Bill Murray as a wreck of a hipster who has screwed up his life and is in terrible physical condition. Having nothing better to do, he enlists in the Army to get back in shape, and he cons his buddy, played by Harold Ramis, into joining up, too. The picture is just a flimsy, thrown-together service comedy about smart misfits trying to do things their own way in the Army. But it has a lot of snappy lines (the script is by Len Blum, Dan Goldberg, and Ramis), the director, Ivan Reitman, keeps things hopping (it's untidy but it doesn't lag), and the performers are a wily bunch of professional flakes. The story comes to a natural end with the recruits' commencement exercises; afterward, when the platoon is whipping around Europe, the action is standard farce. Yet even when the plot goes all over the place some funny lines turn up. With John Candy (the big-blob charmer from the Second City), Warren Oates as the drill sergeant, Sean Young, P.J. Soles, and Second City people--such as Joseph P. Flaherty, as a border guard spouting Slavic gibberish. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
This film adaptation of William Inge's A Loss of Roses has the dreary, liberal Freudian Sunday School neatness of second-rate serious drama: it's necessary for the characters to be shallow so that the audience can see them learning their little life's lessons and changing. Still, Joanne Woodward is at the center of this picture, and everything she does here is worth watching. Skinny and platinum blond, with an infantile, vulnerable manner and a bouncy walk, she's a small-town beauty queen who went off to Hollywood, failed, and is now passing through her home town with some seedy carnival entertainers--except that she gets stranded and stays on for the summer at the house where she once worked as a babysitter. The baby is now an 18-year-old (Richard Beymer), and she has an affair with him. It's the film's thesis that this affair causes her to grow up and learn to stand on her own two feet. Woodward doesn't do anything conventional; she gives the Marilyn Monroe-ish role a nervousness that cuts through its pathos. Even when the movie was first released, audiences were so familiar with the mechanics of homiletic writing that there was hooting each time the boy's mother (Claire Trevor) demonstrated her possessiveness. With Robert Webber, Gypsy Rose Lee, Louis Nye, Carol Lynley, and Michael J. Pollard. Directed by Franklin Schaffner (fresh from TV); the screenplay is by Meade Roberts; the handsome cinematography is by Ellsworth Fredericks. 20th Century-Fox. CinemaScope.
At the time this picture (his best) came out, Harry Langdon--innocent, moronic, infantile, saintly, cunning--was widely held to be in the class of Charles Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. It was his second long comedy and his last box-office success; perhaps not coincidentally, it was almost his last association with Frank Capra, who had been instrumental in shaping Langdon's comic character. Langdon plays a Belgian soldier in the First World War who has become a pen pal of an American girl and comes to find her after the war; he eventually has to clean out the corrupt town she lives in. At one point he falls into the grip of a tough broad who is trying to steal some money from the lining of his coat; he misinterprets her action and gives a glorious rendition of outraged virtue. Written and directed by Capra. Silent.
Irving Lerner directed this small-scale version of the James T. Farrell material, set among the Chicago Irish in the 20s; clearly, Lerner didn't have the resources to do Farrell's characters and milieu justice, but it's an honorable low-budget try by a group of people trying to break the Hollywood molds, and there are a few passages of daring editing that indicate what the film was aiming for. It's an underfinanced American attempt at an I VITELLONI. Christopher Knight was miscast as Studs, and even at the time the picture came out audience interest centered on his teenage pals--Frank Gorshin as Kenny, and the very young Jack Nicholson as Weary Reilly, who is arrested for rape. With Madame Spivy as Mother Josephine, Jack Kruschen as Charlie the Greek, and Jay C. Flippen as Father Gilhooey. Also with Helen Westcott, Dick Foran, Robert Casper, Snub Pollard, Carolyn Craig, and Venetia Stevenson as Lucy, the girl Studs dreams about. Among the people who worked on the production were Haskell Wexler and, in the editing, Verna Fields and Melvin Shapiro. The music was by Gerrald Goldsmith; the adaptation (not inspired) was by Philip Yordan, who also produced.
