The Last American Hero

US (1973): Sports
100 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

Jeff Bridges stars in Lamont Johnson's fine, scrupulous film based on Tom Wolfe's article about Junior Johnson, the moonshiner's son who learned to drive by running his daddy's whiskey on back roads at night, and who, as a racer, beat the expensive cars sponsored by Detroit. The casting, the acting, and the milieu seem effortlessly, inexplicably right. This movie transcends its genre; it isn't only about stock-car racing, any more than THE HUSTLER was only about shooting pool. With Art Lund, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Ed Lauter, Valerie Perrine, and Gary Busey. Written by William Roberts and the uncredited William Kerby. 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

The Last Days of Dolwyn

UK (1949): Drama
95 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette
Also known as WOMAN OF DOLWYN.

Edith Evans gives one of her most remarkable performances as the woman who inundates a village in Wales in order to conceal a murder committed by her son-Richard Burton, in his first screen appearance. (His face is thinner and far more open than in his later, Hollywood films; he seems beautiful rather than just handsome.) Emlyn Williams wrote, directed, and also appears in this unusual film, which is very loosely based on an actual 19th-century incident; it's melodramatic in an affecting, emotional way, and it's really Welsh-the landscapes, the voices, the whole feeling. (Some years earlier, Williams had coached Edith Evans for a play in which she had to sound Welsh-her accent here certainly fools Americans.) With Hugh Griffith. Cinematography by Otto Heller. An Alexander Korda film, produced by Anatole de Grunwald.

The Last Detail

US (1973): Drama
105 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

After 14 years in the Navy, Buddusky (Jack Nicholson), the tattooed signalman, lives on ingrained resentment, quick anger, and booze. The screenwriter, Robert Towne, shaped the role to Nicholson's gift for extremes, and it was the best full-scale part he'd had up to that time. (Some think it's the best part he's ever had.) The movie is the record of the beer-soaked journey that Buddusky and a gunner's mate (Otis Young) take when they're assigned to escort a morose 18-year-old seaman (Randy Quaid) from the brig in Norfolk, Virginia, to the naval prison in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The film is distinguished by the fine performances of Nicholson and Quaid, and by remarkably well-orchestrated profane dialogue. It's often very funny. It's programmed to wrench your heart, though-it's about the blasted lives of people who discover their humanity too late. Hal Ashby directed. With Michael Moriarty, Carol Kane, Luana Anders, Clifton James, Nancy Allen, and Gilda Radner. Cinematography (grainy and gloomy) by Michael Chapman. Adapted from Darryl Ponicsan's book. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

The Last Emperor

China-Italy-UK (1987): Historical/Biography
160 min, Rated PG-13, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Bernardo Bertolucci tells the story of Pu Yi, who was not quite 3 when, in 1908, he was set on the Dragon Throne in Peking's Forbidden City and became the titular ruler of a third of the people on earth. After being deposed and then enthroned again in Japanese-occupied Manchuria, he was in Soviet custody for 5 years, and then spent 10 years being "re-educated" in a Chinese war-criminals prison. The movie doesn't have the juicy absurdity that seems to pour right out of the historical story. And it suppresses the drama. But it has pictorial grace and a dull fascination. Bertolucci presents Pu Yi (John Lone) as a man without will or backbone who lives his life as spectacle-who watches his life go by. And so we're given a historical pageant without a protagonist. There's an idea here, but it's a dippy idea-it results in a passive movie. This epic is meant to be an attack on privilege (and at times it's like a replay of THE CONFORMIST in Manchuria). Bertolucci and Mark Peploe, who wrote the script with his assistance, want us to believe that Pu Yi became a model citizen through the ministrations of the kindly prison governor (Ying Ruocheng), and that in his later years, when he worked as an under-gardener, he experienced freedom for the first time. They want us to believe that what some might disparage as Communist brainwashing actually cleaned away his decadence and healed him. With the gifted Joan Chen as the empress, the likable Wu Jun Mimei as the No. 2 wife, Peter O'Toole as Pu Yi's tutor, and Maggie Han as the lesbian spy. Cinematography by Vittorio Storaro; sets by Ferdinando Scarfiotti; costumes by James Acheson; music by Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Byrne, and Cong Su. (The film shows the palaces and courtyards of the 250-acre Forbidden City.) Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Score, Sound. Released by Columbia. (166 minutes.)
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Last Holiday

