Jean Renoir's first color film, made in India, in English, was adapted from Rumer Godden's novel about a British family in India and shot along the banks of the Ganges by Renoir's great cinematographer nephew, Claude Renoir. It's a poetic study of the contact of two civilizations. Renoir does not usurp the position of an insider; he sees India with western eyes--eyes so sensitive and highly trained that his vision of India is a mythic poem set in the midst of the Indian river of life. This river encompasses death (the Goddess Kali episode, the holy cobra that kills the child) in a way that American audiences tend to find disturbing. Rumer Godden's themes and story line are part of the texture, interwoven with the ritual feasts, the festivals, the rhythms of native music, and some people, accustomed to films edited for dramatic crescendo, dislike the serene flow--so much is going on that they feel nothing happens. There are static patches of dialogue, and some of the casting is questionable, but the theme (outsiders in a culture) meshes perfectly with the director's own position as a moviemaker in India, and visually the film is serenely yet passionately beautiful. With the dancer Radha, Nora Swinburne, Esmond Knight, Adrienne Corri, Patricia Walter, Arthur Shields, and Thomas Breen. Adapted by Renoir and Rumer Godden.
Teenage anomie and the indifference of selfish, corrupt adults. The subject might suggest a movie made for TV if it weren't for the explicitly sexual pulp elements and the woozy poetry. The script, by Neal Jiminez, which takes off from an incident in Milpitas, California, in 1981, appears to have been conceived as an exploitation melodrama, but the director, Tim Hunter, has a fuzzy, naturalistic approach, and the movie is a slack mixture of "important" and mediocre--a blur that viewers can project onto. Big-bellied John (Daniel Roebuck), a high-school pothead, strangles his girlfriend, Jamie, and leaves her lying nude on the riverbank. Soon all the members of his pack of six or seven stoned kids have viewed their dead friend, but nobody speaks of notifying the authorities, because Layne (Crispin Glover), the high-strung leader of the group, pressures them to believe that it would be a violation of their code to let any adults know what happened. The movie doesn't deal with the facts of the Milpitas case. It tells us next to nothing about why John killed Jamie and shows us very little of how the other kids react to her death. Then this vacancy at the heart of the film is used as proof of the kids' heartlessness. Glover gives a weird, grimacing, hand-waving performance; other garish elements include Dennis Hopper as a one-legged ex-biker dope dealer who waltzes with an inflatable sex doll and Joshua Miller as a malicious 12-year-old who drowns his baby sister's dolly. Also with Keanu Reeves, Ione Skye, and Jim Metzler as the teacher. Cinematography by Frederick Elmes.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
Maybe you have to have seen the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby ROAD movies (comedies with songs and a lot of patter) when they came out to understand the affection people felt for them, and to appreciate how casually sophisticated the style seemed at the time. The pictures haven't weathered as well as 30s comedies, because they were satirizing melodramas that are already forgotten. The series spoofed the fancy backgrounds of adventure movies; Hope and Crosby ambled through exotic, nonsensical lighthearted situations with no pretense to believability. They took the thud out of the dumb gags and topical jokes by their amiable comic intimacy. And the rare good jokes shone in the unpretentious atmosphere. Hope and Crosby's rapport has great charm, and every once in a while Hope does something--a gesture or a dance movement--that is prodigiously funny. Dorothy Lamour is their joint inamorata and the foil of the series; inimitably out of it, she was taken over from the pictures being satirized, and she played in the same coy, eager-to-please manner. The best song here is "Moonlight Becomes You." David Butler directed; Frank Butler and Don Hartman did the script. Paramount.
Bob Hope and Bing Crosby sauntering along, singing and playing innocent practical jokes, while Dorothy Lamour keeps house for them on a South Sea island. She wears an expression of intense domesticity, a trim sarong, and a hibiscus; a frown of chaste speculation darkens her brow when she must decide which of these two nice boys she will specifically love, honor, and obey. In spite of this problem of sentiment, it's a happy, unpretentious farce with Jerry Colonna--grinning, wild-eyed, and manic--and Charles Coburn. Directed by Victor Schertzinger; the oddball songs include "Sweet Potato Piper." Paramount.
Perhaps the farthest out of the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby road pictures. Some of the patter is pure, relaxed craziness, but the topical jokes (about Paramount Pictures, about Crosby's rivalry with Frank Sinatra, about Hope's radio sponsor, a toothpaste company) and the awful quips ("Don't be facetious." "Keep politics out of this.") keep pulling it down. In this one, the boys whoop around Alaska in search of a gold mine owned by Dorothy Lamour. Robert Benchley turns up but, unfortunately, he didn't write his own material. The songs include "Would You?" Hal Walker directed; Norman Panama and Melvin Frank did the script. Paramount.