A virtuoso piece of kinetic moviemaking. Working with material that could, with a few false steps, have turned into a tony reality-and-illusion puzzle, the director, Richard Rush, has kept it all rowdy and funny--it's slapstick metaphysics. Lawrence B. Marcus's script, based on Rush's free adaptation of the Paul Brodeur novel, is about paranoia and the making of movies; Steve Railsback is the fugitive who becomes a stunt man, and Peter O'Toole is the flamboyant, fire-eater director who the stunt man thinks is out to kill him. Playing a protean figure--visionary, fierce-tempered, and ornery, yet ethereal and fey, O'Toole gives a peerless comic performance. With Allen Goorwitz, as the dumpling script-writer who plays Sancho Panza to O'Toole's Don Quixote, Barbara Hershey, Sharon Farrell, Adam Roarke, Alex Rocco, and Chuck Bail. Cinematography by Mario Tosi; music by Dominic Frontiere. Released by 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
About the self-abasement of a modern woman (Dyan Cannon). The director, Otto Preminger, shows us the heroine's subservience to her demanding son-of-a-bitch husband (Laurence Luckinbill); we see that he exploits her and that he's sexually indifferent to her, but we never find out what she wants done about it. Why she allows herself to be used is the missing center of the story. When she makes snide remarks while an impotent man works away on her, and when she services a fat doctor (James Coco), is she getting even with her husband or proving her independence or just intensifying her masochism? "Sensitive" is not a word that is often applied to Preminger; still, one is unprepared for the rancid, fake-smart Manhattan atmosphere, and the ugliness of the malicious jokes. With Burgess Meredith, Jennifer O'Neill, Louise Lasser, Ken Howard, Sam Levene, Nina Foch, Rita Gam, Nancy Guild, and William Redfield. From Lois Gould's novel, adapted by Elaine May, under a pseudonym. Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry Callahan of the San Francisco Police Department for the fourth time. The picture is a slightly psychopathic version of an old Saturday-afternoon serial, with Harry sneering at the scum and cursing them before he shoots them with his king-size custom-made "44 Auto mag." The murderer he's on the trail of is played by Sondra Locke, who, it turns out, is a saintly executioner, much like him; she's taking care of her quota of scum, and might just as well be called Dirty Harriet. The script, by Joseph C. Stinson, features lines such as the main sadistic, rotten villain's laying claim to Harriet with "The bitch is mine." The whole thing is so obvious that people in the audience applaud and hoot; it might be mistaken for parody if the sledgehammer-slow pacing didn't tell you that the director (Eastwood) wasn't in on the joke. With Pat Hingle, Audrie J. Neenan, Bradford Dillman, Albert Popwell, Paul Drake, Jack Thibeau, Mara Corday, and Michael V. Gazzo. Released by Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art..
One of Tennessee Williams' feverous fantasies, padded out by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the director, and by Williams and Gore Vidal, who did the screenplay. They should never have allowed the audience so much time to think about what's going on: the short play turns into a ludicrous, lumbering horror movie. Katharine Hepburn is rather amusing as the Southern-belle dragon lady whose homosexual poet-son, Sebastian, was killed and partly eaten by the North African boys he'd preyed upon. Elizabeth Taylor is her distraught niece, whom she's trying to get lobotomized so that the girl won't be able to tell the story. Taylor works hard at her big monologue, trying to give us the shudders, but Mankiewicz has delayed her revelations too long. Montgomery Clift, in possibly his worst performance, is the dimwitted neurosurgeon who can't seem to get anything into his eminent head. Columbia.
This is one of the most phenomenal début films in the history of movies; the 26-year-old director, Steven Spielberg, is a wizard at action sequences, and this picture has so much eagerness and flash and talent that it just about transforms its scrubby ingredients. Lou Jean (Goldie Hawn) and her husband (William Atherton) are petty thieves who lost custody of their infant son while they were in jail; their attempt to get him back involves taking a highway patrol officer (Michael Sacks) hostage. The child is with his adoptive parents in the town of Sugarland, and as Lou Jean and her husband drive there in the patrol car they've commandeered, other cars follow. It's implicit in the movie's whole scheme that vast numbers of police cars pursue them, and that townspeople join the procession and encourage the young parents to retrieve their child, because that gives them all an opportunity to get in their cars and whiz across Texas. Spielberg patterns the cars; he makes them dance and crash and bounce back. The cars have tiffs, wrangle, get confused. And so do the people. These huffy characters, riled up and yelling at each other, are in the combustible comedy style of Preston Sturges; the movie sees the characters' fitful, moody nuttiness as the American's inalienable right to make a fool of himself. We wind up feeling affectionate toward some highly unlikely people--particularly toward Lou Jean, who started it all. She's the American go-getter gone haywire. Surprisingly, the film was not a box-office success. With Ben Johnson, Louise Latham, and Harrison Zanuck as the child. From a script by Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins. The cinematography--full of shimmering, eerie effects--is by Vilmos Zsigmond; score by John Williams. Produced by Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown, for Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.
