James Whale, the director of FRANKENSTEIN, made this handsomely tricked-up version of H.G. Wells' fantasy, from a well-written adaptation by R.C. Sherriff (and Philip Wylie, though he's not credited); the dialogue is unusually important, since the star (Claude Rains) is disembodied during most of the movie and has to do all his acting with his voice. Rains plays a scientist who experiments with a drug that, while making him invisible, also turns him into a megalomaniac murderer. A little poky but impressively well done, with witty special effects (by John P. Fulton) and traces of the Whale humor that enlivened his THE OLD DARK HOUSE and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. With blond, bosomy Gloria Stuart-a fleshy heroine for a fleshless hero-and Dudley Digges, Una O'Connor, William Harrigan, Henry Travers, and E.E. Clive. Universal.
Vincent Price and Cedric Hardwicke star in Universal's attempt to repeat the success of James Whale's 1933 picture; Hardwicke is a murderer who contrives that the blame for his crime be put on his victim's brother, and Price is the brother, who escapes from the death cell by means of a chemical that makes him invisible. John P. Fulton is once again in charge of special effects, but this time the director is Joe May, working from a script by Curt Siodmak and Lester Cole. Though the film has its bright moments, and some weird ones, too, the first freshness is gone. Even the effects seem repetitive. With Nan Grey as Price's relentlessly devoted fiancée, and Cecil Kellaway, John Sutton, and Alan Napier.
Irene Dunne as a mournful heiress, and Fred MacMurray as a heavyweight boxer whom she marries. They have a nasty little snob of a child, and their marriage seems to be a groan from the start-an uninspired and very long groan. Wesley Ruggles directed, from Claude Binyon's screenplay. With Charles Ruggles. Paramount.
This picture bollixed the career of Gene Kelly, who directed and choreographed it, and probably broke his heart as well: practically nobody saw it. The film consists of three ballets, with some pantomime and also some animated-cartoon work. "Circus," set to Jacques Ibert music, features Igor Youskevitch as a high-wire artist, Claire Sombert as a bareback rider in love with him, and Kelly as a clown in love with her; "Ring Around the Rosy," about a bracelet that goes through various hands, has an André Previn score, and the dancers include Youskevitch, Tamara Toumanova, Tommy Rall, and Kelly; "Sinbad the Sailor" features Carol Haney as Scheherazade and Kelly as Sinbad. The film was beset by difficulties. It had to be made in England because that's where MGM had frozen funds, and, with interruptions for Kelly to do other jobs, the work spread over three years. He was further hampered by front-office directives-for example, the second ballet was danced to a score that the MGM brass didn't like, so Previn had to write a new score to the already filmed dancing. Then the studio put the film on the shelf for another year. There should be an ironic kicker: the picture should be a neglected marvel. But it isn't. Kelly's choreography had always seemed weakest when he became balletic; this picture is set right in his area of least originality. Produced by Arthur Freed.
Michael Caine as a myopic spy, in Sidney J. Furie's overwrought (and rather silly) version of a Len Deighton novel. This film was a big box-office hit; Caine must have been the chief reason. With Nigel Green.
There's fervor and dedication in Michael Cacoyannis's version of Euripides' Iphigenia in Aulis; what's missing is the excitement of a new interpretation. And was there a little too much Arthur Miller in Euripides? (The arguments have an ideological ring.) But Costa Kazakos's robust, irresolute Agamemnon is very fine, and if Irene Papas's performance as Clytemnestra is overscaled, her Clytemnestra certainly makes you believe in the vengeance she will take on Agamemnon. The role suffers from a topical flaw; Clytemnestra's female rage sounds too much like what we heard in the 70s. She has become a precursor, and less of a character. There's also a problem of style: the film is all rocks and scrub brush and Clytemnestra swelling with wrath and Menelaus (Costa Carras) expostulating. Performed this way, IPHIGENIA is like a wildlife film about rhinoceroses-everybody's snorting at each other. With Tatiana Papamoskou as the young heroine. In Greek.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
This pre-camp version of the musical comedy (by James H. Montgomery, with music and lyrics by Harry Tierney and Joseph McCarthy) tries to be innocuously charming, and the effort is all too evident. The English director Herbert Wilcox and his star, Anna Neagle (who later became his wife), made a series of costume pictures (PEG OF OLD DRURY, VICTORIA THE GREAT, NURSE EDITH CAVELL, etc.), and a series of musicals (IRENE; SUNNY; NO, NO, NANETTE) based on sweet, safe, dated shows. This one surrounded its star with Ray Milland, Roland Young, May Robson, Arthur Treacher, Billie Burke, and Alan Marshal, and it was the biggest hit RKO had that year, but it dismally lacks vivacity, and when Anna Neagle sings "Sweet Little Alice Blue Gown," she is not the pretty young comedienne of one's musical-comedy dreams. The screenplay is by Alice Duer Miller.
