Murmur of the Heart

France-Germany-Italy (1971): Drama/Comedy
118 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc
Also known as LA SOUFFLE AU COEUR.

Louis Malle's exhilarating high comedy about French bourgeois life. He looks into his own backyard--the film is set in Dijon in 1954 at the time of Dien Bien Phu, and it's about the sex education of the 14-year-old Laurent (Benoit Ferreux), the youngest, brightest son of a successful gynecologist (Daniel Gélin) and his Italian-born wife (Léa Massari). Malle sees not only the prudent, punctilious surface but the volatile and slovenly life underneath. His bourgeois bestiary is funny and appalling and also--surprisingly--hardy and happy. This is perhaps the first time on film that anyone has shown us the bourgeoisie enjoying its privileges. Though the movie itself reveals the sources of Malle's humor, this story probably wouldn't have been nearly so funny or, perhaps, so affectionate if Malle had told it 15 years earlier. Massari is superb as Clara, the carelessly sensual mother; Clara is shamelessly loose and free, and she's loved by her sons because of her indifference to the bourgeois forms, which they nevertheless accept--on the surface, that is. The story moves toward its supremely logical yet imaginative conclusion so stealthily that the kicker joke is perfect. With Michel Lonsdale as Father Henri. The script is by Malle. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

Music Box

US (1989): Drama
123 min, Rated PG-13, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

When the cast and the script are right for Costa-Gavras--as they are here--he can give a courtroom melodrama the pull and excitement of a thriller. Jessica Lange is the Chicago lawyer defending her retired steelworker father (Armin Mueller-Stahl) against deportation to Hungary, where the Communist government is waiting to try him for war crimes. The emotional core of the movie is that during the trial, as the Second World War victims give their accounts, the daughter begins to lose faith in her father's innocence. There are no flashbacks; there's no shock apparatus. We simply take in what they're saying, and we watch her take it in. Lange verges on the astounding. Costa-Gavras provides a low key, controlled atmosphere, and she fills it with passion. The final plot developments feel fake, but this is an unusually lucid piece of storytelling. The script is by Joe Eszterhas; with Frederic Forrest, Donald Moffat, Lukas Haas, Michael Rooker, and Sol Frieder as the bald old man with the goatee, and Elzbieta Czyzewska as the precise, closed-faced woman who describes how she was raped. Tri-Star.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.

The Music Lovers

UK (1971): Musical/Biography
122 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Ken Russell seems to have invented a new genre of pornobiography. This time, Tchaikovsky (Richard Chamberlain) is the chief victim of Russell's baroque vulgarity. For much of the movie, the characters slide in and out of fantasies that seem not so much theirs as Russell's. Whose fantasy are we in when Glenda Jackson, as Nina, Tchaikovsky's wife, writhes in torment in a blue-green madhouse and, in one sequence, is seen deliberately lying across a grating, spread-eagled, while the madmen locked below reach up under her skirt? It's unlikely to be Tchaikovsky's fantasy, because his wife (whom he lived with for only a few weeks) wasn't confined in bedlam until three years after his death. The central plot mechanism--Tchaikovsky's patroness throws him out when his castoff lover reveals that he is homosexual, and so he is forced to become a conductor to support himself--is a concoction. When the facts were falsified in the old Hollywood bios, it was to soften and simplify, to please the audience. Russell makes everything frenzied and violent and sadistic, as a form of stimulus for the audience, and possibly even more for himself. Everything is caught in flagrante delicto. The film is homoerotic in style, and yet in dramatic content it's bizarrely anti-homosexual. There are a few really good moments, such as Glenda Jackson's self-conscious grin when she first goes to meet Tchaikovsky, and this part of the film has some suspense; later, her role comes dangerously close to self-caricature. With Max Adrian, Christopher Gable, and Kenneth Colley. The screenplay is credited to Melvyn Bragg, based on the book Beloved Friend by Catherine Drinker Bowen; cinematography by Douglas Slocombe. United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

