A Clockwork Orange

US (1971): Science Fiction
137 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

This Stanley Kubrick film might be the work of a strict and exacting German professor who set out to make a porno-violent sci-fi comedy. The movie is adapted from Anthony Burgess's 1962 novel, which is set in a vaguely socialist future of the late 70s or early 80s-a dreary, routinized England that roving gangs of teenage thugs terrorize at night. In this dehumanizing society, there seems to be no way for the boys to release their energies except in vandalism and crime. The protagonist, Alex (Malcolm McDowell), is the leader of one of these gangs; he's a conscienceless schoolboy sadist who enjoys stealing, stomping, raping, and destroying, until he kills a woman and is sent to prison. There he is conditioned into a moral robot who becomes nauseated by thoughts of sex and violence. Burgess wrote an ironic fable about a future in which men lose their capacity for moral choice. Kubrick, however, gives us an Alex who is more alive than anybody else in the movie, and younger and more attractive, and McDowell plays him exuberantly, with power and slyness. So at the end, when Alex's bold, aggressive, punk's nature is restored to him, it seems not a joke on all of us (as it does in the book) but, rather, a victory in which we share, and Kubrick takes an exultant tone. Along the way, Alex has been set apart as the hero by making his victims less human than he; the picture plays with violence in an intellectually seductive way-Alex's victims are twisted and incapable of suffering. Kubrick carefully estranges us from these victims so that we can enjoy the rapes and beatings. Alex alone suffers. And how he suffers! He's a male Little Nell-screaming in a strait jacket during the brainwashing; sweet and helpless when rejected by his parents; alone, weeping, on a bridge; beaten, bleeding, lost in a rainstorm; pounding his head on a floor and crying for death. Kubrick pours on the hearts and flowers; what is done to Alex is far worse than what Alex has done, so society itself can be felt to justify Alex's hoodlumism. With Patrick Magee and Adrienne Corri; score by Walter Carlos. Produced by Kubrick, for Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

US (1977): Science Fiction
135 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

This celebration of the wonders up there in the skies is the best-humored of all technological-marvel fantasies. It has visionary magic and a childlike comic spirit, along with a love of surprises and a skeptical, let's-try-it-on spirit. It sends you out in a state of blissful satisfaction. Written and directed by Steven Spielberg. With Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, Bob Balaban, and Cary Guffey. See reviews of revised version of this film at CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND: SPECIAL EDITION (1980). Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Special Edition

US (1980): Science Fiction
132 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Steven Spielberg re-edited the 1977 film-he made some trims, put in some outtakes, and shot a few new bits. The action is swifter, and the central character, played by Richard Dreyfuss, is easier to understand, but you may miss some of the scenes that have been cut, and find that the outtakes that Spielberg has substituted for the scenes you remember keep jarring you. See reviews of original version of this film at CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977).
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Closely Watched Trains

Czechoslovakia (1966): Drama/Comedy
89 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc
Also known as OSTRE SLEDOVANE VLAKY.

A wryly tender Czech film about how a shy, scared young man, who comes from a long line of patsies and fools, succeeds in bed but loses his life. This first film directed by Jirí Menzel is based on the well-known ironic novel by Bohumil Hrabal, who collaborated with Menzel on the scenario. It's set during the Second World War, and most of it takes place at a village railway station; it's fairly simple-the modest sort of film that shows human concern and decency but isn't very stimulating, and that sometimes takes the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film (as this one did). But it's also a sophisticated, elliptical folk tale, with quirky moments of small-town passion, and a funny sequence in which an assistant station-master rubber-stamps a girl telegrapher's buttocks. In Czech.

