Robert De Niro is at his most spontaneous in this amazing, freewheeling comedy, written and directed by Brian De Palma, from a story he concocted with his young producer, Charles Hirsch. It was made in a cabaret style, taking on one societal target after another. De Niro-very boyish, with thick, shiny brown hair-does some great, fast double-talk routines with Allen Garfield; they rattle on together in a fixed frame. (The camera doesn't move-they move around in the frame.) De Palma uses a lot of camera gags in this film-he keeps you conscious of the film medium by playing Buster Keaton-like games with it. De Niro is a Vietnam vet who's trying to make out with girls. At first, he wants to shoot Peep Art films (the windows he peeps into become fixed frames); then he begins to see himself with the cuties in those frames, so he goes up, knocks on the doors, talks his way into the pictures, and lives his fantasies. Next he joins a mostly black theatre-of-cruelty-and-revolt troupe that stages an audience-participation play-"Be Black, Baby." The black actors appear in whiteface and they daub black paint on the faces of the white liberals who attend, telling them that they are going to experience what it means to be black. Then they proceed to beat them and rob and rape them. This sequence becomes rather overpowering; conceptually it's satire, but it's too wild and chaotic to be very funny. However, when the liberals call for the police to help them and De Niro comes on as a cop and refuses to believe their stories, the insane comic tone is restored. (Eventually the guilt-ridden masochistic audience convinces itself that it has had a worthwhile experience.) When the actors become bored with theatrical approaches to revolution, they become urban guerrillas, and our hero comes closer to his dream of "total involvement" by setting bombs. De Niro does quirky parody numbers all the way through; when he's a guerrilla living in disguise as a middle-class insurance salesman, he becomes a Harold Lloyd type. He has long scenes with several of the other performers in which he and his partners set the rhythm as they would on a stage (the camera is motionless), and the results are crazily likable timing. The cast includes Jennifer Salt as the dumpling in one of the windows, and Lara Parker, Gerrit Graham, and Ruth Alda. This underground vaudeville show may have been too hip even for 1970; it didn't have the success it deserved. De Palma's dialogue may be the best that he has ever had to work with. Edited by Paul Hirsch.
A piece of American folklore-the innocent American vanquishing the wicked, experienced Europeans-is set bottomside up. The bullishly efficient American millionaire (Paul Douglas) is no match for a group of Scots with fiendishly winning ways. He wants to get a cargo of plumbing to an island he has bought; they fleece him by transporting it on a condemned barge. When he jettisons his valuable plumbing to preserve their worthless barge, the desperate desire of the American to do the right thing in a world of traditions he cannot comprehend is given its most humane, satirical treatment. The materialistic American, it turns out, is the sentimental sucker, full of empathy for everybody. This comic parable of the postwar American in Europe was directed by Alexander Mackendrick, from a script by William Rose; it should be livelier-it's poky in places.
Mel Brooks' rehash of some of Hitchcock's most famous thriller effects. This is a child's idea of satire-imitations, with a funny hat and a leer. Brooks plays Dr. Thorndyke, a Nobel Prize-winning psychiatrist who is the new director of a Los Angeles asylum-the previous one having died suddenly. He leaves this SPELLBOUND situation and goes up to San Francisco for a psychiatrists' convention and into locations that recall VERTIGO. There isn't a whisper of suspense, and there are few earned laughs; all Brooks does is let us know he has seen some of the same movies we have. When he forgets about Hitchcock, he has a couple of buoyant sequences: he does a terrific parody of Frank Sinatra's hyper-nonchalant singing style, breaking up words into sizzling syllables and tossing the mike cord from side to side and snapping it like a whip; and he and the heroine, Madeline Kahn, do an old-Jewish-couple vaudeville-patter number in the San Francisco airport. With Cloris Leachman, Harvey Korman, Ron Carey, Dick Van Patten, Howard Morris, Jack Riley, Charlie Callas, and Albert J. Whitlock, who also did the special effects, and Rudy DeLuca, Ron Clark, and Barry Levinson, who also collaborated with Brooks on the script. 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
This satirical comedy about organization men has a feeling for the everyday inadequacies and anxieties that you laugh at out of the wrong side of your face. And it has a very funny opening sequence, with the happily married lowly business executive (José Ferrer) and his wife (Gena Rowlands, in her film début) getting up and preparing to go to their jobs without a word to each other. The picture, which Ferrer directed, isn't really much (the writing is weak, the subject is small), but it moves along and it was one of the few even passable comedies of its year. Yet (like Ferrer's earlier picture, THE GREAT MAN) it failed at the box office and Ferrer didn't direct any more chance-taking movies, though his work here shows that he was just beginning to enjoy the craft and see the possibilities. With Jim Backus, Werner Klemperer, Joanne Gilbert, Philip Ober, Edward Platt, and Bobby Troup. Script by a writer with the unlikely name of Rip Van Ronkel. MGM.
