Limply raunchy, meaningless picture, with nothing to say about the movies, about love, or about stardom. The moviemakers couldn't come up with any subject but the sex drive of its hero and heroine, who keep hopping on each other like deranged rabbits. One of the most famous quotes in Hollywood history is Lombard's "My God, you know I love Pa, but I can't say he's a hell of a lay." Their love affair must have had a great many things going for it besides sex, but this movie can't imagine what they might be. Barry Sandler wrote the trivializing, falsifying script, and Sidney J. Furie directed, with James Brolin and Jill Clayburgh in the leads, and Allen Garfield, Red Buttons, and Melanie Mayron. Cinematography by Jordan Cronenweth. Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
Ben Hecht's reminiscences and fantasies about his early years as a Chicago newspaperman are marvellous movie material-evocative, good-humored, full of life. The promising subject and not too bad a script (by Abram S. Ginnes) are mostly lost, however, in this overproduced period re-creation, which is only moderately entertaining. The director, Norman Jewison, just doesn't have the feeling for Hecht's Chicago; he uses huge mobs and big locations, and the joyous comedy of our corrupt past is turned into picturesque (non-denominational) Americana-too embellished, overplayed, and almost always off target. As the young Candide-Ben, Beau Bridges has a smiling, engaging presence, and, as the older reporter, Brian Keith is splendid; the best reason to see the picture is for his timing, and for the way he can deliver an epithet like "You quack!" But the scenes of Carl Sandburg reciting a poem and the young hero screaming about political power are really inexcusable. With Melina Mercouri, who, as the madam of a bordello that looks as big as the Ritz, acts like a tempestuous female impersonator, and Hume Cronyn, who is at his worst in a condescending performance as a politician. A noteworthy anachronistic howler: the 1910 demonstrators who gather outside the Chicago Board of Trade carry placards calling for "Love." United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
An exemplary academic film about the waste of war-two young Australian runners, played by (dark-haired) Mel Gibson and (blond) Mark Lee, are slaughtered. (They and other Australians are sacrificed in an ill-conceived First World War maneuver designed to protect the British.) It's an "artistic" film, full of familiar pathos and irony-a tragic buddy-buddy movie directed by Peter Weir. His widescreen staging is very elegant; his weakness is in his habit of stereotyping villains (in this case they're mostly the British). There's also a larger weakness; there's no discernible reason for him to have made the picture except to bring off a "classic." Gibson gives a fresh and impressive performance, but Lee does a very ordinary acting job and his character is much too gallant and good and brave. With Bill Kerr, a fine, bald-headed actor with a great voice, as Uncle Jack, who reads aloud to the children. The script is by David Williamson; the cinematography is by Russell Boyd.
It wants to be a jaunty heist-caper movie, like TOPKAPI, of 1964, but it's of quintessential mediocrity: not hip enough to sustain interest, not dreary enough to walk out on. The opening idea (lifted from Preston Sturges's UNFAITHFULLY YOURS) is promising, but the writers (Jack Davies, Alvin Sargent) and the director (Ronald Neame) kill it. As a cockney thief, Michael Caine, still new to movies, isn't secure enough to waltz through. And as his Eurasian confederate, Shirley MacLaine needs help-she can't keep her timing from slipping. With Herbert Lom (the cut-rate Charles Boyer of so many English melodramas) as the potentate to be robbed, and John Abbott and Arnold Moss. Universal.
The gambler here is a brilliant young Jewish prince, professor of literature to ghetto blacks, and potential great novelist. The conflicts in his psyche are spelled out in his discussions of will and Dostoevski with his students at City University. He's as flamboyantly superior as Norman Mailer's Rojack, and the prevailing tone of the film is Mailerian dread, abetted by Jerry Fielding's elegantly oppressive score, based on Mahler's Symphony No. 1. The script, by James Toback, is a grandiloquent, egocentric novel written as a film; it spells everything out, and the director Karel Reisz's literal-minded, proficient style calls attention to how airless and schematic it is. The big difference between Robert Altman's gambling film CALIFORNIA SPLIT and this one is not just that Altman's allusiveness is vastly entertaining while THE GAMBLER seeks to impress us, but that CALIFORNIA SPLIT invites us into the world of its characters, while THE GAMBLER hands us a wrapped package and closes us out. In BAY OF THE ANGELS, as in CALIFORNIA SPLIT, we shared in the highs and lows of gambling; for those of us who aren't gamblers it was a heady sensation, like entering a foreign culture. Here, we're trapped at a maniacal lecture on gambling as existential expression. The picture isn't at all dull, though-it has a self-conscious flash. As the hero, James Caan stays clenched, the bit in his teeth; it's a commanding performance but not a convincing one. With Lauren Hutton, Burt Young, Morris Carnovsky, Jacqueline Brookes, and Paul Sorvino. Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.
