After CITY LIGHTS, which was silent, with a musical accompaniment and sound effects, Charlie Chaplin was absent from the screen for five years; he returned in triumph with this rambunctious comedy in which he still doesn't speak, although he uses background sounds and, as a singing waiter in a crowded cabaret, he does a wonderful jabberwocky patter song that you can't get out of your head. (It is, of course, a demonstration of how unnecessary words are.) Influenced by René Clair's A NOUS LA LIBERTÉ (1931), Chaplin opens the film with a satire on the dehumanizing effects of technology (the machines speak--they whir and pound and screech), but Chaplin is far more basic and sadistic than Clair. As a worker on an assembly line, Charlie the tramp is run through the gears of a huge machine and is force-fed by an experimental, time-saving contraption that splashes soup in his face and shoves corn on the cob into his mouth. He can't take a second off work to scratch himself without turning the whole plant into chaos; after a long stretch of tightening screws, he becomes a robot who runs to tighten the buttons he sees on women. The picture is about the social disorders of the 30s, and there are clashes between the unemployed and the police, and a gag about a Communist demonstration, yet it's one of the happiest and most lighthearted of the Chaplin pictures--partly because his new leading lady, Paulette Goddard, playing a character listed as "a Gamine," has a beautiful grin and a bouncy, outgoing personality. And with the use of more sound, Chaplin seems to drop some of his pathos; this picture doesn't pull at your heartstrings--it has the spirit of a good vaudeville show, and the tramp doesn't lose out at the end (he gets his gamin). Produced, written, and directed by Chaplin, who also takes credit for the music. With Henry Bergman as the café proprietor, Chester Conklin as the mechanic, and Hank Mann as one of the burglars. Released through United Artists.
Clark Gable as a mighty hunter in Africa, in a remake of RED DUST, which he'd starred in 21 years before; Ava Gardner plays the old Jean Harlow role--the wisecracking, tough broad--and Grace Kelly does her hot-ice bit as a ladylike prig (the old Mary Astor role). Gable certainly doesn't have the animal magnetism he had in the earlier version, but when Gardner and Kelly bitch at each other, doing battle for him, they're vastly entertaining anyway. (Gardner has never seemed happier.) The director, John Ford, got a little carried away with African wildlife (RED DUST was faster and funnier), but this sexual melodrama never takes itself too seriously. John Lee Mahin revamped his earlier script; the color cinematography is by Robert Surtees and Freddie Young. With Donald Sinden, Denis O'Dea, and Laurence Naismith. MGM.
Sean Connery, Richard Harris, and Samantha Eggar in an elegiac movie about labor violence among the Irish immigrant coal miners in Pennsylvania in the 1870s. It was clearly a labor of love for the director, Martin Ritt. The cinematography, by James Wong Howe, which stresses abstract and geometric values, is integral to the stylized plan, and the handsome use of space gives the movie an imposing solidity. But we never get any explanation of the strategy of the miners who are dynamiting the trains carrying the coal they have just mined; how will this sabotage get them the living wage they need? Instead, we see them martyred after their secret organization has been infiltrated by a company spy. Playing this wily, smart, weak man, Richard Harris has a volatile edginess that draws us into the spy's divided spirit and contributes most of the suspense. Connery gives a sure and intelligent performance as the leader of the saboteurs, even though it's an almost unwritten role and we never discover what's in his head or how he thinks his explosions will feed his family. Samantha Eggar is surprisingly forceful as the girl who becomes the fiancée of the stool pigeon. Ritt takes his time in building the atmosphere and introducing the people, and lets an image stay on the screen until we take it in. The movie is impressive yet lifeless, and there are some very bad scenes (Frank Finlay, as a sadistic cop, talking to Harris; the Judas routine at the end). The script by Walter Bernstein isn't up to the look of the film, and the music by Henry Mancini is so repetitive that by the second hour his few themes are an assault. With Anthony Zerbe, Bethel Leslie, Art Lund, Philip Bourneuf, Frances Heflin, and Malachy McCourt. Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
