Joan Crawford rises from poverty to affluence and then suffers glamorously in beach house, roadhouse, and mansion from the nasty semi-incestuous goings on of her cad husband (Zachary Scott) and her spoiled daughter (Ann Blyth). Miss Crawford's heavy breathing was certified as acting when she won an Academy Award for her performance here. Michael Curtiz directed this glossy adaptation of the James M. Cain novel. With Jack Carson and Eve Arden. Warners.
An acted-out cross-section view of what the young radicals of the 60s are doing in the 70s--how they're trying to find a revolutionary way of life. It's so long (195 minutes) and so miserably structured that the viewer can't tell who is living with whom, or where, or what the economic base of any of the groups is. The directors, Robert Kramer and John Douglas (who also wrote and edited the film), cut back and forth among people living in communes and burned-out apartments and on the road, who talk about their feelings, and the need to be open about those feelings, in banal, strangely indirect, and abstract terms. It's all so maundering and haphazard that it looks like an after-apocalypse movie; this is certainly part of the point, but we never get to understand what the directors' principles of selection were. With Douglas playing a blind potter, Grace Paley playing a filmmaker, and David C. Stone as Joe, of Joe's Bar.
This Luis Buñuel film concerns two pilgrim-tramps and their encounters with the Devil, the Virgin Mary, people who are arguing about Catholic doctrine, and assorted religious zealots. It's all genial enough, and the tone of cool irony is charming and very distinctive, but an awful lot of Buñuel's little jokes are clerical and enigmatic. At times, the film seems to be a Catholic-college revue, full of dud barbs and daring seminary humor. It looks beautiful, though (the cinematography is by Christian Matras), and it moves along in a masterly way that is specifically, characteristically Buñuelian; it's all very simple--just one episode after another, with past and present joined without effort or fuss, and with occasional (and very odd) animal sounds on the track. Screenplay by Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière. The cast includes such well-known performers as Julien Bertheau, Alain Cuny, Edith Scob, Michel Piccoli, Paul Frankeur, Laurent Terzieff, Claudio Brook, Delphine Seyrig, and Pierre Clémenti (as the Devil), yet no one leaves a very distinct impression. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
One of the silliest and funniest pictures ever made: a lunatic musical satire on the Olympics, with W.C. Fields, Jack Oakie, Andy Clyde, Ben Turpin, and Lyda Roberti singing "It's Terrific." The Mankiewicz brothers (Herman J. and Joseph L.) worked together on this one, and Edward Cline directed. Paramount.
Esther Williams was a great advertisement for the one-piece bathing suit; still, centering a story on the invention of the thing leaves a lot of dead space in a movie that goes on for 115 minutes. The director, Mervyn LeRoy, is not known for his sense of pace. In this MGM musical splasher, Esther Williams plays Annette Kellerman, the Australian swimming champ who went into show business. Walter Pidgeon plays her father, Maria Tallchief plays Anna Pavlova, and Victor Mature is the American promotor who discovers first Annette and then Rin Tin Tin. The picture's only claim on one's attention is in the two sequences staged by Busby Berkeley, which were excerpted for THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! Berkeley used smoke pots and sparklers, and put Williams, wearing a chain-mail bathing suit made of thousands of gold flakes, at the top of a geyser. .
Totò plays a black marketeer, nouveau riche, in Eduardo de Filippo's film adaptation of his own play, and de Filippo, one of the most important figures in Italian theatre at the time, co-stars and directs. He has a great lived-in face, and his acting lives up to the descriptions of his stage performances. Rechristened SIDE STREET STORY by a capricious American distributor, this fine comedy passed almost unnoticed in this country. In Italian.
Gertrude Lawrence seems miscast as the heroine of this British-made version of La Vie de Bohème (the story but not the opera). Her artifice doesn't photograph well, and her Mimi is singularly unmagical; however, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., is exuberantly romantic as the lover. The director, Paul L. Stein, didn't do much with the material, but even in this pokey, unimaginative version, the heartbreak and melodrama have a compulsive interest--rather like the appeal Edna Ferber built into Show Boat.
Science fiction and educational polemics, from England, and dreary. Can a young man (Terence Stamp) recently awakened from a 30-year coma find happiness with Nigel Davenport (strict structural educator) or Robert Vaughn (permissive educator)? With Donal Donnelly. Directed by Alan Cooke.
