Almost as irresistibly funny and terrible as THE FOUNTAINHEAD. Tyrone Power plays the Somerset Maugham hero who journeys all the way to India and figures that he has hit upon a mystical bonanza when he hears a bewhiskered yogi murmur, "There is in every one of us a spark of the infinite goodness." Nobody in the film seems to be very agile mentally, from the Chicago débutante (beautiful Gene Tierney) whom the hero leaves behind when he sets out in pursuit of an inscrutable gleam to the girl he almost marries--poor, sad Sophie (Anne Baxter), who has tried to forget the death of her husband and child by surrendering herself to half the male population of the Parisian underworld. There are quantities of Chicago mansions and country clubs, French bistros and Indian lamaseries, and thousands of extras to keep the sets from looking bare. The performers move about in a vague, somnambulistic manner befitting a literary masterpiece, especially Herbert Marshall, who plays Maugham himself. Clifton Webb does a memorable high-camp number as an expatriate snob. Edmund Goulding directed. 20th Century-Fox. (Remade in 1984 by John Byrum.)
Three of France's greatest actors appear in this little-known film adaptation of Conrad's Under Western Eyes. Jean-Louis Barrault is the revolutionary assassin; Pierre Fresnay, subtle and tense, is Razumov, the student who is forced to inform on his friends; Jacques Copeau is the head of the secret police. Marc Allégret directed; he doesn't try to soften the malevolent, tragic material. In French.
America's movie gangsters of the 30s and 40s, adored by the French and imitated by them, come back to us with strange accents, more refined sadistic and erotic habits, and a whole new vocabulary of exotic gangster argot. This cultural crossfertilization produces an amusingly plodding pseudo-documentary like RAZZIA. The French are very serious about vice, and the dedicated authenticity with which the director Henri Decoin follows Jean Gabin and his hoods and pushers through dingy waterfront cafés, beat bistros where glistening African bodies writhe in the hashish smoke, gay bars presided over by bass-voiced lesbians, lonely subway stops, and opium dens where ambiguous-looking men recline among Orientalia, would probably shock the American directors who, in their innocence, created the genre. As the ring's enforcer, snarling, shiv-eyed Gabin is the familiar, inexorable tough of the French tradition. One may wonder whether the teeth he sinks into Magali Noel's magnificent neck are his own; in the film's final moment, when morality triumphs and the audience is cheated, one knows the answer. With Lila Kedrova. In French.
Adapted from a series of six stories that H.P. Lovecraft published in 1922, this horror film about a medical student with a fluorescent greenish-yellow serum that restores the dead to hideous, unpredictable activity is close to being a silly ghoulie classic-the bloodier it gets, the funnier it is. It's like pop Buñuel; the jokes hit you in a subterranean comic zone that the surrealists' pranks sometimes reached, but without the surrealists' self-consciousness (and art-consciousness). This is indigenous American junkiness, like the Mel Brooks-Gene Wilder YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, but looser and more low-down. (RE-ANIMATOR wasn't submitted to the Ratings Board.) This is the first movie directed by Stuart Gordon (one of the founders of the Organic Theatre, in Chicago); the actors he picked perform with a straight-faced, hip aplomb. Herbert West, the re-animator, is played by Jeffrey Combs with pursed lips and a clammy-prissy set of the jaw. David Gale is the hypocritical lecher who loses his head, Robert Sampson is the Dean, Barbara Crampton is the Dean's creamy-pink daughter (who's at her loveliest when she's being defiled), and Bruce Abbott is her adoring fiancé. The screenplay is by Dennis Paoli, William J. Norris, and the director. Music by Richard Band; cinematography by Mac Ahlberg, with additional work by R.F. Ebinger. Produced by Brian Yuzna; released by Empire Pictures.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
Magnificent romantic-gothic corn, full of Alfred Hitchcock's humor and inventiveness. It features one of Laurence Olivier's rare poor performances; he seems pinched and too calculated--but even when he's uncomfortable in his role he's more fascinating than most actors. Joan Fontaine gives one of her rare really fine performances--she makes her character's shyness deeply charming. And with Judith Anderson, George Sanders, and Florence Bates--all three showing their flair for playing rotten people. Also with Gladys Cooper, Nigel Bruce, Leo G. Carroll, Reginald Denny, C. Aubrey Smith, and Melville Cooper. From Daphne du Maurier's novel, adapted by Robert E. Sherwood and Joan Harrison; the cinematography is by George Barnes; music by Franz Waxman. A David O. Selznick Production.
