If you went to see it under the delusion that it was going to be about T.E. Lawrence, you probably stayed to enjoy the vastness of the desert and the pleasures of the senses that a huge movie epic can provide. Directed by David Lean, from a script by Robert Bolt, loosely based on Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, this picture fails to give an acceptable interpretation of Lawrence, or to keep its action intelligible, but it is one of the most literate and tasteful and exciting of expensive spectacles. The central figure is played quite stunningly by Peter O'Toole, though he seems to be doing LORD JIM-which he was cast in a couple of years later (and then it looked as if he were doing Lawrence all over again). Bolt and Lean turn the hero into such a flamboyant poetic enigma that he is displaced in the film by a simpler hero-Omar Sharif's Ali, a handsome sheik with liquid brown eyes and conventionally sympathetic lines to speak. Ali, an old-fashioned movie hero, was more at home in what, despite the literacy, was a big action movie. And as it became apparent that most people in the audience hadn't the remotest idea of what the Arabs and the Turks were doing in the First World War, or which was which, or why the English cared, the question raised by the movie was: can complicated historical events and a complex hero really get across in a spectacle? Fortunately for this particular spectacle, audiences seemed to be satisfied with the explanation that the Turks were more cruel than the Arabs, and although the movie's Lawrence became cruel, too, there was warmhearted Ali to take over. (When Bolt and Lean cast Sharif as their poetic enigma in their next film, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, they forgot to provide a simpler fellow as a standby.) With Alec Guinness, José Ferrer, Anthony Quinn, Arthur Kennedy, Jack Hawkins, Claude Rains, Anthony Quayle, and Donald Wolfit. Cinematography by Freddie Young; music by Maurice Jarre; produced by Sam Spiegel.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
Béatrice Romand plays Eric Rohmer's heroine, Sabine, a bright working girl who is studying for her Master's in art history. At 25, Sabine is weary of freedom and insecurity and married men; she wants to be taken care of and to make a home for a man and have children. When she meets a lawyer who she decides is her type, she goes after him so briskly and transparently that she might seem a madwoman, except that she has such a dumb little obsession. There's no passion in it, and she's an orderly little campaigner-watching her lay siege to this man is like watching someone arrange his desk. The film is full of glib, precise chatter and the clickety-click of Sabine's high heels. Rohmer, who wrote the script, never gives us a clue to why she doesn't draw upon her knowledge of men to be more elusive. Since we see her humiliating herself, she becomes poignant, and at the end, when she comes to her senses, we want to see her play the game right. But what we get seems only the first act-the movie ends just when it begins to be interesting. Serio-comic triviality has become Rohmer's specialty. His sensibility would be easier to take if he'd stop directing to a metronome. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
Another tone poem on a thriller theme by Claude Chabrol; he provides all the elements for a thriller except the zinger. This fluid, beautifully controlled, but very minor film was shot in a serene village in the Périgord and features the exquisite Stéphane Audran, with Jean Yanne as the melancholy, frustrated butcher. Cinematography by Jean Rabier. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
An enjoyable photographed performance, in color and with the exquisite Lully music, by the Comédie-Française, of the famous Molière comedy about the rich man (Louis Seigner) who wants to become a gentleman. Jean Meyer, who directed the play and the film, appears as the valet. The exaggerated balletic movement and the elegant diction are intact; the subtitles are witty and idiomatic. In French.
Henri-Georges Clouzot's gall-and-wormwood thriller about a town terrorized by a series of vicious poison-pen letters that drive various townspeople to crime and suicide. The plot-tracking down the blackmailer-is rather mechanical, but Clouzot can give an audience the cold creeps. At the time, the depravity and political corruption revealed in this slice of provincial life were nastily shocking; there's not a likable person in the entire film, and, since it was released during the Occupation, it was thought to serve the interests of the Nazis. When France was liberated, both Clouzot and the picture's star, Pierre Fresnay, were accused of unpatriotic activity. With Ginette Leclerc as the lame girl. (Remade in 1951, by Otto Preminger, as THE 13TH LETTER.) In French.
