The first of several Westerns based on Kurosawa's THE SEVEN SAMURAI, and fairly rousing for about two thirds of the way. The setting is now Mexico. John Sturges directed a good cast: Yul Brynner in the lead, with Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Horst Buchholz, Charles Bronson, Eli Wallach, Robert Vaughn, and Vladimir Sokoloff. Ragged when it tries for philosophical importance, but it's fun to see so many stars at an early stage in their careers. You can certainly tell why they became stars. Written by William Roberts; music by Elmer Bernstein. United Artists.
The bloody, brutal sequel to DIRTY HARRY. This time, Clint Eastwood doesn't speak for vigilante justice, and he slaughters those who do. But he's the same emotionless hero, who lives and kills as affectlessly as a psychopathic personality. The setting is San Francisco, but, as in the spaghetti Westerns, Eastwood's gun power makes him the hero of a totally nihilistic dream world. Ted Post's direction is mediocre; the script by John Milius and Michael Cimino is cheaply effective. The villains this time are a Nazi-style elite cadre of clean-cut, dedicated cops (with a prim Führer-Hal Holbrook) who have taken the law into their own hands and are assassinating the labor racketeers, the drug dealers, and the gangsters. The movie is full of what in a moral landscape would be sickening scenes of death-for example, a huge metal girder smashes right into a man's face. Here, the audience is meant not to empathize but to say "Wow!" The ugliest scene: a black pimp's murder of a black whore, which is staged for a turn-on erotic effect. With Felton Perry, Mitchell Ryan, Adele Yoshioka, and, as the young neo-Nazis, David Soul, Tim Matheson, Robert Urich, and Kip Niven. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.
Probably the only movie in which one will ever see a copy of Empson's The Seven Types of Ambiguity. That's a few too many types for this elaborate, trashy literary conceit, which should be eerie fun but isn't. It's certainly deluxe, though, with Michael Caine, Anthony Quinn, Anna Karina, and Candice Bergen all being enigmatic on Majorca. Guy Green directed; John Fowles adapted his own novel. 20th Century-Fox.
Diana Ross is a garish, garbled black version of outmoded white kitsch. As a secretary from the South Side of Chicago, who becomes the first black model to crack the color bar and goes on to be a whirling international celebrity as well as a terrific haute-couture designer, and then gives it all up to help her black lover (Billy Dee Williams) fight to improve conditions at home, she has an overachiever debauch. The decadent whites who paw her or bitch at her include Tony Perkins, Nina Foch, Marisa Mell, and Jean-Pierre Aumont. Berry Gordy directed this setback to Ross's talent; he seems to have worked from a do-it-yourself kit. With Beah Richards. The script by John Byrum is based on a story by Toni Amber. A Motown Production; released by Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
Accusations of witchcraft in an only so-so, sometimes pompous picture directed by Frank Lloyd for Paramount. Claudette Colbert is alluring in the prim garb of a Puritan maid, with a severe frill at her neck and a wicked bonnet that dooms her to Bonita Granville's accusation, but Colbert's performance suggests that she would rather have been in another period, in a different picture. Something similar could be said of Fred MacMurray's performance as her suitor, but then it could really be said of almost any of his performances. (He rarely seemed to fit in right.) Edward Ellis makes a strong appearance, and the black actress Madame Sul-Te-Wan has a fascinating episode.
As a movie director, Norman Mailer didn't have much to retrogress from, but he managed. To the degree that there is any hero involved in this sad enterprise, it is Rip Torn, who, perceiving that there was no movie unless something happened, attacked the star (and director) with a small hammer.
Determinedly sassy wartime comedy, in which Ginger Rogers, as a New York career girl down on her luck, without enough money to return home to Iowa, dresses up as a twelve-year-old and buys a half-fare railroad ticket. On the train, she meets Ray Milland, an Army major stationed at a military school for boys, and he is bewildered by his attraction to the overgrown tyke. The Major's fiancée (Rita Johnson) becomes suspicious, so the heroine is forced to keep up her charade, even while fending off lecherous youngsters at the school. The farce situations are pushed too broadly, and have a sanctimonious patriotic veneer, but this first American film directed by Billy Wilder was a box-office hit. With Robert Benchley, Frankie Thomas, Diana Lynn as the kid who sees through the heroine's masquerade, and Lela Rogers, Ginger's mother, who plays her mother. The script, by Charles Brackett and Wilder, seems to have been concocted after the title, but it's actually derived from disparate sources-the play Connie Goes Home by E.C. Carpenter and the story "Sunny Goes Home" by Fannie Kilbourne. Paramount. (Remade in 1955 as YOU'RE NEVER TOO YOUNG, with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.)