Very little of Graham Greene's mystery novel survives in this unmemorable Paramount picture, directed by Fritz Lang. As melodramas of the period go, however, this one is better made than most. Ray Milland has just been released from an insane asylum, where he was confined for murdering his wife, when he is drawn into a plot by a gang of German spies who are after defense plans. The heroine is the unimposing Marjorie Reynolds; the villain is that falsetto cutthroat Dan Duryea.
John Cassavetes built this movie on a small conceit--a love affair between two people who are wildly unsuited to each other--and it doesn't work. The picture drivels on about the joys of spontaneity, while Gena Rowlands and Seymour Cassel remain embarrassingly wrong for each other. Universal.
A mad, freewheeling satire of early movies, by Henri-Georges Clouzot. Louis Jouvet plays an outrageously bad actor; Danièle Delorme is the ingenue; Bourvil is the virtuous juvenile; Saturnin Fabre, the aristocratic lecher; Mireille Perrey, the mother who looks after the lecher. In French; the English subtitles purify Clouzot's dialogue.
This Roberto Rossellini film is itself a miracle: brief (43 minutes), utterly simple in its means, and perhaps the most fully achieved--and most sensual--of all his movies. Anna Magnani stars as the peasant woman who is convinced that the child in her belly is a new Christ child, and Federico Fellini (who also wrote the story) plays the man who put the baby there. This is the film that was the subject of a censorship case that was fought all the way up to the Supreme Court. The screenplay is by Tullio Pinelli and Rossellini; the cinematography is by Aldo Tonti. In Italian.
Part social satire, part fantasy, this Vittorio De Sica film suggests a childlike view of Dostoevski's The Idiot. A fun-loving old lady finds a newborn baby in a cabbage patch. The baby becomes Toto the Good, the happy man who loves everyone; when he is frustrated in his desire to help people, the old lady, now an angel, comes down and gives him the power to work miracles. Toto the hero, naïve and full of love, organizes a hobo shantytown into an ideal community, but the social contradictions are ludicrously hopeless--not even magic powers can resolve them. The failure of innocence here is touchingly absurd; the film is stylized poetry, and it is like nothing else that Vittorio De Sica ever did. Francesco Golissano is perfect as Toto; the heroine, Brunella Bovo, is what Chaplin's heroines should have been but weren't. The film provides a beautiful role for that great, almost legendary lady of the Italian theatre, Emma Gramatica (many, many years before, she had taken over Duse's roles and acted under the direction of D'Annunzio); as the supremely silly old woman of Sica's fairy tale, she is as yielding and permissive as his UMBERTO D. is proud and stubborn. With Paolo Stoppa as the unhappy man. Cesare Zavattini adapted his own novel, Toto Il Buono. In Italian.
It's wartime, and Betty Hutton is the overenthusiastic girl who dates a soldier and produces sextuplets. This is one of Preston Sturges's surreal-slapstick-satire-conniption-fit comedies, and part of our great crude heritage. The picture was held up a year because of censorship problems, and you'll know why. With Eddie Bracken, Diana Lynn, William Demarest, Porter Hall, Esther Howard, J. Farrell MacDonald as the Sheriff, Jimmy Conlin as the Mayor, and, carried over from THE GREAT MCGINTY, Brian Donlevy as the Governor, and Akim Tamiroff as the Boss. (Remade as ROCK-A-BYE BABY in 1958.) Paramount.
Barbara Stanwyck gives a peerless performance as a young evangelist--a girl from a religious background who is taken over by a carny promoter (Sam Hardy) and is developed into a big-time shear-the-sheep phenomenon, with her own church. Frank Capra directed this fictionalized version of the life of Aimee Semple McPherson. It was softened by a mawkish love story: the heroine is redeemed through her unselfish love for a blind aviator (David Manners, God help us all). But it's still a beauty, well staged and handsomely lighted (Joseph Walker was the cinematographer), and with some intermittent good writing; the screenplay is by Jo Swerling, from the play Bless You Sister, by John Meehan and Robert Riskin. With Beryl Mercer and Russell Hopton. Columbia.
Arthur Penn, who had directed the Broadway version of William Gibson's play about Anne Sullivan and her pupil, Helen Keller, brought his two chief players with him-Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. The play has some weaknesses, and they come through all too glaringly in the performances of Victor Jory and Inga Swenson as Helen's parents, but the dramatic force of the pitched battle between the strong-willed Annie and the equally strong, animal-willed Helen carries everything before it. Truffaut's THE WILD CHILD is a more beautifully conceived picture on the same theme, but even with its imperfections and staginess this early Penn film is extraordinary. Anne Bancroft won the Academy Award as Best Actress, Patty Duke as Best Supporting Actress. United Artists.
