There are many who think that Germans are incapable of comedy, and this film may not dissuade them, but it's so unusual a piece of kitsch that it's worth a look. Helmut Käutner (THE DEVIL'S GENERAL, THE CAPTAIN FROM KOEPENICK) made this satirical musical comedy in American-occupied Bavaria. Adam (Bobby Todd), a cider manufacturer, has a wife, and also a secretary named Eve (Bettina Moissi); most of the film is his dream of Paradise and Hell-the latter is a nightclub that he attends with Eve, who is dressed in cellophane. The Devil is the headwaiter, and if you've seen DAMN YANKEES you may be startled at the diabolic coincidences. Life described this movie as a "bebop translation of Genesis" and reported that it was denounced from pulpits all over Bavaria. Here, the few who saw it were probably more amused than shocked. Käutner himself has a role in it. In German.
Marlene Dietrich, with her pencil-line arched eyebrows, as the most elegantly amusing international jewel thief ever. She steals a pearl necklace in Paris and speeds toward Spain; on her way she has a series of encounters with Gary Cooper, a motor engineer from Detroit who is on holiday. Produced by Ernst Lubitsch, for Paramount, and directed by Frank Borzage, this is a polished light comedy in the "continental" style-a sophisticated romantic trifle, with Dietrich more chic and modern than in her von Sternberg pictures. When she eyes Cooper she's so captivating, you almost feel sorry for him; there's an image of her standing against French doors that is simply peerlessly sexy. But you can also see why this European sophisticate longs for the American innocent. Cooper is a bit coy and rambunctious in his Americanness, but wearing narrow-tailored suits and with his hair sleek he's the ideal Art Deco hero. And he's great when he leans close to Dietrich and says, dreamily, "All I know about you is you stole my car and I'm insane about you." When he's being threatened by her crooked associate (John Halliday), who remarks, tauntingly, "One mustn't underestimate America-it's a big country," he bends forward and says, "Six foot three." With William Frawley, Ernest Cossart, Alan Mowbray, Zeffie Tilbury, Akim Tamiroff, and Marc Lawrence. The script by Edwin Justus Mayer, Waldemar Young, and Samuel Hoffenstein is based on a play by Hans Szekely and R.A. Stemmle; cinematography by Charles Lang. Dietrich sings "Awake in a Dream" by Leo Robin and Frederick Hollander.
A ridiculously simpleminded costume picture-ten-ton romantic fluff, with some campily enjoyable scenes. With his nose built up and his hair plastered down in bangs, Marlon Brando is an amused Napoleon; he speaks in a hoarse whisper, his enunciation an odd, crisp parody of an Englishman's. (It might be a takeoff on Claude Rains in CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA.) Jean Simmons is the pensive Désirée whom he keeps yearning for. The two stars play together with conspiratorial charm; doubtless they knew they were trapped in a joke and tried to have as good a time as possible. Brando makes one laugh out loud when his Napoleon elevates his sisters to royal rank by rapping them on their heads-hard. And he's quite funny when he grabs the crown and crowns himself. With Merle Oberon as Josephine, Michael Rennie as Bernadotte, Elizabeth Sellars, Cathleen Nesbitt, Evelyn Varden, Isobel Elsom, John Hoyt, Carolyn Jones, and Alan Napier. The director, Henry Koster, and the scenarist, Daniel Taradash, didn't earn any prizes. 20th Century-Fox. CinemaScope.
The eighth of the films that co-starred Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn; it was one of their bummers. He's a wizard engineer. She's in charge of a TV-network research department, and, misunderstanding his intentions, she thinks he means to put her group out of work by installing an electronic brain called Emmy. Gig Young and Joan Blondell help out, but it's a dispirited, straining-for-laughs sit-com. Tracy looks bulky, and Hepburn looks scraggy and cheerless; both seem overage for their roles. Walter Lang directed; Ephron and Phoebe Ephron adapted William Marchant's 1955 Broadway play. With Dina Merrill and Neva Patterson. 20th Century-Fox.