Claude Autant-Lara's film version of the Colette story treats the theme with beautiful simplicity. The 16-year-old boy (Pierre-Michel Beck) and the 15-year-old girl (Nicole Berger) are disturbed by the emotions and impulses developing in them; it isn't until the boy is initiated by an older woman (Edwige Feuillère) that the two adolescents get together-he passes on what he has learned. Feuillère conveys the painful and degrading position of the older woman with infinite tact (though not to the reviewer of one newspaper, who described her as a black widow spider searching for prey). In French.
A Manhattan-set thriller, with James Caan as a cold-blooded, fortune-hunter husband, Katharine Ross as his rich, bewildered wife, and Simone Signoret as a mysterious woman in black, fond of gazing into her crystal ball. Corpses are encased in plaster to resemble sculpture by George Segal, and the ambiance is meant to be chic and modern, but the story is uninvolving, the plot twists don't do as much for us as they need to, and Curtis Harrington's directing lacks pace. This tedious movie is handsomely got up, however, and the good cast includes Don Stroud, Estelle Winwood, George Furth, Florence Marly, and Kent Smith. The script is by Gene Kearney; the cinematography is by William Fraker; the music is by Samuel Matlovsky. Universal.
Philippe de Broca's wayward, featherweight comedy, one of the rare carefree films that came out of the early French New Wave, and blessedly trivial. Geneviève Cluny, who provided the story idea, is the girl who wants to get married; the spinning, dancing actor Jean-Pierre Cassel is the man trying to keep his freedom. They're so frivolous that at first they appear almost ridiculous, but they know how to seize the joys of the world about them, and in their hands small pleasures come to seem enormous. De Broca's style has a choreographic bounce, and the film is full of surprises and casual incongruities. With Jean-Louis Maury as the slavishly proper friend of the "family," and Claude Chabrol in a bit part. (This is the film that Godard used as the basis for A WOMAN IS A WOMAN, but the original has more charm.) In French.
A biographical epic, directed by Richard Attenborough, whose sensibility is conventional. Spanning 55 years, the picture covers some of the principal events in Mohandas Kaharamchand Gandhi's public life and tidies up his rather kinky domestic relations. Gandhi goes by in a cloud of serenity, and everyone who sees him knuckles under (with the exception of a few misguided fellows, of course). Ben Kingsley, who plays the Mahatma, looks the part, has a fine, quiet presence, and conveys Gandhi's shrewdness. Kingsley is impressive; the picture isn't. The first half builds up considerable interest in Gandhi; the second half is scattered-as if it had been added to or subtracted from at random. And Kingsley can't give his role a core, because it has been written completely from the outside. A viewer's reaction: "I felt as if I had attended the funeral of someone I didn't know." From a script by John Briley. With Edward Fox, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, Martin Sheen, John Mills, Ian Charleson, Candice Bergen, Ian Bannen, John Clements, Sir Michael Hordern, Richard Griffiths, and with Rohini Hattangady as Kasturba Gandhi, Athol Fugard as General Smuts, Saeed Jaffrey as Sardar Patel, Geraldine James as Mirabehn, Alyque Padamsee as Mohamed Ali Jinnah, and Roshan Seth as Pandit Nehru. (3 hours and 8 minutes.) Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Kingsley), Original Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing. Released by Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
When farce isn't expertly played and directed, it becomes just stupid, and that's what happens to this Mafia farce, from the Jimmy Breslin book. Lionel Stander, Jo Van Fleet, and Jerry Orbach are among the clownish crooks who are impaled by the camera; molestable Leigh Taylor-Young and the buoyant (and very funny) Robert De Niro are the romantic leads. Directed by James Goldstone; the script is by Waldo Salt. Also with Hervé Villechaize and Joe Santos. MGM.
Busby Berkeley's own special brand of kaleidoscopic fantasy, turned into psychedelic surrealism by the electric reds and greens of 20th Century-Fox's color processing. Those who consider Berkeley a master consider this film his masterpiece. It is his maddest film: chorus girls dissolve into artichokes; there's a banana xylophone; and, for the song "The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat," Carmen Miranda appears in platform wedgies on an avenue of giant strawberries. Alice Faye sings the torch song "No Love, No Nothing," and also introduces the "Polka-Dot Polka" ballet, which, as a piece of staging, passes description. With Benny Goodman and his orchestra, and Charlotte Greenwood, James Ellison, Edward Everett Horton, Sheila Ryan, Eugene Pallette, and Phil Baker. The songs are by Leo Robin and Harry Warren, except that polka, which is David Raksin's. Screenplay by Walter Bullock, from a story concocted by three other fellows.