The Italian director Francesco Rosi's working title for this superb, angry film was simply Spain. He takes the conventional BLOOD AND SAND story and stripping it of romance and sentiment and melodrama, makes it the classic organic story of Spanish society, and part of the great neo-realist theme of migration from rural poverty to urban poverty, dislocation, and corruption. A boy leaves the Andalusian farm so that he won't have to live an animal's life like his father, but the city is no better. The lure of bullfighting is the money to be made at it: "For a million I'd wait for the bull with open arms." Those who talk about "sacred art" are just bull-slingers; it's an "art" like prizefighting for an ambitious American black with no capital but his body and nerve, and what's "sacred" about it is the risk of death. The bravado of "courage" is your trade, it's the self you sell. What you keep for yourself is fear. Rosi and his great cinematographer, Gianni Di Venanzo, used documentary techniques, following the young bullfighter Miguelin from city to city, shooting silent with hand-held cameras, in color. The approach is a kind of dramatic journalism: the footage has looseness and freedom and immediacy. Near the end there is an image of Miguelin alone on the screen with the large head of a bull: it's like a time between wars. With Linda Christian. In Italian.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
The best that can be said about this jumbled scrapbook of Joan Crawford's life from her middle years to the end is that it doesn't seem to get in the way of its star, Faye Dunaway, who gives a startling, ferocious performance. It's deeper than an impersonation; she turns herself into Joan Crawford, all right, but she's more Faye Dunaway than ever. Her performance is extravagant--it's operatic and full of primal anger. She invests the role with so much power and suffering that the camp horror scenes--the nocturnal rampages--transcend camp. (These destruction orgies were the most talked-about episodes in the book by Crawford's adopted daughter, Christina, on which the movie is based.) Alone and self-mesmerized, Dunaway plays the entire film on emotion. With Mara Hobel, Diana Scarwid, Steve Forrest, Howard Da Silva, Rutanya Alda, Jocelyn Brando, Harry Goz, Michael Edwards, Priscilla Pointer, and Belita Moreno. Produced by Frank Yablans; directed by Frank Perry; the screenplay is credited to Yablans, Perry, Tracy Hotchner, and Robert Getchell. Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
One often appreciates what Jacques Tati is trying to do more than what he actually brings off. His target is the depersonalization of modern life-not so much the mechanization that René Clair satirized in A NOUS LA LIBERTÉ (1931) and Chaplin in MODERN TIMES (1936), but the sterile, tasteless tedium that modern hygienic design has produced. There are genuinely inventive moments: the little boys gambling on whether passers-by will fall into their lamp-post trap; the old man directing a chauffeur who is trying to park an inordinately long car; the willful garage doors; the wonderful use of the modern functional house as a cartooned face, so that heads at the circular windows become eyes looking out. But the moments are intermittent, and a fundamental miscasting confuses the issues: shouldn't the unemotional, gawky, butterfingered Tati be playing the plastics manufacturer rather than the warm, friendly uncle? With Jean-Pierre Zola, Lucien Frégis, and Alain Bércourt. In French.
Directed by the Irish novelist turned moviemaker Neil Jordan, the whole movie has some of the potency of cheap music that's represented by the title song (in Nat "King" Cole's 1950 recording). The short, chunky Bob Hoskins is tremendous as a onetime petty crook, just emerged from prison, who's a decent, simple guy; given the job of chauffeuring a black call girl (Cathy Tyson) on her nightly rounds, he falls in love with her. Haughty, uncommunicative, and a head taller than he, she sets him to searching for a friend she's worried about-a blond 15-year-old heroin addict. As he makes his way through the strip joints and whores' hangouts, he's sickened by the way the girls are mistreated, and he sees that his old boss (Michael Caine) is in the rotten thick of it. The movie is lurid in a beautiful way. Most of it was shot on location in London and Brighton, but they don't look merely realistic; Jordan shows a gift for making the emotional atmosphere visual, and vice versa. And the way he uses baroque touches and the clichés of old thrillers they become part of a fluid, enjoyable texture, a melodramatic impasto with an expressive power of its own--a romanticism that pulls you along. Making her film début in the title role, the lovely young Tyson is as mysteriously stirring to us as she is to the chauffeur. Caine gives a brilliantly scary performance; he's believably rotten, just as Hoskins' little mug is believably kind yet violent. With Robbie Coltrane as Hoskins' burly old pal, Clarke Peters as the sadistic black pimp, and Zoe Nathenson as Hoskins' daughter. Script by Jordan and David Leland; cinematography by Roger Pratt; score by Michael Kamen. A HandMade Films Release through Island Pictures.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
The Italian documentary-maker Gualtiero Jacopetti and his associates are actually documentary fakers: they set out to demonstrate how uncivilized the world is, and then fake the proofs. There's no shortage of available evidence, but they prefer titillating, shocking frauds. The grossness of the picture works to the advantage of the filmmakers, since it seems almost naïve to attack it.