As Jim, a high-school boy, James Dean was the archetypal misunderstood teenager in this generation-gap soap opera of the 50s, which had more emotional resonance for the teenagers of the time than many much better movies. With Natalie Wood as Judy, Sal Mineo as Plato, Corey Allen as Buzz, Nick Adams as Moose, Dennis Hopper as Goon, Jim Backus and Ann Doran as Jim's parents, Virginia Brissac as his Grandma, William Hopper and Rochelle Hudson as Judy's parents, and Ian Wolfe, House Peters, and Gus Schilling. Directed by Nicholas Ray; written by Stewart Stern and Irving Shulman, based on Ray's story; music by Leonard Rosenman; cinematography by Ernest Haller. Warners. CinemaScope.
Despite the mutilation (recorded in Lillian Ross's Picture), some 70 minutes remain of John Huston's film version of Stephen Crane's Civil War classic, and much of it is breathtaking. Audie Murphy plays the hero and Bill Mauldin is his sidekick; with Royal Dano, John Dierkes, Andy Devine, Douglas Dick, and Arthur Hunnicutt. Cinematography by Harold Rosson; music by Bronislau Kaper; the script is by Huston. Produced by Gottfried Reinhardt, for MGM.
Albert Lamorisse's celebrated 34-minute film without dialogue, about a small boy (his son, Pascal) who wanders all over Paris trailed by a balloon. It's an allegory of innocence and evil, set in a child's dream world. Elegantly photographed and with a durable appeal to children, though it lacks the passionate beauty of the director's other film on the same theme, WHITE MANE. Lamorisse wrote and directed. Also with Sabine Lamorisse.
Boredom in Ravenna, and it seeps into the viewer's bones. Antonioni's hazy illustration of emotional chaos may or may not have something to do with industrialism; he makes the hazy, polluted atmosphere so ethereal that one can't decide. With Monica Vitti and Richard Harris. In Italian.
A sexy jungle melodrama from MGM, with Jean Harlow as a bawdy, tough girl who has been around, and an unshaven Clark Gable who thinks he prefers cool, ladylike Mary Astor. Harlow is intensely likable, delivering her zingy wisecracks with a wonderful dirty good humor, and Gable is at that early peak in his career when he is so sizzlingly sexual that it seems both funny and natural for the two women to be fighting over him. MGM remade the film in 1953 as MOGAMBO, with Ava Gardner in the Harlow role and Grace Kelly as the lady, but by then Gable, still manfully holding down his old role, didn't bring much heat to it. The original was directed by Victor Fleming in a racy, action-packed style, from a script by John Lee Mahin, based on Wilson Collison's story. With Gene Raymond, Tully Marshall, and Donald Crisp. (RED DUST was also recycled in 1940 as CONGO MAISIE.)
A popular macabre comedy, rather like a more refined French equivalent of ARSENIC AND OLD LACE and THE OLD DARK HOUSE. Set in 1833 in the Ardèche Mountains, the story is about a group of travellers in a public carriage who take refuge in a remote inn. Fernandel plays a licentious monk who hears confession from the innkeeper's wife (Françoise Rosay); she nonchalantly reveals that all guests who come to the inn are robbed and murdered, and he sets about the task of getting the guests to leave, without violating the confessional. This Claude Autant-Lara film, from a script by Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost, is generally considered to be a highly sophisticated satire, but it isn't really as funny as one might wish. With Julien Carette as the innkeeper, Grégoire Aslan, and Marie-Claire Olivia. In French.