S.S. Van Dine's supersleuth Philo Vance (Edmund Lowe) is called in when a man is killed during a steeplechase. William Powell was a more amusing Philo Vance earlier in the series, but the backup actors are the same here-Nat Pendleton as the lummox Heath, and Etienne Girardot as the minuscule coroner, Dr. Doremus. Not much stays in the mind from this one except Frieda Inescort being pushed from a double-decker bus. Virginia Bruce and Benita Hume are as lovely as ever. Directed by Edwin L. Marin. MGM.
Heavenly romantic kitsch, panting with eternal love, a moment's happiness, and spiritual anguish. Marlene Dietrich is the lonely, rich Domini, dressed in swirling chiffon as she seeks truth in the African desert. She meets Charles Boyer (whose eyes have never been darker or more liquid) and marries him. Then, right at the purple start of their desert honeymoon, his conscience and a Trappist liqueur combine to ruin everything, for he is a Trappist monk who has bolted the monastery and violated his vow of silence. Back he must go to repent. Taken from Robert Hichens's old squash pie of a novel, it's the juiciest tale of woe ever, and David O. Selznick produced it in poshly lurid color, with a Max Steiner score poured on top. Richard Boleslawski directed; with Tilly Losch, who has a wild minute as an entertainer in an Algerian hot spot, and Basil Rathbone, John Carradine, Joseph Schildkraut, C. Aubrey Smith, and Lucile Watson. Just about perfection of its insanely goopy type. Adapted by W.P. Lipscomb and Lynn Riggs. Released through United Artists.
Carlos Saura's comedy about upper-middle-class greed is the story of an amnesiac industrialist (J.L. López Vásquez) whose relatives act out grotesque psychodramas from his childhood, trying to shock him into remembering and telling them the number of his Swiss bank account. The film is elegant in a dark, heavy-lidded sort of way, but Saura has a maddening habit of cutting away from a sequence just when we've got interested in where it's going, and the film lacks impetus. Saura works in a sedate, measured style; he isn't an instinctual Surrealist, and, given the nature and drive of Surrealism, that's the only authentic kind. He's an academic Surrealist: his images don't come from the hidden and unadmitted-they're impeccably planned to be Surreal. There's one brief gloriously redemptive sequence: when the voluptuous Lina Canalejas enters the industrialist's Art Deco bedroom, opens the French windows, and lets the breeze waft through the curtains and her chiffon gown, the film has a trace of magical reminiscence-she brings back all the sexy, elusive movie stars who ever wafted through our imaginations. Written by Rafael Azcona and Saura. In Spanish.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
Vittorio De Sica's lyric evocation of a vanished group of people (the cultivated, aristocratic Jewish-Italian landowners) and a vanished mood. Based on Giorgio Bassani's semi-autobiographical novel, the film records how Giorgio, a middle-class outsider (Lino Capolicchio), is drawn into the decaying, enchanted world of the Finzi-Continis by the imperious, contrary Micòl (Dominique Sanda); she and her languid brother (Helmut Berger) are spoiled, beautiful people without the will to save themselves. This extraordinary film, with its melancholy glamour, is perhaps the only one that records the halfhearted anti-Jewish measures of the Mussolini period-which were, however, sufficient to wipe out the Finzi-Continis and all they represented. In Italian.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
The period of this Francis Coppola film is 1968 and 1969, and the title refers to Arlington National Cemetery; most of the characters serve in the Old Guard, the Army's official ceremonial unit, and take part in the burials of up to 15 young men a day. The film is far from being a seamless work of art, but it probably comes closer to the confused attitudes that Americans had toward the Vietnam war than any other film has come, and so its messiness seems honorable. James Caan gives a sturdy, hypermasculine performance as the sergeant who loves the Army but doesn't believe the war can be won. The movie is too wet when it deals with his fatherly efforts to wise up an eager, gullible young trainee (D.B. Sweeney), but when Caan and James Earl Jones, as the sergeant major who's his best friend, express their profane disgust with the war and the Army bureaucracy they're great together, overacting joyously. (Jones' strange gray eyes have a dancing wit.) Coppola stages some terrific scenes. When the sergeant is giving a dinner party to impress the woman he has just met, a Washington Post reporter (played by Anjelica Huston), and the sergeant major is there with his steady woman friend, a senator's aide (played by Lonette McKee), the conversational crosscurrents are explosively funny. At other times, the film is pulpy, and its energies are dispersed. With the magical, humorous Dean Stockwell, and Mary Stuart Masterson, Dick Anthony Williams, Casey Siemaszko, and, in a scene that's an embarrassment, Bill Graham. The screenplay, by Ronald Bass, was adapted from Nicholas Proffitt's novel; cinematography by Jordan Cronenweth. Tri-Star.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
