How a black prizefighter (James Earl Jones) is brought down because of white men's fear of the strength of blacks. Martin Ritt's big, noisy production clunks along like a disjointed play; it defeats Jones, and along the way it also inadvertently exposes the clobber-them-with-guilt tactics of the dramatist, Howard Sackler. When it was done on the stage did audiences really accept the beware-the-ides-of-March doom crier and the rag-doll-Ophelia finish of the heroine? In the movie, all this grandiosity makes you squirm. Based on the life of Jack Johnson (called Jack Jefferson here). With Jane Alexander and Lou Gilbert. 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
William Powell plays Ziegfeld, and the two Mrs. Ziegfelds are played by Myrna Loy, as Billie Burke, and Luise Rainer, as Anna Held. Fanny Brice is herself, though she isn't on screen enough to vitalize this lavish, tedious musical biography; it goes on for a whopping 3 hours, but through some insane editing decision she's cut off in the middle of singing "My Man." Inexplicably, this thing won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and Rainer, who did her heartbreak specialty-smiling through tears and looking irresistibly fragile-was given the Best Actress award. With Ray Bolger, who has a few redemptive moments, and Gilda Gray, Harriet Hoctor, Frank Morgan, Reginald Owen, William Demarest, Leon Errol, Stanley Morner (who became the singing star Dennis Morgan, though here his "Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" is dubbed by Allan Jones), and Virginia Bruce, who gets glorified to the tune of "You Never Looked So Beautiful Before." Directed by Robert Z. Leonard, from a script by William Anthony McGuire, who had worked for Ziegfeld, as had the set designer, John Harkrider, and the choreographer, Seymour Felix. Produced by Hunt Stromberg, for MGM.
Lillian Gish has said that she can't remember working on this one, and probably D.W. Griffith wanted to forget it, too. The rural surroundings are lovely, but the story is about Miss Gish's being saved from rape, with Robert Harron coming to the rescue this time, and there are also a mother communicating with her son after his death, a ghost appearing at midnight in answer to a prayer, and, as the capper, the discovery of oil-provided by a kind Lord. Griffith seems to have got into this potboiling mess because of the interest in spiritualism that Sir Oliver Lodge had just stirred up. Silent.
A huge, mawkish, trite circus movie directed by Cecil B. De Mille in a neo-Biblical style. It suggests that the rivalry and love affairs of a couple of trapeze artists (Betty Hutton and Cornel Wilde), an assistant (Gloria Grahame) to an elephant trainer, the circus manager (Charlton Heston), and a clown (James Stewart) are awesome. Life under this particular big top is also awesomely clean and awesomely melodramatic; Stewart isn't just a clown-he's a doctor who has disguised himself as a clown. Also with Dorothy Lamour, Lyle Bettger, Henry Wilcoxon, Lawrence Tierney, Emmett Kelly, and John Ringling North. This cornball enterprise won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Paramount.
An enormously likable sophisticated comedy about three gold-diggers, played by Madge Evans, Joan Blondell, and the great sophisticate herself-Ina Claire. This is one of the few movies in which she was able to show some of the tricky high style that made her the most fashionable stage comedienne of her time. The three actresses play contrasting types: Madge Evans is the elegant and tasteful one; Joan Blondell is, of course, good-humored and wisecracking; and Ina Claire is naughty and determined-she sets out to tantalize a man by going out in a fur coat with nothing worn under it. With David Manners, and Lowell Sherman, who also directed. Sidney Howard wrote the adaptation of Zoë Akins' play, The Greeks Had a Word for It. Produced by Samuel Goldwyn, for United Artists.
The actors in this stupefyingly flimsy epic seem to be in competition for booby prizes. Richard Hart is the New Zealander who gets stewed and doesn't remember whether the girl who took his fancy on an island off the Newfoundland coast was named Marianne or Marguerite. He writes to Marianne (Lana Turner), proposing marriage, although it was her sister, Marguerite (Donna Reed), he wanted; when Marianne arrives he marries her, and Marguerite, naturally upset, hies off to a nunnery. The married couple raise sheep, reproduce, go through a fierce earthquake, and almost get killed when the Maoris go on an anti-Caucasian rampage; fortunately the couple have an influential pal (Van Heflin) who sees to it that the aborigines keep their distance. Adapted from a piece of unleavened dough kneaded into a best-selling novel by Elizabeth Goudge, and directed by Victor Saville, from Samson Raphaelson's script. Also with Edmund Gwenn. MGM.