A magnificent horse opera-one of the more elaborate celebrations of those trail-blazing episodes that Hollywood used to glorify as "historical events"--this time it's the mid-19th-century first cattle drive up the Chisholm Trail. (The cattle in this production are not to be passed over lightly: they are impressive and they were very expensive. 6,000 head were rented at $10 a day each-and then it rained and rained while the cattle waited and the film's cost rose from $1,750,000 to $3,200,000. Figures like that help make a movie an epic.) The director, Howard Hawks, structures the drive as an exciting series of stampedes, Indian battles, and gunfights, with a ferocious climax in the fight between the two principals--John Wayne, as the father, and Montgomery Clift, as the adopted son. A lot of it is just terrible, but Clift-in his most aggressively sexual screen performance-is angular and tense and audacious, and the other actors brawl amusingly in the strong-silent-man tradition. Russell Harlan's photography makes the rolling plains the true hero; the setting has epic grandeur. The screenplay is by Borden Chase and Charles Schnee, from Chase's story "The Chisholm Trail," but as Chase admitted, it's actually MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY turned into a Western, with Wayne as Captain Bligh and Clift as Fletcher Christian. The cast includes Walter Brennan, Harry Carey, Coleen Gray, John Ireland, and frantic Joanne Dru, who acts as if the Old West were Greenwich Village. Music by Dimitri Tiomkin. United Artists.
The most "imaginative" and elaborate backstage musical ever filmed, and many have called it great. The film contains a 14-minute ballet, also called "The Red Shoes," based on a Hans Christian Andersen story about a wicked shoemaker who sells an enchanted pair of slippers to a young girl. Delighted at first with the slippers in which she dances joyously, she discovers that the slippers will not let her stop dancing--and the bewitched, exhausted girl dies. The film's story is, of course, the same story, spelled out in more complicated terms, with the shoemaker of the ballet (Léonide Massine) replaced by the megalomaniac ballet impresario (Anton Walbrook). The exquisite young Moira Shearer is the ballerina; the cast includes Marius Goring as the young composer, Robert Helpmann, Albert Basserman, Ludmilla Tcherina, and Esmond Knight. Blubbery and self-conscious, but it affects some people passionately, and it's undeniably some kind of classic. Written, produced, and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger--master purveyors of high kitsch. Choreography by Helpmann; music by Brian Easdale; conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham.
Jean Harlow (with tinted hair) as a girl who exploits her charms and makes the climb from the wrong side of the tracks to a rich marriage and then up higher and higher. She's a smart cookie, and the picture, written by Anita Loos (based on a novel by Katherine Brush), is tough and funny. It caused a scandal in the movie industry, because she didn't suffer for her sins. Directed by Jack Conway. With Chester Morris, Leila Hyams, Una Merkel, Lewis Stone, Henry Stephenson, May Robson, and briefly, Charles Boyer. MGM.
Warren Beatty, who was the producer, the director, and the co-writer (with Trevor Griffiths), also plays the hero, the American journalist John Reed, who took part in the Bolshevik Revolution and wrote Ten Days That Shook the World. Diane Keaton plays Reed's wife, the independent-minded Louise Bryant. The film, which runs 3 hours and 27 minutes, is conceived as a love story set against a background of bohemian living and revolutionary fervor. But the writers didn't work out a scrutable character for Louise. In the first half, she's presented as a tiresome, pettishly hostile, dissatisfied woman, and the film moves on the messy currents of sexual politics. In the second half, she is made to set off on a (fictitious) dangerous journey to go to Reed, who has been imprisoned in Finland; she makes her way across the icy tundra in scenes that seem to belong to a different picture (something ZHIVAGOOEY), and then the film embraces her, because she's doing what a woman is supposed to do--go through any hardship to be with her man. This second half moves more swiftly but with conventional epic situations and very familiar visual rhetoric. Beatty is often touching, and he does some of the best acting he has ever done, but he doesn't let his energy come through; he plays so much on what the audience responds to in him--the all-American combination of innocence and earnestness--that he's in danger of turning into Li'l Abner. The subject--the romantic life of an American Communist--may be daring, but the moviemaking is extremely traditional, with Beatty playing a man who dies for an ideal. It's rather a sad movie, because it isn't really very good. With Jack Nicholson as Eugene O'Neill, and Gene Hackman, Paul Sorvino, the novelist Jerzy Kosinski as Zinoviev, Edward Herrmann, and Max Wright. Best of all: Maureen Stapleton as Emma Goldman, and a group of contemporaries of the Reeds (e.g., Rebecca West, Henry Miller, Dora Russell), who appear in documentary interviews as "witnesses." Academy Awards: Best Director, Supporting Actress (Stapleton), Cinematography (Vittorio Storaro). Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