UK (1950): Comedy
89 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

This lovely ironic comedy-an almost perfect "little" picture-stars Alec Guinness as an ordinary sort of fellow who is told that he has only six weeks to live; liberated from anxieties about the future, he finds in that time all the opportunities for wealth, fame, and happiness that he had never found before. The dexterity-the impeccable "rightness"-of J.B. Priestley's screenplay is close to infuriating: within the genteel, socialist-mystic limits that he has set, he is an unerring master. The film is rounded and complete-in the contentedly banal way of an O. Henry story. With Kay Walsh, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Beatrice Campbell, Grégoire Aslan, Bernard Lee, David McCallum as the blind violinist, Sidney James, and that great asset of English comedy Ernest Thesiger. Henry Cass directed.

The Last Hurrah

US (1958): Political
121 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

John Ford turned into a sentimental faker whenever he got near the Blarney stone, and Edwin O'Connor's novel about the final campaign and last days of Frank Skeffington, an old-style Boston mayor (Spencer Tracy), gave him an opportunity he couldn't resist. The subject is richly comic, and the picture has its moments despite the sprightly foolery, but Skeffington is so full of the milk of human kindness that he almost moos. The extraordinary cast includes James Gleason, Pat O'Brien, Ricardo Cortez, Edmund Lowe, John Carradine, Basil Rathbone, Jeffrey Hunter, Donald Crisp, Anna Lee, and Jane Darwell. Columbia.

The Last Laugh

Germany (1924): Drama
77 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc
Also known as DER LETZTE MANN.

A breathtaking achievement in silent-film technique, from the German studio UFA. Emil Jannings is the man whose self-esteem and position in society depend on his uniform, in F.W. Murnau's masterpiece of design and cinematography. The scenario is by Carl Mayer; the camerawork is by Karl Freund. With added musical track.

The Last Millionaire

France (1934): Comedy
90 min, No rating, Black & White
Also known as LE DERNIER MILLIARDAIRE.

The queen of the bankrupt mythical kingdom of Casinario, which is modelled somewhat on Monaco and bears a resemblance to the Marx Brothers' kingdom in DUCK SOUP, invites the world's richest banker (Max Dearly) to run things. He becomes dictator, is hit on the head and lapses into childish ways, and the people go on taking his idiotic edicts as signs of genius. Chairs, hats, and cravats are banned, and the new system of barter results in transactions such as a customer who has paid his café bill with a hen and received two chicks and an egg in change leaving the egg as a tip. When the picture came out, the political atmosphere in Europe was so sensitive that this light satirical comedy by René Clair (not quite at his best) was banned in Italy and Germany, and was such a scandalous failure in France that its writer-director left the country. With Raymond Cordy and Annabella. Cinematography by Rudolph Maté and Louis Née; music by Maurice Jaubert. In French.

The Last Movie/Chinchero

US (1971): Drama
108 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

Dennis Hopper directed this put-on, knockabout tragedy, in which he stars as a stunt man with an American film company in Peru who becomes a Christ figure when the natives imitate filmmaking. The movie grinds to a painful halt right at the start; it is visually beautiful, but the editing is so self-destructive that it's as if Hopper had slashed his own canvases. Cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs; screenplay by Stewart Stern. With Julie Adams, Tomas Milian, Samuel Fuller, Sylvia Miles, Rod Cameron, Severn Darden, Peter Fonda, Henry Jaglom, Kris Kristofferson, John Phillip Law, Michelle Phillips, Dean Stockwell, and Russ Tamblyn. Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

The Last Picture Show

US (1971): Drama
118 min, Rated R, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

This straightforward, involving, narrative picture about growing up in a small town in Texas in the early 50s was Peter Bogdanovich's first great success. It's plain and uncondescending in its re-creation of what it means to be a high-school athlete, of what a country dance hall is like, of the necking in cars and movie houses, and of the desolation that follows high-school graduation. Concerned with adolescent experience seen in terms of flatlands anomie-loneliness, ignorance about sex, confusion about one's aims in life-the movie has a basic decency of feeling, with people relating to one another, sometimes on very simple levels, and becoming miserable when they can't relate. Robert Surtees's stylized cinematography is in black and white, and the frequent silhouetting-so that we seem to be looking at a map of life as it was-helps to clarify the subject matter. The film badly needs this stylization, because, of course, its shallow overview of town life is dangerously close to TV, and especially to the "Peyton Place" series. The movie suggests what TV soap opera would be if it looked at ordinary experience in a non-exploitative way, if it had observation and humor. This is perhaps an ideal TV show. From Larry McMurtry's novel, adapted by McMurtry together with the director. With Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Ellen Burstyn, Cybill Shepherd, Ben Johnson, Eileen Brennan, and Cloris Leachman. (A sequel, TEXASVILLE, also directed by Bogdanovich, was released in 1990.) Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

