Dirty Hands

France (1951): Political/Drama
120 min, No rating, Black & White
Also known as LES MAINS SALES.

Sartre did the adaptation of his play, and so the drama is still in the political conflict between the intransigence of the young Communist Hugo (Daniel Gélin) and the compromises of the seasoned, disillusioned Hoederer (Pierre Brasseur). This isn't any great shakes as moviemaking but it's absorbing-it's probably the only film that has ever captured the meaning and spirit of the battles within modern revolutionary parties. Fernand Rivers directed. In French.

Dirty Harry

US (1971): Crime
102 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

This right-wing fantasy about the San Francisco police force as a helpless group (emasculated by the unrealistic liberals) propagandizes for para-legal police power and vigilante justice. The only way that the courageous cop Dirty Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) can protect the city against the mad hippie killer (Andy Robinson) who terrorizes women and children is by taking the law into his own hands. Harry, who knows what justice is and how to carry it out, is the best there is, a Camelot cop; he got his nickname because he's the dedicated troubleshooter who draws the dirtiest assignments. He is our martyr-stained on our behalf. As suspense craftsmanship, the picture is trim, brutal, and exciting; it was directed in the sleekest style by the veteran urban-action director Don Siegel, and Lalo Schifrin's pulsating, jazzy electronic trickery drives the picture forward. It's also a remarkably single-minded attack on liberal values, with each prejudicial detail in place-a kind of hardhat The Fountainhead. Harry's hippie adversary is pure evil: sniper, rapist, kidnapper, torturer, defiler of all human values. This monster-who wears a peace symbol-stands for everything the audience fears and loathes. The action genre has always had a fascist potential, and it surfaces in this movie. It was a big success, and Eastwood played Harry again in four sequels: MAGNUM FORCE (1973), THE ENFORCER (1976), SUDDEN IMPACT (1983), and THE DEAD POOL (1988). With Reni Santoni, Harry Guardino, and John Vernon. Written by Harry Fink and his wife, R.M. Fink, Dean Riesner, and also John Milius (uncredited). Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

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

Michael Caine and Steve Martin as con men on the Côte d'Azur, in a remake of the 1964 BEDTIME STORY. Caine is the slick, discreet continental who operates by plan and fleeces middle-aged rich American women. Martin is a happy-go-lucky American spaz in wrinkled baggy pants; he's an improviser, a vagabond who chases after the most attractive young women he spots, and shamelessly, in a loud, whiny voice, cadges meals and a few bucks off them. The movie is mildly pleasant; it has amusing moments and a sunny sheen. The director, Frank Oz, takes such a square approach, though, that the action doesn't absorb your full attention. (Couldn't the women at least have been smart and lusty?) Caine and Martin preen beautifully. At their best, they're like a vaudeville team zapping each other and doing a soft-shoe. But the script, by Dale Launer, who reworked the 1964 script, by Stanley Shapiro and Paul Henning, is such a lazy ripoff of the past that there's not much juice in the roles: we seem to be watching the last pressing of the grapes. With Glenne Headly, Barbara Harris, Dana Ivey, Anton Rodgers, and Ian McDiarmid. Cinematography by Michael Ballhaus. Orion.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

France (1972): Drama/Comedy
100 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc
Also known as LE CHARME DISCRET DE LA BOURGEOISIE.

Luis Buñuel's most frivolously witty movie, directed (at the age of 72) with exhilarating ease. It's a cosmic vaudeville show-an Old Master's mischief. He is no longer savage about the hypocrisy and inanity of the privileged classes; he has grown almost fond of their follies-the way one can grow fond of the snarls and the silliness of vicious pets. This episodic story is about a group of six friends-discreetly charming amoral beasts-whose attempts to have dinner together are always being interrupted: food, that ritual center of bourgeois well-being, keeps eluding them. Buñuel takes an offhand, prankish approach to the medium; he keeps tweaking us, catching us up in an anecdote or a spooky death joke, and then dropping it. With Stéphane Audran, Julien Bertheau (who plays a bishop with supreme finesse), Fernando Rey, Delphine Seyrig, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Paul Frankeur, Bulle Ogier, Milena Vukotiç, Claude Piéplu, and Michel Piccoli. Written by Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