Mike Leigh's wacked-out comedy-drama about life in Thatcherland features three couples: the rich twits (David Bamber and Lesley Manville as a young champagne dealer and his cool socialite wife); the pushy Yups (Philip Jackson and Heather Tobias as a boorish car salesman and his shrill, social-climber wife); the working poor (bearded Philip Davis and dark-eyed Ruth Sheen as a pot-smoking Marxist who scrapes by as a motorcycle messenger and his companion of ten years, who likes to grow things). This may sound like a liberal-left horror, but the English delight in extreme, preposterous silliness hasn't died even among the serious left: the characters keep turning into absurdist cartoons. As the twitty nymph Laetitia, Lesley Manville is a cutup, like Andrea Martin or Catherine O'Hara. It's an exuberantly likable movie-not always satisfying but never drab, never ordinary. With Edna Doré as the messenger's forgetful old mum; the cinematography is by Roger Pratt.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.
The Western form is used for a sneak civics lesson. Gary Cooper is the marshal who fights alone for law and order when his cowtown is paralyzed by fear. Much has been made of the film's structure (it runs from 10:40 a.m. to high noon, coinciding with the running time of the film); of the stark settings and the long shadows; of the screenwriter Carl Foreman's psychological insight and his buildup of suspense. When the film came out, there were actually people who said it was a poem of force comparable to The Iliad. But its insights are primer sociology, and the demonstration of the town's cowardice is Q.E.D. It's a tight piece of work, though-well directed by Fred Zinnemann. With Grace Kelly, Katy Jurado, Lee Van Cleef, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Morgan, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Otto Kruger. The script is based on the story "The Tin Star" by John W. Cunningham; the cinematography is by Floyd Crosby; and the score is by Dmitri Tiomkin (who took an Academy Award for it). Cooper also won the Best Actor award, and the editors were also honored. Produced by Stanley Kramer, for United Artists.
What we see in Fred Wiseman's documentary, shot in a high school in a large Eastern city, is so familiar and so extraordinarily evocative that a feeling of empathy with the students floods over us. How did we live through it? How did we keep any spirit?
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
Clare Peploe's first feature is a high comedy set on the Greek island of Rhodes, and it has some of the yumminess of a picture like SHAMPOO. It's about the relations of expatriates, tourists, and the natives, with Jacqueline Bisset giving a warm, juicy performance in the pivotal role of an English photographer who is broke and may have to sell her house and leave this island she loves. Irene Papas plays the Englishwoman's widowed friend-weather-beaten, deeply goofy, and as much a part of the magnificence of the place as the honking donkeys; she regards the tourists as enemies-as an army of occupation, like the Nazis. These two women are both scenic wonders, and so is Sebastian Shaw, who plays an elderly art historian. Shaw-he was born in 1905-was a handsome leading man in British films of the 30s and he's still handsome; his face opens to the sunlight and the camera. The whole movie is superbly cast. The wizardly young Kenneth Branagh plays a practical-minded Englishman, who shares a moonlight dip with Bisset and imagines himself in love. Lesley Manville is his romantic wife, who discovers Byron's poetry; James Fox is Bisset's estranged husband; Ruby Baker is her 13-year-old daughter; Paris Tselios is Papas's son; and Robert Stephens is an obscenely rich Greek-American. The script is by the director and her brother Peploe; the meltingly beautiful cinematography is by Chris Menges.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
This Humphrey Bogart picture, directed by Raoul Walsh, set a new style in gangster movies-the aging outlaw as an anachronism in a changing world. Bogart's performance as the weary Dillinger-like ex-convict-the man who just wants to pull off one more job so he can get out of what has become just a dirty business-is a classic. The film romanticizes this last-of-a-breed figure, but it's smart enough to romanticize him in a hard-edged realistic way, and Bogart is convincingly-often excitingly-tense and tired. About half the movie is definitive; the other half is sunk in a maudlin subplot about the outlaw's love for a lame girl (Joan Leslie, maddeningly fresh-faced). With Ida Lupino, Alan Curtis, Arthur Kennedy, Henry Hull, Barton MacLane, Cornel Wilde, Henry Travers, Jerome Cowan, Minna Gombell, Donald MacBride, Willie Best, Isabel Jewell, Elisabeth Risdon, and George Meeker. (Remade by Walsh in 1949 as COLORADO TERRITORY, starring Joel McCrea; it was also remade in 1955 by Stuart Heisler as I DIED A THOUSAND TIMES.) Warners.