WEEKEND (made earlier this same year) was the culmination of Jean-Luc Godard's great, rampaging, innovative career, and after it he seemed to be back at Square One, trying to found a new Maoist political cinema. LE GAI SAVOIR was the first of his monotonous, didactic experiments, and it's just about impossible to sit through. Juliet Berto (as the daughter of Lumumba) and Jean-Pierre Léaud (as Rousseau's great-great-grandson) begin on a course of study; there's not much to look at, and since the sound track is full of bleeps to cover the obscenities, there's nothing to do but read the subtitles as the two of them talk. In French.
In May, 1962, the month the war ended in Algeria, the French documentarian Chris Marker recorded a series of casual, impromptu interviews with Parisians and discovered that they would rather think of anything but politics. This Anglo-American version of his film is marred by a commentary spoken in almost mockingly accented English by Simone Signoret, but Marker's distinctively lyric and generous approach to his subject keeps the picture afloat-though just barely.
The director, Marcel Carné, and the writer, Jacques Prévert, collaborated on this justly famous film about a decent sort of man (Jean Gabin) who is forced to become a murderer by the masochistic trickery of the man he kills, played by Jules Berry (who had had a warmup for this role in Renoir's 1936 THE CRIME OF MONSIEUR LANGE, also from a script by Prévert). Perhaps the finest of the French poetic melodramas, it's a definitive example of sensuous, atmospheric moviemaking-you feel that you're breathing the air that Gabin breathes. With Arletty and Jacqueline Laurent, and a good score by Maurice Jaubert. (Remade in the U.S. in 1947, by Anatole Litvak, as THE LONG NIGHT, with Henry Fonda in the Gabin role.) In French.
René Clair at his exquisite best; no one else has ever been able to make a comedy move with such delicate, dreamlike inevitability. René Lefèvre plays the poor young painter who has a winning lottery ticket-only he hasn't quite got it; it was in the pocket of a coat that got sold to a secondhand shop. The entire film, which Clair adapted from a stage musical, is the hero's chase after the ticket, with his creditors, his girl (Annabella), his friends, and the police chasing after him. (The sequence in the opera house is clearly the inspiration for a sequence in A NIGHT AT THE OPERA.) This movie is lyrical, choreographic, giddy-it's the best French musical of its period. The cinematography is by Georges Périnal; the art direction is by Lazare Meerson. In French.
Jean-Luc Godard's first foray into politics, with romance and political extremism and torture and talk of cinema all suspended in an existential mixture. Technically an innovative work, but humanly a baffling one. With Anna Karina and Michel Subor; cinematography by Raoul Coutard. In French.
This Max Ophüls omnibus film, based on three de Maupassant stories, sounds better than it is; the stories allow Ophüls to display his virtuoso technique, but two of the three turn out too thin and hokey. The first, "THE MASK," famous for the Palais de la Danse sequence, is about a man trying to retain the illusion of youth; Gaby Morlay and Claude Dauphin are in it. "THE MODEL" is about an artist (Daniel Gélin) who quarrels with his mistress-model (Simone Simon). The most satisfying, "THE HOUSE OF MADAME TELLIER," is about the temporary closing of a brothel when the madam (Madeleine Renaud) and her girls go to the country to attend the first Communion of the madam's niece. The cast includes Jean Gabin, Danielle Darrieux, Pierre Brasseur, Ginette Leclerc, Mila Parély, and Louis Seigner. In French.
First released here as HE and later as THE VIRGIN MAN. These titles are a disguise for Bernard Deschamps' classic French comedy, based on the Guy de Maupassant story, and starring Fernandel and Françoise Rosay. The setting is a small provincial town: the committee formed to select the virgin to be crowned Rose Queen cannot locate a single female virgin; but they locate a male-the village fool, Isidore (Fernandel)-and he is crowned Rose King. The festivities prove too much for the virtuous young man, and he winds up in Paris-a city that imperils even a fool's virtue. This isn't the tired, mugging Fernandel of the 50s; his wit and spontaneity are the real thing. In French.