Abominable, inexplicably popular sex farce, adapted from a stage musical comedy, but with the score omitted. Billy Wilder, the producer-director, and his co-scenarist, I.A.L. Diamond, hit us over the head with the old rotten jest that prostitution is a petit-bourgeois way of life like any other. Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon, vivid and gifted comics, wrestle painfully with the gross dialogue. Sample: MacLaine, showing Lemmon her attic apartment, explains that it once belonged to an artist who cut off his ear. "Oh," says Lemmon. "Was his name van Gogh?" "No," says MacLaine, "Schwartz." With Lou Jacobi and Herschel Bernardi. United Artists.
The director, Hector Babenco, treats William Kennedy's Albany novel, set in 1938, as a joyless classic; the movie has no momentum-the running time (144 minutes) is like a death sentence. As Francis Phelan, the alcoholic hobo hero who is torn by guilt over the family he deserted 22 years ago and sees the phantoms of men he has done violence to, Jack Nicholson seems to be in a slow-motion dream. He drops his voice down so heroically low he even has to talk slowly. And Meryl Streep, who is Francis's hobo crony Helen, forces her voice down deep, too. The only moments of reprieve from all the sombre artistry come when Streep sings "He's Me Pal" in the all-out, sentimental-Irish manner of a balladeer of a decade or two earlier; it's a spectacular re-creation of the old technique for "selling a song." Tom Waits, Hy Anzell, and Margaret Whitton provide brief changes of mood and emotion. Also with Carroll Baker, Fred Gwynne, Diane Venora, Michael O'Keefe, Laura Esterman, Priscilla Smith, and Black-Eyed Susan. The screenplay is by Kennedy. Released by Tri-Star.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
Porno-spoof with the usual sex scenes and the usual sex jokes. And the usual fatigue factor, because the gags in films of this type are repetitive and interchangeable. However, this one has some funnier-than-usual skits involving Buck Henry, Jim Moran, and Marshall Efron. At times it's like a college revue gone wild, and partly because of its photographic quality and the use of pastels you don't get that depressed, crummy feeling that usually settles in with the first shots of a porny picture. Written, directed, and produced by Jeanne and Alan Abel.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
The setting is the Gaspé coast of Canada. Geneviève Bujold with her hair cropped is a sensitive young girl haunted by the mysterious violent deaths in her family. It turns out that she is probably the daughter of her mother's brother, and in the omens-of-doom dramaturgy of the Canadian writer-director Paul Almond, this is sufficient excuse for her to "give herself" to a man who resembles her brother. Not a movie for the tough-minded. With Mark Strange, who also wrote the songs.
Written and directed by Elaine May, this must have started out to be a casual, tacky Road to comedy about two aging nonentities-singer-songwriters (Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman) who can only be booked into faraway night spots. Dreaming of show-business success, they arrive in the Middle East and get caught up in revolutionary politics they don't know a thing about. Though determinedly inconsequential, the picture was made on authentic locations and in a glamorous romantic style; it gets stalled in exposition and in the sand of the Sahara. It isn't dislikable, but it has no comic energy. May's directing is limp, passive; she doesn't do the obvious, but sometimes she doesn't do anything else, either. And when Beatty and Hoffman play small-timers it's a reverse conceit, a form of affectation. Besides, they don't have the kind of sketch-humor savvy to goof off gracefully. They do have a great desert scene with a troupe of unusually handsome, well-groomed vultures. And there are performers who bring some charge with them: Jack Weston, as the team's two-bit hustling agent; Rose Arrick, in a tiny role as Hoffman's mother. And, as the C.I.A. villain, Charles Grodin manages to be fairly amusing because of his bland, whiny lack of charge. With Isabelle Adjani, whose pure, childlike face peeps out of the dark Moroccan clothes she's swathed in; she seems hidden in the picture. Also with Tess Harper, Carol Kane, Aharon Ipalé, and Herb Gardner. Cinematography by Vittorio Storaro. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
A ponderously simple Japanese film by Kaneto Shindo that aims at universality by stripping away all the particularities-which are considered to be the nonessentials of civilization and personality. The result is something so barren that those who acclaim it as a masterpiece seem to be asserting proof of virtue. It's about a family living on an island without fresh water: the family members' life is a succession of trips to the mainland for water, which they then carry by shoulder yoke up steep paths to pour over their crops. The film is made without dialogue, and this silence of the characters has been widely commended as the perfect use of silence-the demonstration that the family gives all its energy to the effort to stay alive and has no need for idle talk. We are supposed to regard this preverbal existence and the silent struggle with elemental forces as more basic, more "true to nature," and hence greater than our talky superficial lives. (If the members of this island family-so sure of their relationships to each other and to the earth and water and plants that they have nothing to say-ever figure out how to get a pipeline in from the mainland, they'll be liberated from that primal struggle with the elements and soon they'll be on their path to conversation and what-in Kaneto Shindo's view-is probably sophistication, corruption, and decadence.) Though we are spared the kind of uplifting film conversation that filmmakers with this approach usually provide (the lean, true words of real people), the images are saturated with a musical score of prodigious monotony. THE ISLAND was made on a small budget, and its pictorial qualities have been highly praised. It's pictorial, all right.
