Thomas Mann's last novel (a debonair expansion of his early short story) is a lively account of a cherubic young confidence man who uses his natural endowments in a variety of heterosexual and homosexual liaisons. Fox-eyed Horst Buchholz plays the role as if born to it. Kurt Hoffmann made the film in Germany, Paris, and Lisbon, and-like the book-it bounces along from affair to affair. Among Felix's admirers are Liselotte Pulver as Zaza, Ingrid Andree as Zouzou, Susi Nicoletti as Madame Houpfle (who tears off Felix's clothes, forces him to steal from her, and then cries, "Oh, how delightfully you debase me!"), and Walter Rilla as Lord Killmarnoch (who wants to adopt Felix). The fun isn't sustained, but the first part of the picture has considerable charm. The screenplay was written by Robert Thoeren in cooperation with Erika Mann, who appears in the bit part of an English governess. In German.
A tired, aging Spanish Loyalist (tired, aging Charles Boyer, giving an extraordinarily realistic and intense performance) starts out by trying to prevent a Fascist business deal in England, and is variously chased, beaten, and framed by some of the most unsavory characters who ever conspired. The cast includes Peter Lorre, Katina Paxinou, Victor Francen, George Coulouris, Wanda Hendrix, John Warburton, Miles Mander, and George Zucco. It also includes Lauren Bacall; she was elegantly feline in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, which preceded this film, and in THE BIG SLEEP, which followed it, but she is clumsy and self-conscious here. Despite the unusual cast and the possibilities in the material (from a Graham Greene novel, adapted by Robert Buckner), the movie is pedestrian, and it marked the end of the screen career of the director, Herman Shumlin, the well-known stage producer. Those unfamiliar with the melodramas of the 40s may be shocked at the brutalities that sneaked by under cover of the anti-Fascist theme. Cinematography by James Wong Howe. Warners.
Bernardo Bertolucci wrote and directed this extraordinarily rich adaptation of the Alberto Moravia novel about an upper-class follower of Mussolini. It's set principally in 1938. Bertolucci's view isn't so much a reconstruction of the past as an infusion from it; the film cost only $750,000-Bertolucci brought together the decor and architecture surviving from that modernistic period and gave it all unity. Jean-Louis Trintignant, who conveys the mechanisms of thought through tension, the way Bogart did, is the aristocratic Fascist-an intelligent coward who sacrifices everything he cares about because he wants the safety of normality. Stefania Sandrelli is his deliciously corrupt, empty-headed wife, and Dominique Sanda, with her swollen lips and tiger eyes, is the lesbian he would like to run away with. The film succeeds least with its psychosexual approach to the Fascist protagonist, but if the ideas don't touch the imagination, the film's sensuous texture does. It's a triumph of feeling and of style-lyrical, flowing, velvety style, so operatic that you come away with sequences in your head like arias. With Pierre Clémenti as the chauffeur, Gastone Moschin as Manganiello, and Enzo Tarascio as the anti-Fascist professor (who resembles Godard). Cinematography by Vittorio Storaro. In Italian.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
This version of the Mark Twain story has none of the Rodgers and Hart songs of the Broadway musical and is devoid of the Will Rogers aw-shucks wit that was so effective in the 1931 movie. Bing Crosby is effortlessly amiable as the Hartford handyman who gets a thump on the head, circa 1905, and is transported to Camelot, but the score (by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen) is a series of duds, and the tricks by which Crosby proves himself a magician (such as lighting a fire by focussing the sun's rays through a watch crystal) become a little tiresome. The tacky pageantry is more suited to the opening of a West Coast supermarket than to an English court in the 6th century. Tay Garnett directed, from Edmund Beloin's script; with Cedric Hardwicke, Rhonda Fleming, and William Bendix. (There was a silent version in 1921.) Paramount.
