Beat the Devil

US (1954): Drama/Comedy
89 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

"The formula of BEAT THE DEVIL," its director, John Huston, once remarked, "is that everyone is slightly absurd." The plot of the picture was unknown to the cast, but presumably known to Huston and his co-writer, Truman Capote; however, Capote later remarked that he had "a suspicion that Huston wasn't too clear about it." Commercially speaking, the movie courted-and achieved-disaster. According to most accounts, Capote wrote the script as they went along (reading it aloud to the cast each morning, Robert Morley says), and Huston didn't show any signs of anxiety. This improvisation was not necessarily an actor's delight, and Humphrey Bogart, who looks rather bewildered through much of it, as if he hadn't been let in on the joke, said, "Only the phonies think it's funny. It's a mess." Yes, but it may be the funniest mess of all time. It kidded itself, yet it succeeded in some original (and perhaps dangerously marginal) way by finding a style of its own. Bogart and his wife, Gina Lollobrigida, are on a ship bound for British East Africa; their travelling companions are a gang of uranium swindlers-Morley, Peter Lorre, Marco Tulli, and Ivor Barnard. The funniest performer is Jennifer Jones (in a blond wig) as a creative liar; she's married to a bogus British lord (Edward Underdown). Then there's a shipwreck. This straight-faced parody of the international thriller killed off the whole genre. (It also ended the Huston-Bogart working relationship. Bogart had had his own money in the picture.) With Bernard Lee. Cinematography by Oswald Morris and Freddie Francis; from a novel by James Helvick (a pseudonym for Claud Cockburn). A Santana-Romulus Production, for United Artists.

Beau Geste

US (1939): War/Adventure
114 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Gary Cooper had had three flops in a row when he decided to play it safe with this remake of the 1926 Ronald Colman hit about a valiant Foreign Legionnaire's life in the midst of Arab attacks, garrison floggings, desert deaths, and assorted fortress crises. The picture, rousingly directed by William Wellman, was indeed a success, but Cooper, horribly miscast as a dashing young British gallant-saying things like "You young pup!" to Ray Milland-was embarrassingly callow, almost simpering, and he looked too old for the part. Besides, times had changed, and his somewhat delirious courage didn't entertain audiences nearly as much as Brian Donlevy's ruthless villainy. Donlevy's sadistic Russian officer shocked audiences, and at the same time persuaded them that he was a superb soldier; the role had some of the fascination of George C. Scott's later Patton. Donlevy got the notices and an Academy Award nomination. With Robert Preston as Cooper's brother, Susan Hayward, Albert Dekker, Broderick Crawford, J. Carrol Naish, and Donald O'Connor playing Beau as a child. The Percival C. Wren novel was adapted by Robert Carson. (A 1966 version starred Guy Stockwell, and Telly Savalas in the Donlevy role.) Paramount.

The Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend

US (1949): Comedy
77 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

It's hard to believe that Preston Sturges wrote, produced, and directed this botched parody Western, but he was trying to recoup after the shattering critical and box-office failure of his most high-style slapstick comedy-the 1948 UNFAITHFULLY YOURS-and he seems to have lost his bearings totally. A hot-tempered barroom singer (Betty Grable) takes a shot at her rival for the affections of a card shark (Cesar Romero) and accidentally hits a judge (Porter Hall) in the rear end. She escapes from prison and goes to Snake City (populated with many of the Sturges regulars), where she pretends to be a schoolteacher named Hilda Swandumper. Sturges tries for the frantic comic atmosphere he got in THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK, but everything is mistimed. The film was such a disaster that 20th Century-Fox cancelled his contract and he was finished in Hollywood. His career as an American writer-director began and ended in the 40s. Among the performers struggling desperately to be funny are Rudy Vallee, Olga San Juan, Sterling Holloway, El Brendel, Hugh Herbert, Margaret Hamilton, Esther Howard, J. Farrell MacDonald, Marie Windsor, Chester Conklin, Chris-Pin Martin, and Dewey Robinson. Sturges's only film in color.

Beauty and the Beast

France (1946): Fantasy
95 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc
Also known as LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE.