The four Marx Brothers as anarchic stowaways on an ocean liner who get involved with bootleggers and Thelma Todd. The first of their films written directly for the screen (by S.J. Perelman, Will B. Johnstone, and Arthur Sheekman). Norman McLeod directed this heavenly, corny nonsense, which features such songs as "You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me" and "When I Take My Sugar to Tea." Paramount.
Grating screwball farce. As a middle-aged professor who drinks a rejuvenating potion, Cary Grant is required to act frolicsomely juvenile; it's painful to see him playing cowboys and Indians with a bunch of kids. As his wife, who also swigs the potion, Ginger Rogers is reduced to thumb-sucking infantilism, and she gives a nightmarishly busy performance. This boisterous, labored whimsey, which also features Marilyn Monroe and Charles Coburn, was scripted by Ben Hecht, I.A.L. Diamond, and Charles Lederer from a story by Harry Segall, and was directed by Howard Hawks, for 20th Century-Fox. With Hugh Marlowe, Larry Keating, Esther Dale, and George Winslow, the little boy with the foghorn voice.
Chaplin as a Parisian bank clerk--a dapper Bluebeard--in a comedy with attempted Shavian ironies. This private entrepreneur who charms rich widows and murders them for their money feels guiltless, and contrasts what he does with what governments do in war. "Numbers sanctify," he says. Chaplin is more talented at carrying out his pantomime bits than in the talky, anti-war passages, which are meant to be complexly unsettling and come across as dubious and even rather lamebrained. There are also static sentimental interludes about Verdoux's devotion to his virtuous wife (Mady Correll). The casting is not all it might be, with the glorious exception of Martha Raye as Annabella, who is so full of low-comedy life that, despite all Verdoux's calculations, and one attempt after another, he fails to kill her. With Isobel Elsom, Marilyn Nash, William Frawley, Virginia Brissac, Robert Lewis, Fritz Leiber, and a glimpse of Edna Purviance. Produced, written, and directed by Chaplin, with Robert Florey and Wheeler Dryden as his assistant directors. United Artists.
Pierre Fresnay's performance as the desperately compassionate Vincent de Paul gives extraordinary feeling to Jean Anouilh's sensitive, lucid scenario. Though de Paul's very considerable intellectual gifts are minimized, this diminution is preferable to the usual solution of having an actor mutter platitudes while the other actors gasp, How brilliant! The character is simplified, but the emotions--the revulsion and horror at poverty, misery, cruelty--come through without mawkishness. Directed by Maurice Cloche; cinematography by Claude Renoir. The cast includes Aimé Clariond, Jean Debucourt, and Gabrielle Dorziat. In French.
