One of the best of the 20th Century-Fox musicals of the 30s, despite its unevenness and lack of sophistication. If it had nothing else, it might still be worth seeing for Alice Faye singing the memorable "This Year's Kisses," and it has a lot more: Dick Powell in ebullient voice, the Ritz Brothers doing a parody number, and a first-rate Irving Berlin score that includes "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," "Slumming on Park Avenue," and "You're Laughing at Me." The love interest involves ever-beautiful, ever-coy Madeleine Carroll, who gurgles when she means to talk, but the director, Roy Del Ruth, doesn't linger on her. He does, blessedly, linger on Harry Ritz, and when this great manic vaudevillian puts on drag and does an imitation of Alice Faye, or when he exercises his eyeballs, you can just barely gasp "dada." With John Davis, George Barbier, Cora Witherspoon, Walter Catlett, E.E. Clive, Alan Mowbray, and Billy Gilbert. Written by Gene Markey (who was also the producer) and William Conselman; choreography by Seymour Felix.
Linus Pauling was quoted as saying, "It may be that some years from now we can look back and say that ON THE BEACH is the movie that saved the world." The greatest ability of the director, Stanley Kramer, may have been for eliciting fatuous endorsements from eminent people. This cautionary tale brings together a group of stars and puts them on the littoral of Australia, to await the lethal hydrogen-bomb cloud that has wiped out the rest of the world's population. Gregory Peck plays the commander of an American submarine with his customary relentless dignity, even when he's cuddling up with Ava Gardner, a lovable wildflower "who has lived too hard and drunk too much." Anthony Perkins, one of the submarine officers, gangles, and wrestles, wet-eyed, with the problem of whether to give suicide pills to his wife (Donna Anderson) and child; Fred Astaire is a civilian scientist who explains the disaster by saying that somebody has pulled a boner. Somebody has; his initials are S.K. Adapted from the Nevil Shute novel by John Paxton; cinematography by Giuseppe Rotunno and Daniel Fapp; music by Ernest Gold. United Artists.
The derelicts of New York's enormous skid row were persuaded to act out a story that is essentially their own. This is the technique Flaherty used in MAN OF ARAN and NANOOK OF THE NORTH-but how different the results were! The basic truth of this story may be gauged by the fact that the man who plays the derelict hero later refused a Hollywood contract with the words "I just want to be left alone … There's nothing else in life but the booze." Yet, as it's played, the script seems all wrong, and the work is awkward, hesitant, without the revelations the material cries out for. However, some reviewers evoked the names of Dostoevski and Christ. Produced by Lionel Rogosin.
This musical about three sailors with 24 hours leave in New York has an undeserved high reputation. Yes, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Betty Garrett, Ann Miller, Jules Munshin, Vera-Ellen (as Miss Subways), and Florence Bates, Tom Dugan, and Alice Pearce are all in it, and it's the Comden and Green musical with the remnants of the Bernstein score. But its exuberant love of New York seems forced, and most of the numbers are hearty and uninspired. Kelly and Stanley Donen choreographed and directed. Produced by Arthur Freed, for MGM.
The director, Elia Kazan, and the writer, Budd Schulberg, start out to expose racketeering in the waterfront unions, and wind up trying to make the melodrama transcend itself. They fail, but the production took eight Academy Awards anyway, and most of them were deserved. It is one of the most powerful American movies of the 50s, and few movies caused so much talk, excitement, and dissension--largely because of Marlon Brando's performance as the inarticulate, instinctively alienated bum, Terry Malloy. Some of Brando's scenes, such as his having a beer with Eva Marie Saint in a bar and his conversation with Rod Steiger in a car, have real vibration. (The latter one has been imitated to the point of notoriety.) The attempt at dynamic Christian symbolism and Karl Malden's big scenes as a conscientious priest are far below the imaginative level of the simpler, more realistic scenes, and Kazan hypes up the hollowest parts of the melodrama, achieving some effects of shrieking emptiness. (In order to have a triumphant, audience-pleasing finish what actually happened in the dock situation that the film was based on has been falsified; the model for Terry Malloy did not succeed in toppling the crooked bosses.) It's a near-great film, though. Score by Leonard Bernstein; cinematography by Boris Kaufman; based on articles by Malcolm Johnson. With Lee J. Cobb as an avaricious union boss, and Leif Erickson, Martin Balsam, Tony Galento, Fred Gwynne, Pat Hingle, Nehemiah Persoff, Clifton James, and Michael V. Gazzo. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book I Lost it at the Movies.
