The Idiot

France (1946): Drama
95 min, No rating, Black & White

The young Gérard Philipe is an extraordinarily sensitive Prince Myshkin, and Edwige Feuillère, that remarkable mistress of the language of gesture, is a spectacular Nastasya in this emotional, surprisingly effective version of the Dostoevski novel. Directed by Georges Lampin. In French.

The Idiot

Japan (1951): Drama
166 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette
Also known as HAKUCHI.

Kurosawa made this version of the Dostoevski novel right after RASHOMON, using the same two men-Masayuki Mori (the husband in RASHOMON) as Prince Myshkin, and Toshiro Mifune (the bandit in RASHOMON) as Rogozhin. It's a long, uneven, fascinating film, with such curiosities as a Nastasya Filipovna (Setsuko Hara) modelled on Maria Casarés in Cocteau's ORPHEUS. In Japanese.

The Idiot

Russia (1960): Drama
122 min, No rating, Color
Also known as NASTASIA FILIPOVNA.

The first half of a planned two-part film; the second half was never shot. Yuri Yakovlev's Prince Myshkin doesn't make anything like the impression that Gérard Philipe's Prince did in the 1946 French version, but the film shows the considerable intelligence of the director, Ivan Pyriev, who also did the adaptation. He experimented with a theatrical style, using single sets for long sequences. In Russian.

Idiot's Delight

US (1939): Comedy
105 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Robert Sherwood's high reputation as a dramatist was always a little mystifying and never more so than when his windy intellectuality was recorded on film. This allegorical comedy from MGM has Clark Gable as a hoofer and Norma Shearer as a fake Russian countess (the roles made famous on Broadway by Lunt and Fontanne). It's set in an Alpine winter-sports hotel high above a world about to be engulfed in war. The characters include a leftist, a pair of honeymooners, and so forth; and there's got to be an anti-war message in it somewhere. Gable isn't bad (he does a deliberately clunky, bedraggled dance to "Puttin' On the Ritz"), but oh, that Shearer. With Burgess Meredith, Edward Arnold, Charles Coburn, Joseph Schildkraut, Skeets Gallagher, Laura Hope Crews, Pat Paterson, Virginia Grey, Joan Marsh, Bernadene Hayes, and Fritz Feld. Directed by Clarence Brown, who struggles hopelessly trying to give this stagey material some style and impudence. Sherwood did the adaptation himself, providing early scenes to establish that the hoofer and the "countess" had had an affair years before (when they were both in vaudeville), and a new, upbeat ending.

The Idolmaker

US (1980): Drama
119 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A likable first feature by the director Taylor Hackford; it has verve and snap, despite a rickety script and a sloshy finish. Ray Sharkey plays a brash young songwriter from the Bronx who becomes a hype artist. He takes a baby-faced, boozing pillhead (Paul Land) and turns him into a rock idol for teenagers, and then finds a swarthy, 16-year-old busboy (Peter Gallagher) whose eyes and mouth are impossibly-foolishly-large and saturates the country with publicity, pre-selling the kid as an idol before the public even hears his voice. The picture keeps moving, and the satirical musical numbers are cheerful and impudent. The script by Edward Di Lorenzo was suggested by the life of the rock impresario Bob Marcucci, who promoted Frankie Avalon and Fabian. With Kenneth O'Brien as the corrupt disc jockey, Jimmy Carter as the jiggling blond singer, and Tovah Feldshuh (a dreary, smirky performance). Produced by Gene Kirkwood and Howard W. Koch, Jr.; released by United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

If I Had a Million

US (1932): Drama/Comedy
83 min, No rating, Black & White

Perhaps the best of the American all-star episode films of its era. Each brief story has a different comic flavor. The cast includes W.C. Fields, Alison Skipworth, Charles Laughton, Gary Cooper, Mary Boland, Jack Oakie, George Raft, and Wynne Gibson as the prostitute who, given a million dollars, goes to bed alone. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch, among others. Paramount.