The director, Claude Autant-Lara, tried to encompass the full span of the Stendhal novel, and when the movie opened in Paris it was 2 hours and 50 minutes long. When the "international version" was prepared, the film lost 30 minutes. Almost four years elapsed before American distribution was arranged; it opened there in 1958 to superb reviews (Time called it "a shot of straight perfume"), but it drew such meager audiences that it disappeared before the people who might have wanted to see it even knew it was around. In addition, it's a film with a special problem: Stendhal's ironic romanticism is interpreted in so many different ways by readers that any visualization is bound to be distressing to some of them. The movie has been lauded as a perfect achievement, but you may feel that Stendhal's spirit doesn't come through-that Autant-Lara's fidelity and taste cancel out the dash of the novel and that the pretty pastel colors are too delicate. Gérard Philipe plays the proud opportunist, Julien Sorel, analytic and calculating in his priestly cassock, but at heart a red-coated romantic. No doubt Philipe was the obvious choice for the role, because he had been playing spin-offs of Julien Sorel for 20 years; he no longer had Julien's young, rapturous foolishness, though, and he wasn't fired up. The casting of Danielle Darrieux as Madame de Rênal and Antonella Lualdi as Mathilde de la Mole doesn't set off any sparks either. The picture is intelligent but pallid. It should have been called "The Pink and the Gray." With Jean Mercure, Jean Martinelli, and Balpêtré as Abbé Pirard. In French.
The Italian director Marco Bellocchio (FIST IN HIS POCKET, CHINA IS NEAR) has a feral sense of the ridiculous and a snake charmer's style. This film is poised between farce and tragedy, and he keeps it in slippery chiaroscuro-it all might be taking place in a dark dream. Michel Piccoli gives a mesmerizing performance as an Italian judge who's a worm-a spoiled worm wriggling in its comfortable nest; he's a craven fraud-a distant cousin to the characters W.C. Fields used to play. Anouk Aimée is the judge's older sister, a menopausal virgin who has spent her life keeping the nest cozy for him; now she has begun to rebel-she has been having fits of hysteria. This film about family entanglements and the functions of madness is perverse, horrifying, and funny. Bellocchio is probably the only director (with the big exception of Buñuel) whose morbidity is exhilarating. With Michele Placido, as a dashing bearded outlaw (and sociopath), and the director's small son, Piergiorgio. Written by Bellocchio, Piero Natoli, and Vincenzo Cerami. In Italian.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
Gothic pyschologizing melodrama, so preposterously full-blown and straight-faced that it's a juicy entertainment. Evil, beautiful Ellen (Gene Tierney) hoards her father's ashes and has a penchant for eliminating people who clutter up her life. There are scenes to cherish: Ellen impassively watching her brother-in-law drown; Ellen flinging herself down a flight of stairs to terminate an annoying pregnancy; Ellen going lickety-split on a charger, tossing father's remains around the Technicolored New Mexico landscape; Ellen's long-suffering writer-husband (Cornel Wilde) remarking, "While I was watching you, exotic words drifted across the mirror of my mind as summer clouds drift across the sky." John M. Stahl directed; Jo Swerling did the adaptation of the Ben Ames Williams best-seller. With Jeanne Crain, Vincent Price, Ray Collins, Gene Lockhart, Reed Hadley, Mary Philips, and Chill Wills. 20th Century-Fox.