An erratic, sometimes personal in the wrong way, and generally unlucky picture that is often affecting. Arthur Miller wrote the screenplay (from a story he'd published in Esquire) about contemporary cowboys--"misfits" in the film's symbolism--who hunt down wild horses and sell them to be butchered for dog food. Marilyn Monroe is a lonely, emotionally unstable divorcée who is deeply upset by the men's determination to capture the horses. Monroe had never worked her vulnerability so fulsomely before; the film has an uncomfortable element of fake psychodrama--she's pushy about her own sensitivity. Clark Gable plays an aging cowhand who falls in love with her, and Montgomery Clift is particularly engaging in the smaller role of a cowhand-rodeo rider with mother troubles. If there is a right tone in which to play the Miller script, the director, John Huston, doesn't find it. Much publicity attended the making of the film (in Nevada); it was plagued by delays caused by Monroe's psychiatric disorders and these delays, the heat, and the arduous actions required of Gable are widely believed to have caused his heart attack and death, just after shooting was finished. At a final cost of $4 million, it was one of the most expensive black-and-white movies made up to that time. The score is by Alex North; the cinematography is by Russell Metty. With Eli Wallach, Thelma Ritter, Kevin McCarthy, Marietta Tree, James Barton, and Estelle Winwood. United Artists-Seven Arts.
Adapted by the fey, witty playwright Beth Henley from her 1984 play, The Miss Firecracker Contest, it's a farce about Southern eccentrics that's at the same time (and here's the death knell) a loving tribute to the indomitability of screwed-up, lonely dreamers. Holly Hunter is the waif Carnelle (in Yazoo City, Mississippi), who thinks that if she can just win this year's 4th of July beauty pageant--the Miss Firecracker Contest--she'll be respected. Thomas Schlamme, directing his first feature, tried for vividness, and the movie is never plain boring, but its comic pathos and Southern-gothic cuteness can grate on you. He force-feeds the audience Carnelle's desperation, her courage, and her heartbreaking pint-size gallantry. (So it's just about impossible to laugh at her.) The only element that really makes the movie worth seeing is the wild sense of fun in Tim Robbins' performance as Carnelle's courtly, impulsive cousin. (The role is a baroque contraption, and that's what Henley is good at.) Robbins and Mary Steenburgen, who plays his patrician sister, have a tingling love-hate intimacy; they're marvellous together. And he and Alfre Woodard are nuttily harmonious as love-struck clowns. Also with Ann Wedgeworth, Trey Wilson, Angela Turner, Amy Wright, and Scott Glenn. (Filmed on location in Yazoo City.) Corsair Pictures.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.
Strindberg's passionate, relentless drama of sexual debasement, directed by Alf Sjöberg. Anita Björk is the fragile, capricious, feudal aristocrat who encourages her father's valet to seduce her; she sustains the demanding role with intensity and grace. As the valet, Ulf Palme matches her performance with a surly, sly arrogance that makes his conquest of her a true degradation. The expansion of the play over considerable lyric acreage and preceding generations is ill-advised; it tends to dissipate the confined, harrowing drama. But the performances make this a powerful version, nevertheless. In Swedish.
Somerset Maugham's story Miss Thompson was adapted to the stage as Rain and opened in 1922, starring Jeanne Eagels. A movie version came out in 1928, starring Gloria Swanson as the sinner-heroine, and another in 1932, with Joan Crawford. Sadie Thompson was the prototype of many of the shady ladies in exotic locales played by Jean Harlow, Marlene Dietrich, Hedy Lamarr, Mae West, Ann Sheridan, Ava Gardner, and dozens of others. But by the 50s Maugham's durable vehicle, in which the conflict is between Sadie the honest whore and the wrathful, hypocritical Reverend Davidson, had run into Production Code censorship troubles, so in this updated-to-the-Second World War version Sadie (Rita Hayworth) just seems a naturally high-spirited girl who likes to sing and dance and scamper about with small children. She's wandering from one island to another because she's looking for a nightclub engagement, and Davidson (José Ferrer) isn't even allowed to be a clergyman. He appears to be an insomniac spoilsport who wants her to stop entertaining the troops so he can get a night's sleep in the South Pacific hostel that shelters him, Sadie, a batch of Marines, and the sergeant (Aldo Ray) who falls in love with her. Rita Hayworth seems physically overblown, and, attempting to be sincere, she's rather dull (though she works hard to be scorching when she sings). There are several musical numbers in this Columbia Technicolor version, written by Harry Kleiner and directed by Curtis Bernhardt; in its initial showing in New York it was in 3-D, but that was dropped for the national release.