The title and the names of the stars--James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart--make it sound like a lot more fun than it is. They play underprivileged kids who grow up together, come back from the First World War, and get into the rackets. The movie has a very mechanical and moralistic view of character; nobody ever says or does anything that surprises you. If you fed the earlier gangster movies into a machine and made a prototype, you'd come up with this picture. With Gladys George, Priscilla Lane, Paul Kelly, Jeffrey Lynn, Frank McHugh, and Elisabeth Risdon. Directed by Raoul Walsh, from a script by Jerry Wald, Richard Macaulay, and Robert Rossen, based on a Mark Hellinger story; produced by Hal B. Wallis. Warners.
Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn are wittily matched, and their dark-brown eyes are full of life, but the picture's revisionist approach to legends results in a series of trivializing attitudes and whimsical poses. As the Sheriff of Nottingham, Robert Shaw makes speeches about Robin Hood's death fixation, and Marian poisons herself and Robin because he's a fool who lives to fight. The line between tragic horror and joking make-believe has got smudged; the film is so sententious that it's difficult to gauge when to laugh and when to be appalled. Richard Lester directed, from James Goldman's script; cinematography by David Watkin. With Nicol Williamson and Richard Harris. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
The big, handsome Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., version, directed by Allan Dwan, and featuring extraordinarily expensive sets and Fairbanks' beautiful athletic prowess. With Wallace Beery as Richard the Lion-Hearted, Enid Bennett as Marian, and Alan Hale as Little John (the same role he played 16 years later in the Errol Flynn version). Silent.
In this punk sci-fi revenge fantasy, the near future is played for depravity, for kicks. Set in a Detroit of cloud-topped skyscrapers and a decaying older part of the city where rapists and vandals run wild and every day is open season on cops, the movie is shot in a deliberate sick-sleazo comic-book style. (Body parts are treated as if they were auto-body parts.) When Murphy (Peter Weller), a young cop employed by the all-powerful conglomerate OCP, is blown apart by a gang of scummy sadists, OCP's scientists use his remains as part of a cyborg--an experimental model for an organic, automated cop that requires food but is virtually indestructible and is programmed to keep order. Part man, part tank, this virtuous knight in heavy metal clumps through the city. The picture keeps telling you that its leering brutishness is a terrific turn-on, and maybe it is if you're hooked on Wagnerian sci-fi comic books. The Dutch director, Paul Verhoeven, was nastily witty in THE FOURTH MAN, but here, working in English, he doesn't have the timing or the spirit for that. This isn't gallows humor--it's just gallows pulp. As Murphy's woman-cop partner, Nancy Allen has the right soft tones to give the movie a little differentiation; it makes sense that she would get through to RoboCop's human memory. (When he removes his steel hood, his tense, pained face has the imaginative beauty that stirs audiences at classic horror films.) With Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Daniel O'Herlihy, Ronny Cox, and Robert Doqui. Written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner. Shot in Dallas (with added matte paintings of skyscrapers) and in a rusted abandoned steel mill outside Pittsburgh. Orion. (A sequel, ROBOCOP 2, directed by Irvin Kershner, was released in 1990.)
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
Luchino Visconti's strange sprawling epic--a flamboyant melodrama about how a poor Sicilian family (a mother and her five sons) is corrupted and eventually destroyed by life in Milan. Visconti's methods are still partly neo-realist, but the scale of the film is huge and operatic, and it loses the intimacy of the best neo-realist films, and their breath of life. This is more like a hollow, spectacular version of a Warners movie of the 30s (three of the sons take turns in the prizefight ring) but the characters aren't as vivid and individualized as the Warners actors made them. The movie is memorable largely because of Annie Girardot's stunning performance as a prostitute; her role suggests that of Dostoyevsky's great heroine in THE IDIOT, while her final scene suggests WOYZECK. The weirdest aspect of the film is the casting of Alain Delon (who at times seems to be lighted as if he were Hedy Lamarr) as a saintly, simple Prince Myshkin. Renato Salvatori plays the most forceful of the brothers--it's actually his sexual passion rather than the horrors of urban existence that destroys the family. Also with Katina Paxinou as the mother, and Roger Hanin, Paolo Stoppa, Suzy Delair, and Claudia Cardinale. The script is adapted from the novel The Bridge of Ghisolfa, by Giovanni Testori; there are also suggestions of the Biblical story of Joseph and his brethren. Cinematography by Giuseppe Rotunno; music by Nino Rota. In Italian.