The implacable stodginess of this Franklin J. Schaffner version of Hemingway's posthumous novel is stupefying yet impressive. It's fascinating to see Hemingway's themes placed in this huge glass jar for our inspection. George C. Scott gives a scrupulous performance as the fisherman-artist hero living in the Bahamas at the outbreak of the Second World War, who is visited by his three sons from two broken marriages, and then by his first wife (Claire Bloom). By being respectful and dedicated, and incompetent at action, Schaffner and his scenarist, Denne Bart Petitclerc, bring out the worst in Hemingway-his mystique. Scott's features are totally unlike Hemingway's, but with a crew cut, a grizzled gray-white beard, neatly clipped, the chestiness, and the familiar Hemingway shirts and shorts and bush jackets, Scott suggests Hemingway as he looked on the Time cover in 1954, when he won the Nobel Prize-reflective, slightly withdrawn. Scott's artist-hero, a titan with slate-blue eyes, a crumbled nose, and a booze-busted, I've-been-through-hell voice, is terribly grand. Everyone else in the movie is a child compared with him. With Julius Harris, David Hemmings, Gilbert Roland, Hart Bochner, Brad Savage, and Michael-James Wixted as the middle boy, Davy. Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
Val Lewton produced, but except for a few touches, it's a mess-something about demons on a plague-ridden Greek island, involving premature burial and evil possession of the resurrected body. Boris Karloff and Katherine Emery are the leads; she comes out of her crypt and starts stabbing people with a trident. With Ellen Drew, Alan Napier, and Jason Robards, Sr., in a surprisingly poor performance. Mark Robson directed. RKO.
No one has ever fully explained what gives this basically slight romantic comedy its particular-and enormous-charm. It's no more than the story of a runaway heiress (Claudette Colbert) and a fired newspaperman (Clark Gable) who meet on a long-distance night bus and fall in love. Yet the film (which neither of its stars wanted to appear in) caught on with the public and made audiences happy in a way that only a few films in each era do; in the mid-30s, the Colbert and the Gable of this film became Americans' idealized view of themselves-breezy, likable, sexy, gallant, and maybe just a little harebrained. (It was the ANNIE HALL of its day-before the invention of anxiety.) It has a special American Depression-era on-the-road humor and an open, episodic form, with oddball mashers and crooks turning up. There's a classic singing sequence (the passengers on the bus join together for "The Man on the Flying Trapeze") and a classic demonstration of hitchhikers' techniques for stopping cars-Gable's thumb versus Colbert's legs. The two stars interact with easy, on-the-button timing; Gable has a gift for seeming virile even at his most foolish, and when things go wrong Colbert manages to look starry-eyed and blankly depressed at the same time. Frank Capra directed, from Robert Riskin's script, based on Samuel Hopkins Adams' short story "Night Bus." With Walter Connolly, Roscoe Karns, Alan Hale, Ward Bond, Arthur Hoyt, and as the jilted bridegroom, Jameson Thomas. Five Academy Awards: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Script. (Remade in 1956 as YOU CAN'T RUN AWAY FROM IT.) Columbia.
