The gangster classic, with Paul Muni as the dangerous hood with the scar on his cheek, and dark, huge-eyed Ann Dvorak as his sister. The writer, Ben Hecht, and the director, Howard Hawks, said that they wrote the story by treating the Capone family "as if they were the Borgias set down in Chicago." Overall, it's a terrific movie, even though the pacing doesn't always seem quite right. The opening sequence is a beauty: the camera moves from a street lamp with stylized skyscrapers in the background and follows a milkman into a speakeasy, where we see the remnants of a gangland New Year's Eve party and finally pick up the shadow of Scarface, who kills the gangland leader. The film's violence has the crazy, helter-skelter feeling of actual gun battles, and Paul Muni, with a machine gun in his arms, is brutal and grotesque, in a primal, childlike, fixating way. Truffaut suggests that Hawks "deliberately directed Paul Muni to make him look like a monkey, his arms hanging loosely and slightly curved, his face caught in a perpetual grimace." The cast includes George Raft, Osgood Perkins, Karen Morley, Boris Karloff, Vince Barnett, Edwin Maxwell, C. Henry Gordon, Tully Marshall, Henry Armetta, and Purnell Pratt. Here's Truffaut again: "The most striking scene in the movie is unquestionably Boris Karloff's death. He squats down to throw a ball in a game of ninepins and doesn't get up; a rifle shot prostrates him. The camera follows the ball he's thrown as it knocks down all the pins except one that keeps spinning until it finally falls over, the exact symbol of Karloff himself, the last survivor of a rival gang that's been wiped out by Muni. This isn't literature. It may be dance or poetry. It is certainly cinema." The story, based on a novel by Armitage Trail, is credited to Hecht, and the continuity and dialogue to Seton I. Miller, John Lee Mahin, and W.R. Burnett. The cinematography is by Lee Garmes and L.W. O'Connell. The film was ready for release in 1930, but was held up for two years by censorship problems; the scene in the publisher's office wasn't directed by Hawks--it was inserted to appease pressure groups. The title SCARFACE bore the subtitle SHAME OF THE NATION. Presented by Howard Hughes; United Artists.
Directed by Brian De Palma from a script by Oliver Stone, this 2-hour-and-49-minute remake of the 1932 SCARFACE has the length of an epic but not the texture of an epic, and its dramatic arc is faulty. Al Pacino's Tony Montana, a Cuban who scrambles to the top of the Miami drug world, is just starting to learn the ropes and then, sated with wealth and dope, he's moldy. The middle of the movie is missing; we get the aftermaths but not the capers. For the first three-quarters of an hour, the film feels like the beginning of a new-style, post-GODFATHER gangster epic--hot and raw, like a spaghetti Western. But when Tony gets everything he wants, he's a pig rooting around in money and cocaine, and, as things go wrong, he snorts more and more. Probably all this excess is intended to be satirical--snorting coke turns into a running gag. But the scenes are so shapeless that we don't know at what point we're meant to laugh. The picture is peddling macho primitivism and at the same time making it absurd. It's a druggy spectacle--manic yet exhausted, with De Palma entering into the derangement and trying to bring something larger than life out of Tony's debauchery. The whole feeling of the movie is limp. This may be the only action picture that turns into an allegory of impotence. With F. Murray Abraham as Omar, Steven Bauer as Manolo, Robert Loggia as Frank Lopez, Michelle Pfeiffer as Elvira, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Gina, Paul Shenar as Sosa, Harris Yulin as Bernstein, Arnaldo Santana as Ernie, Richard Belzer as the nightclub m.c., and some highly expendable scenes with Miriam Colon as Tony's poor-but-proud mother. Cinematography by John A. Alonzo; the designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti served as visual consultant; the score is by Giorgio Moroder--it's reminiscent of his music for CAT PEOPLE. Produced by Martin Bregman, for Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.
