The decor and effects in Roger Vadim's erotic comic strip are disappointing, but Jane Fonda has the skittish naughtiness of a teenage voluptuary. She's the fresh, bouncy American girl triumphing by her innocence over a lewd, sadistic world of the future. David Hemmings shows unexpected comic talent as an absent-minded revolutionary. With John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg, Milo O'Shea, Marcel Marceau, Ugo Tognazzi, and Claude Dauphin. Produced by Dino De Laurentiis.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Going Steady.
The most spirited and satisfying Western epic in several years-it may seem a little loose at first, but it gets better and better as it goes along and you get the fresh, crazy hang of it. Directed by the Australian Fred Schepisi, from a script by the Texas-born William D. Wittliff, it has some of the psychedelic ambiance of Sergio Leone's spaghetti Westerns-the West seen in a fever. Willie Nelson has a great screen presence; he has an aura-his scruffiness is part of his grace. As the legendary outlaw Barbarosa, a desert rat mythologized by those who grow up fearing him, he's like the dragon in the fairy tale who threatens the community (and keeps it strong). The period is the 1880s and the film was shot along the Rio Grande, in an area of extremes that's either steep Texas mountains or mustard-colored mesa and desert. Gary Busey plays a lumpy, raw farm boy who gets in trouble with his in-laws and has to run off to hide; he joins up with Barbarosa, and without intending to becomes an apprentice desperado. Busey makes a certain kind of American huskiness and uncouthness seem the best part of the national character; as the farm boy he's an outlaw-galoot-Mark Twain might have dreamt him up. Working with the cinematographer Ian Baker and the composer Bruce Smeaton, Schepisi shows the fullness of his approach to moviemaking; Willie Nelson doesn't need to sing here-the whole picture is a ballad. With Gilbert Roland, Howland Chamberlin, Isela Vega, Danny De La Paz, and George Voskovec. Produced by Paul N. Lazurus III, for Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
Lavish, unconvincing re-creation of San Francisco's vice dens in the 1850s. The picture was designed as a showcase for Edward G. Robinson's talents, and he gives a juicy performance as a lovable gangland boss. But the material is too false and studied-and too polite. Miriam Hopkins is Swan, the disillusioned queen of the Coast, who presides over a crooked roulette wheel; Joel McCrea courts her with a volume of Shelley. Howard Hawks directed, from a script by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, and there's plenty of action, but you feel as if you've seen it all before. With Walter Brennan, Frank Craven, Brian Donlevy, Donald Meek, and, in a bit part, David Niven. A Samuel Goldwyn Production.
Writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz tries to tell all about Hollywood-where the men aren't men and the women are magnificent, frustrated animals. Flamenco dancer Ava Gardner is discovered in the slums of Madrid by a vicious millionaire producer (Warren Stevens), a gutless, sycophantic press agent (Edmond O'Brien), and an alcoholic, broken-down director (Humphrey Bogart). She becomes a glamorous star but only feels at home with her feet in the dirt (symbolized by a guitar player, a chauffeur, and a gypsy dancer). The movie is so ornate and so garrulous about telling the dirty truth that it's a camp classic: a Cinderella story in which the prince turns out to be impotent. It's hard to believe Mankiewicz ever spent an hour in Hollywood; the alternative supposition is that he spent too many hours there. With Rossano Brazzi as the castrated Italian count, Marius Goring as a rich South American playboy, Valentina Cortese, Elizabeth Sellars, Franco Interlenghi, Bessie Love, Tonio Selwart, Enzo Staiola, and Riccardo Rioli. United Artists.