As in rockabye baby. Constance Bennett, it may be recalled, was the 30s' leading interpreter of sinners with babies. This isn't much of a movie, but at least she doesn't drudge and suffer this time; she's a stage star with a glamorous existence, and in the best scene, a suitor fills her boudoir with balloons. George Cukor directed from a negligible script; he doesn't appear to have been able to keep several of the performers from competitive bouts of overacting--a key offender is Jobyna Howland as the heroine's alcoholic mother. With Joel McCrea, Paul Lukas, Walter Pidgeon, Walter Catlett, and Sterling Holloway. RKO.
An intelligent, little-known version of the D.H. Lawrence story. A child (the marvellous John Howard Davies, who also played Oliver Twist in the David Lean film) uses his second sight to rescue his parents; the painful part is that he lacks first sight--the judgment that would enable him to see that they are already destroyed. The enduringly beautiful but not notoriously gifted Valerie Hobson gives her best (maybe her only) performance as his mother. (She is phenomenal in the pawnshop episode.) With John Mills and Ronald Squire. Directed by Anthony Pelissier.
A low-budget winner-a romantic fable about a Philadelphia palooka who gains his manhood, written by and starring muscle-bound Sylvester Stallone, who is repulsive one moment, noble the next. He's amazing to watch: there's a bull-necked energy in him, smoldering, and in his deep caveman's voice he gives the most surprising, sharp, fresh shadings to his lines. The picture is poorly made, yet its naïve, emotional shamelessness is funny and engaging. Directed by John G. Avildsen. With Talia Shire, Carl Weathers, Burt Young, and Burgess Meredith. Cinematography by James Crabe; music by Bill Conti; produced by Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff. Academy Awards: Picture, Director. (A 1979 sequel, ROCKY II, written and also directed by Stallone, featured the same cast.) United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
Whatever oddball charm and silliness the first ROCKY had is long gone. ROCKY III starts with the hyped climax of II and then just keeps going on that level; it's packaged hysteria. The movie really works you over. You're pummelled by the noise and the rock music and the images of bodies being whammed. The pace is accelerated by a crude, hustling shorthand--montages of Rocky in the ring defending his title against a series of contenders, Rocky doing commercials, Rocky with his family, Rocky's training intercut with his opponent Clubber's training, and so on. The first ROCKY was primitive in a relatively innocent way. This picture is primitive, but it's also shrewd and empty and inept. Written and directed by its star, Sylvester Stallone; with Carl Weathers, whose physique makes Rocky look like a lump, and who gives a likable, unaffected performance; and an actor called Mr. T as Clubber Lang; and Burgess Meredith, Talia Shire, and Burt Young. Produced by Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler, for MGM/United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
Michael Moore's widely praised muckraking documentary is about his 2-year pursuit of Roger Smith, the chairman of General Motors, who, according to the film, is directly responsible for closing 11 plants and bringing about the destruction of Flint, Michigan-GM's birthplace and Moore's home town. The film purports to show what was happening in Flint from February, 1987, to August, 1989, but what happens is that Moore, a big shambling joker who's the director, producer, writer, and star, deadpans his way through interviews with an assortment of unlikely people, who are used as stooges. He chases gags and improvises his version of history: in his account of the plant closings, the worker layoffs, and the construction of tourist attractions, he compresses the events of many years and fiddles with the time sequence. He comes on in a give-'em-hell style, but he breaks faith with the audience. And he does something that is humanly very offensive: ROGER & ME uses its leftism as a superior attitude. Members of the audience can laugh at ordinary working people and still feel that they're taking a politically correct position. Released by Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.
Charming. This is the picture that made Audrey Hepburn a movie star. Probably no one could have brought out her skinny, long-necked gamine magic as winningly as the director William Wyler did; his calm, elegant style prepares the scenes and builds the character until she has the audience in thrall, and when she smiles we're all goners. She plays a Central European princess on an official tour of Rome. The princess flies the royal coop and has her first experiences of freedom with an American reporter (Gregory Peck, who is at his most animated and likable) and his photographer-sidekick (Eddie Albert). The plot is banal, and the movie is no more than a Cinderella-style romantic comedy, but it's enough. (Children adore this fairy tale about a modern princess.) With Harcourt Williams, Hartley Power, Margaret Rawlings, and Tullio Carminati. Much of the film was shot on Roman locations. The cinematography was by Franz Planer until he fell ill and Henri Alekan took over; the music is by Georges Auric; the editing is by Robert Swink. The story is credited to Ian McLellan Hunter and the script to him and John Dighton, though Ben Hecht also worked on it, at one stage, and Ennio Flaiano and Suso Cecchi d'Amico are said to have rewritten it for Wyler when he was in Rome. (And Hollywood folklore has it that Hunter, who picked up an Academy Award for his contribution, may have been serving as a front for the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo.) Paramount.