Arthur Penn's first film, adapted by Leslie Stevens from a television play by Gore Vidal, has some of the violent, legendary, nostalgic qualities of his later BONNIE AND CLYDE. A young, great-looking Paul Newman plays Billy the Kid as an ignorant boy in the sex-starved Old West. There's a foreshadowing of the sensibility that shaped BONNIE AND CLYDE when Billy's shotgun blasts a man right out of one of his boots. The man falls in the street, but his boot remains upright; a little girl starts to giggle at the boot and doesn't get very far-her mother slaps her, and that slap is the seal of the awareness of horror. It says that even children must learn that some things that look funny are not only funny. It says that only idiots would laugh at pain and death. The slap is itself funny, and yet we suck in our breath; we don't dare to laugh. With Hurd Hatfield, Lita Milan, John Dehner, Denver Pyle, Nestor Paiva, John Dierkes, and James Congdon. Warners.
As a New York assistant district attorney, Robert Redford bestirs himself more than he did in THE NATURAL and OUT OF AFRICA, and he reminds you of what made him a star-but his affable performance is no more than a reminder. Debra Winger is confined in the prim, tailored-suit role of a dedicated young defense lawer; she has glimmers of humor, but the part is an emotional strait jacket, and she's practically deadpan. And Daryl Hannah, who is charged with stealing one of her dead artist father's paintings, and then with murder, has no character to play-she goes through the movie pouting, her long blond hair flowing, her eyes blank. Except for David Clennon as a bug-eyed assistant D.A. who's a complete stinker, everybody is unformed or only partly formed. The cast includes Terence Stamp (more assured every year and looking great), Brian Dennehy, Roscoe Lee Browne, Christine Baranski, Sara Botsford, Steven Hill, and many other gifted performers who flit onscreen and off, with nothing to do but push the engine-less plot uphill. Directed by Ivan Reitman, from a script credited to Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr., the movie, which is set in the art world, seems to have taken the scandal of how Mark Rothko's estate was managed and scrambled it up with pieces of romantic comedy-thrillers such as CHARADE and courtroom comedies such as ADAM'S RIB (1949). It's all plot, and the plot is all holes; it's not just that it doesn't add up right-most of the episodes don't quite make sense. About all that carries the movie along is the functional-and occasionally smooth, bright-dialogue. This was the wrong kind of movie for Ivan Reitman to have attempted; it needed a director with style. Reitman endows it with the visual excitement of a Rotary Club lunch, and the most you can say for the square cinematography (by Laszlo Kovacs) is that it's instantly scannable. Also with John McMartin and Jennie Dundas. Story by Reitman, Cash, and Epps. Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
Heavy-handed camp about Hollywood-an attempt to fuse SUNSET BLVD., VERTIGO, THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA, and WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? Peter Finch plays a Svengali-like movie director. His great star, the glamorous foreigner Lylah Clare, died mysteriously a few hours after marrying him, and now he is turning a young American actress (Kim Novak) into Lylah. The stale, gaudy script (from a teleplay by Robert Thom and Edward De Blasio) provides roles for Coral Browne as a bitch columnist, Rossella Falk as a predatory European lesbian, and Valentina Cortese as a designer. Maybe an amusing macabre pastiche could have been made of it if the director, Robert Aldrich, hadn't been so clumsy; it's a static piece of filmmaking. With Michael Murphy, George Kennedy, and Ernest Borgnine, who has rarely been worse-he demonstrates his shouting range. Cinematography by Joseph Biroc; adaptation by Hugo Butler and Jean Rouverol. MGM.
This earnest Bob Fosse film starring Dustin Hoffman is for those who want to believe that Lenny Bruce was a saintly gadfly who was martyred only because he lived before their time. Working from a weak script by Julian Barry, Fosse accepts the view that Bruce's motivating force was to cleanse society of hypocrisy, and, having swallowed that, he can only defuse Bruce's humor. So when you hear Hoffman doing Bruce's shticks you don't even feel like laughing. Despite the fluent editing and the close-in documentary techniques and the sophisticated graphics, the picture is a later version of the one-to-one correlation of an artist's life and his art which we used to get in movies about painters and songwriters. Hoffman makes a serious, honorable try, but his Lenny is a nice boy. Lenny Bruce was uncompromisingly not nice; the movie turns a teasing, seductive hipster into a putz. As Honey, Valerie Perrine does a dazzling strip and gives an affecting, if limited, performance. With Gary Morton, Jan Miner, and Stanley Beck. United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.
