This version of the Rodgers and Hart Broadway musical didn't retain much of their material, but it starred Judy Garland (it was her big year, the year of THE WIZARD OF OZ) and Mickey Rooney as the children of vaudevillians, and it has great charm. Busby Berkeley directed and choreographed; the direction is likably naïve, the choreography is primitive-surreal. The songs (from an assortment of sources) include "Where or When," "The Lady Is a Tramp," "I Cried for You," "Good Morning," and "You Are My Lucky Star." With June Preisser, Charles Winninger, Guy Kibbee, and Margaret Hamilton. This was Arthur Freed's début as a producer; the script is by Jack McGowan and Kay Van Riper. MGM.
The third of the three Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney MGM musicals produced by Arthur Freed and directed by Busby Berkeley. The plot is something forgettable about Garland and Mickey and other youngsters putting on a musical as a benefit for a settlement house for poor children, and there's also a patriotic number about British refugee kids. But Garland and Rooney dancing together are a happy sight. He, Richard Quine, and Ray McDonald are three young hoofers billed as "The Three Balls of Fire," and he gets to do some terrific rowdy dancing, especially in the jive number "Hoe Down." He also has a wild impersonation of Carmen Miranda, the "Bombshell from Brazil," as well as somewhat more subdued takeoffs on George M. Cohan, Walter Hampden's Cyrano de Bergerac, and Harry Lauder. Garland's impressions (of Sarah Bernhardt, Fay Templeton, and Blanche Ring) are less vivid but pleasant enough; her solo songs were directed by Vincente Minnelli, then new to films. With James Gleason, Virginia Weidler, Fay Bainter, and Donald Meek. The script is by Fred Finklehoffe and Elaine Ryan; the songs, from a variety of sources, include Harold Rome's "Franklin D. Roosevelt Jones" and Ralph Freed and Burton Lane's "How About You?"
Diane Keaton gives a glorious comedy performance that rides over many of the inanities in this picture conceived by the monarchs of Yup: the writer-producer Nancy Meyers and the writer-director Charles Shyer. Their subject is the feminist as darling. Keaton is a Manhattan management-consulting firm's Tiger Lady until she's entrusted with the care of a baby girl. Then, her single-minded concentration gone and her status diminished, she quits, moves to a farmhouse in Vermont, meets a calm, steadying Gary Cooperish veterinarian helpfully named Cooper (Sam Shepard), and starts a venture that turns her into the biggest employer in town. Soon she's a tycoon, rejecting astronomic offers to sell out. She, her child, her lover, and her business are all booming, and the picture rattles along cheerily, cutting to the child for clever reactions, the way movies used to cut to the family dog. But Keaton is smashing: the Tiger Lady's having all this drive is played for farce and Keaton keeps you alert to every shade of pride and panic the character feels. She's an ultra-feminine executive, a wide-eyed charmer, with a breathless ditziness that may remind you of Jean Arthur in THE MORE THE MERRIER. With Sam Wanamaker as Fritz, Harold Ramis as the heroine's apartment mate, James Spader as her baby-faced assistant, Britt Leach as her Vermont plumber, and the twins Kristina and Michelle Kennedy as the baby. Also with Pat Hingle, Mary Gross, and, in quick flashes, Victoria Jackson, Dori Brenner, Robin Bartlett, Constance Forslund, Margaret Whitton, and many other underused talents. Cinematography by William A. Fraker. United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
Tennessee Williams' droll and engrossing carnal comedy, set low-down in Mississippi. The infantile, flirtatious heroine (Carroll Baker) sucks her thumb and sleeps in a crib. Her balding, middle-aged husband (Karl Malden) has agreed not to consummate the marriage until she is 20; meanwhile her husband's enemy, a sharp Sicilian (Eli Wallach), lays expert hands on her. (His performance is also expert.) Carroll Baker as the lazy girl who couldn't get through long division and Malden as a grotesque simp (lust makes him helpless) are all-out funny-it's unlikely that either of them ever gave another performance this good or had such wonderful material again, either. And when the mustachioed Wallach-his beady eyes shining with lechery-makes his move on Baby Doll, pushing her in a swing until she's sweetly dizzy, he seems a master of barnyard seduction. (This must be the only movie