Making his first American movie, Costa-Gavras uses the same approach that American directors have often used when they wanted to teach us something: he has given his accusatory political thriller a soft, warm-and-human center. As the businessman Ed Horman, the father of a young American who has disappeared in Chile during the days after the military coup that overthrew Allende, Jack Lemmon is playing a variant of the role that Jane Fonda played in films such as COMING HOME and THE CHINA SYNDROME: he's the naïve, protected, non-political conservative who is radicalized (or, at least, re-educated) by what he learns. And Lemmon is so eager to have depth that he looks on a serious role as a chance for redemption; Ed arrives in Santiago to look for his son and we are stuck, observing each step in the calibrated process of his learning to distrust American and Chilean officials and coming closer to the counterculture values of his son's wife (Sissy Spacek, who's fresh and natural). Costa-Gavras's antipathy to Americans appears to be so deep-seated that he can't create American characters. The only real filmmaking is in the backgrounds: in the anxious, ominous atmosphere of a city under martial law--the sirens, the tanks, the helicopters, the feeling of abnormal silences and of random terror. With John Shea as the son, Charles (seen in flashbacks), and Melanie Mayron, Janice Rule, and Charles Cioffi. Based on the book (about an actual disappearance) by Thomas Hauser; script by the director, and Donald Stewart, and the uncredited John Nichols. Shot in Mexico. Produced by Edward and Mildred Lewis, for Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
Set in Mississippi in the summer of 1964, it opens with a fictionalized re-creation of the murder of the three civil-rights workers--James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner--but it isn't really about the civil-rights movement. The director, Alan Parker, treats Southerners the way he treated the Turks 10 years before in MIDNIGHT EXPRESS. And he twists facts here as he did there, with the same apparent objective: to come up with garish forms of violence. Two F.B.I. men (Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe) arrive to find out what happened to the three activists, and a huge manhunt is initiated. The movie hinges on the ploy that the F.B.I. men can't stop the K.K.K. from its terrorism against blacks until they swing over to vigilante tactics. And we're put in the position of applauding the F.B.I.'s dirtiest forms of intimidation. This cheap gimmick undercuts the whole civil-rights subject; it validates the terrorist methods of the Klan. Hackman is superb, and there's impressive work by Frances McDormand, Brad Dourif, Park Overall, Stephen Tobolowsky, and others. But the film is morally repugnant. The script is credited to Chris Gerolmo (Parker says he rewrote it). Cinematography by Peter Biziou; the pulsating score that's designed to work you up for the violence is by Trevor Jones. Orion.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.
You can have a better time cleaning closets than watching this thing. Periodically the director Delbert Mann expiates his box-office successes (LOVER COME BACK, THAT TOUCH OF MINK) with earnest endeavors. This one is full of TV-style clichés about how people feel when they've Sold Out. James Garner is the amnesiac hero searching for his identity, and he's not just an amnesiac--he's Everyman. Jean Simmons and Angela Lansbury are sunk in this morass; Suzanne Pleshette manages to stay afloat for a few scenes; then she, too, is submerged. Also with Jack Gilford, Katharine Ross, Raymond St. Jacques, and George Voskovec. The script, by Dale Wasserman, is based on Evan Hunter's novel Buddwing. MGM.
The comic and heroic spirit went out of the famous stage success by Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan when the play was transferred to the screen; it's a miserable piece of moviemaking--poorly paced and tearjerking. Henry Fonda re-creates his stage role as the ideal modest, quietly strong American--a Second World War lieutenant who is frustrated by the petty boredom of life on a rear-line Navy cargo ship and wants to get into action. Those on board include James Cagney as the tyrannical captain, William Powell as the weary-eyed ship's doctor, and Jack Lemmon, who provides a few enlivening moments, as the laundry officer--the jokester on board. Also with Betsy Palmer, Ward Bond, and Nick Adams. Two directors were involved: John Ford and Mervyn LeRoy. Adapted by Frank Nugent and Logan; produced by Leland Hayward, for Warners.
