The Professionals

US (1966): Western
117 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The title is accurate. This action-Western, written and directed by Richard Brooks, with Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, Woody Strode, Jack Palance, and Claudia Cardinale, has the expertise of a cold old whore with practiced hands and no thoughts of love. There's something to be said for this kind of professionalism: the moviemakers know how to provide excitement and they work us over. We're not always in the mood for love or for art, and this film makes no demands, raises no questions, doesn't confuse the emotions. It's as modern a product as a new car; it may be no accident that Ryan, the man in this Western who loves horses, is treated as some sort of weakling. Cinematography by Conrad Hall; music by Maurice Jarre; based on Frank O'Rourke's novel A Mule for the Marquesa. Columbia.

Promise at Dawn

France-US (1970): Drama
101 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

Jules Dassin has tried to turn Romain Gary's nostalgic celebration of his loving mother into a vehicle for Melina Mercouri. But she seems, as usual, to be playing a normal hearty, hot nymphomaniac. The different parts of the past run together in a blur in this generally unsatisfying film, but there are a few good satirical sequences with Dassin acting the role of a silent-movie idol. With Assaf Dayan; cinematography by Jean Badal; music by Georges Delerue. Avco.

The Promoter

UK (1952): Drama
88 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette
Also known as THE CARD.

Denry the audacious, the opportunist who rises from washerwoman's son to town mayor through devious and ingenious scheming, is one of Alec Guinness's most winning roles--he even gets the girl (Petula Clark, looking very pretty at this stage in her career, though she doesn't sing). His performance is neatly matched against Glynis Johns's portrait of a female opportunist--a babyfaced, husky-voiced dancing teacher who latches on to wealth and a title. Eric Ambler adapted Arnold Bennett's 1911 satire on business methods and class barriers; it makes a blithe, wonderfully satisfying comedy. Directed by Ronald Neame; cinematography by Oswald Morris. With Valerie Hobson as the Countess of Chell.

The Proud and the Beautiful

France-Mexico (1953): Romance
94 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette
Also known as LES ORGUEILLEUX.

The China Coast of Sartre's L'Amour redempteur has become Veracruz in Yves Allégret's film, but the milieu is still the depths: heat, squalor, disease, and desperation, exotic but unbearable. A bored French woman (Michčle Morgan) searches for a doctor to take care of her dying husband (André Toffel); she finds a drunken derelict (Gérard Philipe) who refuses to treat him. Through founding a plague hospital, the woman and the doctor redeem themselves and, incidentally, find love. Allégret uses this story atmospherically in an effort to approximate the ironies, inconsequences, accidents, and stupidities of life, and the atmosphere almost redeems the movie. (Audiences gasp at one shot: the camera is still, intoxicated, as a hypodermic is slowly inserted.) In French.

Providence

UK (1977): Drama
104 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

Alain Resnais, working in English, directed this intricately planned Freudian-puzzle movie, mostly set inside the mind of a dying writer (John Gielgud). Alone at night, in pain, the elderly writer drunkenly plots a novel about the members of his family (Dirk Bogarde, Ellen Burstyn, David Warner, Elaine Stritch). The effect of the pearl-gray tones and the swift, smooth cutting is peculiarly fastidious and static; you feel as if the movie, with all its technique and culture, were going to dry up and blow away. With a longer death scene than Camille's, Gielgud is the only one who looks alive. He's lean and wiry, turkey-faced, a tough old bird; he bounces through his bitchy role, savoring every mean syllable. David Mercer wrote the script, which is impossibly elocutionary. Gielgud delivers himself of flourishes like "How darkness creeps into the blood--darkness, the chill obsidian fingers." No doubt Mercer intended this writer's thoughts to have an edge of florid fatuity. But when Bogarde--a barrister--is asked (by his mistress) how he and his wife live he answers, "In a state of unacknowledged mutual exhaustion, behind which we scream silently." Is this, too, only part of the old man's second-rate novel? Some people have a surprising tolerance for this sort of thing; the movie is widely regarded as a masterpiece, and it was chosen as the greatest film of the 70s by an international jury of critics. Music by Miklós Rózsa.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

The Public Enemy

US (1931): Crime
84 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

William Wellman's gangster classic, with James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Joan Blondell, and Mae Clarke as the girl who gets the grapefruit shoved in her kisser. A good picture, even if the theme music is "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles." Warners.

