Philippe de Broca's idiosyncratic little comedy begins by showing us a dreamy, eccentric family, and the whimsey is too soft-headed, but the film gets better (and more subtle than one expects) as it goes along. The lyric and lustful young hero, Jean-Pierre Cassel, pursues the glamorous Anouk Aimée, and when he catches her discovers how dreary she is. Still in his 20s when he made this film (it was preceded by THE LOVE GAME), de Broca has a deft, balletic style; the film is sprightly, but in an inoffensive way. With Georges Wilson and Geneviève Cluny. Written by de Broca and Daniel Boulanger; music by Georges Delerue. In French.
A whirling political comedy about the 70s' lunatic fringe of people in their 20s and 30s, each with his own answers to the problems of society. This film, a play of ideas with the laconic irony of Renoir's BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING and Buñuel's THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE, stays suspended in the air, spinning-a marvellous toy, weightless, yet precise and controlled. The director, Alain Tanner, and his co-writer, John Berger, are willing to entertain possibilities for social rebirth even if they're cracked or pickled. It's a romantic, mystic, utopian comedy-an Easter fable, with a dialectical bunny. Set in Geneva (the birthplace of Rousseau); with Miou-Miou, Jean-Luc Bideau, and Raymond Bussières. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
As a director, Jacques Tati has a spare, quick, improvisatory touch. As a comedian, buoyancy and impersonal eccentricity in the face of disaster are his special style. In this film, shot in the village of Sainte-Sévère-sur-Indre, with villagers playing many of the parts, the tall, ungainly Tati is the postman who attends the village fair and sees a documentary on the advanced, mechanized American postal system. He is overcome with enthusiasm for speed, and though he has no helicopter, he has his bicycle. He takes off, and what happens is unpredictable, even if you've already seen the movie-it's all so odd you forget it. Still, the film's melancholy humor is probably a little too mild or quaint for most American tastes. Written by Tati and Henri Marquet. It's not silent (it has sound effects and music), but it's not in French, either; Tati has devised a kind of unintelligible yet expressive gibberish. It's like the talk of robots who've got fouled up.
This labyrinthine spy story about smuggling munitions out of Turkey is loaded down with terror hocus-pocus and high-toned conversations. It's a halfhearted-almost fey-film, with a lot of dark atmosphere and unusual camera angles that don't amount to much; the pacing is uncertain, and the suspense doesn't build. Orson Welles, who appears as the Turkish police chief Colonel Haki, is credited, along with Joseph Cotten, for the rather eccentric adaptation of the Eric Ambler novel. Welles also supervised the making of this Mercury Production, though it was at least partly directed by Norman Foster. The cast includes Cotten, Dolores Del Rio, Everett Sloane, Agnes Moorehead, Edgar Barrier, Jack Moss, Ruth Warrick, Richard Bennett as the ship's captain, and Hans Conried as the magician. Cinematography by Karl Strüss; editing by Mark Robson. RKO.
Set in Vienna (and filmed entirely in the studio, in Germany), this erotic view of the breakdown of postwar society made the ravishing young Greta Garbo (in the flimsiest of evening gowns) internationally famous, although the star of the film is the great, strange Asta Nielsen, as a kept woman. G.W. Pabst directed this extraordinary triumph of cinematography and Expressionist design; the movie is like a big novel in the way that the characters' lives are interwoven, and it has its weak, dull parts, but it makes a very strong visual impression. With Valeska Gert as the procuress, Werner Krauss as a butcher, and Einar Hanson as an American. Willy Haas wrote the script, from the novel by Hugo Bettauer. Silent.
The time is the 1860s. Paul Muni is the straight, stern President of Mexico, with bowed, heavy shoulders and a rigid profile. Brian Aherne, in blond sideburns and chin whiskers, is the gentle, ineffectual Hapsburg Archduke Maximilian, who becomes a puppet Emperor, and Bette Davis, huge-eyed and wearing a black wig, is the barren, doomed Empress Carlota. She looks both fragile and tempestuous, and gets a chance to show off her best violent spasms when she pleads for help at the Tuileries and frightens the Empress Eugénie (Gale Sondergaard, who doesn't frighten easy). It's a lumpy big movie; Muni's big-star solemn righteousness is like a dose of medicine. But there are incidental diversions: John Garfield, as Diaz, gives a blue-ribbon bad performance, and Claude Rains, Joseph Calleia, Gilbert Roland, Henry O'Neill, Donald Crisp, and Harry Davenport all stomp around in fancy costumes. William Dieterle directed. John Huston and Franz Werfel were among the writers. Warners.