Writer-director Preston Sturges's comedy about a popular--slightly fatuous--Hollywood director (Joel McCrea), who feels that his hits, such as "Ants in Your Plants of 1939," aren't worthy of a war-devastated world. To research his next project, a relevant film to be called "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," he gets dressed as a tramp and goes out to investigate the lower depths. Sturges is more at home in slapstick irony (as in THE LADY EVE, earlier in '41) than in the mixed tones of this comedy-melodrama, but it's a memorable film nevertheless. With Veronica Lake, underacting with perfect composure, and Margaret Hayes, and many of the actors Sturges delighted in and used repeatedly--William Demarest, Franklin Pangborn, Robert Warwick, Porter Hall, Eric Blore, Esther Howard, Jimmy Conlin, Willard Robertson, J. Farrell MacDonald, Roscoe Ates, Dewey Robinson, Chester Conklin, Arthur Hoyt, Robert Greig, Frank Moran, Harry Rosenthal, Monte Blue, and others. Sturges himself can be glimpsed behind Veronica Lake on a set inside the movie studio. Paramount.
There's supposed to be something on fire inside Alma, Tennessee Williams' lonely, inhibited preacher's daughter, but from Geraldine Page's performance and Peter Glenville's direction 'tain't smoke that rises--just wispy little old tired ideas goin' to rejoin the Holy Ghost. Page is all delicate shadings and no surprises, her performance is so meticulously worked out it's dead. Laurence Harvey is the virile doctor's son who represents flesh to her spirit. With Una Merkel, Thomas Gomez sweating and shouting, Rita Moreno being tigerish, and Pamela Tiffin dimpling, and also John McIntire, Earl Holliman, Lee Patrick, and Malcolm Atterbury. The play, written in 1948, was adapted by James Poe and Meade Roberts; music by Elmer Bernstein. (Williams' rewritten version, The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, was given a far superior production on TV in 1976, with Blythe Danner as Alma.) Produced by Hal B. Wallis, for Paramount.
Rouben Mamoulian directed this essentially ghastly musical version of AH, WILDERNESS, Eugene O'Neill's nostalgic comedy about adolescence, set in a small town at the turn of the century. The play unfortunately lends itself to the wholesome-Americana-good-clean-dances approach. Mamoulian has a heavy touch, and perhaps because of that Mickey Rooney, in the lead, mugs offensively. The cast includes Walter Huston, Gloria De Haven, Agnes Moorehead, Marilyn Maxwell, Frank Morgan, Selena Royle, Anne Francis, Virginia Brissac, and Butch Jenkins, in the role Rooney had played in the 1935 AH, WILDERNESS The disastrous script was adapted from the 1935 script by Irving Brecher and Jean Holloway; the undistinguished music is by Harry Warren. Shot in 1946, this film spent a couple of years in the editing room and on the shelf. MGM.
The emotional rapport of Judy Garland and Gene Kelly transforms the corny, simpleminded story material--a reworking of the Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney pictures about adolescents staging a show in a barn. Though Garland is overweight and obviously uncomfortable in much of the picture, she and Kelly bring conviction to their love scenes and make them naïvely fresh. As a team, they balance each other's talents: she joins her odd and undervalued cakewalker's prance to his large-spirited hoofing, and he joins his odd, light, high voice to her sweet deep one. Their duet on "You Wonderful You" has a plaintive richness that stays with one. The most famous sequence is Garland's rakish "Get Happy," shot almost three months after the rest of the picture; exultantly thin, in a black hat and short jacket, she flaunts her spectacular long legs. It is one of the great cheerful numbers of her career. For all the messiness, this is a likable picture, with lots of good songs and dances; they were staged by different hands--Kelly, Nick Castle, and the director, Charles Walters (he choreographed "Get Happy"). With Phil Silvers, Gloria De Haven, Eddie Bracken, Marjorie Main, Hans Conried, and Carleton Carpenter; the dancers include Carol Haney and Jeannie Coyne. Most of the songs are by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon. From a screenplay by George Wells and Sy Gomberg. MGM.
Dun-colored earnestness about a middle-aged Manhattan housewife's coldness, unfulfillment, and regrets; Joanne Woodward is less lively than in her other suffering-women roles. The screenwriter, Stewart Stern, following the structure of WILD STRAWBERRIES, tries to equate the American woman's supposed incapacity for love with the whole American screwup of recent years but never shows the connection. Gilbert Cates directed; with Martin Balsam and Sylvia Sidney. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reelin.