Alastair Sim, as Inspector Cockrill of Scotland Yard, uses humor, ingenuity, and skill to solve a batch of murders among a group of doctors and nurses. This suspense comedy is almost a classic of its pleasant, minor genre: you meet the characters, learn that one of them is going to kill two of the others, and you spend an hour and a half guessing. The director, Sidney Gilliat, shows a neat light touch. With Trevor Howard, Leo Genn, Rosamund John, and Sally Gray. From Christianna Brand's novel, adapted by Gilliat and Claude Guerney; produced by Launder and Gilliat.
An inspirational movie, based on a Lloyd C. Douglas novel. As a man of God, Cedric Hardwicke wears white hair and pious expressions; he dominates the film by the sheer awfulness of his performance. The hero, Errol Flynn, is so noble that only Anita Louise could play opposite him. (Nobody else would look pure enough.) He's a doctor who is inspired by the spirituality of a dying patient (Spring Byington); he risks everything to develop a serum to combat spotted fever. The director, Frank Borzage, actually got by with this sickly uplift. With Margaret Lindsay, Henry O'Neill, Walter Abel, and Erin O'Brien-Moore. The script is by Milton Krims; the music is by Max Steiner. Hal B. Wallis produced, for Cosmopolitan Productions; released by Warners.
Alastair Sim is so limpid of eye, so arch in speech, and so gentle, unctuous, and tragic of demeanor, that he suggests the modern epitome of agonized courtesy: the undertaker. In this macabre farce, he is cast just one jump away: as an assassin with the soul of an aesthete. It's unlikely that anybody in the history of movies has ever matched Sim's peculiar feat of flipping expressions from benign innocence to bloodcurdling menace in one devastating instant. As the assassin, he dispatches an assortment of expendable types: headmasters, businessmen, dictators, et al., but gets snarled up while trying to liquidate a distasteful cabinet minister. The picture isn't genteel: it has the virtues of English comedy combined with the more energetic style of satirical American comedy-it makes you laugh out loud. With George Cole, Terry-Thomas, Jill Adams, Dora Bryan, Raymond Huntley, and a string trio of ladies right out of a George Price cartoon. Written by the producers, Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, from their play, Meet a Body; directed by Robert Day.
The Angel Gabriel calls, "Gangway for de Lawd God Jehovah!" and then, more humbly, "Ten cent seegar, Lawd?" In this pop-folk fantasy of the Old Testament stories as a Negro child in the South (of an earlier period) might imagine them, Southern idiom, delicious fish fries, and naďve theology are fused with awe and wonder. Marc Connelly's adaptation of Roark Bradford's stories was perhaps the most famous and most popular of Negro stage productions; the screen version (which was also successful) was directed by William Keighley and Connelly, with Rex Ingram as De Lawd, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, and Oscar Polk; the music is by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Warners.
William Powell again as Philo Vance, in the second of the films based on S.S. Van Dine mysteries; it's tolerably enjoyable, which puts it way ahead of the book (published in 1928). The Greenes are an unlucky, hateful family who live in a big mansion on the East River; despite Philo Vance's best efforts, there are fewer of them at the end of the picture than there were at the start. With Jean Arthur, Florence Eldridge, Eugene Pallette, E.H. Calvert, Gertrude Norman, Ullrich Haupt, Lowell Drew, Brandon Hurst, and Shep Camp. Directed by Frank Tuttle; the writers were Louise Long, Bartlett Cormack, and Richard H. Digges. Paramount.
A pleasantly tawdry mixture of an underground film, a skin-flick, and a college revue, with a draft-evader hero and good-humored, casually obscene performances from a whole gallery of talented actors, including Robert De Niro, Jonathan Warden, Gerrit Graham, and Allen Garfield. Directed, edited, and co-written by Brian De Palma, who made it on a shoestring of less than $40,000, and in color. The other writer was Charles Hirsch, who was also the producer; cinematography by Robert Fiore.