Adapted by Jack Gelber from his play, and directed by Shirley Clarke, the film became famous because of its four-letter-word censorship troubles. A group of addicts in a New York flat wait for the pusher, Cowboy (Carl Lee), their "connection." There's also a more experimental and more ambitious aspect to the situation: a documentary-film director (William Redfield) and his cameraman are also in the apartment, making a film of the addicts, and thus THE CONNECTION tries to be a comment on the relationship of artist and subject, as well as on addiction. It's painfully obvious that the dialogue is dramatic writing, and this doesn't jibe too well with the conceit of the documentary's being made. And there are characters (such as a Salvation Army sister) who carry a whiff of antique dramaturgy. With Warren Finnerty, Roscoe Lee Browne, Garry Goodrow, and Jerome Raphel. The music includes Charlie Parker's recording of "Marmaduke" and jazz by Freddie Redd, who is on camera, along with his group, among the addicts.
Greta Garbo as Napoleon's mistress, Countess Marie Walewska, who bore him a son, and Charles Boyer as Napoleon, who, it appears, loved Marie intensely, but briefly. The MGM picture cost $3 million and was the fourth most expensive movie made up to that date; it's ornate, unexpectedly tasteful, carefully detailed-and lifeless. There is some literate writing in it, but the various scenarists-Samuel Hoffenstein, Salka Viertel, and S.N. Behrman-working from Helen Jerome's version of a Polish play, don't seem too sure of what the movie is about, or where its center should be. They don't allow Marie Walewska enough shadings or enough strength; her tenderness-which is about all she is allowed-becomes tedious. Garbo is stunningly costumed (by Adrian), but her interpretation is muffled. This is one of the rare occasions when her melancholy beauty didn't dominate a film; there's skill but no poetry in her performance. Boyer takes over, by the force of his talent, and because Napoleon (treated less sympathetically by the writers) has more sides to him. Padded to look pudgy and with his romantic handsomeness de-emphasized (he's even slightly bald), Boyer gives the picture traces of irony and tension. Directed by Clarence Brown, who, failing inspiration, could perhaps have used a little vulgarity, or some speed; the pacing is measured. With Maria Ouspenskaya, Dame May Whitty, Reginald Owen, Alan Marshal, Henry Stephenson, Leif Erickson, C. Henry Gordon, Vladimir Sokoloff, George Zucco, and Scotty Beckett. Cinematography by Karl Freund; art direction by Cedric Gibbons (the retreat from Moscow in the snow was staged in the studio, with painted backdrops).
Jon Voight's features look larger, and the anxious, staring eyes that seemed so close together when he was Joe Buck in MIDNIGHT COWBOY are bright and confident; he seems to have come strappingly alive. He plays a ribald, freewheeling teacher who tries to wake up a bunch of whipped black kids and wakes up the school authorities, who fire him. Based on The Water Is Wide, by Pat Conroy, a young Southerner's account of what he went through in his year of teaching on an island off the South Carolina coast, the picture takes its mood from Voight's roller-coaster performance. It has the airy feeling of the teacher's improvising nature; it has his gusto. The director, Martin Ritt, and the cinematographer, John Alonzo, work in a clear and spacious style; the script is by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr. With Madge Sinclair, who plays a black principal with a slave-overseer mentality; she's so strong and unyielding that she's like an obstinate natural force. Also with Hume Cronyn (this virtuoso of the show-them-what-an-actor-you-are school just can't tone down his slimy villainy for the camera), Ruth Attaway, Paul Winfield, Tina Andrews, and Antonio Fargas. 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.