Katharine Hepburn, prim and gaunt as an aging American virgin vacationing in corrupt, sensual Venice, and Rossano Brazzi as a soft, thickening Venetian art dealer who makes love to her. There is an element of embarrassment in this pining-spinster role, but Hepburn is so proficient at it that she almost--though not quite--kills the embarrassment. It's hard to believe that the coming together of a withered Puritan and a middle-aged roué would light up the sky with the fireworks that the director, David Lean, provides, but this is one of those overwrought, understated, romantic movies (like Lean's BRIEF ENCOUNTER) that many people remember with considerable emotion. From Arthur Laurents's play The Time of the Cuckoo; with Isa Miranda and Darren McGavin; the cinematography is by Jack Hildyard.
John Ford returns to the Irvin S. Cobb stories that he filmed in JUDGE PRIEST, starring Will Rogers, in 1934. At one point, Ford said that this remake was his favorite picture, but it doesn't feel right to a viewer--not the way the earlier version did. As the fair-minded, humorous Kentucky judge who defends a black man accused of rape, circa 1905, Charles Winninger can't get the character across the way Will Rogers did, and the actors never seem to blend with the period setting. Everything's a little stiff and creaky. With a large cast, including Stepin Fetchit, Arleen Whelan, Clarence Muse, Russell Simpson, Milburn Stone, Slim Pickens, Mae Marsh, James Kirkwood, Dorothy Jordan, Jane Darwell, Grant Withers, and Patrick Wayne. Screenplay by Laurence Stallings; music by Victor Young; cinematography by Archie Stout. Republic.
Sonja Henie skates and skis to such colossal triumphs that Lynn Bari, her jealous rival for John Payne's affection, can do nothing more than call her a "Scandinavian hillbilly" and take off in a huff. Sonja Henie probably has to be seen once, just as the infant Shirley Temple has to be seen once. There's no way of explaining what made either of them a top star, but when you see them you understand it perfectly; they may be beyond satire but they're undeniably stars. This picture is as strong a dose of adorable Sonja Henie as anyone could wish; it even includes the number "The Kiss Polka." With Milton Berle, Joan Davis, the Nicholas Brothers, Dorothy Dandridge, Ray Eberle, Tex Beneke and the Modernaires, and Glenn Miller and his orchestra, who come through with "Chattanooga Choo-Choo." Directed by H. Bruce Humberstone. (Lynn Bari's vocals were dubbed by Lorraine Elliott.) 20th Century-Fox.
This semi-satirical whodunit set in Turin among the bored, decadent rich is equipped with three star names (Jean-Louis Trintignant, Marcello Mastroianni, Jacqueline Bisset), but the social observations are too small and too archly obvious to have any bite, and it doesn't have suspense--just complication. On Bisset's face even an amused deadpan looks good; it adds to her high-fashion glaze. But everybody else walks through this blankly, too. It's a poshly made bummer. Directed by Luigi Comencini; written by Age and Scarpelli; music by Ennio Morricone. With Claudio Gora, who is done in by a big ceramic phallus, Aldo Reggiani as a young homosexual, and Pino Caruso. An Italian-French co-production. In Italian.
John Schlesinger directed this complex, remarkably modulated English movie about three Londoners and the breakup of two love affairs, from a delicate, pungent screenplay by Penelope Gilliatt, and it may be his finest work. It's an unusual film--perhaps a classic. A homosexual doctor in his 40s, played by Peter Finch, and an employment counsellor in her 30s, played by Glenda Jackson, are both in love with a boyish, successful kinetic sculptor, played by Murray Head, who casually divides his time and affections between them. He has no special sexual preferences and doesn't understand what upsets the two older people about sharing him, since he loves them both. The film is a curious sort of plea on behalf of human frailty--it asks for sympathy for the non-heroes of life who make the best deal they can. People can receive solace from it--it's the most sophisticated weeper ever made. There is perhaps a little too much sensibility; compassion is featured. "People can manage on very little," the doctor says to relatives of an incapacitated patient. "Too late to start again," a sad, heavy-lidded woman who looks like Virginia Woolf says of her miserable marriage. Schlesinger has a gift for pacing and the energy to bring all the elements of a movie together, but he uses his technique so that it's just about impossible for you to have any reaction that he hasn't decreed you should. The film is full of planted insights; you can practically count the watts in the illuminations. With Peggy Ashcroft, Vivian Pickles, Tony Britton, and Maurice Denham. Cinematography by Billy Williams.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
A moist, romantic pastiche about a brain-damaged young man (Hardy Krüger) and a girl of 12 (Patricia Gozzi, who has the eyes of a Keane painting). With Nicole Courcel. Directed by Serge Bourguignon; cinematography by Henri Decaë. In French.