Club Paradise

US (1986): Comedy
104 min, Rated PG-13, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A pleasantly offhand resort-club comedy that's like those giddy, casual farces that Paramount turned out in the 30s-pictures like WE'RE NOT DRESSING, in which Burns and Allen, Bing Crosby, Carole Lombard, and Ethel Merman goofed around on an island. The uninhibited Andrea Martin is like a funkier Gracie Allen; the fire of adventure lights her saucer eyes. She and tall, gloomy Steven Kampmann appear as a vacationing couple hoping to put new zest into their fading marriage. Robin Williams is the club's social director; Twiggy is his girlfriend; Eugene Levy and Rick Moranis are businessmen guests, both named Barry, who are obsessed by the idea of scoring with women; Peter O'Toole is the governor general of this British flyspeck-the mythical Caribbean island of St. Nicholas; Joanna Cassidy is a tough redhead who writes about resorts for The New York Times; and Joe Flaherty, Brian Doyle-Murray, Adolph Caesar, Robin Duke, and Mary Gross all turn up. Jimmy Cliff appears as the owner of the club and the leader of its reggae band. His songs have a relaxing, rolling rhythm that matches the lazy surf; they don't come charging into your skull, and the movie itself doesn't pound or strain to impress you, either. Directed by Harold Ramis, from a script he wrote with Doyle-Murray that at least two other sets of writers had a share in earlier. Members of the cast were encouraged to come up with gags and dialogue of their own (as long as they didn't improvise on camera). The island scenes were shot in Port Antonio, on the Jamaican coast. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Cluny Brown

US (1946): Drama/Comedy
100 min, No rating, Black & White

A girl with a passion for plumbing is terribly repugnant to stuffy people who don't want to admit that they have drains. This wonderfully suggestive idea is at the center of Ernst Lubitsch's mischievous satire on English propriety, set in contemporary rural England. Jennifer Jones is Cluny (it's her lightest, funniest performance, rivalled only by her dippy blonde in BEAT THE DEVIL) and Charles Boyer is a debonair scrounger-a displaced European sophisticate who encourages her to flout social conventions. These two are surrounded by a prime collection of English class and mass types-the wheezy Richard Haydn, Una O'Connor as his mother, Reginald Owen, Margaret Bannerman, Peter Lawford, Helen Walker, Ernest Cossart, Sara Allgood, Florence Bates, Reginald Gardiner, C. Aubrey Smith, Queenie Leonard, Billy Bevan, Whit Bissell, and many others. It's a lovely, easygoing comedy, full of small surprising touches. Based on Margery Sharp's novel, adapted by Samuel Hoffenstein and Elizabeth Reinhardt. 20th Century-Fox.

Cobra Woman

US (1944): Fantasy
70 min, No rating, Color

Camp classic, with Maria Montez as voluptuous twins. She's the good Tollea, a South Seas girl who is kidnapped just as she's about to marry Jon Hall (who smiles his moony, Mona Lisa smile and looks as boneheaded as ever), and she's the evil High Priestess Nadja, who rules a tribe of snake worshippers on Cobra Island. The impeccably lifeless cast includes Sabu, Edgar Barrier, Lon Chaney, Jr., Lois Collier, Mary Nash, Samuel S. Hinds, and Moroni Olsen. Among the exotic treats: a rumbling volcano, a pet chimp, ominous gong sounds, forest-glade love scenes, human sacrifices, Nadja's handmaidens in their high-heeled pumps, her imperious writhing during what is supposed to be a demonic dance, and the good Tollea's plea for the symbol of the power that is rightfully hers, "Gif me the cobra jool!" Produced by George Waggner for Universal, and directed by that playful wit Robert Siodmak (on sets that are often parodistic), from a script by Gene Lewis and Richard Brooks, based on a story by W. Scott Darling. This heavenly absurdity has been an inspiration to Charles Ludlam, of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, and Gore Vidal (Myra Breckinridge, Myron).