For anyone who wants to know what the Broadway musical comedy of the 20s was like, this film is indispensable. Made by Warners, it was the first all-color (rather than just sequences-in-color) talking picture. It provides a backstage story about a producer (Sam Hardy) trying to put on a musical while fighting off his creditors; the star is Betty Compson, and her understudy is Sally O'Neil. The same basic story turns up later in 42ND STREET. This extravagant version, however, also provides the onstage musical with its own plot; the backstage story is smoothly intercut with this onstage material, which is lighthearted and parodistic, and which features tall showgirls. Perky (very short) Sally O'Neil is hard to take, but the compensations include Ethel Waters, slender and torchy, singing "Am I Blue?" and "Birmingham Bertha;" Joe E. Brown dancing; and the superb black dancers, the Four Covans. Also with Louise Fazenda, Arthur Lake, William Bakewell, Purnell Pratt, Angelus Babe, and the Harmony Four Quartette. Directed by Alan Crosland; dances staged by Larry Ceballos; adapted from Humphrey Pearson's play, by Robert Lord. The songs are by Harry Akst and Grant Clarke, including a ditty called "Lift the Juleps to Your Two Lips."
The young, unknown Moss Hart wrote a satire of Hollywood in the transition from silents to talkies. The Broadway producer Sam Harris accepted it and signed George S. Kaufman, the reigning young playwright, to collaborate. After nine nerve-racking months of revisions, Kaufman and Hart had the "smash" of 1930, and the team lasted for 10 historic and incredibly profitable years (what Broadway joined together, psychoanalysis put asunder). They created bustling, congested wisecrack-piled-on-wisecrack comedies; their calculated silliness adds more than enough to each situation and in going beyond your expectations, it can double you up and put you helplessly at the mercy of the next excess. This particular play was considered too rough for Hollywood, but in 1932 Universal brought the enemy within the gates, and, of course, pulled some of its satirical teeth. With moon-faced Jack Oakie as the goodhearted imbecilic vaudevillian who in Hollywood is taken for a genius; Gregory Ratoff as the producer, Herman Glogauer; Aline MacMahon as the sceptical, witty voice coach; Onslow Stevens as the playwright; ZaSu Pitts as the studio receptionist; Louise Fazenda as the critic; and Sidney Fox, Russell Hopton, and Mona Maris. Russell Mack directed, from Seton I. Miller's adaptation. The picture isn't particularly well-made, but it's a true period piece--a reminder of the beginnings of a type of Broadway lampoon-comedy, and it has a lovely corny triviality and innocence. (Twenty years later, another famous team, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, took the same period for their SINGIN' IN THE RAIN.)
A tepid, moderately engaging brief-encounter movie about a married American screenwriter (Wayne Rogers) who arrives alone in Paris to doctor the script of a film that is going into production and falls in love with an Englishwoman (Gayle Hunnicutt) who's staying at his hotel. He also makes a friend of his French chauffeur (Jack Lenoir), who has a shady past, and they're all three terribly kind and considerate of one another. The writer-director, Frank D. Gilroy, thinks small and in 50s terms, but Rogers has a gift for pantomime (each time he sees a sexy woman he looks surprised and hurt--almost stricken) and Lenoir has a slight sullenness and complication under his charm, and this saves him when he's given French wisdom to spout. The picture might have more substance if Hunnicutt weren't such an expensive-looking, high-toned sex object; her suffering looks like something she bought in a swank shop, to match her bracelet. Independently financed and released.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
This clammily contrived anti-Nazi comedy-melodrama, set in Europe, attempts to show the public the evils of Nazism while sugar-coating the message. Ginger Rogers is an American burlesque queen married to an Austrian baron (Walter Slezak) who is a Nazi agent. Cary Grant is the American radio correspondent who tries to show her the miseries that her husband and his associates are causing. Grant twinkles with condescending affection when the (supposedly adorable) nitwit stripper develops a political consciousness and helps a Jewish hotel maid escape from danger. With Albert Dekker, Albert Basserman, and Hans Conried. Directed by Leo McCarey, who also wrote the script, with Sheridan Gibney. They must have been very eager to be done with this abomination, because they finally dispatch the Nazi baron by means of a casual sick joke so they can have Rogers and Grant together. RKO.
