Autumn leaves and wintry emotions. This is an academic exercise in catharsis; it's earnest, it means to improve people, and it lasts a lifetime. The story is about the Jarretts--Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, and their son, Timothy Hutton--a Protestant family living in an imposing brick house in a wealthy suburb of Chicago. There is so little communication in this uptight family that the three Jarretts sit in virtual silence at the perfectly set dinner table in the perfectly boring big dining room. From time to time, the father, with a nervous tic of a smile, tries to make contact with his son and urges him to see a psychiatrist recommended by the hospital where he was treated after a recent suicide attempt. The movie is about the harm that repression can do, but the movie is just as repressive and sanitized as the way of life it means to expose, and it backs away from anything messier than standard TV-style psychiatric explanations. Making his début as a film director, Robert Redford shows talent with the actors, the younger ones especially; Alvin Sargent's adaptation of the popular Judith Guest novel is heavy on psychobabble. The joker about this movie is that part of the audience weeps for the unloving Wasp-witch mother, who cares only for appearances and who can't change because of the pride and the privacy she was trained in; she seems the gallant last standard-bearer for the Wasp family ethic, and the picture somehow turns into a nosegay for Wasp repression. With Judd Hirsch as the idealized warm, friendly Jewish psychiatrist, Elizabeth McGovern as the son's girlfriend, and Meg Mundy as the grandmother. Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
It's almost unbelievable, but this D.W. Griffith spectacle set during the French Revolution was not a financial success. It's a marvellous, expensively produced mixture of melodrama and sentimentality, with duels, kidnappings, the storming of the Bastille, and Lillian Gish being saved from the guillotine. It's not one of Griffith's greatest; in a way, it seems dated, even for a 1921 movie. (Not in its technique--in its thinking.) But those who saw it as children never forgot the sequence in which Lillian hears the voice of her long-lost blind sister, played by Dorothy Gish. Griffith sequences like this go beyond heart-wringing into some arena of theatrical sublimity. The huge cast includes the handsome young Joseph Schildkraut, Monte Blue as Danton, Louis Wolheim as the executioner. Cinematography by Hendrik Sartov, Billy Bitzer, and Paul Allen. (It's a big picture--14 reels when it opened, cut to 12 reels a few months later.) Based on a 19th-century melodrama, The Two Orphans. United Artists. Silent.
A masterpiece of magical filmmaking. Though it is a narrative treatment of the legend of Orpheus in a modern Parisian setting, this film, written and directed by Jean Cocteau, is as inventive and as enigmatic as a dream. Orpheus (Jean Marais), the successful poet who is envied and despised by younger poets, needs to renew himself; he tries to push beyond the limits of human experience, to reach the unknowable--the mystery beyond morality. Dark, troubled, passionate Maria Casarés is his Death: attended by her roaring motorcyclists, the hooded messengers of death, she is mystery incarnate. The jazzy modern milieu has urgency, and Cocteau uses emblems and images of the then recent Nazi period and merges them with more primitive images of fear--as, indeed, they are merged in the modern consciousness. This gives the violence and mystery of the Orpheus story a contemporaneity that, in other hands, might seem merely chic; Cocteau's special gift was to raise chic to art. The death figure and much of the film's imagery derive from the American movie DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY (1934), starring Fredric March; the only modern film image of death that, visually and psychologically, stands comparison with Maria Casarés is in Ingmar Bergman's THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957). The glazier in the "zone" (a variant of the angel in Cocteau's BLOOD OF A POET) must be a tribute to (or a memory of?) Chaplin as the angelic glazier of THE KID. With Marie Déa as the sickly-sweet Eurydice, François Périer as Heurtebise (part chauffeur, part guardian angel, he suggests the ferryman Charon), and Edouard Dermithe and Juliette Greco. Music by Georges Auric; the sumptuous cinematography with its velvety dark and light contrasts is by Nicholas Hayer. In French.
