This adaptation of Jacqueline Susann's infatuated exposé of the scandalous goings-on among celebrities wants so badly to be shocking and is actually so naïve that you begin to feel some affection for its silly sleaziness. The picture lacks the nerve to be crudely flamboyant, and so it isn't the smashing trash it should have been, but it has its moments, such as George Hamilton, as a celebrated stud, luring a virgin named January Wayne (Deborah Raffin) into his lecher's pad, which is equipped with red couches, blazing fires, and a Sinatra record at the ready. Brenda Vaccaro is entertainingly spunky as a Helen Gurley Brownish editor, and David Janssen gives a surprisingly energetic performance as a Norman Mailer-like brawling writer. The others include Kirk Douglas, and Alexis Smith and Melina Mercouri, who have an excruiating lesbian scene. Guy Green directed, unevenly, from a too-sober script by Julius J. Epstein. Howard W. Koch produced, for Paramount.
This thriller doesn't offer the pleasures of style, but it does its job. It catches you in a vise-it's scary, and when it's over you feel a little shaken. Jeff Bridges plays the San Francisco newspaper publisher-editor who is tried for the murder of his rich wife, who owned the paper; Peter Coyote is the D.A. prosecuting him; and Glenn Close is the radiantly blond woman lawyer who defends him, and falls in love with him. She's the star of the movie; we feel an immediate, empathic connection with her excitement. Good thrillers have an electric current running through them; here it runs through her performance, and then charges the film's last section. Working from a script by Joe Eszterhas that's smart, pared down, and efficient, the director, Richard Marquand, sets up the situations and delivers the payoffs; he doesn't show much in the way of imagination or devotion to craft, but he gets distinctively pungent performances. Bridges is marvellously hooded; you can't read his emotions. (This is some of the best work he has done.) And Coyote's D.A. has a suggestion of something rancid and vindictive. As the profane, hard-drinking private investigator who tracks down witnesses for the defense, Robert Loggia provides a few puckish curlicues and walks off with his scenes. Also with Leigh Taylor-Young, Marshall Colt, and, as a final surprise witness, Karen Austin, in an intense scene that has a porno queasiness about it. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
Elvis Presley, convicted of manslaughter and shorn by a jailhouse haircut, sings and plays the guitar to entertain the prison inmates. At one point, he strips to the waist and the guards flog him, though not for his singing. Richard Thorpe directed this package, shrewdly designed to give satisfaction to the new raunchy rock generation. The story ends happily, and the movie made millions, though Presley never begins to suggest the vitality that he showed in documentary footage. With Judy Tyler, Dean Jones, and Mickey Shaughnessy. Script by Guy Trosper, from a story by Ned Young. MGM.
A forgettable, generally forgotten Hitchcock gothic, from a Daphne du Maurier novel, full of Cornwall shipwrecks and smuggling and murder in the time of good King George IV. The picture is dominated by Charles Laughton (with a false beak) as an evil, bound-to-go-mad rake; his flamboyant ghoulishness appears to have paralyzed Hitchcock, whose staging of the wild flights from assassins, the midnight escapes, the prowlings up and down corridors, over roofs, through barnyards, and over moors is almost shockingly uninspired. With Maureen O'Hara, who is a very dim heroine here, Emlyn Williams enjoying himself playing a sinister scamp, and Leslie Banks, Robert Newton, and Marie Ney. The picture was produced (by Erich Pommer) on a large scale; the Regency costumes seem to overpower the performers and the inn is packed with crowds of actors impersonating violent, hard-drinking louts-Graham Greene said that they were "reminiscent of the noisier characters in Shakespeare acted at a girls' school." Written by Sidney Gilliat, Joan Harrison, and J.B. Priestley.