The Music Man

US (1962): Musical/Dance
151 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A heavy-footed version of the Broadway musical by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey--a cheerful, broad piece of Americana about a silver-tongued con man, who drifts into an Iowa town and persuades the gullible residents that the children need to organize a fine big marching band. Morton DaCosta, who had also directed the stage version, isn't comfortable with the camera, and the material seems too literal, too practical, too set. But the star, Robert Preston, has a few minutes of fast patter--conmanship set to music--that constitute one of the high points in the history of American musicals. This is one of those triumphs that only a veteran performer can have; Preston's years of experience and his love of performing come together joyously. With Shirley Jones as the librarian who reforms the roué hero, and Paul Ford, Hermione Gingold, Buddy Hackett, Pert Kelton, and Ronny Howard. Screenplay by Marion Hargrove. Warners.

The Music Room

Bengal (1958): Drama
95 min, No rating, Black & White
Also known as JALSAGHAR.

Satyajit Ray's extraordinary study of pride carried to extremity. A great, flawed, maddening film--hard to take but probably impossible to forget. It's often crude and it's poorly constructed, but it's a great experience. Worrying over its faults is like worrying over whether King Lear is well constructed; it doesn't really matter. Ray made this film between the second and third parts of the Apu Trilogy, for respite. With Chhabi Biswas as the aristocrat who has nothing left but his love of music--he holds a musicale in his decaying mansion. Ray's script is based on a story by T.S. Bannerjee. In Bengali.

Mutiny on the Bounty

US (1935): Adventure
132 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A stirring 18th-century sea adventure in the big MGM manner, freely adapted from the Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall books. The story of H.M.S. Bounty, its brutal Captain Bligh, and the mutineers who fled to Pitcairn Island, has narrative push and a popular theme--the revolt against a tyrant. The movie doesn't fall into the usual trap of setting strong heroes against weak, cowardly villains. As Charles Laughton plays him, the corrupt, sadistic Bligh is the strongest person on the screen; it is not merely that Bligh is a great sailor, capable of remarkable feats of navigation, and a man who is defiant even when defiance takes courage--it's that Laughton has a genuinely horrible mad power. He's a great villain--twisted and self-righteous--and you can't laugh him off. He transcends campiness. Clark Gable (looking a little tubby in white pants) is well cast as Fletcher Christian, leader of the mutineers; Gable's Americanness works to his advantage--makes him seem more of a plain, rough-hewn man. Franchot Tone plays the pivotal character--the highborn officer who is taken back to England to stand trial; Tone is perhaps a shade too engaging and decent, and when he delivers his courtroom speech, he seems carried away by his own eloquence. The director, Frank Lloyd, goes after "human interest" details in a broad, conventional manner, and some of the bits of business of the minor characters are tediously simpleminded. But for the kind of big budget, studio controlled romantic adventure that this is, it's very well done; it took the Academy Award as Best Picture of the year. With Herbert Mundin and Eddie Quillan (there could be less of both), and Douglas Walton, Donald Crisp, Dudley Digges, Ian Wolfe, Movita, Mamo, Henry Stephenson, Spring Byington, and Francis Lister. Script by Talbot Jennings, Jules Furthman, and Carey Wilson; cinematography by Arthur Edeson; music by Herbert Stothart. Produced by Irving Thalberg, assisted by Albert Lewin. (Remade in 1962, with Trevor Howard as Bligh and Marlon Brando as Fletcher Christian).

My American Cousin

Canada (1985): Drama/Comedy
95 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Set in the summer of 1959 on a ranch in British Columbia, this first feature by the writer-director Sandy Wilson is a fictionalized account of her experiences at 12, when she developed a crush on her flashy, mixed-up boy cousin, who was 17. In the movie, he arrives from LA in a red Cadillac convertible, and he's a dreamboat--a tanned, golden-haired ringer for James Dean. The lively, restless Sandy, who wishes she were 16, is very well played by Margaret Langrick--there's nothing actressy about her. The picture has humor and it's perceptive; it's even fair to the helplessly stuffy adults (though it crudely caricatures the boy's rich-American parents). There's nothing much wrong with it, except that it's levelheaded in a terribly conventional way. It's too mild, it's too pokey, and it's a little dull. The fine cinematographer Richard Leiterman gives the paradisiacal terrain its due. With John Wildman as the tormented young Adonis, and Richard Donat and Jane Mortifee as the girl's parents.