Taciturn, funereal Western, with Lee Marvin, Jeanne Moreau, Mitch Ryan, and Jack Palance starving and suffering. It's so solemn about the bygone days of the cowboys that the elegiac intentions are not polluted by suspense and the characters are given almost nothing to say. A melancholy hour passes before you discover that there's actually going to be some sort of story, and then all the principal characters die off except Monte (Marvin), who is left a senile derelict, talking to his horse. Bo Hopkins, G.D. Spradlin, Matt Clark, Allyn Ann McLerie, John McLiam, and Jim Davis are among the actors stranded in this one. William A. Fraker directed, from a screenplay by Lukas Heller and David Z. Goodman, based on the novel by Jack Schaefer. The handsome cinematography is by David M. Walsh; the music is by John Barry. National General.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
Coming right after Jean-Jacques Beineix's sparkling, gift-wrapped DIVA, this oppressive romantic tragedy, in which Gérard Depardieu plays a stevedore obsessed with memories of his dead sister, may be a shock, but it's the kind of excruciatingly silly movie that only a talented director can make. (Hacks don't leave common sense this far behind.) Beineix is celebrating the poetry of the movies, which for him is the poetry of artificiality. Nastassja Kinski is posed like Hedy Lamarr in ALGIERS; she's the unattainable-the moon that shines on poor Depardieu down there in his Brando T-shirt in the film noir gutter. The actors are helpless, because the movie isn't about their characters' emotions-it's about Beineix's swooning response to the earlier movie stars that they're standing in for. Beineix can sometimes engage us by his visual flourishes--abstractions of men at work, blood that's like spilled fingernail polish, a cathedral like a witch's palace. But it's a suffocating, empty movie in thick, nocturnal color, and with glamour music that's an exaggeration of Hollywood's old soaring and slurping scores--the kind that make you wince during revival showings. With Victoria Abril as hot little Bella, who's like a parody of generations of sensual, jealous spitfires, and Bertice Reading, Dominique Pinon, Vittorio Mezzogiorno, and Milena Vukotiç. Based on the 1953 American novel by David Goodis; cinematography by Philippe Rousselot; art direction by Hilton McConnico. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.
A thoroughly frivolous farce. Those who've seen it aren't likely to have forgotten the gag of the wedding night when the groom (Henry Fonda) has a violent reaction to the perfume that his bride (Margaret Sullavan) has doused herself with. Fonda plays a celebrity explorer-author; Sullavan plays a socialite movie star, high-strung, and hot-tempered. The film's premise is that these two world-famous (and self-infatuated) people meet and marry without either knowing who the other is. This may seem like the worst kind of madcap comedy (it's taken from a Cosmopolitan Magazine novel by Faith Baldwin), but after a script was written (by Isabel Dawn and Boyce DeGaw), Dorothy Parker and her husband Alan Campbell were called in to do a rewrite, and they did some near-ribald improvisation. There's something else that works to the picture's advantage: Fonda and Sullavan had actually been married and divorced. When they fight in the movie, you feel you're hearing their real battling rhythms. And when they're romantic, that has a real pulse to it, too. They look great: his long coats emphasize his height; her sleek dresses and fur pieces emphasize her tiny waist and narrow hips. (At times she seems to be parodying Katharine Hepburn.) Charles Butterworth is wonderfully mild as Sullavan's high-society suitor, and the other featured players have some good pungent scenes, because most of the characters surrounding the celebrities are wise to their narcissistic games. With Margaret Hamilton, Walter Brennan, Beulah Bondi, Henrietta Crosman, Dorothy Stickney, and Lucien Littlefield. Directed by William A. Seiter; produced by Walter Wanger, for Paramount.
The previous James Bond film (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, 1977) had been a triumph of design, choreographed action, and self-parody; this one doesn't look too bad, but it has no snap, no tension. It's an exhausted movie; maybe the director, Lewis Gilbert, and the production designer, Ken Adam, just couldn't work up the charge they gave to the earlier film. Roger Moore is dutiful and passive as Bond; his clothes are neatly pressed and he shows up for work, like an office manager who is turning into dead wood but hanging on to collect his pension. As the scientist-heroine, Lois Chiles is so enervated she barely reacts to the threat of the end of the world. And as Drax the industrialist, a neo-Hitler with a city in outer space and plans to create his own master race, Michel Lonsdale walks through impassively. The only zest is shown by Richard Kiel, who returns as Jaws; this time, he falls in love. The picture is big, though. (It cost more than twice as much as its predecessor--and even allowing for inflation, that still means a huge rise in expenditure.) And it was extremely successful. The script is by Christopher Wood; the cinematography is by Jean Tournier. With Desmond Llewelyn as "Q," Corinne Clery, and Blanche Ravalec as Dolly. Produced by Albert R. Broccoli; United Artists.