It may be the most cheerfully perverse scare movie ever made. Even while you're convulsed with laughter you're still apprehensive, because the editing rhythms are very tricky, and the shock images loom up huge, right on top of you. The film belongs to the pulpiest sci-fi monster-movie tradition, yet it stands some of the old conventions on their head. Though JAWS has more zest than an early Woody Allen picture, and a lot more electricity, it's funny in a Woody Allen way. When the three protagonists are in their tiny boat, trying to find the shark that has been devouring people, you feel that Robert Shaw, the malevolent old shark hunter, is so manly that he wants to get them all killed; he's so manly he's homicidal. When Shaw begins showing off his wounds, the bookish ichthyologist, Richard Dreyfuss, strings along with him at first, and matches him scar for scar. But when the ichthyologist is outclassed in the number of scars he can exhibit, he opens his shirt, looks down at his hairy chest, and with a put-on artist's grin says, "You see that? Right there? That was Mary Ellen Moffit-she broke my heart." Shaw squeezes an empty beer can flat; Dreyfuss satirizes him by crumpling a Styrofoam cup. The director, Steven Spielberg, sets up bare-chested heroism as a joke and scores off it all through the movie. The third protagonist, acted by Roy Scheider, is a former New York City policeman who has just escaped the city dangers and found a haven as chief of police in the island community that is losing its swimmers; he doesn't know one end of a boat from the other. But the fool on board isn't the chief of police, or the bookman, either. It's Shaw, the obsessively masculine fisherman, who thinks he's got to prove himself by fighting the shark practically single-handed. The high point of the film's humor is in our seeing Shaw get it; this nut Ahab, with his hypermasculine basso-profundo speeches, stands in for all the men who have to show they're tougher than anybody. The shark's cavernous jaws demonstrate how little his toughness finally adds up to. This primal-terror comedy quickly became one of the top-grossing films of all time. With Lorraine Gary; Murray Hamilton; Carl Gottlieb, who co-wrote the (uneven) script with Peter Benchley, as Meadows; and Benchley, whose best-seller novel the script was based on, as an interviewer. Cinematography by Bill Butler; editing by Verna Fields; music by John Williams. Produced by Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown, for Universal. (Spielberg didn't direct the sequels-the 1978 JAWS 2, the 1983 JAWS 3-D, and the 1987 JAWS THE REVENGE.)
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
The 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, with Anita O'Day, Big Maybelle, Dinah Washington, Gerry Mulligan, Thelonious Monk, Chico Hamilton, Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden, and other joys. Bert Stern's camera style infectiously conveys the festival's happy, lazy-day atmosphere; the America's Cup observation trials, which are also going on, are an unstressed part of the film's visual texture. In the evening, when Mahalia Jackson, with her majestic chest tones, sings the word "soul," she defines it for all time. This is one of the most pleasurable of all concert films. Aram Avakian edited.
The setting is Provence in the early 1920s. As the hunchback Jean de Florette, an educated, nature-loving city fellow who has learned about farming from books, Gérard Depardieu wears "GOOD MAN" in capital letters across his wide brow; in smaller letters we can read "He has poetry in his soul." Jean has a devoted wife (Elisabeth Depardieu), who used to sing in opera, and a delicate little daughter named Manon. And for slightly over two hours we watch him trudge across the land he has inherited hauling two barrels of water that are fastened across his hump. When there's no rain, his plants shrivel and his rabbits die, and it's agonizing for us, because we know that there's a spring of fresh mountain water on the land. His neighbors-the prosperous, greedy old peasant César Soubeyran (Yves Montand) and César's dull-witted nephew, Ugolin (Daniel Auteuil)-have hidden the spring under a load of cement, so that Jean will be forced to sell out to them. Adapted from the first volume of Marcel Pagnol's two-part novel The Water of the Hills, published in 1963 (it was derived from a picture he made in 1952), JEAN DE FLORETTE was followed by MANON OF THE SPRING. The director, Claude Berri, who did the adaptation with Gérard Brach, aimed for fidelity to the novel; he said that it was his task to give the material "a cinematic rhythm," but "there was no need for imagination." That's what he thinks. The widescreen cinematography is by Bruno Nuytten. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
This English comedy is a small joy, and it doesn't turn up nearly often enough. Barbara Mullen gives a lovely, delicately toned performance as the Scottish peasant who might have been a prim, lonely spinster forever if she hadn't come into an inheritance and taken a trip to prewar Vienna. The surrounding material isn't in a class with Mullen (who was actually American-born), but it's inoffensive, with Michael Redgrave, ingratiating as a British businessman, Albert Lieven as a rotter of a count, Wilfrid Lawson, Googie Withers, and Kay Hammond. Directed by Harold French, from a play by Aimee Stuart.
Robert Redford doing a self-consciously cool version of a strong, silent Western loner. The movie crawls through the wilderness at a snail's pace and is stretched out with ponderous lore. It celebrates tooth-and-claw revenge while featuring the kind of pithy dialogue that produces bellyache: "Keep your nose to the wind and your eye to the skyline." Directed by Sydney Pollack; written by John Milius and Edward Anhalt. With Will Geer and Allyn McLerie. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.