Joseph E. Levine's style of tawdriness, as in THE CARPETBAGGERS, HARLOW, and this picture, rivals the triumphs at MGM in the 40s. The Levine beds and draperies were already deluxe. Here he has added Harlan Ellison's incomparable bedroom conversations and it's such a perfect commingling that the words might have sprouted from the coverlets. Meant to be hard-hitting, the picture is florid-fancy, and so energetically overacted that it was instantly hailed as a classic of unintentional comedy. It's no accident that all three of these Levine productions are set in Hollywood: this gives their decor and dialogue a certain authenticity--after all, it's derived from the movies. The characters here are also taken from the movies. The heel-hero (Stephen Boyd, intense every minute) is the movie gangster relocated as a Hollywood actor; instead of pushing a grapefruit in his moll's face, he dumps a salad on a star's lap. This picture is a wonder; it's of a lurid badness that has to be experienced. With Tony Bennett as the rotter Boyd's kind, grovelling pal, and Milton Berle, Eleanor Parker, Joseph Cotten, Ernest Borgnine, Jill St. John, Edie Adams, Merle Oberon, Walter Brennan, Broderick Crawford, James Dunn, Peter Lawford, Ed Begley, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Edith Head, and Hedda Hopper. It leaves one sweet memory: Elke Sommer, or rather the way she enunciates--squeezing the words out between lips always puckered for a kiss. Russel Rouse directed and also worked on the script with Ellison and Clarence Greene; it's from a novel by Richard Sale. Released by Paramount.
A filmed record of the National Theatre of Great Britain production starring Laurence Olivier; the techniques employed are pitifully inadequate. But there he is: the most physical Othello imaginable--deep voice, with a trace of foreign music in it; happy, thick, self-satisfied laugh; rolling buttocks. He's grand and barbaric and, yes, a little lewd. As a lord, this Othello is a bit vulgar--too ingratiating, a boaster, an arrogant man. Who can afford to miss this performance? With Frank Finlay as the pale, parched little Iago--a man consumed with sexual jealousy--and Maggie Smith as the quietly strong, willful Desdemona. Also with Joyce Redman, Derek Jacobi, and Robert Lang. Stuart Burge, who directed this filming, doesn't always protect the actors: they speak as if they were on a stage and they're sometimes seen very close (in stage makeup) when the camera should be at a discreet distance. The cinematography is by Geoffrey Unsworth.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
The title is deceptive: it's a popular film of the period, about whether working girls ought to Take the Easiest Way or Wait for Mr. Right. Joan Crawford, Anita Page, and Dorothy Sebastian are the roommates who work in the same department store (the vivacious Crawford as a model, the other two as clerks). Their dreams of luxury get them in trouble with, respectively, Robert Montgomery, Raymond Hackett, and John Miljan. It's high-mindedly moral but not seriously so, with an arrest for theft, a suicide, a fashion show on a Long Island estate, and an Albertina Rasch ballet all tossed in together. Harry Beaumont directed; the writers were Bess Meredyth and a pre-Marxist John Howard Lawson. With Hedda Hopper, Martha Sleeper, Albert Conti, Edward Brophy, and, among the mannequins, Claire Dodd. MGM.
About how a young couple (Karen Morley and Tom Keene) make a go of life on a bankrupt farm by turning it into a co-op. King Vidor--restless, never satisfied by his commercial successes--borrowed up to his ears to make this movie, and it's innovatively well directed. He experiments with Russian ideas of montage, and manages to make a grand finale out of the co-operative farmers digging a ditch to irrigate a cornfield--cheating only a little by heightening the scene with an orchestral score. The rhythmic visual conceptions are beautifully realized, but the acting and writing are awful; sophisticated in film terms, it's a primitive picture in dramatic terms. The earnest title indicates where Vidor went wrong; the film suffers from awkwardly simple thinking and from the excessive virtue ascribed to the common-man characters. With John Qualen and Barbara Pepper. Written by Elizabeth Hill, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and Vidor; cinematography by Robert Planck; released by United Artists.
When he plays comedy, James Coburn is often a grinning, stylized original, but in this starring role he's so spoofy he becomes infantile. As a super-spy imitation of James Bond, Coburn is really Little Boy Flint: a good little boy stretched tall, like a young Uncle Sam. And the movie is a little boy's fantasies, with his little physical fitness exercise and all his little toys. With Lee J. Cobb. Directed by Daniel Mann, from a script by Hal Fimberg and Ben Starr. It was a hit (and was followed by IN LIKE FLINT, in 1967). 20th Century-Fox. CinemaScope.