Jean Cocteau's first full-length movie (he wrote and directed it) is perhaps the most sensuously elegant of all filmed fairy tales. As a child escapes from everyday family life to the magic of a storybook, so, in the film, Beauty's farm, with its Vermeer simplicity, fades in intensity as we are caught up in the Gustave Doré extravagance of the Beast's enchanted landscape. In Christian Bérard's makeup, Jean Marais is a magnificent Beast; Beauty's self-sacrifice to him holds no more horror than a satisfying romantic fantasy should have. The transformation of the Beast into Prince Charming is ambiguous-what we have gained cannot quite take the place of what we have lost. (When shown the film, Greta Garbo is reported to have said at the end, "Give me back my Beast.") The delicate Josette Day is, quite properly, Beauty. With Marcel André as the father, Michel Auclair as the brother, and Mila Parély as a sister. Alekan was the cinematographer; Georges Auric wrote the score; Bérard did the decor and costumes. (A running account of the making of the picture-anxieties, physical ailments, mistakes and all-is given in Cocteau's entertaining 1950 book, Diary of a Film.) In French.

Beauty and the Devil

France-Italy (1950): Drama
80 min, No rating, Black & White
Also known as LA BEAUTÉ DU DIABLE.

The American title is deceptive; the film was probably given the confusing title here so that it would seem like a sex film. Michel Simon, as Mephistopheles, offers old Faust youth, then shows him how little he can do with youth without wealth; he hooks him. Mephistopheles then assumes the shape of the aging Faust, while Faust becomes the dashing young Gérard Philipe. There are no spiritual conflicts in this René Clair film; the dangers of science and of absolute power are the targets, and the fantasy is urbane. The twistings of the plot become tedious and the whole elaborate joke gets awfully smug. With Gaston Modot, Simone Valère, Paolo Stoppa, Nicole Besnard, Raymond Cordy, Carlo Ninchi, and Tullio Carminati. Written by Clair and Armand Salacrou. In French.

Becky Sharp

US (1935): Drama
83 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

More famous for its color design and its experimental use of Technicolor than for its dramatic qualities. Rouben Mamoulian directed this only intermittently compelling version of Vanity Fair. Miriam Hopkins is the naughty witch herself, and the cast includes Frances Dee, Cedric Hardwicke, Alison Skipworth, Nigel Bruce, and Billie Burke. RKO.

Bed and Board

France (1970): Drama
97 min, Rated PG, Color
Also known as DOMICILE CONJUGAL.

About the married life of Truffaut's hero, Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud). Léaud appears to have developed a dogged resistance to acting, but, as Antoine's bride, Claude Jade, who looks like a less ethereal, more practical Catherine Deneuve, is lovely. The movie is cheerful, if conventionally "beguiling." With Hiroko Berghauer, Barbara Laage, and Daniel Boulanger; cinematography by Nestor Almendros. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

The Bed-Sitting Room

UK (1969): Comedy
90 min, No rating, Color

The ghastly kind of far-out humor that makes you feel as if you've got a pain in your side when you haven't even laughed. Richard Lester directed this apocalyptic after-the-bomb farce. Some twenty-odd straggling survivors in London wander in and out of blackout sketches. With Sir Michael Hordern, Rita Tushingham giving birth to something unspecified, and Ralph Richardson-until he mutates into a bed-sitting room. The absurdist chaos becomes numbing; this perpetual giggle almost seems to require a bomb. Also with Mona Washbourne, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Arthur Lowe, Harry Secombe, Marty Feldman, and Spike Milligan. From the Milligan-John Antrobus play, adapted by Antrobus. Cinematography by David Watkin. Released by United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

Bedazzled

UK (1967): Comedy
107 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Dudley Moore and Peter Cook, who had performed in the Beyond the Fringe cabaret-comedy troupe, probably did their best screen teamwork in this movie, written by Cook, from a story they devised together, and directed by Stanley Donen. It's a very deft and silly and likable Faustian vaudeville-a series of skits in which the tall, skinny Cook, as the Devil, makes a sucker of the shy, little-boyish Faust (Moore). The scenes are quick, and even though the rhythm is frequently stagey little bits of verbal wit seem to be flying about. Moore starts out as a timid, working-class fellow who's helplessly in love with a girl (Eleanor Bron) who likes intellectuals; he sells his soul for her, and of course he never gets her. (He and Bron-whose hair seems to be twisted into different shapes in every scene-are like a British Nichols and May.) The Devil grants him the fulfillment of seven wishes, and the fun of the plot is in Moore's seven different incarnations and in the Devil's cool deviousness and the pleasure he takes in frustrating him. The movie is no more than a novelty, but it may surprise you by making you laugh out loud a few times. With Raquel Welch, who appears briefly as Lust, Barry Humphries as Envy, and Lockwood West as St. Peter.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