A dazzling romantic melodrama. Bette Davis is impulsive, complex Julie, the Southern belle who destroys her chances for happiness by perversely flouting convention. William Wyler produced and directed this sumptuous, moss-hung evocation of pre-Civil War New Orleans, with its great balls where tradition decreed that unmarried ladies dress in white-and where Julie's red dress wrecks her life. It's hard to know which is Davis's "big scene" in the movie-the painful, flamboyant error of her appearance in red, or the breathtaking moment of her apology in white. The material was already dated but was brought out of mothballs and refurbished because of the popularity of the novel Gone with the Wind, which the production beat to the screen; without the zing Davis gave it, it would have looked very mossy indeed. She took the Academy Award as Best Actress. With Henry Fonda, George Brent, Margaret Lindsay, Richard Cromwell, John Litel, Donald Crisp, Spring Byington, Eddie Anderson, Henry O'Neill, Irving Pichel, and Fay Bainter (Best Supporting Actress). The script by Clements Ripley, Abem Finkel, and John Huston (based on a play by Owen Davis, Sr.) has some remarkable passages. Cinematography by Ernest Haller; music by Max Steiner. Warners.
Luigi Zampa directed this 16-minute film adapted from Pirandello's La Patente, a satirical comedy about a man who tries to capitalize on his own bad luck. It stars the great clown Totò, who died in 1967. Off stage and screen he was Antonio, Prince De Curtis, and his titles included Prince of Byzantium, Cilicia, Macedonia, Thessaly, and Ponte; Duke of Cyprus and Epirus; Count of Drivasto and Durazzo, Noble Knight of the Holy Roman Empire. No wonder he looked at us with those tired eyes that had seen everything. Here, he is Don Rosario, who tries to be officially certified as the local jinx, so that people will pay him to stay away from them, and he is a world and a style unto himself. In Italian.
Bette Midler rates better material than this frazzled screwball romance. Even the movies it was lifted from (such as THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN) are bad. Midler is a great mischief, and she turns even moderately amusing lines into zingers, but the situations don't go anywhere. She plays an entertainer in the casinos at Lake Tahoe and Reno who lives with a sadistic gambler (Rip Torn)-he likes to beat her up. Though Midler has her spandex pants and her wiggle-walk and the lewd twinkle in her eyes, the character has been so thinly conceived that all she can do is play comic mannerisms. She invents like a crazy dynamo and she turns the movie into a one-woman comedy show, but you can see what the effort is costing her and she carries only part of it. There's a good frantic routine: between the stanzas of a rowdy medley that she's singing onstage, she bumps and grinds her way to the wings where her new lover (Ken Wahl), a young blackjack dealer, is standing, and without losing her rhythm she hisses out the procedures of a plan to murder the hateful sadist. Ken Wahl doesn't prosper in this picture; the camera seems to zero in on his handsome, clear-eyed face just when he's pleading for the director's help. He has been turned into a TV-style hunk. And Midler's platinum hairdo bleaches out her rosiness and her radiance. Don Siegel directed, from a script by Bert Blessing (a pseudonym for Frank Gilroy, who wrote THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN), which was then reworked by David Newman; it suggests a sprinkling of James M. Cain novels. With Val Avery, Jack Elam, and Benson Fong. MGM/United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
Richard Pryor produced, directed, and is the star of this semi-autobiographical movie, which opens with Jo Jo the cokehead comedy star preparing to freebase and bursting into flame. Then, as he lies swathed in bandages in the burn ward, he thinks back over how he got there. But Pryor doesn't have the skills to tell his story in this form. As a standup entertainer, he sees the crazy side of his sorrows; he transforms pain and chaos into comedy. As a moviemaker, he's a novice presenting us with clumps of unformed experience. It isn't even raw; the juice has been drained away. He was himself-demons, genius, and all-in RICHARD PRYOR-LIVE IN CONCERT and, though to a lesser extent, in RICHARD PRYOR LIVE ON THE SUNSET STRIP. Here, trying to be sincere, he's less than himself. With E'lon Cox as the 8-year-old Jo Jo, Carmen McRae as his grandmother, Diahnne Abbott as his mother, Scoey Mitchlll as his father, Paula Kelly and Billy Eckstine as the grown-up Jo Jo's friends, Fay Hauser, Barbara Williams, Debbie Allen, and Tanya Boyd as his wives, and Art Evans, Wings Hauser, Marlene Warfield, and J.J. Barry. The script was written by Rocco Urbisci, Paul Mooney, and Pryor. Cinematography by John Alonzo; production design by John DeCuir. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
The Swedish writer-director Bo Widerberg (ELVIRA MADIGAN, ADALEN 31) made this life of the Swedish emigrant to America-a troubadour-who became a member of the Industrial Workers of the World and was convicted of murder and executed. There are some pretty period re-creations here, but it's a sadly shallow movie. It looks exactly like Widerberg's Swedish films, and the dreamy, pastoral look seems all wrong for the subject; the imagery has no strength or moral outrage-everything is subtly off. Widerberg doesn't catch the Wobblies' spirit or humor; the U.S. here is an idyllic fascist country. Thommy Berggren plays the young hero-martyr who was celebrated in the ballad by Alfred Hayes and Earl Robinson. Many of the American locations had to be faked in Sweden; the dialogue is mainly in English. Released by Paramount.
