Marlon Brando as the sheriff of a corrupt, blood-lusting Texas town in the mythical America of liberal sadomasochistic fantasies. Lillian Hellman wrote the screenplay (from Horton Foote's material), and the little foxes really took over. Our vines have no tender grapes left in this hellhole of wife-swapping, nigger-hating, and nigger-lover-hating, where people are motivated by dirty sex or big money, and you can tell which as soon as they say their first lines. Many people all over the world blame Texas for the assassination of Kennedy-as if the murder had boiled up out of the unconscious of the people there-and the film exploits and confirms this hysterical view, going so far as to provide a facsimile of Jack Ruby's shooting of Oswald, with a racist, who is, of course, a white, Gentile Southerner, as a substitute for Ruby, and a totally innocent hero (Robert Redford) as a substitute for Harvey Oswald. The producer, Sam Spiegel, said that it was about "the consequences of affluence," and it does suggest LA DOLCE VITA on the range. Lillian Hellman publicly expressed her dissatisfaction with the results, and it was generally acknowledged that the director, Arthur Penn (who tried to set things on fire with the old Elia Kazan bazooka), didn't have artistic control over the production. But the picture affects some people very strongly, and it has a considerable reputation, especially in Europe. With Jane Fonda, Angie Dickinson, Miriam Hopkins, E.G. Marshall, Robert Duvall, Janice Rule, James Fox, and Henry Hull. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
Diabolism on the loose in a Catholic boarding school for boys. The boys indulge in decidedly uncharming mutilations, while two rival teachers (the hated pedant James Mason and the popular Robert Preston) quarrel about who is responsible, and a new teacher (Beau Bridges) tries to puzzle matters out. Unpleasantly tense melodrama, with noisy rattles on the sound track to alert the audience to lurking depravity. Mason's fine performance is marred by an excess of abrupt, badly cropped closeups. Sidney Lumet directed; from the Robert Marasco play, adapted by Leon Prochnik. Produced by David Merrick, for Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.
This is the first film of the justly celebrated trilogy directed by Mark Donskoi, based on the memoirs of Maxim Gorky and dealing with the early experiences that turned him into a writer. (The second film is MY APPRENTICESHIP and the third is MY UNIVERSITIES.) The trilogy is episodic and uneven, but it's charged with a lyric, revolutionary romanticism; it is also believed to be fair and exact in its portrait of czarist Russia. This first film has a wonderful spaciousness; the landscapes are vast and serene, as the boy Alexei (played by Alexei Lyarsky) observes the grandparents who are raising him. The grandfather (Mark Troyanovski) is brutal and authoritarian, and is wasting the family's resources, but the grandmother (Varvara Massalitinova) is a wonder-she has the understanding that her husband lacks. Though the characters are fully realized, it's the expressiveness of the images of the Volga that stays with you.The visual beauty seems to be what holds the episodes together. Donskoi and I. Gruzdev did the unusually faithful adaptation for all three films. In Russian.
In this film, Vittorio De Sica found his writer, Cesare Zavattini, and his theme-the destruction of innocence. As in his later works, the enemy is human injustice-not intentional injustice, but what people are driven to do to each other. This is one of those rare movies that are so finely felt that they're too painful and too intransigent ever to reach a large audience. Like De Sica's UMBERTO D., it is a picture of loneliness, but at the other end of the life-span. Umberto has little time left; Prico, the 4-year-old, has his whole ruined life ahead. His mother, sensually drawn to her lover, hasn't the strength to cling to the child; his ego-shattered father kills himself. Prico is left, agonized and inarticulate, walking the corridors of a boarding school. Except for FORBIDDEN GAMES there has probably never been such a clear view of the antagonism and desolation that separate adult and child life. In Italian.
This lushly romantic creation, directed by Marcel Carné and written by Jacques Prévert, is a one-of-a-kind film, a sumptuous epic about the relations between theatre and life. At first, it may seem a romance set in the Paris of Balzac; it turns into a comparison of dramatic modes-it includes at least five kinds of theatrical performance. And, encompassing these, it is a film poem on the nature and varieties of love-sacred and profane, selfless and possessive. It was made during the Occupation, and it is said that the starving extras made away with some of the banquets before they could be photographed. With Jean-Louis Barrault as the soulful mime Debureau (the Pierrot-Barrault sucks in his cheeks so much that he sometimes suggests Dietrich); the incomparable Arletty as Garance; Pierre Brasseur as the Shakespearean actor Lemaître (the Harlequin); Louis Salou as the count; Marcel Herrand as the philosophical murderer; Pierre Renoir as the ragpicker-informer; and Maria Casarés, who has the unrewarding role of the theatre manager's daughter, who marries Debureau and becomes the mother of an abominable offspring. (The child is pure Hollywood.) In French.