Posh and popular musical comedy, starring Eddie Cantor, with the luscious, ripe Ruth Etting, and Gloria Stuart, David Manners, Verree Teasdale, Alan Mowbray, Edward Arnold, and the Goldwyn Girls. They're a toothsome bunch of sirens in this one--parading in revealing dresses or just in long, blond, calendar-art wigs, and with their dances choreographed by Busby Berkeley. (It's easy to spot Lucille Ball and Paulette Goddard among them.) The picture has a wonderful, silvery bright light; the cinematographer, Gregg Toland, keeps everything sparkling--everything visual, that is. It's the star, Eddie Cantor, who's stale. The material is credited to half a dozen writers (including George S. Kaufman and Robert E. Sherwood, who wrote the stage version), but Cantor's material is one thudder after another. As the American who dreams himself back in ancient Rome, he's a limp presence, telegraphing how darling and naughty he is, especially when he sings and rolls his eyes. He can't seem to do anything but play the sissy who's always in panic. Frank Tuttle directed; the score by Al Dubin and Harry Warren includes "No More Love," which Ruth Etting sings, and "When We Build a Little Home." A Samuel Goldwyn Production.
The Tennessee Williams novella is in the tradition of D.H. Lawrence's Lovely Lady stories; it's about an aging widow, a proud, cold-hearted bitch without cares or responsibilities, who learns that sex is all that holds her to life-that it's the only sensation that temporarily saves her from the meaningless drift of her existence. And so she picks up young men and pays them. José Quintero, who directed, and Gavin Lambert, who wrote the adaptation, seem to think this idea so daring and unusual that they fumble around with it almost as much as the doctor in the movie of SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER, who couldn't seem to cope with the simple facts of Sebastian's homosexuality and kept saying, "You don't mean that?" … "No, it can't be that." THE ROMAN SPRING is so insistent about the "shocking" mechanics of buying love that this is what the film seems to be about, and by trying so diligently to make Mrs. Stone (Vivien Leigh) sympathetic and understandable the moviemakers kill all interest in her. Though the role seems ideal for Vivien Leigh, the director was a novice in films, and she comes across as parched and monotonous. (She was infinitely superior in a similar role in THE DEEP BLUE SEA.) The picture is a disappointment, but it's a try at a sexual study, and there are good moments-especially when Warren Beatty is on the screen. As the young man Mrs. Stone becomes addicted to, the boyish young Beatty shows his gift for slyness. The cast includes Lotte Lenya, Ernest Thesiger, Coral Browne, Jill St. John, and Jeremy Spenser. Warner-Seven Arts.
This slapstick adventure comedy is in the commercial genre of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, but it's a simpler, more likable entertainment than RAIDERS; it doesn't leave you feeling exhausted. The picture's greatest asset is its taking-off place: a woman's wanting a more exciting life. Kathleen Turner plays the timid, pleasantly slobby author of best-seller romances who is thrust into the kind of perils she has dreamed up for her books. The picture has a bravura opening and a jolly kind of movement, but it becomes too slam-bang; the score is cheesy and loud, and there are a few too many unrealized gags. Still, the director, Robert Zemeckis, sustains the carefree tone; and the widescreen imagery, which is stunning at the start, is always good to look at. (Dean Cundey was the cinematographer.) Turner knows how to use her dimples amusingly and how to dance like a woman who didn't know she could; her star performance is exhilarating. As Zolo the knifer, Manuel Ojeda is a terrific swinish villain, and Alfonso Arau has an affable spaciness as a Colombian drug-trade chieftain who's hooked on the heroine's novels. It's too bad that when the heroine's fictional hero materializes he's Michael Douglas, the producer of the film, who isn't a comedian and tries too hard. His face exaggerates everything and registers nothing, and no matter how fast he moves he seems to slow down whatever is going on around him. Written by Diane Thomas; the handsome production design is by Lawrence G. Paull. With Danny De Vito (who's used for his cuteness and as if our hearing him deliver commonplace expletives would knock us silly), Zack Norman, Holland Taylor as Gloria, the heroine's publisher, and Mary Ellen Trainor who doesn't exactly light up the screen as the heroine's sister. (The Colombian scenes were shot in Mexico.) 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.