ever made in which the heroine invites a man into her crib.) With Mildred Dunnock as Baby Doll's half-crazed old aunt, the young Rip Torn as the dentist, and Madeleine Sherwood, Lonny Chapman, and a number of residents of Benoit, Mississippi, whom the director, Elia Kazan, employed as extras. There are some wobbly moments toward the end, and although the film doesn't make too much of the score by Kenyon Hopkins (the music of Williams' dialogue is all you have needed), there's a scene inside the house that plays too slow and the music is brought up to cover the dead spot, and then brought up again when Malden is running around with a gun. Williams doesn't seem sure how to resolve the movie, but it's wonderfully entertaining. When it came out, it was condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency, and Time said that it was "just possibly the dirtiest American-made motion picture that has ever been legally exhibited," with "Priapean detail that might well have embarrassed Boccaccio." It's not quite all that, but it is a delight. The look of the film is amazing-the black-and-white cinematography by Boris Kaufman is unusually sunny and bright; the images seem free and natural yet stylized, like a cartoon. Kazan does some of his finest work here-not just with the principal actors, but also with the hired hands, and the townspeople who laugh at Malden, and the happy gawkers at a fire. At one point-almost out of nowhere-we hear a black woman singing "I shall not be moved" in a harsh, plain, strong voice. Kazan's choices seem miraculously right. Art direction by Richard Sylbert, working with Paul Sylbert. Williams' script is based on two of his one-act plays-27 Wagons Full of Cotton and The Unsatisfactory Supper. Warners.
Pseudo-seriousness about a life-loving young hippie (Barbara Hershey) who agrees to make a baby for a childless couple (Collin Wilcox-Horne and Sam Groom). Cellophane-wrapped little insights into everybody's feelings, and enough poignant touches and discreetly meaningful facial expressions to cover the writer-director, James Bridges, with medals for sincerity. With Brenda Sykes, Jeannie Berlin, and Scott Glenn. A Robert Wise Production, for National General.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
Right after doing himself proud in NOTORIOUS, Cary Grant made the mistake of appearing in this meant-to-be-bubbling farce by Sidney Sheldon. He's cast as a roué painter, and there's no core of plausibility in the role; Grant doesn't have the eyes of a masher, or the temperament. When he's accused of chasing skirts it seems like some kind of mistake. Shirley Temple is the bobby-soxer who develops a crush on him, and Myrna Loy (prissy and dull here) is her older sister, a judge. The painter is coerced into dating the bobby-soxer until she gets over her infatuation; wearing his shirt open and acting like an adolescent, he escorts her to various teen functions and competes with high-school athletes in an obstacle race at a school picnic. It's degradingly unfunny, and Grant doesn't even get a chance to show his romantic style when he finally pairs off with the older sister. With Rudy Vallee, Ray Collins, Harry Davenport, Veda Ann Borg, William Bakewell, Johnny Sands, and Don Beddoe. Produced by Dore Schary, for RKO; directed by Irving Reis. (It's hard to believe that Sheldon's script won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.)
Ginger Rogers was an astonishingly straightforward, good-natured comedienne. She played dozens of variations on Cinderella, and looked surprised each time she caught the prince. This time he's David Niven, the heir to the department store founded by his old-codger father (Charles Coburn). Rogers, who works at the toy counter, happens to find an infant who has been deserted; her employers, taking her for an unmarried mother, are indignant at her assertions that the baby isn't hers, and to keep her job she has to keep the baby. Contrived by Norman Krasna (from Felix Jackson's story) and directed by Garson Kanin, this is a rollicking, warm, obvious comedy; it's heavy-handed yet ingenious and enjoyable, partly because of good punch lines and realistic gags, such as Rogers and her boyfriend, Frank Albertson, being disgusted when they win the first-prize loving cup in a dance contest, because the second prize is cash. With June Wilkins as Niven's pill of a girlfriend, Ernest Truex as a social worker, and E.E. Clive. (Remade in 1956, under the title BUNDLE OF JOY.) RKO.