Josef von Sternberg turned the story of Catherine the Great into what he himself called a "relentless excursion into style;" the decor and the visual motifs became the stars, and Marlene Dietrich was used as a camera subject instead of as a person. She's photographed behind veils and fishnets, while dwarfs slither about and bells ring and everybody tries to look degenerate. Von Sternberg had a peculiar notion that this showy pomposity proved that film was an art medium. The picture is egocentric and empty of drama, yet it has the fascination (and the tediousness) that bizarre, obsessional movies often have. Sam Jaffe, in a fright wig and smiling like a death's-head, plays mad, crippled Peter; Dietrich's daughter, Maria Sieber, appears in the opening scenes as the young Catherine; in the role of Count Alexei, John Lodge wears dashing long hair and a mustache and swaggers about in furs. With Louise Dresser, strangely folksy as the old Empress, and Jane Darwell, Gavin Gordon, C. Aubrey Smith, Olive Tell, and Edward Van Sloan. The script by Manuel Komroff was presumably based on a diary of Catherine's; the music is definitely based on Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn. Paramount.
"I wanted to make a film of The Scarlet Letter … I was asked which director I would like, and I chose Victor Sjöström, who had arrived at MGM some years earlier from Sweden. I felt that the Swedes were closer to the feelings of New England Puritans than modern Americans." With historic simplicity, Lillian Gish described the background to this film. She leaves it for us to explain her extraordinary taste and judgment--and her acting genius. Her Hester Prynne is one of the most beautifully sustained performances in screen history--mercurial, delicate, passionate. There isn't an actress on the screen today, and perhaps there never was another, who can move like Lillian Gish: it's as if no bones, no physical barriers, stood between her intuitive understanding of the role and her expression of it. Sjöström chose the Swedish actor Lars Hanson for Arthur Dimmesdale; Henry B. Walthall plays Prynne. Karl Dane is also in the cast. The cinematography is by Hendrik Sartov, who had earlier worked with Griffith; the adaptation--or diminution--of Hawthorne is by Frances Marion. Sjöström presents a heroine struggling against moralistic conventions; his conception is so strong that the coy elements in the scenario and the cloying titles almost disappear from consciousness. He stages Lars Hanson's final revelation scene with a power and conviction that justifies Lillian Gish's hunch: these two Swedes understand Hawthorne's guilt and suffering. (There have been numerous versions of the novel--the first in 1908.) Silent.
One of the most romantic and durable of all swashbucklers--maybe because Leslie Howard was such a wonderfully unlikely hero for this sort of derring-do about spies and aristocrats and the French Revolution. With Merle Oberon looking almost inhumanly beautiful, and Raymond Massey as the snarling villain, and Nigel Bruce, Bramwell Fletcher, Joan Gardner, Gertrude Musgrove, and Anthony Bushell. Script by S.N. Behrman, Robert Sherwood, and others, based on the novel by Baroness Orczy. Directed by Harold Young; an Alexander Korda Production.
Fritz Lang directed this American version of Renoir's LA CHIENNE; in the American setting it's a sordid, lowlife melodrama about illicit love, and it never takes root--it's not one of Lang's best American movies. (It was originally banned in New York State--that is, denied a license--as "immoral, indecent, corrupt, and tending to incite crime," a judgment that seemed off the wall even then.) Edward G. Robinson is a frustrated, gray-haired cashier married to a nag (Rosalind Ivan); his only pleasure is in painting on Sundays. He falls for a tart (Joan Bennett) and sets her up in a Greenwich Village apartment, on stolen money. But the tart is in love with a lout (Dan Duryea), who beats her. The script, by Dudley Nichols, is heavy-handed, and Lang's emphatic style pounds home the ironies and the murder-plot devices. (Robinson kills the girl, and Duryea is electrocuted for the crime.) Robinson's paintings are actually by John Decker. Universal.
The script, by Bruce Wagner, from a satirical sex-farce plot he devised with the director, Paul Bartel, calls for something like the goosey stylized acting that Charles Ludlam perfected at the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, but Bartel has directed with his usual home-movies sluggishness. Two houseboys, a cynic (Ray Sharkey) and a romantic (Robert Beltran), who work in adjacent mansions, bet on which one will be first to make out with the other's employer--one a divorcée (Mary Woronov), the other a widow (Jacqueline Bisset). The households include various siblings, offspring, and hangers-on (Arnetia Walker, Ed Begley, Jr., Wallace Shawn, Paul Mazursky, Rebecca Schaeffer, Edith Diaz, and others)--all of them libidinous or gaga. Scenes that should have some fizz and revelations that should be delirious are bland and flat, like filmed theatre. Arnetia Walker manages to bring in some zesty horseplay, and Bisset's amused calm is occasionally pleasant, but mostly this is just mistimed, failed camp, and some of the lines that are meant to be screamingly dirty-funny come out screamingly sour. (The sound recording is poor.) A Cinecom release.