If I Were King

US (1938): Adventure
101 min, No rating, Black & White

Lively costume romance. Ronald Colman smiles with mocking charm as the braggart poet François Villon, quick-witted with epigrams and swords. Fortunately, the script is by Preston Sturges. Frances Dee is the frosty great lady whom the poet melts (or thaws, anyway), and Ellen Drew is the warmer number, Huguette, an unkempt wench who hangs around the fellows in the wine cellars. With Basil Rathbone as a sly, wily Louis XI, and a first-rate cast, including Henry Wilcoxon, Bruce Lester, Alma Lloyd, Sidney Toler, Ralph Forbes, Montagu Love, and William Farnum. Frank Lloyd directed this version of Justin McCarthy's play, first filmed in 1920 staring William Farnum, then in 1926 starring John Barrymore, then in a musical version in 1930 starring Dennis King and Jeanette MacDonald, and again (unsuccessfully this time) in 1955 starring Oreste Kirkop and Kathryn Grayson. Paramount.

If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium

US (1969): Comedy
99 min, Rated G, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Said to be the first cartoon caption ever made into a full-length movie. Suzanne Pleshette and Mildred Natwick are among the stereotyped American tourists; Ian McShane is their guide. The director, Mel Stuart, keeps everything moving cheerfully, and there are a few passable one-liners, but you feel as if you've seen the picture before-on television. The script is by David Shaw; with Peggy Cass, Marty Ingels, Murray Hamilton, Pamela Britton, Michael Constantine, Sandy Baron, and Norman Fell. A Wolper Production; United Artists.

If You Could Only Cook

US (1935): Romance/Comedy
70 min, No rating, Black & White

This eminently watchable romantic comedy has a neatly contrived 30s-style opening. An automobile engineer and tycoon (Herbert Marshall) becomes impatient with his board of directors and walks out on them. He goes to the park to cool off and meets a girl (Jean Arthur) who's perusing the want ads. She thinks that he's unemployed, too, and proposes that they hire out as cook and butler. There are also some gracefully conceived sequences: the test on the use of garlic that she has to pass at the home of a gourmet (Leo Carrillo), a retired racketeer; the tycoon asking his own butler tricks of the butling trade. There are also some silly melodramatic moments, but the film is remarkably good-natured and fresh. Jean Arthur brings out the best in Marshall-or maybe the director, William Seiter, livened him up. (He smiles-almost broadly-now and then.) With Lionel Stander and cello-voiced Frieda Inescort. The script by Gertrude Purcell and Howard J. Green is based on F. Hugh Herbert's screen story. Columbia.

if…

UK (1968): Drama
111 min, Rated R, Color and Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

At first, and for a considerable stretch, this Lindsay Anderson film appears to be a clinical exposé of the horrible organized bedlam inflicted on English boys in the name of a gentleman's education. The movie is especially fixated on the cruelties that the students perpetrate against each other, with lingering attention to scenes of juvenile sadism and flogging and nasty homoeroticism. Then it turns into an epic on student revolt. You can read the signals all right-the poster of Ché and the student-hero's forbidden mustache and his playing the "Missa Luba." But the style of the film is constricted and charged with ambivalent feelings. Can it be meant to be a story of the revolutionary spirit of the young when it's so full of bile about youth? Anderson devotes most of his energy to the meanness of the students. And it's really not a rebellion of the young that he shows us but a rebellion of a self-chosen few-three boys (and a girl picked up along the way) who set fire to the school on Speech Day and start sniping at those who flee the fire, including the rest of the young. Their way of destroying the prison is to kill the inmates. The conspirators are cleaning out the whole mess, apparently-killing everybody, because nobody's fit to live. The last shot is a glamorous and apparently approving closeup of the hero as he fires away, like Robert Taylor aiming at "the Japs" at the end of BATAAN. There are so many muddy undercurrents in this film that even the best sequences are often baffling, and the ways in which Anderson tries to illustrate the desire for freedom don't carry any conviction. With Malcolm McDowell. Written by David Sherwin; cinematography by Miroslav Ondrícek.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Going Steady.

Ikiru/To Live/Doomed/Living

Japan (1952): Drama
143 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The last days of a Japanese Everyman (Takashi Shimura) doomed by cancer, as he explores the ways of confronting death. It's extremely uneven-there are slick and sentimental passages and some that are impenetrable. But there are also emotional revelations and there's a superb sequence-almost an epiphany-when the dying man, who has accomplished what he hoped to, sits in a swing in the snow and hums a little song. Directed by Akira Kurosawa. In Japanese.