Jane Fonda and Robert Redford are the spatting newlyweds-he's a hardworking lawyer and she, living in a romantic fantasy, has rented them a miserable fifth-floor walk-up in Greenwich Village. This movie version of a Neil Simon comedy hit is a trifle and almost amusing in a harmlessly, pleasantly stupid way. What Neil Simon can't seem to get rid of are those terrible moments of dramatic untruth-"I love you very much" and "I want a divorce;" they crunch like nutshells in a candy bar. If he could manage without them, he'd have candy so perfectly digestible people wouldn't know if they'd eaten it or just seen an ad for it. You can still feel the stage origins of this material and the director, Gene Saks, leaves pauses for laughs that don't come. But, at least, it's livelier than Fonda's 1966 picture ANY WEDNESDAY, and Mildred Natwick, as Fonda's mother, and Charles Boyer, as a Village neighbor, do their damnedest to make the lines seem witty. Also with Herbert Edelman, Mabel Albertson, Fritz Feld, and James Stone. Adapted by Simon; the play, directed by Mike Nichols, ran on Broadway from 1963 to 1967-Redford, Natwick, and Edelman were in the original cast. Produced by Hal B. Wallis, for Paramount.
The 67-year-old LA poet Charles Bukowski wrote this semi-autobiographical script about his heavy-drinking skid-row days just after the Second World War, when he was a scrappy young man, in his mid to late 20s-a budding writer who was beginning to be published. But Mickey Rourke, who plays the role, imitates the tortoise movements of the battle-scarred survivor Bukowski, the writer-philosopher, the sage. This howler gives the movie a comic boost. Rourke twinkles with amusement at doing Bukowski, and the two principal women (Faye Dunaway as a burnt-out drinker, Alice Krige as the wealthy publisher of a literary magazine) twinkle back. The movie, though, is big on life affirmation. The hero isn't afraid to lose a fight or to hit bottom. And he isn't tempted by security. Offered the guesthouse on the publisher's estate, he snubs her; he calls her world "a cage with golden bars." (Of course, she's infatuated with his integrity.) Waking in her bed, he gets up saying, "I belong on the streets. I don't feel right here. It's like I can't breathe!" He goes back to his grimy haunts, where-we're supposed to believe-the real people are. This might be a film about the leader of a religious cult which was made by an altar boy. The director, Barbet Schroeder, wanting to please the Master, inadvertently exposes Bukowski's messianic windbag sensibility at its most self-satisfied. You wouldn't guess at Bukowski's talent from this movie. With Frank Stallone, J.C. Quinn, Jack Nance, and Fritz Feld. Cinematography by Robby Müller. Cannon Films, in association with Zoetrope.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
The war-horse of the stage-matinée trade tells the story of how the invalid Elizabeth Barrett escaped from her domineering father by miraculously getting up and eloping with the dashing Robert Browning. In this overproduced, unleavened version from MGM, Norma Shearer is the tremulous, bedridden poet, and Fredric March comes to the rescue. The glowering Papa is Charles Laughton. The cast includes Maureen O'Sullivan, Ralph Forbes, Una O'Connor, Katharine Alexander, Ian Wolfe, and Leo G. Carroll. Irving Thalberg produced, with his favorite dull company man, Sidney Franklin, directing. From the Rudolf Besier play (which Katharine Cornell made famous), worked over by Ernest Vajda, Claudine West, and Donald Ogden Stewart. (A 1956 version, also directed by Franklin, and starring Jennifer Jones, with John Gielgud as her father, was the box-office failure it deserved to be.)