Set in the punk world, it's a mistaken-identity fantasy about doe-eyed Roberta (Rosanna Arquette), a suburban housewife in New Jersey, who becomes fixated on a drifter named Susan (played by the rock star Madonna). This attempt at screwball charm was directed by Susan Seidelman, who wipes out her actors. All their responsiveness is cut off-there's nothing going on in them. No subtext-nothing. This flatness can make your jaw fall open, but it seems to be accepted by the audience as New Wave postmodernism. Nobody comes through except Madonna, who comes through as Madonna (she moves regally, an indolent, trampy goddess), and the cinematographer Edward Lachman, whose lighting gives the East Village shops and streets a funky prettiness-like an Expressionist painting of neon squalor and lollipops. The transactions between the people on the screen are stupefying (and often in woozy slow-motion, like a rock video going poetic). The script is by Leora Barish. The cast includes Robert Joy, Aidan Quinn, Mark Blum, Laurie Metcalf, Will Patton, and the comedian Steven Wright; there are also glimpses of Richard Hell, Anne Carlisle, Richard Edson, Ann Magnuson, John Lurie, Shirley Stoler, Rockets Redglare (as a taxi-driver), and other "inside" celebrities. Orion.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.
George Pal produced this relatively inexpensive rocket trip to the moon; the set designs are ingenious, and the movie has a realistic look (which helped to make it a big hit). But the acting and the direction (by Irving Pichel) are earthbound. The actors have names (Warner Anderson, John Archer, Tom Powers, and Dick Wesson), but they're truly anonymous. Released by Eagle Lion.
"Marlene Dietrich! … When you wear feathers, and furs, and plumes, you wear them as the birds and animals wear them, as though they belonged to your body."-Jean Cocteau. "She possesses the rarest of civilized virtues, irony."-Kenneth Tynan. These two gifts were combined in her classic comedy role as Frenchy, the quixotic harlot of a frontier saloon. George Marshall directed this satiric revitalization of a 1932 Tom Mix Western, based on a Max Brand novel. By taking her spangles and feathers into the Old West and dropping her sultry voice to a howling baritone, Dietrich revitalized her own career. James Stewart is charming and even a little bit sexy as the mild-mannered Destry. With a large group of people who all contribute to the flavor, some in good-sized parts-Mischa Auer, Brian Donlevy, Charles Winninger, Una Merkel, Samuel Hinds-and in lesser parts-Jack Carson, Allen Jenkins, Irene Hervey, Warren Hymer, and Billy Gilbert. Script by Felix Jackson, Gertrude Purcell, and Henry Myers. Dietrich sings "Li'l Joe the Wrangler," "You've Got That Look That Leaves Me Weak," and "The Boys in the Back Room"-all by Frank Loesser and Frederick Hollander. (Marshall remade the film in 1954 as DESTRY, starring Audie Murphy and Mari Blanchard; there was also a partial remake in 1950, called FRENCHIE and starring Joel McCrea and Shelley Winters.) Universal.
Frank Sinatra as a New York City police detective. He doesn't give much hint of his sometime ability as an actor in this brutal thriller that's meant to be cool and tough and gamy. Homosexuality, police corruption, and race relations are exploited in the moralistic "outspoken" style of the screenwriter Abby Mann, while the director, Gordon Douglas, keeps pounding away. With Lee Remick, Jacqueline Bisset, Jack Klugman, Al Freeman, Jr., Robert Duvall, William Windom, Tony Musante, and Ralph Meeker. From a novel by Roderick Thorp; music by Jerry Goldsmith. 20th Century-Fox.