Terrible, but bearable; there's a fascination to its clunkiness. George Bernard Shaw had allowed Pygmalion to be cut and adapted for the screen, and it was a great success, but he got stubborn on this one and hung on to his dialogue; Gabriel Pascal, who had produced PYGMALION, had also been spoiled by its success and decided to direct this time. Their failings were compounded: the actors posture and talk, and the movie goes on and on until whatever it's meant to be about no longer seems to matter. It's too cheerful to be really boring, however. The cast includes Rex Harrison (in a role based on Gilbert Murray), Wendy Hiller, Robert Morley, Sybil Thorndike, Robert Newton, Emlyn Williams, Deborah Kerr, and Stanley Holloway. William Walton did the score, Cecil Beaton the costumes.
This Kon Ichikawa film has a triumphant simplicity about it. You don't just watch the film-you coast on its rhythms and glide past the precipitous spots. Ichikawa celebrates the delicate beauty of the four Makioka sisters-the four heiresses of an aristocratic Osaka family, who move as if always conscious that they must be visual poetry-and at the same time he makes you feel that there's something amusingly perverse in their poise and their politesse. Set in 1938, the film is based on Junichiro Tanizaki's novel, orginally titled A Light Snowfall, and it's like a succession of evanescent revelations; the images are stylized and formal, yet the quick cutting melts them away. The venerable Ichikawa is doing what so many younger directors have claimed to be doing: he's making visual music. And he's doing it without turning the actors into zombies, and without losing his sense of how corruption and beauty and humor are all rolled up together. The themes are worked out in shades of pearl and ivory for the interiors and bursts of color outside-cherry and maple and red-veined burgundy. With Sayuri Yoshinaga as Yukiko, who keeps saying no to her suitors, Keiko Kishi as Tsuruko, the oldest, Yoshiko Sakuma as Sachiko, the next oldest, and Yuko Kotegawa as Taeko, the youngest. Also with Juzo Itami. Cinematography by Kiyoshi Hasegawa; screenplay by Shinya Hidaka and Ichikawa. The musical theme is from Handel. (Two earlier versions were filmed under the title A LIGHT SNOWFALL-in 1950, by Yutaka Abe, and in 1959, by Koji Shima.) In Japanese. (140 minutes.)
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.
This first feature made in Portland, Oregon, by Gus Van Sant (his second was the 1989 DRUGSTORE COWBOY) is a story of romantic obsession, shot in 16 mm, mostly in black and white, and completed for $25,000. It's the story of Walt (Tim Streeter), a young clerk in a skid-row convenience store, who falls hopelessly in love with a Mexican boy, a tease who accepts handouts from him but derides him as a "stupid faggot." Based on a short novel by the Oregon poet Walt Curtis, the movie has a wonderful fluid, grainy look-expressionist yet with an improvised feel. It has an authentic grungy beauty; at moments, it's reminiscent of Jean Genet's short film masterpiece UN CHANT D'AMOUR. The tease, Johnny, is played by Doug Cooeyate, an American Indian who doesn't speak Spanish. (His lines were dubbed.) The screenplay is by Van Sant; the (often hand-held) cinematography is by John Campbell.
