Paths of Glory

US (1957): War
86 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Just after he made his racetrack robbery picture THE KILLING, Stanley Kubrick directed this version of Humphrey Cobb's novel, photographed in Germany. It is not so much an anti-war film as an attack on the military mind. Some of the press went all out for it ("searing in its intensity," and that sort of thing), but it wasn't popular. The movie has a fascinating jittery quality, especially when Timothy Carey, who's like a precursor of the hipster druggies of the 60s, is on the screen, and the strong, liberal-intellectual pitch makes it genuinely controversial, though it was certainly easier to be anti-militaristic in a film (made in peacetime) set during the First World War than it would have been in a film set during the Second World War. The story is about the class structure within the French army--the aristocratic generals in their spacious, sunlit châteaux and the proletarian soldiers in the dark trenches; trapped between them is Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas), who commiserates with the men but is powerless--he carries out the orders of the high command. When the soldiers refuse to fight in a battle that is almost certain death, three of them are selected to be tried for cowardice; Dax has the task of defending them. The film's rhythm is startling--you can feel the director's temperament. And there's an element of relentlessness in the way he sets out to demonstrate the hopeless cruelty of the "system." (The film was banned in France for some years.) It's an angry film that seems meant to apply to all armies. Watching it is very frustrating: Kubrick, who wrote the script with Calder Willingham and Jim Thompson, doesn't leave you with anything. He must have felt this, because he tacks on a scene at a cabaret, with a German girl (Susanne Christian) singing and the soldiers singing along, as they weep. (It just makes you uncomfortable.) With Adolphe Menjou--a cartoon of a wily general, George Macready as another general, and Ralph Meeker, Wayne Morris, Richard Anderson, Joseph Turkel, Bert Freed, Emile Meyer, Peter Capell, and John Stein. Produced by James B. Harris of Harris-Kubrick Productions, for United Artists.

Patton

US (1970): War/Biography
169 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The film is enormous in scale and runs almost three hours; it was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner in a style that might be described as imperial--incredibly long, wide shots that take in vast areas, with the human figures dwarfed by the terrain. There's so much land and air--and it's so clear--that we seem to be looking at the action from God's point of view. The landscapes are full of men, but they're all essentially extras--even men like Omar Bradley (Karl Malden), who should be important. There's really nobody in this movie except George C. Scott's Patton. He is what people who believe in military values can see as the true military hero--the red-blooded American who loves to fight and whose crude talk is straight talk. He is also what people who despise militarism can see as the worst kind of red-blooded American mystical maniac; for them, Patton can be the symbolic proof of the madness of the whole military complex. The picture, from a script by Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North, plays him both ways--crazy and great--and more ways than that, because he's a comic-strip general, and even those who are anti-war may love comic strips. Patton is treated as if he were the spirit of war, yet the movie begs the fundamental question: Is this the kind of man a country needs when it's at war? This movie is both a satirical epic and a square celebration, yet the satire backfires. Scott's Patton is so much stronger than anyone else that he has glamour and appeal. The film's style itself validates Patton the war lover as a hero. With Karl Michael Vogler as Rommel. Produced by Frank McCarthy, for 20th Century-Fox; adapted from L. Farago's Patton: Ordeal & Triumph and Bradley's A Soldier's Story; cinematography by Fred Koenekamp.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

Patty Hearst

US (1988): Biography
108 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

It's unlikely that this stylized movie of ideas will appeal to a large audience, but on its own terms it's a lean, impressive piece of work. Directed by Paul Schrader, from a bilge-free script by Nicholas Kazan, it's a distanced presentation of the kidnapping of the 19-year-old heiress, in 1974, by an eight-member terrorist group that called itself the Symbionese Liberation Army, and of her subsequent participation in the group's holdups, and of her trial. The whole series of events is like a nightmare that's all of a piece--a kid's nightmare that no one is on your side. And it answers the question that people asked before, during, and after the trial: Did Patty Hearst become part of the S.L.A. willingly, out of conviction, or was she simply trying to save her life? The movie shows you that, in the state she was in, there was no difference. Natasha Richardson, who plays Patty, has been handed a big unwritten role; she feels her way into it, and she fills it. We feel how alone and paralyzed Patty is--she retreats to being a hidden observer. Patty is a girl who is raped in mind and body, and no longer knows when it started. The picture seems flat for a long time, but when Patty's capture by the S.L.A. is followed by her capture by the police, everything starts to add up, and suddenly the film is overwhelming. With William Forsythe, Dana Delany, Jodi Long, and Ving Rhames. The score is by Scott Johnson.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.