Thackeray wrote a skittish, fast-moving parody of romantic, sentimental writing. It was about the adventures of an Irish knave who used British hypocrisy for leverage. However, it must have been Barry Lyndon's ruthless pursuit of wealth and social position rather than his spirit that attracted Stanley Kubrick. His images are fastidiously delicate in the inexpressive, peculiarly chilly manner of the English painters of the period-the mid-18th century-and it's an ice-pack of a movie, a masterpiece in every insignificant detail. Kubrick suppresses most of the active elements that make movies pleasurable. The film says that people are disgusting but things are lovely. And a narrator (Sir Michael Hordern) tells you what's going to happen before you see it. It's a coffee-table movie; the stately tour of European high life is like a three-hour slide show for art-history majors. With Ryan O'Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Hardy Kruger, Diana Koerner, André Morell, Murray Melvin, Godfrey Quigley, Leonard Rossiter, Gay Hamilton, and Marie Kean. Production design by Ken Adam; cinematography by John Alcott; adaptation by Kubrick. (185 minutes.) Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
The shock when you first read the story-Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener"-may be in the recognition that Melville had this pre-vision of modern alienation back in 1853. The character is a precursor of Kafka's central figures, of Oblomov, of Dostoevski's underground man, of Camus's Meursault, and you can't grasp how this specifically modern man was formed in that mid-19th-century setting. What is he doing in that world, passively resisting, and withdrawing into courteous, stubborn catatonia? The English movie, directed by Anthony Friedman, from a script he wrote with Rodney Carr-Smith, is set in modern London, and that kills the visionary quality right off the bat. This disappointment doesn't diminish as the picture goes on, because the story is never made to belong to its new setting. John McEnery, in the title role, is successful in bringing the clerk up to date: he suggests both the mournful, bleached-out intransigence of the character and all the wan, misfit loners in their seat-sprung pants who wander through the big cities. And Paul Scofield is very fine as Bartleby's amiable, confused employer. But Melville's story moves logically and inexorably: it records the movement of a wage slave toward the freedom of total negation. When it's padded to feature-film length it gets thin. The movie was obviously made on a shoestring and with honorable intentions, yet it's tentative and lame; it has little to recommend it but the two actors, Melville's dialogue, and the remnants of his great spooky conception.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
We may never get to see another movie about a string quartet, and so it's disappointing that this one turns out to be less interested in music and musicians than in demonstrating the perils of asceticism, but it's fairly pleasing anyway. The quartet has toured together for 30 years-the four men have given up everything for their musical careers-when the first violinist (François Simon) has a fatal heart attack. He is replaced by a 20-year-old virtuoso (Pierre Malet) with long ringlets, flaring nostrils, and the animal sensuality of a young Nureyev. This young man denies himself nothing; he has his pick of the beautiful women of Europe, he drinks, he gambles, he smokes pot-and his music does not suffer. The life in him is, of course, too much of a shock to the three older men, and, with no ill will on his part, he brings them to grief. The writer-director Fabio Carpi is somewhat too measured and solemn in his approach (the movie really should be a comedy-it's a bit like DEATH IN VENICE with three Gustav von Aschenbachs), and the material sags when one of the three (Michel Vitold) deludes himself that the young fiddler is his lover. But the other two-Omero Antonutti and Hector Alterio, both with trim, lordly beards-bring the film force and dignity; the rounded domes of their high foreheads and partly bald heads loom in the richly varnished, wood-panelled rooms. If you're going to give a movie Old Master lighting, these are certainly the actors to soak up the light. The cast also includes Gabriele Ferzetti as a weary, bitter old fellow, and that absurdly magnetic bad actor Alain Cuny, as the host at a couple of private musicales. In Italian.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.
More simperingly girlish than even Doris Day, Esther Williams had one contribution to make to movies-her magnificent athletic body-and for over 10 years MGM made the most of it, keeping her in clinging, wet bathing suits and hoping the audience would shiver. This first starring extravaganza is simple compared to her later big splashes; it features Red Skelton and a nitwit plot about a man enrolling in a girls' college. The Johnny Green songs are sadly undistinguished. George Sidney directed; with Basil Rathbone, Helen Forrest, Ethel Smith, and Xavier Cugat and his orchestra.
Tim Burton's powerfully glamorous comic-book epic, with sets angled and lighted like film noir, goes beyond pulp. It has a funky, nihilistic charge, and an eerie, poetic intensity. Michael Keaton is the fabulously wealthy Bruce Wayne, who patrols the sinister, nighttime canyons of Gotham City in the guise of Batman, and Jack Nicholson is the sniggering mobster Jack Napier, who turns into the leering madman the Joker. The two are fighting for the soul of the city that spawned them. The movie is underwritten, but it has so many unpredictable spins that what's missing doesn't seem to matter much. It's mean and anarchic and blissful. Written by Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren (and uncredited others), based on characters created by Bob Kane. With cinematography by Roger Pratt; design by Anton Furst; costumes by Bob Ringwood; a plangent score by Danny Elfman, and songs by Prince. The cast includes Jack Palance, Kim Basinger, Jerry Hall, and Robert Wuhl. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.