Innocuous musical version of A Christmas Carol, starring Albert Finney looking glum. The Leslie Bricusse music is so forgettable that your mind flushes it away while you're hearing it. Ronald Neame directed.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
Bill Murray, in a striking, outsize entertainment based on Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Murray's Frank Cross, who's the youngest network president in history, is the meanest man in television. (That's the same as the meanest man in the world.) The performance is a triumphant parody of Yuppie callousness. And it's much more: Murray's freewheeling, screwy generosity is what makes the huge contraption of a movie work. With production design by J. Michael Riva and cinematography by Michael Chapman, this satirical extravaganza is set in a stylized, made-up universe with deep blues and black backgrounds--suave and velvety. The heartlessness of the film's beauty is exciting: you're looking at life in an executive's dark mirror. And the picture keeps popping surprises: David Johansen (also known as the lounge singer Buster Poindexter) is the grinning cabbie whose identification card reads "Ghost of Christmas Past." John Glover, who sports a collegiate "Tennis, anyone?" haircut, is the new executive who's bucking to replace Frank. Carol Kane, as the Ghost of Christmas Present, is a weirdly dainty Sugar Plum witch. Also with Robert Mitchum, John Forsythe, Alfre Woodard, Michael J. Pollard, Karen Allen, and many other famous performers. Directed by Richard Donner; the script is credited to Mitch Glazer and Michael O'Donoghue. (Elaine May and others also worked on it.) Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.
This carelessly made version of the Chekhov play gives one an almost Chekhovian sense of missed opportunities; people come and go more rigidly than on a stage--they're practically swept away when they have spoken their lines. But Vanessa Redgrave is an extraordinarily grave and girlish Nina. She's almost too brilliant; she does so many marvellous things that at times they cancel each other out. James Mason is very fine as Trigorin, and because he is a quiet, somewhat passive actor, he seems more at home in Chekhov country than the rest of the cast does. Still, there are suggestions of what the other roles should be in the performances of David Warner, Denholm Elliott, Kathleen Widdoes, Eileen Herlie, Harry Andrews, and the miscast Simone Signoret. Directed by Sidney Lumet; cinematography by Gerry Fisher. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Going Steady.
Errol Flynn, playing a hero based on Sir Francis Drake, in a rousing swashbuckler directed by Michael Curtiz. The Spaniards talk peculiar slang, considering that the year is 1585, but Flora Robson's Queen Elizabeth is a vigorous shrewdie. The cast includes Brenda Marshall, Claude Rains, Gilbert Roland, Henry Daniell, Alan Hale, Una O'Connor, Donald Crisp and many other well-known performers. Seton I. Miller and Howard Koch were the writers; the music is by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Warners.
A big clinker that Elia Kazan would probably just as soon forget. Spencer Tracy plays a grim Southwestern cow-country baron who tries unsuccessfully to keep homesteaders off the land he considers his own. His wife (Katharine Hepburn) finds his antipathy for the homesteaders almost as trying as his mooning over his "sea of grass;" she has a brief fling with the homesteaders' dour lawyer (Melvyn Douglas) and presents her husband with a chubby boy. Tracy throws her out but keeps the child, who grows up to be Robert Walker. It takes a wild burst of melodramatics to bring Tracy and Hepburn together again, and they wind up preparing to spend the twilight of their lives peering at the grass. The scriptwriters (Marguerite Roberts and Vincent Lawrence) should have been run out of Hollywood, or maybe the guilty party is whoever bought the novel (by Conrad Richter). With Edgar Buchanan, Robert Armstrong, and Harry Carey. Produced by Pandro S. Berman, for MGM.