The Cobweb

US (1955): Drama
124 min, No rating, Color, Available on laserdisc

By the mid-50s, nobody was surprised that the new variant of GRAND HOTEL was an expensive, exclusive loony bin (inspired by Austin Riggs Center, at Stockbridge). Plots and subplots tangle and untangle as the staff and patients rush through their intrigues and affairs. Charles Boyer is the weary director of the asylum: when things start to go to hell, he flees, bottle in hand, to a motel. Richard Widmark, tense and fairly unconvincing as the "dynamic" new psychoanalyst, shuttles between his petulant wife (Gloria Grahame), who makes trouble for everybody, and an idealized occupational therapist (Lauren Bacall), who is having an affair with him. John Kerr and Susan Strasberg are young, sick, and in love. The prize comic maniac is Oscar Levant-shown at one point under a restraining sheet, in a continuous warm bath, gulping sedatives and singing "Mother." Vincente Minnelli directed, and, to his credit, most of the confusion is calculated-and enjoyable, in an almost campy bad-movie way. With Lillian Gish, who comes closest to being the star, even though her part is small; Fay Wray (in wonderful shape, considering the way King Kong used to squeeze her); Paul Stewart; Adele Jergens; and Tommy Rettig. Based on William Gibson's novel, adapted by John Paxton; music by Leonard Rosenman; produced by John Houseman, for MGM. .

The Cocoanuts

US (1929): Comedy
96 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The Marx Brothers' first feature, shot in Paramount's Astoria Studios on Long Island, is a somewhat cumbersome transcription of their Broadway musical-comedy hit about the Florida land boom. Most of the action takes place in a hotel lobby; the characters walk on and off, as if they were in a stage play, and they do stage business. The material hasn't been paced for the screen; there are dead spots (without even background music), but there are also a lot of funny verbal routines and a musical burlesque of Carmen, and Harpo, as a fiendish pickpocket, is much faster (and less aesthetic and self-conscious and innocent) than in the Brothers' later comedies. With Kay Francis in her then daring mannish hairdo as Penelope, a jewel thief; Margaret Dumont in lace dresses and floppy hats as the rich Mrs. Potter, the possessor of a valuable necklace; and a pair of forgettable singing lovers (Mary Eaton and Oscar Shaw). Based on the musical play by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, adapted by Ryskind, and directed by Joseph Santley and Robert Florey. With the Berlin song "When My Dreams Come True." The cast includes Basil Ruysdael and Cyril Ring.

Cocoon

US (1985): Science Fiction/Comedy
117 min, Rated PG-13, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A science-fantasy sit-com, in which the old people from a St. Petersburg, Florida, retirement community go off to the planet Antares, a Shangri-La in space. If audiences enjoy the movie, it's largely because of the elderly actors and the affection that the young director, Ron Howard, shows for them. Wilford Brimley, with his walrus mustache and friendly belly, brings an ornery impudence to his role, and Don Ameche is amusing as a vain, natty old sheik. But Ron Howard overworks his ecumenical niceness-his attempt to provide something for all age groups and all faiths-and he keeps trying to extract tender emotions from scenes that could get by only as slapstick. Things get pretty cloying. With Hume Cronyn, Jack Gilford, Maureen Stapleton, Gwen Verdon, Jessica Tandy, Herta Ware, Steve Guttenberg, Barret Oliver, and Brian Dennehy as the leader of the Antareans, who include Tahnee Welch and Tyrone Power, Jr. The script, by Tom Benedek, is based on a novel by David Saperstein. The special effects by Industrial Light & Magic are warmed-over versions of the basic imagery of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. A Zanuck-Brown Production, for 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

A Cold Wind in August

US (1961): Drama
80 min, No rating, Black & White

When people who work in the movie industry get together they often talk about the small, offbeat pictures made outside the studio system, and this shrewdly conceived and well-acted piece of what might be called tawdry but frank eroticism almost always comes up. It's about a stripper in her late 30s who amuses herself by seducing a 17-year-old boy and discovers greater sexual gratification than she has ever before experienced. The boy finds out she's a stripper, is disgusted and leaves her (to play around at his own age level), and she's left in despair. That's all there is to it-or that's all there might be except for the intensity Lola Albright brings to the stripper's role. Unquestionably the movie was made as a low-budget exploitation film-an American ersatz version of Radiguet's Devil in the Flesh and Colette's The Game of Love-but it doesn't pretend to be set on a high plane, and it's saved by the honesty and clarity of its low intentions. Regrettably, in order to point up the boy's indifference to the meaning the affair has for her, he has been made too simple and callow, and although the actor (Scott Marlowe) manages to convey an emotional nature without overdoing it, Joe De Santis, who plays his good Italian papa, seems far more attractive. At least he does until the writer, Burton Wohl, who adapted his own novel, and the director, Alexander Singer, load him down with a preposterous piece of business. Papa delivers quiet words of wisdom and decency-good counsel-to his son and then sits back to read his well-thumbed leatherbound volume. It was hard to concentrate on the next scene: What could that book be? You never find out. Apart from Albright's arousing performance, the movie's chief strength is the economical script, which is also its weakness. If you set out to be a flesh merchant, you should offer more than a skeleton of material. With Herschel Bernardi; cinematography by Floyd Crosby.