Pauline at the Beach

France (1983): Drama/Comedy
94 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc
Also known as PAULINE À LA PLAGE.

The writer-director Eric Rohmer serves up this innocuous sex roundelay with exquisite control. It's all low-key conversation, and there's a thin veneer of chic over everybody. Rohmer contrasts the belle of the beach, the voluptuous blond divorcée Marion (Arielle Dombasle), with her dark-eyed 15-year-old cousin Pauline (Amanda Langlet). The self-centered, self-deluding Marion flirts and babbles, and Rohmer lets us know what he thinks of her by showing her walking away from the camera in a tight, wet bathing suit that's squeezing her. Pauline is quiet and intelligent and her bathing suit has nary a wrinkle or a crease. Rohmer has an amazing gift for finding (or creating) actors who embody the tiny, precise psychological observations that he wants to make, and, with the help of the cinematographer Nestor Almendros, he establishes a loose, summery atmosphere that the characters fit right into. But he offers a tedious message ("A wagging tongue bites itself"), and he can't resist setting up the little girl as our moral instructor. (She and her adolescent lover, played by Simon de la Brosse, are so "natural" they go to bed together without a stab of fear or self-consciousness; does anybody believe this?) The six characters involved in the bedroom-farce misunderstandings include a suave, 40ish stud (Féodor Atkine); a handsome young windsurfer (Pascal Greggory), who's a ninny; and a girl (Rosette) who sells candy on the beach. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

The Pawnbroker

US (1965): Drama
116 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Rod Steiger plays a benumbed Jewish survivor of the concentration camps who lives on in Harlem running a pawnshop--fat, sagging, past pain, past caring. Adapted from the Edward Lewis Wallant novel and directed by Sidney Lumet, the film is trite, and you can see the big pushes for powerful effects, yet it isn't negligible. It wrenches audiences, making them fear that they, too, could become like this man. And when events strip off his armor, he doesn't discover a new, warm humanity, he discovers sharper suffering--just what his armor had protected him from. Most of the intensity comes from Steiger's performance and from the performance of the great old Juano Hernández, as a man who comes into the shop to talk. With Geraldine Fitzgerald, Brock Peters, and Jaime Sanchez; cinematography by Boris Kaufman; score by Quincy Jones. Released by Allied Artists.

Payday

US (1973): Drama
103 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

Shot entirely on location in Alabama, it's an acrid, hardboiled melodrama with a feeling for authentic characters and details. An exceptionally functional script, by the novelist Don Carpenter, makes it possible for the director, Daryl Duke, to cover the grimy country music scene of a small-time recording star--a goaty, rancidly unromantic third-rate Johnny Cash. Rip Torn, with his smirking satyr grin, will probably never have a role that suits him better than the barnstorming Maury Dann. In the back of his Cadillac between two girls, Maury Dann is a sweating rajah, drinking Coke and beer and bourbon, smoking pot and popping pills. Made by an independent company, with Ralph J. Gleason, the veteran writer on jazz, as executive producer, and financed by Fantasy Records (Saul Zaentz and Gleason), the film didn't get the distribution it deserved. Its only real flaw is the flaw that's also present in hardboiled fiction: when a world is this clearly defined, our imagination is frustrated. With Michael C. Gwynne as Maury's manager, Cliff Emmich as his fat, loyal driver and cook who takes a prison rap for him, Elayne Heilveil as a teenage groupie who works in a dime store, and Ahna Capri as Maury's blond mistress who goads him at the wrong moment and is deposited in the middle of the highway.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