The director Joe Dante has the sensibility of a freaked-out greeting-card poet. This whimsical pop shocker is set in a sleepy small town at Christmastime. The hero Billy (Zach Galligan), a young bank teller, is given a mogwai-a tiny creature who nests in a box and makes gentle cooing sounds; when the instructions that Billy is given for its care are inadvertently disobeyed, the mogwai multiplies, and its progeny turn into greedy, demonic little gargoyles. The picture is a black humorist's parody of Steven Spielberg's E.T.-a demonstration that the underside of E.T. is like the monster in Ridley Scott's ALIEN. Billy's mogwai is a good child; the other mogwai are its aggressively vulgar, beer-guzzling brothers-children of the night. When one of them blows his snout on a drape, he's like Jean Renoir's Boudu expressing his contempt for bourgeois life by wiping his shoes on a bedspread. These demons are like bad pets making messes. The movie never comes together, but Dante is a genuine eccentric talent with a flair for malice, and it's certainly clear why Spielberg, whose production company made the film, believes in him-there are some crack sequences. At one point the lewd hipster dragons take over the town movie theatre, where SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS is playing; they pad up and down the aisles, eating, laughing, tearing up the place. And when the Seven Dwarfs on the screen start to sing "Heigh-Ho," they join in the singing. In their enthusiasm, they spin around on the projectors, and rip the screen to shreds. It's a delirious, kitschy travesty-a kiddy matinée in Hell. With Frances Lee McCain as Billy's mother, Polly Holliday as the town's Wicked Witch-Scrooge, Dick Miller as the town drunk, and Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Keye Luke, Glynn Turman, Judge Reinhold, Edward Andrews, and Chuck Jones as Mr. Jones. Written by Chris Columbus; the critters were designed by Chris Walas. (A sequel, GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH, was released in 1990.) Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.
The story of a legendary gentleman bandit, Bill Miner (Richard Farnsworth), who served 33 years in San Quentin for robbing stagecoaches and then, when he got out, took up robbing trains. There may never have been photographs of trains more exultant than the shots here of the old Northern Pacific steaming through mountain forests. This first feature, directed by the Canadian Phillip Borsos at 27, after a number of highly regarded documentaries, has spectacular work by the British cinematographer Frank Tidy; the images are dense and ceremonious, and the picture has the most lovingly photographed rain since MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER. Farnsworth is a superb camera subject, with a lulling sexual presence, and he and Jackie Burroughs, who plays a red-haired suffragette, do some highly photogenic flirting. The movie is like the book Wisconsin Death Trip with a romantic bandit at its center. Robbery here is the only honorable profession for a man with Bill Miner's courtliness and sense of style. Borsos appears to have a dandy's approach to crime and social injustice, but he's an inspired image-maker, and the film manages to be an art Western without making you hate it. Based on a script by John Hunter that stays fairly close to the historical accounts and leaves a lot of gaps-we never find out how Miner, who'd been in prison most of his life, became a civilized, sensitive man and a lover who admired a flamboyant, free-thinking woman. With Wayne Robson as the little boozer Shorty.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.
The director Hugh Hudson brings his unique mixture of pomposity and ineptitude to this expensively mounted version of the Edgar Rice Burroughs material. The first half, in the jungle, is fairly absorbing; the actors playing the apes are very well made up (so that each has distinguishing features), and they comport themselves convincingly. But it's unlikely that anyone will ever congratulate Hudson for seamless moviemaking. When he sets something up, chances are there won't be any follow-through. Men who look like villains appear and are never seen again; the hero is given portentous advice that never has any application. After a while you lose that sense of expectation which is one of the glories of big adventure films. And Hudson has his child Tarzan experiencing so much physical torment and humiliation-the apes are constantly batting him around-that young kids are likely to be horrified. From infancy to adulthood, this Tarzan is more sufferer than hero. The young Frenchman Christopher Lambert, who plays the adult, has a fine physique-muscular yet graceful-but he's a charmless, unmagnetic Tarzan; he's never allowed to be playful. The only performer who clearly enjoys himself is that old prankster, Ralph Richardson, in his last screen appearance, as Tarzan's grandfather, Lord Greystoke; he comes up with one emotional flourish after another. In the film's second half, Hudson twists the story into knots in order to deliver his "statement" that apes are more civilized than people; the movie simply loses its mind, and dribbles to a pathetically indecisive conclusion. Andie MacDowell is a softly enticing Jane, and Nigel Davenport makes a strong visual impression as a gun-happy British major. Also with Ian Holm, James Fox, Ian Charleson, Paul Geoffrey, and Cheryl Campbell. The first script, by Robert Towne, was trimmed and rewritten by Michael Austin. (Towne uses a pseudonym in the credits-P.H. Vazak, the kennel name of the dog he loved, who died.) The cinematography is by John Alcott. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.