Dishonored

US (1931): Spy
91 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

The dullest of the Marlene Dietrich films directed by Josef von Sternberg. He wrote the story (which was a mistake) and then the scenario was prepared by Daniel Rubin (another mistake). Dietrich plays a "woman of the streets" who is given the chance of spiritual redemption by serving her country; she becomes the glamorous spy X-27, but falls in love with an enemy agent (Victor McLaglen). McLaglen is the really hopeless mistake. He's meant to be dashing, but he lacks style and physical grace-he's a grinning buffoon, with zero sex appeal. Dietrich goes through her repertory of teases, lowering her eyelids demurely and raising them amusingly; she's charming, but she's playing all alone. (At times she might as well be doing eye exercises.) In a few sequences (especially the ones in which she impersonates a peasant hotel maid) she's clearly having a good time, and, when she poses with a cat, she's sleekly, still youthfully, beautiful (she was born 27 December 1901); the mask of mysterious remoteness and agelessness is just beginning to form. Her ironic, spacey gallantry-the way she keeps her firing squad waiting while she takes out her lipstick and touches up her mouth-is the only real entertainment in this lamely directed movie; the lines are so stiffly paced that they're like failed epigrams. (You wince.) With Lew Cody, Gustav von Seyffertitz, Warner Oland, Barry Norton, and, in a small part, Bill Powell. (Every one of them seems more desirable than McLaglen.) Cinematography by Lee Garmes. Paramount.

Distant Thunder

India (1973): Drama
100 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette
Also known as ASHANI SANKET.

Satyajit Ray sets this film in a torpid Bengali village in the early 1940s. Soumitra Chatterji, Ray's one-man stock company, who played the passionately romantic Apu in THE WORLD OF APU, is cast as a newly arrived Brahmin, the only educated man for miles around. "You are the jewel in our crown," the ignorant villagers tell him, and he agrees. But the faraway Second World War causes the price of rice to soar, the traditions that bind the community are eroded, and the condescending Brahmin is no longer treated as a jewel. This isn't one of Ray's greatest films; it's forced and riddled with flaws. Yet it's still a Satyajit Ray film, full of feeling and astonishingly beautiful; the women are conceived as in a dream of the past-moving in their thin, clinging saris, they create sensuous waves of color in the steamy air. In Bengali.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Diva

France (1982): Romance/Crime
123 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

An up-to-the-minute glittering toy of a movie, a romantic thriller from France, made by a new director, Jean-Jacques Beineix, who has a fabulous camera technique and understands the pleasures to be had from a picture that doesn't take itself too seriously-the whole high-tech incandescence of the film is played for humor. The diva is an awesomely beautiful black American soprano (Wilhelmenia Fernandez) who refuses to make recordings. Frédéric Andrei is the wide-eyed 18-year-old postal messenger who adores her; he sneaks his Nagra tape machine into her concert in Paris so he'll be able to listen to her at home-and all hell breaks loose around him. He's pursued by two baroque thugs: one is tall and Latin and chews gum with the jaws of a hippopotamus; the other (Dominique Pinon) is small, with spiky blond hair and sunglasses, and an earplug so he can listen to a transistor radio while he's on his murderous errands-he's so dissociated he's practically a mutant. The unfazable heroine (the 14-year-old Thuy An Luu) is a post-Godardian tootsie-in her short-short skirts and transparent plastic coat, she's a lollipop wrapped in cellophane. A man named Gorodish (Richard Bohringer), a Mr. Cool in a white suit and a white Citroën, comes to the aid of the besieged messenger. The film may remind you of Welles' TOUCH OF EVIL; it's Welles romanticized, packaged. It's a mixture of style and chic hanky-panky, but it's genuinely sparkling. The screenplay by Beineix and Jean Van Hamme is based on a novel by Delacorta (a pseudonym for Daniel Odier, who also writes under his own name); the cinematography is by Philippe Rousselot; the art direction is by Hilton McConnico. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

The Divided Heart

UK (1954): Drama
89 min, No rating, Black & White

In 1952 Life devoted its first eight pages to a legal case that had become an international incident. Someone had to make a decision, although everyone understood that either of the two possible decisions would be a cruel injustice. A Yugoslav family had been broken up by Hitler's soldiers-the husband shot, the wife separated from her 20-month-old son and sent to Auschwitz. She returned in 1945 and spent 5 years trying to locate the boy. Meanwhile a German woman in Sudetenland, childless for 10 years, had adopted the baby from an orphanage, and, after her husband was sent to a Soviet prison camp and she and the baby were expelled from their home, she had found work as a seamstress in order to take care of the child. The conflicting claims of these two mothers (Cornell Borchers and Yvonne Mitchell) are dramatized in this English film, directed by Charles Crichton. It's far from great, but better than you might expect. You do get a feeling of the chaos, and of how the lives of both women are centered on this one little boy. With Michel Ray, Alexander Knox, Armin Dahlen, Liam Redmond, Eddie Byrne, and Geoffrey Keen. Written by Jack Whittingham; cinematography by Otto Heller; music by Georges Auric.

