Derived from the same Christopher Isherwood Berlin stories that were later used in CABARET, but aimed at a simpler, frothy, madcap quality. Julie Harris is Sally ("Shall we have a drink first or shall we go right to bed?") Bowles, and Laurence Harvey is Isherwood, with Shelley Winters and Anton Diffring in the subplot. Henry Cornelius (who directed GENEVIEVE) did this erratic version from John Collier's adaptation of the John van Druten play.
One of the best of the social-protest films-naïve, heavy, artless, but a straightforward, unadorned story with moments that haunted a generation, such as the hungry hero (Paul Muni) trying to pawn his Croix de Guerre. And there is one of the great closing scenes in the history of film: the hero is asked how he lives and he answers, "I steal." Those involved in making the movie hoped it might help to ameliorate the condition of convicts, but it did more to ameliorate financial conditions at Warners and was a factor in making it the "socially conscious" studio. With Glenda Farrell, Helen Vinson, Preston Foster, Edward Ellis, Allen Jenkins, and Berton Churchill. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy, from an autobiographical story by Robert E. Burns; produced by Hal B. Wallis.
In her search for political commitment, the angry young heroine, Lena Nyman, goes around as an inquiring reporter questioning people about non-violence, the labor movement, socialism, and so on. The picture improves when sex and politics mix; there are some free-and very funny-sequences of simulated copulation. The film caused a great stir here because the U.S. Customs Office seized the first print that the distributor (Grove Press) imported; by the time the ban was lifted, people expected something really sizzling. Written and directed by Vilgot Sjöman, who also appears as the director. With Anders Ek as the Instructor and Holger Löwenadler as the King, and also Martin Luther King, Olof Palme, and Yevgeni Yevtushenko. (The second part of Sjöman's material was released as I AM CURIOUS-BLUE.) In Swedish.
A priest with a past (Montgomery Clift) caught in a trap; either he must betray the secrets of a murderer's confession or he himself will be convicted of the murder. The premise of this Hitchcock thriller is promising, but the movie, set in Quebec and partly shot there, is so reticent it's mostly dull. Clift seems determined not to move more than the tiniest facial muscles. With a miscast Anne Baxter, and Brian Aherne, O.E. Hasse, Karl Malden, and Dolly Haas. From a play by Paul Anthelme, adapted by George Tabori and William Archibald. Warners.
Dreadful, but often fascinating: Judy Garland in the sort of movie that is usually made about a performer long after the events, and with someone else playing the lead. Her face puffy, her manner distressed, she goes through a sort of MADAME X version of a selfish singer's life, in which she belts out numbers at the Palladium. Made in England and directed by Ronald Neame. With Dirk Bogarde, Jack Klugman, and Aline MacMahon. United Artists.
Up front, this is a commonplace romantic melodrama about a wisecracking, hard-drinking reporter (Ben Lyon) who exploits his love affair (with Claudette Colbert) in order to get a good story for his paper, but the background is far from commonplace. Colbert's father (played by Ernest Torrence) is a huge wreck of a sea captain who smuggles Chinese to the West Coast; he's a moody, illiterate mercenary who throws his passengers overboard tied to anchor chains when the Coast Guard approaches. There are several strong, memorable scenes, and such unusual moments as the heroine's passing the time of day with the madam of a brothel while waiting to take her boozed-up father home. James Cruze directed; from Max Miller's book. United Artists.
Red Skelton's best movie musical. It's a lavish MGM production with a comedy-of-errors story about a pants presser who is mistaken for a millionaire, and it features Lena Horne and Eleanor Powell, and Hazel Scott at the piano and singing in the extraordinarily intense "Jericho" number-which is in the hot, revivalist, jazzy style of 20s theatre. The direction is credited to Vincente Minnelli, but he took over after someone else had started shooting-he didn't direct the battleship number or the rope-twirling scene. With Butterfly McQueen, Sam Levene, Richard Ainley, Thurston Hall, and Lee Young on drums, Jimmy Dorsey and his orchestra, Helen O'Connell, and Bob Eberle. Script by Sig Herzig and Fred Saidy, loosely derived from the 1929 Buster Keaton film SPITE MARRIAGE. The songs include "So Long Sarah Jane" and "Taking a Chance on Love."