The Last Run

US (1971): Action
99 min, Rated PG, Color

A picture that closed so fast (deservedly) that few knew it had ever opened. It's mostly fast driving over European roads and George C. Scott in a cool, Bogartian role that is exactly wrong for his febrile talents. Scott needs antagonists to taunt and jeer at, needs situations in which he can smolder. Here, as an aging gangster who comes out of retirement for one last job, he never finds a character. The script, by Alan Sharp, is pseudo-Hemingway; the direction, by Richard Fleischer, is so bland and mechanical that even Sven Nykvist's cinematography doesn't help much. With Tony Musante as a hood, Trish Van Devere miscast as a moll, and Colleen Dewhurst stupefyingly miscast as a whore in a Mediterranean village. MGM.

Last Tango in Paris

France-Italy (1973): Drama
129 min, Rated X, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc
Also known as ULTIMO TANGO A PARIGI and DERNIER TANGO À PARIS.

Exploitation films had been supplying mechanized sex-sex as physical stimulant but without passion or emotional violence. Then, in this film, Bernardo Bertolucci used sex to express the characters' drives. Marlon Brando, as the aging American, Paul, is working out his aggression on the young bourgeois French girl, Jeanne (Maria Schneider), and the physical menace of sexuality that is emotionally charged is such a departure from everything that audiences had come to expect at the movies that the film created a sensation. It's a bold and imaginative work-a great work. When Brando improvises within Bertolucci's structure, his full art is realized; his performance is intuitive, rapt, princely. Working with Brando, Bertolucci achieves realism with the terror of actual experience still alive on the screen. With Jean-Pierre Léaud, Massimo Girotti, Catherine Allegret, and Maria Michi. Script by Bertolucci and the editor, Franco Arcalli; cinematography by Vittorio Storaro; music by Gato Barbieri; production design by Ferdinando Scarfiotti; produced by Alberto Grimaldi. (The film has been subjected to many varieties of legal prosecution, particularly in Italy. The version circulated in the U.S. with an R rating is severely cut.) In French and English.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

The Last Ten Days

Germany (1956): Biography
113 min, No rating, Black & White
Also known as DER LETZTE AKT. G.W. Pabst, who directed this account of the last 10 days in Hitler's headquarters, employs a restrained style that makes the collapse of discipline and the final disintegration seem like an enveloping nightmare. Erich Maria Remarque's script, based on Judge Michael A. Musmanno's chronicle Ten Days to Die, perhaps errs in systematically constructing little episodes to illuminate chaos; the atmosphere is so compelling that these vignettes seem trite and unnecessary. Albin Skoda's Hitler is an intelligent approach to a terribly difficult part; Oskar Werner's heroic role as a liaison officer from one of the Army corps is a flamboyant invention, and he gives it a fine flourish. Surrounding Hitler are Lotte Tobisch as Eva Braun, Willi Krause as Goebbels, and, of course, the generals of all kinds and attitudes: General Krebs, for example, who asks if God exists, and General Burgdorf, who replies, "If He did, we wouldn't." Whatever your judgment of the picture's value as historical interpretation, it is an experience to spend two hours in this claustrophobic bunker with Pabst and his actors. Made in Austria. In German.