It had been cut to 2 hours and 41 minutes when it opened in the U.S., in a dubbed-into-English version that didn't always seem in sync, and with the color brightened in highly variable and disorienting ways. The new version, not released here until September, 1983, is in Italian, with subtitles, and at its full length-3 hours and 5 minutes. And it's magnificent-a sweeping popular epic, with obvious similarities to GONE WITH THE WIND, and with an almost Chekhovian sensibility. Based on the novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, an impoverished Sicilian prince, it has a hero on a grand scale-Don Fabrizio, Prince of Salina, played superlatively by Burt Lancaster, who has acknowledged that he modelled his performance on the nobleman director, Luchino Visconti. The film is set in the 1860s, when Italy was in the middle of a revolution, but it's essentially about the Prince himself-the aging Leopard-and how he reacts to the social changes. We couldn't be any closer to Lancaster's Prince if we were inside his skin-which in a way we are. We see what he sees, feel what he feels, and, in the last hour, set at a splendid ball that marks the aristocrats' acceptance of the Mafia-dominated parvenus who are taking over their wealth and power, we're inside his mind as he relives his life, experiences regret, and accepts the dying of his class and his own death. It's one of the greatest of all passages in movies. With Alain Delon as the Prince's sly nephew; Claudia Cardinale as a shrewd, sensual heiress; Paolo Stoppa as her beady-eyed, land-grabbing father; Rina Morelli as the Prince's repressed, whimpering wife; and Romolo Valli, Serge Reggiani, Leslie French, and Pierre Clémenti. (Both Paolo Stoppa and Rina Morelli give superb performances; Alain Delon is perhaps too airy for his role.) The score is by Nino Rota; the cinematography is by the justly celebrated Giuseppe Rotunno.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.
Saint-Tropez in December, and a sexually ambiguous threesome: a mope (Jacqueline Sassard), a dope (Jean-Louis Trintignant), and a chic, slinky lesbian (Stéphane Audran). Claude Chabrol directed this languorous exercise in classy eroticism; very little of anything goes on. Cinematography by Jean Rabier. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Going Steady.
This early episodic Claude Chabrol film, dealing with the yearnings and vulnerabilities of a group of shopgirls, is uneven and, in parts, somewhat tedious and tawdry, yet it has more tenderness and is more emotionally compelling than much of Chabrol's more refined work. The girls are Bernadette Lafont, Clotilde Joano, Stéphane Audran, and Lucile Saint-Simon; the cast includes Claude Berri and Pierre Bertin. Cinematography by Henri Decaë. In French.
Jean-Luc Godard's film about two blank-faced conscripts who go off to war thinking it a great opportunity to get rich is oddly distanced and pedagogical, and it stumbles along-in a deliberately uninvolving style-for its first hour. But when the men return with their loot, in the form of picture postcards, the sequence is conceived with great wit and is brilliantly prolonged; this huge joke seems to be what everything else was heading toward. For a viewer, the elation of this sequence can make the whole experience seem original and exciting. From a script by Godard, Jean Gruault, and Roberto Rossellini, based on the play I Carabinieri by Benjamino Joppolo. In French.
Michel Piccoli plays a writer with a pregnant wife (Catherine Deneuve, looking inhumanly beautiful) who has lost the power of speech; they're in an island house where he plans to work on a novel. Complicated, full of gamesmanship and some seven subplots and mystical sci-fi, and maybe only for those who like to play chess-if for them. (The film features a magical chessboard with live chessmen.) Agnès Varda wrote and directed. With Eva Dahlbeck, Jacques Charrier, and Nino Castelnuovo. Produced by Mag Bodard; a French-Swedish co-production. In French.
