Smooth Talk

US (1985): Drama
92 min, Rated PG-13, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

It has lovely touches in its first half, when the director, Joyce Chopra, shows us the restless and narcissistic 15-year-old Connie (Laura Dern), who acts seductive and teases boys her own age or a year or two older, because she doesn't know what else to do about the way she feels. Connie and her friends (Sarah Inglis and Margaret Welch) parade happily around the shopping plaza for hours and hours--testing their skills at attracting boys and bantering with them. Tom Cole, who wrote the script, expanding the brief Joyce Carol Oates story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?," has a fine ear for teenage talk. But the movie's texture is thin from the start--especially in the scenes at Connie's home, where she and her mother (Mary Kay Place) bicker. And the second half isn't just stretched out--it's a little screwy. The Oates story is a young girl's sex-and-horror fantasy: a sordid creep (an older man) arrives at Connie's house when she's alone; he's like the materialization of her ugliest fears, and he terrorizes her and lures her into his car. End of story and, the reader assumes, probably the end of poor Connie. Unaccountably, Chopra and Cole try to turn this material into a coming-of-age movie with a happy resolution. Their ending suggests that Connie has grown up--matured--via what amounts to terrorization and (possibly) rape; the experience seems to have made her a better person. As the creep, Treat Williams gives a neo-Method performance that's all affectation. With Levon Helm as Connie's pleasant-goofball father, and Elizabeth Berridge as Connie's older sister, though, confusingly, she looks more like a kid sister.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

S.O.B.

US (1981): Comedy
121 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A sour mixture of slapstick, cynicism, and sentimentality. Robert Preston covers his thick head of graying hair with glory in the role of a hearty, imperturbable Dr. Feelgood, who gives all-purpose injections; Larry Storch has a bright scene as a guru; and Richard Mulligan is involved in a few funny sight gags. He plays a producer who cracks up after his hugely expensive film starring his wife (Julie Andrews) opens and closes practically simultaneously; wandering about his Malibu home in a suicidal stupor, he sinks through a hole in the second-story bedroom floor that has been covered with a large rug and lands gracefully in the middle of an orgy. But Blake Edwards, who wrote and directed this broadside against Hollywood, uses a tired plot about turning the disastrous picture into a hit by having Julie Andrews bare her breasts. Edwards is snide in a square, unfunny way--he thinks he's showing us how corrupt the movie business is by casting Shelley Winters as a treacherous woman agent who wears tent-size caftans and shares her bed with a cutie-pie black woman. The picture is acknowledged to be based on Edwards' own experiences when his picture DARLING LILI was a colossal flop. But DARLING LILI wasn't a flop for the reason suggested--that it was innocent and charming at a time when the dirty-minded public wanted nudity and sex. (As a matter of bleak record, Julie Andrews did a striptease in DARLING LILI that wasn't so very different from the breast-baring here.) With William Holden, Marisa Berenson, Larry Hagman, Stuart Margolin, Robert Loggia, Loretta Swit, Benson Fong, Robert Vaughn, Robert Webber, John Pleshette, and the director's daughter, Jennifer Edwards, as Lila. Released by Paramount.

So Ends Our Night

US (1941): War
117 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

There are some lovely qualities in this film about anti-Nazi refugees, and Frances Dee, who plays the wife of a disaffected fugitive German officer (Fredric March), is so remarkably beautiful in a key passage that her image stays with one, like that of Garbo at the end of QUEEN CHRISTINA. March gives the romanticizing picture suggestions of realism and some needed weight. With Margaret Sullavan (the part doesn't do her justice, and she falls back on things she's done before) and, opposite her, the soft-eyed, lanky young Glenn Ford (in his first important role), as a sensitive Jewish boy. Also Anna Sten, Erich von Stroheim, Alexander Granach, Sig Rumann, Leonid Kinskey, and Roman Bohnen. From Erich Maria Remarque's novel Flotsam, well adapted by Talbot Jennings. The action, which starts in Vienna before the Anschluss, moves from Prague to Zurich and Paris and Berlin through the skill of the set designer, William Cameron Menzies. Though the film was not a commercial success, the director, John Cromwell, rightly regards it as one of his best pieces of work. Produced by David L. Loew and Albert Lewin, for United Artists.

