Sidney Lumet has made some exciting, dramatic New York movies (SERPICO, DOG DAY AFTERNOON). He also made the hard-to-sit through PRINCE OF THE CITY, a murky indictment of big-city graft, which he coscripted. This is in the same mode: it's about the city's ethnic humor and anger, and about police corruption. Lumet wrote the script alone, and he's so busy laying on the rancorous, bantering atmosphere that he waits too long to get to the plot; the movie becomes torpid. (You have to concentrate to figure out what's supposed to be going on--that's the only suspense.) Nick Nolte, in dark hair that makes him look like a vampire, is a big, bulky Irish cop with a vicious streak; a repressed homosexual, he especially enjoys intimidating and murdering transvestites. The co-star is Timothy Hutton as an assistant D.A., also Irish, who's expected to cover up one of the cop's killings. But the standout performance is given by Luis Guzman as a Hispanic police detective who's pressured to be "dirty." Also with Patrick O'Neal, Armand Assante, Lee Richardson, Charles S. Dutton, Jenny Lumet, Fyvush Finkel, Paul Calderon, and International Chrysis. Cinematography by Andrzej Bartkowiak; music by Rubén Blades. Based on the book by Edwin Torres. Tri-Star.
A likable, nonsensical British spy thriller about secret rays, mysterious enemies, and dastardly plots against Britain's aircraft. It's charmingly light in tone. Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson play in just the right spirit. Olivier has an engaging romantic-comedian manner and Valerie Hobson shows her gift for looking beautiful in a distinguished way. (She's definitely not a broad or a chick.) Tim Whelan directed this Alexander Korda production, written by Ian Dalrymple, Brook Williams, Jack Whittingham, and Arthur Wimperis.
A stunningly well-made entertainment, this detective film by Henri-Georges Clouzot features the master actor Louis Jouvet in the role of a police inspector. His world is contrasted with that of the music hall, represented by the full-blown, hypersexual Suzy Delair. When this voluptuous slut sings "Avec Son Tra-la-la," she may make you wonder if the higher things in life are worth the trouble. With Bernard Blier as Delair's worshipful-masochist husband, Charles Dullin in the role of a lecherous hunchback, and, as a lesbian photographer, Simone Renant, at the time said to be the most beautiful actress in Paris. From a novel by S.A. Steeman, adapted by Clouzot and Jean Ferry. The film took the top prize at Venice, but in this country it never got the audience it deserved.
It isn't really so long ago--though it seems like another age--that the heroine of a Hollywood movie could say, "I could bear all the rest, but I've been unladylike." It should be recorded that even in the 30s, the audience rejected this quaintness. Set in an English village during the Napoleonic wars, the film is from the James M. Barrie play about a street where gentlemen are an event, and where a dashing, gallant officer (Franchot Tone) devastates the maiden ladies. As in so much of Barrie, the sensitive, all-knowing woman (Katharine Hepburn) gets the vain, infantile male. Underneath all the twittering proprieties, there's a dismaying and rather grim view of human relations. The director, George Stevens, seems to lumber through some of the scenes--they turn stiff and silly; the picture was one of several costume romances that turned Hepburn into box-office poison, and one can see why--it's impossibly arch. Yet she brings surprising feeling to the stylized material--she does wonders with it, and she looks lovely in the Regency gowns. With Cora Witherspoon as the belligerent servant, Fay Bainter, Eric Blore, Joan Fontaine, Florence Lake, Helena Grant, Bonita Granville, and--in a lace cap and tall hat--Estelle Winwood. Adapted by Allan Scott and Mortimer Offner; costumes by Walter Plunkett; produced by Pandro S. Berman, for RKO.
The only film that Eisenstein directed outside the Soviet Union was never completed. But out of the fabulous footage that he and his cinematographer, Eduard Tisse, shot in Mexico in 1930 and 1931 the film TIME IN THE SUN was edited by his disciples, who attempted to approximate his original plan--from Aztec cults through Conquistadores and peonage to Christian feasts. The footage imposes its vision of the Indian faces and the Mexican landscape; these faces are perhaps too noble and eternal, but they are marvellous to look at. (Released as QUE VIVA MEXICO in 1979.)
A documentary centering on the transvestites entered in a "Miss All-American" beauty contest for female impersonators held at Town Hall in 1967. Directed by Frank Simon, the film (which runs just over an hour) has considerable humor and drama, as well as that mixture of perversity and sadness distinctive to the drag scene. Released by Grove Press.