US (1971): Fantasy/Children's
117 min, Rated G, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Angela Lansbury as an apprentice witch in a fantasy from the Disney studios set in Second World War England. It's a big, mongrel production, combining live action and animation and with an elaborate ballet in a mockup of Portobello Road, and a sequence, perhaps influenced by Russian and Central European movie fantasies, that is magical animation in a tradition different from the usual Disney work. Lansbury, on a broomstick, commands a ghostly army of knights on steeds against the Nazis. There's no logic in the style of the movie, and the story dribbles on for so long that it exhausts the viewer before that final magical battle begins. The story is suffused with patriotic sentimentality circa MRS. MINIVER. Lansbury gives up witchcraft when she gets a man, David Tomlinson, who twinkles like a sexless pixie, and, of course, the movie includes the Disney inevitable-this time in the shape of three lovable Cockney orphans. The director, Robert Stevenson, found an appallingly simple solution to the problem of enabling Americans to understand the children's Cockney intonations: every time one of them speaks we get a closeup, so that our full attention is focussed on the piping little speaker and we can practically read the lips. It's as if a TV show had been cut into the movie every few seconds. This whole production is a mixture of wizardry and ineptitude; the picture has enjoyable moments but it's as uncertain of itself as the title indicates. With Sam Jaffe, Roddy McDowall, Reginald Owen, and Tessie O'Shea. Choreography by Donald McKayle.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

The Bedroom Window

US (1987): Thriller
112 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

This suspense film by the writer-director Curtis Hanson has a good premise. A married woman (Isabelle Huppert) who has seen an assault from her lover's window can't give her testimony to the police without endangering her marriage, so her lover (Steve Guttenberg) reports all the details she has given him but pretends that he was the observer. His apparently innocent lie gets them both into a mess. It's an erratic and, finally, disappointing picture (it loses its snap). Yet you keep rooting for it, because Elizabeth McGovern, as the assault victim, a cocktail waitress, has the style and resources that the other two leads lack, and the cinematography, by Gil Taylor, his a snazzy verve, and Hanson has some clever ideas, such as the way he sets up a courtroom sequence (with Wallace Shawn demonstrating a new witty suavity as the attorney for the assailant) and the way he directs the almost mute psycho (the chilling, well-cast Brad Greenquist). Also with Paul Shenar, Carl Lumbly, Frederick Coffin, Sara Carlson, and Maury Chaykin; adapted from the English novel The Witnesses, by Anne Holden. The Baltimore locations, and the scenes in Wilmington and Winston-Salem, North Carolina, doubling for Baltimore, provide a colorful architectural mix. De Laurentiis.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Beetlejuice

US (1988): Horror/Comedy
92 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Set in an idyllic New England town, this farce about the afterlife is a variant on TOPPER (1937) and THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932). A devoted, home-loving young couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) are drowned in a car accident, and when they return to their house as ghosts they are miffed by the redecorating of the New Yorkers who have bought it. Too mild to scare these intruders away, they call upon the services of the rutty little demon Betelgeuse. Michael Keaton plays the part, and his uninhibited comic performance is like an exploding head. He isn't onscreen nearly enough-when he is, he shoots the film sky-high. The story is bland and the movie is slow to get going, but with crazy comedy you settle for the moments of inspiration, and this picture has them. The young director, Tim Burton, takes stabs into the irrational and the incongruous; the film's blandness is edged with near-genius (and some great special effects). The smudge-faced blond Catherine O'Hara, who's the possessor of the freakiest blue-eyed stare since early Gene Wilder, is brilliant as the madwoman who is the new lady of the house. Also with Sylvia Sidney as a caseworker in the social-services bureaucracy of the dead, and Winona Ryder, Jeffrey Jones, Glenn Shadix, Adelle Lutz, and Robert Goulet and Dick Cavett. The story is by Michael McDowell and Larry Wilson; the screenplay is by McDowell and Warren Skaaren. The cinematography is by Thomas Ackerman; the production design is by Bo Welch. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Before the Revolution

Italy (1964): Drama
115 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette
Also known as PRIMA DELLA RIVOLUZIONE.