This romance is set in large part during a gale in the Western Isles of Scotland. It features dense fog, a squall, and a huge, roaring whirlpool. It also features Art Deco images of the young Dame Wendy Hiller as an assured, impudent working girl who is scheduled to marry a rotten-rich, middle-aged tycoon, until she's caught in that storm. She meets a kind-faced naval officer (Roger Livesey); he's the impoverished Laird of Kiloran, and after a few days and nights of his gentle Gaelic voice she's thoroughly confused. Written, produced, and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, this is a charmer of a movie. In a party sequence, everything else stops while we listen to the rapid group singing of the Highlanders: it's a soul-satisfying interlude. The cinematography is by Erwin Hillier; the art direction is by Alfred Junge. With Pamela Brown, Finlay Currie, Nancy Price, Jean Cadell, Catherine Lacey, Valentine Dyall, George Carney, Margot Fitzsimmons, John Laurie, and Petula Clark. (In his autobiography, Powell explained that Livesey couldn't get out of his role in a London play, and a double filled in for him in the exterior scenes; Livesey "never came within 500 miles of the Western Isles.") The Archers.
When Joey (Kevin Kline), the self-admiring pizzeria owner, walks down the street, his little rump is alert to everything. That's what gets him into trouble: he's surrounded by opportunities for seduction, and he's a practiced master of the art. Easing into conversation with a young beauty (Phoebe Cates) at a bar, he skillfully convinces her that the man she's with isn't worthy of her, and she apologizes for being with such a second-rate guy. You can't dislike the narcissistic Italian-American Joey; he's essentially innocent. That's why it takes so long for his loving wife (Tracey Ullman) to see what's going on. When her eyes are opened, she gives in to her hardbitten Yugoslavian mother (Joan Plowright) who arranges to have Joey killed. Directed by Lawrence Kasdan, from John Kostmayer's script, this amiably slack screwball farce is based on an actual case in which five botched attempts were made on an errant husband's life. The picture is often on the verge of being really funny, but it doesn't have much energy, and it lacks comic precision until (near the end) the wildly gifted Miriam Margolyes, who plays Joey's mother, whacks him on his bandaged head; her explosive timing lifts the scene sky-high. Kevin Kline is a little too conscious of his deadpan style, but Keanu Reeves and William Hurt are a fine pair of dopeheads who hire on as hit men. (Reeves shows a flair for spaced-out clowning.) Plowright has a few near-inspired routines, and River Phoenix, playing a busboy, comes through as a giddy comedian. Watching the cast you may feel tolerant, the way you do watching a bunch of boisterous pros enjoying themselves in a sloppy summer-stock production. With Victoria Jackson and Heather Graham. Set in Tacoma, Washington. Tri-Star.
A giddy, slapdash, entertainingly inconsequential comedy, written by Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker, and starring Peter Sellers as a Los Angeles Jewish lawyer who turns hippie. With Joyce Van Patten as his anxious fiancée, and Leigh Taylor-Young, Jo Van Fleet, David Arkin, Herbert Edelman, Salem Ludwig, Edra Gale, Lou Gottlieb, and Grady Sutton. The picture makes you laugh surprisingly often. Directed by Hy Averback. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Going Steady.
Moderately amusing romantic fantasy, with Veronica Lake at her prettiest (and getting the full star treatment) as a witch burned in Puritan days who comes back in modern times and discovers that "love is stronger than witchcraft." René Clair directed, and the cast includes Fredric March, Robert Benchley, Cecil Kellaway as a warlock, and Susan Hayward as a bitch. From Thorne Smith's The Passionate Witch. United Artists.