The brash, hyperactive Sidney Kingsley melodrama set in a precinct station-house, directed by William Wyler. The action is stagey, but there's certainly enough going on. Kirk Douglas plays a brutal detective, full of hatred for the offenders who cross his path, and Eleanor Parker is his wife. When he learns that she once had an affair with a gangster, he can't forgive her, and then can't live with himself. That's only one of the interrelated stories, which involve Lee Grant as a flirtatious shoplifter and Joseph Wiseman as a seasoned burglar (playing roles they'd already scored in on the stage), as well as George Macready, William Bendix, Horace McMahon, Bert Freed, Frank Faylen, Gerald Mohr, Cathy O'Donnell, and Warner Anderson. Cinematography by Lee Garmes. Paramount.
Satyajit Ray's dreamily sensual, ironic film about Indian superstitiousness was originally banned from export until Nehru interceded. The story, about a wealthy man who convinces his son's bride (Sharmila Tagore) that she is an incarnation of the goddess Kali, has startling Freudian undertones. Ray's feeling for the intoxicating beauty within the disintegrating way of life of the 19th-century landowning class makes this one of the rare, honest films about decadence. With Soumitra Chatterji and Chhabi Biswas. In Bengali.
This ambitious but obvious comedy has a reputation because it's (vaguely) about the relation of capital and labor. Charles Coburn plays "the richest man in the world," a stuffy old grouch who goes to work as a shoe clerk in a department store he happens to own in order to do a little spying on the employees, who are joining a union. This being a Hollywood romance, he comes to share the employees' grievances, and is humanized so rapidly that he goes on strike against himself. Jean Arthur is appealing enough as the working-girl heroine, but her antics seem forced, and she's not at her best (who is?) with Robert Cummings; he plays her boyfriend, the union organizer. With Edmund Gwenn as a nasty department head, Spring Byington, William Demarest, and S.Z. Sakall. Directed by Sam Wood, from a script by Norman Krasna; the production was designed by William Cameron Menzies. Produced by Frank Ross (then married to Jean Arthur), for RKO.
Raymond Radiguet, a prodigy and now a legend, wrote the novel when he was 17; at 20 he was dead. But his account of the clandestine love affair between an adolescent schoolboy and the discontented wife of a soldier hounded the woman who was his model all her tragic life (she insisted that the precocious Radiguet had invented the sexual aspects of their relationship). Claude Autant-Lara re-created this story of the First World War with nostalgic tenderness. His dramatization treats the affair with such delicacy that many critics consider the love scenes to be among the most beautiful ever photographed. DEVIL IN THE FLESH is perhaps the kind of wartime love story that people hoped to see when they went to A FAREWELL TO ARMS: it has the beauty and despair of lovers attempting to save something for themselves in a period of hopeless confusion. It isn't really as good a movie as people want to believe it is, but the young Gérard Philipe was so extraordinary a camera subject that despite the dozens of roles which followed, he is best known for his incarnation of the passionate, egocentric schoolboy. Micheline Presle is the woman. With Denise Grey and Jean Debucourt. The script is by Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost. In French.
Directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring Marlene Dietrich, this is the most famous version of La Femme et le pantin, Pierre Louÿs' short novel about a femme fatale, published in 1898. It was filmed earlier with Geraldine Farrar (1920) and with Conchita Montenegro (1929), and after the von Sternberg movie it was filmed in 1958, by Julien Duvivier, under the title A WOMAN LIKE SATAN, starring Brigitte Bardot, and then in 1977 by Buñuel, as THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE, with two actresses playing the leading role. It's a story of obsessive love, and von Sternberg's version is certainly obsessive. There's a slightly crazy daringness about his approach to the mythic. (You're never invited into the heroine's state of mind.) The film's near-abstract decorative quality has the fascination of a folly. With Lionel Atwill, Cesar Romero, Alison Skipworth, Edward Everett Horton, Don Alvarado, Hank Mann, and Edwin Maxwell. von Sternberg was credited as both director and photographer, with Lucien Ballard as assistant photographer; John Dos Passos and S.K. Winston were the scenarists; Hans Dreier was the art director. Paramount.