The director, Jean-Pierre Melville, expands Cocteau's novel about the shared disorder and confused narcissism of a brother and sister into a baroque tragicomedy. The movie glides along, gathering intensity, as the characters move--compulsively, as in a dream--toward self-destruction. With Nicole Stéphane, fiercely elegant as the dominating Elisabeth; Edouard Dermithe as Paul; Renée Cosima as Dargelos and Agatha; Jacques Bernard as Gérard. Almost voluptuous in its evocation of temperament and atmosphere, this film was shot, on a shoestring, in "real" settings--the director's flat, the lobby of the Petit Journal, the stage of the Théâtre Pigalle. When Melville was ill, Cocteau directed the summer beach scene in Montmorency, under snow. Cocteau also provides cryptic, emblematic narration. The score (Bach-Vivaldi) is one of the rare effective film usages of great music. (Melville appeared in BREATHLESS as the celebrity being interviewed.) Cinematography by Henri Decaë. In French.
George Cukor directed this backstage-story musical (it's about a lawsuit over a former showgirl's memoirs), and the color consultant, George Hoyningen-Huené, gave it a classy look, but, with one exception, nobody connected with it was really at his best-not Gene Kelly, who was the star, or the scenarist, John Patrick, and certainly not the choreographer, Jack Cole. (He hit rock bottom, with horrible quasi-cultured numbers.) Even the Cole Porter score is weak, and the whole picture is overproduced. The exception is the tall, blithe, and beautiful comedienne Kay Kendall, who does a funny, drunk "La Habanera" and has a number with Kelly in which she seems to be outdancing him and having an easy, amused time of it. Her role isn't large enough, though. The cast includes Henry Daniell, Taina Elg, Jacques Bergerac, Patrick Macnee, Leslie Phillips, and a bane of 50s movie musicals-the movie executives' idea of "adorable"-Mitzi Gaynor. From a story by Vera Caspary. MGM.
There are at least 10 screen versions of the Victor Hugo novel; this stuffy Hollywood production is perhaps the best known, though Richard Boleslawski, who directed, can't seem to get the plot moving. Charles Laughton's Inspector Javert is so pathologically dedicated to the strictest interpretation of the law that he fills you with fear. You can see that he feels more than fatherly love for Cosette (Rochelle Hudson) and that his persecution of Jean Valjean (Fredric March) is compulsive. Laughton plays Javert as a sadistic, repressed homosexual, a suffering man, and because of him the movie holds you (in a ghastly, masochistic way). But the look of the other actors, their makeup, and their manner of speaking are all howlingly wrong. The endlessly victimized Valjean is not very compelling: in the early scenes March wears a scraggly beard and seems to be imitating both John and Lionel Barrymore; after Valjean's spiritual rebirth, Fredric March acts impossibly virtuous, and his light voice makes it hard to take him seriously. And Cedric Hardwicke is so saintly as the Bishop who gives Valjean the silver candlesticks that you wish Valjean had bopped him over the head with them. The pacing improves as the film goes on, but not enough, and the musical score is a killer. Maybe all that needs to be said about the tone of the movie is that Valjean hears bits of the "Ave Maria" after the Bishop is kind to him. With John Beal, Frances Drake, Florence Eldridge, Jessie Ralph, John Carradine, Ferdinand Gottschalk, and Leonid Kinskey. (The child actress who plays Cosette as a little girl gives memorably awful coquettish line readings.) The screenplay is by W.P. Lipscomb; the cinematography is by Gregg Toland. United Artists.