Rodgers and Hart's sophisticated musical comedy was purchased for Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy when their popularity in stale-whipped-cream operetta was waning, but then MGM became nervous, removed the sophistication, and turned the musical comedy into something as bland as operetta but without its energy. This disaster was MacDonald and Eddy's last film together. Directed by W.S. Van Dyke. With Binnie Barnes, Janis Carter, Mona Maris, and Edward Everett Horton.
Claudette Colbert escapes her department-store job and her prig of a fiancé (Lee Bowman). She picks up Melvyn Douglas and Robert Young in Paris, travels to Switzerland with them, and falls in love with the wrong one. Simpleminded, predictable romantic comedy, with Colbert panicking on skis and getting tossed into snowbanks. (The Alpine scenes were shot in Sun Valley.) Wesley Ruggles directed; Claude Binyon wrote the screenplay, based on a story by Helen Meinardi. With Mona Barrie. Paramount.
Bargain-basement dramaturgy is used to surprisingly powerful effect in this account of a middle-aged man's unresolved relationship with his father. The dramatist, Robert Anderson, who adapted his own play, keeps things on that truthful level where no solutions are really satisfactory, and the director, Gilbert Cates, doesn't cheat-he accepts the risks of being solidly obvious. And by its decency in not pulling sloppy feelings out of us, the film develops valid emotion. Gene Hackman and Melvyn Douglas perform unsentimentally and intelligently as the son and the self-righteous father. With Estelle Parsons and Dorothy Stickney. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
Kathryn Forbes' novel about her Norwegian family in San Francisco is used as the framework for a mother image of formidable proportions. This image is held to with the serene nostalgia that we reserve for our very best fantasies-Mama (Irene Dunne) is tall and beautiful, wise and omniscient. Except for a few gooey lapses (the worst is a bathetic hospital scene), George Stevens directed with warmth and intelligence; it's not a bad movie, though it has a too careful look, with meticulous reconstructions of San Francisco streets circa 1905-10. Philip Dorn is Papa, and Barbara Bel Geddes does well as daughter Katrin. As the rakehell Uncle Chris, Oscar Homolka goes in for too many flourishes and loiters too long on his deathbed; Edgar Bergen is the timid undertaker who marries Mama's sister. The movie seems hemmed in, maybe because DeWitt Bodeen's script sticks too closely to the stage adaptation by John van Druten. Also with Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Rudy Vallee, Barbara O'Neil, Florence Bates, Peggy McIntyre, June Hedin, and Steve Brown. Cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca. RKO.
Frustrated small-town boys with big ideas, the central characters are sons of indulgent, middle-class families, who cadge off their parents, loaf, and dream of women, riches, and glory. Their energies are wasted in idiotic pursuits; whatever dreams or ideals they have are pathetically childish or rotten. The director, Federico Fellini, observes the farce of their lives without condescension; his tone is satirical, yet warm and accepting-the distinctive Fellini tone, in his first fully confident piece of direction. The group suggests an American wolf pack. There is Fausto the flirt (Franco Fabrizi), who will become another unhappy, middle-class family man; plump, ludicrous Alberto the buffoon (Alberto Sordi, Fellini's "White Sheik" of the previous year, and before that a music-hall actor who first achieved recognition as the dubbed voice of Oliver Hardy); Leopoldo the poet (Leopoldo Trieste), whose naïve artistic illusions wilt when he is propositioned by an ancient homosexual actor; and Moraldo (Franco Interlenghi, who a few years earlier had been one of De Sica's two great child stars in SHOESHINE). Fellini's autobiographical hero, he is the only one who finds the guts to say goodbye to this futile provincial life. There was, as yet, no indication that the road Moraldo took would lead to the corruption of LA DOLCE VITA. Screenplay by Fellini and Ennio Flaiano; score by Nino Rota. In Italian.