Like POTEMKIN, it's an epic in the form of a "created documentary;" it's a reconstruction of the events of 1954 to 1957 in the guerrilla war waged by the National Liberation Front against the French authorities, with the oppressed, angry masses as the hero. The enemy of the Algerian N.L.F.-the hyper-intelligent French colonel played by Jean Martin-isn't really a character; he represents the cool, inhuman manipulative power of imperialism versus the animal heat of the multitudes rushing toward us as they rise against their oppressors. The director, Gillo Pontecorvo, and his co-writer, Franco Solinas, are almost too clever in their use of this device of the colonel-yet it works, and brilliantly. The revolutionaries forming their pyramid of cells don't need to express revolutionary consciousness, because the French colonel is given such a full counter-revolutionary consciousness that he says it all for them. He even expresses the knowledge that history is on the side of the oppressed colonial peoples, who will win; he himself is merely part of a holding action, preserving imperialism a little longer but bound to fail. To put it satirically but, in terms of the movie, accurately, the Algerian people are spontaneously turned into revolutionaries by historical events, and if they haven't studied Marx, the counter-revolutionaries have, and know they are on the wrong side and are doomed by history. The movie hardly seems to be "saying" anything, yet the historical-determinist message seeps right into your bones. As a propaganda film, it ranks with Leni Riefenstahl's big-game rally, the 1935 TRIUMPH OF THE WILL, and it's the one great revolutionary "sell" of modern times. It has a firebrand's fervor; it carries you with it, and doesn't give you time to think. You may even accept the movie's implicit message that the N.L.F.'s violent methods are the only way to freedom. Pontecorvo's inflammatory passion works directly on your feelings. He's the most dangerous kind of Marxist, a Marxist poet. Cinematography by Marcello Gatti; music by Ennio Morricone and Pontecorvo. In French and Arabic.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.
A great two-part, 3-hour-and-10-minute documentary about the events leading to the fall of Allende; this cross-section view of a collapsing government must be unprecedented-we actually see the country cracking open. The young director, Patricio Guzmán, and his team have put a strict Marxist vise on the material; the film is structured to demonstrate that workers have to be prepared to use force of arms to defend their legally won gains, and much of what is presented as fact is highly questionable. But as a piece of epic filmmaking it is superb, and the editing is so subtle and fluid that the second half has the effect of one long, continuous shot.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
This record of one of the fights engaged in by a regiment of infantrymen for the capture of a 700-year-old Italian village is generally regarded as perhaps the greatest wartime documentary ever made. It was shot by six Signal Corps cameramen, under Major John Huston's direction. He wrote and spoke the factual narration, which shades into austere irony. The film got into trouble with the Army and was cut from five reels to the 33 minutes that remain, but you wouldn't guess it. This doesn't seem like a cut film; it has its own perfection. James Agee referred to part of it as "the first great passage of war poetry that has got on the screen," and it's as war poetry that the whole brief film is experienced.
The old order, represented by Peter Sellers as the head accountant of a Scottish firm rich in tradition, triumphing over the new, represented by Constance Cummings as an interloping American efficiency expert. This British film was adapted from the James Thurber story "The Catbird Seat," but as directed by Charles Crichton it's not as funny as it's meant to be. With Robert Morley as the laird in charge of the firm.
Rarely seen Buster Keaton film that he sometimes said was his favorite but that is probably no one else's favorite; the story is slight enough to hang gags on (including a famous duck shoot), but there's some discomfort-almost masochism-built into it. Keaton plays puny, defenseless Alfy Butler, a rich, soft simpleton whose father sends him into the woods to make a man of him; through love (for broad-faced Sally O'Neil) and mistaken identity, he becomes embroiled in prizefighting and is pitted against the sadistic world champion. He wins, of course, but not until after he's taken a cruel beating. Keaton directed, and there are cleverly worked out compositional techniques, including the sort of deep focus that was later to be associated with Orson Welles and Gregg Toland. With Snitz Edwards as the valet. Silent.