Irene Dunne does the suffering in this version of the Fannie Hurst classic weeper about a woman who loves a selfish married man (John Boles) and spends her whole life in the shadow of his. Fannie Hurst had a shameful genius for this sort of muck. John M. Stahl directed, and the great Karl Freund did the cinematography. With ZaSu Pitts, William Bakewell, Jane Darwell, Walter Catlett, Robert McWade. (It was remade in 1941 and 1961; the 1941 version, with Margaret Sullavan and Charles Boyer, is delicately acted and considerably easier on the stomach than this one.) Universal.
Rodney Dangerfield, the archetypal complaining loser, who has always been a little sweaty and berserk, plays a winner here-a jovial, avuncular multimillionaire merchant, with a short fluffy coiffure; he discovers that his son (Keith Gordon) is miserable at college, and enrolls as a freshman so he can change things for the kid. It's Dangerfield's movie, and when he can't say a line directly to the camera he seems worried that he's not doing enough, and so he does some eyeball mugging. The picture's inertia is overpowering, but Dangerfield enthusiasts don't seem to mind the cornpone script or the deadening moviemaking. It's like a beer bust to them. As the son's blue-haired punker roommate, Robert Downey, Jr., has zapped big eyes and a serene, dreamy smile; he gives the movie its only airy touches. Sally Kellerman helps out as a throaty-voiced literature professor, and Paxton Whitehead and Sam Kinison provide marginal distractions. Also with Ned Beatty, Burt Young, M. Emmet Walsh, Adrienne Barbeau, Severn Darden, and, as himself, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Directed by Alan Metter; screenplay credited to Steven Kampmann, Harold Ramis, and others, from a story credited to Dangerfield and others. Orion.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis, from a script he wrote with his regular teammate Bob Gale, this piece of Pop Art Americana is a clever, generally engaging screwball comedy. Christopher Lloyd is the small-town crackpot inventor who builds a time machine on the chassis of a gull-winged DeLorean, and Michael J. Fox is Marty, the 17-year-old Hill Valley, California, high-school boy who is hurtled back 30 years to Hill Valley, 1955, where his parents are 17-year-olds at the same school. The movie has the structure of a comedy classic, but it doesn't have the rambunctiousness or the maniacal edge of Zemeckis and Gale's 1980 USED CARS; despite their wit in devising intricate structures that keep blowing fuses, the thinking is cramped and conventional. Christopher Lloyd is a blissful silly, though, and Lea Thompson's woozy-faced young Lorraine (Marty's mother-to-be) has a sly lustiness that's entrancing; as the tall, skinny, sad-sack George McFly (Marty's father-to-be), Crispin Glover is almost too painful a caricature, but he has more force than anyone else in the movie. With Claudia Wells, Wendie Jo Sperber, Marc McClure, Thomas F. Wilson, and Frances Lee McCain. There couldn't have been many people on the movie set who were old enough to remember the 50s: Patti Page's first name is spelled Patty in the record store window on the town square. Cinematography by Dean Cundey; production design by Lawrence G. Paull. Amblin Entertainment, for Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
It's all manic and wacky; it's all twists. The amiably mad inventor Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) rushes into the frame to tell teenage Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) about new emergencies in the year 2015 or 1955 or an alternate 1985 (brought about by their disrupting the space-time continuum), and they go hurtling off to set things right. The picture is fast and furious, but low in spirit; the inventiveness of the director, Robert Zemeckis, and his writing partner, Bob Gale, seems to be on a treadmill in a void. And yet the construction keeps you going-it's like a frenzied daydream that you don't want to break off. With Elisabeth Shue, Lea Thompson, and Thomas F. Wilson as the bullies Biff and Griff. Amblin Entertainment, for Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.