Both Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift made their screen débuts with the director Fred Zinnemann--Brando in THE MEN (1950) and Clift in this film, which was made in a quasi-documentary style (using actors as if they were documentary subjects and mixing them in with nonprofessionals) in a Zurich studio and in the U.N.R.R.A. camps in the U.S. Occupied Zone of Germany. It's about the terrors of the refugee children of the Second World War. A group of them panic when they're being put in a Red Cross ambulance, because they think they're being tricked into a motorized gas chamber, and a terrified, inarticulate little boy (played by 9-year-old Ivan Jandl, from Prague) runs away. As the American soldier who finds the boy, takes him in, gradually wins his trust, and restores him to speech, Clift gives the movie (which has that postwar U.N.-Marshall Plan piety running through it) a shot of excitement. His gestures and vocal rhythms and his emotional rapport with the child are different from the acting that moviegoers had been familiar with; he's sensitive and engaging in a new stylized, yet realistic, way. The movie crosscuts between what is happening to the boy and scenes of his desperate, persistent Czech mother (played by the singer Jarmila Novotna), who is trudging from camp to camp in search of him. The emotion got to many viewers, even though the manipulated suspense and the sentimental softening prevent the film from doing anything like justice to its subject. With Aline MacMahon radiating motherly warmth as a U.N.R.R.A. worker, and Wendell Corey. Zinnemann had been working in Hollywood since 1930, but many people who saw this film thought him a brilliant new European director, and his reputation was made. Produced by Lazar Wechsler, for MGM.
John Wayne is the taciturn loner, Ethan Edwards, a Confederate veteran who arrives at his married brother's ranch in Texas in 1868. Learning that there are Comanches in the area, Ethan and Martin (Jeffrey Hunter), a part Cherokee young man who lives with the brother's family, go off to look for them. While they're away the Comanches attack the ranch; they return to a scene of horror--the house has been burned down and the family slaughtered, all except Ethan's two nieces, who have been abducted. The ravaged body of the older girl is found and buried; the search for the little one (played by Lana Wood) goes on. It's a peculiarly formal and stilted movie, with Ethan framed in a doorway at the opening and the close. You can read a lot into it, but it isn't very enjoyable. The lines are often awkward and the line readings worse, and the film is often static, despite economic, quick editing. What made this John Ford Western fascinating to the young directors who hailed it in the 70s as a great work and as a key influence on them is the compulsiveness of Ethan's search for his niece (whose mother he loved) and his bitter, vengeful racism. He's surly and foul-tempered toward Martin, who accompanies him during the five years of looking for the girl (who by then has turned into Natalie Wood, in glossy makeup, as if she were going to a 50s prom), and he hates Indians so much that he intends to kill her when he finds her, because she will have become the "squaw" to what he calls a "buck." The film doesn't develop Ethan's macho savagery; it's just there--he kills buffalo, so the Comanches won't have meat, and he shoots out the eyes of a dead Comanche. The sexual undertones of Ethan's character almost seem to belong to a different movie; they don't go with the many crude and corny touches in this one. Ford's attempts at comic relief are a fizzle--especially the male knockabout humor, an episode involving a fat Indian woman called Look (Beulah Archuletta), and the scenes with Hank Worden overacting the role of a crazy man. Throughout, the performances are highly variable. With Vera Miles, Dorothy Jordan, Ward Bond who wears a fine top hat, Henry Brandon as Chief Scar, Ken Curtis as Charlie the singing guitarist, Peter Mamakos as Futterman, Olive Carey, John Qualen, Antonio Moreno, Harry Carey, Jr., Walter Coy, Pippa Scott, Pat Wayne, Nacho Galindo, and in a small part, Mae Marsh. From a novel by Alan LeMay, adapted by Frank S. Nugent; music by Max Steiner; filmed in Colorado and in Monument Valley. (There are allusions to this film in STAR WARS, MEAN STREETS, HARDCORE, and many others.) Warners.
Dirk Bogarde as a master decoder, in a London-set romantic thriller about espionage that's tolerably amusing whenever John Gielgud is on the screen demonstrating his flair for self-parody. The suspense never gets going, and the characters are literate according to a peculiarly illiterate theatrical convention: they make references to mythology and the classics. A few small jokes come off, or maybe we laugh just because they're so very small. When the picture tries to be Mod and posh and sexy it's extremely bad; MODESTY BLAISE already did what the director, David Greene, and the scriptwriter, Gerald Vaughan-Hughes, seem to be just barely considering. With Susannah York being kinky and smirky, and Lilli Palmer, Nigel Davenport, and Ronald Fraser. Cinematography by Gerry Fisher.