The Colditz Story

UK (1957): War
97 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

This English movie about the Second World War is based on P.R. Reid's account of his experiences in Colditz Castle, the "impregnable" fortress in Saxony to which the German High Command sent the Allied officers who were considered veteran escapees-i.e., men who couldn't be contained in conventional prison camps. These escape artists-English, French, Dutch, and Poles-are so prodigal of ideas that the senior British officer (Eric Portman) forms a four-power committee to coordinate all the escape plots. The movie is proficient, but it doesn't live up to the subject. With John Mills as Reid, Ian Carmichael as Robin, Frederick Valk as the Kommandant, Christopher Rhodes as the Scottish lieutenant, Theodore Bikel as the Dutch prisoner, and Bryan Forbes, Lionel Jeffries, and Anton Diffring. Directed (and co-adapted) by Guy Hamilton.

The Collector

US (1965): Drama
119 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Terence Stamp is the young London bank clerk who collects butterflies; when he wins a fortune in a sports pool he stalks an iridescent butterfly of a girl (Samantha Eggar), captures her, and keeps her locked up in a cellar. Stanley Mann's banal script does no great service to John Fowles' novel, but the William Wyler production has an inexorable, compulsive drive. It's a handsome, though too dignified, movie-it doesn't have enough psychological weight to support its rich, classical style. We never really feel our way into the collector's scary obsession; Stamp works at his role (he suggests a young Charles Laughton), but the whole idea seems a shallow, literary device. With Mona Washbourne and Maurice Dallimore. Music by Maurice Jarre; made in the U.S. and England, with cinematography by Robert L. Surtees and Robert Krasker. Columbia.

College

US (1927): Comedy
65 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A beautiful little comedy. Buster Keaton is a bookworm, working his way through college and determined to become a star athlete. The story line isn't as miraculously fresh as in a couple of his films, but it allows for some of his most startlingly inventive stunts. Despite the many pilferings from this film (it has been a gold mine for other comedians), the routines are executed so precisely and with such an air of confident innocence that they are charged with surprise-and probably will be forever. Silent.

The Color of Money

US (1986): Sports/Drama
119 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

This Martin Scorsese film takes up Paul Newman as Fast Eddie Felson 25 years after the close of the 1961 Robert Rossen film THE HUSTLER, in which Eddie, the new poolroom champion, quit the game rather than spoil it by truckling to the crooked manager who had staked him. Now he's a silver-haired Chicago liquor salesman who drives a white Cadillac and wears a neat mustache and natty duds, a likable cynical sharpie who himself stakes young hustlers (for 60 per cent of their winnings). When he sees the raw, cocky upstart Vincent (Tom Cruise), he makes a deal to train the kid. Newman brings off some beautiful smiling deviltry. The kick he gets out of acting is inseparable from Eddie's con artistry, and, with the help of pungent lowlife dialogue by Richard Price, who wrote the script, he carries the action along. The picture might have been a pop classic if it had stayed near the level of impudence that it reaches at its best. But about midway Fast Eddie has a crisis of conscience, or something, and when Eddie locks his jaw and sets forth to become a purified man of integrity the joy goes out of Newman's performance, which (despite the efforts of a lot of good actors) is the only life in the movie, except for a brief, startling performance by the 25-year-old black actor Forest Whitaker as a pool shark called Amos. With Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Helen Shaver, John Turturro, and Bill Cobbs. Cinematography by Michael Ballhaus; score by Robbie Robertson; production design by Boris Leven; editing by Thelma Schoonmaker. Academy Award for Best Actor (Newman). Touchstone (Disney).
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