My Apprenticeship

USSR (1939): Drama/Biography
100 min, No rating, Black & White
Also known as V LYUDYAKH and OUT IN THE WORLD.

This is part two of the Mark Donskoi Trilogy based on the memoirs of Maxim Gorky. In this section, the teenage Alexei (who is to become Gorky) works as a cook's helper on a Volga ship (he washes dishes), and, at the end, he leaves the grandparents who raised him--the hated grandfather and the deeply loved grandmother. This second film retains the major characters (and the actors) of the first, and Alexei Lyarsky still plays the boy; it is as fine as the first (THE CHILDHOOD OF MAXIM GORKY). But the third film (MY UNIVERSITIES) is disappointing. In Russian.

My Beautiful Laundrette

UK (1985): Drama
98 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A startlingly fresh movie about life in South London among the surly white street gangs who live on the dole and feel that they're in a dead-end society and the Pakistani immigrants who know that this society is the best they can hope for, and try to move upward by wriggling through the cracks. In the foreground is a love affair between a dark-eyed, softly handsome, almost flowerlike Pakistani teenager, Omar (Gordon Warnecke), who grew up in this neighborhood, and a young blond street lout, Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis). They become partners when Omar persuades his slumlord uncle (Saeed Jaffrey) to let him have a ratty-looking failed launderette, and the two boys, using stolen money, turn it into the launderette of their flashy dreams. Directed by Stephen Frears, from a witty script by the young playwright Hanif Kureishi, who was born in South London to a Pakistani father and a white English mother, the film catches you up in the racketeering and decay of modern big-city life; you feel that your blinders have been taken off. Frears has a sensual, highly developed visual style, and he's responsive to the uncouthness and energy in English life--he's responsive to what went into the punk-music scene and to what goes into teenage gang life. It's an enormous pleasure to see a movie that's really about something, and that doesn't lay on any syrupy coating to make the subject go down easily. (It's down before you notice it.) Written for British television, on a budget of under $850,000, the film was shot in 16-mm; the blow-up to 35-mm is near-miraculous. The cast includes Shirley Anne Field, Roshan Seth, Rita Wolf, and Souad Faress. The cinematography is by Oliver Stapleton.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

My Brilliant Career

Australia (1979): Drama
101 min, Rated G, Color, Available on videocassette

This Australian film--the pictorial re-creation of a late-Victorian novel--shows considerable charm and craft, though it's essentially taxidermy. The impoverished, 16-year-old heroine, Sybylla (Judy Davis), spends most of the movie pursuing a wealthy, aristocratic bachelor (Sam Neill)--a tall, thin "man of the world." He seems to be the only thing on her mind; she publicly displays her jealousy, and she is a thoroughgoing sexual tease. But when she has him half crazy and he proposes, she hits him with a whip. It seems she intends to have her own career as an artist. The appeal of this material to the modern women filmmakers (the 27-year-old director Gillian Armstrong, the screenwriter Eleanor Witcombe, the producer Margaret Fink) must be in Sybylla's desire for independence, but they don't clarify what's going on in their heroine. From the evidence of the film, the book, which was written by a 16-year-old girl under the name Miles Franklin, is a gothic feminist fantasy: feisty Cinderella wins Prince Charming but turns him down and goes off to fulfill herself. Though the movie doesn't go any deeper into the material than this sort of feminine self-infatuation, Sybylla is treated as if she were a precursor of the new woman: a model of the woman who resists conventional blandishments. The 23 year-old Judy Davis (in her first major screen role) is memorable: she suggests a blooming, broad-faced version of Katharine Hepburn's tomboy Jo in LITTLE WOMEN. Sam Neill manages to give some grit to the role of a romantic ideal, and the fine cast includes Wendy Hughes. The cinematography is by Don McAlpine; the production design is by Luciana Arrighi; the editing is by Nick Beauman.