A busload of American tourists arrive at a castle that's advertised as the most haunted place in Ireland. The producers may have been hoping for something on the order of National Lampoon's Irish Vacation with a jigger of GHOSTBUSTERS; they whacked away at the film, removing between 15 and 25 per cent of the footage, but it's still clear that what the writer-director, Neil Jordan (best known for his 1986 MONA LISA), was trying for was an Irish phantasmagoria-a Midsummer Night's Dream, with love swaps and ghostly transformations. And once you get past the clumsily antic early scenes, the moody texture can take hold of your imagination. At its best, the film is a soft Irish kiss. There may never have been a movie ghost who was as sexy and ethereal a love object as Daryl Hannah is here, and as a rich, tough American, Beverly D'Angelo has her own walloping gorgeousness. Peter O'Toole is the owner of the castle; Liam Neeson is Hannah's ghostly bridegroom; Steve Guttenberg is a love-struck ninny. Also with Peter Gallagher, Jennifer Tilly, Liz Smith, Donal McCann, and Martin Ferrero. The cinematography is by Alex Thomson; the satisfyingly spooky special effects are by Meddings Magic Camera Company. Tri-Star.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.
A great many young women are likely to feel that this is the movie they've wanted to make. It's a woman's picture in the way that STELLA DALLAS was-it's about the mother-daughter bond. But it's also a woman's picture in a new way: the Australian director Gillian Armstrong has the technique and the assurance to put a woman's fluid, not fully articulated emotions right onto the screen. And she has an actress-Judy Davis-who's a genius at moods. As one of three backup singers for a touring Elvis imitator, Judy Davis is contemptuous of the cruddy act, contemptuous of herself. Feeling put down, the dumb-lug Elvis fires her, and she's left alone at the beginning of winter in a ramshackle beach town on the magnificent, windswept coast of New South Wales. There she encounters her lonely teenage daughter (Claudia Karvan), whom she'd given up to her confident, belligerent mother-in-law (Jan Adele) 13 years earlier. The film's emotional suggestiveness makes it almost a primal woman's picture: Judy Davis has been compared with Jeanne Moreau, and that's apt, but she's Moreau without the cultural swank, the high-fashion gloss. She speaks to us more directly. The script is by Laura Jones; the superb cinematography is by Russell Boyd, who was also the camera operator; the stunningly effective editing is by Nick Beauman. With Colin Friels, Bob Purtell, John Clayton, and Mark Hembrow.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
Irene Dunne (in musicals, the Julie Andrews of her day) at her cornball primmest, singing alongside a farm horse, when Randolph Scott isn't around. This long, lavish, musical Western, set in the mid-19th century, was written by Oscar Hammerstein II and has music by Jerome Kern, which is, however, of widely varying quality and is sung mostly by the ever-noble Miss Dunne. (Her demonstration of how to belt out beer-hall songs is surely on a par with José Iturbi's demonstrations of how to play boogie-woogie.) Dorothy Lamour has a few numbers, and the cast includes Ben Blue, Akim Tamiroff, Charles Bickford, Elizabeth Patterson, Alan Hale, Raymond Walburn, William Frawley, Irving Pichel, and Lucien Littlefield. The director was Rouben Mamoulian. Paramount.