Il Cristo Proibito

Italy (1951): Drama
No rating, Black & White
Also known as STRANGE DECEPTION.

Curzio Malaparte's only film is a visually exciting but emotionally upsetting allegory of justice, guilt, and expiation. Malaparte, author of Kaputt and The Skin, stopped at many stations--Fascist, Communist, pro-American--and in this somewhat ludicrous semi-Christian lament for man's inability to solve his moral problems, he finds his strongest image in the masked, robed procession for the Game of the Cross. The hero, Raf Vallone, returns to his Italian village after the war and tries to hunt down the man who caused his brother's death. The villagers, sick of blood and vengeance, refuse to tell him anything; to put an end to the search, his best friend (Alain Cuny) falsely confesses that he was the betrayer. The movie was condemned by the Catholic Church, attacked by the Communists, and ignored by the public. Perhaps there is a kind of writer's moviemaking that, despite talent and originality, despite "art," is too self-serious and is doomed at the box office. IL CRISTO PROIBITO has similarities to Pasolini's ACCATONE. They are boring, fascinating, maddening movies. In Italian.

Illicit Interlude

Sweden (1951): Drama
94 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette
Also known as SOMMARLEK, literally "Summerplay," and SUMMER INTERLUDE.

This early Ingmar Bergman film is about the loss of love: a tired ballerina of 28 (Maj-Britt Nilsson), who has ceased to feel or care, is suddenly caught up by the memory of the summer when her life ended. We see her then as a fresh, eager 15-year-old, in love with a frightened, uncertain student (beautifully played by Birger Malmsten), and we watch the delicate shades of their "summerplay," interrupted by glances at adult relatives, as Bergman contrasts decadence and youth, corruption and beauty. In the early part, an old woman appears for just a moment in a road, walking-and this image, like the croquet game in the later SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT, seems to be suspended in time. Bergman found his style in this film, and it is regarded by cinema historians not only as his breakthrough but also as the beginning of "a new, great epoch in Swedish films." Many of the themes (whatever one thinks of them) that Bergman later expanded are here: the artists who have lost their identities, the faces that have become masks, the mirrors that reflect death at work. But this movie, with its rapturous yet ruined love affair, also has a lighter side: an elegiac grace and sweetness. With Alf Kjellin as the ballerina's suitor, Stig Olin as the ballet master, George Funkquist as the lecherous uncle. Cinematography by Gunnar Fischer. In Swedish.

Images

UK-US (1972): Drama
101 min, Rated R, Color

Robert Altman's modern variant of the Caligari ploy-the world as seen through a mad person's eyes. A classy schizo (Susannah York) duplicates herself, confuses the living with the dead, and can't tell her husband (René Auberjonois) from her lovers (Marcel Bozzuffi, Hugh Millais). Her madness seems to be a matter of tinkling wind chimes, slivers of glass, windows, lenses, mirrors-"images." To be effective, the movie needs to draw us in to identify with her hallucinations, but the cold shine of the surfaces doesn't do it. The imagery itself fails to stir the imagination, though the cinematographer, Vilmos Zsigmond, shot some unusual landscapes, inhumanly clear and visible at a great distance, and there are some ravishing pastoral scenes. It's a hollow puzzle movie despite the seductive editing rhythms and the many inventive moments. From a screenplay by Altman, with improvisations; in this ornamental setting, with so much care given to twirling glassy baubles, the occasional flat improvised lines are like peanut shells stuck in jewelry. Susannah York is the author of "In Search of Unicorns," the stupefyingly high-flown story for children, which the heroine narrates. With Cathryn Harrison. Made in Ireland. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

Imitation of Life

US (1934): Drama
109 min, No rating, Black & White

Classic, compulsively watchable rags-to-riches-and-heartbreak weeper, from a novel by Fannie Hurst. Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers are the white and black women who go into business together, and Rochelle Hudson and Fredi Washington are their daughters. Ross Hunter produced a remake in 1959 which pulled out all the stops; in both versions you want to laugh at yourself for choking up, but, at least, the original is simpler and the sobs aren't torn out of your throat. With Warren William, Ned Sparks, Alan Hale, Franklin Pangborn, Noel Francis, Hazel Washington, Madame Sul-Te-Wan (the black actress who worked with D.W. Griffith), Hattie McDaniel, Henry Armetta, and Henry Kolker. Directed by John Stahl. Universal.