This John Frankenheimer picture has gone so far in deglamourizing everything that it forgets to give you a reason for watching it. Gregory Peck, a weather-beaten, gaunt-faced Tennessee sheriff, married to well-meaning Estelle Parsons, gets tragically involved with a young girl (Tuesday Weld), the daughter of a moonshiner (Ralph Meeker). The dirt-poor people look at each other expressionlessly, hopelessly, and talk in hillbilly dialect, with a pause after every line so you'll know their lives are arid. This is the kind of rural-elemental movie in which a slobbering bully forces himself on the lovely young heroine and shoots the dog who's guarding her. The screenplay by Alvin Sargent is based on the novel An Exile, by Madison Jones. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
Somebody must have thought it would be funny to put Cary Grant in skirts and a horsehair wig. The whole thing is one of those awful transvestite jokes that never has the grace to go off-color; it all stays at the chortling wholesome-family-picture level. Ann Sheridan plays the WAC lieutenant whom Grant (a French Army captain) marries; the gimmick is that she's stationed in Occupied Germany (where the film was made) and the only Army regulation under which he can accompany her back to the U.S. is the one concerning the immigration of war brides. The conception requires Sheridan to be bossy and butch (it's one of her least pleasant performances) and Grant is never so beefy and clumsy as when he's in drag; he doesn't play a woman, he threatens to-flirting with the idea and giggling over it. Howard Hawks directed, but his pacing is off and everything seems forced. The screenplay is by Charles Lederer, Leonard Spigelgass, and Hagar Wilde, from a book by Henri Rochard (Grant plays Henri Rochard). There are no subsidiary roles of any consequence; with Ken Tobey, Robert Stevenson, and William Neff. 20th Century-Fox.
The worst. Combines the most simperingly forced elements of 50s mistaken-identity farces with a mushy soft-core version of the sex-clinic pornos. The hero, who suffers from premature ejaculation, and the heroine, who is frigid, go to a Santa Barbara clinic where "Nothing Is Unnatural" is emblazoned in neon in the patients' cottages. The message is false: swallowing this movie is an unnatural act for any person of average intelligence. Elliott Gould is fairly thoroughly trashed, but Diane Keaton manages to save face despite what's going on around her. Norman Panama directed, from a script he and Albert E. Lewin devised. With Madge Sinclair, Robert Alda, and Paul Sorvino. 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
This Selznick project originated in a radio play (by Charles Martin), and it may have sounded like a good movie idea. But oh, my! Ginger Rogers is the young woman doing a six-year prison stretch for having killed a man in the course of defending her honor. Midway in her sentence, she's allowed to return home for three weeks to visit her family-an aunt (Spring Byington), an uncle (Tom Tully), and their daughter (Shirley Temple). They are a tactless bunch, so compulsively drawn to the subject of her penal servitude that one imagines that she'd have preferred to remain in the jug. But she meets a shell-shocked sergeant (Joseph Cotten) on furlough from an Army hospital; he is being harassed by the local people's insistence on talking to him about the war. Having the same problem brings them together, and at the close they return to their separate institutions, planning to reunite forever. Doesn't it reek of radio drama? On the screen, as directed by William Dieterle from a script by Marion Parsonnet, it's damned close to intolerable. Released by United Artists.