So Fine

US (1981): Comedy
91 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

This is the first film directed by the comedy writer Andrew Bergman, and it's a visual insult: crudely lighted and framed, and jumping out at you. Jack Warden is Jack Fine, a Seventh Avenue dress manufacturer in debt to the mob; his most frequent line is "Holy shit," which he delivers whenever Bergman thinks the movie needs a really big laugh. The central gimmick is that Jack's college-teacher son (Ryan O'Neal) splits a pair of jeans and stuffs see-through plastic into the cheeks, and that this turns into a fashion craze. There are potentially funny scenes, but Bergman doesn't know how to give timing and polish to his own jokes. Stuck with frantic gags, O'Neal just revamps his tight-mouthed professorial priss from WHAT'S UP, DOC? The film's only freshness comes from the lovely, tiny Italian blonde Mariangela Melato, making her American début as a mobster's wife. In her deep voice she garbles her English charmingly; she's an erotic imp--she looks a bit like Harpo Marx, and she's always flying, like Carole Lombard in a hurricane. With Richard Kiel, Fred Gwynne, and Irving Metzman, who gives likable readings to his role as an accountant, Bruce Millholland as Sir Alec, the world's greatest poet, and Mike Kellin as the smiling, ever-hopeful salesman. The assaultive cinematography is by James A. Contner. Produced by Mike Lobell, for Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

So This Is New York

US (1948): Comedy
79 min, No rating, Black & White

Henry Morgan plays the Indiana cigar-salesman hero in this adaptation of Ring Lardner's The Big Town. The movie is a satire of New York in the 20s--a deadpan farce that's uneven, but frequently very funny. Morgan and his wife (Virginia Grey) take her sister (Dona Drake) to the big city to find a husband: the prospects include Rudy Vallee as a millionaire, Hugh Herbert as an explorer, Leo Gorcey as a jockey, and Bill Goodwin as an egomaniac actor. Directed by Richard Fleischer, from a screenplay by Carl Foreman. A Stanley Kramer Production; released by United Artists.

A Soldier's Story

US (1984): Mystery
101 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

This tense, wholehearted combination of melodrama and psychodrama is set in and around an Army base in Louisiana in 1944. A black drillmaster, Sergeant Waters (played, in flashbacks, by Adolph Caesar), has been murdered, and a black lawyer, Captain Davenport (Howard E. Rollins, Jr.)--the first black commissioned officer ever to be seen in this part of the country--has been sent down from Washington, D.C., to investigate. Charles Fuller (who did the adaptation of his A Soldier's Play) uses the structure of a whodunit for an inquiry into the psychological dynamics of racism, and there's some daring in his perception that in a racist society the temptation toward self-hatred is part of being black. The material is overexplicit; it's like the trumped-up, creaky yet powerful socially conscious plays-into-movies of the past. But the director, Norman Jewison, has given it an atmosphere that recalls his crack 1967 comedy-mystery IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, and he has also given it a beautiful sense of pace, and brought out all the humor he can find. Since Captain Davenport is one-on-one with the people he questions, a number of actors get to dominate the screen for a scene or two. The standouts are Denzel Washington (as the best educated of the black soldiers), Art Evans, Larry Riley, David Harris, and, among the white officers, Dennis Lipscomb. The cinematographer, Russell Boyd, knows how to photograph black men: their skins seem iridescent, and Rollins has a heroic, sculptural presence. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

The Solid Gold Cadillac

US (1956): Comedy
99 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Richard Quine directed Abe Burrows' adaptation of the George S. Kaufman-Howard Teichmann Broadway play about the little-old-lady stockholder in a giant corporation; though her holdings are minuscule, her questions about corporate salaries cause an uproar at the annual meeting, and pretty soon she has enough proxies to take over the business. In the movie, this eccentric stockholder becomes a woman of marriageable age, and Judy Holliday brings the role her familiar cartoon mixture of wide-eyed primordial simplicity and complacent urban abrasiveness. She's a funny woman, yet lacking in variety; her truculent voice and glassy eyes and shrewd innocence are wonderful in a sketch but a little monotonous in a starring role like this one. However, the fault here isn't primarily hers: it's in the formula Broadway comedy, with its predictable situations and sledgehammer laugh lines. With Paul Douglas, Fred Clark, Hiram Sherman, John Williams, and Arthur O'Connell. Columbia.