The Public Eye

UK (1972): Comedy
95 min, Rated G, Color

Traipsing around London followed by a private detective, Mia Farrow is the most graceful, romantic comedienne one could hope for. She has a sure light touch, and so does the director, Carol Reed, who comes up with visual gags that fill out Peter Shaffer's script, based on his one-act play. As the accountant husband who hires the detective, because he can't believe his American wife simply enjoys poking about in the city, Michael Jayston is too tight-faced and stagey (he's a priss). The conception would probably have worked better if he'd played a charming man gone dry; instead, he seems a dry man trying to act charming. But as the Greek detective, Topol gets to play his own age (35), and he's likably bearish--he's warm. Looking for the wife's concealed lover, this private eye watches the wife--a young woman with expressive wandering hands, a woman with poetry in her and a tender, slightly forlorn humor--and soon he's in love. This triangle comedy is totally artificial, yet it has a lovely, small, carefree quality. The cinematography, by Christopher Challis, is a happy love letter to London. A (British) Hal B. Wallis Production, released by Universal.

Pumping Iron

US (1977): Documentary/Sports
85 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Competently made documentary about the grotesque, comic subculture of bodybuilding. It holds the viewer's interest, but it does so by setting up the bodybuilding champions for you to react to in a certain way, and then congratulating you for seeing them in that psychologically facile way. The directors, George Butler and Robert Fiore, treat Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mike Katz, Franco Columbu, and Louis Ferrigno and his parents as if they were fictional characters, and there are elements of presumption, cruelty, and condescension in this. The film never transcends its own slickness.

The Pumpkin Eater

UK (1964): Drama
110 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Jack Clayton's underrated version of the Penelope Mortimer novel, with a script by Harold Pinter and a fine cast headed by Anne Bancroft. Her performance as the (compulsive childbearing) Englishwoman whose nerves are giving out has an unusual tentative, exploratory quality. (It ranks with her more straightforward acting in THE MIRACLE WORKER.) With Peter Finch as the screenwriter husband who plays around, and James Mason, Maggie Smith, Cedric Hardwicke, Alan Webb, Richard Johnson, and Yootha Joyce. It's a stunning, high-style film--fragmented yet flowing. The murky sexual tensions have a fascination, and there are memorable moments: Bancroft's crackup in Harrods; glimpses of Mason being prurient and vindictive, and Maggie Smith being a troublemaking "other woman." The cinematography is by Oswald Morris; the music is by Georges Delerue. Released in the U.S. by Columbia.

Punchline

US (1988): Comedy
128 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Pop-psych moral uplift, about standup comics. The writer-director, David Seltzer, wants us to see Steven Gold, the compulsive young spritzer, played by Tom Hanks, as "troubled;" Seltzer points up Steven's hostility, his inability to relate to other people, his not understanding what love is. And everything that Seltzer points up is soggy and only partway believable. Sally Field plays Lilah, a New Jersey housewife and mother of three who hopes to become a comic: Lilah looks at the restless, driven Steven and sees the soft, suffering child within. The movie gives Lilah an insipid radiance while it pulls back from Steven's aggressive twisted smile and his stabbing vocal rhythms. (These two are Lenny Bruce and Erma Bombeck.) We're supposed to dislike Steven's brashness and desperation, and approve of Lilah because she has a wholesome, normal outlook. We're also supposed to be charmed by the naughty vibrator jokes that pop out of her little head and "embarrass" her. Seltzer's sit-com style of humor is just like Lilah's. The bedraggled plotting forces Hanks into maudlin situations, but he manages to get under some of his material and darken it. He's what keeps you watching. Good performances by John Goodman, Mark Rydell, and Kim Greist. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.

The Puritan

France (1937): Religious/Drama/Crime
No rating, Black & White
Also known as LE PURITAIN.

Jean-Louis Barrault was not yet an internationally known actor, and those of us who saw this unheralded young man in THE PURITAN experienced a sense of discovery. His bony, thin young face was perfect for Liam O'Flaherty's psychological study of the murderer Ferriter, a righteous reformer and sexually obsessed religious fanatic. Barrault's acting was so unusually objective that one respected this poor devil even at his most hopelessly self-deceived. The film, condemned by New York's State Board of Censors in toto as "indecent, immoral, sacrilegious, tending to incite to crime and corrupt morals," is in perfectly good taste, but the censors had a reason for their stand: Ferriter is not only conceived as a censor type, he's actually engaged in this work in the film. The production, which also features Pierre Fresnay and Viviane Romance, was made in Paris by the director, Jeff Musso, for a total cost of $27,000. In French.

Purple Noon

France-Italy (1960): Thriller
115 min, No rating, Color
Also known as PLEIN SOLEIL.

Maurice Ronet and Alain Delon as decadent Americans loafing in Italy--Ronet rich and vicious, Delon poor, amoral, and murderous. When Delon tries on Ronet's clothes, it's clear that they look better on him. The director, René Clément, keeps this thriller in the sun-drenched-holiday style of travel posters, with homosexual hatred and envy festering. All it has going for it is this sensuous, kicky atmosphere; you feel as if you're breathing something beautiful and rotten. With Marie Laforęt as the shared girlfriend. Adapted from Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley. Cinematography by Henri Decaë; music by Nino Rota. In French.