This maudlin MGM bio-pic, based on Lillian Roth's book (written with Mike Connolly and Gerold Frank) about how she rose to fame as a singer-actress and then drank her way to shame, has a low-grade, sordid, masochistic appeal. Susan Hayward was close to 40 when she played the part, and her scenes as the teenage Lillian lack the necessary eagerness and vividness. Hayward deepens her speaking voice, and, though it is said that she did her own singing, the big, low, rather toneless voice doesn't seem to emanate from her, and when she stands with her chest pushed out and imitates the movements Roth made when she sang, there's no drive behind what she's doing-nothing to suggest what made Lillian Roth a headliner. There's very little left to suggest what made Hayward a star, either; she falls back on tired technique and flaccid, self-pitying nobility. (You have to see her in something like DEADLINE AT DAWN of 1946 to get an idea of how much she'd slipped.) Eddie Albert gives the booby-prize performance; as the Alcoholics Anonymous man who brings about Lillian's spiritual rebirth, he keeps his square jaw tilted upward-humility lifts his every thought to heaven. Considering the feeble script (by Helen Deutsch and Jay Richard Kennedy) it's surprising that the director Daniel Mann managed to hold viewers at all, but he doesn't establish a sense of period or of locale or of the passage of time. The only scenes that have any energy are those with Richard Conte as Lillian's sadistic husband; the viewer feels a queasy curiosity and dread. There's a classic pulp ending: the heroine walks forward to the stage for a "This Is Your Life" show, her face bathed in heavenly light. With Jo Van Fleet as Lillian's monomaniacal stage mother, Ray Danton, Don Taylor, Margo, Virginia Gregg, and Don Barry; the little girl who plays Lillian at 8 is uncannily like both Roth and Hayward.
This isn't one of those gentle English comedies with glancing bits of social spoofery; it's a cynical and raucous slapstick farce-the one really funny film satire of the labor-management conflicts. Its view of the philosophy of the citizens of the welfare state is summed up in the title, derived from the English armed-forces catch phrase: "--you, I'm all right, Jack." The big businessmen are the villains in the plot, but the film also shows the trade unionists as smug and self-centered, and though the satire of union practices is much more affectionate, it is so accurately aimed-and we are so unused to it-that it comes off much the better. As the shop steward, Peter Sellers is avid to protect the workers' rights-he's earnest, he's monstrously self-serious. He wears a little Hitler mustache-that mustache was always an oddly lower-middle-class adornment on Hitler-and while this shop steward is certainly lower middle class in his habits, he's a fanatical proletarian in theory, and he speaks in a jargon that derives from political pamphlets. The movie parodies this beady-eyed little stuffed shirt and the featherbedding practices of his union. The cast includes Terry-Thomas as an Army officer turned personnel manager; Ian Carmichael as an innocent from Oxford who wants to become a business executive; Dennis Price and Sir Richard Attenborough as capitalist tricksters; and Dame Margaret Rutherford, Miles Malleson, Irene Handl, Marne Maitland, Liz Fraser, Raymond Huntley, and Malcolm Muggeridge-as himself, of course. Produced and directed by Roy Boulting and John Boulting; from the novel by Alan Hackney, adapted by John Boulting, Frank Harvey, and Hackney.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book I Lost it at the Movies.
Mae West as a lion tamer, Cary Grant as a society lion, lots of adenoidal innuendo, and some good honky-tonk songs ("That Dallas Man,"et al.). Arguably West's best film, certainly one of her funniest. When she isn't wiggling in her corsets and driving men wild she's sashaying around and camping it up for her plump black maids (Gertrude Howard, Libby Taylor). With Edward Arnold, Gregory Ratoff, Kent Taylor, Ralf Harolde, Gertrude Michael, Nat Pendleton, Dennis O'Keefe, Irving Pichel, and Dorothy Peterson. Directed by Wesley Ruggles; the story, screenplay, and dialogue are by Mae West, with continuity by Harlan Thompson. Paramount.
Made during the Vietnam war, this film by Robert Kramer is set in an indefinite near future, when Vietnam has been superseded by a war in Mexico. The picture is an extension of the late-60s urban-guerrilla attitudes and activities, and it is made in a hazy, semi-documentary style, as if a stoned anthropologist were examining his own tribe and were so indifferent to the filmmaking process that he hadn't learned how to read a light meter or bothered to work out a continuity. It's a film about political commitment that is made not only without any commitment to film as an art form but without any enthusiasm for its own political commitment. Yet this gray, grainy, painfully stagnant movie is a revealing account of the anomalies in the urban-guerrilla movement. Though it cost only $12,000 (from the American Film Institute), it has a cast of 250.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
For necrophiliacs. This grotesque MGM musical died the day it was released. It stars Joan Crawford, with James Stewart and Lew Ayres, and the forgettable score includes such gems as "Loveland in the Wintertime." The unlucky Reinhold Schunzel directed; produced by Harry Rapf. With Lionel Stander, Lewis Stone, and the International Ice Follies.