Judy Holliday in a pleasantly erratic satirical comedy; the targets-advertising, TV, and urban gullibility-are rather easily pinked, but the scenarist, Garson Kanin, and the director, George Cukor, don't loiter over them for long. (Still, the film runs down.) The heroine, who yearns for celebrity, takes her life savings and places her name-Gladys Glover-in giant letters across a billboard in Columbus Circle. Before long, she is as inescapably in the public eye as one of the Gabors. She also tosses about in romantic indecision: Should she give her heart to an honest documentary filmmaker (Jack Lemmon, in his Hollywood début) and say farewell to the big time, or should she surrender herself to the sudsy embraces of a soap manufacturer (Peter Lawford)? With Connie Gilchrist, Melville Cooper, and Michael O'Shea, who is particularly funny as a seedy entrepreneur. There are also appearances by Constance Bennett, Ilka Chase, and Wendy Barrie as themselves. Columbia.
Deanna Durbin as a waif who gets involved with the family of a saintly old millionaire (Charles Laughton). He plays Cupid and schemes to have his grandson marry her. And you need the stomach of a saint to sit through it. Joe Pasternak produced, Henry Koster directed, and Norman Krasna was one of the writers. (Durbin does only some incidental singing.) Universal.
Frank Capra's most relentless lump-in-the-throat movie. The hero (James Stewart) is a self-sacrificial good man who runs a small-town building-and-loan association that is threatened by the local ogre, the wickedly selfish Lionel Barrymore. Thinking he has no resources left, the hero is on the brink of suicide when he is given a vision of what life would be like for his family and his town if he had never been born. Donna Reed plays his wife, Gloria Grahame is the town "fast" girl, and the excruciatingly familiar cast includes Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondi, Ward Bond, H.B. Warner, and Samuel S. Hinds. In its own slurpy, bittersweet way, the picture is well done. But it's fairly humorless, and, what with all the hero's virtuous suffering, it didn't catch on with the public. Capra takes a serious tone here though there's no basis for the seriousness; this is doggerel trying to pass as art. It's not just that it didn't match the post-Second World War mood-it might have seemed patronizing even in the post-First World War period. This picture developed a considerable-if bewildering-reputation, based largely on television viewing, about three decades later. (Marlo Thomas played the suffering protagonist in the 1977 TV-movie remake, IT HAPPENED ONE CHRISTMAS.) RKO.
The title presses the point, and so does the lunatic comedy-mystery. In the role of a tough-minded, devil-may-care poet, Claudette Colbert is forced to strain for laughs; the gag-filled script, by Ben Hecht and Herman J. Mankiewicz involves her with crooks, cops, amateur actors, and Boy Scouts, and requires her to knock a man out. James Stewart plays opposite her as a detective. With Guy Kibbee, who gets whacked a lot; Ernest Truex, who is almost electrocuted; and Nat Pendleton and Edgar Kennedy. Directed by W.S. Van Dyke. It's fast-paced but far from memorable. MGM.
The title is a misnomer. Comden and Green's tart follow-up to ON THE TOWN, and directed by the same team (Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen), is like a delayed hangover. The three buddies are now Kelly, Dan Dailey, and Michael Kidd; at war's end they swear eternal friendship and promise to meet in ten years. At their reunion, they discover that they hate each other and themselves, and go looking for the hopes they abandoned. The film's mixture of parody, cynicism, and song and dance is perhaps a little sour; though the numbers are exhilarating and the movie is really much more fun than the wildly overrated ON THE TOWN, it doesn't sell exuberance in that big, toothy way, and it was a box-office failure. As the sickened advertising man, Dan Dailey has the best routine in the film-a Chaplinesque, drunken satire of "advertising-wise" jargon. (To a great extent this is Dailey's movie.) Dolores Gray's role (as a TV star) is too broadly written, but her smooth, glib style is refreshingly brassy and she has a dazzling number-"Thanks a lot but no thanks;" Cyd Charisse is beautiful and benumbed until she unhinges her legs in the Stillman's Gym number. Produced by Arthur Freed, for MGM. CinemaScope.
A light farce in which Leslie Howard and Bette Davis play a shallow, vanity-ridden matinée idol and his hot-tempered leading lady, and relish every hammy, slapstick minute of it. They are surrounded by the millionaires (George Barbier), valets and butlers (Eric Blore, E.E. Clive), and silly heiresses (Olivia De Havilland) who were at one time as much of a convention in American comedy as the fops of Restoration theatre. Casey Robinson's script (from a story written for the screen by Maurice Hanline) is musty and Archie Mayo's direction is sluggish, but the movie is pleasantly bad. It begins with a burlesque of the tomb scene from ROMEO AND JULIET and proceeds like a somewhat deranged TAMING OF THE SHREW. With Bonita Granville, Patric Knowles, and Spring Byington. Warners.