The Importance of Being Earnest

UK (1952): Comedy
95 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Oscar Wilde's deliriously convoluted, perfect comedy-the most preposterous work of art ever written. Wit cascades through the play in a natural flow. Considered too effete for general consumption, it was never filmed until this production, directed by Anthony Asquith, who also did the adaptation and left the play alone as much as possible. The film is stagey, but highly enjoyable; Wilde's multiple-entendres about love and money are delivered in the required high, dry style by an extraordinary cast. Michael Redgrave is Jack Worthing; Edith Evans is triumphantly larger than life as Lady Bracknell; Joan Greenwood is the Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax; Michael Denison is Algernon Moncrieff; Dorothy Tutin is a wonderful, twittering Cecily Cardew; Margaret Rutherford, her great jaw wobbling with emotion, is Miss Prism; and Miles Malleson is Reverend Chasuble. People who have seen this movie have been known to giggle with pleasure years later as they recall the timbre and phrasing that Edith Evans gives to such lines as "Prism! Where is that baby?"

In a Lonely Place

US (1950): Drama
91 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Humphrey Bogart, as a cynical, tired Hollywood screenwriter named Dixon Steele, in an atmospheric but disappointingly hollow murder melodrama directed by Nicholas Ray. In talking to a hat-check girl, Steele discovers that she has read the book he is supposed to adapt to the screen; not wanting the bother of reading it himself, he invites her to his place so he can grill her about it. When the girl is murdered, the police think he did it. Steele is in love with Gloria Grahame (who lives in the same complex of courtyard apartments), but he's under so much pressure because of the police that he almost strangles her in a jealous rage. That makes her queasily fearful, and he knows he's lost her. Ray doesn't seem to have an adequate budget or enough ideas to play with; he keeps the thing going and uses the courtyard setting for a special LA feeling, but the dialogue is no more than functional, and there's not much of a supporting cast-Frank Lovejoy, Carl Benton Reid, Jeff Donnell, Art Smith, Robert Warwick, Steven Geray, and Hadda Brooks as the singer in the nightclub sequence. (Some people have interpreted the film's murky undertones in terms of the breakup of Ray's marriage to Gloria Grahame; they split when the picture was finished.) From a novel by Dorothy B. Hughes, adapted by Edmund H. North and Andrew Solt; cinematography by Burnett Guffey; music by George Antheil. Columbia.

In Caliente

US (1935): Musical/Dance
84 min, No rating, Black & White

Mediocre but tolerable foolishness-an inexpensive, makeshift musical from First National with one memorable number: sultry Wini Shaw singing "The Lady in Red." The plot is some nonsense about a dancer (Dolores Del Rio) falling in love with a critic who gave her a bad review. The cast includes Pat O'Brien, Glenda Farrell, Leo Carrillo, Phil Regan, Judy Canova, Luis Alberni, Herman Bing, and Edward Everett Horton; Lloyd Bacon directed, from a screenplay by Jerry Wald and Julius Epstein, based on a story by a couple of other fellows. There is an appalling song called "Muchacha."

In Like Flint

US (1967): Spy/Comedy
114 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

This sequel to OUR MAN FLINT (1966) has just one memorable bit. Told that the President (Andrew Duggan) has been kidnapped and is being impersonated by an actor, agent Flint (James Coburn) cries out, "An actor the President of the United States!" Directed by Gordon Douglas, from a script by Hal Fimberg. With Lee J. Cobb and Anna Lee. 20th Century-Fox. CinemaScope.