The Last Tycoon

US (1976): Drama
125 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Harold Pinter adapted Fitzgerald's unfinished novel about Hollywood, and Elia Kazan directed the picture, which was produced by Sam Spiegel and stars Robert De Niro as the artist-businessman Monroe Stahr. The result is so enervated that it's like a vampire movie after the vampires have left. De Niro gives an authentic interpretation of a New York-Jewish Hollywood intellectual giant of the 30s, but he might be acting under a blanket. He stands around waiting while Ingrid Boulting, who plays Kathleen, loiters over inane remarks. (Of all Fitzgerald's implausible heroines, Kathleen-the runaway mistress of a European king-is the most vaporous.) Probably the first mistake was to approach the book cap in hand, and the next was to hire Pinter; the film needed a writer who would fill in what's missing-Pinter's art is the art of taking away. With Jack Nicholson, Robert Mitchum, Jeanne Moreau, Ray Milland, Donald Pleasence, Theresa Russell, Dana Andrews, and Tony Curtis-the only one who shows any vitality. Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

The Last Valley

UK (1970): Adventure
128 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

Michael Caine as an intelligent man of action in a large-scale historical adventure story set in Germany during the Thirty Years War. He leads his band of brutal mercenaries into a hidden valley; it's as if the men from Kurosawa's THE SEVEN SAMURAI had discovered Shangri-La. The director, James Clavell, is a good storyteller, and the film, which looks at the conflicts in the world outside the valley and at the quality of the life of fat burghers and bigots inside the valley, has a core of feeling. With Omar Sharif, Florinda Bolkan, Nigel Davenport, Per Oscarsson, and Arthur O'Connell, who is unmistakably an actor in makeup, even at a distance in a crowd. Written and produced by Clavell. The picture deserves a simpler score than the thick, rich musical sludge dredged up by John Barry.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

The Last Waltz

US (1978): Documentary/Musical
117 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Arguably, the best of all rock-concert documentaries. Martin Scorsese's film of The Band's Thanksgiving, 1976, performance in San Francisco is even-tempered and intensely satisfying. Scorsese, who shot it while he was still working on NEW YORK, NEW YORK, seems in complete control of his talent and of the material. Visually, it's dark-toned and rich and classically simple. The sound (if one has the good luck to catch it in a theatre equipped with a Dolby system) is so clear that the instruments have the distinctness that one hears on the most craftsmanlike recordings. And the casual interviews have a musical, rhythmic ease; Scorsese's conversations with the men give us a sense of the pressures that strain their feelings of community. With Band members-Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, and Rick Danko. Also with performers who represent the different styles of rock and the traditions that have fueled it-Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Neil Young, Ronnie Hawkins, Dr. John, the Staples, Ringo Starr, Paul Butterfield, Emmylou Harris, Neil Diamond, and others. It's a relief to see a rock film without whizzing-around, catch-as-catch-can cinematography; Scorsese planned the camera cues like a general deploying his troops, and Michael Chapman, Vilmos Zsigmond, Laszlo Kovacs, David Myers, and several other cinematographers are responsible for the serene imagery and its inner excitement. United Artists.

The Last Wave

Australia (1977): Thriller
106 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

The plot of this Australian film is a throwback to the B-movies of the 30s and early 40s, and the dialogue-by the young director Peter Weir and his two co-scriptwriters, Tony Morphett and Peter Popescu-is vintage RKO and Universal. Weir provides apparitions holding sacred stones, frog noises in the night, shadows in slow motion, and the kind of haunted-house acting that many of us have a certain affection for. But it's hokum without the fun of hokum; despite all the scare-movie apparatus, this film fairly aches to be called profound. The occult manifestations are linked to the white Australians' guilt over their treatment of the aborigines. The decadent white race is represented by a sickly paleface corporate lawyer (Richard Chamberlain), and the aborigines by a lithe, graceful young man (Gulpilil) and a dignified wily shaman (Nandjiwarra Amagula). The aborigine actors, with their deep-set eyes, are by far the most vital element, yet they're kept on the margins and used as supernatural forces. Weir, who has apparently studied Nicolas Roeg's films, knows how to create an allusive, ominous atmosphere. But the film is overdeliberate and sluggish, and Chamberlain can't stop quivering his lips to connote sensitivity and contracting his nostrils for apprehensiveness and pulling in his cheek muscles for ineffable sorrow. He keeps us conscious that he's acting all the time. His toes act in his shoes. With Olivia Hamnett as the lawyer's wife.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Last Year at Marienbad

France-Italy (1961): Drama
93 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette
Also known as L'ANNÉE DERNIÈRE À MARIENBAD.