In this 27-minute film, five little French boys seek to become members of a courtship: they follow the lovers (Gérard Blain and Bernadette Lafont), spy on them, jeer at them. François Truffaut's first feature film, the 1959 THE FOUR HUNDRED BLOWS, is a child's cry of protest against a world black with adult injustice; this earlier film is a poetic reverie: the children look at the adult world greedily but contemptuously, and the adult world pays no heed. For an experimental work, it shows a marvellous command of sensual image and atmosphere (the opening bicycle ride, for example), but to Americans the total conception may seem fearfully sensitive and precious. The English commentary is full of high-flown romantic nostalgia for the first confused stirrings of sexual desire-"the fate and the privilege of the flesh" sort of thing-with references to mythology, rites, divinity, etc. Based on the short story "Virginales" by Maurice Pons.
A romantic memoir by the French writer-director Michel Drach about his childhood during the Occupation, and about the efforts of his gracious and beautiful mother to save the family-which is Jewish-from the Nazis. Drach re-creates the Nazi period in terms of what his vision was when he was a little boy, and his memory seems to burnish everything: everyone in the family is tender, cultivated, and exquisitely groomed. The film gets off to a fast start as the bearded, intense-looking Drach tries to arrange financing to make this autobiography; this first sequence is done in a playful, jump-cutting shorthand, but afterward everything is lyrical and glassy smooth. The incidents have a warmed-over old-Hollywood look, and the smartly tailored hat that the mother wears for the escape across the border and the fine gloves with which she parts the strands of barbed wire are the height of refugee chic. (If this is what the child experienced, he must have had the soul of a couturier.) Drach has cast his wife, the lovely Marie-José Nat, as his mother, and his own son as the blithe little treasure he imagines he was. With Jean-Louis Trintignant and Nathalie Roussel. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.
A fantasy romance set in the 15th century and based on a French legend: "And so in the beautiful month of May, 1485, the Devil sent on earth two of his creatures in order to drive the human beings to despair." The director, Marcel Carné, and the writers, Jacques Prévert and Pierre Laroche, intended a magical and seductive film poem, and they certainly had the cast for it-Arletty with her great, lustrous eyes, Jules Berry as the Devil, Marie Déa, Alain Cuny (unfortunately, he's young and looks like a wooden Indian), Fernand Ledoux, Gabriel Gabrio, and Marcel Herrand. There are wonderful images (such as a medieval ball, with the dancers suddenly frozen) but the movie is heavy on the allegorical and becomes rather slow and overstylized. Perhaps the sentiments (the Devil himself, i.e., Hitler, is unable to corrupt true lovers) are a little too fragrant. Art direction by Alexandre Trauner and Georges Wakhévitch; cinematography by Roger Hubert; music by Joseph Kosma and Maurice Thiriet. In French.
The burnt-out marriage of Eva Dahlbeck and Gunnar Björnstrand is rekindled when he becomes jealous of her. This is a rather more middle-class marital comedy than one expects from Ingmar Bergman. (He wrote and directed.) With Harriet Andersson. In Swedish.
This innocent, cheerful farce about an Atlanta milkman (Sidney Poitier) and a factory worker (Bill Cosby) who go to New Orleans and pull off a great scam is like a black child's version of THE STING. The con involves hypnotizing a spindly prizefighter, played by Jimmie Walker, of TV's "Good Times," in his first screen role. Cosby looks spaced out on his own innocent amiability, and he floats away with the show; Poitier, who directed, plays straight man to him and gives an embarrassed, unfunny performance. It's crude slapstick, but the people on the screen are very likable. The cast includes Ossie Davis, Julius Harris, Mel Stewart, John Amos, Lee Chamberlin, Denise Nicholas, and Calvin Lockhart. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
This documentary, by Bruce Weber, isn't primarily about Chet Baker the jazz trumpeter and singer: it's about Chet Baker the love object, the fetish. And maybe because Weber, despite his lifelong fixation on this charmer, knew him only as a battered, treacherous wreck, in the two years before his death, it's one of the most suggestive (and unresolved) films ever made. The sound track is made up of Baker recordings that span more than three decades-the idealized essence of the man. The 16 mm black-and-white cinematography (by Jeff Preiss) is reticent yet expressive, impassioned; the film has a great look.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.