Proust wrote Colette that he had wept a little over her love story, Mitsou; the film version, directed by Jacqueline Audry, achieves some of the story's absurdly touching quality. The milieu is the grotesquely patriotic music-hall life of World War I, where Mitsou (Danièle Delorme) performs happily, under the protection of a financier, Fernand Gravet, until she meets a snobbish young officer (François Guérin). Gaby Morlay plays Mitsou's mother, and guest stars, such as Gabrielle Dorziat, are sprinkled through the production. In French.
John Barrymore's second Ahab; he had also appeared in a silent version called THE SEA BEAST, with Dolores Costello as the beautiful girl waiting on shore. In this talkie remake, directed by Lloyd Bacon, the girl is played by Joan Bennett. (Dolores Costello had become Mrs. Barrymore and was pregnant.) It should be explained that in both these versions Ahab's driven character is accounted for by the existence of a beautiful girl who really did love him but whom he misunderstood. The first version was, at least, excitingly romantic; this talkie is much less so--Barrymore is 48 and isn't wildly in love with his leading lady (as he quite clearly was in the first), and he's working with a whale that resembles a vast mattress. J. Grubb Alexander did the (very loose) adaptation from Melville. With Lloyd Hughes. Warners.
It's an impressive attempt to be faithful to Melville, and the battles with the elements (and the whale) were so difficult to stage that the footage was shot over a two-year period, while the cost of the production rose to almost $5 million. Yet for all his dedication to this ambitious project, the director, John Huston, must not have been able to keep up his energy level; at times, his work seems surprisingly perfunctory. The film begins imaginatively, with Richard Basehart as Ishmael going down to the shore, and has all kinds of stirring things in it--Orson Welles' reading of Father Mapple's wonderful sermon about Jonah; finely textured cinematography by Oswald Morris, which has the look of steel engravings and calls up suggestions of Coleridge; exciting sequences; some great rhetoric; and a general display of Huston's pyrotechnics. But Gregory Peck--the least demonic of leading men--is a disastrous Ahab; bearded, he looks like a stock-company Lincoln. And the movie doesn't add up to anything approaching the novel; it lacks the unity, the rhythm, the poetry, the mind at work. There are still more than enough reasons to see it. Ray Bradbury and Huston wrote the screenplay. With Leo Genn as Starbuck, Friedrich Ledebur as Queequeg, Royal Dano as Elijah, and Bernard Miles, James Robertson Justice, Harry Andrews, and Mervyn Johns. Shot off the coasts of Wales and the Canary Islands, and on location in Ireland, as well as in a London studio. (This was the third version; both earlier ones--1926 and 1930--starred John Barrymore.) Warners.
George Cukor directed this New York-set comedy the year after he had his big success with BORN YESTERDAY but practically no one went to see it. The dumb-sounding title may have scared people off. Also there's nothing terribly new or original about the story, and no dominating, star performances--nothing to get the picture talked about. It's entertaining, though. Thelma Ritter, who plays the marriage broker, doesn't show any new sides, but she's awfully good at her hard-bitten specialty, and Jeanne Crain is very likable as the model. With Scott Brady, Michael O'Shea, Zero Mostel, Dennie Moore, Frank Fontaine, and Jay C. Flippen. Written by Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch, and Richard Breen. Produced by Brackett, for 20th Century-Fox.
Making his first American movie, Jacques Demy takes the heroine of his first film, LOLA, and brings her to Los Angeles. Lola is again played by Anouk Aimée, and Demy indicates that she's the same woman at a later stage of her life, but she has an entirely different character. The young Lola was an open-hearted, effervescent cabaret dancer; the new Lola is imperious and refined, and Anouk Aimée is glamorously dull. Supposedly stranded in LA and working in a "model shop" (i.e., posing for men who take "dirty" pictures), she appears in stunning, simple white and drives a long white car, and she has become a high priestess of wisdom. The young architect-hero (Gary Lockwood), who yearns to be creative, needs the will to go on; he obtains it from this mysterious dea ex machina in white. There's something ingratiating about Demy's romantic and lyrical approach to LA, but his way of looking at American youth is inane. He doesn't have the toughness of mind to see anything funny in the hero's girlfriend who wants him to commit himself to life by letting her have a baby, or to see anything ironic in the rock musicians' casting themselves and selling themselves in the life style of sweet Jesus. The movie is very pretty, but numbingly superficial. With Alexandra Hay, Carol Cole, and Severn Darden. Cinematography by Michel Hugo; music direction by Marty Paich. Written by Demy, with English dialogue by Adrien Joyce (Carol Eastman).
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Going Steady.