Inoffensively scatological revue, lampooning TV, Kubrick's 2001, and American culture. About half of the grungy, manic skits are very funny; the others might have been funny, too, if their timing had been better. At the end, the talented director and star, Ken Shapiro, does a lovely, flaked-out dance through rush-hour crowds along Park Avenue. With Chevy Chase, Richard Belzer, Buzzy Linhart, Christine Nazareth; and Lane Sarasohn, who also wrote the material, with Shapiro; animation by Linda Taylor and Pat O'Neill. Made for $400,000; it started as a video-theatre entertainment.
Sidney Lumet turns Mary McCarthy's novel about the Vassar girls of '33 into a carelessly busy, likable, energetic film. In the big cast are Joan Hackett, Shirley Knight, Joanna Pettet, Elizabeth Hartman, Candice Bergen, Kathleen Widdoes, Mary-Robin Redd, Carrie Nye, Jessica Walter, James Broderick, Larry Hagman, Richard Mulligan, Robert Emhardt, and Hal Holbrook. The script is by Sidney Buchman; cinematography by Boris Kaufman. United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
The baby rock-band molls here are a spooky bunch of junior hookers and hardened name-droppers. Because of their extreme youth, brazen parasitism, and specialized shallowness, they're fascinating; they're gutsy little girls, but like all hangers-on, they're depressing. The subject is so good that this documentary holds one's speculative interest even though the crew didn't bring much skill or depth to the project. Directed by Ron Dorfman and Peter Nevard.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
More like a photographed play than a movie adaptation, but a memento of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne at work; they appear to be having a wonderful time mugging and grinning. They play an acting couple, and for a good part of the film the jealous husband (in disguise from his flirtatious wife) wears something stuck under his lower lip, which gives him a beefy, puffed-out-jaw that is irresistibly ridiculous. Sidney Franklin directed this early-talkie version of the Ferenc Molnár play, which Lunt and Fontanne had done on Broadway in 1924. (In 1941 it was turned into a movie musical, THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER.) The cast includes Roland Young as a critic, Ann Dvorak as a fan, ZaSu Pitts, Maude Eburne, and Herman Bing. The adaptation is by Ernest Vajda and Claudine West. MGM.
A series of dumb skits on how to cheat on your wife. It's hard to know what's more tiresome about this picture: the camera's fixation on bottoms (and on bosoms that look like bottoms), or the this-movie-is-moral-after-all finish, with the common man at the higher income level (Walter Matthau) deciding he loves his wife too much to be unfaithful after all. There are a few pleasant pantomime bits by Art Carney and Ben Blue. Directed by Gene Kelly, from a script by Frank Tarloff. The cast includes Robert Morse, Lucille Ball, Phil Silvers, Carl Reiner, Jack Benny, Inger Stevens, Sid Caesar, Terry-Thomas, Wally Cox, Jayne Mansfield, Sue Ane Langdon, and many others; what they do is no more memorable than the plugs for brand-name products that are scattered throughout. 20th Century-Fox.
Peggy Cummins and John Dall in a tawdry version of the Bonnie and Clyde story. Cummins is a really mean broad, whose partner is her desperately eager victim. In its B-picture way, it has a fascinating crumminess. With Morris Carnovsky, Berry Kroeger, Annabel Shaw, and Don Beddoe. Directed by Joseph H. Lewis, from a screenplay based on MacKinlay Kantor's SatEvePost story, and credited to Kantor and Millard Kaufman. Dalton Trumbo, who was blacklisted at the time, later revealed that he wrote the script and persuaded Kaufman to let his name be used. Produced by King and Maurice King; released by United Artists.