Ingrid Bergman is the cherubic bride who is terrorized by the grisly, dirty tricks of her husband, Charles Boyer. She runs the gamut from antimacassar to antimacassar, and it's good scary fun all the way (with a prize at the end-the Academy Award for Best Actress). This pseudo-Victorian thriller is rather more enjoyable than one might expect, and Bergman is, intermittently, genuinely moving. (Though at times you may suspect that she is feeling rather than acting, her hysteria in the musicale sequence is a good demonstration of how hard it sometimes is to tell the difference.) Boyer is expert, and the cast includes Joseph Cotten, Dame May Whitty, and Angela Lansbury (only in her teens, but you couldn't guess it). Patrick Hamilton's play has been toned up with smooth dialogue by John van Druten, Walter Reisch, and John Balderston, and the full-dress production is directed by George Cukor. When you watch a picture like this one, you're so aware of how expensively careful it is that you can't help being a little impressed and maybe more than a little depressed. (In this case, the expense included the cost of suppressing the 1940 English version by Thorold Dickinson, with Diana Wynyard and Anton Walbrook.) MGM.
Famed for its use of color, this exquisitely stylized tragedy of passion tells a subtle story (which resembles The Rape of Lucrece) of a warrior's desire for a married noblewoman and her way of defeating him. It's as if the director, Teinosuke Kinugasa, had read those critics who compare every Japanese movie to a Japanese print and had decided to give them more pictorial effects than they could handle-delicately choreographed battles, the flow and texture of garments, and everywhere grace of movement and composition. The setting is 12th-century Kyoto, where the abstract patterns of interiors and architecture suggest that modern decor has a long way to go to catch up with medieval Japan. With Machiko Kyo as the Lady Kesa and Kazuo Hasegawa as the demonic warrior Moritoh. In Japanese.
An easygoing idler (Pierre Brasseur) lives off his mother and whiles away his time with drink; suddenly, he is a reformed man, busy and self-important-he has found a purpose in life. The purpose is hiding a gangster-killer (Henri Vidal) from the police. René Clair's small, ironic film is set in an ancient quarter of Paris; it's almost a reverie on loneliness, and it's rather languorous, but the change in Brasseur is entertaining, and there's one marvellous scene, in which the children in the street outside the hideout re-enact a crime at the same time that it's of central importance inside. With the popular French singer Georges Brassens, Dany Carrel, and Raymond Bussières. Written by Clair and Jean Aurel, from René Fallet's novel La Grande Ceinture. In French.
Clint Eastwood, as a slow-witted cop, and Sondra Locke, as the fast-witted hooker he's bringing back from Las Vegas to testify in a trial in Phoenix, are always in movement. They use a police car, a motorcycle, a train, a bus. A mere whisper of a plot serves as a pretext for shoot-'em-ups with thousands of rounds of ammunition going into whatever buildings or vehicles the cop and the hooker are in or on. At times the whole world seems to be firing at them; buildings and cars are turned to lace. You look at the screen even though there's nothing to occupy your mind-the way you sometimes sit in front of the TV, numbly, because you can't rouse yourself for the effort it takes to go to bed. Eastwood directed; the script is by Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack. With Pat Hingle and William Prince. A Malpaso Production, for Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
Rouben Mamoulian was in a playful kooky mood when he put together this satirical farce that's also a parody of an operetta. Leo Carrillo is the Mexican bandit chief who's enraptured by the racketeering methods he sees in American movies; soon, his men are doing their damnedest to behave like Chicago mobsters. The movie kids the clichés of several genres. The chief is a music-lover, and he kidnaps a tenor (Nino Martini) to sing to him. This has the unfortunate result of forcing us to listen to some over-familiar arias and a song, "The World Is Mine Tonight," that's particularly hard to take. Luckily the tenor becomes romantically involved with a gang hostage, who is played with great zest by the young Ida Lupino. This deliberately artificial comedy was shot on stylized "picturesque" sets that feature giant cacti, giant sombreros, and archways and cathedrals-it's all a takeoff of Eisenstein's Mexican footage. (Peons pose in ponchos.) The pacing is often too slow for the silly, semi-surreal jokes, but there are a lot of compensations. With Mischa Auer, Harold Huber, Stanley Fields, James Blakeley, Paul Hurst, Frank Puglia, and Chris-Pin Martin. The script by Wallace Smith is based on a story by Leo Birinski; the cinematography is by Lucien Andriot. Produced by Pickford-Lasky.