William Wyler, who in 1936 had made THESE THREE, a bowdlerized yet very fine version of the Lillian Hellman play The Children's Hour, returned to the material in 1961 and, in the freer atmosphere of that period, remade it, with the charge of sexual deviation restored-that is, with the two schoolmistress heroines (Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine) accused of lesbianism by one of their pupils. The result is too self-conscious, though; the cinematography, by Franz Planer, may sometimes evoke Balthus, but the atmosphere is heavy and lugubrious. There were complaints at the time that the studio had hacked out the center of the film-which is a bit like complaining that a corpse has had a vital organ removed. With Miriam Hopkins, who had been one of the young teachers in the 1936 version, as the aunt; Fay Bainter as the rich old villainess; and James Garner. Hellman, who did the adaptation, is so rough on the Fay Bainter character (when the woman realizes her error and begs forgiveness, it is denied) that one develops a perverse sympathy for her. United Artists.
One of Orson Welles' best and least-seen movies. It is damaged by technical problems resulting from lack of funds, and during the first 20 minutes viewers may want to walk out, because although Shakespeare's words on the sound track are intelligible, the sound doesn't match the images, and often we can't be sure who is supposed to be talking. But then despite everything-the use of doubles in long shots, the editing that distracts us when we need to concentrate on the dialogue-the movie begins to be great. Welles brought together the pieces of Falstaff that Shakespeare had strewn over the two parts of Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor, with cuttings from Henry V and Richard II, and fastened them into place with narration from Holinshed's Chronicles (read by Ralph Richardson). Those of us who resisted our teachers' best efforts to make us appreciate the comic genius of Shakespeare's fools and buffoons will not be surprised that Welles wasn't able to make Falstaff very funny; he's a great conception of a character, but the charades and practical jokes and the carousing and roistering seem meant to be funnier than they are. The movie does have a great Shakespearean comic moment, though: garrulous Falstaff sitting with Shallow (Alan Webb) and Silence (Walter Chiari), rolling his eyes in irritation and impatience at Silence's stammer. Though Welles' performance as Falstaff is short on comedy, it's very rich, very full. Oddly, we never really see the friendship of Falstaff and Prince Hal-played extraordinarily well by Keith Baxter-but John Gielgud's refined, monkish Henry IV gives the film the austerity it needs for the conflict within Hal to be dramatized. The film is a near-masterpiece. Welles' direction of the battle of Shrewsbury is unlike anything he has ever done-indeed, unlike any battle ever done on the screen before. It ranks with the finest of Griffith, John Ford, Eisenstein, Kurosawa. The compositions suggest Uccello, and the chilling, ironic music is a death knell for all men in battle. The soldiers, plastered by the mud they fall in, are already monuments. It's the most brutally sombre battle ever filmed, and it does justice to Hotspur's great "O, Harry, thou hast robbed me of my youth." With Margaret Rutherford, Jeanne Moreau, Marina Vlady, Norman Rodway, Fernando Rey, Tony Beckley, and Beatrice Welles as the page boy. Shot on Spanish locations, which are photographically stylized-to suggest a slightly unrealistic world.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
A witty, subtly freakish modern comedy about sex and politics, directed by the prodigiously talented 27-year-old Marco Bellocchio in a fluid style that is full of surprises. Bellocchio's characters are as much a private zoo as Buñuel's; the five principals, who are so awful they're funny, use one another in every way they can, with the film structured like a classic comic opera. (It has the intricacy and the boudoir complications.) Among the five are a pair of working-class lovers-a secretary and a Socialist functionary-who scheme to marry into the rich landed gentry. Their targets are a pot-bellied professor (Glauco Mauri), who is running for municipal office on the Socialist ticket, and his sister (Elda Tattoli), a great lady who lets every man in town climb on top of her but won't marry because socially they're all beneath her. The fifth is the younger brother in the rich household-a prissy, sneering 17-year-old Maoist (who provides the title when he scrawls "China Is Near" on the walls of his brother's campaign headquarters). As the pairs of lovers combine and recombine and the five become one big, ghastly family (with a yapping little house pet as an emblem of domesticity), Bellocchio makes it all rhyme. The camera glides in and out and around the action; it moves as simply and with as much apparent ease as if it were attached to the director's forehead. The script is by Bellocchio and Elda Tattoli (she was also the art director); cinematography by Tonino Delli Colli; music by Ennio Morricone; produced by Franco Cristaldi. In Italian.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Going Steady.