Payment on Demand

US (1951): Drama
90 min, No rating, Black & White

This Bette Davis picture--the story of a hideously bad marriage--was made just before ALL ABOUT EVE, though it wasn't released until afterward. Davis plays a wrong-headed, treacherous, racist wife who drives her husband (Barry Sullivan) to success and into the arms of another woman (Frances Dee). Davis has so many outbursts that Sullivan, who has to listen to them, looks benumbed. By the time the celebrated stage actress Jane Cowl turns up, as a broken-down divorcée who is reduced to sharing her life with a grubby poet--a spectacle that shatters Davis's wicked complacency and causes her to reform--the special damp rot of dull "women's pictures" has set in. With Kent Taylor, John Sutton, Otto Kruger, Natalie Schaefer, Richard Anderson, and, in the flashback sequence, Davis's own daughter, playing her child. Directed by Curtis Bernhardt; screenplay by Bruce Manning and Bernhardt. RKO.

The Pearls of the Crown

France (1937): Comedy
100 min, No rating, Black & White
Also known as LES PERLES DE LA COURONNE.

The writer-director-actor Sacha Guitry made one-of-a-kind movies, and he made them one after another--quickly, tossing them off. They're glittering trifles; they reek of boulevard insouciance, of chic. And they're among the wittiest and most innovative movies ever made. This one is a comic pageant, a casual succession of jokes and incidents, shifting from ironic high style to low-down put-ons. The picture follows the career of a group of matching pearls over several centuries and several continents; it involves such personages as Mary of Scotland, Empress Eugenie, Napoleon, Henry VIII, Madame DuBarry, and the Queen of Abyssinia--seeing it is rather like flipping the pages of a history book while drinking champagne. Guitry himself plays four roles and is assisted by Arletty, Jean-Louis Barrault, Marguerite Moreno, Cecile Sorel, Jacqueline Delubac, and Jean Coquelin (many of them also play more than one role). PEARLS isn't as simply made as, say, Guitry's 1936 THE STORY OF A CHEAT or even his very last film, the 1957 LOVERS AND THIEVES; it's a 2-hour spectacle (Christian-Jaque served as co-director) and it's slower and plushier. But it has some of his farthest-out campy jokes. (As the Queen of Abyssinia, Arletty wears black-face and black-body, too; she also screeches in "Abyssinian.") A trilingual production in French, Italian, and English.

The Pedestrian

Germany (1974): War/Drama
97 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette
Also known as DER FUSSGÄNGER.

Maximilian Schell takes the year's Stanley Kramer Prize for a Movie on the Theme of War Guilt Which Confuses More Issues Than It Raises. The protagonist (Gustav Rudolf Sellner) is a powerful industrialist who is exposed as the man responsible for the massacre of an entire Greek village during the Second World War. In writer-director Maximilian Schell's hazy reasoning, however, the industrialist shouldn't really feel bad; nobody in particular is guilty, because everybody is guilty. The film has been praised in the U.S. as if it were a deep probe into serious issues; no doubt, it can be praised in Germany as a very comforting view. Maximilian Schell loves fanciness and abstractions and imprecision; this film is about so many things that it's finally not about anything. Gustav Rudolf Sellner has a strong presence and holds the camera; Schell turns up in a minor role, and so does the English director Peter Hall. In one clumsy, gratuitous sequence, Peggy Ashcroft, Elisabeth Bergner, and Françoise Rosay appear, along with several other famous actresses, and are shamefully wasted. In German.

Pee-wee's Big Adventure

US (1985): Comedy
90 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

This slapstick novelty starring the grown-up yet prepubescent Pee-wee Herman-a Peter Pan of the shopping-mall era-is somewhere between a parody of kitsch and a celebration of it, and it has the bouncing-along inventiveness of a good cartoon. It's set in a candy-colored period of its own-a 50s-80s Twilight Zone, where you might not be surprised to bump into Harry (the baby) Langdon or Steve Martin as the Jerk. When Pee-wee's bike-the love of his life-is stolen, his search to recover it takes him from LA to Texas, to the Alamo, and back. Hitching rides, he encounters a series of American-movie archetypes (an escaped convict, a waitress out of THE PETRIFIED FOREST who dreams of going to Paris, truckers, hoboes, rodeo riders, a mean, wild motorcycle gang) and the 26-year-old director Tim Burton shows his flair for the silly-surreal. The movie is full of slobby, hairy giants-they make you think of Paul Bunyan or Bluto-and you see them from Pee-wee's point of view. He looks at the dirty, uncouth, threatening men and would rather remain a 10-year-old. With Jan Hooks, who has a juicy comedy routine as the tour guide at the Alamo; Mark Holton as Pee-wee's rival Francis; Judd Omen as the convict; Elizabeth Daily as Dottie; Alice Nunn as Large Marge; Diane Salinger as the waitress; Tony Bill; and, as movie stars, James Brolin and Morgan Fairchild. Pee-wee Herman shares the writing credit (with Phil Hartman and Michael Varhol) under his own name, Paul Reubens. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Peggy Sue Got Married