In Name Only

US (1939): Drama
94 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Slinky Kay Francis is the cold-hearted wife in name only. All she wants of her husband, Cary Grant, is his wealth and social position, while he is so desperate for a divorce in order to marry the companionable Carole Lombard, a young widow with a small daughter, that he becomes ill and almost dies of pneumonia. This is one of the rare movies in which the robust Grant actually has sickbed scenes. John Cromwell directed this "mature" (Dodsworth influenced) view of marital incompatibility, which emphasizes the wife's shrewdness in manipulating her in-laws. It's a solemn, soapy picture, but with unusually good performances. With Charles Coburn as Grant's father, and Helen Vinson, Peggy Ann Garner, Katharine Alexander, Alan Baxter, Maurice Moscovitch, and Nella Walker. Adapted by Richard Sherman, from Bessie Breuer's novel Memory of Love. RKO.

In Old Chicago

US (1938): Historical/Disaster
95 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Alice Brady has a few miraculous scenes as Mrs. O'Leary, whose cow kicks over a lamp and starts the big blaze. The remainder of the film, which features Don Ameche as her goody-boy son and Tyrone Power as her shrewd, black-sheep scamp, is on a different level altogether. It's a mediocre, though jolly, quasi-historical melodrama involving brawls, riots, capricious temperaments, police squads, café ladies, gaudy saloons, and Alice Faye smiling that great open smile of hers that makes it possible to forgive her acting and to bask in her mellow-voiced numbers. (Ameche is so fatuous here he's almost likable.) Henry King directed, from the screenplay by Lamar Trotti and Sonya Levien, based on Niven Busch's We the O'Learys; the more immediate inspiration for the film was the box-office success of MGM's 1936 SAN FRANCISCO. With Gene Reynolds, Phyllis Brooks, Tom Brown, Andy Devine, Sidney Blackmer, Brian Donlevy, Berton Churchill, and Paul Hurst.

In the Heat of the Night

US (1967): Crime
109 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A comedy-thriller with Sidney Poitier as a quick-witted police officer from the North and Rod Steiger as a blundering Southern chief of police. Fast and enjoyable, with Poitier's color used for comedy. He's like a black Sherlock Holmes in a Tom-and-Jerry cartoon of reversals. For once it's funny (instead of embarrassing) that he's superior to everybody else. In the final joke, Steiger plays redcap to him. With Lee Grant, Warren Oates, Beah Richards, Scott Wilson, Peter Masterson, Matt Clark, Peter Whitney, James Patterson, and Larry Gates. The cinematography by Haskell Wexler has an exciting, alive quality, and the good Quincy Jones score includes a title song sung by Ray Charles. Directed by Norman Jewison, from a script by Stirling Silliphant based on a novel by John Ball. Academy Awards: Best Picture, Actor (Steiger), Screenplay, and Editing (Hal Ashby). United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Going Steady.

In the Year of the Pig

US (1969): Documentary
No rating, Color

Emile de Antonio assembled news footage and interviews from many sources for this overview of the background and issues of the Vietnam war. There are some almost forgotten faces, like Emperor Bao Dai's and Madame Nhu's, and some American speeches we might like to forget. The film makes sense out of what was going on, even if this sense isn't the only sense to be made of it. De Antonio is overly fond of schoolboy tricks-loaded, crude bits of satire. But in the main line of the narrative he plays a highly sophisticated game: he presents the American leaders and American policy as Hanoi might see them, and he's done it out of our own mouths.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

In Which We Serve

UK (1942): War
115 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

During the Second World War, Noel Coward and David Lean co-directed this skillful, discreetly realistic film about the courage and sacrifice of the British Navy, specifically the men on a destroyer. Coward himself plays the ship's commander; he also wrote and scored the movie and produced it. Coward's ability to package emotions and to break the audience's heart without relaxing his upper lip is more perplexing here than elsewhere. The restraint of his proud patriotism may seem a much worse con than rampant jingoism, but he'a a wizard at this English game. The cast includes Celia Johnson, John Mills, Kay Walsh, Michael Wilding, and Richard Attenborough.

The Incredible Sarah

US (1976): Biography
106 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

An aberration. The staccato, wrenchingly modern Glenda Jackson plays the lyrical, incandescent Sarah Bernhardt. Written by Ruth Wolff and directed by Richard Fleischer, this picture is in the stupefying tradition of SONG OF NORWAY. With Daniel Massey as Sardou and Yvonne Mitchell as Mam'selle. Produced by Helen M. Strauss, for Reader's Digest.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

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