John Belushi plays a muckraking Chicago reporter so famous that everyone on the streets knows him, and Blair Brown is a saintly ornithologist who lives on a mountaintop in Colorado studying the American bald eagle. Then the scriptwriter, Lawrence Kasdan, is at an impasse: How can he get these two together in marriage without taking either away from a dedicated endeavor at one particular site? Kasdan has eliminated all the conflicting interests and the psychological impediments to a happy marriage, leaving the physical separation as the only obstacle. There's nothing left for the movie to be about except how the hero and the heroine can conquer space. (And at the end, the picture fudges even this.) The characters' mild quandary drags on and on, while the director, Michael Apted, tries to create a little texture out of the void. What the movie never even whispers (because it would be bad sexual politics) is the simple fact that neither of these people cares enough about the other to give up anything. With Tony Ganios, Allen Goorwitz, Carlin Glynn, and Val Avery. Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
The theme is DEATH IN VENICE all over again, with Burt Lancaster playing Aschenbach to Helmut Berger's Konrad (a garish, grown-up Tadzio). But the director, Luchino Visconti, is in a jovial mood, and the dignified older man-a retired American professor-isn't destroyed; on the contrary, he is recalled to life. Visconti pictures have often had an undercurrent of silliness, and in this one the silliness is very close to the surface; however, there's grandeur in the director's follies and in his allowing his sexual and political obsessions to be displayed so openly. As Konrad, who moves into an apartment in the professor's house, Berger flaunts the mannerisms that many other actors avoid. A petulant little nymph, Konrad is being kept by a venemous, tantrummy Countess (Silvana Mangano), but he's also supposed to be a revolutionary. In Visconti's view, Konrad is a victim of those to whom he sells his favors, and at the end he stands revealed as a saint. It's an idiosyncratic film, it's cuckoo-an old man's film (partly directed from a wheelchair)-but it's very likable. With Claudia Marsani and Stefano Patrizi, and brief appearances by Dominique Sanda and Claudia Cardinale. Written by Suso Cecchi D'Amico, Enrico Medioli, and Visconti. In Italian.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
Sam Peckinpah's happy-go-lucky ode to the truckers on the road-a sunny, enjoyable picture with only ketchup being splattered (in a mock fight in a diner). The setting is the American Southwest (with lighting that suggests J.M.W. Turner), and the theme is the pettiness of men's quarrels contrasted with the spaciousness of the land. The script fails to dramatize this disparity, and the film, which barely introduces its characters, seems silly at times. However, the trucks give real performances: Peckinpah uses the big rigs anthropomorphically, and while watching this picture, you recover the feelings you had as a child about the power and size and noise of trucks, and their bright, distinctive colors. Graeme Clifford's editing provides fast, hypnotic rhythms, and sequences with the trucks low in the frame and most of the image given over to skies with brilliant white clouds are poetic gestures, like passages in Dovzhenko. As a horny trucker, Kris Kristofferson lacks the common touch that might have given the movie some centrifugal force, though he's as majestic-looking as the big trucks. With the infuriating Ali MacGraw exercising her nostrils, J.D. Kane as Big Nasty, Ernest Borgnine as a vindictive lawman, Cassie Yates as a sad-eyed waitress, and Franklyn Ajaye, Burt Young, Madge Sinclair, Seymour Cassel, and a glimpse of Peckinpah. The B.W.L. Norton script was based on the hit song by C.W. McCall. Cinematography by Harry Stradling, Jr. An E.M.I. production.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
Shirley Clarke's documentary-style film, based on Warren Miller's novel and the play by Miller and Robert Rossen. Hampton Clanton plays Duke, the 14-year-old Harlem boy who is trying to get a gun from a racketeer (Carl Lee) so he can be leader of his gang, the Royal Pythons. The footage, shot by Baird Bryant, is often fine in itself (and it's far superior to the juvenile-gang story), but it's used for a facile cry of social outrage and for "art," rather than being integrated with the story. The film tries to encompass too much: you get the feeling that the director thought she could use everything good that she caught. There are beautiful bits, but they don't come together. Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, Mal Waldron, and others are on the jazz and rock 'n' roll track. The cast includes Gloria Foster and Clarence Williams III. Screen adaptation by Shirley Clarke and Carl Lee; produced by Fred Wiseman.
Bette Davis was only 36 when she played Miss Moffat, the aging spinster schoolteacher of Emlyn Williams' play. (Ethel Barrymore had done it on the stage in the U.S., Sybil Thorndike in England.) Lacking the moral authority of age and the solidity, Davis substituted an air of pedantic refinement that is too thin-spirited for the material. The film lingers in the memory anyway. It's on the side of all our angels: education, liberalism, generosity of spirit-and in an emotionally affecting way. Miss Moffat, an Englishwoman, comes to teach school in an illiterate Welsh mining town in 1890, and discovers that one of her students, a young miner (John Dall), has unusual promise-genius, perhaps. It's a shame that the miner is importuned to become the savior of his country; it's also very apparent that Hollywood isn't Wales. But the director, Irving Rapper, rose to the occasion, and the supporting players-Joan Lorring, Rosalind Ivan, Rhys Williams, Nigel Bruce, Arthur Shields, Mildred Dunnock-have stronger personalities than in most Davis films. Adapted by Casey Robinson and Frank Cavett; music by Max Steiner. Warners.