John Huston directed this sensuous and intense version of Carson McCullers' Georgia-set short novel of 1941; the visual style, which suggests paintings made from photographs, has a measured lyricism. The movie doesn't find a way to give us the emotional texture of the interrelationships and dependencies in the book (one can probably enjoy the film much more if one knows the book) but the principal actors (Marlon Brando, Brian Keith, Elizabeth Taylor, Julie Harris) were able to do some startling things with their roles. The stifled homosexuality of Brando's duty-bound Major Penderton is grotesque and painful. This is one of Brando's most daring performances: the fat, ugly Major putting cold cream on his face, or preening at the mirror, or patting his hair nervously when he thinks he has a gentleman caller is so pitiful yet so ghastly that some members of the audience invariably cut themselves off from him by laughter. Taylor is charming as the Major's silly, ardent, Southern-"lady" wife, who makes love to Keith in a berry patch. Keith, underplaying, has one of his rare opportunities to show depth; at moments he seems the most believable of actors--these are great moments. The movie is most garishly novelistic just when it departs most from McCullers--when it attempts to clarify the original and bring it up to date, which means bringing in the sexual platitudes that in 60s movies were considered Freudian modernism. The story has been furbished with additional fetishes, as if McCullers' material weren't Southern and gothic enough. The Major's wife gives him a horsewhipping and then explains that the whipping cleared the air; we are cued to crank out the Freudian explanation "Oh, yes, he wanted to be beaten." With Robert Forster and Zorro David. The script is by Chapman Mortimer and Gladys Hill; the offensive score is by Toshiro Mayuzumi; the cinematography is by Aldo Tonti. The first release prints were in a "desaturated" color process--they were golden hued, with delicate sepia and pink tones; when the movie didn't do well at box offices, this stylized color was blamed, full-color prints were substituted, and the film lost its dreamy, mythic ambiance. The picture's bad luck was capped when it was condemned by the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures. A Ray Stark Production for Warner-Seven Arts.
Nostalgic, affectionate Southern Americana out of Faulkner; the style is a little too "beguiling" but it's an awfully pleasant comedy anyway. When Ned McCaslin (Rupert Crosse), Negro kin to a white family, who hasn't learned to drive, takes the family's gleaming new 1905 Winton Flyer on a wild course through town (Jefferson, Mississippi), you may be afraid that you'll be embarrassed by what happens. But when the car comes to a halt, the family's white handyman and official chauffeur, Boon (Steve McQueen), is so beside himself with rage at Ned for endangering the car that he wants to kill him--he starts punching away at Ned without the slightest condescension. In the central story, Ned and Boon and another McCaslin, 12-year-old Lucius (Mitch Vogel), steal that same yellow Winton Flyer--a dream of a car--for a trip to Memphis, the nearest sin city. Rupert Crosse's Ned, who has a snaggle-toothed grin, is supremely likable; he seems to skip through life without a care--he's like a living, walking sense of humor. McQueen is ingratiating and Sharon Farrell plays his harlot bride-to-be with a nice pungency. Ruth White is the madam of a Memphis whorehouse and the great Juano Hernández turns up as Uncle Possum. When the director, Mark Rydell, isn't sure how to do things, he overdoes them; at times the picture seems to be rogue Disney. It's certainly rollicking enough without the score's constantly reminding us to appreciate how darling everything is. But the script, by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr., has great charm, though the narration, by Burgess Meredith, in a jocular-avuncular style, is dismaying--and the fiction that his voice belongs to Lucius as a grown man is just silly. (We all recognize Meredith's lyrical scratchiness.) With Will Geer, Clifton James, Vinette Carroll, Michael Constantine, John McLiam, Dub Taylor, Diane Ladd, and Allyn Ann McLerie. Released by National General.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
Perhaps because Charles Laughton's performance lacked the crowd-pleasing exuberance of his other major roles, the picture was not a commercial success, though it's a fine example of its genre and was obviously made (by Alexander Korda) with love and dedication. At times, the visual style seems more Vermeer than Rembrandt, but that's closer than most movies about painters get. Gertrude Lawrence plays the artist's shrewd housekeeper, and lovely young Elsa Lanchester is the kitchenmaid who becomes his mistress. Also with Roger Livesey, Marius Goring, John Clements, Gertrude Musgrove, and Raymond Huntley. Korda produced and directed; his brother Vincent was the art director; the script involved Karl Zuckmayer, Lajos Biro, and others; the cinematography was by Georges Périnal and Richard Angst, with Robert Krasker as camera operator.