Some Irvin S. Cobb stories, brought to the screen by John Ford. Viewed now, this piece of Americana about a trial in a Kentucky town in 1890 is also a slice of old Hollywood: the cast includes Will Rogers, Anita Louise, Rochelle Hudson, Hattie McDaniel, and that much maligned comedian, Stepin Fetchit. Fox.
Stanley Kramer's version of the meaning of the Nuremberg trials, from a script by Abby Mann. Gavin Lambert summed it up: "An all-star concentration-camp drama, with special guest-victim appearances." Spencer Tracy is the simple, humane superjudge, a Yankee version of Tolstoy's clean old peasant, and the cast includes Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Maximilian Schell, Marlene Dietrich, William Shatner, Werner Klemperer, and Alan Baxter. With Judy Garland and Montgomery Clift as the guests. When Mann's screenplay won the Academy Award, he accepted it, with excruciating humility, not only for himself "but for all intellectuals." (190 minutes.) United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
Seen now, this D.W. Griffith 4-reeler (which was one of the first 4-reel films made in America) appears to be a warmup for the splendors of his INTOLERANCE. JUDITH OF BETHULIA is not an altogether likable picture, but it has its heavy pseudo-Oriental charms. Blanche Sweet is the plump and pious Jewish widow who decks herself out as a courtesan and gains entrance to the camp of the Assyrian general Holofernes (Henry B. Walthall). Mae Marsh and Robert Harron are young lovers, and Lillian Gish, in a grand coup of unlikely casting, plays a young Jewish mother. Silent.
Fast, crackerjack entertainment by Richard Lester; he demonstrates what a sophisticated director with flair can do on a routine big-action project. (The plot is about a bomb wizard who has planted seven whoppers on a luxury liner carrying 1200 passengers.) The genre may be that of THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, but the tone isn't-it's jaunty, cynical slapstick. With Richard Harris, Shirley Knight, Omar Sharif, David Hemmings, Anthony Hopkins, and Roy Kinnear. United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.
François Truffaut's celebration of bohemian life in France and Germany in the years of artistic ferment between the First World War and the Second. The Austrian, Jules (Oskar Werner), and the Frenchman, Jim (Henri Serre)-the sort of young artists who grow up into something else-have a peaceful friendship. But when they are with Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), they feel alive; anything may happen. She's the catalyst, the troublemaker, the source of despair as well as the source of joy; an enchantress, she's also a fanatic, an absolutist, and a little crazy. Determined to live as fully as a man, she claims equality while using every feminine wile to increase her power position. She's the independent, intellectual modern woman satirized by Strindberg (who also adored her). Catherine marries Jules, who can't hold her, and, in despair, he encourages Jim's interest in her-"That way she'll still be ours." She insists on her freedom to leave men, but if they leave her (as Jim does), she is as devastated and as helpless as any clinging vine (perhaps more devastated-she can't even ask for sympathy). Elliptical, full of wit and radiance, this is the best movie ever made about what most of us think of as the Scott Fitzgerald period (though the film begins much earlier); Truffaut doesn't linger-nothing is held too long, nothing is overstated, or even stated. He explores the medium and plays with it. He overlaps scenes; uses fast cutting, in the manner of BREATHLESS, and leaping continuity, in the manner of ZERO FOR CONDUCT; changes the size and shape of the images, as Griffith did; pauses for Jeanne Moreau to sing a song (Boris Bassiak's "Le Tourbillon"). Throughout, Georges Delerue's music is part of the atmosphere; it's so evocative that if you listen to it on the phonograph, it brings back the emotions and images-such as Jim and Catherine's daughter rolling on a hill. Adapted by Truffaut and Jean Gruault from Henri-Pierre Roché's autobiographical novel, with some additional material from his later work Les Deux Anglaises et le continent (which Truffaut filmed in 1972). Cinematography by Raoul Coutard. With Marie Dubois as Thérèse, who smokes like a steam engine, and Bassiak as Albert. Condemned when it opened in the U.S. by the Catholic Legion of Decency. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book I Lost it at the Movies.