A misbegotten Fred Astaire musical. At the time, it was generally considered his worst picture, and Astaire himself later concurred in the judgment. He plays an overage undergraduate--a swing bandleader who keeps flunking his exams so that he can stay in college. The band is actually Artie Shaw's, considerably augmented. Astaire's romantic and tap partner is Paulette Goddard, who manages the band, and his rival for her affections is Burgess Meredith. The funnymen, Charles Butterworth and Jimmy Conlin, don't compensate for the scarcity of good numbers. The most memorable song is the one known by the line "I ain't hep to that step but I'll dig it." H.C. Potter directed; Bobby Hackett dubbed Astaire's trumpet, and Billy Butterfield dubbed Meredith's trumpet. Paramount.
Mary Healy steals the picture clean away when she sings "I'm Sorry for Myself." Then we're left with Sonja Henie skating and pouting and making pretty little faces to show that she's thinking. It's a padded little nothing about Hollywood life and publicity trickery, but the cast (Tyrone Power, Edna May Oliver, and Rudy Vallee) and the Irving Berlin songs keep it from being as lethally offensive as the Sonja Henie-John Payne movies. Sidney Lanfield directed, in his routine, straightforward manner; the script is by Harry Tugend. 20th Century-Fox.
John Frankenheimer's macabre sci-fi thriller about a diabolical conspiratorial organization that arranges for people to be "reborn" via plastic surgery. There are some good ideas tucked away inside the scrambled unpleasantness; the best of them concerns a banker (John Randolph) who is vaguely dissatisfied with his life and arranges a Faustian bargain for a second chance (he comes back as Rock Hudson) but doesn't have any conception of a new life. Unfortunately, Hudson seems dull to us as well as to himself. Frankenheimer shows off (he even stages a bacchanal), and James Wong Howe displays his camera pyrotechnics as if they were going on sale in the nation's supermarkets; Lewis John Carlino did the screenplay, from David Ely's novel. With Salome Jens, Jeff Corey, Murray Hamilton, Wesley Addy, and Will Geer. Paramount.
Not altogether successful Hitchcock version of Somerset Maugham's spy thriller, Ashenden, but it has a bright, quick, fresh touch, and it's fixating, partly because the two male leads, John Gielgud and Peter Lorre, are so ill-used. Gielgud looks like a tailor's dummy for Leslie Howard, and Lorre plays a cheerful little killer who speaks with a Mexican accent and wears a single earring. With Madeleine Carroll, Robert Young, and Lilli Palmer.
As Richard Milhous Nixon, Philip Baker Hall delivers a wild rumination on his life--a mixture of confession and self-exoneration. Directed by Robert Altman, the movie has a heightened quality, as if all the tumult of Nixon's last year in the White House, his resignation, and his pardon--all the news that we devoured from magazines and the papers and TV, and the constant stream of revelations--were compacted into this frazzled monologue. It's a seizure, a crackup, and the near-pornographic excess of the display is transfixing. There's a virtuoso naughtiness about the sureness of Altman's touch here; he has a small, weird triumph with this gonzo psychodocudrama. From the play by Donald Freed and Arnold M. Stone; cinematography by Pierre Mignot.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
Worse than there's any excuse for, considering that the James Thurber story seems like simple, foolproof movie material. But this was to be a big Sam Goldwyn production, and somebody decided that it wasn't enough simply to show the extravagant daydreams of a timid, harried man (Danny Kaye), so a plot was invented that plunges him into a string of adventures that are as unbelievable as any of his dreams. Kaye is often very funny--fantasizing himself as a grim-faced captain battling a typhoon or as an eminent surgeon saving a patient's life--but when the picture gets derailed and he starts chasing crooks, it's tedious. The scriptwriters, Ken Englund and Everett Freeman, don't do too well by the domestic episodes, either. The cast includes Boris Karloff, Florence Bates, Virginia Mayo (she's not much help), Ann Rutherford, Reginald Denny, and Fritz Feld. Norman Z. McLeod directed; Sylvia Fine provided two patter numbers, which seem rather inappropriate. RKO.