Some Call It Loving

US (1973): Fantasy
103 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

Illusion-and-reality games, or thumb-twiddling. James B. Harris wrote and directed this drowsy whimsey (based on a John Collier story) about a jazz-musician prince (Zalman King) who buys a sleeping beauty (Tisa Farrow) at a carnival and takes her to his castle, which is presided over by wicked Scarlett (Carol White). Everyone in this picture about romantic enchantment seems to be sleepwalking, and the director, too. Richard Pryor turns up briefly, acting amiably stoned.

Some Like It Hot

US (1959): Crime/Comedy
119 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A comedy set in the Prohibition era, with transvestism, impotence, role confusion, and borderline inversion--and all hilariously innocent, though always on the brink of really disastrous double-entendre. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are the musicians who witness the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and then hide out from the mobsters by disguising themselves as women and joining an all-girl band. Marilyn Monroe and Joe E. Brown are their somewhat confused love partners. Curtis demonstrates a parodistic gift with an imitation of Cary Grant (which he went on doing for years afterward), and Lemmon is demoniacally funny--he really gives in to women's clothes, and begins to think of himself as a sexy girl. Monroe gives perhaps her most characteristic performance, which means that she's both charming and embarrassing; Brown is inspired, the way he was years before in Max Reinhardt's movie of A Midsummer Night's Dream, when he made some of us weep from laughter. With George Raft, Pat O'Brien, Nehemiah Persoff, Mike Mazurki, Tom Kennedy, George E. Stone, and, on the sound track, Matty Malneck's orchestra, with Art Pepper, Shelly Manne, Barney Kessel, and Leroy Vinegar. Directed (unevenly) by Billy Wilder, who also collaborated on the screenplay with I.A.L. Diamond. For collectors of useless movie memorabilia: in one of the earlier versions of this material, a German musical film, the orchestra girls were called The Alpine Violets. United Artists.

Somebody Killed Her Husband

US (1978): Mystery/Comedy
97 min, Rated PG, Color

A romantic suspense comedy that resembles the pictures that Ginger Rogers did in the late 30s--the ones about ordinary, pleasant people falling in love and getting into farfetched scrapes. But when this dishy blonde (Farrah Fawcett-Majors, in her first movie as a star) walks through the toy department of Macy's with her toddler son in a stroller and spills a bag of pretzels, and a clerk (Jeff Bridges) rushes to her assistance and looks into her teeth and it's love at first sight, everything seems a little custardy and congealed. Did the screenwriter, Reginald Rose, pull the script out of a filing cabinet where it had rested for decades? Bridges probably does better by the dated romantic badinage than anybody else could have, and he makes the movie semi-watchable. John Glover's pinched-faced, amused craziness is also entertaining, and John Wood and Tammy Grimes try for a stylish arch ghoulishness, though they don't have the witty lines that are needed to support that style. With Mary McCarty, Laurence Guittard, Patricia Elliott, and Beeson Carroll. Directed by Lamont Johnson, on location in New York City. Produced by Martin Poll for Melvin Simon; released by Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Someone to Watch Over Me

US (1987): Thriller/Romance
106 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A Manhattan socialite (Mimi Rogers), who writes about art and looks expensively asymmetrical, witnesses a murder; a police detective (Tom Berenger), a warmhearted, decent, uncultivated fellow who lives in Queens with his wife and child, is assigned to protect her. He falls for her, and she for him, and the murderer tries to get at her. That's essentially all there is, except for the high-class hauntedness supplied by Ridley Scott, who directed. He draws you into a dull, sensual daydreaminess, but after watching Tom Berenger and Mimi Rogers for a while, you look around for the stars. With so much buildup--so much terror-tinged atmosphere--you expect actors with some verve, and you wonder why the script (credited to Howard Franklin) doesn't sneak in a few jokes. (Has a good thriller ever been this solemn? Or this simple?) Daniel Hugh Kelly brings some kick to the small role of a cop who has split up with his wife; the only performer who really stands out, though, is Lorraine Bracco, as the detective's wife--her line readings have a hardheaded urban earthiness, and her comedy timing sparks the movie. With Jerry Orbach, Andreas Katsulas, and John Rubinstein. Cinematography by Steven Poster; the title song (by the Gershwins) is performed at the start by Sting, then by Roberta Flack, then by Gene Ammons. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Something to Shout About

US (1943): Musical
93 min, No rating, Black & White

Clumsy, chaotic little musical taken from a Cole Porter Broadway show. Janet Blair has too much to do; Jack Oakie doesn't have enough. With William Gaxton, Hazel Scott, Cyd Charisse, and Don Ameche. One good Cole Porter song: "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To." Directed by Gregory Ratoff. Columbia.