My Brother Talks to Horses

US (1946): Comedy
93 min, No rating, Black & White

Americana, with humor and an easygoing style, set in an indefinite past. Fred Zinnemann was still relatively unknown when he directed this low-budget charmer for MGM. It never developed much of a reputation--maybe because it's so fluky. Jackie "Butch" Jenkins, who has a quiet, loner quality, is the freckled little kid who's happiest when he's talking to horses. His older brother is played by the English-accented Peter Lawford--a peculiar matchup, yet the movie is so pleasantly odd that it doesn't seem to matter. Spring Byington is the two boys' widowed mother, and the cast includes Charles Ruggles, Beverly Taylor, and Edward Arnold. The screenplay, by Morton Thompson, was based on part of his book Joe the Wounded Tennis Player.

My Dinner With Andre

US (1981): Drama
110 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

It's like a mad tea party or a mad, modern Platonic dialogue about the meaning of life. Self-effacingly directed, by Louis Malle, it flows smoothly, creating the illusion that we are simply listening in on the dinnertime conversation of the playwright Wallace Shawn and the former avant-garde theatre director André Gregory. The premise of the movie is that they haven't seen each other since 1975, when André dropped out--took off on a spiritual quest for "reality," which led him around the world. (Actually, they taped their conversations two or three times a week for three months, and then Shawn worked for a year shaping the material into a script, in which they play comic distillations of aspects of themselves.) Wally persuades André to tell him what he has been up to, and the suave, hawklike André, who's like the sum of all the crackpot glittery-eyed charmers in the world, pours out the record of his transcendental experiences. He keeps going, in wave after impassioned wave, describing astonishing, preposterous adventures in the Polish forests, in Scotland, in India and Tibet and in the Sahara, and even in Montauk, where he was buried alive in a death-and-rebirth ceremony. What he acts out for us is the questing that has torn so much of the modern theatre apart, when the men and women of the theatre became dissatisfied with the limits of stage performance and began to delve into para-theatrical cults. Wally, the pragmatist and sensualist, throws in an occasional sceptical dart, and then, when he begins to talk, he plays warthog to André's soaring flights of mysticism and offers the grubbiest of small comforts as proof of the fullness of his life. The two are perfect foils. This is a bizarre and surprisingly entertaining satirical comedy--the story of the search beyond theatre turned into theatre, or, at least, into a movie.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

My Fair Lady

US (1964): Musical/Comedy
170 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The Lerner and Loewe musical staggers along in this large production, directed by George Cukor and designed by Cecil Beaton. The film seems to go on for about 45 minutes after the story is finished. Audrey Hepburn is an affecting Eliza, though she is totally unconvincing as a guttersnipe, and is made to sing with that dreadfully impersonal Marni Nixon voice that has issued from so many other screen stars. Rex Harrison had already played Higgins more than a bit too often. With Stanley Holloway, as buoyant as ever, Wilfrid Hyde-White, and Gladys Cooper. Warners.

My Favorite Wife

US (1940): Comedy
88 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Tennyson wrote Enoch Arden in 1864, and the movies have been making versions of it ever since D.W. Griffith did it in 1908 (and again in 1911). This one is the most famous and the funniest. On the day Cary Grant (as Nick Arden) marries Gail Patrick, his wife, Irene Dunne, shipwrecked seven years before, comes home. She follows the newlyweds on their honeymoon, prevents the consummation of the marriage, and, like a smart kitty, purrs herself to an ultimate victory. Garson Kanin was 27 (and at his liveliest) when he directed this screwball-classic hit. Randolph Scott plays the vegetarian scientist who was Dunne's companion on the island. Written by Bella and Samuel Spewack, with Leo McCarey, who was also the producer. RKO.