This major film by a major director (Fred Zinnemann) was neglected when it came out--possibly because Warners didn't believe that people would go to see a movie set in Australia--and it has never achieved the reputation it deserves. It's a large, episodic movie, with a strong emotional texture--an epic about the space and emptiness of the country, and about Robert Mitchum as a man who doesn't want to stay in one place, and Deborah Kerr as the wife who keeps moving with him, raising a son (Michael Anderson, Jr.) who has never known a settled existence. There are marvellous sequences: one involving a race horse who's like a pipe dream of a horse; another, a great sheep-shearing contest, with Robert Mitchum pitted against a wizardly little old geezer (Wylie Watson). And though the story builds slowly (and the first half may seem a little pokey), the characters are more red-blooded and vigorous and eccentric than in most other Zinnemann films. Deborah Kerr isn't at all aristocratic or mannered here; this may be her richest performance. Peter Ustinov and Glynis Johns play a secondary, contrasting pair of lovers, and the cast includes Dina Merrill, Chips Rafferty, Ronald Fraser, John Meillon, and Mervyn Johns. The script, by Isobel Lennart, is based on a novel by Jon Cleary; the cinematography is by Jack Hildyard.
A near masterpiece, made in Hollywood by the great German director F.W. Murnau, who was given contractual assurance that there would be no interference by the studio (Fox). The script, freely adapted from Hermann Sudermann's A Trip to Tilsit, was prepared in Berlin by Carl Mayer, and Murnau planned the whole film there, on the basis that the story was universal. The opening title reads, "This story of a Man and his Wife is of nowhere and everywhere, you might hear it anywhere and at any time." The man (George O'Brien) and his wife (Janet Gaynor) are rural Americans; their happiness is disrupted by a city temptress (Margaret Livingston) who seduces the man and persuades him to drown his wife. The story is told in a flowing, lyrical German manner that is extraordinarily sensual, yet is perhaps too self-conscious, too fable-like for American audiences. (Huge stylized sets were built.) The film failed commercially, and on his next two Fox projects Murnau didn't have the same freedom. There are some masterly sequences: the seduction under a full moon, the wife's flight (she boards a trolley). Cinematography by Karl Strüss and Charles Rosher; art direction by Rochus Gliese, with Edgar Ulmer as one of his assistants. Silent.
A young script-writer (William Holden), speeding away from the finance-company men who have come to repossess his car (it is Los Angeles, where a man can get along without his honor, but not without his car), turns into a driveway on Sunset Boulevard and finds himself at the decaying mansion of the once great silent star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Attended by her butler (Erich von Stroheim), who was once her husband and her director, she lives among the mementos of her past, and plots her comeback in her own adaptation of Salome. The rapacious old vamp persuades the young man to stay and work with her on the script; he becomes her kept man, her lover, her victim. The details are baroque: the rats in the empty swimming pool, the wind moaning in the organ pipes, the midnight burial of a pet chimpanzee. Glint-eyed Swanson clutches at her comeback role almost as if it were Salome, yet the acting honors belong to Holden. When he makes love to the crazy, demanding old woman, his face shows a mixture of pity and guilt and nausea. This brittle satiric tribute to Hollywood's leopard-skin past--it's narrated by a corpse--is almost too clever, yet it's at its best in this cleverness, and is slightly banal in the sequences dealing with a normal girl (Nancy Olson) and modern Hollywood. Billy Wilder directed; Charles Brackett produced; the script is by Brackett, Wilder, and D.M. Marshman, Jr. With Buster Keaton, H.B. Warner, Anna Q. Nilsson, Hedda Hopper, Cecil B. De Mille, Jack Webb, Fred Clark, and Lloyd Gough. Paramount.
Neil Simon's extended sketch about two quarrelsome vaudevillians (Walter Matthau and George Burns) who, 11 years back, broke up after 43 years together and haven't spoken to each other since; they're brought together to appear on a TV special. It's all one-liners; Matthau keeps blasting us with his bullhorn voice; Burns has the repose of a tortoise, his eyes gleaming and alert, and he has a rhythmed formality in his conversation, as an old trouper might. (He was rewarded with the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.) The director, Herbert Ross, doesn't bring enough invention to the material, and it's just shouting, when it needs to be beautifully timed routines. (It was a big hit, though.) With Richard Benjamin. Produced by Ray Stark, for MGM; released by United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
Gaudy black-exploitation film with explicit racism and some that's implicit (the hero deals in cocaine, which is supposed to be O.K., since most of the users are white). Partly slick, partly amateurish. With Ron O'Neal and Carl Lee; directed by Gordon Parks, Jr. Warners. Back to Home