Something to Sing About

US (1937): Musical/Comedy
93 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The title represents unjustified optimism. James Cagney plays a bandleader who goes to Hollywood to make a musical. Cagney gets a chance to do some of that hoofing of his that's not like anybody else's, but the story is a leaden satire of Hollywood, with a feeble suggestion of A STAR IS BORN. Mona Barrie, in a blond wig, does a refreshing parody of Garbo; the heroine is overpowering Evelyn Daw, of whom not much more was heard. With William Frawley and Gene Lockhart. Direction, music, and story by Victor Schertzinger. First National.

Something Wild

US (1986): Drama/Comedy
113 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Jonathan Demme's romantic screwball comedy isn't just about a carefree kook (Melanie Griffith) and a pompous man from Wall Street (Jeff Daniels). The script--a first by E. Max Frye--is like the working out of a young man's fantasy of the pleasures and punishments of shucking off middle-class behavior patterns. The movie is about getting high on anarchic, larcenous behavior and then being confronted with ruthless, sadistic criminality. This rough-edged comedy turns into a scary slapstick thriller. Demme weaves the stylization of rock videos into the fabric of the movie. Starting with David Byrne and Celia Cruz singing Byrne's "Loco De Amor" during the opening credits, and ending with a reprise of Chip Taylor's "Wild Thing" by the reggae singer Sister Carol East, who appears on half of the screen while the final credits roll on the other half, there are almost 50 songs (or parts of songs), several of them performed onscreen by The Feelies. The score--it was put together by John Cale and Laurie Anderson--has a life of its own that gives the movie a buzzing vitality. This is a party movie with both a dark and a light side. With Ray Liotta as the dangerous, menacing Ray; Dana Preu as the kook's gloriously bland mother; and Margaret Colin as bitchy Irene. Also with Jack Gilpin, Su Tissue, and Demme's co-producer Kenneth Utt, and, tucked among the many performers, John Waters and John Sayles. Cinematography by Tak Fujimoto. Orion.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Son of Frankenstein

US (1939): Horror
99 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The third and last in the Boris Karloff series, directed by Rowland V. Lee, rather than James Whale, who did FRANKENSTEIN and the more whimsical BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. The conception here doesn't have the resonance of the first two films; this one slips out of the memory, except for a few individual scenes and Bela Lugosi's affecting Ygor, the shepherd and grave robber who becomes the Monster's only friend. Karloff has a few inventive moments--the Monster's revulsion when he sees himself in a mirror, his agonized scream when he discovers that Ygor is dead. ( Lugosi returned as Ygor in THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, but without Karloff.) The set designs contribute to the dreamy, unworldly mood, and actors such as Basil Rathbone as the Baron, Lionel Atwill as the Police Inspector (whose artificial arm gets torn out), Edgar Norton, and Gustav von Seyffertitz give the production a certain amount of class. Emma Dunn and timid, terrified Josephine Hutchinson don't. Universal.

Song of Norway

US (1970): Musical/Biography
142 min, Rated G, Color, Available on videocassette

Self-parody is built into operettas and is part of their innocent, campy charm. But this one isn't authentic kitsch of the Wiener-schnitzel variety, it isn't a dated crowd-pleaser squeezed for the remaining box-office juice; it's second-generation kitsch--an imitation operetta, on the joys and tribulations of Edvard Grieg's life, that combines the worst of THE SOUND OF MUSIC with the worst of A SONG TO REMEMBER and SONG WITHOUT END. Even if you're prepared for dirndls and roguish smiles you're not likely to be ready for the distorted sound, the pasty, pudgy faces, and the bewildering use of dance as if it were mood music. (When the picture isn't showing you waterfalls, flaxen-haired dancers go leaping by--a few frames at a time--to maintain a frolicsome Norwegian mood.) The movie is of an unbelievable badness; it brings back clichés you didn't know you knew--they're practically from the unconscious of moviegoers. You can't get angry at something this stupefying; it seems to have been made by trolls. With T. Maurstad as Grieg, Florence Henderson as Nina Grieg, and Harry Secombe, Robert Morley, Edward G. Robinson, Oscar Homolka, and James Hayter. Directed by Andrew L. Stone, who also wrote the script, suggested by the stage show Song of Norway by Milton Lazarus, based on a play by Homer Curran. Music and lyrics by Robert Wright and George Forrest, based on Grieg's work. An Andrew and Virginia Stone Production, for ABC and Cinerama.