Though Alec Guinness's name is Wormold and he is the Havana representative of a vacuum cleaner company, he is the hero. This hero, recruited into the British secret service (by dry, hunched Noel Coward-the mandarin as secret agent), has no idea what is wanted of him. He must send in reports, however; so he fills them with inventions and fantasies. This satirical comedy turns into a nightmarish thriller when his phony reports precipitate actual reprisals and murders. Adapted by Graham Greene, from his novel, the picture is almost too clever and maybe that's why it was a box-office failure, but its naughtiness is terribly funny. It appears to be a travesty of the international spy story, like BEAT THE DEVIL, except that it has a pinprick of purpose; the deep thought that innocence can lead to evil is not likely to keep you up nights. The director, Carol Reed, employs the Cuban locations (with cinematography by Oswald Morris) as wittily as he does the actors-Ralph Richardson, Burl Ives, Ernie Kovacs, Maureen O'Hara, Grégoire Aslan (he takes Wormold's washroom spying overtures for an indecent proposition), Jo Morrow, Paul Rogers, and Duncan Macrae. The farce is perhaps too straight-faced, low-keyed, and tenuous-it needs more exuberance. One reason it isn't as good as BEAT THE DEVIL is that everything is so beautifully held in check. It might be better if it were sloppier, but it does have some first-rate sequences and it's very entertaining. (Kovacs wasn't allowed to wear a beard, because of fear that it might offend Castro.) The music is by the Hernanos Deniz Cuban Rhythm Band. Produced by Carol Reed; Columbia. CinemaScope.
The bigeyed, energetic young Joan Crawford in the jazz age. She and her friends give expensive parties where now and then someone jumps on a piano, sings a song, makes a speech, or does an imitation. With Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., as Crawford's young husband, Rod La Rocque as the older man of the world who complicates her life, Anita Page as the girl who complicates Fairbanks' life, and Edward Nugent and Josephine Dunn. One of the "shocking-youth" pictures that audiences flocked to; the surprise in this one is that Crawford leaves her husband and winds up with La Rocque. Directed by Jack Conway. A silent, though some prints had a musical score and sound effects. MGM.
Despite all one's conscious objections--the sentiment, the stagey techniques that don't really work on film--the movie version of the Thornton Wilder play stays with one. Partly that's because of the beauty of many of the lines, and partly, too, because of the acting. In conception, the play is similar to Dylan Thomas's later Under Milk Wood, but in Wilder's New England setting the dialogue is laconic, the wit dryly humane. The young William Holden is warm and skillful as the adolescent hero. Martha Scott, who plays opposite him, repeats her stage performance; she didn't take the camera well, and her readings are a little too arch and finished, but she gets her laughs. Frank Craven, also from the original cast, is the omniscient spokesman of the piece; if Wilder had to be omniscient, nobody could come as close to getting away with it as Craven. With Fay Bainter, Beulah Bondi, Thomas Mitchell, and Guy Kibbee. Sam Wood, who did another view of small-town life in KINGS ROW, directed; he can't be blamed for the Hollywoodization of the ending. Produced by Sol Lesser for Principal Artists Productions, released by United Artists.
Teri Garr is Sunny, who murders her husband. John Lithgow is the husband's business partner, a big, shy dope with a slow-motion brain who thinks he accidentally did the killing. And Randy Quaid is a lunkhead private detective. This trim, smart, evenly paced murder comedy is set mostly in and around San Pedro, California, but the calm with which the young English director, Malcolm Mowbray (who made the 1984 A PRIVATE FUNCTION), keeps everything in check doesn't seem American, exactly. Mowbray's deliberateness has a lunar dimension. The smoothness keeps you giggling. With Bruce McGill and Fran Ryan. The screenplay is by Leonard Glasser and George Malko. A Hemdale Production, released by Tri-Star.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.
Adult, cryptic, self-conscious, and unsatisfying, it attempts to romanticize the lives of the high-strung Danish woman (played by Meryl Streep), who ran a coffee plantation in Kenya, saw herself as a patrician, and wrote under the name Isak Dinesen, and the handsome English big-game hunter Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford). Directed by Sydney Pollack, from a script by Kurt Luedtke, the picture squirms around trying to make these people morally acceptable to a modern audience. Streep is animated in the early scenes, but Redford doesn't give out with anything for her to play against, and the energy goes out of her performance. These two are meant to be lovers, but when they address each other they talk into a void, as if the other weren't there, and when she demands that he marry her, it's as if a couple of pages from a bad novel about a possessive woman had been pasted into the middle of a National Geographic photo essay. This is "classical" big-star narrative moviemaking, but without the logic, the easy-to-read surface, and the sureness that contribute to the pleasure of that kind of picture. It seems to be about something nebulous. The film hums a little when Klaus Maria Brandauer (as Baron Blixen-Finecke) or Michael Kitchen (as Berkeley Cole) or Suzanna Hamilton (as Felicity) is on the screen; they're recognizably human. And several of the black performers are great subjects for the David Watkin's camera--Malick Bowens (as the majordomo Farah), in particular. Academy Awards: Best Picture, Direction, Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, Score, Sound. Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
A thin but well-shot suspense melodrama, kept from collapsing by the suggestiveness and intensity that the director, Jacques Tourneur, pours on. It's empty trash, but you do keep watching it. Kirk Douglas, a gangster, hires Robert Mitchum to find Jane Greer, who has run away from him. Predictably, she gets Mitchum (at his most somnolent-sexy droopy-eyed) in her clutches, and there are several killings before matters are resolved. The screenplay is by Geoffrey Homes (a pseudonym of Daniel Mainwaring), from his novel Build My Gallows High. Cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca; with Rhonda Fleming and Dickie Moore. RKO.