A sweepingly romantic movie about a young man's rebellion against bourgeois life and his disillusion with Communism, set in Parma and written and directed by Bernardo Bertolucci at the astonishing age of 24. He captures what has rarely been seen on the screen-the extravagance and poetry of youthful ardor. The hero, Fabrizio, discovers that he is not single-minded enough to be a revolutionary, that he is too deeply involved in the beauty of life as it is before the revolution. He has "a nostalgia for the present." (The characters of Fabrizio and his young aunt Gina are loosely derived from Stendhal's The Charterhouse of Parma.) With Francesco Barilli, Adriana Asti, Allen Midgette, and Morando Morandini; cinematography by Aldo Scavarda; music by Gino Paoli and Ennio Morricone. This was Bertolucci's second feature; his first was LA COMMARE SECCA (THE GRIM REAPER). In Italian.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

The Beggar's Opera

UK (1953): Opera/Musical
94 min, No rating, Color

Pure pleasure-the ballad-opera about the highwayman Captain Macheath and his escapes from the law and the ladies, with Laurence Olivier doing his own singing (he has a pleasant light baritone) as the dashing Macheath. This is one of his most playful, sophisticated, and least-known roles. It was Swift who suggested that a "Newgate pastoral might make an odd pretty sort of thing," and John Gay worked out the idea in a new form-a musical play with the lyrics fitted to existing music. To Londoners weary of the bombast of Italian opera, Gay's corrupt gang of thieves, highwaymen, whores, and informers was the fresh, sweet breath of England. Gay satirized the politics of the day as well as the heroics of Italian opera; many of his targets are now a matter for historians, but the large butt of the joke-the corruption and hypocrisy of mankind-still sits around. And by the time Peter Brook directed this film (his first, and the only comedy he has ever made), a new set of conventions, as tired and inflated as Italian opera, was ready for potshots-the conventions of the movies: the chaste heroines, the intrepid Robin Hood heroes, the phony realism. Dennis Cannan and Christopher Fry adapted the text freely, retaining the mocking, raffish spirit, and Arthur Bliss arranged the score so that we come out humming the pretty airs. And the actors are having such a good time playing scoundrels that their zest for villainy is infectiously satiric. Stanley Holloway is a magnificent Lockit, and shows off his fine, deep voice. Most of the others are dubbed, but they perform in such an offhand manner that the dubbing is inoffensive. It even comes in for a bit of parody when Dorothy Tutin, as dear Polly Peachum, sings while rowing a boat. She obviously isn't singing the way someone rowing would sing; she smiles like a cat who has swallowed a canary, as indeed she has. Athene Seyler is a great Mrs. Trapes; George Devine is Peachum; Yvonne Furneaux is Jenny Diver; Daphne Anderson is Lucy Lockit; Hugh Griffith is the Beggar; Mary Clare is Mrs. Peachum; Margot Grahame is the Actress. The cinematography is by Guy Green, with art direction by Georges Wakhévitch and William C. Andrews. Commercially, the film was a disaster, and it has rarely been revived.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book I Lost it at the Movies.

The Beginning

USSR (1970): Drama
No rating, Black & White
Also known as NACHALO/THE DEBUT/NACIALA. A Soviet film about a plain girl who is desperately determined to become an actress and is selected to star in a movie about Joan of Arc. She seems to be the stuff actresses are made of-actresses like Helen Hayes and Julie Harris, who are transformed onstage, some by will and energy, others by will and talent. But, as the story turns out, she isn't meant to be that appealing-mouse kind of actress-she's meant to be a sad-sack factory girl deluded about her talent. The movie declines into implausible, none too lucid ironies, but as the girl Inna Churikova is spellbinding; her face tells you everything and yet is mysteriously closed, and her toothy, gummy smile is peculiarly mirthless. Not a particularly good picture, and it's padded out with footage of the Joan of Arc spectacles, but it holds you. Directed by Gleb Panfilov. In Russian.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

Bell' Antonio

France-Italy (1960): Drama
101 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Antonio (Marcello Mastroianni, in perhaps his most delicate, muted performance) is a Sicilian Don Juan whose life is destroyed by the conflict between sacred and profane love. He is expected to profess the Church's belief in purity while acting out his father's belief that sexual prowess is the measure of a man, but Antonio really believes in purity and love. And so, although he is a great ladies' man with "loose" women or women of a lower social class, he is impotent with the pure, highborn girl whom he loves and marries. In Pier Paolo Pasolini's adaptation of Vitaliano Brancati's novel, Antonio represents the whole pattern of social and religious decadence; he is the victim of the system. This proud, handsome hero is never for an instant comic; what is so often treated from the outside as a subject for comedy is here treated from the inside-from the point of view of the humiliated, desolate man. All his life, Antonio will long to possess the ideal, and the very intensity of his longing for idealized love will defeat him. Mauro Bolognini directed this gentle satirical study of virility and social position in a Catholic culture. With Pierre Brasseur as the strutting rooster of a father, Rina Morelli as the mother, Claudia Cardinale as the pure bride, and Tomas Milian as the cousin. In Italian.