Divine Madness!

US (1980): Musical
95 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Essentially a one-woman show: Bette Midler is alone on the stage with her backup trio, the Harlettes, but like Craig Russell in OUTRAGEOUS!, she seems to have a whole troupe of people inside. In this film, shot on three successive nights at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, she tells jokes (she may be better at bawdiness than any other woman entertainer alive) and she sings. She really gives a song a workout-she may swing it, wail it, shout it, rock it, and throw in some scat, gospel, funk, and punk. She's an emotional whirligig, and the film is hugely entertaining, though the best numbers come at the beginning; the last quarter-when Midler comes on as a boozing bag lady who is trying to capture the bird of happiness-has a sodden inspirational quality. Directed by Michael Ritchie; cinematography by William A. Fraker. Released by Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

The Divorce of Lady X

UK (1938): Comedy
91 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

Expensively produced attempt at a sophisticated romantic comedy; it's rather foolish and a little draggy, and is mainly of interest because of the cast-Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon, Ralph Richardson, Binnie Barnes. They don't do much in the way of acting, but their arch romping is, at least, a curiosity. Alexander Korda produced; Tim Whelan directed. .

The Divorcee

US (1930): Drama
83 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Norma Shearer and the double standard. Her husband (Chester Morris) is unfaithful, but she isn't allowed to be; they split. This being intended as a sizzling, daring movie, she turns to Robert Montgomery and Conrad Nagel before reconciling (on New Year's Eve, of course) with her ex-husband. Shearer's specialty was sexy suffering in satin gowns by Adrian; here, she always seems to want to abandon herself to naughtiness, but one damned thing after another stops her. With Florence Eldridge. Robert Z. Leonard directed, from an adaptation of Ursula Parrott's novel Ex-Wife. MGM.

Doctor X

US (1932): Horror
80 min, No rating, Color and Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A famous chiller about a series of murders committed during the full moon in the vicinity of a medical college. It's the source of many of the most delirious clichés of the mad-scientist genre, and the first of Fay Wray's horror films (she gets to scream in her very first scene). But the pacing is very deliberate and it's a little tedious, especially in the wisecracking comedy-relief scenes with Lee Tracy as the reporter-hero; Tracy's vocal tricks and stylized gestures fall flat here. (One wouldn't guess how funny he would be that same year in BLESSED EVENT, or the year after in BOMBSHELL.) The title role, Dr. Xavier, is played by Lionel Atwill, an expert at polished menace; he can be wonderful in the way he examines a corpse while commenting "Strangely enough, only the left deltoid has been severed." His suavity is heavy, though, and he weighs this picture down a bit. The director, Michael Curtiz, plays things too straight; he doesn't have the perverse comic sense of a James Whale. (There are bits-such as talk of cannibalism, and a doctor unscrewing his artificial arm-that cry out for the sort of twist Whale would have given them.) With Preston Foster, Arthur Edmund Carewe, Willard Robertson, Robert Warwick, Mae Busch, Leila Bennett, George Rosener, John Wray, and Tom Dugan. The script, by Earl Baldwin and Robert Tasker, is adapted from the play by Howard Comstock and Allen C. Miller. First National.