Humphrey Bogart's most exciting role was Sam Spade, that ambiguous mixture of avarice and honor, sexuality and fear, who gave new dimension to the detective genre. This film, the first directed by John Huston, is an almost perfect visual equivalent of the Dashiell Hammett thriller. Huston used Hammett's plot design and economic dialogue in a hard, precise directorial style that brings out the full viciousness of characters so ruthless and greedy that they become comic. It is (and this is rare in American films) a work of entertainment that is yet so skillfully constructed that after many years and many viewings it has the same brittle explosiveness-and even some of the same surprise-that it had in its first run. Bogart is backed by an impeccably "right" cast: Mary Astor as Brigid O'Shaughnessy, Sydney Greenstreet as Casper Gutman, Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo, Gladys George as Iva, Elisha Cook, Jr., as Wilmer the gunsel, Jerome Cowan as Miles Archer, Lee Patrick as Effie, Ward Bond and Barton MacLane as the cops, and the director's father, Walter Huston (uncredited), as Captain Jacoby. The young Huston was a good enough screenwriter to see that Hammett had already written the scenario, and he didn't soften Sam Spade's character. Bogart played him as written by Hammett, and Hammett was not sentimental about detectives: they were cops who were going it alone, i.e., who had smartened up and become more openly mercenary and crooked. Bogart's Spade is a loner who uses nice, simple people. He's a man who's constantly testing himself, who doesn't want to be touched, who's obsessively anti-homosexual-he enjoys hitting Joel Cairo and humiliating Wilmer. A flaw: the appalling Warners music (by Adolph Deutsch), rising and swelling to call our attention to the big "I won't because all of me wants to" speech at the end, almost kills the scene. And a regret: that Huston didn't (or couldn't) retain Hammett's final twist-Effie's realization of what a bastard Spade is. But perhaps its absence is part of what made the movie a hit: Huston, by shooting the material from Spade's point of view, makes it possible for the audience to enjoy Spade's petty, sadistic victories and his sense of triumph as he proves he's tougher than anybody. Spade was left a romantic figure, though he's only a few steps away from the psychopathic "Nobody ever put anything over on Fred C. Dobbs" of THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (1948), which was a box-office failure-perhaps because the audience was forced to see what was inside the hero. Warners had already got its money's worth out of THE MALTESE FALCON-in 1931, with Ricardo Cortez and Bebe Daniels, and again in 1936, as SATAN MET A LADY, with Warren William and Bette Davis.
Too terrible to be boring; you can get fixated staring at it and wondering what exactly Lucille Ball thinks she's doing. When that sound comes out-it's somewhere between a bark, a croak, and a quaver-does she think she's singing? When she throws up her arms, in their red giant-bat-wing sleeves, and cries out "Listen, everybody!" does she really think she's a fun person? Onna White choreographs like mad, with bodies hurtling over and around the near-stationary star (Lucille Ball was well into her 60s at the time), and the director, Gene Saks, tries to wring a little humor out of the frayed old skits that serve as the story line. The material, which is about how the sophisticated, generous-hearted Mame raises her nephew, and shows him (and everyone else) a good time, originated in the Patrick Dennis book, Auntie Mame, and persisted on stage and screen. Mame is a camp heroine-a female impersonator's dream woman: constantly changing her wigs and her gowns and her decor, basking in jewels and bitchy repartee. The 1958 film version, AUNTIE MAME, which starred Rosalind Russell, was stale and squawking; subsequently the material was turned into the Broadway musical Mame and then into this hippopotamic slapstick musical. About 10 minutes of this film, featuring Beatrice Arthur as Mame's bosom buddy, Vera Charles-she's like a coquettish tank-are genuinely satirical, and Jane Connell as a sweetly wan Agnes Gooch and Robert Preston as Mame's sturdy, relaxed suitor, Beauregard, are in there working and doing better than might be expected. Screenplay by Paul Zindel; music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. With Bruce Davison, Joyce Van Patten, Don Porter, John McGiver, Audrey Christie, and a little boy named Kirby Furlong who twinkles and delivers lines such as "Would you take a kiss on account?" Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.
Probably the most efficacious make-out movie of the swinging 60s. The young cinematographer-director Claude Lelouch conveys tender love by cutting to gamboling lovers among gamboling horses and then lambs and then dogs. The characters have exciting, photogenic occupations: stunt man, script girl, racing-car driver. They take their kids on photogenic boats or for walks on wintry beaches. The actors don't have to do anything because the camera-shooting through rain and snow and ice and into sunsets-supplies the moods for them. Anouk Aimée is blankly mysterious and glamorous; Jean-Louis Trintignant and Pierre Barouh are like a teenage girl's dream boyfriends-daredevils to the world but gentle and sweet with her. Lelouch blurs for romantic softness and he tints for mood and variety; he throws a nimbus of mist around everything. The score is by Francis Lai; the script is by Lelouch and Pierre Uytterhoeven. In French.