Robert Siodmak's Hollywood films, such as THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE, THE SUSPECT, PHANTOM LADY, THE KILLERS, and THE CRIMSON PIRATE, are much better known than he is-perhaps because his films are often mistakenly attributed to other directors or to highly publicized producers. In the 20s in Berlin he directed PEOPLE ON SUNDAY (with a crew that included Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnemann); in France he directed films with Harry Baur and Maurice Chevalier; and after many years in Hollywood he returned to Germany where he made this thriller based on the Bruno Ludke case. Ludke was a half-witted mass murderer who killed about 80 women; Hitler tried to suppress all information about him, because the Nazis had been publicizing the trial of a French murderer to demonstrate the degeneracy of France, and the idiot-maniac Luedke was not a foreigner or a Jew or a hereditary misfit-he was a "pure Aryan." Then, too, in the midst of the Nazi genocide, Ludke's individual initiative in mass murder might, if publicized, have seemed almost a parody of the government's policies. The film is more interesting in the ideas and ironies it suggests than in itself. As a thriller it doesn't achieve a satisfactory unity or style, but it sends one out arguing about the characters and the possible courses of action; it's a movie that nags at the mind. With Mario Adorf as Bruno, Hannes Messemer as the SS officer Rossdorf, Claus Holm as the "good" police officer, Werner Peters as the Nazi fall guy Willi Keun. In German.
The Shaw play, not too well directed by Guy Hamilton, but Laurence Olivier is an irresistible General Burgoyne. As an English critic remarked, he administers "such a drubbing to his American co-stars that Burgoyne's military defeats are triumphantly avenged." With Kirk Douglas, Eva Le Gallienne, Burt Lancaster (who has one great scene), and Janette Scott. United Artists.
The devil takes his reckoning of a gallant Luftwaffe general (based on the famous ace Ernst Udet, who was so popular he used to make guest appearances in movies-as in THE WHITE HELL OF PIZ PALU). The general works for Hitler because he loves his air force; he is a man of conscience who becomes aware of what he is doing, and "can't eat as much as I want to vomit." Though the film is a melodrama of conscience, it derives much of its impact from the sexual assurance of Curt Jurgens in the leading role. Helmut Käutner's direction is not imaginative, but for a solid story, well-told, about characters and obstacles, it doesn't need to be: the film has the necessary pulse and excitement. From Carl Zuckmayer's play-which was the biggest stage success of postwar Germany up to that time. With Marianne Koch and Victor de Kowa. In German.
The Marist Brothers at the Catholic seminary around which most of the film is set seem to be looking into themselves, puzzled and deeply disappointed by their own physicality. And the pubescent boys gaze with thunderstruck eyes at the eruptions of their bodies. This semi-autobiographical first feature by the Australian writer-director Fred Schepisi is always on the borderline of comedy, because they have all-monks and seminarians alike-been taught that "an undisciplined mind is the Devil's playground," yet they can't get their minds off their bodies. This isn't an anti-Catholic movie. Far from it. Schepisi loves these tormented comedians. But he looks at them with humorous pagan eyes. His passionate feelings are expressed visually-in his thematic use of water imagery and in the vibrancy of his color, which eroticizes the environment. He's a great filmmaker, with his own softly rhythmed style. You feel he's got the whole thing right. With the novelist Thomas Keneally as the bald and bewhiskered Father Marshall, Arthur Dignam as Brother Francine, who dreams of being underwater, surrounded by beautiful naked nymphs, and Nick Tate as Brother Victor, who goes into the city wearing civvies, picks up two women and flirts and teases right up to the verge of actual sex, and then escapes, gasping, "They nearly had me."
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
Creepy. Some bits are fairly certain to return in nightmares. Lionel Barrymore, a fugitive convict masquerading as an old lady, sells dolls to his enemies. The dolls are miniaturized people (Grace Ford and Arthur Hohl) who steal and kill. Tod Browning directed this adaptation of Abraham Merritt's novel Burn, Witch, Burn! With Maureen O'Sullivan, Frank Lawton, Rafaela Ottiano, and Henry B. Walthall. MGM.