Doctor Zhivago

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

The pure-souled poet-doctor Zhivago (Omar Sharif, with wet, dark eyes) is at the center of the scenarist Robert Bolt's poetic enigma, and the director David Lean surrounds him with enormous historical reconstructions of the Russian Revolution. Neither the contemplative Zhivago nor the flux of events is intelligible, and what is worse, they seem unrelated to each other. (It's hard to know what kind of hero or even what kind of group of people could hold these events together.) And in this movie, so full of "'realism," nothing really grows-not the performances, not the ideas, not even the daffodils, which are also so "real" they have obviously been planted for us, just as the buildings have been built for us. After the first half hour you don't expect the picture to breathe and live; you just sit there. It isn't shoddy (except for the balalaika music, which is so repetitive you could kill the composer); it's stately, respectable, and dead. Though not in itself a disgraceful failure, it does have one disgraceful effect: the final shot of a rainbow over the huge dam where Zhivago's lost daughter is working. This banal suggestion that the suffering has all been for the best and that tomorrow will be brighter is not only an insult to the audience, it is a coarse gesture of condescension and appeasement to the Russians. Would Lean and Bolt place a rainbow over the future of England? With Julie Christie, who does have some life as Lara, and Rod Steiger, who brings something powerful, many-sided, and sexual to the role of Komarovsky, and Geraldine Chaplin, Alec Guinness, Tom Courtenay, Siobhan McKenna, Jack MacGowran, Rita Tushingham, Ralph Richardson, Adrienne Corri, Geoffrey Keen, Noel Willman, and Klaus Kinski, with his eyes popping and huge veins bulging out of his forehead, as the nihilist who declares, "I am the only free man on this train." From the novel by Boris Pasternak; cinematography by Freddie Young; production design by the aptly named John Box; produced by Carlo Ponti, for MGM. (193 minutes.)
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Doctors' Wives

US (1971): Drama
100 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

A Jacobean soap opera-bloody surgery is thrown in at regular intervals, like the sex acts in a porny picture. Dyan Cannon plays the husband-poaching chief bitch and she's a great sexpot-tease. How could Mike Frankovich, who produced, and George Schaefer, who directed, and Daniel Taradash, who wrote the script, make the mistake of killing her off in the first reel, leaving us with nothing but Richard Crenna and a troupe of bland surgeons with sexually distraught wives? Sex here is some sort of hysterical affliction that attacks only women. Janice Rule writhes in drug-induced lust; Diana Sands plays her big scene in a see-through blouse; Rachel Roberts, in closeup, confesses to a lesbian affair that began when the seductress removed a cinder from her eye.… The picture is just a major studio (Columbia) making a bid for the skin-flick trade. With John Colicos, Gene Hackman, Carroll O'Connor, Ralph Bellamy, Cara Williams, and Richard Anderson. From Frank G. Slaughter's novel.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

Dodsworth

US (1936): Romance
101 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

While other writers were turning out novels ridiculing American materialism and glorifying the expatriate existence, Sinclair Lewis conceived a businessman-hero and showed him to be a true dreamer, while his culture-mad wife, longing to be enriched by life in Europe, was a foolish horror. Sidney Howard made a play of Lewis's novel, and Walter Huston gave a legendary performance as the hero. He also stars in the movie version, which was produced by Sam Goldwyn with great care and taste; William Wyler is the director. There's only one trouble, really, but it's central: Sidney Howard also did the screenplay, and the movie follows the stage version too closely. It looks programmed and underpopulated, though in an elegantly stylized way. (Rudolph Maté was the cinematographer.) Ruth Chatterton plays the wife; Mary Astor is the woman who appreciates Dodsworth's real value; and the cast includes Maria Ouspenskaya (she's Viennese this time), Paul Lukas, David Niven, Odette Myrtil, Spring Byington, and John Payne.