The Color Purple

US (1985): Drama
152 min, Rated PG-13, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The popular novel by Alice Walker is about the bonding of Southern black women in the first half of the century. The women are generous, hardworking, artistically gifted, and understanding; the men are lazy, lecherous oppressors. Probably the book gets by with its rampant female chauvinism because the story is put in the mouth of the battered 14-year-old heroine Celie; it's written in a raw, cadenced dialect and it has a joyous emotional swing to it. Steven Spielberg, who directed the movie version, appears to have taken the novel seriously-inspirational tone, pop-folk religiosity, triumph of the human spirit, and all-and been intimidated by it. It's not just that he can't give this 30-year family saga the push of that earthy folk style of Walker's; it's that he filters everything through movies and sees rural Georgia in 1909 the way a European director might. The picture seems to be taking place in a made-up, faraway kingdom. With Desreta Jackson as the young Celie and Whoopi Goldberg taking over the role, Danny Glover as Celie's brute of a husband, Willard Pugh as her stepson, Margaret Avery as the woman she falls in love with, Oprah Winfrey as the powerhouse Sofia, whose mighty punch at a white man lands her in jail for 12 years, and Adolph Caesar, Rae Dawn Chong, Akosua Busia, and Dana Ivey. The cinematography is by Allen Daviau; the script is by Menno Meyjes; the gooey score is by Quincy Jones; the production design is by J. Michael Riva; the editing is by Michael Kahn. Tata Vega dubbed Margaret Avery's songs. Shot in North Carolina and Kenya. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Colors

US (1988): Crime
120 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

This muckraking melodrama about LA's two most powerful confederations of drug-trafficking youth gangs-the Bloods, who wear red, and the Crips, who wear blue-is deadened by standard cop-movie ploys. The veteran cop (Robert Duvall), who is due for retirement, and his new partner, the young fireball (Sean Penn) who likes to rough up suspects, are the only characters we get to know, and we already know them. The director, Dennis Hopper, and the cinematographer, Haskell Wexler, try for vividness, with the camera hightailing after the fast-moving gang members, and they catch images of the random violence of boys who are high on crack or PCP, and have arsenals of assault rifles and submachine guns. But despite the film's kinetic style it feels slow and long and tame. We're turned into passive voyeurs: we get a look at gang violence without being asked to become emotionally involved. Hopper isn't inside the material, except for his identification with its nihilistic view that the cops' activities are purposeless and that life doesn't make any sense. He's a visual aesthete-less a director than an artistic arranger of people in the frame. He takes us on an art tour of the graffiti-covered walls in the ghettos and barrios. With Maria Conchita Alonso, Trinidad Silva, and a cast that includes a dozen or so actual gang members. The script, by Michael Schiffer, is based on the story he devised with Richard DiLello; music by Herbie Hancock. Orion.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Coma

US (1978): Thriller
113 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Geneviève Bujold as a surgical resident in a Boston hospital. After her closest woman friend (Lois Chiles) goes into an irreversible coma during an abortion, she discovers that large numbers of young, healthy patients have gone into comas while undergoing minor surgery, and then, vegetablized, have been packed off to a facility-the grim, fortresslike Jefferson Institute-that provides long-term life-support systems. Single-handed, she begins to investigate. When the action moves from the hospital to the Institute, the story shades off from a factual, realistic view of modern hospital practices to sci-fi fantasy, without any change in the film's tone. COMA is so cleanly made, with such an impersonal, detached feeling, that it looks untouched by human hands. Even the actors seem disinfected of any traces of personality. But not Bujold. There's no way to sanitize this actress. She's like a soft furry animal and she's irreducibly curious; she snuggles deep inside the shallow material. Thin-skinned, touchy, she seems almost to sniff out fakery. And as she goes from one dangerous situation to the next, the narrative trap tightens; you fear for her safety and the suspense gets you in the stomach and maybe the chest, too. But COMA doesn't give you a lift. Directed by Michael Crichton, who did the adaptation of Robin Cook's novel, the picture is all plot, and it glides along smoothly, as if computer-operated. The scenes inside the Institute have a chill, spectral beauty, yet the spookiness doesn't explode. The movie seems a little too cultivated, too cautious; Crichton probably accepts impersonality as part of technological advance-he doesn't satirize it. With Michael Douglas, Richard Widmark, Rip Torn, Elizabeth Ashley, and Lance Le Gault. MGM.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean

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

It's doubtful if a major film director has ever before voluntarily taken on as thoroughgoing a piece of drivel as this one-a play by Ed Graczyk set in a Texas small-town 5 & Dime and centering on the reunion of a James Dean fan club on the 20th anniversary of his death. The movie version shouldn't work, but it does. When Robert Altman gives a project everything he's got, his skills are such that he can make poetry out of fake poetry and magic out of fake magic. Moving in apparent freedom, the principal actresses-Sandy Dennis, Cher, Karen Black, and, in a smaller part, Marta Heflin-go at their roles so creatively that they find some kind of acting truth in what they're doing. They bring conviction to their looneytunes characters. Also with Sudie Bond, Kathy Bates, and, in the only male role, Mark Patton. The airy and lyrical cinematography is by Pierre Mignot. Released by Cinecom International.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Come Back, Africa

US (1960): Docudrama
83 min, No rating, Black & White

Semi-documentary on what it's like to be black in South Africa. Lionel Rogosin's film centers on a man who has left his farm and is trying to make a living in Johannesburg. Clumsy, but some rarely seen material.

Come Back, Little Sheba

US (1952): Drama
99 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Lola mourns her losses-youth, beauty, love, and Little Sheba, the dog that ran away. As Lola, Shirley Booth is the essence of all those dreamy, slatternly, gabby, sentimental women who move one to pity by their harmlessness and to disgust by their vacuity. As Lola's husband, Doc, Burt Lancaster scores A for effort but just passes on performance. Daniel Mann directed the adaptation (by Ketti Frings) of William Inge's tragicomedy; it's not much of a movie-it's just a setting for Shirley Booth, who won the Academy Award as Best Actress and also the Best Actress award at Cannes. With Terry Moore and Richard Jaeckel. Produced by Hal B. Wallis, for Paramount.

Comes a Horseman

US (1978): Western
118 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

This Western, set during the Second World War and starring Jane Fonda and James Caan, and Jason Robards as an evil cattle baron, is so self-conscious about its themes that nothing in the storytelling occurs naturally. Basically, the story is a variant of the evil land-grabber who is determined to take the land of the honest, hardworking rancher: now the honest rancher is a woman. But it's a film of few words (and about a quarter of them mangled by the sound recording), and the melodrama is smothered under sullen, overcast skies-how can you get involved in the conflict between the good guys and the bad guys if you can't even see them? Has the director, Alan J. Pakula, become perversely artistic, or is it that he let his cinematographer, Gordon Willis, get carried away? The film's dark, overblown pictorial style works against the exhilaration possible in the Western genre. Caan gives his lines wryly humorous readings, but Fonda's acting is disappointingly constricted, though she looks great in her tan weather-beaten makeup and tight jeans. With Richard Farnsworth, in a likable performance as an old cowhand, and George Grizzard as a banker. From a script by Dennis Lynton Clark. United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Comfort and Joy

UK (1984): Comedy
105 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

The Scottish writer-director Bill Forsyth made this film in Glasgow, his native city. It's the story of what happens to Alan Bird (Bill Paterson), the disc-jockey host of the local early-morning radio show, after his girl, Maddy (Eleanor David), walks out on him, a few days before Christmas. Forsyth is probably trying to get down under his comic tone and do something deeper than he did in his earlier pictures-something like MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER. The visual scheme is warm and cool-amber and fluorescent blue-and it's stark raving gorgeous. (The cinematography is by Chris Menges.) Forsyth sets up a plot in which the disc jockey tries to mediate a war over turf and price between two groups of Italian ice-cream venders, but the venders, who seem meant to represent freedom and passion and irrationality, are presented as petty buffoons and that throws the movie off. Yet the failed plot doesn't wreck the movie. What's best is the hero's daily routines: the ordinary, rather fussy Alan undergoes a magical transformation when he's at his job, helping his listeners get through the blur of sleep and into the new day. Everyday life is an idyll in this movie. With Patrick Malahide as Alan's doctor friend, Claire Grogan as Charlotte, Alex Norton as Trevor, and Roberto Bernardi as Mr. McCool.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