Just about all the incidents in this 3-hour-and-47-minute film echo scenes in Hollywood gangster movies, but the director, Sergio Leone, inflates them, slows them down, and gives them a dreamy obsessiveness. He transmutes the lower East Side settings of those gangster movies to give the genre a richer, more luxuriant visual texture. His widescreen view of a group of Jewish kids who start with petty crime and move into big-time racketeering is set in 1921, 1933, and 1968, but not in that order. His theme is the betrayal of the immigrants' dream of America, and the story begins and ends in an opium den where Noodles (Robert De Niro) puffs on a pipe while episodes of his life of killings and rapes and massacres drift by and a telephone rings somewhere in the past. This epic is a compendium of kitsch, but it's kitsch aestheticized by someone who loves it and sees it as the poetry of the masses. It isn't just the echoing moments that keep you absorbed--it's the reverberant dreamland settings and Leone's majestic, billowing sense of film movement. With Jennifer Connelly, who's marvellously vivid as the young Deborah; Darlanne Fluegel as the beautiful streamlined blond Eve; and Tuesday Weld, who brings a gleam of perversity to the role of a nympho moll. Also with Elizabeth McGovern, who's badly miscast as the adult Deborah, and James Woods, Larry Rapp, James Hayden, William Forsythe, Treat Williams, Burt Young, and Joe Pesci. Many writers worked on the screenplay, which is loosely based on the novel The Hoods, by Harry Grey; the final credits go to Leone and five Italians, plus Stuart Kaminsky (for additional dialogue). The cinematography is by Tonino Delli Colli; the score by Ennio Morricone uses "Amapola" as the theme song. (A studio-shortened version that runs 2 hours and 15 minutes is disastrously incoherent.) A Ladd Company Release, through Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.
Smashingly effective version of Ken Kesey's novel about a rebel outcast, McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), who is locked in a hospital for the insane. The book was a lyric jag, and it became a nonconformists' bible. Published in 1962, it contained the prophetic essence of the whole Vietnam period of revolutionary politics going psychedelic. Miloš Forman, who directed the movie version, must have understood how crude the poetic-paranoid vision of the book would look on the screen after the 60s paranoia had lost its nightmarish buoyancy, and he and the scenarists--Lawrence Hauben, and then Bo Goldman--did an intelligent job of loosening Kesey's schematism. Set in 1963, the movie retains most of Kesey's ideas but doesn't diagram them the way the book does. Louise Fletcher gives a masterly performance as Nurse Ratched--she's the company woman incarnate. And Will Sampson, a towering full-blooded Creek, is very impressive as Chief Broom, the resurrected catatonic. Forman's tentative, literal-minded direction lacks the excitement of movie art and there's a callousness running through his work; he gets laughs by pretending that mental disturbance is the same as ineptitude. But the story and the acting make the film emotionally powerful. And Nicholson, looking punchy, tired, and baffled--and not on top of his character (as he often is)--lets you see into him, rather than controlling what he lets you see. With William Redfield, Brad Dourif, Scatman Crothers, Danny De Vito, Vincent Schiavelli, Sydney Lassick, Louisa Moritz, Marya Small, and Christopher Lloyd; cinematography by Haskell Wexler. Produced by Saul Zaentz and Michael Douglas. Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Nicholson), Actress (Fletcher), Screenplay (Hauben and Goldman). Released by United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
Francis Ford Coppola's jewelled version of a film student's experimental pastiche--the kind set in a magical junkyard. You get the feeling that the movie grew by accretion--that he piled so many visual ideas and comedy bits on top of the small story he started with that it disappeared from sight and the movie turned into something like a poet's salute to the banal silver screen. It's set in a metaphorical Las Vegas (constructed at Zoetrope Studios) on Independence Day, when Frannie (Teri Garr), who works at the Paradise Travel Agency, walks out on the man she has been living with--Hank (Frederic Forrest), who runs Reality Wrecking. The holiday is treated like Mardi Gras, with crowds dancing through the street. All we're asked to care about is whether Hank, who's in love with Frannie, will win her back. Or, rather, this story being negligible, what we're asked to respond to is Coppola's confectionery artistry. The movie is very pretty and sometimes eerily charming, but the effects don't have any emotional meaning in terms of the characters, and the video editing techniques that Coppola uses seem to destroy the dramatic definition of the scenes; a day later the film is as blurry in the mind as the memory of a psychedelic light show. With Nastassja Kinski, Raul Julia, Harry Dean Stanton, and Lainie Kazan. From a script by Armyan Bernstein and Coppola; there's a song track, with Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle telling us the meaning of what we're seeing and wailing words of wisdom. Dean Tavoularis designed the production. Zoetrope.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
Agnès Varda brings a Disney touch to this account of women finding their independence. The lives of Pomme (Valérie Mairesse) and Suzanne (Thérèse Liotard) between 1962 and 1976 are supposed to indicate the evolution of modern women's consciousness, but these two don't seem to have any consciousness--the way Varda skims over their lives, they could be butterflies or duckies. The singer, Pomme, and her combo tour provincial towns, performing educational songs, with lyrics (by Varda) such as "I'm neither a tough cookie nor a busy beaver nor a Utopian dreamer--I'm a woman, I am me." Decked out in harlequin colors that suggest a French child's dream of what Haight-Ashbury was like, they chant "My Body Is Mine." They sing about the joys of pregnancy when it's "your choice and your pleasure;" they sing about their "ovules." The sunshiny simplicity of the feminist movement celebrated here is so laughable that you can't hate the picture. You just feel that some of your brain cells have been knocked out. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
Robert Walker kisses a statue in Macy's and it comes alive--or, to describe more accurately the performance by the ravishing young Ava Gardner, half alive. Her songs are dubbed (by Eileen Wilson), which adds to the sloe-eyed sleepwalker effect. The film creaks; it's a bowdlerized version of the Broadway show by S.J. Perelman, Ogden Nash, and Kurt Weill. With Olga San Juan, Eve Arden, Tom Conway, and Dick Haymes. Directed by William A. Seiter, from a script by Harry Kurnitz and Frank Tashlin. Universal.