US (1986): Fantasy/Comedy
104 min, Rated PG-13, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Distressed by her marital troubles, Peggy Sue (Kathleen Turner), the mother of two grown-up children, collapses at the 25th reunion of her high-school class, and when she wakes up she discovers that she has gone back in time to the spring of 1960. Directed by Francis Coppola, this is a dream movie that asks whether Peggy Sue, knowing what she does at 43, should marry the same boy--passionate Charlie (Nicolas Cage), the only man she ever dated, and the one who got her pregnant on her 18th birthday--knowing that he won't go on to have the singing career he talks about, that he'll go into his father's business and turn into the man who introduces himself on television as Crazy Charlie, the Appliance King. (It's perfectly clear what Peggy Sue will do because, of course, if she doesn't marry Charlie her children will never be born.) The underlying question is: Should Peggy Sue reconcile with her husband or go ahead and get a divorce? And the picture answers it the way Hollywood movies used to, by showing us that as teenagers Peggy Sue and Charlie were physically attracted to each other--as if that meant that they were destined to live together forever, in the best of all possible worlds. The script, by Jerry Leichtling and Arlene Sarner, lacks the mechanical ingenuity of a BACK TO THE FUTURE, yet the characters are almost as superficial, and Coppola's efforts to bring depth to this material that has no depth make the picture seem groggy. It's as if he were trying to reach through a veil of fog, trying to direct the actors to bring something out of themselves when neither he nor anyone else knows what's wanted. (Cage does bring something touching and desperate to Charlie the small-town hotshot.) With Barbara Harris, Barry Miller, Kevin J. O'Connor, Catherine Hicks, Joan Allen, Don Murray, Maureen O'Sullivan, Sofia Coppola, Leon Ames, and John Carradine. Cinematography by Jordan Cronenweth. A Rastar Production, released by Tri-Star.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Penn & Teller Get Killed

US (1989): Comedy
90 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

There's a terrific opening sequence with the pair of prankster magicians on a live late-night talk show; the screen is full of hoopla and graphics, and it's as if some new kind of bludgeoning, hip comedy were being invented--as if the Three Stooges had taken over "Saturday Night Live." But when the TV show is over, the snap goes out of the movie. It's meant to take off from Penn's remark that it would be fun if a killer were stalking him, but basically it's about the two magicians playing murderous practical jokes on each other, and it's extremely laborious. Caitlin Clarke does appealing backup work as the team's manager, and Christopher Durang turns up as a sneaky nut with a gun concealed in a hollowed-out Bible. Directed by Arthur Penn (no relation), from a script by Penn and Teller. Shot mostly in Atlantic City, by the Danish cinematographer Jan Weincke, who's great on black backgrounds. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.

Pennies From Heaven

US (1936): Musical
81 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

The cheerful tone of this Bing Crosby film grates on one like canned laughter. Sample dialogue: "Are you married?" "No, I'm sane." The story has something to do with an orphanage, and Madge Evans plays a welfare worker. There are some pleasant, mostly inconsequential songs, though, and Louis Armstrong turns up, with his orchestra, and Lionel Hampton is around. Directed by Norman Z. McLeod; with Edith Fellows. Columbia.