The Comic

US (1969): Drama
94 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The life of a silent-film comedian is a potentially great subject, and, as Billy Bright, Dick Van Dyke has the true manic feeling for the silent-comedy routines, and Mickey Rooney, as his teammate, Cockeye, creates a character out of almost nothing and lives it on the screen so convincingly that you fully expect to see him again after the movie is over. But Carl Reiner, who directed and was the co-writer and co-producer (with Aaron Ruben), uses his subject in the way TV writers use subjects-as a peg to pin some jokes on. Reiner tickles us, but he seems terrified of trying anything that might have any depth. His movies are as thin as skits. He's prodigiously facile, though, and his inventive re-creations of silent routines help to compensate for the dedication and the story development that are missing. With Michele Lee, who's charming, and the likable Pert Kelton, at the end of her career, and Steve Allen, Cornel Wilde, and Reiner. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

Coming Apart

US (1969): Drama
110 min, No rating, Black & White

A psychiatrist (Rip Torn) who has taken the name Glassman cracks up, and you get to see it all reflected in a mirror. This movie is fun, at first, when the idea just seems a put-on and an excuse for some amusing sexual encounters. But then the writer-director, Milton Moses Ginsberg, begins to take the theme seriously, and it all becomes a lot of whimpering and screaming and shattered glass. With Sally Kirkland and Viveca Lindfors.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

Coming Home

US (1978): War/Drama
127 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Allowing for the differences in the wars, this may be one of the post-Vietnam equivalents of the post-Second World War movie THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, which also dealt with returning veterans in smooth, popular terms. Throughout, there's a strong element of self-admiration in the film's anti-Vietnam attitude. The time is 1968; the place is Los Angeles. Jane Fonda plays the proper, repressed wife of a hawkish Marine captain (Bruce Dern); after her husband leaves for Vietnam she volunteers for work in a veterans' hospital and meets a paraplegic (Jon Voight), who is in a rage of helplessness. Then the movie, which started out to be about how the Vietnam war changed Americans, turns into a movie about a woman who has her first orgasm when she goes to bed with a paraplegic, and the porny romanticism of this affair has a morbid kick to it. The musical prelude to the sex is reverential-moviemakers haven't found a slicker way of combining purity and eroticism since Marlene Dietrich unknowingly married a runaway monk (Charles Boyer). Hal Ashby directed this intuitive yet amorphous movie, which falls apart when he resorts to melodramatic crosscutting. Though it was shot by Haskell Wexler, a wizard of fast-moving strong graphics, it has a Waspy glaze to it-a soft pastel innocuousness, as if all those involved were so concerned to get their blandly humanitarian message across without offending anyone that they fogged themselves in. With Robert Carradine and Penelope Milford. Those involved in the writing were Nancy Dowd, Waldo Salt, and Robert C. Jones; produced by Jerome Hellman. Academy Awards: Best Actor (Voight), Actress (Fonda), Screenplay. Released by United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

The Competition

US (1980): Drama
129 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Amy Irving and Richard Dreyfuss are two of the six finalists in an international piano competition being held in San Francisco. When they fall in love, will Amy, who is rich, sure of herself, and only 21, throw the contest to Richard, who is poor, distraught because of the financial strain he has caused his dying father, and almost 30? And if Amy doesn't, and she wins, will she lose Richard? The picture doesn't rise above this daytime-soap-opera level, and between them Irving and Dreyfuss have acquired enough bad acting habits for a different kind of competition. Her voice suggests that she's in a thick, muggy haze, and she drawls affectedly. He scrunches up his face, claps his hand to the back of his neck, and turns away; trying to act a sensitive musician under a terrible strain, he comes across as a throbbing, shuddering wreck. As Irving's teacher, Lee Remick delivers some stunted, pathetic little howlers about life and art; as the vain, lecherous, silver-haired maestro of the symphony orchestra that performs with the finalists, Sam Wanamaker (who looks startlingly like Leonard Bernstein here) gives a polished, old-pro's satirical performance, and struts away with the picture. Directed by Joel Oliansky, from his own screenplay (based on a story he conceived with the producer, William Sackheim). Released by Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Compromising Positions