This film, which marked the directorial début of Matthew Robbins (and which he wrote with his partner, Hal Barwood, who was the producer), was released without much publicity, and very few people saw it. It's about a Southern California boy's love for an automobile: Kenny (Mark Hamill) scrounges parts from an automobile graveyard, and he and his high-school shop class build a shiny Corvette Stingray. On the night the class takes the car out for a trial run, it is stolen. The rest of the picture is Kenny's obsessive pursuit of the car, which he tracks to Las Vegas; the movie doesn't ridicule this quest and doesn't romanticize it-it treats Kenny's passion with gentle respect. The picture doesn't have a snappy enough rhythm, and the repartee is often too slow, and the story takes a bad turn just past midway by making a melodramatic villain out of a likable character. But until then it's generally fresh, and it has a lovely soft visual quality, with unusually pleasing camera placement. (The cinematography is by Frank Stanley.) As the hero, Hamill takes a little getting used to: this picture was made between STAR WARS and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, after the car accident which disfigured him, and he also seems unsure of himself vocally; however, this disturbing element dwindles in importance when Annie Potts enters the story. As a teenager who's on her way to Vegas to become a hooker, she's charmingly funny in her distinctive, stylized way until the last 10 minutes, when she is turned into a dingbat. The picture has other lapses of judgment-a gay chief villain, mushy music, and an overeagerness to make banal points about corruption. Yet a radiant lyricism comes through it all. With Eugene Roche, Kim Milford, and Philip Bruns. United Artists.
The dark, lacquered visual style doesn't come out of the material; it's a fashionable style that's imposed, like the visual formats of videos, and the only goal of the director, Francis Ford Coppola, seems to be to keep the imagery rushing by-for dazzle, for spectacle. The action is centered on the famous Harlem late-night supper club-a speakeasy with a great floor show, in which "colored" headliners and the "tall, tan, and terrific" Cotton Club Girls performed for a white clientele. There's so much going on you can't take your eyes off it, but none of it means anything. The staccato imagery fragments the musical numbers, and knocks the life out of the performers; the sound is disembodied, and so are the dancers. The tall, sinuous Lonette McKee, with her long, expressive arms upraised, actually gets to complete a number (the torchy "Ill Wind"), Richard Gere flashes a pretty smile and is more agreeable than usual, and a few of the actors playing mobsters-Julian Beck, Bob Hoskins, and Fred Gwynne-seem to be invincible. But from the way Coppola directs the cast here, people exist to reflect light. With Nicolas Cage, Gregory and Maurice Hines, Diane Lane, James Remar, Gwen Verdon, Honi Coles, Novella Nelson, Larry Fishburne, and Joe Dallesandro as Lucky Luciano. Screenplay by Ford Coppola and William Kennedy; cinematography by Stephen Goldblatt; production design by Richard Sylbert. A Zoetrope Production, released by Orion.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.
John Barrymore seems an unlikely choice for the ghetto-born lawyer of Elmer Rice's play, but this is one of the few screen roles that reveal his measure as an actor. His "presence" is apparent in every scene; so are his restraint, his humor, and his zest. The material is success-story-with-heartbreak-a typical American well-made play of the period: energetic, naïve, melodramatic, goodhearted, and full of gold-diggers, social climbers, and dedicated radicals. The director, William Wyler, sticks close to the play and tells the story in a simple, unadorned way, which has the advantage for us now of preserving the theatrical style of the time. With Bebe Daniels, Melvyn Douglas, Doris Kenyon, Mayo Methot, Thelma Todd, Onslow Stevens, Isabel Jewell, John Qualen, Vincent Sherman, and, as the horrid stepson, Richard Quine. The adaptation is by Rice; cinematography by Norbert Brodine. Universal.