My Favorite Year

US (1982): Comedy
92 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The year is 1954, when Sid Caesar was the king of live TV comedy, and this movie is a fictional treatment of life backstage during the days when many soon-to-be-famous writers worked on his shows, brainstorming together. As the brawny, truculent King Kaiser, Joe Bologna suggests an introverted ox, and Peter O'Toole is King's guest star from Hollywood--the notorious womanizing boozer Alan Swann, who is part John Barrymore and part Errol Flynn. Bologna has an authentic boss-comic aura, and O'Toole is simply astounding. Ravaged and liquefied as Swann is, he still has his feelers out--he's always aware of the impression he's making; even when Swann is drunk, he's acting a great actor drunk. This show-business farce is the first film directed by Richard Benjamin, and it's a creaky job of moviemaking, but it has a bubbling spirit; Benjamin is crazy about actors--not a bad start for a director. Bill Macy, Lainie Kazan, Cameron Mitchell, and Anne DeSalvo all have a crack at fresh material. In the tricky role of the youngest of the gag writers, Mark Linn-Baker is button-eyed and skinny--a snookums; it's an inventive performance yet borderline ghastly. And Jessica Harper's scenes don't pan out. But overall, it's a very funny picture. Also with Selma Diamond, Adolph Green, Lou Jacobi, Tony Di Benedetto, Gloria Stuart, and Basil Hoffman. From a terrific script by Norman Steinberg (who appears in a bit as Sandy) and Dennis Palumbo. MGM/United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In..

My Friend Flicka

US (1943): Children's
89 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

As a piece of moviemaking it's ordinary--and that's putting it kindly. But when Roddy McDowall is on the screen, that doesn't seem to matter; he has a magical seriousness. This is the story of a dreamy boy and his strange colt Flicka, and the West Point-type father (Preston Foster) who understands neither boy or horse. It's one of the rare children's films--old or new--that doesn't make you choke up with rage. With Rita Johnson and Jeff Corey. Mary O'Hara wrote the script, from her novel; Harold Schuster directed. (A sequel, in 1945, was called THUNDERHEAD-SON OF FLICKA.) 20th Century-Fox.

My Gal Sal

US (1942): Musical/Dance/Biography
103 min, No rating, Color

A composer named Paul Dresser (he had a distinguished brother, Theodore, who spelled the family name "Dreiser") wrote some songs, including "On the Banks of the Wabash" and the title one. In this big, drawn-out, lachrymose musical bio, set in the 1890s, he is impersonated by Victor Mature, and his beloved is Rita Hayworth. Dresser's songs are supplemented by some nondescript numbers by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger. The cast includes Phil Silvers, James Gleason, and Carole Landis. Directed by Irving Cummings. 20th Century-Fox.

My Left Foot

Ireland (1989): Biography
103 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The greatness of Daniel Day-Lewis's performance as the Dubliner Christy Brown, a victim of cerebral palsy who became a painter and a writer, is that he pulls you inside Christy's frustration and rage (and his bottomless thirst). There's nothing soft or maudlin about this movie's view of Christy: he's anguished and locked in yet excitingly insolent. The movie may tear you apart, but it's the story of a triumphantly tough guy who lived it up, and Day-Lewis's interpretation has some of the sexual seductiveness that was so startling in Olivier's RICHARD III. This is the first film of the Irish playwright-director Jim Sheridan, who wrote the superb screenplay with another Irish playwright, Shane Connaughton. With Brenda Fricker, Ray McAnally, Fiona Shaw, Cyril Cusack, Ruth McCabe, and Hugh O'Conor playing Christy as a child. Academy Awards: Best Actor (Day-Lewis), Supporting Actress (Fricker). Released by Miramax.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.

My Little Chickadee

US (1940): Western/Comedy
83 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A classic among bad movies; despite the presence of Mae West and W.C. Fields (it's the only time they acted together), this satire of Westerns never really gets off the ground. But the ground is such an honest mixture of dirt, manure, and corn that at times it is fairly aromatic. Mae West is hampered by the censors breathing down her décolletage; but even though she is less bawdy, and rather more grotesque, than at her best, she is still overwhelming. Fields is in better form: whether cheating at cards, or kissing Mae West's hand ("What symmetrical digits!"), or spending his wedding night with a goat, he remains the scowling, snarling misanthrope. Fields and West, who wrote most of their own vehicles, collaborated on the script. Directed by Edward Cline; with Joseph Calleia, Margaret Hamilton, and Dick Foran. Universal.