Pennies From Heaven

US (1981): Musical/Dance
107 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A startling, stylized big MGM musical, set in the mythology of the Depression. When the characters can't say how they feel, they open their mouths, and the voices on hit records of the 30s come out of them. And as they lip-sync the lyrics their obsessed eyes are burning bright. Their souls are in those voices, and they see themselves dancing just like the stars in movie musicals. The dance numbers are funny, amazing, and beautiful all at once; several of them are just about perfection. And though some of the dialogue scenes are awkwardly paced and almost static, they still have a rapt, gripping quality. There's something new going on--something thrilling--when the characters in a musical are archetypes yet are intensely alive. Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, Christopher Walken, Vernel Bagneris, Jessica Harper, Tommy Rall, Robert Fitch, and Jay Garner all seem to be working at their highest capacities. This is also true of Danny Daniels, who did the choreography; Ken Adam, who designed the production; Bob Mackie, who did the costumes; Gordon Willis, who was the cinematographer; and Dennis Potter, who wrote the script, which is adapted from his six-segment BBC series. The film was directed by Herbert Ross, who took a plunge but didn't go far enough. The material is conceived in terms of extremes--melodrama and pathos on one side and the dream world on the other. Normal life is excluded. Yet Ross keeps trying to sneak normal life back in: he treats the piled-on sentimental gloom tenderly, as if it were meant to be real. As a result, the picture doesn't come together (as CABARET did). But it's extraordinary. (There are breathtaking re-creations of paintings by Edward Hopper and Reginald Marsh and of famous photographs of the 30s.)
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Penny Serenade

US (1941): Drama/Comedy
125 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Irene Dunne and Cary Grant, who had made audiences laugh in THE AWFUL TRUTH and MY FAVORITE WIFE, jerked tears this time. They play a childless couple who adopt an infant, learn to love it and then lose it. The director, George Stevens, dragged his feet (the picture is over 2 hours long) and he wasn't very subtle; it's "sincere" in an inert and horribly pristine way. Yet he made the sentimental story convincing to a wide audience; many people talk about this picture as if it had really been deeply moving. It may be that the unrealistic casting does the trick: the appeal to the audience is that two glamorous stars play an ordinary couple and suffer the calamities that do in fact happen to ordinary people. When tragedy strikes Irene Dunne and Cary Grant, it hurts the audience in a special way. (And Grant could hardly have been better. Using his dark eyes and his sensuous, clouded handsomeness as a romantic mask, he gave his role a defensive, not quite forthright quality, and he brought out everything that it was possible to bring out of his warmed-over lines, weighing them perfectly, so that they almost seemed felt.) With Edgar Buchanan, Beulah Bondi, and Ann Doran; the screenplay is by Morrie Ryskind. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Pepe Le Moko

France (1937): Romance/Crime
86 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Superb entertainment. A classic romantic melodrama of the 30s, and one of the most compelling of all the fatalistic French screen romances, yet seen by few Americans because it was remade in Hollywood two years later as ALGIERS, starring Charles Boyer and "introducing" Hedy Lamarr. ALGIERS was so closely copied from PÉPÉ LE MOKO that look-alikes were cast in many of the roles, and some sequences were followed shot by shot. But ALGIERS is glamorous pop that doesn't compare to the original, directed by Julien Duvivier and starring Jean Gabin as the gangster who finds love but can't find his freedom. No one who saw PÉPÉ is likely to forget the scene in which the homesick-for-Paris Gabin looks at a Métro ticket and recites the names of the stations. Ironically, Duvivier had hoped to make an American-style gangster film and had drawn some of his characters from SCARFACE. With Mireille Balin, Marcel Dalio, Gaston Modot, Gabriel Gabrio, Line Noro, Saturnin Fabre, and Charpin. The script by Henri Jeanson is based on a novel by Ashelbé (Henri La Barthe), at one time commissioner of the Paris police. (The American version was remade as the musical CASBAH in 1948.) In French.

Perfect Friday

UK (1970): Crime/Comedy
94 min, Rated R, Black & White

A modish trifle from England--a suspense film about how an amoral trio (Ursula Andress, and David Warner, her husband, and Stanley Baker, her lover) rob a bank. It's rather humdrum. The only thing it has going for it is that the Swiss Ursula Andress, who was always sensational looking and also indicated a certain amount of humor, improved her English and she comes across as a witty deadpan comedienne. With her face and figure, the addition of technique makes her dazzling--she's seductive and funny, like the larcenous Dietrich of DESIRE, but the director, Peter Hall, doesn't know how to set her off. The script is by Anthony Greville-Bell and J. Scott Forbes; the music is by Johnny Dankworth.