A beautifully made Napoleonic era swashbuckler, telling a story that spans 20 years and moves back and forth among Elba, Marseilles, Paris, and Rome by the fluid use of short, pithy scenes and fade outs. Its greatest asset is the handsome young English actor Robert Donat who had a beautiful triste (asthmatic) voice and something elusively sympathetic about him. His Edmund Dantes, the innocent sea captain who is caught in a political trap, locked in a fortress, and certified dead, stands out among all Hollywood's adventurer heroes. Dantes is saved from the darkness by another prisoner, the Abbé Faria (O.P. Heggie), who has inscribed the world's knowledge on his dungeon walls. And the Abbé endows Dantes with the fabulous wealth that enables him to seek justice for the treacherous three men-now eminent-who incarcerated him (Louis Calhern, Sidney Blackmer, Raymond Walburn). As Mercedes, the woman Dantes loves, Elissa Landi tries a little too hard to be spirited but improves with age. Also with Georgia Caine as her mother, Douglas Walton as her son, and Mitchell Lewis, Luis Alberni, and Clarence Muse as the smugglers, and Irene Hervey, Holmes Herbert, and William Farnum. A fine job of directing by Rowland V. Lee, from a script by Philip Dunne, Dan Totheroh, and Lee himself, based on the (often filmed) novel by Alexandre Dumas. The cinematography is by J. Peverell Marley; the less than inspired music is by Alfred Newman. A Reliance Picture, released by United Artists.
This film, which stars Jessica Lange, who conceived it and had a hand in producing it, is trying to be a feminist THE GRAPES OF WRATH. Lange isn't playing a character-she's playing a set of virtues that she associates with her idea of an "ordinary" luminous Midwestern woman, a contemporary Ma Joad. When the Farmers Home Administration moves to foreclose on the 180-acre farm that has been in the heroine's family for over a hundred years, and her husband (Sam Shepard) and her father (Wilford Brimley) fall apart, she's firm in her resolve and she holds on to the land. Working from a script by William D. Wittliff, the director, Richard Pearce, gives us standard hokey melodrama, but he doles it out as if it were full of integrity. Every frame is planned to be a work of American art. Essentially, this is a movie about Jessica Lange's spirit-of-the-prairie face. With Levi L. Knebel, who gives a fresh, affecting performance as Lange and Shepard's teenage son, and Matt Clark and Sandra Seacat. The cinematography is by David M. Walsh. Touchstone (Disney).
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.
This rather odd movie, derived from a Clifford Odets play, features the least broken-down of actors, Bing Crosby, as a broken-down actor-a weak-willed, alcoholic heel who lives on the strength of his wife, Grace Kelly. William Holden is the Broadway director who misinterprets the tangle of dependencies and tries to free the husband from the wife. Rather inexplicably, this sadomasochistic morass was one of the biggest box-office hits of its year, and somewhat inexplicably also, Academy Awards were presented to Grace Kelly as Best Actress and to the director, George Seaton, for his uneven and incoherent screenplay. The film has virtues, however-Holden's performance, good backstage dialogue, and Anthony Ross in a small role. With Gene Reynolds; songs by Ira Gershwin and Harold Arlen. Produced by William Perlberg, for Paramount.
This Franco-German film version of Marguerite Yourcenar's novel is so gray and bleak and wintry that it's like a classic made in the Soviet Union 25 years ago and played intensively on PBS. It's by no means bad; the director, Volker Schlöndorff, is highly skilled. But the emotions don't fully emerge, and even after it's over one isn't certain what it was about-though probably we're meant to see that the proud Countess Sophie (Margarethe von Trotta) has been so deeply wounded because Erich, the Prussian officer she loves (Matthias Habich, a heel-clicking Richard Harris), doesn't love her that she throws her life away. Her self-destructive passion is only one element in a movie which has a few too many sexual, historical, and political crosscurrents; some of them, such as Erich's sexual involvement with Sophie's brother, Konrad (Rudiger Kirschstein), are presented so elliptically they're like blurred memories of a dream. (Schlöndorff's artistry gets in the viewer's way.) The story takes place in 1919 in the Baltic area (which had just been divided into Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia) during the sporadic fighting among various factions that continued after the official end of the First World War. Sophie, who is struggling to emancipate herself, is involved with the Communist cause, while Erich is fighting against Red Army units and mopping up Bolshevik guerrillas. Eventually, she is killed by the man she loves, as in the spy melodramas of 30 years ago-only this time there are more layers of ambiguity about their feelings. The legendary cabaret artist Valeska Gert (she played the procuress who brought Greta Garbo into the brothel in Pabst's 1925 JOYLESS STREET) appears as Sophie's half-crazed aunt and is utterly bizarre: shrivelled, yet more intensely alive than anyone else in the movie. The screenplay is by Schlöndorff and by von Trotta (his wife). In French and German.