My Man Godfrey

US (1936): Comedy
95 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

In this entertaining (and hugely successful) screwball comedy about the Depression, Carole Lombard is a rich, gorgeous nit who goes to the city dump to find a "forgotten man." The man she finds--a suave, bitter victim of the economic collapse--is played by William Powell. When she tells him she needs to take him back to a party in order to win a scavenger hunt, he asks what that is, and, sighing, she says, "A scavenger hunt is just like a treasure hunt, except in a treasure hunt you find something you want and in a scavenger hunt you find things you don't want and the one who wins gets a prize, only there really isn't any prize, it's just the honor of winning, because all the money goes to charity if there's any money left over, but then there never is." Lombard has a delirious, breathless plaintiveness at a moment like this--recognition dawning in her. The movie starts out with a promising satiric idea and winds up in box-office romance, but it's likable and well-paced even at its silliest. Lombard shrieks happily and Powell modulates impeccably. With Mischa Auer doing a simian imitation to amuse his patron, Alice Brady. Also with Franklin Pangborn, Grady Sutton, Jean Dixon, Gail Patrick, Alan Mowbray, Eugene Pallette, and, in a bit part, Jane Wyman. Directed by Gregory La Cava, from a screenplay by Eric Hatch and Morrie Ryskind. Like several of the Astaire-Rogers musicals, this film has a sleek and silvery Art Deco look; the black-and-white cinematography is by Ted Tetzlaff. Universal.

My Sister Eileen

US (1942): Comedy
96 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Ruth McKenney's New Yorker stories about her and her younger sister's experiences in Greenwich Village were turned into a Broadway hit, and then into this less than dazzling romantic comedy (and later into a Broadway musical, which was also filmed, in 1955). As Ruth, leggy Rosalind Russell is too boisterously aware that she's the life of the party, and as Eileen, Janet Blair is very pretty but not much else. (The actual Eileen McKenney married Nathanael West and died with him in an automobile crash in 1940.) Alexander Hall directed. With Brian Aherne, Allyn Joslyn, George Tobias, June Havoc, Elizabeth Patterson, and Richard Quine (who directed the 1955 version, with Bob Fosse as choreographer). Columbia.

My Sister, My Love

Sweden (1966): Drama
No rating, Black & White
Also known as SYSKONBADD 1782.

The writer-director Vilgot Sjöman, who later became famous for I AM CURIOUS, directed this Jacobean story of incest (derived from John Ford's 1633 play 'Tis Pity She's a Whore) in a tense, sensuous style that is morbidly effective. Movie incest usually seems just trivial sport, but in this film the love of the brother and sister (Per Oscarsson and Bibi Andersson) is terrifying and fills one with anxiety and dread. It's a strong movie: Sjöman gets you on a hook and won't let you off. He updates the material to the 18th century. With Jarl Kulle and Gunnar Björnstrand. In Swedish.

My Uncle Antoine/Mon Oncle Antoine

Canada (1971): Drama
104 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette
Also known as MON ONCLE ANTOINE.

When it opened in Washington, D.C., Russell Baker wrote a column saying that it was "the most extraordinary movie," and adding, "It is almost impossible to explain why." He came close, though, when he said, "It is like walking into one of Wren's small London churches just when you have come to believe that the entire world looks like the Pentagon." Seen through the eyes of a boy (Jacques Gagnon), who lives with his ribald storekeeper-undertaker uncle (Jean Duceppe), it's a reminiscence of Christmastime in an asbestos-mining town in Quebec, in the 40s. In one sequence, the mineowner rides through town in his carriage tossing trinkets at the children of the mineworkers, and the parents are torn, not wanting to deprive their children of the toys yet humiliated to see them pick up this miserly beneficence. We watch the hesitant, eager children and the parents divided against themselves, and we, too, are divided--between the beauty of perception that brings us such moments and the anguish of having, from this time on, to live with this perception. Claude Jutra, who made this plangent, simple masterpiece, plays the role of Fernand, the store clerk, who dallies with the uncle's wife (Olivette Thibault) and loves the townspeople, without illusions, for what they are. (Jutra is present in the film the way Jean Renoir is present in RULES OF THE GAME; Fernand is the soul of the movie.) The screenplay, by Clément Perron and Jutra, is based on incidents in Perron's early life. The cinematography is by Michel Brault; the music is by Jean Cousineau. Made on a budget of $250,000. In French.