Jane Fonda as Lillian Hellman, Jason Robards as Dashiell Hammett, and Vanessa Redgrave as Julia in the film version of Hellman's story about her smuggling bribe money into Nazi Germany, from her book of memoirs Pentimento. Directed by Fred Zinnemann, from a script by Alvin Sargent, it has been made in conservative-classical humanist-style. After a while, it becomes apparent that Zinnemann and Sargent are trafficking in too many quotations and flashbacks because they can't find the core of the material. The film's constraint is frustrating, because Jane Fonda has the power and invention to go further in the character; she could crack the cautious, contemplative surface and take us places we've never been to. With Rosemary Murphy and Hal Holbrook as Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell, and Meryl Streep, John Glover, Cathleen Nesbitt, Maximilian Schell, Maurice Denham, and Susan Jones as the young Lillian and Lisa Pelikan as the young Julia. Cinematography by Douglas Slocombe; music by Georges Delerue; produced by Richard Roth. Academy Awards: Supporting Actor (Robards), Supporting Actress (Redgrave), and Screenplay. Released by 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
Federico Fellini looks at a mousy wife's fantasy life; her unconscious seems to be stuffed with leftover decor from MGM musicals. A peculiarly ungallant film. With Giulietta Masina, and Sandra Milo, Valeska Gert, Lou Gilbert, José-Luis de Villalonga, Sylva Koscina, Valentina Cortese, and Friedrich Ledebur. Cinematography by Gianni Di Venanzo; music by Nino Rota. Written by Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, and Brunello Rondi. In Italian.
One of those straining-to-be-bright 40s comedies in which the super-competent career woman (in this case Bette Davis, as the editor of a woman's magazine called "Home Life") behaves like a prison matron and battles with a male (Robert Montgomery, as her assistant and former lover) before succumbing to him and giving up her job. In this one, the wrangling pair are covering a wedding in Indiana. Montgomery wears his hat brim turned up to show he's a reporter and keeps snapping off electric lights to put Davis in a soft, loving mood; one couldn't guess from this performance that a few years earlier he had been the best romantic comedian on the screen. One couldn't guess that Davis had much stature, either. The director, Bretaigne Windust, keeps the dialogue tight and stagey. Ranald MacDougall adapted the play Feature for June, by June Tighe and Graeme Lorimer. With Fay Bainter, Betty Lynn, Jerome Cowan, Barbara Bates, Tom Tully, and, in a small part, Debbie Reynolds. Warners.
Sabu appears to have a very good time as Mowgli, the child adopted by the wolves who lives among the wild beasts as one of them; he swings from tree to tree like a nursery Tarzan. In the dark-green jungles of this lush, handsome Alexander Korda production, directed by Zoltán Korda, Mowgli has more to do with human folk than in the Kipling book-Joseph Calleia is around, and also little Patricia O'Rourke, for a suggestion of precocious romance. Laurence Stallings, who wrote the screenplay, may wander a bit from Kipling, but the plot about a treasure, a python, and a ruined city are entertaining enough. Children will probably still love the movie-and adults will have a better time than they expect. Released by United Artists.
A homemaker/husband/career-woman triangle, with everything spelled out, according to accepted TV procedures by the writer-director Allan Burns. The star is Mary Tyler Moore as a California wife and mother of two teenagers, with Ted Danson as her seismologist husband and Christine Lahti as her best friend, a TV newscaster. Ostensibly, the movie is about how the timid-mouse wife must become self-reliant after her husband is killed in a car accident, and how the friendship between the two women is sustained after the wife learns that her friend was having an affair with her husband and is pregnant by him. But the subtext, which is tied in to the exercise class where the women first meet, dominates the movie. For two hours, we're invited to admire what terrific shape Mary Tyler Moore is in. There are so many shots of her tight, trim rear end in leotards as she gyrates for the camera that the film begins to seem a vanity production. She looks agonizingly ill at ease about her age, and this exhibition of her beautiful state of preservation makes her seem much older than she is. Lahti walks off with the picture; her voice has a witty dryness, with deep resonance, and she plays the sophisticated newscaster like a new, more plangent version of Rosalind Russell at her peak, in HIS GIRL FRIDAY. With Sam Waterston (engaging as a sheepish friend of the family), Salome Jens (amusing as Helga, the head of the exercise studio), and Jane Greeg. An MTM Enterprises Production, for Orion.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
Perhaps the only sci-fi musical comedy ever made, this is set in New York 50 years in the future-1980. It's a lighthearted, cheerfully foolish view of scientific progress: papier-mâché skyscrapers soar into the painted heavens, stop-and-go signs refer to the traffic of airplanes, J-21 (John Garrick) is a suitor for the hand in marriage of LN-18 (Maureen O'Sullivan), and he and his pal RT-42 (Frank Albertson) pilot a rocket ship to Mars. What helped to make it a hit were the broad antics of the Swedish-accented yokel comic El Brendel in the role of Single-O, a Rip van Winkle character who had died in 1930 and was revived in 1980; he's a stowaway on the Mars expedition. The script and the songs are by Lew Brown, B.G. DeSylva, and Ray Henderson; David Butler directed for Fox; Seymour Felix choreographed. With Mischa Auer, Marjorie White, and Hobart Bosworth.