Dog Day Afternoon

US (1975): Crime
130 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

One of the best "New York" movies ever made. Sidney Lumet directed this fictional re-creation of an unusual bank robbery on a 97-degree day in August, 1972, working from Frank R. Pierson's very fine script. Sonny (Al Pacino), who is trapped in the middle of robbing a bank, with a crowd gathering in the street outside, is a married working-class man; he got into this robbery mess by trying to raise money for his lover Leon (Chris Sarandon) to have a sex-change operation. The most touching element in the film is Sonny's inability to handle all the responsibilities he has assumed. Though he is half-crazed by his situation, he is trying to do the right thing by everybody-his wife and children, the suicidal Leon, the hostages in the bank. In the sequence in which Sonny dictates his will, we can see that inside this bungling robber there's a complicatedly unhappy man, operating out of a sense of noblesse oblige. Pacino has a telephone conversation with Sarandon that by ordinary dramatic standards goes on too long, but this willingness to violate ordinary practice permits the two actors to go further and further emotionally. Lumet keeps so much low comedy and crazy melodrama going on in the bank, on the street, among the police, that he can risk the long, quiet scenes that draw us in. (He doesn't even use a musical track.) Pacino's Sonny, grandstanding to the crowds who cheer him on, brings just the right urban craziness to the situation. The contrast between the small, frightened nutty robbers inside the bank and the huge apparatus of police, F.B.I., and news media outside adds to the lunacy. And Sarandon gives one of the finest homosexual performances ever seen in a movie; he's true to Leon's anguish in a remarkably pure way-he makes no appeal for sympathy. There are structural problems and there are gross, static scenes involving Sonny's relatives, but there are also surprising, wonderful things from such actors as John Cazale, who plays Sonny's partner in the robbery with a despairing burnt-out face, and Charles Durning as a police detective who becomes irascible and begins shouting like Sonny. The cast, which is huge and of highly variable quality, includes Penny Allen, Carol Kane, Gary Springer, James Broderick, Judith Malina, Susan Peretz, and Sully Boyar. (Sonny is based on John Wojtowicz, who was serving a 20-year sentence when the film was released.) Produced by Martin Bregman and Martin Elfand. Warners.

The Dogs of War

UK (1980): War/Adventure
102 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A crisp, tough-minded action film about an international group of mercenaries who stage a coup in a small, decaying West African country run by an Idi Amin-Papa Doc-style despot. The casting of Christopher Walken as Shannon, the leader of the group, gives the film the fuse it needs. Walken, with his pale, flat-faced mask of pain, his glaring eyes and lithe movements, suggests a restless anger. We aren't asked to like the mercenaries, and Shannon kills a spy (set on him by his own employer, who doesn't trust him) in such a horrifying way that we really couldn't like him. But we do want to watch him. This is the first feature film by John Irvin, an English documentarian and TV director ("Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"); he has studied a master-during the actual raid, some of the most feral images are almost direct quotations from Peckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH. With Colin Blakely as a TV journalist who's tenacious about following a story, and Tom Berenger, Paul Freeman, and Jean-François Stevenin. Cinematography by Jack Cardiff; freely adapted from Frederick Forsyth's best-seller by Gary DeVore and George Malko. A Norman Jewison-Patrick Palmer Production; released by United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Don Quixote

France (1935): Drama
73 min, No rating, Black & White

An international artistic collaboration of rather overwhelming proportions: under the direction of G.W. Pabst (a German), the Russian basso Feodor Chaliapin appeared in three different language versions of the Cervantes novel, with three supporting casts. The French version (which is sometimes shown in the U.S.) features Dorville as Sancho Panza; in the English version, George Robey plays the part. The film is not completely satisfying-Jacques Ibert's music is undistinguished and, despite remarkable cinematography and a stunning windmill sequence, the treatment seems rather cold. But if the film fails as DON QUIXOTE it allows us to be in the presence of a great performer who is already a legend. Chaliapin was one of the rare great singers who was also a great actor. (There's a suggestion of John Barrymore in his self-awareness.) He isn't just a singer photographed: the voice is part of the actor's equipment. He's magnificent-a master of gesture who seems born to the camera.

Don't Bother to Knock

US (1952): Thriller
76 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Marilyn Monroe as a psychotic babysitter. She wasn't yet a box-office star, but her unformed-almost blobby-quality is very creepy, and she dominated this melodrama. In other respects, it's standard, though the New York hotel setting helps, and also the young Anne Bancroft, as a singer who works in the hotel. Roy Baker directed fairly efficiently, from Daniel Taradash's screenplay, based on Charlotte Armstrong's novel. With Richard Widmark as the airline-pilot hero, Donna Corcoran, Elisha Cook, Jr., Jim Backus, Don Beddoe, Jeanne Cagney, and Lurene Tuttle. Cinematography by Lucien Ballard. 20th Century-Fox.