Claudette Colbert, wearing glasses and walking with a stoop, is the elderly schoolteacher who attends a banquet honoring a former pupil, now a candidate for the Presidency (John Shepperd, otherwise known as Shepperd Strudwick). Then we swing back to the days when the candidate was a child in her schoolroom and she was a young beauty, in love with the gym director (John Payne), who went off to war and was killed. No doubt Tess Slesinger and her husband, Frank Davis, who worked on the script along with Allan Scott, hoped for a sensitive treatment of a working woman's life, but the film came out swathed in a reverential sentiment. It's fairly awful--your basic fantasy about an unmarried schoolteacher's romantic youth. Henry King directed; with Anne Revere, Frieda Inescort, Chick Chandler, George Chandler, and the child actress Ann Todd. 20th Century-Fox.
Bob Dylan made this 3-hour-and-52-minute film, which was mostly shot during a Bicentennial (1975-76) tour. (The show was called the "Rolling Thunder Revue.") The performance footage is handsomely photographed, but it doesn't build up the excitement that one can sometimes feel at a performance film, because the movie keeps cutting away from the stage to cinéma vérité fantasies of Dylan's life, which occupy more than two-thirds of the running time. Dylan has given himself more tight closeups than any actor can have had in the whole history of movies.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
The LA of freeways and off ramps and squarish pastel-colored buildings that could be anything and could turn into something else overnight is the perfect setting for a movie about men who take out their frustrations by repossessing other people's cars. This low-budget fantasy gives you the feeling that you've gone past alienation into the land of detachment--a punkers' wasteland where you never know where you are, and nobody cares to make things work, and everybody you see is part of the lunatic fringe. The film takes off from Godard's WEEKEND, with (probably) some help from Aldrich's KISS ME DEADLY and Zemeckis and Gale's USED CARS, but its catatonic, shoofly humor is all its own. The young English writer-director Alex Cox keeps his dazed sociopaths speeding around--always on the periphery. There's nothing at the center. He has underhand ways of being funny, and the jokes don't often jump out at you--sometimes they barely peek out at all, because of the film's ramshackle ineptness. But the whole comic atmosphere of druggy burnout gets to you, and Cox never once slips--he never lets things get sentimentalized or organized. With Harry Dean Stanton, Emilio Estevez, Tracey Walter as the acidhead philosopher, Vonetta McGee as Marlene, and Fox Harris as a lobotomized scientist (who drives a 1964 Chevy Malibu, with a metallic gold paint job). Robby Müller's cinematography sustains the flat grunginess of the conception; so does a song by the LA group The Circle Jerks. Produced by Michael Nesmith; released by Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.
Another entry in THE FRENCH CONNECTION sweepstakes, smartened up with the newer SERPICO theme, but to no avail. It's a slovenly production, and the suspense never gets going. Michael Moriarty plays the hippie undercover detective destroyed by his blundering, callous superiors in the New York City Police Department. Moriarty is required to fall apart at the end, but he can't wait for the climactic collapse, and he begins disintegrating before you've settled in your seat. With Yaphet Kotto, giving a respectable performance, against all odds, and a twittering blond ingenue, Susan Blakely, who is supposed to be a hotshot narc. Adapted from James Mills' novel; directed by Milton Katselas; score by Elmer Bernstein. With Hector Elizondo, Bob Balaban, and Tony King; cinematography by Mario Tosi. United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.
Roman Polanski's British-made, London-set horror film records the deterioration of a murderous, terrified Belgian girl, played by Catherine Deneuve. The script, by Polanski and Gérard Brach, seems completely shaped for the camera; the approach is so objective, so external, that the film doesn't raise questions about this foreign girl's estrangement and loneliness, doesn't offer explanations of her madness. It just stays on her--on her hallucinations and her fantasies of being in danger, and on the actual reprisals she takes against anyone who comes her way. It's clinical Grand Guignol, and the camera fondles the horrors: the high spot is a man being slashed in the face with a straight razor--until he's cut to death. (If you're too scared to look you still hear the slashing sounds.) Undeniably skillful and effective, all right--excruciatingly tense and frightening. But is it entertaining? You have to be a hard-core horror-movie lover to enjoy this one. With Yvonne Furneaux, John Fraser, Ian Hendry, Patrick Wymark, Renée Houston, James Villiers, and Polanski in a bit. Music by Chico Hamilton; cinematography by Gilbert Taylor.