A rose-tinted black comedy, with its own special lushness. Cher is devastatingly funny and sinuous and beautiful as a widowed bookkeeper who lives with her Italian-American family in a big old brownstone in Brooklyn. When the bookkeeper and her fiancé's brother, a baker (Nicolas Cage), start lusting for one another, a fairy-tale full moon lights up the movie. And when you see that the whole cast of family members are involved in libidinal confusions the opera-buffa structure can make you feel close to deliriously happy. Cage is a wonderful romantic clown: he can look stupefied while he smolders. And the director, Norman Jewison, working from John Patrick Shanley's script, stylizes the ethnic performances given by the husky-voiced Olympia Dukakis, the great, leering Julie Bovasso, Vincent Gardenia, Danny Aiello, John Mahoney, Anita Gillette, Louis Guss, Feodor Chaliapin, and Nada Despotovich. The picture is slender, but it's an original: its mockery is a giddy homage to our desire for grand passion. Cinematography by David Watkin; musical score by Dick Hyman; editing by Lou Lombardo. Shot in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Toronto. Academy Awards: Best Actress (Cher), Supporting Actress (Dukakis), Original Screenplay. MGM.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
Francesco Rosi's romantic fairy-tale fantasy starring Sophia Loren and Omar Sharif has some of the magical silliness and sweetness of De Sica's MIRACLE IN MILAN and the Alexander Korda production of THE THIEF OF BAGDAD. It's set in 17th-century Southern Italy (dominated by the Spanish), where a Prince (Sharif), refusing to marry one of the seven eligible princesses, goes forth on his white stallion and finds a lusciously ripe peasant girl (Loren). This splashy and beautiful comic tale is set in forests and yellow fields and at locations that include the 14th-century monastery of San Lorenzo at Padula, the 15th-century town of Bracciano, and the ruins of the 4th-century Circus of Maxentius. With Dolores Del Rio as Sharif's mother, Georges Wilson as the palace chef, and Leslie French as the flying monk, Brother Joseph. An Italian-French co-production, released here in English; the dubbing is often both funny and charming, especially when the warty old witches speak in voices that seem to come from another planet. (Some of them were actually Italian peasant men dressed as women, and some were elderly English actresses.) Written by Rosi, Tonino Guerra, and others, based on a story by Guerra; cinematography by Pasqualino De Santis. Produced by Carlo Ponti; released by MGM.
Morgan (David Warner) is a slightly crazy left-wing artist who is losing his beautiful, well-heeled wife (Vanessa Redgrave). In his fantasy life, he is King Kong. So when he's frustrated and upset he wears a gorilla suit; it's symbolic, of course--Morgan is the misfit as hero, and he's a childlike romantic rebel, anarchist, outsider, nonconformist. Directed by Karel Reisz, from David Mercer's adaptation of his own TV play, this satirical tragicomedy often seems to be out of control as it teeters along, sometimes presenting its hero as cute and funny, other times as tragic and in pain. The film's grotesque and discordant elements seemed to touch a nerve for American college students in the late 60s: Morgan was mad in a pop way--it was madness as the ultimate irresponsibility for the rebel, the only sanity for those who see what the "responsible" people supposedly did to the world. The picture came out just when these attitudes were becoming popular--when the counterculture was taking shape. With Robert Stephens and Irene Handl. Music by Johnny Dankworth.