US (1985): Mystery/Comedy
98 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Susan Isaacs wrote the screenplay adapted from her likably crafted 1978 detective novel, set on Long Island, and her fresh dialogue rhythms give you a lift. Directed by Frank Perry, the movie provides a batch of actresses with a chance to show some comic verve. Susan Sarandon does inspired double-takes-just letting her beautiful dark eyes pop. She's the heroine, whose unquenchable curiosity saves her from the doldrums of affluence in the suburbs with a lawyer husband; when her smiley-eyed, lecherous dentist (Joe Mantegna) is murdered in his snazzy office, she can't resist poking into the case, because it reveals so much about what has been going on around her which she has been unaware of. (Her spontaneous, impetuous fixation on the murder is charmingly irrational; you can feel that something is bubbling up from way down inside her.) Judith Ivey is in top form as the heroine's best friend and opposite number-a frisky cynic who seems to have been wised up from birth. And Deborah Rush is startlingly poignant as a tarty, uneducated blonde, with scars on her tummy and frightened eyes. The cast includes Raul Julia as the police investigator, Anne DeSalvo as the widow, Mary Beth Hurt, Josh Mostel, Joan Allen, and Edward Herrmann, who, as the heroine's husband, starts out as a lively, friendly fellow, and then is turned into her oppressor. That's the plot development that pulls this pleasant, light entertainment down to banality in its second half. Cinematography (with an inexplicable emphasis on ceilings) by Barry Sonnenfeld. Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Compulsion

US (1959): Crime
103 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Based on the famous case of two Chicago Raskolnikovs-Loeb and Nathan Leopold, brilliant students but miserably sloppy murderers. The movie has a stylish, jazz-age format, but the script can't make up its little bit of mind-is it an exploitation of thrills and decadence, or a piece of crime research, or an attack on capital punishment? The three principals-Dean Stockwell, Bradford Dillman, and Orson Welles as their lawyer-were jointly given the Best Actor Award at Cannes, but there's only one remarkable performance-Stockwell's as Judd Steiner (i.e., Nathan Leopold). It's always great to see Welles, but as a spokesman for humanity and humility, he's a terrible humbug, and the oration he's called upon to deliver is just blather. (Clarence Darrow's two-day summation is reduced to 12 minutes of spongy sentiment.) There are all kinds of possibilities in the material, but the movie settles for all-purpose generalities. With Diane Varsi, Richard Anderson, E.G. Marshall, and Martin Milner as the student-reporter (if the murderers had really been the aesthetes they were said to be, he would have been the victim). Richard Fleischer directed, from Richard Murphy's script, based on Meyer Levin's play; cinematography by William C. Mellor. 20th Century-Fox.

Conduct Unbecoming

UK (1975): Drama
107 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

Michael Anderson directed this film version of Barry England's contrived courtroom play, set in a cavalry outpost in India in 1878. James Faulkner plays the junior officer accused of sexual assault on a regimental widow (Susannah York), and Michael York is the officer who defends him. The material has no real point or logic, though every now and then a line of dialogue pushes a button marked "Military Hypocrisy," or "Corruption of Colonialism," or "Subterranean Sex Perversion." The big-name cast includes Trevor Howard, Christopher Plummer, Stacy Keach, and Richard Attenborough.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

The Confession

US (1970): Political
138 min, Rated PG, Color
Also known as L'AVEU.

Costa-Gavras's beautifully detailed demonstration of how the prisoners at the Stalinist show trials in Czechoslovakia in 1952 were made to confess to imaginary crimes. A great, neglected movie subject, intelligently presented. Yves Montand gives a fine non-egotistic performance; with Simone Signoret, Gabriele Ferzetti, Michel Vitold, and Jean Bouise. Screenplay by Jorge Semprun, based on an autobiographical story by London and Artur London; cinematography by Raoul Coutard. Produced by Robert Dorfman and Bertrand Javal. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

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