On May 6, 1937, the giant transatlantic zeppelin, the Hindenburg-filled with explosive hydrogen, because the United States wouldn't sell Nazi Germany non-explosive helium-blew up while coming down for a landing at Lakehurst, New Jersey, with 97 people on board. 13 passengers and 22 members of the crew were killed. Since there were newsreel cameramen waiting there to photograph the arrival, they recorded the disaster, and millions of people saw it in theatres. In 34 seconds, the great luxury airship, longer than two football fields, became a mass of flames, and its aluminum-alloy skeleton was exposed as it crashed. The movie is a fictional version of what happened on its last flight, culminating in the actual newsreel footage. It's obvious that the logistics of the production were a real killer, and Albert Whitlock's matte effects are very fine trompe-l'oeil. But the picture is so dry that you begin to feel dehydrated and your mind goes on the fritz. Anne Bancroft plays the blasé doper Ursula, a sneering German countess whose hair has been coiffed to be so authentically 30s that it looks like black potato chips stuck to her head; as soon as she speaks with her familiar New York intonation, her hauteur crumbles, though her eyebrows remain elevated. When she uses her classy allure on George C. Scott-a disillusioned Luftwaffe colonel-those eyebrows waggle like Groucho's. Perfectly good actors like William Atherton, Burgess Meredith, and Charles Durning all hang in there while the director, Robert Wise, and his scenarist, Nelson Gidding, shuffle the subplots in order to create the impression of action. Wise directs with lame good taste; there's none of the blissful trippiness of being carried in the belly of a zeppelin, and none of the carnival vulgarity that can pep up a disaster thriller. Wise turns his disaster picture into an anti-Nazi disaster picture, and he brings all his flatulent seriousness to the endeavor. One gasbag meets another. With Gig Young, Roy Thinnes, Richard A. Dysart, René Auberjonois, Robert Clary, Peter Donat, Stephen Elliott, Katherine Helmond, and Joanna Moore. Music by David Shire; based on the book by Michael M. Mooney; Richard Levinson and William Link prepared the screen story. Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
Hushed and hypnotic, it makes you so conscious of its artistry that you may feel as if you're in church and need to giggle. This first full-length film by Alain Resnais has a script by Marguerite Duras that features musical, incantatory dialogue, and a crucial line, "They make movies to sell soap, why not a movie to sell peace?" The movie, which opens with the intertwined nude bodies of a French movie actress (Emmanuelle Riva) and a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada), was taken as powerful propaganda against the atom bomb. The lovers are covered in symbolic ash, and when the woman says that she has seen everything in Hiroshima the man tells her she has seen nothing in Hiroshima; then they say the same things over again, and again, and perhaps again. As the film goes on, the woman tells him about her first experience of love: it was with a German soldier, who was killed on the last day of fighting. She was dragged away and her head shaved; she went mad and was hidden in a cellar by her shamed parents. Her lyric, masochistic account lingers in the air. With its doomed romance in the past and its tortured affair in the present, this is a woman's picture in the most derogatory sense of the term, but with a high-cultural tone. Riva gives a remarkably fine performance. Eiji Okada says no more than an analyst might; he is simply a sounding board. And if, being Japanese, he is supposed to represent the world conscience, he brings an unsuitably bland, professionally sympathetic, and upper-class manner to the function. The images of the two in bed are intercut with what is supposed to be documentary footage of the effect of the bomb on Hiroshima, but some of the footage is from a fictional atrocity movie. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book I Lost it at the Movies.
One of several movie versions of Arnold Bennett's Buried Alive. This time, that nimble actor Roland Young is the shy, world-famous artist who is delighted to be thought dead in order to escape the annoyances of fame and settle down with genteel, middle-class Lillian Gish. The whimsey palls. Directed by Arthur Hopkins. (A much livelier 1943 version-HOLY MATRIMONY-stars Monty Woolley and Gracie Fields.) Paramount.
In 1928 Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur wrote THE FRONT PAGE, the greatest newspaper comedy of them all; Howard Hawks directed this version of it-a spastic explosion of dialogue, adapted by Charles Lederer, and starring Cary Grant as the domineering editor Walter Burns and Rosalind Russell as Hildy Johnson, the unscrupulous crime reporter with printer's ink in her veins. (In the play Hildy Johnson is a man.) Overlapping dialogue carries the movie along at breakneck speed; word gags take the place of the sight gags of silent comedy, as this race of brittle, cynical, childish people rush around on corrupt errands. Russell is at her comedy peak here-she wears a striped suit, uses her long-legged body for ungainly, unladylike effects, and rasps out her lines. And, as Walter Burns, Grant raises mugging to a joyful art. Burns' callousness and unscrupulousness are expressed in some of the best farce lines ever written in this country, and Grant hits those lines with a smack. He uses the same stiff-neck, cocked-head stance that he did in GUNGA DIN: it's his position for all-out, unsubtle farce. He snorts and whoops. His Burns is a strong-arm performance, defiantly self-centered and funny. The reporters-a fine crew-are Ernest Truex, Cliff Edwards, Porter Hall, Roscoe Karns, Frank Jenks, Regis Toomey; also with Gene Lockhart as the sheriff, Billy Gilbert as the messenger, John Qualen, Helen Mack, and Ralph Bellamy as chief stooge-a respectable businessman-and Alma Kruger as his mother. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book The Citizen Kane Book.