The setting is a French provincial school for boys; the headmaster's wife (Vera Clouzot) and mistress (Simone Signoret) conspire to murder him. It sounds simple, but the characters seem fearfully knowing, and there are undertones of strange, tainted pleasures and punishments. According to the director, Henri-Georges Clouzot, "I sought only to amuse myself and the little child who sleeps in all our hearts-the child who hides her head under the bedcovers and begs, 'Daddy, Daddy, frighten me.'" Clouzot does it, all right; his Grand Guignol techniques are so calculatedly grisly that they seem silly, yet they succeed in making one feel queasy and sordid and scared. (Some people may feel too queasy to find the film really pleasurable.) With Paul Meurisse as the malignant headmaster, and Charles Vanel, Noel Roquevert, and Michel Serrault. From a novel by Boileau and Narcejac. In French.
Those who like drawing-room murder and cold, literate, gentlemanly skulduggery will find this ingenious and almost entertaining. Ray Milland is the suitably suave husband who hires unsavory, penny-dreadful Anthony Dawson to kill his rich, unfaithful wife, Grace Kelly; he then calmly goes out for the evening with her lover, Robert Cummings. The unexpected happens: the wife dispatches her would-be assassin with scissors, so the determined husband goes to work to make the murder look premeditated. All this is related with Alfred Hitchcock's ghoulish chic, but everyone in it seems to be walking around with tired blood. Amusingly, John Williams, as the inspector who unravels the case, is so wryly, archly dexterous that he makes everybody else's underplaying look positively boisterous. (A mystery darker than any propounded in the film: Why did Hitchcock persist in using actors as unattractively untalented as Robert Cummings?) Grace Kelly is very beautiful here, in a special, pampered way. From Frederick Knott's play, just slightly adapted by the author; music by Dmitri Tiomkin. (Made in 3-D, but generally released in conventional form; the 3-D version was reissued in 1980.) Warners.
Unimaginative James Bond picture (it was the seventh) that is often noisy when it means to be exciting. It lacks elegance and visual opulence, but it has got Sean Connery (he didn't appear in the otherwise topnotch sixth, ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE). Connery's James Bond is less lecherous than before and less foppish-and he's better this way. In this one, Bond is attacked by two Amazons named Bambi and Thumper. With Charles Gray as Blofeld, Jill St. John as Tiffany Case, Jimmy Dean as a Howard Hughes-like character, and Bruce Cabot as Saxby. Directed by Guy Hamilton. Produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.
Jean Renoir parodies historical romances in this wildly improbable divertissement. Chambermaid Paulette Goddard loves gloomy master Hurd Hatfield (fresh from THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY), but his Freudianized mama, Judith Anderson, and a whole lot of other people get in the way. The screenplay is by Burgess Meredith from a novel by Octave Mirbeau; Meredith also contrived to find a part for himself, as a demented gent who eats his way through a rose garden. Francis Lederer, meant to be a menacing servant, is the most elegantly turned-out actor in the movie; probably he just couldn't resist looking his best. It's slightly crazy but highly entertaining. United Artists.
Robert Bresson's masterly adaptation of the Georges Bernanos novel about the suffering of a young priest (Claude Laydu) whose faith is neither understood nor accepted by his parishioners. A film of great purity and, at the end, a Bach-like intensity. The dialogue and the passages read from the diary are taken directly from the novel, though while you're watching you feel as if you were seeing a silent movie. (It's the effect of the expressive images and the general austerity.) This is one of the few modern works in any art form that help one to understand the religious life-which for this useless young man is a terrible one, yet with moments of holiness. If there is a flaw in the film it's the rhythm-you feel you're dying with the priest. The film may raise a question in your mind: Does Bresson know what a pain this young man is? The priest's austere spirituality may give the community the same sort of pain that Bresson's later movies give some of us in the audience. With Nicole Maurey and Nicole Ladmiral. The music is by Jean-Jacques Grünenwald; the beautiful bleak cinematography is by L.-H. Burel. In French.