Bertrand Tavernier's film is set in some sort of French colonial Dogpatch in Africa, in 1938, just before the start of the Second World War, and it stars Philippe Noiret as a cuckolded weakling who is jeered at by the pimps and the other brutal white men who exploit the natives. He is also the only officer of the law in the area, and he secretly kills off the exploiters, using his reputation for being cowardly and ineffectual as a cover. The movie is torpid even in the early sequences that aim at sly farce, and its thesis is that even such drastic and half-mad cleanup jobs are hopeless. For a while it's a DIRTY HARRY revenge fantasy for liberals; then the officer lets us know that he thinks he is Christ returned and the picture shifts into Christ mythology. Tavernier may think he's bringing out the rage behind despair, but all he brings out is his sense of futility. He's saying horrible, senseless, inexplicable things (such as the whopper that killing on a small scale is less immoral than killing on a big scale). The film chokes on its own unresolvable ambiguities. With Isabelle Huppert, who frisks about nakedly and amusingly, and Jean-Pierre Marielle, Stéphane Audran, Guy Marchand, Eddy Mitchell as Nono, Samba Mane as Friday, Abdoulaye Diop as Fête Nat, and Irene Skobline as the schoolteacher. The script, by Jean Aurenche and Tavernier, is based on the American pulp novel Pop. 1280, by Jim Thompson, which was set in the American South. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
The success of this rhythmless, mediocre piece of moviemaking may be in part attributable to its winsome heroine (Marie-Christine Barrault, who is sexy in a fleshy, smiling-nun way) and in part to its silliness. With its wholesome carnality, this film about a big family is so pro-life that it treats sex like breakfast cereal. It features adultery without dirt-adultery as carefree nonconformity-and the way the chorus of understanding kids applauds the parents' displays of innocent happy sensuality, it could be the first Disney True Life Adventure about people. With Victor Lanoux and Marie-France Pisier, who gives the liveliest performance. Written and directed by Jean-Charles Tacchella. In French.
Claude Chabrol's subtle, glittering film about a naïve, plodding country cousin (Gérard Blain) who destroys his gifted, bohemian city cousin (the suave Jean-Claude Brialy). Perhaps that country boy is not really as honest as he seems: his diligence, his sobriety, all his antique virtues may be just a self-deceiving defense against the facts of modern life. The heroine (Juliette Mayniel), who almost thinks she loves him, realizes that this is just an intellectual and aesthetic response; she would like to be able to believe in a pure, sweet, and enduring love. One of the major New Wave films, it now has added interest for its portrait of the French student life of the 50s. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book I Lost it at the Movies.
Bland, dreamy effervescence is what's being sold in this canny Americanization of the celebrated French makeout movie COUSIN, COUSINE (1975). Set in the Pacific Northwest, it starts with a wedding that links Italian and Polish families. As the picture goes on and on, and you get its box-office formula-sex without messiness, family without oppressive closeness-you may begin to feel as if you were in a carefree pink padded cell, or as if you were back in a Doris Day comedy, except that this film isn't so insistently bright, and it's more woodlandsy, more radiant and idyllic. As honest, free-spirited adulterers, Isabella Rossellini and Ted Danson are at the still center, smiling serenely while the others in the cast busily bang away at their joie de vivre. Rossellini's unforced expressiveness has a grace-it's as if she were too friendly and sensible to do what we think of as "acting." Joel Schumacher directed; Stephen Metcalfe did the adaptation. With William L. Petersen, Sean Young, Norma Aleandro, George Coe, Lloyd Bridges, Keith Coogan, and Gina DeAngelis. Shot in British Columbia. Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.