Set 80,000 years ago, this science fantasy is a full-length version of the ape-man prologue to 2001; it's a heavy dose of Desmond Morris (Naked Ape), with blaring Dawn of Consciousness music. Naoh, Amoukar, and Gaw (Everett McGill, Ron Perlman, and Nameer El-Kadi), three warriors of the spear-carrying Ulam tribe, go out on the sacred mission of finding fire. As they fight off predatory animals and hideous, apier men you begin to wish you could detect famous actors under all the makeup, the way you could in the Biblical spectaculars. If it weren't for the grisly closeups of torn flesh and the composer, Philippe Sarde, letting himself go in the Stravinsky and Wagner department, the picture might be taken for a put-on. (If it were double-billed with the comedian Carl Gottlieb's CAVEMAN, its overblown solemnity might backfire.) The director, Jean-Jacques Annaud, has his own primitivism: he doesn't seem to have discovered crosscutting yet. What's fun in the movie is the makeup, and the way that the faces of the three warriors are simian and yet attractive; the 60s have made the ape look seem hip--these fellows might be rock stars. The hero Naoh falls in love with the smooth-skinned, bluish-looking Ika (Rae Dawn Chong) of the mud-people, the Ivaka, who have pottery and the beginnings of a culture and know how to make fire. Ika also teaches Naoh a few other things--such as a basic, mutually satisfying sex position. It's almost impossible to guess what the tone of much of this Stone Age love story is meant to be. At times Amoukar and Gaw are baggy-pants comics without the pants. Anthony Burgess "created" the "special languages" and Desmond Morris "created" the "body languages and gestures." Script by Gérard Brach, based on a 1911 French novel by J.H. Rosny, Sr.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
It was a commercial failure, and it's also an artistic failure, but the theme and the principal characters are of such immediacy and interest that it's far more absorbing than many successful movies with a more conventional subject matter. Graham Greene's 1956 novel was based on his experiences as a correspondent in Indo-China, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who adapted the book and directed the movie, shot most of it in Saigon. It is a study of the American (Audie Murphy) as do-gooder, and of the harm that innocent and crusading idealism can do, and it is a study of the Englishman (Michael Redgrave) as cynical, convictionless neutralist. There are so many fine things in the film (especially Redgrave's portrait of a man whose cold exterior is just a thin skin over his passionate desperation) that perhaps one can put to the side the offending compromises by which L. turned Greene's novel upside down and made the American heroic. With Claude Dauphin, Georgia Moll, Kerima, Richard Loo, and Bruce Cabot. The cinematography is by Robert Krasker (who also shot THE THIRD MAN) and the film has a great deal more visual richness and style than most Mankiewicz films. This one moves with an almost documentary freedom. United Artists.
One of John Ford's most popular films--but fearfully Irish and green and hearty. John Wayne plays an American prizefighter who returns to Ireland and courts a ripe, fiery beauty, Maureen O'Hara. In the best scene, on the morning after the wedding, the fighter's driver (Barry Fitzgerald) comes in through the smashed bedroom door and looks at the broken-down bed, and says something indecipherable that sounds like "Impetuous! Homeric!" There's a big brawl between Wayne and Victor McLaglen, who plays the bride's brother; with Ward Bond, Mildred Natwick, Francis Ford, Arthur Shields, Jack MacGowran, Sean McClory, May Craig, Mae Marsh, Ken Curtis as the ballad singer, and four of Wayne's children. From Maurice Walsh's short story "Green Rushes," adapted by Frank S. Nugent. Produced by Ford and Merian C. Cooper. Filmed in Ireland and at Republic Pictures.
When Robert Altman enters his allegorical, poetic phase, he goes into his own fugal version of dreamtime, which means, in practice, that he puts the audience in such a depressed state that people are fighting to stay awake even before the titles come on. Electronic sounds and a lot of white on the screen can do it--especially when the camera travels with one person trudging along in the snow, offering views of nothingness for our admiration. You get a sense of eternity fast. The picture is like a Monty Python show played at the wrong speed. It's set in a post-apocalypse ice age in which the scattered survivors of a highly technological society live without hope in decaying, vandalized structures that suggest public housing designed by a drunken spider. (The interiors were shot in the remnants of Expo 67 in Montreal, with the "Man and His World" photo-murals still visible; they enrich the visual texture in an accusatory way--we're made to feel vaguely guilty.) To alleviate the boredom of survival, the last men and women play a death game called Quintet, which appears to be an elaborate form of Arctic roulette. The corpses of the losers are tossed outside into the frozen waste, to be devoured by packs of Rottweilers. Paul Newman plays Essex the seal hunter, who seems to be the last potent man left; Brigitte Fossey is lovely in a too brief appearance as his fresh-faced, pregnant companion. Also with Bibi Andersson, Vittorio Gassman, Fernando Rey (who seems crippled by his struggle to speak in English), Nina Van Pallandt, Monique Mercure, and Craig R. Nelson. Cinematography by Jean Boffety; the ominous, dissonant score is by Tom Pierson. Screenplay by Frank Barhydt, Patricia Resnick, and Altman. A Lion's Gate Film, released by 20th Century-Fox.