Early in the year the great Hollywood Dunciad, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, came out, and then came this spangled, overwrought piece of Hollywoodian self-analysis. The first was a satire, the second a satire in spite of itself-which recalls the fabled little old lady who said in the middle of QUO VADIS?, "Look, there's a sweet little lion who hasn't got a Christian." THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, a glossy melodrama about a "bad" megalomaniac Hollywood producer (Kirk Douglas) and a "beautiful" alcoholic star (Lana Turner), is one of those movies that set out to explain what Hollywood is really like. It's a piquant example of what it purports to expose-luxurious exhibitionism-and the course of what is described as a "rat race" to success is the softest turf ever. The structure is all too reminiscent of CITIZEN KANE, and there is the "Rosebud" of Douglas's ill-defined Oedipal confusion, but there are also flashy, entertaining scenes and incidents derived from a number of famous careers. And the director, Vincente Minnelli, has given the material an hysterical stylishness; the black-and-white cinematography (by Robert Surtees) is more than dramatic-it has temperament. With Dick Powell as an author; Gloria Grahame as his Southern wife; Walter Pidgeon as a studio head; Barry Sullivan as a director; Gilbert Roland as Gaucho, the actor; Elaine Stewart as a starlet; and Leo G. Carroll, Paul Stewart, and Vanessa Brown. Music by David Raksin; produced by John Houseman, for MGM. Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress (Grahame), Screenplay (Charles Schnee), Cinematography, Art Direction (Cedric Gibbons and others), Costume Design (Helen Rose). (In 1962, Houseman, Minnelli, and Schnee collaborated on another melodramatic inside view of moviemaking, TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN.)
At 22, Sean Penn is probably the best actor in American movies who is still young enough to play adolescents. He gets so far inside a role that he can make even a sociological confection such as the 16-year-old hero, Mick-a proud, tough juvenile delinquent who commits crude, reckless crimes-someone an audience can care about. Penn is given so little to work with here that it's practically a pantomime performance: he holds us by the depth of Mick's grief over the way things have worked out in his life. He sits in his cell at the reformatory-hypersensitive, intelligent, and bitter. He's worth watching, even though the picture is singularly unimaginative. Directed by Rick Rosenthal, from a script by Richard DiLello, it has been made in a brutal, realistic, neo-Warners style, with shock cuts, a pungent visual surface (using Chicago locations and Illinois correctional institutions), and Bill Conti's snazzy, aren't-you-lucky-I'm-here music, which gets anxious and excited for us, whipping itself into snits and furies. Even when episodes are powerful, they're banal. With Eric Gurry, Esai Morales, Ally Sheedy, Reni Santoni, and Jim Moody. Produced by Robert Solo; Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
A hip-picaresque comedy set in the Civil War period, with the lively, talented Jeff Bridges as the bumpkin Fagin of a gang of thieving orphans and runaways. There's dazzle in the script by Robert Benton and David Newman, but Benton's direction is tepid, and the yellow-brown autumnal West is getting very tired. The movie is sparked by a caricature of a big-time movie director (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, to be specific) in the character of the cynical robber chief, Big Joe (David Huddleston). With Barry Brown, Jim Davis, and John Savage; cinematography by Gordon Willis. Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.
The title may suggest a banal Western, but this was the first film to bring up the wartime outrages against Japanese-Americans (treated also in 1960 in Phil Karlson's HELL TO ETERNITY). The story is set in the mythical Southwestern town of Black Rock where the inhabitants are bound together by the guilty secret of their mistreatment of a Japanese farmer; on this bad day a one-armed stranger (Spencer Tracy) arrives and begins to ask questions. Though BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK is crudely melodramatic, it is a very superior example of motion picture craftsmanship. The director, John Sturges, is at his best-each movement and line is exact and economical; the cinematographer, William C. Mellor, uses CinemaScope and color with intelligent care-the compositions seem realistic, yet they have a stylized simplicity. In part because of this, when the violence erupts, it's truly shocking. With Robert Ryan, Dean Jagger, Walter Brennan, Anne Francis, John Ericson, Lee Marvin, and Ernest Borgnine. Written by Millard Kaufman; produced by Dore Schary, for MGM.