The plot is so preposterously arbitrary that it's as if several scripts had been chopped up and stuck together, yet the director, Frank Borzage, plunges ahead until an ocean liner (with most of the cast aboard) crashes into an iceberg and brings the madness to a halt. Jean Arthur plays a woman in distress. Trying to escape from her rich, powerful, mad husband (Colin Clive), she meets a gallant gentleman (Charles Boyer), who turns out to be a headwaiter. The husband tries to frame the headwaiter for a crime he himself committed. Leo Carrillo and Ivan Lebedeff are also mixed up in this silly melodrama, which is so souped up with demonic passions and tender glances and elegant photography (by Gregg Toland) that it's really quite entertaining. Walter Wanger produced, for United Artists; the scenario is credited to Gene Towne and Graham Baker.
An all-out assault on taste and taboo. Mel Brooks is the writer, the director, and the star of this series of bawdy sketches. It's a floating burlesque show that travels from one era to the next, lampooning the particular infamies of each age. Brooks' staging is often flaccid and disorderly, and even when he and the dozens of other comics in the cast are racing about, the movie feels static. It's powered by its performers, though, and their way with a joke; some of the routines are golden shtick. Brooks is Moses, a singing and dancing Torquemada, Louis XVI, and Comicus, a standup philosopher who performs for Nero-played by Dom De Luise, embracing rottenness with blissful abandon. Also with Gregory Hines, Bea Arthur, Madeline Kahn, Paul Mazursky, Ron Carey, Sid Caesar, Cloris Leachman, Harvey Korman, Spike Milligan, and John Hurt. The graceful painted vistas are by the special-effects wizard Albert J. Whitlock. 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
Charles Laughton is superbly vulgar in this whack at the backside of Victorianism. He makes a great vaudeville turn out of the role of an egocentric scoundrel, the prosperous bootmaker who doesn't want to part with his three marriageable daughters because they are too useful as unpaid labor. As the oldest daughter, the spinster in spite of herself, Brenda de Banzie is so "right" that when she marries her father's best workman and puts belching, drunken old Dad out of business, one feels the good old-fashioned impulse to applaud. John Mills is the fortunate young man whom she overpowers. David Lean directed this English comedy, based on the Harold Brighouse play. Cinematography by Jack Hildyard.
Jean Harlow and Clark Gable in a mixture of farce and melodrama that begins in Brooklyn and ends in jail. Anita Loos concocted some raucous bits, and Harlow goes around smacking and swatting people-she has a wonderful left. There's less fun when she shows signs of budding maidenliness and things go lofty in the women's reformatory. Sam Wood directed, and the cast includes Stuart Erwin and Dorothy Burgess. MGM.
In the 30s, Katharine Hepburn's wit and nonconformity made ordinary heroines seem mushy, and her angular beauty made the round-faced ingenues look piggy and stupid. Here she is in her archetypal role, as the rich tomboy Linda in Philip Barry's romantic comedy. She had understudied the role in 1928 on Broadway and had used it for her screen test, and she was the moving force behind this graceful film version, which Donald Ogden Stewart and Sidney Buchman tailored for her and which George Cukor directed. In the pivotal role of a man who wants a holiday in order to discover his values, Cary Grant manages to make a likable and plausible character out of a dramatist's stratagem. With Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon as the man's friends; Lew Ayres as Linda's brother; Henry Kolker as her father; Doris Nolan as her stuffy, patrician sister; and Henry Daniell and Binnie Barnes among her obnoxious relatives. (A 1930 film version starred Ann Harding, with Mary Astor as her sister.) Columbia.
The scenarists, Julien Duvivier and Henri Jeanson, parody the various film personalities they have worked with in a story about making a movie in Paris on the July 14 holiday. The movie within the movie includes such divertissements as a circus equestrienne, a thief posing as an airline pilot, etc. This picture is unassuming and featherweight-a holiday for moviemakers. Duvivier directed. With Dany Robin, Hildegarde Neff, and Michel Auclair. Music by Georges Auric. (Remade in 1964 as PARIS-WHEN IT SIZZLES.) In French.