The wartime plot about hoofers and models is a shambles, and there's a prolonged flashback to the Gay Nineties that is almost ruinous, but this big, flashy, Technicolor musical has a lot to recommend it: Rita Hayworth, Gene Kelly, Phil Silvers, and songs by Ira Gershwin and Jerome Kern, including "Put Me to the Test," and the slurpy but affecting "Long Ago and Far Away." Kelly and Silvers are a livelier team than Kelly and Hayworth, though she does look sumptuous, and her big smile could be the emblem of the period. The cast includes Lee Bowman, Otto Kruger, Eve Arden, Edward Brophy, Jinx Falkenburg, and dozens of celebrated models. Charles Vidor directed; Virginia Van Upp wrote the script; Stanley Donen, Kelly, Seymour Felix, and Jack Cole staged the dances; Nan Wynn dubbed Hayworth's singing. Arthur Schwartz produced, for Columbia.
Blood and homilies on one of the most torpid cattle drives since the invention of motion pictures. Eleven boys, aged 9 to 15, are so well trained by their surrogate big daddy, John Wayne, that when he is shot by a rustler (a cringing cur of the old school, played by Bruce Dern) they wipe out the whole 17-man gang. The point of view of the movie is that killing makes them men. When the rotten Dern is trapped under his horse and pleads for help, a boy cuts one strap loose and fires a gun to frighten the horse, and the whole troupe watches impassively as the horse runs, dragging the man screaming to his death. The obscenely complacent movie invites us to identify with these good little men and to be proud of them. Mark Rydell directed this pious muck. With Roscoe Lee Browne, who does his charming, urbane number as the cook on the drive, Leora Dana as Wayne's gruff, understanding wife, Colleen Dewhurst as a madam, and Slim Pickens. The script by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr., and William Dale Jennings is based on Jennings' novel; music by John Williams. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
Vaudevillians and Ziegfield stars of the 20s, Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey, carried over their stage routines and became a popular RKO comedy team in the early 30s. It was often impossible to decide if they were wonderfully terrible or just plain terrible, but they were totally unpretentious. Round-faced Wheeler was the teary, innocent, eternal juvenile; skinny, bespectacled Woolsey was the con man, nibbling on a long cigar and spitting out quips. The story here is about their efforts to seize the throne of the kingdom of Eldorania; the villains include Boris Karloff and Stanley Fields. The cast also includes Edna May Oliver as the aunt of the pert straight-girl heroine, Dorothy Lee, an actress of such bright-eyed, dizzying incompetence that she wins you over. Memorable bit: Ben Turpin as an aerial bomber. His cockeyes are in closeup when he assures his boss (Karloff) that he'll hit his target. Edward Cline directed; Al Boasberg and Ralph Spence did the writing.
The Mikhail Kalatozov film was made during the de-Stalinization period of the late 50s; set during the Second World War, it deals with a beautiful Moscow girl (the lovely Tatiana Samoilova) who is trapped in a loveless marriage with an unpatriotic and hence decadent pianist after her fiancé (Alexei Batalov) goes to the front. Somewhat silly, but with fine sequences, and Miss Samoilova, a grandniece of Stanislavsky, does him honor. In Russian.
The story "The Illusionless Man and the Visionary Maid" by the psychoanalyst Allen Wheelis provided the basis for John Korty's first feature, filmed in and around Stinson Beach, near San Francisco, with Tom Rosqui as the practical, down-to-earth husband, and Ina Mela as Lorabelle, the always romantic, ever hopeful wife. It's a lightly told comedy-fable on sex differences, on attitudes to life, and on marriage itself. Korty's lack of facility makes it a little bumpy, and the adaptation which he did doesn't have the subtlety of the story. Korty, who also photographed the film and edited it, is a more skillful cinematographer than writer. His next film, FUNNYMAN, was considerably more craftsmanlike, but this is a pleasantly amateurish start. It was made for less than $100,000. Narration by Burgess Meredith; music by David and Peter Schickele.