A good subject: comradeship among white men in the Australian desert, their boredom, and their erratic, senseless destructiveness. They keep acting out adolescent rituals of virility. They guzzle all day and all night; they garland themselves with the pull tabs from the beer cans. They smash things for excitement or brawl, or shoot anything that moves, or run it down with their cars. Their blood sport is boxing with wounded kangaroos and then slitting their throats. The film, directed by Ted Kotcheff, spends too much time on the melodramatic--and Conradian--ordeals of a sensitive yet arrogant male schoolteacher (Gary Bond) who hates the coarse life he's trapped in. His inadequacies are the focal point, but the butch boomtown atmosphere (without a trace of culture) is more vivid and authentic and original. You remember the red eyes of the kangaroos in the glare of car headlights, not the schoolteacher's disintegration and self-discovery. Even though the movie retreats into its narrow story line, you come out with a sense of epic horror and the perception that this white master race is retarded. With Donald Pleasence and Chips Rafferty. The script, by Evan Jones, is based on Kenneth Cook's novel Wake in Fright.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
A marvellous film (drawn from Joseph Conrad's work) that relatively few people have seen. It's probably the only movie that has ever attempted to deal in a complex way with the subject of the civilized man's ambivalence about the savage. It also contains some of the most remarkable sequences ever filmed by the English director Carol Reed; it's an uneven movie, but with splendid moments throughout. Trevor Howard is superb as Willems, who makes himself an outcast first through contemptible irresponsibility and through betrayal of those who trust him, and finally and hopelessly when, against his will, he is attracted to the silent, primitive girl, the terrifying Aissa (played by Kerima). Willems is wrong in almost everything he does, but he represents a gesture toward life; his enemy, Almayer (Robert Morley), is so horribly, pathetically stuffy that his family unit (with Wendy Hiller as his wife and Annabel Morley as his child) is absurdly, painfully funny. With Ralph Richardson, whose role is possibly ill-conceived, and George Coulouris, Wilfrid Hyde-White, and Frederick Valk. The screenplay is by William Fairchild; cinematography by John Wilcox.
Just before his international breakthrough with L'AVVENTURA, Antonioni made this flawed yet affecting, mournful, wintry film about the neurotic apathy of a working-class man. It's poetic without being believable. The American actor Steve Cochran plays Aldo, a skilled worker in a sugar refinery; when the woman he has been living with (Alida Valli) no longer wants him, he falls into a numb despair and wanders around with his small daughter. He meets other women, but they don't make enough impression on him for him to get a grip on life. Without the moneyed decadence of the characters in Antonioni's later films, the atmospheric gloom seems less chic, more purely depressive. Set in the muddy Po Valley. With Betsy Blair, Dorian Gray, and Lyn Shaw. In Italian.
Science fiction set in a morally grimy future that is conceived as a continuation of capitalist exploitation in space. Sean Connery is the new federal district marshal on Io (a volcanic moon of Jupiter), who learns that Peter Boyle, the boss of the mines on Io, is selling the workers amphetamines that keep them speeding for 10 or 12 months, until they go berserk and kill themselves or attack others. When Connery destroys a shipment of the drug, Boyle sends for hired killers, and, just as in HIGH NOON, the one lone good man finds he has to fight by himself. The sets are great--the industrial-nightmare city on Io is like the offspring of a gigantic pipe organ and an oil rig. And Peter Hyams, who directed, knows how to stage chases and fights. But he also wrote the script, which deadens everything and doesn't even make sense. (It's insane that the miners refuse to help Connery--that they don't mind being exploited, going crazy, and destroying themselves.) It's a noisy, somber film, with an element of the repugnant (the high spots are the horrible deaths), but with good performances by Connery, Frances Sternhagen as a sour, snappish doctor, and James B. Sikking as Connery's sergeant. Also with Kika Markham. The production designer was Philip Harrison; the art director was Malcolm Middleton; the cinematographer was Stephen Goldblatt. A Ladd Company Production; released by Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
As producer-director and bra designer, Howard Hughes managed to create the definitive burlesque of cowtown dramas, and without even trying. Jane Russell swings her bosom around and shows her love for frail, seedy Billy the Kid (Jack Buetel) by hitting him over the head with a coffeepot and putting sand in his water flasks when he is setting out across the desert. To reciprocate, he ties her up with wet thongs and leaves her out in the sun. Walter Huston and Thomas Mitchell provide a little relief from the amorous games. Written by Jules Furthman; cinematography by Gregg Toland; smarmy music by Victor Young. Though completed in 1941, the film was tied up in heavily publicized censorship battles and wasn't shown until 1947. Released by United Artists.