Don't Look Now

UK (1973): Mystery
110 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A Daphne du Maurier story of the occult, presented in fast, splintered, almost subliminal imagery. Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland team up wonderfully as parents whose drowned daughter may or may not be sending them messages. The meanings are on a simple Hitchcock level, but the unnerving cold ominousness of the environment (mostly Venice, deserted at the end of the season) says that things are not what they seem. Life is treated as a puzzle and the clues are in references that go by in split seconds. This is the fanciest, most carefully assembled enigma yet put on the screen. Nicolas Roeg is a chillingly chic director; the picture is an example of high-fashion gothic sensibility. It seems to say what Joseph Losey never dared to but what the audience for Losey's films was always responding to: that decay among the rich and beautiful is sexy. Venice, the labyrinthine city of pleasure, with its crumbling, leering gargoyles, is obscurely, frighteningly sensual here, and an early sex sequence with Christie and Sutherland nude in bed, intercut with their post-coital mood as they dress to go out together, has an extraordinary erotic glitter. Dressing is splintered and sensualized, like fear and death. Using Maurier as a base, Roeg comes closer to getting Borges on the screen than those who have tried it directly, but there's a distasteful clamminess about the picture. Roeg's style is in love with disintegration.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

Double Indemnity

US (1944): Crime
106 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Every turn and twist is exactly calculated and achieves its effect with the simplest of means; this shrewd, smoothly tawdry thriller is one of the high points of 40s films. The director, Billy Wilder, collaborated with Raymond Chandler in adapting James M. Cain's story (from his book Three of a Kind), and it's a tribute to them that one is likely to remember the names of the principal characters. Barbara Stanwyck's Phyllis Dietrichson-a platinum blonde who wears tight white sweaters, an anklet, and sleazy-kinky shoes-is perhaps the best acted and the most fixating of all the slutty, cold-blooded femmes fatales of the film noir genre. With her bold stare, her sneering, over-lipsticked, thick-looking mouth, and her strategically displayed legs, she's a living entrapment device. Fred MacMurray's Walter Neff, an insurance salesman, is the patsy she ensnares in a plot to kill her businessman-husband and collect on the double-indemnity clause in his policy; MacMurray's slightly opaque, regular-guy, macho Americanness is perfectly used here (he has never had better audience empathy). And as Keyes, the claims investigator for the insurance company, Edward G. Robinson handles his sympathetic role with an easy mastery that gives the film some realistic underpinnings. It needs them, because despite the fine use of realistic sets-a cheerless middle-class home, a supermarket, offices-Chandler's dialogue is in his heightened laconic mode, and the narration (Walter Neff tells the story) is often so gaudy and terse that it seems an emblem of 40s hardboiled attitudes. This defect may be integral to the film's taut structure. Another, lesser defect isn't: except for the three stars, the cast is just barely adequate. With Jean Heather, Porter Hall, Tom Powers, Byron Barr, Richard Gaines, and Fortunio Bonanova. Art direction by Hans Dreier and Hal Pereira; cinematography by John Seitz; score by Miklós Rózsa. Paramount.

A Double Life

US (1947): Crime
104 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

The Ruth Gordon-Garson Kanin script takes off from the professional hazard of actors: living their parts offstage. Usually this hazard is treated satirically, but the Kanins do it in a souped-up, portentously melodramatic version. Ronald Colman is the actor who starts hearing bells in his ears and loud keening noises during his run in Othello. His friends stare at him, puzzled, until after he has smothered a harmless blond waitress (Shelley Winters) and tried to kill a press agent (Edmond O'Brien) whom he suspects of having designs on his Desdemona-his actress wife, played by Signe Hasso. Colman is not at his best, and the role of Othello is so far out of his range that he's gentlemanly and dispassionate when he means to be fiery hot, but he got the Academy Award for Best Actor, anyway. The theatrical milieu doesn't help this picture much, though the theatre scenes were shot in the famous Empire, which was demolished in 1953. George Cukor directed; with Millard Mitchell, Philip Loeb, Ray Collins, Fay Kanin, and Frederic Worlock. Music by Miklós Rózsa. Universal.