René Clair took the Eugène Labiche and Marc Michel play that Bergson used to illustrate his theory of comedy and turned it into a model of visual wit. This silent satire on middle-class pretension is so expertly timed and so elegantly directed that farce becomes ballet. With Albert Préjean as the bridegroom. Designed by Lazare Meerson.
Eisenstein's two-part extravaganza on the evils of tyranny is obviously a magnificent work and it imposes its style on the viewer, yet it's so lacking in human dimensions that you may stare at it in a kind of outrage. True, every frame in it looks great-it's a brilliant collection of stills-but as a movie, it's static, grandiose, and frequently ludicrous, with elaborately angled, overcomposed photography, and overwrought, eyeball-rolling performers slipping in and out of the walls, dragging their shadows behind them. The city of Alma Ata was rebuilt full scale in Central Asia with lumber imported from Siberia, and millions of rubles worth of sets, beards, and brocades went into it-it's a heavy dose of decor. In PART I, released in 1945, Ivan is crowned, and then because of the opposition of the boyars (or nobles) who, among their evil deeds, poison his wife, he is forced to abdicate. PART II, which Eisenstein called The Boyars' Plot, was his last film. Made in 1945-46, censured by the Central Committee and suppressed, it was not released until five years after Stalin's death (the director, still in disgrace, had died in 1948). In PART II the boyars strike again. Ivan has been restored to power with the help of "the people," but, under the leadership of Ivan's ratty old aunt Efrosinia, who hopes to put her (crazy? homosexual? both?) son on the throne, the boyars plot to assassinate Ivan. He outwits them and destroys their power in a big, bloody purge. All this may suggest a libretto. The movie isoperatic-and opera without singers is a peculiar form. Something momentous seems about to be imparted to us in each great frozen composition; it's almost as if the aria were about to begin. (In one of the most satisfying moments in PART I there is a song.) Overpowering in style, the movie resembles a gigantic Expressionist mural. The figures are like giant spiders and rodents: as in science fiction, some horrible mutation seems to have taken place. The conflict in IVAN is between the good man dedicated to the welfare of his people and the power-mad despot (and, given when it was made, it's easy to see a parallel to Stalin). Oddly, the makeup that Nikolai Cherkassov uses as Ivan seems to be based on Conrad Veidt's makeup in Paul Leni's 1924 film WAXWORKS, in which Ivan was used simply as a horror figure (the decor and camera work also recall WAXWORKS). And as James Agee pointed out, Eisenstein gave Cherkassov "a chin and cranium which becomes ever more pointed, like John Barrymore as Mr. Hyde." In some ways the film is close to the horror genre. It's as mysterious to the American eye and mind as Kabuki, to which it is often compared. Music by Prokofiev; cinematography by Edouard Tissé, assisted by Andrei Moskvin on PART II. In Russian.
What a ruckus! Everybody in 12th-century England is fighting everybody else-lunging at one another with long lances while on horseback, or throwing rocks off the parapets of keeps, or raising and lowering drawbridges over moats and plunging shouting, screaming men into the water below. In between, barbecue pits are made ready for human roasts and stakes are erected for the purpose of burning beautiful young women. The Normans, who have pledged their allegiance to Prince John (Guy Rolfe), are at war with the Saxons, who are committed to Richard the Lion-Hearted (Norman Wooland), and the Saxon hero Wilfred of Ivanhoe (Robert Taylor) is trying to raise the ransom money to free Richard from his foreign captors. Ivanhoe is also attentive to the fair Rowena (Joan Fontaine) and to the dark, sensitive Jewish outcast Rebecca (Elizabeth Taylor). Elizabeth Taylor, just turned 20, is so eerily beautiful that Fontaine, ordinarily a great beauty in her own right, seems pallid and smarmy. The big clash between Ivanhoe and the villain (George Sanders) is unaccountably brutal-they go at each other with axes and heavy spiked balls attached to chains. No one could say this wasn't a rousing movie. It's also romantic, big, commercial, and slick, in the MGM grand manner. Produced by Pandro S. Berman, directed by Richard Thorpe, and made in England, it was shot by Freddie Young (who was later to do LAWRENCE OF ARABIA). With Emlyn Williams, Finlay Currie, Felix Aylmer, Basil Sydney, Robert Douglas, Harold Warrender, Sebastian Cabot, and Valentine Dyall. Screenplay by Noel Langley, from the Walter Scott novel; art direction by Alfred Junge; score by Miklós Rózsa.