Belle of the Nineties

US (1934): Comedy
73 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The Mae West pictures without Cary Grant didn't have much class, and in this tawdry melodrama, with Roger Pryor and Johnny Mack Brown opposite her, she isn't funny enough, either. But the tawdriness is so explicit in her low-down script (about a 19th-century entertainer's romance with a prizefighter) that the movie is rather fascinating, and once again Miss West sings marvellous honky-tonk blues-perhaps even better than usual. This time, the songs include "When a St. Louis Woman Goes Down to New Orleans," "Troubled Waters," "My Old Flame," and "Memphis Blues," and Duke Ellington and his orchestra (sometimes on screen, sometimes off) provide the backing, so one can see Johnny Hodges, Barney Bigard, Cootie Williams, and the whole troupe. Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" can be heard on the sound track. Directed by Leo McCarey, for Paramount. With John Miljan and Katherine De Mille.

Bellissima

Italy (1951): Drama
112 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

It is said that this Luchino Visconti film (it was his third) was conceived when the director was looking for a child actress for a different production and found himself surrounded by 4,000 mothers, each shouting "Mine is bellissima!" The film is a satirical view of the movie-studio world of Cinecittà, and is also perhaps Visconti's warmest comedy. It's full of contradictory impulses, and is marred by a too pat ending glorifying the wisdom of the common people, but at its center is the great Anna Magnani as a screen-struck mother, determined to make a star of her plain little 5-year-old (Tina Apicella). Magnani enters the child in a contest to find "the prettiest child in Rome;" there is a devastating sequence when the mother, who has finagled her way into the screening room where her daughter's screen test is being run, is listening to the laughter-Magnani is at her most extraordinary. With Alessandro Blasetti, a respected director and precursor of neorealism, playing himself, but with overtones of Visconti. And with Walter Chiari and Gastone Renzelli. From a script by Suso Cecchi d'Amico, Francesco Rosi, and Visconti, based on a story by Cesare Zavattini. The assistant directors were Rosi and Franco Zeffirelli. In Italian.

Ben-Hur

US (1926): Religious/Historical
141 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The Ramon Novarro-Francis X. Bushman version; it was a remake even then, but MGM put $5 million into it, and so much Amazing, Gargantuan, Stupendous, and Mighty Biblical Pageantry that vast numbers of viewers were swept off their feet. There's the galley manned by a thousand slaves, the sea battle between Romans and ancient pirates, the Valley of the Lepers, and the chariot race staged in a mammoth stadium, with every LA man, woman, and child lying about as an extra. Novarro has his adolescent charm and beauty, and Bushman's nose is majestically Roman. With Betty Bronson, May McAvoy, Carmel Myers, and Claire McDowell. Directed by Fred Niblo. Silent.

Ben-Hur

US (1959): Religious/Historical
212 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Movie moguls have always had a real affinity for the grandiosity of the old Roman Empire. Charlton Heston plays the Jewish prince Ben-Hur; when he refuses to rat on the Jews opposed to Roman domination, his childhood friend Messala (Stephen Boyd) packs him off to the galleys and sends his mother (Martha Scott) and his sister (Cathy O'Donnell) to a dungeon. After prolonged slaving at the oars, Ben-Hur escapes and saves the life of a bigwig in the Roman navy (Jack Hawkins), who adopts him. Eventually we get to the chariot race, with Ben-Hur pitted against the treacherous Messala. Lew Wallace's hectic potboiler-classic has everything-even leprosy. MGM laid on the cash and William Wyler directed, with several busy assistants; the cast includes Sam Jaffe, Haya Harareet, Hugh Griffith, Finlay Currie, and a corps of stuntmen. Has anyone ever been able to detect the contributions to the script of Gore Vidal, Christopher Fry, and S.N. Behrman? Could they?

Benjamin

France (1968): Comedy
100 min, Rated X, Color

Pierre Clémenti and Catherine Deneuve are the virgins who eventually get deflowered, while Michel Piccoli and Michèle Morgan have their mature love problems. For people who like Gallic romps and aphorisms about the relations of the sexes. Directed by Michel Deville; cinematography by Ghislain Cloquet. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Going Steady.