Dustin Hoffman picks up Mia Farrow at a singles bar. It's meant to be a magical modern romance; there's no magic but it's clever and dexterous, in a wispy sort of way. It leaves a bad aftertaste, though, because you can feel the presence of regiments of technicians hiding behind the butterfly's wing and trying to make it iridescent. John has a block-not a sexual one but reservations about opening his life to feeling; the understanding little Mary sticks around until the block is overcome. Remember when that man in THE GRADUATE told Hoffman to go into plastics? Well, he did when he made this one. With Michael Tolan and Tyne Daly. Directed by Peter Yates, from John Mortimer's script, based on a novel by Mervyn Jones; music by Quincy Jones. 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
Jane Wyman, previously known as a giddy second-string blonde, surprised audiences with her touching performance as the brunette deaf-mute Belinda and won an Academy Award. The setting is an island off Nova Scotia, where a poor, proud farmer, appropriately named McDonald (Charles Bickford), lives with his acidulous sister (Agnes Moorehead) and his afflicted daughter, who is generally regarded as an idiot. Along comes a kindly young doctor (Lew Ayres), who teaches her sign language and encourages her to comb her hair, and she becomes presentable enough to attract a leering local bully (Stephen McNally, better known as Horace McNally), who rapes her. She has a baby-Johnny Belinda. This Jerry Wald production might have been as exasperating as the Broadway play by Elmer Harris that it's based on, but the director, Jean Negulesco, managed to provide an atmosphere in which the hokey, tearjerking elements are used for more than mere pathos-an example of technique over subject matter. With Jan Sterling as an unscrupulous tart, Rosalind Ivan, Dan Seymour (sometimes mistaken for Zero Mostel), and Mabel Paige. Cinematography by Ted McCord. Warners.
Lana Turner, in her dimpled prime, as the débutante who falls in love with a handsome, arrogant racketeer (the uniquely unconvincing Robert Taylor, with a mustache). Turner does her usual highly emotional, mannered substitute for acting; she's almost as stylized a bad actress as Crawford but much softer, more infantile. Taylor looks tired; his face seems tight and he's less handsome than we're supposed to think. This glossy, full-dress gangster melodrama from MGM doesn't add up to anything much, but it can be watched without pain. Best known for Van Heflin's ingratiating, picture-stealing performance as Taylor's friend; actually, he's more like Taylor's pet-a weak but lovable puppy dog. With Barry Nelson, Edward Arnold, Robert Sterling, Diana Lewis, Paul Stewart, Connie Gilchrist, Henry O'Neill, Charles Dingle, and Glenda Farrell. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy, from a script by James Edward Grant and John Lee Mahin.
Walter Hill directed this hog-wild revenge melodrama, in which Mickey Rourke plays a hoodlum Elephant Man-a deformed boy mocked by the world and forced into a life of crime. Ellen Barkin, in a cartoon performance, is the degenerate slut who jeers the loudest. The only sanity here is in some of the acting. Rourke does a fine, competent job, but the movie is stolen clear away by Morgan Freeman and Forest Whitaker as antagonists-a tough-minded veteran police detective and a warm, idealistic prison doctor. Whitaker believes that if he performs plastic surgery on the kid and makes him handsome he'll go straight. Freeman listens to Whitaker and grins in wonder: how can anyone be this innocent? It's tickling to see the two together; their scenes crackle. Other moments are redeemed by Elizabeth McGovern as a working-class girl, Scott Wilson as Rourke's only buddy, David Schramm as a money launderer, and Raynor Scheine as a gun dealer. Ken Friedman's screenplay (which is based on a novel by John Godey) is a tortuous reworking of Joan Crawford's 1941 vehicle A WOMAN'S FACE (which was a remake of a Swedish film with Ingrid Bergman); the big change is that the new film's slant is cruelly kinky. (It's as if A WOMAN'S FACE were redone, with the Crawford character once again surgically transformed and all-only now in the last scene somebody throws acid at her.) Set in New Orleans. Tri-Star.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.
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