The title of this English thriller, directed by Carol Reed, refers to James Mason as a man caught between the East and West in postwar Berlin, but he really seems to be halfway between the character he played in Carol Reed's ODD MAN OUT and the character Orson Welles played in Reed's THE THIRD MAN. Mason is cast as a disenchanted, opportunistic victim of the war who is engaged in some fancy double-dealing, Claire Bloom is an English girl who innocently gets involved with Mason; the most exciting person in the film, however, is Hildegarde Neff (later Knef), in a world-weary, war-ravaged, Garboesque performance that is much too brief. Reed's love of photogenic corruption, his technical finesse, and his feeling for atmospheric intrigue almost make something really good out of Harry Kurnitz' synthetic script. The sogginess overpowers him, though.
In this country, escape is a theme for action movies, but the French director Robert Bresson is famous for his uncompromising methods, and having been a prisoner of the Nazis himself, he is not disposed to treat his material-André Devigny's account of his escape from the Montluc fortress prison-lightly. Bresson's hero's ascetic, single-minded dedication to escape is almost mystic, and the fortress constitutes a world as impersonal and as isolated as Kafka's. The movie was shot at Montluc with fanatic authenticity; the photography, by Léonce-Henry Burel, is austerely beautiful. François Leterrier, a Sorbonne philosophy student, is the lead. The music is Mozart's Mass in C Minor. All this makes it sound terribly pretentious, yet sometimes even the worst ideas can be made to work. It's a marvellous movie. In French.
The director, Fred Zinnemann, places himself at the service of Robert Bolt's play about the moral tug of war between Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield) and Henry VIII (Robert Shaw), and the results are tasteful and moderately enjoyable. The weakness is that though Bolt's dialogue is crisp, lucid, and well-spoken, his presentation of More's martyrdom is so one-sided we don't even get to understand that side. More is the only man of honor in the movie, and he's got all the good lines; he's the kind of hero we used to read about in biographies of great men written for 12-year-olds, and Scofield is so refined, so controlled, so dignified, so obviously "subtle" he's like a man of conscience in a school play. With Orson Welles as Wolsey, Leo McKern as Cromwell, and Susannah York, Wendy Hiller, Nigel Davenport, John Hurt, and Corin Redgrave. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
Fritz Lang directed the Dudley Nichols adaptation of Geoffrey Household's Rogue Male-an anti-Nazi thriller about a broad-shouldered British big-game hunter (Walter Pidgeon) stalking Hitler at Berchtesgaden. It's ingenious, all right, but the direction is too insistent and the plot too tangled for a first-rate entertainment. Joan Bennett plays the streetwalker heroine, whom the studio turned into a "seamstress" to get past the Hays office. With George Sanders, John Carradine, Roddy McDowall, and Ludwig Stossel. Produced by Kenneth MacGowan, for 20th Century-Fox.
Of its kind, not bad at all. Warner Brothers, combining two genres in the hope of snaring a double audience, put together several of these musical melodramas, and this one, directed by Raoul Walsh, is one of the smoothest. Ida Lupino starred, as a singer, with Bruce Bennett as a jazz musician (one of his few good roles), Robert Alda, Andrea King, Martha Vickers, Alan Hale, Dolores Moran, and some talented dubbers. The score includes a whole raft of classics-"The Man I Love," of course, and "Body and Soul," "Bill," "Liza," "Why Was I Born?," "If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight."
Alec Guinness has often been at his comic best in the role of an ordinary man with an obsession, and who can be as ordinary and obsessed as an inventor? In this film, he plays a quirky, idealistic scientist who lives in the modern economy of quick obsolescence yet is fixated on the long-range benefits to humanity of a cloth that will stay clean and last forever. Guinness's bland monomaniacal scientist is beautifully matched by Joan Greenwood, who is all guile and scorn and perversity, without any real aim or purpose. Alexander Mackendrick directed this deft capital-science-labor comedy. With Cecil Parker, and Ernest Thesiger as a half-dead industrialist. Screenplay by Roger MacDougall, John Dighton, and Mackendrick. (Item for collectors of movie memorabilia: the gurgling, bubbling squirts and drips of the hero's experimental apparatus were joined to a rhythm and issued by Coral Records as "The White Suit Samba.")