Purple Rain

US (1984): Musical
111 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

In this fictional bio, Prince, the 26-year-old pansexual rock star, appears as the Kid, a vulnerable loner and struggling musician. The son of a self-pitying black man who beats his white wife, because he blames her for his failure to achieve success as a composer, the moody Kid is a tortured soul. When he falls in love with Apollonia (the overpoweringly sultry Patty Apollonia Kotero), he begins to repeat the pattern, but, of course, the love that is the source of his torment is also the source of his redemption. It's not difficult to see the attraction that the picture has for adolescents: Prince's songs are a cry for the free expression of sexual energy, and his suffering is a supercharged version of what made James Dean the idol of young moviegoers--this Kid is "hurting." And this picture knows no restraint. It was directed by Albert Magnoli (who also wrote the final script and was the co-editor), but Prince is in charge, and he knows how he wants to appear--like Dionysus crossed with a convent girl on her first bender. And his instinct is right: if he had performed the role more realistically, the picture would be really sodden. This way, his impudent pranks make the audience laugh and his musical numbers keep giving the picture a lift. It's pretty terrible (there are no real scenes--just flashy, fractured rock-video moments), but those willing to accept Prince as a sexual messiah aren't likely to mind. The film introduces a full-fledged young comedian, Morris Day, the lead singer of The Time, who suggests a Richard Pryor without the genius and the complications. When the giggling Day and his handsome sidekick, Jerome Benton, dance to The Time's funk rock they have a loose, floppy grace. There's also a good straight performance by Clarence Williams III as the Kid's father. Cinematography by Donald Thorin; shot in Minneapolis. Released by Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

The Purple Rose of Cairo

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

The 13th movie that Woody Allen directed, this comedy has a small, rapt quality; he wrote it for Mia Farrow, and it seems scaled to her cheekbones. The time is 1935; and she is Cecilia, who lives in a small town in New Jersey and can't hold a job for long because her thoughts wander away to the glamorous worlds she sees on the screen at the Jewel Theater. This is the first Woody Allen movie in which a whole batch of actors really interact and spark each other. Jeff Daniels plays a dashing young screen character who bounds down from the black-and-white image and into color, and takes Cecilia out of the theatre with him; he's also the ambitious actor who arrives in the town to try to persuade the character to go back up on the screen where he belongs. Also with Danny Aiello, Stephanie Farrow, Zoe Caldwell, John Wood, Edward Herrmann, Van Johnson, Deborah Rush, Annie Joe Edwards, Karen Akers, Irving Metzman, Milo O'Shea, Alexander H. Cohen, and, in a spectacular cameo, Dianne Wiest. Cinematography by Gordon Willis; the original music is by Dick Hyman. Orion.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

Puzzle of a Downfall Child

US (1970): Drama
104 min, Rated R, Color

The title is enough to warn you that this is going to be literary in the worst sense, and it turns out to be about the anguished life of a high-fashion model (Faye Dunaway)--a lapsed Catholic, striving for grace and sleeping with strangers. The script by Carol Eastman (under the pseudonym Adrian Joyce) is reminiscent of her script for FIVE EASY PIECES; it's another tribute to alienation. Jerry Schatzberg has directed it in a fractured, prismatic style. Put them together and you've got the high-flown chic of soullessness. After you've looked at the heroine's teeny marble features for almost two hours, you're offered the conceit that perhaps she's an empty wreck because every time someone takes a picture of her she loses a piece of her soul. (At 24 frames a second, this movie must have devastated Dunaway.) With Barry Primus, Emerick Bronson, Roy Scheider, and Viveca Lindfors. Cinematography by Adam Holender; music by Michael Small. Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

Pygmalion

UK (1938): Comedy
95 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

First-rate romantic comedy, and certainly the best G.B.S. picture ever done. It doesn't seem weighted down with talk, like most of the others, and though a trifle slow in spots, it has a very satisfying tempo. Wendy Hiller is triumphant in the role of Eliza, the Covent Garden flower girl, and Leslie Howard is marvellously high-spirited and combative as the smug Professor Higgins, who trains Eliza to speak like a lady. Gabriel Pascal produced, Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard directed, David Lean edited, Arthur Honegger did the score, and Harry Stradling shot it. The costumes are by Czettell, Worth, and Schiaparelli. The cast includes Wilfrid Lawson as Doolittle, Marie Lohr as Mrs. Higgins, Scott Sunderland as Colonel Pickering, Jean Cadell as Mrs. Pearce, David Tree as Freddy, Esmé Percy as Count Karpathy, and Leueen MacGrath, Everley Gregg, Violet Vanbrugh, Iris Hoey, Stephen Murray, Irene Brown, Cathleen Nesbitt, and Ivor Barnard. Though several writers worked on the adaptation (and received an Academy Award for it), the award for the screenplay was given to Bernard Shaw (who wrote some new scenes for the movie). (The play was later turned into the musical-comedy MY FAIR LADY, which was filmed in 1964.)

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