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers appeared together in FLYING DOWN TO RIO in 1933, but this was their first co-starring film. The plot is trivial French farce (about mistaken identities), but the dances are among the wittiest and the most lyrical expressions of American romanticism on the screen. It may be accurate to say that no one who saw them do "The Continental" or watched the great, tense, seductive dance they perform to Cole Porter's "Night and Day" has ever quite forgotten THE GAY DIVORCEE-even if he thinks he has. With Alice Brady, Edward Everett Horton, Eric Blore, Erik Rhodes, E.E. Clive, Lillian Miles, Paul Porcasi, and Betty Grable-a cuddly pixie in satin pajamas dancing "Let's K-nock K-neez." Directed by Mark Sandrich; adapted from the stage musical The Gay Divorce. RKO.
One of Buster Keaton's most celebrated comedies. It's a classic and many people swear by it, although it isn't funny in the freely inventive way of his STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. (1928). Its humor is too drawn out for laughter. And yet it has a beauty: it has the shape of comedy. The time is the Civil War. Keaton plays a shy railroad engineer on a steam engine called The General. He wrote the script and directed, in collaboration with Clyde Bruckman. The girl is Marion Mack. Silent.
Vittorio De Sica has perhaps his greatest role in this otherwise mediocre film, directed by Roberto Rossellini. It is set in Genoa in 1943. De Sica is a small-time swindler with a classic con man's grand manner; the Germans induce him to impersonate a Resistance general whom they have inadvertently shot, and send him to a political prison, where he is supposed to ferret out information for them. But the petty, self-loathing crook, experiencing for the first time the respect and admiration-even the awe-of other men, becomes as courageous as the fighter he impersonates. The mask has molded the man, and the Nazis must destroy their own creation. De Sica is superb; we watch his evolution from worm to Il Generale with utter astonishment and delight. At its most original, the film is a shockingly funny black comedy: the con man, battered and bleeding from torture, weeps sentimentally over a photograph of the real Generale's children-a scene as excruciatingly comic as the surreal torture scenes in Bend Sinister, Nabokov's novel about the Nazis. But this film, made on a slender budget and shot and edited in six weeks, is-surprisingly-too long; the director doesn't seem to have discovered his best material until it was too late to pull the story together. The compositions, the groupings of actors, the ideas, and the milieu are like a reprise of the neo-realist OPEN CITY (1945). The rawness and immediacy are gone, though; the faces are actorish, and the sets are obviously sets. With Hannes Messemer, Sandra Milo, Giovanna Ralli, Anne Vernon. From a script by Sergio Amidei, Diego Fabbri, Indro Montanelli, and Rossellini. In Italian.
Genevieve is a venerable motor vehicle, a 1904 Darracq; this English film is a venerable little vehicle in its own right. John Gregson and Dinah Sheridan race the Darracq against Kenneth More and Kay Kendall in a 1904 Spyker. That the two men should be testing their masculine prowess in these antiques gives the comedy a double edge. Kenneth More is wonderfully smug and infuriating as an advertising man; Kay Kendall had perhaps her happiest (and most irresistible) role as the trumpet-playing model. Written by William Rose, directed by Henry Cornelius, harmonica music by Larry Adler, cinematography by Christopher Challis. Also with Joyce Grenfell and Geoffrey Keen. Everything about this movie seems to go right, and it looks relaxed and effortless.
As the young James J. Corbett, a chipper showoff bank clerk in San Francisco who's loyal to his family and friends, Errol Flynn plays in the quick-witted, cool, and cocky style that he was best at. Narrow-hipped and long-legged, he's fast on his feet; he looks as if he might be able to lick his opponents, or, at least, outdance them. The film, which covers Corbett's transition from amateur boxer to professional, is well paced and has considerable charm, though the Corbett clan, headed by Alan Hale as Jim's father, is Warners lovable Irish, with hot tempers and wobbly brogues. As a young society woman who develops a love-hate relationship with Jim, Alexis Smith wears her hair in a thick roll swept up from her forehead, and goofy high hats; she looks like a ship in full sail, but she's quite entertaining. With Ward Bond, as the magnetic John L. Sullivan, and Jack Carson, William Frawley, John Loder, Rhys Williams, Madeleine LeBeau, and Lon McAllister. Directed by Raoul Walsh; one of the scriptwriters was Horace McCoy. (The film straightens out Corbett's life-his marriages have been divided by three.)