Machine-gun paced topical satire of East-West relations, in which the characters shout variations of stale jokes at each other--people are described as sitting around on their assets, and we're invited to laugh at the Russians for rejecting a shipment of Swiss cheese because it is full of holes. The director, Billy Wilder, shot this example of an assembly-line approach to gags in Berlin and Munich (where a full-scale replica of the Brandenburg Gate was constructed). James Cagney expertly mugs his way through the role of an American Coca-Cola executive in Europe; he complains that the East Germans are hijacking his shipments, "and they don't even return the empties." When his wife (Arlene Francis) says that their marriage has gone flat, like a stale glass of beer, Cagney replies, "Why do you have to bring in a competing beverage?" The gags are almost all on this level, and the little sops to sentiment are even worse; the film was a huge success. With Horst Buchholz, Pamela Tiffin, Lilo Pulver, and Red Buttons. Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond wrote the script, based on a Ferenc Molnár one-act play. A Mirisch Production, for United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book I Lost it at the Movies.
Marlon Brando, the Great Unpredictable, is both star and director of this Western about a bandit whose only purpose in life is to kill his former partner. As the prospective victim, Karl Malden makes a tough antagonist. Katy Jurado and Pina Pellicer, a lovely young Mexican actress, give aid and comfort to the two enemies. Also with Slim Pickens, Timothy Carey, Ben Johnson, and Elisha Cook, Jr. The picture is of variable quality: it has some visual grandeur; it also has some bizarrely brutal scenes. It isn't clear why Brando made this peculiarly masochistic revenge fantasy, or whether he hoped for something quite different from what he finished with. From a script by Guy Trosper and Calder Willingham, based on Charles Neider's novel The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones. Cinematography by Charles Lang; music by Hugo Friedhofer. Paramount.
Roberto Rossellini burst open the world with this film, made just after the Allies took Rome. The fame of his brutal, melodramatic account of the underground resistance to the Nazi occupation rests on its extraordinary immediacy and its rough, documentary look; at its most startling, it seems "caught" rather than staged. Many Americans, used to slick war films, reacted to it as if it actually were caught, documentary footage, and mistook the great Anna Magnani and Aldo Fabrizi, Maria Michi, and the other actors for nonprofessionals--this despite such stock elements as a rapacious lesbian Gestapo agent and a Hollywood-and-Vine-type Gestapo chief. The plot devices are often opportunistic, but there's a unifying fervor: shot on odds and ends of film stock, with fluctuating electricity, and showing people who a few weeks before had been part of the events, the movie gave us a cross-section of a city under terrible stress. When the initial $25,000 that Rossellini had raised was used up, he and Magnani sold their clothes; Maria Michi, who had hidden men like Togliatti--and the scriptwriter, Sergio Amidei--in her flat, now provided the flat for some of the sequences. Federico Fellini assisted Amidei on the script. In Italian.