Persona

Sweden (1966): Drama
81 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

In this film, as in his very early PRISON, the writer-director Ingmar Bergman involves us in the making of a movie. He gives us a movie within a movie, but he seems hardly to have made the enclosing movie, and then he throws away the inner one. (You can feel it go--at the repeated passage, when the director seems to be trying an alternate way of shooting a sequence.) It's a pity, because the inner movie had begun to involve us in marvellous possibilities: an actress (Liv Ullmann) who has abandoned the power of speech is put in the care of a nurse (Bibi Andersson), and the nurse, like an analysand who becomes furious at the silence of the analyst, begins to vent her own emotional disturbances. The two women look very much alike, and Bergman plays with this resemblance photographically by suggestive combinations and superimpositions. Most movies give so little that it seems almost barbarous to object to Bergman's not giving us more in PERSONA, but it is just because of the expressiveness and fascination of what we are given that the movie is so frustrating. There is, however, great intensity in many of the images, and there's one great passage: the nurse talks about a day and night of sex on a beach, and as she goes on talking, with memories of summer and nakedness and pleasure in her voice and the emptiness of her present life in her face, viewers may begin to hold their breath in fear that the director won't be able to sustain this almost intolerably difficult sequence. But he does, and it builds and builds and is completed. It's one of the rare truly erotic sequences in movie history. With Gunnar Björnstrand, and Jörgen Lindström as the boy. Cinematography by Sven Nykvist. In Swedish.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Personal Best

US (1982): Sports
124 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

There has probably never been a growing-up story presented on the screen so freely and uninhibitedly. Set in the world of women athletes, this film, written, produced, and directed by Robert Towne, tells most of the story non-verbally and character is revealed in movement. When Towne shows the two heroines--Mariel Hemingway and Patrice Donnelly--arm-wrestling, he concentrates on their throbbing veins and their sinews and how the muscles play off one another. He breaks down athletic events into specific details; you watch the athletes' calves or some other part of them, and you get an exact sense of how their bodies work--it's sensual and sexual, and it's informative, too. There's an undercurrent of flabbergasted awe in this celebration of women's bodies, and everything in the movie is physically charged. The women athletes are all great looking and all funny, because they have advanced so much faster than men's thinking about them has. They razz men flirtatiously, flaunting their own strength. This is a very smart and super-subtle movie, in which the authenticity of the details draws us in. It should be one of the best dating movies of all time, because it pares away all traces of self-consciousness. With Scott Glenn and Kenny Moore; cinematography by Michael Chapman, with a few scenes by Caleb Deschanel. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Personal Services

UK (1987): Comedy
105 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

An astonishingly cheerful high and low comedy, starring Julie Walters as a London brothelkeeper. Walters is a human carnival; at times, she's as spirited as Mel Brooks on a good day. When this madam, called Christine Painter, thinks about the undignified actions that her dignified old gentlemen like to engage in, she giggles, and she carries you along with her. Her giddy hysteria seems the only appropriate response to the sexual habits of the English-it seems a higher normality. Christine Painter, grounded on Cynthia Payne, London's famous Mme. Cyn (who acted as consultant to the film), is a great subject for the director, Terry Jones, of the Monty Python group, and the writer, David Leland (who co-wrote the 1986 MONA LISA). With Julie Walters at the center of things, the soft spots don't matter much. She seems to energize the whole film-to give it a rare kind of screwball fizziness-though she actually gets a lot of help from Alec McCowen, Shirley Stelfox, and Danny Schiller (as Dolly, the elderly maid at the brothel). Cinematography by Roger Deakins. (The film WISH YOU WERE HERE is loosely based on Cynthia Payne's earlier life.) Released by Vestron.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Pete 'n' Tillie

US (1972): Drama/Comedy
100 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

Carol Burnett and Walter Matthau in a low-key modern equivalent of old semi-forgettable, semi-memorable pictures like PENNY SERENADE, about decent people trying to live their lives somewhat rationally. Pete and Tillie speak in an epigrammatic style derived from the Peter De Vries short novel Witch's Milk, on which the movie is based, but their good life together is so aseptically the middle-class ideal that it looks like death. Martin Ritt directed, from Julius J. Epstein's screenplay. With Geraldine Page, René Auberjonois, and Barry Nelson. Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