John Lone is awe-inspiring in the way he stirs our empathy with the hero-the prehistoric man who has been asleep inside glacial ice for 40,000 years. The Iceman is thawed out in a sequence that is comparable in creepiness and fascination to the famous laboratory scene in James Whale's 1931 FRANKENSTEIN, in which the monster comes to life. But the tone here is altogether different: the water dripping from the icy casket suggests weeping. Uncouth as this Neanderthal may look, he has a full range of feeling in his eyes. He's unmistakably human, and he's confused about where he is; he thinks he has been enchanted and that he's being punished. It's a strange, elating movie with the Iceman at its emotional center; his mystical fervor takes hold. The director, Fred Schepisi, is working with a weak script, yet he and his two longtime collaborators, the composer Bruce Smeaton and the cinematographer Ian Baker, achieve that special and overwhelming fusion of the arts which great visual moviemaking can give us. With Timothy Hutton, Lindsay Crouse, Josef Sommer, and David Strathairn. Written by Chip Proser and John Drimmer, from Drimmer's story; a Norman Jewison and Patrick Palmer Production, for Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.
Eugene O'Neill's great, heavy, simplistic, mechanical, beautiful play has been given a straightforward, faithful production in handsome, dark-toned color. A filmed play like this one doesn't offer the sensual excitement that movies can offer, but you don't go to it for that; you go to it for O'Neill's crude, prosaic virtuosity, which is also pure American poetry, and for the kind of cast that rarely gathers for a stage production. The characters are drunken bums and whores who have found sanctuary in Harry Hope's flophouse saloon; each has a "pipe dream" that sustains him until Hickey, the salesman-the "iceman"-who attempts to free them all by stripping them of their lies and guilt, takes the life out of them. The play is essentially an argument between Larry, an aging anarchist (Robert Ryan), and Hickey (Lee Marvin); Larry speaks for pity and the necessity of illusions, Hickey for the curative power of truth. They're the two poles of consciousness that O'Neill himself is split between. Larry, a self-hating alcoholic, is a weak man and a windbag, but Ryan brings so much understanding to Larry's weakness that the play achieves new dimensions. Ryan becomes O'Neill for us; he has O'Neill's famous "tragic handsomeness" and the broken-man jowls, too, and at the end, when Larry is permanently "iced"-that is, stripped of illusion-we can see that this is the author's fantasy of himself: he alone is above the illusions that the others fall back on. He is tragic, while the others, with their restored illusions, have become comic. Yes, it's sophomoric to see yourself as the one who is doomed to live without illusions, yet what O'Neill does with this sophomoric conception is masterly. And Ryan (who died shortly after) got right to the boozy, gnarled soul of the play. The film is marred by the central miscasting of Lee Marvin (he's thick, somehow, and irrelevantly vigorous, and his big monologue doesn't register at all), but it isn't destroyed. Though the characters are devised for a thesis and we never lose our awareness of that, they are nevertheless marvellously playable. Fredric March interprets Harry Hope with so much quiet tenderness that when Harry regains his illusions and we see March's muscles tone up we don't know whether to smile for the character or the actor. And there are Jeff Bridges as Parritt, Bradford Dillman as Willie (you can almost taste his joy in the role), and Martyn Green, George Voskovec, Sorrell Booke, Moses Gunn, Tom Pedi, and John McLiam as Jimmy Tomorrow. Directed by John Frankenheimer-tactfully but not very probingly. Produced by Ely Landau.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.