Jane Fonda gives a raucous-voiced, down-in-the-dirty performance that has some of the charge of her Bree in KLUTE, back in 1971. As Alex, a former screen actress whose career blew up in scandal, she still has her face and her figure, but she has a hard, tortured look under her fluffy blond hair, and she drinks so much she has blackouts. (Fonda has said that she modelled the character on the starlet Gail Russell, who, at 36, was found dead in her apartment, among empty liquor bottles.) In the opening scene, Alex wakes up in bed Thanksgiving morning with a man she can't remember even meeting; he has a knife sticking out of his heart. The director, Sidney Lumet, keeps things efficiently paced, but he coasts for too long on Fonda's work and on the polished bitchiness of the dialogue; he doesn't build the thriller elements that would give the film the kick it needs, and he fails to establish a couple of the important characters (played by Raul Julia and Diane Salinger, both miscast). The solid Jeff Bridges, who plays opposite Fonda, could be a good foil for her flare-ups, and if the relationship had been developed maybe the two would be more vivid and resonate a little, and would survive what was happening around them. But all the forced, phony elements come together at the end and bring the picture down. The script is attributed to James Hicks (a pseudonym for James Cresson); others who worked on it include David Rayfiel and Jay Presson Allen. 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
Katharine Hepburn got her first Academy Award for her performance as "Eva Lovelace"--the name taken by a girl who comes to New York obsessively determined to become a great actress. It's a strange, ambivalent study of that lying-cheating kind of determination, taken from a play by Zoë Akins and directed by Lowell Sherman. With Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Adolphe Menjou. (The picture was remade in 1957 as STAGE STRUCK, starring Susan Strasberg.) RKO.
Marlene Dietrich's first Hollywood film, and perhaps Josef von Sternberg's most effective piece of romantic mythmaking. It's enchantingly silly, full of soulful grand passions, drifting cigarette smoke, and a few too many pictorial shots of the Foreign Legion marching this way and that. Dietrich is Amy Jolly, a mysterious woman, with a past she won't talk about, who arrives in Morocco and gets a job singing in a rough café. You feel that she's a real performer here: when she comes out to sing, her energy level soars. For her first number, she appears in top hat, white tie, and tails; a Legionnaire (Gary Cooper) shushes the raucous, jeering crowd. She sings, in a deep, harsh voice, and then, in perhaps the most daring moment in all of her pictures, she eyes a woman at a table, takes a flower from her, kisses the startled woman on the mouth, and turning, tosses the flower to Cooper. When, in a feather boa and a short leotard that show off her long sleek legs, she sings "What am I bid for my apples?," the Legionnaire knows just what to offer. Dietrich is at the peak of her naughty perfection-cool effrontery and a hint of amusement. The contrast of her high, rounded forehead and Madonna-like face with her low, uncouth voice provides an extraordinary sexual charge; her torso is sturdier than in her later movies, and her upper arms look full and strong, yet her face seems more ethereal than perhaps at any other time. Still the German Dietrich-not the almost abstract, international Dietrich she later became-she's charming throughout, and she and Cooper look great together. This is the movie with the classically giddy, ridiculously satisfying romantic finish: she says goodbye to the rich, kind, worldly Adolphe Menjou, who loves her, kicks off her high heels, and follows Cooper and the departing Legionnaires into the desert. With Juliette Compton, Ullrich Haupt, and Eve Southern; one could do with less of the eavesdropping café owner (Paul Porcasi). Jules Furthman wrote the script, based on the novel Amy Jolly, by Benno Vigny. The cinematography is by Lee Garmes, with additional work by Lucien Ballard; the songs are by Leo Robin and Karl Hajos. Paramount.
Robin Williams as a Russian sax player who defects, in Paul Mazursky's wonderful comedy about a tragedy--about going away forever, about not being able to go home. The defection takes place in a sound-stage version of Bloomingdale's, and the plot radiates from this temple of the mouth-watering temptations of capitalist decadence. It doesn't take long before the sax player discovers the isolation and paranoia of living in New York. The brutality of the city confuses him; in Russia, he says, he knew who the enemy was. Imaginative and mellow, this movie displays Mazursky's distinctive funky lyricism at its best. With Maria Conchita Alonso, a beauty who's an unself-conscious cutup, and Alejandro Rey as a Cuban lawyer, Cleavant Derricks as a security guard, Elya Baskin as a Russian circus clown, and Mazursky himself as a Florida tourist named Dave. The film's comic rhythm (though not its mood) falters in the last third. The script is by the director and Leon Capetanos; the cinematography is by Don McAlpine. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.