The characters, or rather figures, in this Alain Resnais movie are a tony variant of the undead of vampire movies-"We live as in coffins frozen side by side in a garden." This high-fashion puzzle movie, written by Alain Robbe-Grillet, is set in what is described to us as an "enormous, luxurious, baroque, lugubrious hotel-where corridors succeed endless corridors." The mood is set by climaxes of organ music and this distended narration; it's all solemn and expectant-like High Mass. The dialogue about whether the characters met the year before is like a parody of wealthy indolence. The settings and costumes seem to be waiting for a high romantic theme or fantasy; the people, pawns who are manipulated into shifting positions, seem to be placed for wit, or for irony. But all we get are pretty pictures. Robbe-Grillet says that the film is a pure construction, an object without reference to anything outside itself, and that the existence of the two characters begins when the film begins and ends 93 minutes later. It has a hypnotic effect on some people; others may be tempted to end it sooner. With Delphine Seyrig, Sacha Pitoëff, and Giorgio Albertazzi. The cinematography is by Sacha Vierny. The exteriors were shot at the chateaus of Nymphenburg, Schleissheim, and at other Munich locations; the interiors were shot in a Paris studio. In French. Distributed in the U.S. by Astor Pictures.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book I Lost it at the Movies.

The Late Show

US (1977): Crime
94 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The writer-director, Robert Benton, has followed the rules of the detective-movie genre, but he's also added something: the detective (Art Carney) is overweight, old, and scared. None of this prevents the heroine (Lily Tomlin), who hires him, from perceiving that he's different from the other men she knows. This one-of-a-kind murder mystery pays off in atmosphere, spooking us by the flip, greedy ordinariness of evil. Eugene Roche is a fence who loves his stolen goodies; Bill Macy is a scrounging bartender; Joanna Cassidy is a lying, cheating charmer; Howard Duff is a penny-ante detective who dies muttering about the money he's going to make; and John Considine is a sleekly handsome strong-arm man. They're all originals. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

The Laughing Policeman

US (1974): Thriller
111 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

Standard, gory imitation of DIRTY HARRY, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, and BULLITT. There isn't much acting honor to be had from it, but Walter Matthau, playing a black-haired police detective, loses what little there is to Bruce Dern, who plays his partner. Matthau does the ancient obvious, while Dern's contentious, muffled manner is the latest in fey one-upmanship. The choppy film makes practically no sense; Stuart Rosenberg's direction features massacres, cadavers, and close inspection of wounds. Adapted from the popular Stockholm-set novel by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö and moved to San Francisco. (Once again the mad mass murderer is some implausible sort of fancy homosexual.) With Joanna Cassidy, Louis Gossett, Jr., and Anthony Zerbe. 20th Century-Fox.

Laughter

US (1930): Drama/Comedy
81 min, No rating, Black & White

Just before his death, Herman J. Mankiewicz, who produced this film, said that of all the movies he'd worked on, it was his favorite. A lovely, sophisticated comedy, an ode to impracticality, it failed commercially but its attitudes and spirit influenced the screwball hits of the 30s. (Even the famous Bogart exchange with Claude Rains about coming to Casablanca for the waters is paraphrased from LAUGHTER.) Fredric March is the composer-hero who returns to New York after some expatriate years in Paris; he finds that the Follies beauty (Nancy Carroll) whom he loved has married for money and lost her gift of laughter. The pacing of the director, H. d'Abbadie d'Arrast, is a little leisurely, and he dawdles just when he should move faster, but he has visual style, especially when he works in interiors or in deliberately artificial sets. (Nature throws him off balance.) The Art Deco sets here are elegant, and the enchanting Nancy Carroll wears perhaps the best clothes ever seen on the screen (with the possible exception of Garbo's in A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS). And there's a simple scene with March at the piano and Carroll and another girl (Diane Ellis) jazz dancing that is one of the loveliest, happiest moments in the movies of the period. The writing was mostly by Donald Ogden Stewart, though d'Abbadie d'Arrast and Douglas Doty had a share in it, and J. Mankiewicz probably set the tone; the script bogs down a little in conventional melodrama. With Frank Morgan as the beauty's millionaire husband and Glenn Anders in the boggy subplot. Paramount.