Kurosawa takes on the theme of corruption in business and government in this melodrama about how Toshiro Mifune tries to track down the men responsible for murdering his father. He finds them, all right, but here's the Japanese twist on a basically American-type story: Mifune is eliminated and business goes on as usual. It's a strangely mixed movie-an attempt at social significance but with several borrowings from Hamlet that take bizarre forms: a giant wedding cake in the shape of an office building serves the plot function of the play within the play in Hamlet. (The groom's father had committed suicide by jumping from a window of an office building.) The cast includes Masayuki Mori and Takashi Shimura. In Japanese.
Probably we've all seen those convicted killers in prison documentaries on TV who sound uninvolved and mechanical when they talk about their crimes; Terrence Malick's début picture extends that uninvolvement to the whole culture. Set at the end of the 50s, it's about an emotionless young killer (Martin Sheen) and his 15-year-old girlfriend (Sissy Spacek), whose killing spree starts in South Dakota. The young lovers are psychologically aberrant and yet just like everybody else; their moral vacuum spreads over the flat, dead landscape. Malick appears to be saying that mass-culture banality is killing our souls and making everybody affectless, but his detached tone puts the viewer in the ugly position of feeling culturally superior to the people on the screen. An intellectualized movie-shrewd and artful, carefully styled to sustain its low key view of dissociation-but so preconceived that there's nothing left to respond to. With Warren Oates; art direction by Jack Fisk. The music is by Carl Orff and Erik Satie. A Pressman-Williams Production; released by Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.
The village baker (Raimu) cannot work because he laments his wife's departure with a stupid, sexy shepherd; the villagers, who want their bread, organize to bring her back. Raimu's baker is an acting classic-a true tragicomic hero-and it's easy to agree with Orson Welles, who cited this comedy as proof that "a story and an actor, both superb," can result in "a perfect movie" even if the direction and the editing are not "cinematic." Marcel Pagnol, a playwright who turned scenarist and then writer-director, adapted this classic of cuckoldry from Jean Giono's Jean le Bleu and directed it very simply. With Ginette Leclerc (who can pout with her mouth open) as the wife; Charpin; and Charles Moulin. In French.
Perfect for a mixed-media show at the Russian Tea Room-but at a theatre, without distraction? Nelson Eddy, in another uniform, smiling vacuously, and that beautiful, blank songbird, Ilona Massey, in an overdressed adaptation of Eric Maschwitz's play about Russian exiles in Paris. MGM loaded this flop operetta with such sure-disaster songs as "Ride, Cossack, Ride," "In a Heart as Brave as Your Own," "Shadows on the Sand," "The Magic of Your Love," and, to cap it all, "My Heart Is a Gypsy." The cast includes Charles Ruggles and the inevitable Frank Morgan, as well as Walter Woolf King, C. Aubrey Smith, Joyce Compton, Lionel Atwill, George Tobias, Alma Kruger, and Phillip Terry. Produced by Lawrence Weingarten; directed by Reinhold Schunzel; script by Jacques Deval and Leon Gordon.
The romantic collision of Sugarpuss O'Shea, a burlesque dancer (Barbara Stanwyck), and Bertram Potts, a fuddy-duddy professor (Gary Cooper), is played as if it were terribly bright, but it's rather shrill and tiresome. Howard Hawks directed, but Brackett and Wilder did the script, and Wilder's influence seems strong. The professor's colleagues have corny cute names and carry on like people left over from a stock-company Viennese operetta. The cast includes Dana Andrews, Dan Duryea, and Allen Jenkins, and, as the professors, Oscar Homolka, Henry Travers, S.Z. Sakall, Tully Marshall, Leonid Kinskey, Richard Haydn, and Aubrey Mather. Gene Krupa and his band are also on the screen. Gregg Toland was the cinematographer for this expensive Samuel Goldwyn production. (Remade in 1948, as A SONG IS BORN.) Released by RKO.
Sam Peckinpah is in a relaxed and playful mood in this rambling comedy-Western with Jason Robards (in fine form) as a desert rat who discovers a mudhole and turns water merchant, Stella Stevens as an ambitious whore, and David Warner as a lecherous self-ordained preacher. The picture needs more invention, more variety; it's a little too pleased with itself, and shots are held too long. Also with Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones, Slim Pickens, Kathleen Freeman, Gene Evans, Peter Whitney, R.G. Armstrong, and Max Evans. Cinematography by Lucien Ballard; script by John Crawford and Edward Penney; music by Jerry Goldsmith, with songs by Goldsmith and Richard Gillis. Warners.