Classy-lady Rosalind Russell and Jean Harlow, as tough, hard-drinking "China Doll," compete for the affections of ship's officer Clark Gable. Russell can't compete, of course, 'cause that common girl is funny. Sleazy but likable MGM shipboard melodrama based on the formula that had proved a big hit in 1932 in RED DUST. With Wallace Beery, in his likable-villain period, and Lewis Stone, in his noble-sufferer period, Robert Benchley as a drunk, and Dudley Digges, C. Aubrey Smith, Akim Tamiroff, Donald Meek, and Edward Brophy. Directed by Tay Garnett, from a wisecracking, sexy screenplay by Jules Furthman and James K. McGuinness, based on a novel by Crosbie Garstin.
Set in the 30s, this nostalgic thriller, in the style of Hammett and Chandler, draws on the history of Los Angeles, specifically the water-rights and real-estate swindles. You can feel the conflict between the temperaments of the scriptwriter, Robert Towne, and the director, Roman Polanski. In Towne's conception, the audience discovers the depth of the corruption along with the romantic-damn-fool detective J.J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson). Polanski, whose movies don't leave you anything to hang on to, turns the material into an extension of his world view: he makes the LA atmosphere gothic and creepy from the word go. The film holds you, in a suffocating way. Polanski never lets the story tell itself. It's all overdeliberate, mauve, nightmarish; everyone is yellow-lacquered, and evil runs rampant. You don't care who is hurt, since everything is blighted. And yet the nastiness has a look, and a fascination. There's a celebrated background story to the film. The script had originally ended after Gittes realizes what horrors the woman he loved, the twitchy liar Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway), had been through. And then she kills her incestuous, baronial father (John Huston) in order to save her daughter from him, and Gittes helps the young girl get to Mexico. But Polanski, an absurdist, seals the picture with his gargoyle grin. He ends it with the death of Evelyn Mulwray and the triumph of the Huston character, who had raped the land, raped his daughter, and would now proceed to corrupt the daughter's daughter. Polanski's temperament dominates (and he seems indifferent to some of the plot points). Yet Towne's temperament comes through, too, especially in Nicholson's Jake Gittes, the vulgarian hero who gives the picture much of its comedy: Gittes gets to tell wittily inane, backslapping jokes, and to show the romanticism inside his street shrewdness. With Polanski as the vicious "midget" hood who takes his knife and slits open Gittes' nose, Burt Young as the man looking at pictures of his faithless wife, John Hillerman, Perry Lopez, Joe Mantell, and Diane Ladd. Cinematography by John A. Alonzo; production design by Richard Sylbert; editing by Sam O'Steen; music by Jerry Goldsmith. (A sequel, THE TWO JAKES, was released in 1990.) Robert Evans produced, for Paramount.
Will the squeamish, married hero (Bernard Verley) break down and go to bed with bohemian Chloe (Zouzou), or won't he? The author-director, Eric Rohmer, a specialist in the eroticism of non-sexual affairs, is a lapidary craftsman who works on a very small scale. This movie is, in its way, just about perfect, but it's minor, and so polished that it practically evaporates a half hour after it's over. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.
Written and directed by Alan Rudolph, this romantic comedy-fantasy is about a group of lovers whose madnesses and illusions interlock, and it's giddy in a magical, pseudo-sultry way-it seems to be set in a poet's dream of a red-light district. Teddy Pendergrass is on the sound track, and the entire movie has a lilting, loose, choreographic flow. And though you can't always tell the intentional humor from the unintentional, this low-budget picture has a marvellous cast, headed by Lesley Ann Warren, Geneviève Bujold, Rae Dawn Chong, and Keith Carradine. Also with John Larroquette, Ed Ruscha, and Patrick Bauchau as the brutal racketeer. The swoony cinematography is by Jan Kiesser.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.