Utterly extraordinary: gigantic heroes, acres of studio-built sets, trailing processions, and a romantic mystique. Fritz Lang's bizarre, monumental German silent film, conceived as a tribute to the nation, is in two full-length parts-SIEGFRIED and KRIEMHILD'S REVENGE-and the second, made a year after the first, is the madder of the two. The first tends to be static and ornamental; the second is packed with contrapuntal visual rhythms. It makes a picture like CALIGARI seem as routine as a TV sitcom. At the ending of SIEGFRIED, Brünnhilde has had Siegfried killed, and his widow, Kriemhild, swears revenge. In the second picture, Kriemhild marries Attila the Hun and begins the devastation-massacres, flames, chaos. The influence of the painter Arnold Böcklin is evident; this film, in turn, was a strong influence on Eisenstein and Leni Riefenstahl. There's a fine analysis of it in Lotte Eisner's book The Haunted Screen.
A wonderful movie, set in Baltimore, around Christmas of 1959. A fluctuating group of five or six young men in their early 20s hang out together; they've known each other since high school, and though they're moving in different directions, they still cling to their late-night bull sessions at the diner-where, magically, they always seem to have plenty to talk about. It's like a comedy club-they take off from each other, and their conversations are all overlapping jokes that are funny without punch lines. Conversations may roll on all night, and they can sound worldly and sharp, but when these boys are out with girls, they're nervous, constricted, fraudulent, half crazy. Written and directed by Barry Levinson, DINER provides a look at middle-class relations between the sexes just before the sexual revolution, at a time when people still laughed (albeit uneasily) at the gulf between men and women. It isn't remarkable visually but it features some of the best young actors in the country: Mickey Rourke, Ellen Barkin, Daniel Stern, Kevin Bacon, Steve Guttenberg, Paul Reiser, and Timothy Daly. MGM.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
Jean Harlow, with her bee-stung pucker and her tinny voice, at her comic best. George Cukor directed this witty, much improved version of the Edna Ferber-George S. Kaufman play, with a big-gun cast that includes Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Lee Tracy, Wallace Beery, and Edmund Lowe. Among the people who toned up the dialogue were Herman J. Mankiewicz and Donald Ogden Stewart. MGM.
Set in a Catskills resort in the summer of 1963, this bright dance musical is about the role that dancing had in the embryonic counterculture. It's also a girl's version of that old phony: the-summer-I-grew-up-and-everything-changed. In the boys' version, the hero typically came down to earth with a jolt. But this is a girl's coming-of-age fantasy: the 17-year-old heroine, Baby (Jennifer Grey), ascends to spiritual and sensual perfection. For Baby, a doctor's daughter, the change occurs as the result of self-discovery through dancing and then through her sexual initiation and her full and open commitment to the resort's working-class dance instructor, Johnny (Patrick Swayze). He has been treated as nothing and he has come to believe he's nothing; Baby the fearless changes all that. Too many life lessons are learned in this bubbleheaded, retro vision of growing up in the 60s, and its wish-fulfillment aspect makes Baby and Johnny and all their dirty-dancing friends pure of heart-it defuses any possible explosiveness in the material. But the director, Emile Ardolino, and the choreographer, Kenny Ortega, use the dancing to bring out the sensual dreaminess of the songs, and the screenwriter, Eleanor Bergstein, writes light, rumpled dialogue that helps you over the hooey. You come out of the theatre giggling happily. (The movie has echoes of the 1938 HAVING WONDERFUL TIME and the 1958 MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR.) With Cynthia Rhodes, Jack Weston, Jerry Orbach, Honi Coles, Lonny Price, Kelly Bishop, and Jane Brucker. Vestron.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.