One of the most enjoyable nonsense-adventure movies of all time-full of slapstick and heroism and high spirits. RKO intended to make one of those trouble-in-the-colonies films, and it was supposedly to be "inspired" by the Rudyard Kipling poem. Howard Hawks was set to direct; he brought in Hecht and MacArthur, who stole the plot of their own THE FRONT PAGE and threw some wonderful hokum together. Then Hawks brought in William Faulkner for some rewriting. RKO soon decided that the project was becoming too expensive, got rid of Hawks, and put George Stevens, who was under contract, in charge. Stevens brought in Fred Guiol, a gagwriting buddy from Stevens' Laurel & Hardy days, and at some point Joel Sayre also did some rewriting. The result of these combined labors is a unique pastiche-exhilarating in an unself-consciously happy, silly way. The stars are a rousing trio: Cary Grant, having the time of his life as a clowning roughneck; the dapper, gentlemanly Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.; and the eternal vulgarian, Victor McLaglen. Who has forgotten Eduardo Ciannelli in dark makeup as some sort of mad high priest, or Sam Jaffe as Gunga Din, the essence, the soul of loyalty? Who remembers Joan Fontaine as the pallid and proper heroine? With Abner Biberman, Montagu Love, Cecil Kellaway, Lumsden Hare, and Robert Coote. The superb cinematography is by Joseph H. August; the art direction is by Van Nest Polglase; the music is by Alfred Newman.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
The third of three cowboys-and-bandits movies based on Kurosawa's THE SEVEN SAMURAI; the other two-THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN of 1960 and RETURN OF THE SEVEN of 1966-starred Yul Brynner as Chris. This time George Kennedy, normally and literally a heavy, is the noble Chris. Trying to play a nice fellow seems way beyond his range here, and his attempts at athleticism make the John Wayne of TRUE GRIT seem a model of agility. The miscasting is only the first mistake of this movie: from there you can take your pick of watching people being trampled to death or twitching to death. Paul Wendkos directed this shambles, set in Mexico, shot in Spain. With James Whitmore, Monte Markham, Bernie Casey, Reni Santoni, Joe Don Baker, and Frank Silvera. United Artists.
Samuel Goldwyn's big, beribboned version of the Broadway musical which Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows took from Damon Runyon's stories about lovable lowlifes, with a score by Frank Loesser. The director-scenarist Joseph L. Mankiewicz seems to have fallen in love with Damon Runyon's cute, stilted locutions; the camera stands still while the actors mince through lines like "This is no way for a gentleman to act and could lead to irritation on the part of Harry the Horse." Frank Sinatra is the crap-game proprietor who bets Marlon Brando that he can't lure straitlaced Jean Simmons, a mission worker, into going to Havana with him. Sinatra sings pleasantly, and Brando and Simmons are ingratiatingly uneasy when they burst into song and dance, but the movie is extended and rather tedious. The Broadway version is legendary; the movie provides no clue as to why. With Vivian Blaine, Stubby Kaye, Sheldon Leonard, and the Goldwyn Girls. Michael Kidd did the choreography, Oliver Smith the self-conscious sets. MGM.
An extremely unpleasant version of the Broadway musical based on Gypsy Rose Lee's memoirs. Rosalind Russell is the psychopathic stage mother who uses and destroys everyone within reach of her excruciatingly loud voice. Natalie Wood (almost pitifully miscast) is the daughter Russell rants at, and Karl Malden gets it, too. Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim wrote the songs. Mervyn LeRoy's direction is heavy and coarse, and the script (by Leonard Spiegelgass, from the Arthur Laurents play) and the other credits match. With Ann Jillian as Baby June, and an unbilled appearance by Jack Benny. (Rosalind Russell's songs were partially dubbed by Lisa Kirk.) Warners.
One more celebration of the wriggling topography of Maria Montez and the manly opacity of Jon Hall. In earlier pairings, Montez and Hall made contact at the bottom of a swimming pool and on a desert; this time they snuggle in a Transylvanian forest. She is the gypsy dancer, Carla, taken captive by the lewd villain, Douglass Dumbrille, before being restored to her rightful title (Countess) and her castle. The picture tries hard but it never rises to the wild camp of her COBRA WOMAN earlier that year; it's just opéra bouffe without music. With Gale Sondergaard, Leo Carrillo, Curt Bois, and Nigel Bruce. Directed by Roy William Neill, from a script that James M. Cain had a hand in. Produced by George Waggner. (Neill and Waggner were given parody homage in the 1981 THE HOWLING.) Universal.