Peter Ibbetson

US (1935): Romance/Fantasy
88 min, No rating, Black & White

A romantic fantasy in which the hero (Gary Cooper) is visited by his dead beloved (Ann Harding, as Mary, Duchess of Towers), who comes drifting down from Heaven. The five screenwriters failed to lick the datedness of the material (a George Du Maurier story, filmed as a silent, in 1921). This is an essentially sickly gothic, and yet the director, Henry Hathaway, brings off some of the ethereal moments, and the film tends to stay in the memory. With Ida Lupino, John Halliday, Douglass Dumbrille, Donald Meek, and Leonid Kinskey. Paramount.

The Petrified Forest

US (1936): Crime
83 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Leslie Howard is all forehead as a world-weary, desiccated intellectual who arrives on foot at a gas station and Bar-B-Q in the Arizona desert; Bette Davis is an ardent, fresh American girl, eager for experience, who lives there with her grandfather (Charley Grapewin). For a guy who's supposed to be burnt out, Howard sure has a lot of talk in him, and it's fancy and poetic as all getout. ("All this evening I've had the feeling of destiny closing in," and so on.) There's no way to say this stuff without sounding affected, and every now and then Howard hits really embarrassing false notes--but who else could embody this Robert E. Sherwood literary conceit and do it as well? Davis, surprisingly, plays her part very simply and doesn't overdo it. In a jumper with a white blouse, wearing bobby-sox and a ribbon in her hair, she's very appealing, and she says her lines as if for the first time--she's almost the only one in the cast (except for Grapewin) who does. The movie is famous for Humphrey Bogart's "dangerous" performance as Duke Mantee, the gangster who is using the Bar-B-Q to rendezvous with his moll and the members of his mob, and who, out of mercy, gives the exhausted, idealistic intellectual the peace of death that he seeks. Bogart does look great, but you feel that his performance was worked out for the stage (he had played the part on Broadway). His moves are almost stylized from repetition, and he gives some of his lines overstated, overscaled readings--particularly his laugh lines, when this public enemy expresses conventional moral sentiments by reprimanding the intellectual for talking to an old man without sufficient respect. As moviemaking, this is a pedestrian piece of work; the director, Archie Mayo, gives you the feeling that he has even retained the stage blocking. Every move seems rehearsed, and the Sherwood play loses its stage vitality without losing its talkiness. But the actors in minor roles are a considerable asset, and there's a tense exchange between a black mobster and a black chauffeur. The cast includes Genevieve Tobin, Joe Sawyer, Porter Hall, Dick Foran, Slim Thompson, Eddie Acuff, Paul Harvey, John Alexander, Adrian Morris, and Nina Campana. Adapted by Charles Kenyon and Delmer Daves. This melodrama spawned a whole genre of imitations (such as WHEN YOU COMIN' BACK, RED RYDER?, from the play by Mark Medoff) and was also remade in 1945 as ESCAPE IN THE DESERT. Warners.

Phaedra

France-Greece-US (1962): Drama
115 min, No rating, Black & White

Jules Dassin's glossy, novelettish version, set in modern Greece, of the classic story that was dramatized by Euripides, Seneca, Racine, and many others. Here, it's undermined by a lunatic piece of miscasting: when Melina Mercouri leaves her rich, powerful bull of a husband, Raf Vallone, to run away with his skinny young son, Anthony Perkins, the audience can't imagine why. She scoops him up in her arms, like a toy. With its snazzy cars and fabulous jewels that can be casually thrown into the sea, this is like a Joan Crawford picture, only more so. Dassin appears as Christo.

Phantom Baron

France (1943): Romance/Adventure
100 min, No rating, Black & White
Also known as LE BARON FANTÔME.

Somehow or other, Cocteau got involved in writing the script for this silly romantic adventure, which was directed by Serge de Poligny and has little connection to Cocteau's own screen work. Set in the early 19th century, it's about a hidden treasure. Cocteau played the title role; possibly he inveigled Gabrielle Dorziat into appearing in it also; in any case, she looks as if she's not sure what she's doing here. With Alain Cuny and Jany Holt. In French.

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