My Universities

USSR (1940): Drama/Biography
100 min, No rating, Black & White
Also known as MOI UNIVERSITETI.

In this third film of the Mark Donskoi Trilogy, based on the memoirs of Maxim Gorky, the young hero, Alexei (now played, less successfully, by Y. Valberg), goes to work in a bakery, where the men go out on strike; he mingles with revolutionaries and intellectuals, and becomes, at last, the writer we know as Maxim Gorky. This lyric, epic group of films is the only work in movie history that is roughly comparable to Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy; however, Donskoi falls into pompousness in the third film and the joyous revolutionary spirit seems programmed, while Ray soars. With Stepan Kaynkov as the bakery boss Semyonov. In Russian.

The Mysterious Island

US (1929): Fantasy/Adventure
95 min, No rating, Color

Imaginative undersea fantasy based on an 1874 Jules Verne novel and starring sinister monsters, weird fish, Lionel Barrymore as a 19th-century inventor, and Montagu Love as a wicked nobleman. This ill-fated production was begun in 1927 by the greatly gifted Maurice Tourneur, who was fired by MGM and replaced by Benjamin Christiansen, and it was finally credited to Lucien Hubbard--by which time sound had come in, so the film is part silent, part sound. The plot twists are silly, but the film presents the invention, launching, and kidnapping of the first submarine, and then the real capper: a mammoth octopus with tentacles long enough to embrace that submarine in its entirety. And surely no one who saw the film as a child has completely forgotten a horror scene on the ocean floor: the wreck of a Roman galley with the skeletons of slaves still chained to the oars. With Lloyd Hughes, Harry Gribbon, Gibson Gowland, and Snitz Edwards. Art direction by Cedric Gibbons. (There were several subsequent versions of the novel: a Russian film in 1941, a serial made by Columbia in 1951, a British film in 1961 starring Michael Craig, and in 1974, a version called THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND OF CAPTAIN NEMO, starring Omar Sharif.)

The Mystery of Picasso

France (1956): Documentary
85 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc
Also known as LE MYSTERE PICASSO.

Picasso and Henri-Georges Clouzot (THE WAGES OF FEAR, DIABOLIQUE) collaborate. The result is one of the most joyful of all records of an artist at work. (It was a disastrous failure, though, when it opened in a few American theatres.) Picasso has a volatile, explosive presence. He seems to take art back to an earlier function, before the centuries of museums and masterpieces; he is the artist as clown, as conjurer, as master funmaker. For most of the film the screen is his paper or canvas, and in 75 minutes he draws or paints 15 pictures. When he complains to Clouzot that the canvas is too small, the screen expands to CinemaScope size. Some sequences use time-lapse photography to compress the working time on a canvas to a few minutes: the changes and developments (when, for example, a goat's head becomes a skull and then a head again) suggest what animation might be but isn't. In one sequence he does a really bum picture and you watch to see what he can possibly do to salvage it; he reworks it, making it more and more complicated, and it gets worse and worse. Finally he gives up in disgust and scribbles over it, and you feel relieved that he didn't like it any better than you did. Cinematography by Claude Renoir; score by Georges Auric. (Don't be put off by the fatuous narrator who tells us that we will see what is in the mind of a genius at work, and exclaims, "We would give much to know what was in Joyce's mind while he was writing Ulysses!")

Mystery of the Wax Museum

US (1933): Horror
77 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Marvellously grisly chiller, directed by Michael Curtiz and shot in an early Technicolor process, with the color contributing to the general creepiness. Lionel Atwill is the murderous curator who pours hot wax over his manacled, still-living victims and then exhibits them as sculpture. With Glenda Farrell, Fay Wray, Gavin Gordon, Frank McHugh, Edwin Maxwell, and Arthur Edmund Carewe. From a play by Charles S. Belden. (Remade in 1953 in 3-D as HOUSE OF WAX, and probably the source of the 1959 A BUCKET OF BLOOD.) Warners.

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