One of those shameless testimonials to its own patriotism that Hollywood turned out during the Second World War. This one is from Warners and features what used to be called the Warners stable: Bette Davis, John Garfield, Ida Lupino, Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet, Alexis Smith, Peter Lorre, and so on, as well as Eddie Cantor, Jack Benny, Joe E. Brown, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, the ineffable Andrews Sisters, the superb dancers Antonio and Rosario, Jimmy Dorsey and his band, and on and on. This loosely held together musical revue takes one back to an era when "Yank" was meant to be a cheery word and patriotic songs were bouncy ("Gettin' Corns for My Country"). Written and directed by Delmer Daves.
Plunked down right in the middle of this MGM musical revue is a Disney cartoon about some chocolate soldiers who melt in the sun; the cartoon is introduced by Mickey Mouse, an uninvited guest at the Hollywood Party. Who were the hosts? The picture doesn't carry producer or director credits; the entire extravaganza is hit-or-miss casual, as if the brass at MGM didn't want to admit having committed themselves to make the thing, and the big MGM stars never show up. Instead, you get Jimmy Durante in a Tarzan takeoff and singing a song about reincarnation, as well as Polly Moran as an oil tycoon's wife, Charles Butterworth and Ted Healy, and June Clyde, Jack Pearl, and Lupe Velez, who join Laurel & Hardy in an egg-breaking routine. Some fairly funny moments, and a pleasant score. The writing was probably by Howard Dietz and Arthur Kober, the directing by Richard Boleslawski, Allan Dwan, and Roy Rowland.
MGM put this lavish revue together (it originally had Technicolor sequences) and threw in their biggest stars. Conrad Nagel (always pallid but considered full of prestige) and Jack Benny are the masters of ceremony; Joan Crawford sings; Marie Dressler and Polly Moran do a skit; Marion Davies sings and taps; Norma Shearer and John Gilbert do a flapper Romeo and Juliet; and so on, with minstrel choruses and the Albertina Rasch Ballet. The quality is extremely variable, but it contains so much of the history of popular theatre that it's invaluable. Charles Riesner directed.
That expert at literate comedy, Monty Woolley, plays Arnold Bennett's painter who lets his valet be buried in Westminster Abbey and then tries to live the valet's life. With Gracie Fields as the wonderfully sensible woman he marries, Laird Cregar, and Melville Cooper. John Stahl directed, from Nunnally Johnson's screenplay. (Made in 1933 as HIS DOUBLE LIFE.) 20th Century-Fox.
Victor Banerjee is a maharajah in Bengal with a Western education and liberal views. His wife (Swatilekha Chatterjee) is content to live in the women's quarters of his palace and be visible to no man except him. But he loves her and wants her to be a modern woman, able to move in the world. She first saw him at their wedding: how will he ever know whether she really loves him if she doesn't have the opportunity to choose him-to prefer him to other men? He persuades her to leave the incense and silks, the Arabian Nights cushions and the English bric-a-brac of the women's quarters, and she immediately becomes enthralled by the cocksure masculinity of a fiery radical (Soumitra Chatterjee). This Satyajit Ray movie, adapted from a Rabindranath Tagore novel, is in deep, glowing colors; the main characters talk, and the camera just stays on them and waits until they finish, yet these conversations in golden light and shadows have their own kind of voltage. You watch the graceful people in draped garments in their lethargic, patterned decor, and everything in the country seems draped, hanging, defeated-and hectic, too. Set in 1907, this marvellous film is about the destruction of the marriage, and the riots and bloodshed caused by the radical's terrorist supporters. Ray wrote the screenplay and also the music. In Bengali.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.
Jean Simmons gives a reserved, beautifully modulated performance that is so much better than the material that at times her exquisite reading of the rather mediocre lines seems a more tragic waste than her character's wrecked life. The script starts with a good idea. A professor (Dan O'Herlihy) commits his young wife to a state mental hospital; she returns home after a year, exhausted from eight rounds of shock treatment, her hair gray, but feeling cured-reasonable and happy, rid of her former delusions. Then as she slowly discovers that the delusions the doctors were shocking out of her were actually the truth, she loses her bearings and begins to go mad. Unfortunately, the script makes the heroine too sympathetic, and it has an edge of fashionable, self-congratulatory virtue-the "one must be more understanding toward discharged mental patients" attitude, and Mervyn LeRoy directs in a glossy, uninspired style that drags the material out at least half an hour too long. With Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., and Rhonda Fleming. Warners.