The screenwriter, Herman J. Mankiewicz, took Somerset Maugham's novel of the same name, changed the setting from France to New Orleans, and turned it into a vehicle for Deanna Durbin, who had outgrown her singing adolescent heyday. Though a bit chubby-cheeked (maturing child stars are rarely lucky in their bone structure), she's not too objectionable in the role of a young singer from Vermont who marries a no-good charmer (Gene Kelly), scion of an old Creole family. Just about everything is sodden and unconvincing, though. The husband murders a bookmaker, and the wife blames herself for not having been a stronger influence on him. The director, Robert Siodmak-so astute in many of his other films-seems stuck and has to take these sentiments unduly seriously. (This film was made in the days of the Code, and when the wife is forced to perform in a dive we have to accept her word that she is leading a degraded life, since what we see is peachy clean.) Durbin sings "Always" and "Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year;" Kelly neither sings nor dances, and he hasn't much more luck with the weakling role than actors generally do. With Richard Whorf, Gladys George, Gale Sondergaard, and David Bruce. Universal.
Preston Sturges wrote and directed this little slapstick romance when he was just warming up as a director. Dick Powell and Ellen Drew are the young couple whose luck turns when he thinks he has won $25,000 in a slogan contest. It's agreeable enough-it's rather sweet, actually-but it lacks the full-fledged Sturges lunacy. Paramount.
An arch, high-strung, sickeningly noble Katharine Hepburn movie, but one of the rare movies told from a woman's sexual point of view. Directed by Dorothy Arzner from a screenplay by Zoë Akins, it's the story of a record-breaking English aviatrix who falls in love with a distinguished political figure (Colin Clive). As soon as they go to bed together, he insists-late on the very first night-that she not fly in the contest she is entered in. It's the intelligent woman's primal post-coital scene. In movies up to the 70s, this primal scene was never played out satisfactorily; the woman always gave in, either in the paste-up screwball style that provided the fake resolutions of the 40s, or, as in this picture, fatally. (The heroine commits suicide.) The directing seems enervated and the film was a flop, but it's not one that independent-minded women can easily forget. Hepburn is exquisitely gaunt and boyish in her sleek, high-fashion gowns, including one that she says makes her look like a moth. It does; the movie is a moth-and-flame story. With Billie Burke, Ralph Forbes, Helen Chandler, and Jack La Rue. From a novel by Gilbert Frankau; music by Max Steiner. Produced by Pandro S. Berman, for RKO.
A pioneer work of cinéma vérité on which the anthropologist-filmmaker Jean Rouch and the sociologist-film critic Edgar Morin collaborated. A Negro student, a factory worker, a girl survivor of the concentration camps, and others are interviewed; later they discuss whether they "acted." Some revealing moments, though the confessional atmosphere gets a bit thick. In French.
Laurel and Hardy, in pretty good form, in a feature with a story line that makes it possible for them to do a retrospective of their own careers-brief re-enactments of routines from several of their earlier shorts. (There are bits that recall ANOTHER FINE MESS, THE SECOND HUNDRED YEARS, WRONG AGAIN, and TOWED IN A HOLE.) As a reward for catching a bank robber (actually, he slips on a banana skin they have dropped), Stan and Ollie are sent to Oxford for an education. The bank that rewards them is called the Finlayson National Bank, in tribute, no doubt, to James Finlayson, who once again appears with them. Alfred Goulding directed; Harry Langdon was one of the scriptwriters. The cast includes Peter Cushing as one of the Oxford students. A Hal Roach Production; released by United Artists.
One of Edna Ferber's heartfelt, numbskull treks through the hardships and glories of the American heritage. Swaggering Yancey Cravat (Richard Dix), a gallant braggart afflicted with wanderlust, marries fragile Irene Dunne, and they head out for the Oklahoma land rush. The film covers 40 years of their lives-a long, trying saga, especially after Irene Dunne, deserted by her husband, learns to carry on valiantly, editing the local paper in his place and becoming a congresswoman. It would be more fun if the audience could go off to the Cherokee Strip with Richard Dix and forget about the indomitable Irene Dunne. With Edna May Oliver and Estelle Taylor, who enliven some episodes, and with George E. Stone, Nance O'Neil, William Collier, Jr., and Roscoe Ates as a stuttering printer. Wesley Ruggles directed; adapted by Howard Estabrook. The picture was a huge success and was taken very seriously by a great many people. (That was not the case with the 1961 remake, in color and CinemaScope, starring Glenn Ford and Maria Schell.) RKO.
A sordid, messy affair between a Baptist sailor (James Caan) and a beat-out whore (Marsha Mason), combined with a high-minded interracial big-brother story. (Caan can't save Mason, but her little part-black son-Kirk Calloway-stirs his paternal impulses.) The Mark Rydell picture, taken from Darryl Ponicsan's script, based on his novel, wants to jerk tears but just doesn't have the knack. Some of the acting is fine, but the film is a swampy experience; you feel as if you're wading through. With Eli Wallach and Allyn Ann McLerie. Shot in Seattle. Cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond; music by John Williams. 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.