The story of how the farm-bred Brantley (Michael J. Fox) comes to Manhattan, is given a lowly mailroom job by his distant uncle (Richard Jordan), and takes over his uncle's wife (Margaret Whitton), mistress (Helen Slater), and conglomerate. The picture is stupid and often perfunctory; at the same time it's moderately enjoyable. It has a let's-try-it cheerfulness, a knockout performance by Whitton, who's like a Lubitsch vamp, and nonchalant bits of artifice that are like Lubitsch touches. The director, Herbert Ross, seems to take the derivative, jumbled material as a challenge, and he gives the adventures of Fox's polite Yuppie hustler a spinning, light-headed quality. With standout "character" performances by Elizabeth Franz as Brantley's mother, John Pankow as his mailroom pal, Christopher Murney as the boss of the mailroom, Susan Kellerman and Carol Ann Susi as secretaries, and Mercedes Ruehl as a waitress. The script is credited to Jim Cash & Jack Epps, Jr., and A.J. Carothers, though the dialogue was reworked by others--principally by Peter Stone, and by Christopher Durang, who appears as the most petulant member of the corporate board. The cinematography is by Carlo Di Palma; the editing is by Paul Hirsch. The movie is painless, except for the music (by David Foster). Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
Anthony Quinn and Anna Magnani are Italo Bombolini and his wife, Rosa; he's the town drunkard and buffoon, and she's a virago, rolling pin in hand. If you want to know more, you deserve everything you get--even the cast of thousands of hairy, warty, wine-loving peasants, waving their funny Italian arms, in the way they do only in American movies. When the director is Stanley Kramer they make their funny Italian sounds extra loud. United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
The use of violence for idealistic purposes is the theme of this English suspense film. Valentina Cortese plays a refugee from totalitarianism who becomes involved in an underground movement in London; her revulsion and guilt when she employs brutal methods are contrasted with the attitude of her lover (Serge Reggiani), a hardened revolutionary. With the very young Audrey Hepburn in a sizable role (it's rather like seeing Cinderella before the transformation), and Irene Worth, Athene Seyler, Charles Goldner, and Megs Jenkins. The expressive camera movements and the editing techniques of the director, Thorold Dickinson, were much discussed at the time, yet the film isn't very gripping. Written by Dickinson and Wolfgang Wilhelm.
Joseph Conrad's story of the new master of a ship (James Mason) who must decide what to do with a murderer (Michael Pate) makes an intense, eerie mood piece. This short-story film was directed by John Brahm; it was originally presented, along with THE BRIDE COMES TO YELLOW SKY, under the title FACE TO FACE. Produced by Huntington Hartford; released by RKO.
Eva Dahlbeck, Anita Björk, and Maj-Britt Nilsson tell the stories of their marriages, in this cloyingly middle-class comedy-melodrama, written and directed by Ingmar Bergman. With Gunnar Björnstrand, Jarl Kulle, and Birger Malmsten. In Swedish.
Starting from Dan Jenkins' popular 1972 novel, an anecdotal burlesque about professional football players, the director, Michael Ritchie, and the screenwriter, Walter Bernstein, made a movie that's a loose series of riffs on the human-potential, consciousness-raising movement, with the two football stars (Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson) involved in a romantic comedy triangle with the team owner's daughter (Jill Clayburgh). The film ambles along in a sunshiny, woozy, hit-or-miss way. Ritchie has an offhand visual slapstick sense, and he supplies about 20 minutes of funny bits that you catch out of the corner of your eye; with that and Reynolds' polished good-ol'-boy Cary Grant performance, the movie is like a low-grade fever--you slip in and out of it painlessly. With Bert Convy and Robert Preston; cinematography by Charles Rosher, Jr. Produced by David Merrick; released by United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
This satirical farce about political corruption is the only movie that the famous comedy writer George S. Kaufman ever directed. He doesn't show much talent for the medium; he gets his laughs by broad spoofing and overemphatic wisecracks that seem pitched to the last row in the balcony. The film is disappointingly short on wit, especially if one considers that Nunnally Johnson was the producer and Charles MacArthur wrote the script (from a story by Edwin Lanham), but it's still tolerable in a dumb, burlesque sort of way. William Powell flails about, trying to be funny in the tired slapstick role of a windbag senator running for President; with Ella Raines, Peter Lind Hayes, Hans Conried, Allen Jenkins, Arleen Whelan, Ray Collins, Norma Varden, and an unbilled appearance by Myrna Loy. Universal.
Marcel Ophüls gets into what the struggle in Northern Ireland is about in a far deeper sense than a mere account of the factions or the recent political moves would: he observes the living roots of the hatred in family folklore, in the schools, and on the streets, and shows how it is passed from generation to generation, and how it feeds upon violence and repression. The structure of this documentary film is defective, but for the gifts of feeling that Ophüls offers, a little discomfort is a small price. This is perhaps the first film to demonstrate how the original crimes against a people go on festering.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.