Robert Bresson's grave, oblique account of the life and suffering of a donkey, and the life and suffering of the people who mistreat him. It's a meditation on sin and saintliness. Considered a masterpiece by some, but others may find it painstakingly tedious and offensively holy. With Anne Wiazemsky as the passive, puffy-mouthed girl who falls in love with the cruel, thieving boy who is bound to make her miserable. In French.
The animals in this animated Disney feature have Walter Keane eyes and fluttering long eyelashes. None has a gooier gaze than the little fawn, Bambi. His relationship with his mother is tender and close, and when she is killed by hunters, small children in the audience frequently scream and cry. It all ends happily when Bambi, grown to staghood, marries the virginally sweet doe Faline. The picture is a classic of sorts, if only for the uncannily awful sound of the young woodland creatures in conversation; when puberty sets in and these voices suddenly change, Walt Disney begins to seem as berserk as Busby Berkeley. Still there's no denying that for many people sequences such as Bambi's birth have an enduring primal power. From the Felix Salten novel.
The two heroes (Claude Brasseur and Sami Frey) begin by playacting crime and violence movies, then really act them out in their lives. Their girl (Anna Karina), wanting to be accepted, tells them there is money in the villa where she lives. And we watch, apprehensive and puzzled, as the three of them go through the robbery they're committing as if it were something in a movie-or a fairy tale. The crime doesn't fit the daydreamers or their milieu: we half expect to be told it's all a joke-that they can't really be committing an armed robbery. This Jean-Luc Godard film is like a reverie of a gangster movie-a gangster movie as students in an espresso bar might remember it or plan it. It has the gangster-film virtues (loyalty, daring) but they are mixed with innocence, amorality, lack of equilibrium. It's as if a French poet took a banal American crime novel and told it to us in terms of the romance and beauty he read between the lines; Godard re-creates the gangsters and the moll with his world of associations-seeing them as people in a Paris café, mixing them with Rimbaud, Kafka, Alice in Wonderland. This lyrical tragicomedy is perhaps Godard's most delicately charming film. Script by Godard (he's also the narrator), based on the novel Fool's Gold by Dolores Hitchens. Cinematography by Raoul Coutard; music by Michel Legrand. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
The story is about a young shepherd wrongly suspected of being a bandit and of having killed a policeman; terrified of the police, he attempts to escape and is forced to become a bandit. It's a good, basic neo-realist subject, and the young director-cinematographer, Vittorio De Seta, who shot the film in the mountains of Sardinia, has an eye for harsh beauty. The film has a distinctive look and mood that stay with one. De Seta spent nearly two years among the Sardinian peasants who play the roles, and he communicates their impassive suspiciousness toward authority; this is one of the rare films in which hard, taciturn people reveal themselves to us, and they do it without sentimentality. In Italian.
Pathos poured on by the bucketful. This picture has a moral-Be kind. The baseball-player hero (blue-eyed Michael Moriarty, in the role Paul Newman played on TV in 1956) behaves like a saint to his doltish buddy (Robert De Niro), who is dying of Hodgkin's disease, and then is made to suffer remorse anyway. It seems he had neglected to send the buddy the scorecard of his last game on earth. And the ball team who had done their slobby best to behave like comrades to the dying man fail, unaccountably, to send a delegation to the funeral. This baseball weeper was very clumsily directed by John Hancock; everything stops dead for the dialogue scenes. De Niro gives what may be his only bad screen performance up to that time; he overworks the tobacco chewing and the idiotic smile. With Vincent Gardenia, Phil Foster, Ann Wedgeworth, Heather MacRae, Tom Ligon, Selma Diamond, Patrick McVey, and Marshall Efron. Adapted by Mark Harris, from his own novel. Produced by Maurice and Lois Rosenfield; released by Paramount.