There are a lot of funny scenes in this satirical romantic farce about Max Herschel, an economic baron (who shares a number of characteristics with the movie mogul Ray Stark). The head of a New York-based conglomerate, who makes big deals for the joy and excitement of it, Max (Alan King) can't accept losing anything. When his young mistress (Ali MacGraw) tells him that she just got married, he's a suave good sport while she's in the room; as soon as she has gone, he cries out to his secretary (Myrna Loy) with Old Testament fervor-"I'm a dead Jew." The movie is about Max's ruthless finagling to teach the girl he has lost a lesson: his methods include buying a play by the pure, incorruptible writer she has married and hiring him to adapt it to the movies. The charm of the movie is in the pleasure it takes (which we share) in the sacred monster Max-tantrumy, shrewd, obsessed with his own health and longevity. Alan King revels in his role, and Ali MacGraw is a lot better than she has ever been before. The second half is too choppy-it feels as if it might have been cut. But there's some real gusto in this satire of power games (and modern movie business), and the director, Sidney Lumet, gets juicy performances from most of the cast. Keenan Wynn plays an ancient movie magnate, a white-bearded shrewdie who affects an old-world courtliness while maneuvering to make his homosexual grandson (Tony Roberts) head of a studio; Dina Merrill is Max's alcoholic Wasp wife; Joseph Maher is her doctor-lover; Peter Weller is the pure-prig writer. Also with Sara Truslow as Cathy, and Judy Kaye as Baby. (The movie opened and closed almost simultaneously.) From Jay Presson Allen's screenplay, based on her own novel. She and Lumet co-produced. Cinematography by Oswald Morris; production design by Tony Walton. Warners.
André Cayatte examines the private lives of the seven jurors sitting in judgment on a woman doctor (Claude Nollier) who admits to the mercy killing of her lover. A fine cast, including Valentine Tessier, Jean Debucourt, Noel Roquevert, and Michel Auclair, acts out the ironic message of the title. Cayatte gives you the impression that he feels he's giving you something to think about; there's a solemn righteousness inside all the melodrama. Screenplay by Charles Spaak and Cayatte; cinematography by Jean Bourgoin. In French.
In his early documentaries, each time Fred Wiseman examines an institution, he seems to uncover a whole new world, and in each of these worlds he finds people-those in authority and those caught in the wheels of authority-struggling with perversely funny, insurmountable, tragic everyday problems. This 2-hour film was made in the Memphis Juvenile Court. The characters include an 11-year-old prostitute; a boy babysitter charged with assaulting the child in his care; the child's mother, who is obsessed with what seems to have been a minor feeling-up incident; a teenage girl who slashes her wrist and says her stepfather made advances to her; and an intelligent judge trying to serve justice in impossible situations. Watching the film is like seeing the underbelly of TV soap operas; the faces cut against clichés the way the faces in the televised Watergate hearings did. When the children plead for themselves, their voices have a familiar terror. It's the same sound that middle-class children make when they claim their parents have been unjust to them, but here, whether the prisoners are innocent or guilty of the specific charge, the injustice seems cosmic. They're trapped by everything. Wiseman's open-eyed approach to the stories of their lives is perhaps motivated less by reforming zeal than by his own sense of the mystery of those lives.