Though it was Kris Kristofferson's first picture, he's at his ease. What the movie tries to get at is the romantic quest-almost the romantic instinct-of someone who no longer knows what he's after. Cisco is both mellow and desperate; his dreams have failed him. A former pop idol, he hangs around the LA music business trying to find the comeback trail, but after two convictions for dealing, he knows the bottom, too. Gene Hackman plays a narcotics agent; enraged and cracking up, he confiscates 100 kilos of top-grade marijuana and blackmails Cisco into dealing it in 2 days. As Cisco looks up his contacts in the music world to unload the stuff on them, the picture catches the high-risk glee and the sense of invulnerability of dealers who get high on dealing itself. Cisco's scroungy little transactions turn him on as if he'd just sold the world to the highest bidder; he digs his triumphs-the excitement brings him to life. This was one of the best of the dealer-user pictures of the period, but (like BORN TO WIN) it came at the tail end of the cycle and was all but buried. Bill L. Norton, the 27-year-old writer-director, wrote an original script for his directing début, then got some help; Robert Towne did a major rewrite. (The film has some similarities to SHAMPOO.) Karen Black plays Cisco's girl, and does it straight, without a wasted motion; Viva, looking like a stoned, weirdly benign bird of prey, plays a rich girl he encounters while he's crashing around the city. Also with Joy Bang, Harry Dean Stanton, Roscoe Lee Browne, Severn Darden, Antonio Fargas, and Allan Arbus. Produced by Gerald Ayres, for Columbia.
A.J. Cronin's bestsellers lack literary distinction, and their seriousness shades into oppressive sobriety; still, there's some substance in his high-minded, commonplace approach. You can feel the director, King Vidor, straining to give the theme-doctors' struggles with their consciences-prestige-picture importance, but he holds one's interest. He does especially well in the early scenes, when the hero, Robert Donat, is working among the Welsh miners, and then he slacks off during the passages about the Harley Street phonies. Fortunately, there are actors to watch when the preachiness gets thick; Rex Harrison, Ralph Richardson, Rosalind Russell, and Emlyn Williams all have major roles. MGM.
The Orson Welles film is generally considered the greatest American film of the sound period, and it may be more fun than any other great movie. Based on the life of William Randolph Hearst, it's an exuberant, muckraking attack on an archetypal economic baron. With Welles, of course, and Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Agnes Moorehead, Everett Sloane, George Coulouris, Ruth Warrick, Ray Collins, Erskine Sanford, William Alland, Paul Stewart, Fortunio Bonanova, Gus Schilling, and Philip Van Zandt. Screenplay by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Welles; cinematography by Gregg Toland; editing by Robert Wise and Mark Robson; music by Bernard Herrmann; art direction by Van Nest Polglase and Perry Ferguson. RKO.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book The Citizen Kane Book.
This 23-minute film from Canada, a reconstruction of the Yukon gold rush from period photographs, shows the men who left all ties behind in the quest for gold and glory; the film provides more sense of what gold fever is, and of what these people were actually like and what they were after, than all the dozens of Hollywood epics on the theme. One marvellous photograph shows the climb through Chilkoot Pass-the climb re-created by Chaplin in THE GOLD RUSH. And there are photographs of the Dawson City girls who actually entertained the men of the Yukon: fat, plain, lewd, they don't look much like the dance-hall girls in Hollywood Westerns. But the young men have a beauty and an air of excitement that Hollywood has never been able to reproduce. Narrated by Pierre Berton. Directed by Colin Low and Wolf Koenig; written by Roman Kroiter; produced and edited by Tom Daly.
A love story in a gangster setting which got carried away into so much fancy expressionism and symbolism that it seems stylized out of all relationship to the actual world. The director, Rouben Mamoulian, appears to be the culprit; he's so busy with his camera arabesques he forgets to tell the story, and then, at the end, tries to save the movie with a big chase. Gary Cooper is the honest, gaunt young hero from the world of the circus who gets into the beer racket and starts wearing coats with fur collars; Sylvia Sidney is the sacrificing heroine who goes to jail for her father (Guy Kibbee). With Wynne Gibson, Paul Lukas, Stanley Fields, and William Boyd-sometimes called William "Stage" Boyd to differentiate him from the actor who eventually played Hopalong Cassidy. The script is based on a story by Dashiell Hammett; Lee Garmes did the elaborate cinematography. Paramount.