What would this film be like without Jeanne Moreau? Even if the dialogue and direction were the same, the meanings wouldn't be. The picture is almost an emanation of Moreau, is inconceivable without her. Written and directed by Jacques Demy, it's rather like a French attempt to purify, to get to the essence of, a Warners movie of the 30s. Demy not only gets to it, he goes beyond it. His virtuoso sense of film rhythm turns this flimsy, capricious story about a gambling lady into a lyrical study in compulsion and luck. The concept of gambling as almost total spontaneity and irresponsibility-as giving in to chance (as if that were the most complete acceptance of life)-is oddly suggestive, and we begin, in this film, to feel its appeal, to feel that gambling is a bum's existentialism. And Jeanne Moreau, in a very Bette Davis sort of way, dramatizes herself superbly. (There are times when she's as white and unreal as Constance Bennett in her satins and you think how marvellous she'd be singing "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams.") This is a magical, whirling little film, a triumph of style, even though it runs down to nothing in the last, too quick, too ambiguous shot. With Claude Mann. Photographed, in dazzling sunlight, by Jean Rabier, and with one of Michel Legrand's best scores. In French.
Sincere to a fault; the worst speeches always seem to be underlined. Cornel Wilde directed, and stars in, this anti-war Second World War movie about a battalion of Marines on a Japanese-held island off the Philippines. Rip Torn plays a sadistic sergeant who gratuitously murders a wounded Japanese soldier. United Artists.
A charming, neglected romantic comedy. The happiest screen collaboration of Elsa Lanchester and Charles Laughton-they're both wonderful-is in this adaptation of a Somerset Maugham story, "The Vessel of Wrath." It's set on an island in the Pacific, which Maugham calls Baru, and it's concerned with the efforts of the prim missionary (Lanchester) to reform the carnal, ribald beachcomber (Laughton). The situation is the reverse of that in Maugham's Sadie Thompson story, but with a light, comic tone. The Hepburn-Bogart AFRICAN QUEEN probably took a few notions from it. Erich Pommer directed; with Robert Newton. (A 1954 version, starring Glynis Johns, with Newton in the Laughton role, isn't in the same class.) Paramount.
This movie about the lifelong friendship between two women of contrasting backgrounds-Bette Midler as CC Bloom, a show-biz-crazy Jewish redhead from New York, and Barbara Hershey as Hillary Whitney, a repressed wealthy Wasp from San Francisco-suggests the kind of material that Midler might be using for a takeoff. Instead, it's being played for maudlin soulfulness. After a while, it turns into an all-girl LOVE STORY, with Hillary becoming ghoulishly pale from heart disease and CC (now a singing star) staying at her side. Through this (slow, slow) deathwatch, CC learns to transcend her self-involvement; she becomes a better person, and-implicitly-a bigger star. If you admired Midler in THE ROSE and DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS, you may want to bash your head against the wall. With Mayim Bialik, who must have been specially created to be CC at 11, and John Heard. The director, Garry Marshall, shows no feeling for the material-not even false feeling; the script, by Mary Agnes Donoghue, is from Iris Rainer Dart's novel. Touchstone (Disney).
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.
This French-made version of the romantic-wilderness pictures that Hollywood turned out in the silent era is a combination of raw pulp and gooey kitsch. A whimpering orphaned bear cub tries to attach himself to a huge male bear (9 feet 2 and weighing 2,000 pounds), who has been shot in the shoulder and growls, rebuffing the infant. The plucky cub's feelings are hurt, but he ignores the threats, and follows the big bear, pleading for acceptance; he comes close enough to clean the wound with his tongue, and soon the two are kissing and licking. They have "bonded;" the music swells, and our hearts are supposed to be swelling, too. The director, Jean-Jacques Annaud, and the screenwriter, Gérard Brach, devised the plan for a gory, sentimental myth and then tried to get animals to act out the parts of the story that couldn't be faked; they fell back on sleight-of-hand cutting that never quite covers up the gaps. The human grunts and groans of the cornered big bear and the cub's constant crying out in terror are usually as close to telling the story as the film gets. The movie doesn't exist except for its dubbed sound effects. Set in British Columbia in 1885; shot in the Austrian Tyrol and Northern Italy. Based on James Oliver Curwood's 1916 novel The Grizzly King. Tri-Star.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.