Two young New York actresses of contrasting types--Shelley Long is a lofty ditz and Bette Midler is a vulgarian-sexpot Kewpie doll--discover they've been sharing a lover (Peter Coyote). When he disappears, they chase him across the country to the cliffs and mesas of New Mexico, becoming friends along the way. Near the start, there are a few snappers for Midler, and she gets to shoot some wonderful derisive looks at Long. Though the gags aren't fresh, the screenwriter, Leslie Dixon, knows how to construct them. With a director who had an appetite for elemental belly-laugh farce, maybe even the claptrap plot about spies and terrorists would have something like the self-mocking giddiness of the plot in ROMANCING THE STONE. But with Arthur Hiller in charge, much of the dialogue turns into squawking, and the movie is flattened out and rackety, with Midler doing her damnedest to pump sass and energy into it. (Pregnant when the picture was shot, she sticks out her chest and charges into her scenes.) Peter Coyote gives a polished and wily performance in the first section, before he gets lost in the noise; also with Robert Prosky, George Carlin, Florence Stanley, John Schuck, Ji-Tu Cumbuka, and Jerry Zaks. Cinematography by David M. Walsh. Touchstone (Disney).
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
Ruth Gordon wrote the play on which it is based, and she opened on Broadway as the heroine, America's most spectacular woman wit, a Dorothy Parker-ish refugee from the Algonquin and the fleshpots of Hollywood, who accompanies her middle-aged husband, the editor of a liberal paper, to officers' training camp. Unfortunately, this heroine (played here by Irene Dunne) is extremely articulate but not nearly as funny as she's meant to be; many of the jokes turn on the mad, charming inconsequence of the feminine mind, and the whole comedy is too obviously set up, and rather self-congratulatory. With Alexander Knox, effective as the husband until he reads us an editorial sermon on the brotherhood of man, and Charles Coburn, Cora Witherspoon, Jeff Donnell, and Lee Patrick. Directed by Charles Vidor, from Sidney Buchman's adaptation. Produced by Buchman; Columbia.
George Segal and Barbra Streisand give this romantic comedy about a self-deceiving would-be writer who works in a bookstore and a hooker a good, fast, raucous spirit. There's an air of festivity about their teamwork. Her works come out impetuously fast and hit such surprising notes that she creates her own suspense--she's a living, talking cliff-hanger. And he supplies a steadying grace. The picture is just a doodle, but it's one of the most enjoyable comedies of its era. Streisand and Segal charge right through the "lonely little people" stuff, and they bull their way through the bad spots (though no one could redeem one sour sequence in Central Park, in which Segal is called upon to humiliate her). Their energy and the director Herbert Ross's sense of pace just about overcome the principal dramatic weakness of the material (Bill Manhoff's two-character play, adapted by Buck Henry)--that it starts high. This takes a while to get used to; then you don't want it to let down. Ross does a fine job of helping you adjust to the subsequent changes in tone and tempo. (What's funny about the scene in which the two of them are bombed out of their heads in a bathtub together is how romantic it is.) With Robert Klein and Allen Garfield. Produced by Ray Stark; Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
A Western set in Nevada in 1885 that is also an attempt at a poetic tragedy about mob violence. Two cowboys (Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan) ride into a small, lonely cattle town and become involved in the hysteria of a lynch mob. Three innocent men (Dana Andrews, Anthony Quinn, and Francis Ford) are hanged, while we see not only their fear and despair, but the varied motives of the members of the posse who take justice into their own hands. It's easy to be put off by the studio sets and lighting and by the 40s approach to a "serious" subject, but the director, William Wellman, has made the characters so vivid that after many years people may still recall Frank Conroy as the sadistic Southern major, and the rapid changes of expression of William Eythe, as his son. With Harry Davenport as Mr. Davies, Leigh Whipper as Sparks, and Jane Darwell as the cackling, lewd old woman who enjoys the excitement--a much better performance than her Ma Joad in THE GRAPES OF WRATH. From the very fine novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark--it has ambiguities that Lamar Trotti's script couldn't encompass; reading the book expands the movie. 20th Century-Fox.