Laughter in Paradise

UK (1951): Comedy
95 min, No rating, Black & White

A charming, neatly contrived English comedy. An old prankster (Hugh Griffith) dies, leaving a will that outlines the tasks his relatives must complete before receiving their inheritance-such tasks as robbery, marriage, etc. Alastair Sim has a classic comic sequence trying to get arrested, and a classic fiancée-Joyce Grenfell, a W.A.A.F. whom he describes as "an officer and lady." Mario Zampi's direction is not all it should be, but the cast is so good it hardly matters: George Cole, A.E. Matthews, Beatrice Campbell, John Laurie, Fay Compton, Guy Middleton, Ernest Thesiger, Anthony Steel, and, in a tiny role, Audrey Hepburn. The ingenious script is by Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies.

Laura

US (1944): Mystery
85 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Everybody's favorite chic murder mystery. Gene Tierney is the dead girl who ends up as the heroine; Clifton Webb and Vincent Price are her suitors; Dana Andrews is the charmingly necrophiliac detective; and Judith Anderson is modishly contemptible. (Speaking of Price, she says, "He's no good, but he's what I want. I'm not a nice person, neither is he … We're both weak and can't seem to help it.") Produced and directed by Otto Preminger; adapted from the novel by Vera Caspary; script credited to Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, and Betty Reinhardt-but it was Hoffenstein's work that saved it. With Dorothy Adams as Bessie. Music by David Raksin. 20th Century-Fox.

The Lavender Hill Mob

UK (1951): Crime/Comedy
82 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

As the prim, innocuous civil servant with a hidden spark of nonconformity, Alec Guinness carries out a dream of larcenous glory: robbing the Bank of England. A man who steals three million in gold bullion may be permitted to coin a word: Guinness describes his gleaming-eyed, bowler-hatted little man as the "fubsy" type, and he's an image of Everyman. T.E.B. Clarke's script, Charles Crichton's direction, and Georges Auric's music contribute to what is probably the most nearly perfect fubsy comedy of all time. It's a minor classic, a charmer. Stanley Holloway is the genteel, artistic accomplice; Alfie Bass and Sidney James the professional assistants, and one of the beneficiaries of Guinness's wrongdoing is a bit player, Audrey Hepburn.

Law and Disorder

US (1974): Drama/Comedy
103 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

While you're watching this comedy about the frustrations and foul-ups of New Yorkers Carroll O'Connor and Ernest Borgnine as they try to protect their families by organizing an auxiliary-police unit, you can tell how the scenes were meant to play and why they don't. You can see that the gifted Czech director, Ivan Passer, doesn't have the unconscious equipment for the look and feel of ordinary American life, and that he is trying to strike a compromise between his feelings and the demands of the American marketing system-and satisfying neither. O'Connor has some fine restrained moments, and Allan Arbus contributes an entertaining bit as a gooney-bird psychologist (in a tight whiny voice he gives a lecture on how to prevent rape), but the film is a painful failure-lumpish and crude. Passer is trying to do the sort of thing that gets louder laughs than his own kind of comedy, and he doesn't really know how. With Ann Wedgeworth, Karen Black, Jack Kehoe, Pat Corley, Anita Dangler, David Spielberg, and Joseph Ragno. Produced by William Richert; screenplay by Passer, Richert, and Kenneth Harris Fishman. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

Law of Desire

Spain (1987): Comedy
100 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc
Also known as LA LEY DEL DESEO.

This flamboyantly glamorous homosexual fantasy by Madrid's gagster-artist Pedro Almodóvar is satirical, romantic, metaphorical; it has wonderful jokes and the exaggerated plot of an absurdist Hollywood melodrama. It doesn't disguise its narcissism; it turns it into bright-colored tragicomedy. And even when it loses its beat (after a murder) there's always something happening. Carmen Maura, a powerful actress in the manner of the early Anna Magnani, with the trippiness and self-mockery of Bette Midler, plays Tina, a transsexual who has a hot, roiling temperament. Tina's celebrity brother Pablo (Eusebio Poncela) directs classy homoerotic films. One night, Pablo takes home Antonio (Antonio Banderas), a government minister's son, who has been stalking him; by morning, Antonio loves him, is determined to possess him completely, and refuses to get out of his life. This is one of the rare movies that's sensually exciting at the same time that it's funny. With Miguel Molina as Pablo's true love, Manuela Velasco as little Ada, and the male transvestite Bibi Andersen as Tina's lesbian ex-lover. Cinematography by Ángel Luis Fernández. Released by Cinevista. In Spanish.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

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