity. And the film has real wit; it even has visual wit when we see a bar mitzvah film made by a drunken, half-mad blacklistee (Denholm Elliott). With Randy Quaid, Jack Warden, Micheline Lanctôt, Joe Silver, Henry Ramer, and, as the grandfather, Zvee Scooler. (The adaptation is credited to Lionel Chetwynd.) Shot mostly in and around Montreal, on a budget of less than $1 million.
An attempt to revive the madcap-romantic comedy, with Catherine Deneuve (a bit glazed) and Jack Lemmon (rather mournful and too sappy) as the lovers. The director, Stuart Rosenberg, didn't have the right light touch, but one can still perceive what was intended in Hal Dresner's script, despite the movie's lumpiness. With Charles Boyer, Myrna Loy, Sally Kellerman, Peter Lawford, Jack Weston, and Harvey Korman, who almost makes the picture worth seeing. Produced by Gordon Carroll; released by National General.
Part of what makes the Universal-Maria Montez movies camp classics is that they're elaborately produced, yet every word and every plot device is stamped Grade-B. In this sumptuous comedy-extravaganza, Sabu scampers about as Ali the acrobat, muscle-bound Jon Hall is Caliph Harun al-Rashid, and the blankly sensuous Maria Montez is Scheherazade (not a storyteller in this version, but only a dancing girl). The picture is filled with harem cuties, horses, Technicolor Arizona scenery, and blissfully dumb lines. But then, perfection belongeth only to Allah the Most High. Produced by Walter Wanger and directed with complete lack of conviction by John Rawlins, from Michael Hogan's script. With the matchless Turhan Bey, and Leif Erickson, Edgar Barrier, Thomas Gomez, John Qualen, and for slapstick, Billy Gilbert (who has a drag sequence), and Shemp Howard (one of the Three Stooges) as Sinbad.
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