Down and Out in Beverly Hills

US (1986): Comedy
103 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Jokes you can't explain may be the best kind, and the director Paul Mazursky is a master of them. When he gets rolling here, you're not responding to single jokes-it's the whole gestalt of the movie that's funny. Taking off from Renoir's 1931 film BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING (which was based on a play by René Fauchois), Mazursky and his writing partner, Leon Capetanos, set you down in a bastion of the new rich, and the cinematographer, Don McAlpine, gives you a vision of the sensuousness of money wrapped in sunshine. Nick Nolte plays the shaggy, smelly drifter who attempts suicide and is rescued by a self-made millionaire (Richard Dreyfuss). Taken into the millionaire's guest cabaña, the bum is decked out in silk lounging robes; he's soon lord of the sunshine manor. Lean now, Dreyfuss is more precise and agile than he used to be, and he uses his slightness for comic effects vis-à-vis the deep-voiced Nolte, who towers over him. As Dreyfuss's creamy-skinned, pampered wife, Bette Midler is more seductive than in her earlier screen roles, and she has a warped charm rather like that of Teri Garr, but riper, juicier; she trots through the halls of her mansion jiggling in her frilly dresses and making tippy-taps with her high heels. Her eyes are pixilated; she's ready for anything. As a record-producer neighbor, Little Richard uses the maniacal energy that went into his singing; he has a bursting presence-you look at him and laugh. Peppy and pleasurable, this is one of the most sheerly beautiful comedies ever shot. Mazursky isn't afraid of uproarious silliness: there are some dizzying slapstick routines that reach their peak when a small black-and-white Border collie takes over. The cast includes Elizabeth Peña as a sulky, hot maid with a bedroom mouth, Tracy Nelson, Evan Richards, Donald F. Muhich as a dog psychiatrist, and Mazursky himself as a curly-haired accountant. Touchstone (Disney).
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Down Argentine Way

US (1940): Musical
90 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

20th Century-Fox 40s-musical camp, so outrageous that it's hard to believe it isn't at least partly intentional-but why would anybody make this picture on purpose? The queen of these excruciating extravaganzas was Alice Faye, but she had become ill, and Betty Grable, a featured player for a decade, got her big chance. Unbelievably, this picture made her a star. With stolid Don Ameche, smiling his pained, hardworking smile, just as he always had for Faye; Charlotte Greenwood, the high-kicker who had seen better days before she started playing chaperones; and Carmen Miranda, the "Brazilian Bombshell" in her manic début. When she stands on her nine-inch heels and sings "Mama Yo Quiero," she is so frenetically irresistible that there's no use trying to fight it, though some people have been hiding under seats for decades. Irving Cummings directed.

Down By Law

US (1986): Comedy
107 min, Rated R, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Jim Jarmusch's follow-up to his 1984 STRANGER THAN PARADISE is also a low-key minimalist comedy about American anomie shot in black-and-white-this time by Robby Müller. The setting is New Orleans, where two deadbeats-Jack, an ineffectual pimp (John Lurie), and Zack, an itinerant disk jockey (Tom Waits)-become the victims of frameups and are put in the same prison cell, where they vegetate in hostile silence. And the moviemaking itself shares in their lethargy; that's what gives the film a cachet of modernism. Everything changes when a little, life-loving Italian, Roberto (Roberto Benigni), is put in with them; the three become pals, grinning and talking together. And, eventually, Roberto devises an escape plan. Jarmusch's passive style has its wit, but the style is deadening here until he brings in Roberto-a character out of folk humor. And without the boredom of the first three-quarters of an hour Roberto wouldn't be so funny. The best scene in the movie is the least characteristic of Jarmusch: it comes almost at the start, when Ellen Barkin, as Zack's girlfriend, throws a tantrum, quiets down, then gets sore again, and-wham-wham-wham!-his possessions land in the street. That's the most active the movie ever gets. With Billie Neal, Nicoletta Braschi, Rockets Redglare, and Vernel Bagneris. The music is by Lurie, the songs are by Waits. An Island Pictures Release.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Down to Earth

US (1947): Musical/Fantasy/Comedy
101 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Celestial-whimsey musical, with arch acting and a dull score. Rita Hayworth is the goddess Terpsichore, who descends from Heaven in order to make a Broadway show called "Swinging the Muses" less offensive and more authentic. This was an attempt to cash in on the box-office success of HERE COMES MR. JORDAN, and it used the same director (Alexander Hall) and some of the same characters-Max Corkle and the Heavenly Messenger, played by the same actors, James Gleason and Edward Everett Horton. Mr. Jordan, a high executive on the Other Side, turns up in it, too, with Roland Culver replacing Claude Rains in the role. Larry Parks is the producer of the offending show; he does his own singing here, which jarred the sensibilities of viewers who had seen him in THE JOLSON STORY, dubbed by Jolson. (His own voice is much less convincingly his.) But it all balances out, since Hayworth's singing is dubbed by Anita Ellis. James Gleason does what he can, but his part is threadbare. With Marc Platt and George Macready. Written by Edwin Blum and Don Hartman. Columbia.

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