The air is thick with summer and leisure in Eric Rohmer's serene story of a vacationing diplomat (Jean-Claude Brialy) who says he is interested only in women's minds and then has an "undefined desire" to stroke a young girl's knee. There's a rather enigmatic woman novelist who stands in for the director and makes ponderous remarks, but Rohmer's quiet, complacent movie-novel game is pleasing, and a captivatingly gawky teenage actress, Béatrice Romand, who plays a subsidiary role, looks like a Pisanello princess. With Laurence De Monaghan as Claire, and Aurora Cornu as the novelist. Cinematography by Nestor Almendros. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
This Fritz Lang version of a Clifford Odets melodrama about jealousy never quite comes together; the stylized Odets dialogue seems bizarrely out of place in the setting of a fishing village. But it's a handsome black-and-white production, and though Barbara Stanwyck (as the adulteress) and Paul Douglas (as the betrayed husband) suffer rather too strenuously, Robert Ryan (as the wife's lover, a projectionist in a movie theatre) is so intensely sexual that the film momentarily achieves real, even if stagey, power. And as a good-natured girl, full of animal high spirits, Marilyn Monroe is appealing in an unmannered style that's very different from her later acting. With Keith Andes and J. Carrol Naish. Adapted by Alfred Hayes; cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca. RKO.
A light, poetic study of adolescence, based on Colette's first novels (the Claudine series), and dealing with her schooldays at the turn of the century-or, at least, her version of them. It has a charming innocent naughtiness. With Blanchette Brunoy and Pierre Brasseur. Directed by Serge de Poligny. In French.
One of the few films directed by a woman in which the viewer can sense a difference. The story is about the moods of a beautiful, chic popular singer (Corinne Marchand) during the two hours she waits to find out if she has cancer. Childish and fearful, she consults her horoscope and goes to a fortuneteller; she buys a hat; she rehearses a song; she cries. And throughout, the writer-director, Agnès Varda, sustains an unsentimental yet subjective tone that is almost unique in the history of movies. Cinematography by Jean Rabier; editing by Janine Verneau; music by Michel Legrand (who also plays a part). With Antoine Bourseiller, Dorothée Blanck, and Dominique Davray. In French.
The dialogue sounds like gossip over backyard clotheslines, with occasional Shakespearean overtones-flattened, of course. ("Her infinite variety" becomes "She's always new.") In this De Mille version, the actors' diction provides such dividends as Caesar (Warren William) saying "Nope" to the senators, and Antony (big, solid Henry Wilcoxon) mumbling "I'm dying, Egypt, dying" in the inflection of "I gotta pain." The extravaganza is moderate, with too much Rome and too little Egypt and the usual Roman holidays, processions, and atrium orgies. Cleopatra (Claudette Colbert) wiggles her slim hips and wonders if her dress is becoming. It is, and the big bash aboard her barge has its own dreamy chic. A netful of beautiful adagio dancers are hauled out of the sea, which certainly beats popping out of a giant cake. Like the later, longer Elizabeth Taylor version, it's terrible and yet compulsively watchable. With Gertrude Michael, Joseph Schildkraut, Ian Keith, C. Aubrey Smith, Arthur Hohl, Irving Pichel, little Ferdinand Gottschalk, and John Carradine. Written by Waldemar Young and Vincent Lawrence. Paramount.
The first swashbuckler to star a fighting superwoman. Beautiful black Amazon Tamara Dobson, who doesn't take herself any more seriously than Errol Flynn used to, plays a cross between James Bond and Robin Hood. A 6-foot-2-inch C.I.A. narcotics agent, Cleopatra is out to get the dope dealers who are preying on blacks; the leader of the international dope ring, which operates out of Los Angeles, is "Mommy" (Shelley Winters, in blazing wigs). The movie is brightly colored and energetic, and there's a comic strip grossness (yet good-naturedness) about the continuous mayhem. The whole thing suggests a Pop art racial and sexual spoof-Mommy's chief aide, the black "Doodlebug" (Antonio Fargas), has an English chauffeur, and at the climax, two black brothers named Melvin and Matthew use kung fu to destroy Mommy and her gang. Directed by Jack Starrett, with low-brow gusto; written by Max Julien and Sheldon Keller; cinematography by David Walsh. With the ravishing Brenda Sykes as Tiffany, Bernie Casey as Cleopatra's love object, and Bill McKinney, Dan Frazer, Esther Rolle, Stafford Morgan, Mike Warren, and Caro Kenyatta (Melvin) and Albert Popwell (Matthew). Warners.