Michael Caine is the pulp-writer husband, and Glenda Jackson is the discontented wife, and this is another flaccid essay on infidelity, with prissy-mouthed Helmut Berger as the gigolo-intruder. The director, Joseph Losey, persuaded Tom Stoppard to do the rewrite on Thomas Wiseman's adaptation of his own novel, and Stoppard has given the dialogue a few Noel Cowardish bitch-nifties, but not enough to keep the viewer's blood coursing. It's a mystification melodrama with leftish overtones; the title is ironic--the film's oblique message is that the bourgeois wife consumes everything, even her lover. Cinematography by Gerry Fisher. .
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
Expensively devotional, in the literal-minded and heavily overproduced Irving Thalberg manner, but the readings are often clear and sensible, and there is an audacious, controversial, florid performance by John Barrymore as Mercutio. Leslie Howard is an anemic, overage Romeo, while Norma Shearer, never much of an actress, makes a valiant effort at Juliet, but never rises above conventional adequacy. With Basil Rathbone (Tybalt), Edna May Oliver (the Nurse), C. Aubrey Smith (Capulet), Ralph Forbes (Paris), Violet Kemble-Cooper (Lady Capulet), Reginald Denny (Benvolio), Katherine De Mille (Rosaline). Directed by George Cukor; the play was simplified by Talbot Jennings. Totally made in a studio Italy, it remains a chief example of the pasteboard MGM style in full decadence.
The dramatic rhythm of the play is lost, but this Anglo-Italian production, directed by Renato Castellani, is extraordinarily rich and voluptuous, photographed in the golden remnants of the High Renaissance in Verona, Venice, and Siena, and with costumes by Leonor Fini that are derived from Piero della Francesca, Pisanello, Carpaccio, and Fiorenzo di Lorenzo. The Capulets' ball, where Romeo and Juliet meet and quiveringly touch, amid masked dancers in heavy, ornate costumes, has such sensuality that it conveys a better idea of what the play is about than conventional stage presentations do; when the boy sopranos begin to sing, the atmosphere is magical. There are other, sudden miracles in this production--like the way Mervyn Johns transforms tiresome old Friar Laurence into a radiantly silly little man. And there are miracles of sight and sound--the clanging of the great church doors, the sudden recognition that the servants carrying food are right out of Botticelli, or that, dressed by Fini, a big lug like Bill Travers is a Benvolio that Italian painters might have fought over. Laurence Harvey (at 26) is Romeo and his readings are often exciting; the 20-year-old Susan Shentall, a nonprofessional, is lovely as Juliet but lacks voice and presence. With Flora Robson as the Nurse, and Sebastian Cabot as Capulet; John Gielgud is the chorus. Music by Roman Vlad.
Franco Zeffirelli goes in for strenuous knockabout stuff--for brawling, cavorting young men and for revels and roistering that have an awful way of suggesting the supers at the opera trying to keep the stage "active." In this bowdlerization, Zeffirelli loads on what academic bowdlerizers used to take out; the lusty, rambunctious film even provides a fashion show in codpieces--two-toned, with fringe and bows and laces. The one element Zeffirelli removes that the other bowdlerizers also removed is Shakespeare's language. Only about half the play is left, and what's there doesn't build up the rhythm of a poetic drama. Heard in isolated fragments, the lines just seem a funny way of talking that is hard to understand. The movie was sold on its "youth appeal" and on teenagers playing teenagers. But you can always make a movie with kids playing kids; the feat would be if the kids could read Shakespeare. Here, the lines are unintelligible because the actors' faces and bodies aren't in tune with the words. Olivia Hussey (Juliet), her childish eyes wide open and her mouth open, too, and Leonard Whiting (Romeo), his hair cut like a suburban hippie's, are not really bad; they're rather sweet. But they're as banal in their youth and innocence as the high-school students in the TV series "Peyton Place." In Shakespeare's version, Romeo and Juliet played together at poetry and at love; they made love through poetry, matching each other's conceits. Here the actors seem dear little children playing at the director's notion of teenage sex hunger. Then, suddenly, Nino Rota's music is poured on in emotional torrents and the movie is filled with weeping and lamentation and carrying-on. Romeo flings himself to the floor while Juliet, hair streaming, bangs herself against the wall. All this violence and hysteria appear to come out of nowhere, because these little child lovers, with their baby talk, hardly seem to have the grand passion to go mad this way. The movie gets so bizarre and excessive in a 19th-century melodramatic fashion that it begins to be rather fascinating; it supplies an operatic love-death for a romantic teenage audience. With John McEnery as a freaked-out Mercutio, Michael York as Tybalt, Pat Heywood as the Nurse, and Milo O'Shea, Natasha Parry, and for the prologue, Laurence Olivier's voice.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Going Steady.