Richard Harris is mauled by a grizzly bear at the gory beginning and spends the rest of the movie dragging himself across iridescent landscapes while flashbacks reveal his past life. He gives a cheerlessly powerful performance in this mystical, superstition-laden survival fantasy set in the early 19th century. Directed by Richard C. Sarafian; the dazzling cinematography is by Gerry Fisher. With John Huston, Prunella Ransome, Ben Carruthers, and Henry Wilcoxon. The self-conscious script is by Jack DeWitt. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
Unappetizing bio of the turmoiled, forbidding Lon Chaney, with James Cagney giving the role more conviction than the viewer really wants; the script and conception are so maudlin and degrading that Cagney's high dedication becomes somewhat oppressive. He discards his mannerisms and his usual bravado, and acts out the Chaney characters-the hunchback of Notre Dame, the mad organist of the Paris Opéra, the cripple of THE MIRACLE MAN, etc., giving them a gruesome tenderness that is almost as upsetting as Chaney's own brand of compassion. With Dorothy Malone as Chaney's lackadaisical first wife, and Jane Greer, cast wildly against type, as the fine, upstanding chorus girl who becomes his perfect second wife. Joseph Pevney's direction is at its worst with these two; he's a little more comfortable with Celia Lovsky as Chaney's deaf-mute mother. The cast includes Marjorie Rambeau, Jim Backus, Jack Albertson, Jeanne Cagney, Hank Mann, Snub Pollard, and Robert Evans as Irving Thalberg. Written by R. Wright Campbell, Ivan Goff, and Ben Roberts. Universal. CinemaScope.
Robert Flaherty gave two years of his life to making this film and left the Aran Islands with a truly exalted work-the greatest film tribute to man's struggle against hostile nature. The Atlantic, which sweeps in all the way from America, lashes the cliffs of Aran with an almost malignant ferocity; it is considered the most horrible sea in the world. Only 30 miles from Galway, civilized people live on islands of rock so bare that they must gather seaweed to plant their potatoes in. Perhaps because of the mixture of extreme courage and extreme simplicity in the lives of these people, who act out incidents based on past occurrences, the film achieves a true epic quality-a celebration of heroic traditions.
The lyrics still sound as if they had been translated from Esperanto, and it's a slow haul to a sentimental haven, but toward the middle, Peter O'Toole, looking like an elongated Guinness, is so wafer-thin and stylized, and his woefulness is so deeply silly, that the contrast between his Don Quixote and the full-bodied, realistic Aldonza of Sophia Loren becomes affecting. Loren, with her great, sorrowing green-brown eyes, is magnificently sensual and spiritual; she brings the soul of Italian opera to this Broadway bastardization, which combines Cervantes' life with his novel. With James Coco, Harry Andrews, and Brian Blessed. Directed by Arthur Hiller; the script by Dale Wasserman is based on his bewilderingly successful play (the movie, however, was a box-office failure). The cinematography is by Giuseppe Rotunno. Released by United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.
Irritatingly pointless. Frank Perry's pseudo-documentary murder mystery is based on the unsolved crime that an Ohio reporter, William A. Clark, wrote about in The Girl on the Volkswagen Floor-a crime that became complicated when a man who claimed to be clairvoyant got involved in trying to solve it. If the movie had stuck to the facts, it might have been effective; if the scriptwriter, David Zelag Goodman, had fictionalized the case and given it a solution, that might also have been effective. But the movie is a murky jumble of both (with echoes of LAURA besides), and in changing the central character, the reporter, to a chief of police (Cliff Robertson), Goodman failed to restructure the reporter's activities. So one keeps wondering who's running the police department while Robertson wanders off investigating parapsychology. Robertson's acting is far from inspired; his eyes are so bright and alert that he's staring even when he isn't, and his mouth is fixed in a semi-sneer. The picture's only interest is a creepy, volatile performance by Joel Grey, as the man who says he's clairvoyant; Grey is so intense you can't take your eyes off him, and you don't want to. With Dorothy Tristan, Peter Masterson, Dianne Hull, George Voskovec, Elizabeth Wilson, and Christopher Allport. Paramount.
A nasty thriller with some fancy degenerate aspects, and some imaginative photography and trial and error work with color that put it in a special class-it might even be called an experimental thriller. Burgess Meredith directed this peculiar (and not particularly enjoyable) manhunt, with himself as one of the hunted. Franchot Tone makes a cunning psychopathic killer-the really horrid kind that tries to put the noose on an innocent neck-and Charles Laughton is Inspector Maigret. The Simonen novel A Battle of Nerves was adapted by Harry Brown. With Robert Hutton, Belita, Patricia Roc, Jean Wallace, and Wilfrid Hyde-White. Shot in Paris; Stanley Cortez was the cinematographer.