The Bespoke Overcoat

US (1955): Drama
37 min, No rating, Color

This 37-minute film directed by Jack Clayton (his next was his first feature, ROOM AT THE TOP) is one of the best short-story films ever made. Wolf Mankowitz adapted Gogol's "The Overcoat" to Jewish characters in the East End of London; David Kossoff is the tailor and Alfie Bass (of THE LAVENDER HILL MOB) is the clerk. The music is by Georges Auric.

Best Foot Forward

US (1943): Musical
95 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

No one who saw it is likely to have forgotten "Buckle Down Winsocki"-the best of all the school songs in all the cheery-silly, hip-hip-hoorah musicals. The women excel in this one, an MGM picture with a cast that includes Lucille Ball, June Allyson, Gloria DeHaven, Nancy Walker, William Gaxton, and Harry James and his orchestra. Eddie Buzzell directed.

Best Friends

US (1982): Drama
116 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The script raises the question: Why does formalizing a living-together relationship by marriage often wreck it, leaving both partners feeling trapped? But the scriptwriters (Barry Levinson and Valerie Curtin) have nothing but sit-com answers. It's a Velveeta comedy, processed like a Neil Simon picture, with banter and gags and an unctuous score. All its smart talk is low key and listless. It stays on the surface, yet it's dissatisfied with the surface; it's a deeply indecisive movie that starts escaping its subject as soon as the newlywed screenwriting partners-Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn-go off on their wedding trip and into a series of comic nightmares. The two have been made so lightweight that there's nothing at stake when they recoil from each other, and Reynolds gives a flabby, mildewed performance. Directed by Norman Jewison; with Jessica Tandy, Barnard Hughes, Audra Lindley, and Keenan Wynn. Two performers give the film a little bounce-Ron Silver as a hotshot movie producer and Richard Libertini as the Hispanic who conducts the marriage ceremony. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

US (1982): Musical/Comedy
114 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The moviemakers pile on the coy Americana; they appear to have distrusted anything original in the material-the movie is adapted from the long-running Broadway musical based on Larry L. King's 1974 Playboy article about a crackbrained crusading TV newsman who attacked a time-honored brothel with such fervor that the authorities had to force the madam to close it. The film's rambunctiousness is off-color yet wholesome, in the worst sense: this is the sort of movie romp in which the frolicking prosties can hardly wait to jump into bed with the fellas. But dimples, wigs, bazooms, and all, Dolly Parton is phenomenally likable as the madam; her whole personality is melodious, and her acting isn't bad at all, even though the director, Colin Higgins, has made her chest the focal point of her scenes. She has the charm to transcend her own cartoonishness and the additional portion inflicted on her. As the local sheriff, Burt Reynolds doesn't give an ostentatiously bad performance-just his usual low key, embarrassed-to-be-up-here-doing-this-dumb-stuff performance. While Reynolds underplays and looks mortified, Charles Durning, as governor of Texas, steals the honors with his "Sidestep" song-and-dance routine-a demonstration of how a corrupt-to-the-bone politico evades answering probing questions and takes joy in his own slippery skill. This sequence is the only part of the movie that's satisfyingly shaped and has a musical-comedy rhythm. With Dom De Luise, Jim Nabors, Theresa Merritt, and Lois Nettleton. The script is by King and Peter Masterson (who wrote the Broadway show) and Higgins; 7 of the 14 songs that Carol Hall wrote for the stage version have been retained, and 2 new ones by Dolly Parton have been added. Universal-RKO.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

The Best Man

US (1964): Drama
102 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Gore Vidal's political melodrama is about a convention at which the two chief contestants for the party's nomination for the Presidency are an Adlai Stevenson type (Henry Fonda) and a Joe McCarthy type (Cliff Robertson). The film has a lot of verve. It has the look of crackling intelligence thanks to Haskell Wexler's black-and-white cinematography and Franklin Schaffner's sure, fast-paced direction. It seems like a hot, inside view even though Vidal sets the issues in terms of a slick, simplistic ends-and-means morality play, and throws in the kind of clever, self-congratulatory topical jokes that sound dated the first time you hear them. With Lee Tracy as the hard-bitten old-pro ex-President, Margaret Leighton, Ann Sothern, Edie Adams, Kevin McCarthy, Gene Raymond, George Kirgo (who is said to have had a hand in the script) as the speechwriter, and Shelley Berman, as an obsequious weakling. There's also an appearance by the magnificent Mahalia Jackson. United Artists.

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