The perennial war of enlisted men and officers is joined again, luckily under the direction of Richard Quine. The setting is Normandy, where the American troops are stationed; the soldiers aren't allowed to fraternize with the nurses, but Jack Lemmon, the buck-private hero, is determined to stage a mad ball where the men and the nurses can get together. Ernie Kovacs is the maddeningly unctuous, obnoxious officer determined to thwart him--a barracks Malvolio. Dick York is the liaison man between the two factions, Mickey Rooney the sergeant who pulls together a jazz group for the ball. The four of them are good--occasionally so good they seem inspired. If Arthur O'Connell as the commanding officer, Kathryn Grant as the nurse Lemmon adores, and a French maman-concierge could have been eliminated, this might have been a classic American comedy. As it is, it's an often uninhibited farce, and one of the funniest pictures of its period. Rooney, with his hot band, gives the picture some of the wild charge it needs more of. (He and Quine had worked together as performers when they were adolescents.) Written by Arthur Carter, Jed Harris, and Blake Edwards, based on a play by Carter. Produced by Harris, for Columbia.
Livelier than the title (which sounds like a satirical classification) suggests. It's the swing era, the band is Glenn Miller's (with Tex Beneke and The Modernaires), and the screenwriters, Karl Tunberg and Darrell Ware, use the shopworn love triangle of an innocent small-town girl (Ann Rutherford) who marries a musician (George Montgomery) and then comes up against his old flame, the band vocalist (Lynn Bari), as a framework for all the snappy repartee they can pile on. Archie Mayo directed this musical for 20th Century-Fox, and the picture has a seedy, unassuming pungency. Best of all, the moviemakers were prepared to jettison the story line for the sake of entertainment: suddenly, at the end of the picture, the Nicholas Brothers, that great team of dancers, come out of nowhere and do one of their most dizzying acrobatic tap routines, to "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo." The number is such a feat of sustained high flying that you hold your breath in tense admiration. The cast includes Glenn Miller, Jackie Gleason, Carole Landis, Cesar Romero, Virginia Gilmore, and Mary Beth Hughes; the tunes include "Serenade in Blue," "At Last," "Chattanooga Choo Choo," and "Bugle Call Rag;" among the musicians are Bobby Hackett and Ernie Caceres, and when Jackie Gleason plays the bass you're actually hearing Doc Goldberg. Cinematography by Lucien Ballard.
Lively, gifted Colleen Moore, the best comedienne of the silent flapper period, wore her dark hair short and straight with bangs--it was an almost abstract frame for the games she played with her eyes and mouth. No mere personality girl but a light, unaffected, inventive actress, in style she was a little like Buster Keaton. In this romantic comedy she's a telephone operator who has just about given up her hopes of landing a rich husband. She works in a swank New York hotel, which is called the Ritz, but which is actually the Plaza, and there's nostalgic charm in the sequences shot in and around the hotel and on top of an old double-decker Fifth Avenue bus. Jack Mulhall plays a young millionaire, and Gwen Lee and Sam Hardy are a gold-digger and a valet. There is a sequence at the hotel switchboard when a midget addresses Miss Moore--the "midget" is one of the first screen appearances of Mickey Rooney. Alfred Santell directed; the script is by Carey Wilson and Mervyn LeRoy; the wisecracking titles have a fine patina--they're by Ralph Spence. With Hedda Hopper as a modiste, and Yola D'Avril as another telephone operator. First National. Silent.
Anthony Asquith attempts to use the thriller structure for an ironic drama of conscience; the hero (Paul Massie) is an American bomber pilot sent to German-occupied Paris to assassinate a traitor to the Allies. But this pilot, though capable of murder from the air, is torn by nerves and scruples when he actually confronts a potential victim, and the victim, it turns out, was not a traitor. This pacifist study of individual responsibility involves also a different sort of irony--craft, not correspondence to historical facts, gives a film the look of truth, and this picture, which is based on actual incidents, always seems far-fetched. The cast includes Eddie Albert, Lillian Gish, Irene Worth, James Robertson Justice, Lionel Jeffries, Jacques Brunius, and Leslie French. Written by Paul Dehn.
Carl Dreyer made two emotionally overpowering great films--THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC and DAY OF WRATH. He also made the visually and conceptually daring VAMPYR. But ORDET, which the world press greeted as his masterpiece, may be considerably less than that. Kaj Munk, author of the play, was a Danish pastor, famed for such statements as "It is better that Denmark's relations with Germany should suffer than that her relations with Jesus Christ should suffer." In 1944, the Nazis shot him through the head and tossed him in a ditch. His play, written on the text "O ye of little faith," deals with a modern Resurrection, and Dreyer treats it with extreme literalness. Some of us may find it difficult to accept the holy-madman protagonist (driven insane by too close study of Kierkegaard!), and even more difficult to accept Dreyer's use of the protagonist's home as a stage set for numerous entrances and exits, and altogether impossible to get involved in the factional strife between bright, happy Christianity and dark, gloomy Christianity--represented as they are by people sitting around drinking vast quantities of coffee. In Danish.