Song of Songs

US (1933): Drama
90 min, No rating, Black & White

At the start, Marlene Dietrich is a pure young peasant, with angelic big blond braids around her head; after falling in love with a sculptor (Brian Aherne) and being carelessly discarded by him, she marries a nastily decadent old baron (Lionel Atwill), who takes her to his big Schloss, which is presided over by a villainous housekeeper (Helen Freeman). After much anguish, she becomes a flamboyant woman of the world, wearing great splashy hats, and is finally reunited with the guilt-ridden sculptor. All this is given the full spiritual-suffering treatment, with lyric, pictorial symbolism and quotes from the Song of Solomon. It was unbelievably dated when it came out; if the director, Rouben Mamoulian, hadn't been so ponderously artistic, it might have been delirious camp. Dietrich looks blankly beautiful--she seems to be wondering what the devil she's doing here. With Alison Skipworth and Hardie Albright. Vaguely derived from Hermann Sudermann's novel (which had also served as the basis for a silent film with Pola Negri, and, even earlier, for one with Elsie Ferguson); it comes via a play version by Edward Sheldon, adapted to the screen by Leo Birinski and Samuel Hoffenstein. Paramount.

Song Without End

US (1960): Musical/Biography
141 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

A gigantic calamity. The standard movie life of an artistic genius deals with the simple conflict between normal family life, respectability, and success on the one hand and the creative drive, poverty, and misunderstanding on the other. This life of Franz Liszt (played by Dirk Bogarde) has three conflicting elements: his career as Europe's greatest performing pianist, his desire to compose (when inspired by a beautiful Russian princess), and his pledge (to mama) to become a priest. Prepared by the director Charles Vidor, the film was completed after his death by George Cukor who, out of respect for Vidor's reputation, or for his own, declined screen credit. Among the historical impersonations are Capucine as Princess Carolyne, Patricia Morison as George Sand, Martita Hunt as the Grand Duchess, Geneviève Page as Countess Marie, Marcel Dalio as Chelard, Ivan Desny as Prince Nicholas, Walter Rilla as the Archbishop, and Robert Warwick as the Emissary. Featuring the music of Liszt, Wagner (Lyndon Brook), Chopin (Alex Davion), and Bach, Paganini, Handel, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Verdi, and Schumann. Photographed (principally in Europe) by James Wong Howe. Columbia. CinemaScope. .

Songwriter

US (1984): Musical
94 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Unpublicized by the company that made it, this is a terrifically enjoyable movie--a freewheeling, sophisticated comedy about how artists are driven to become con artists in order to survive. As the wily Doc Jenkins who turns to "mogulling," Willie Nelson is a country-music version of Alec Guinness's scalawag painter Gulley Jimson in THE HORSE'S MOUTH. Working with a witty script by Bud Shrake, the director Alan Rudolph is able to bring out the scrounginess and the ribaldry of the down-home music scene; the picture offers a wide range of rowdy slapstick, and some that's fairly highbrow and still rowdy. The performers are up for everything that's handed to them. The cast includes Nelson's co-star, the silver-bearded Kris Kristofferson, as a vain, happy sensualist; Lesley Ann Warren in a stunning performance as a sweet, insecure, boozing hysteric; Rip Torn, who makes everything he says sound mean and dirty; Melinda Dillon, who has a way of blending right in with the gags; Richard C. Sarafian (the director of VANISHING POINT) as a Nashville gangster entrepreneur; and a blond newcomer, Rhonda Dotson, a romantic comedienne with awesome poise. The cinematography is by Matthew Leonetti; the production design is by Joel Schiller; the song score is by Nelson and Kristofferson. Tri-Star.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooke.

Sons and Lovers

UK (1960): Drama
103 min, No rating, Black & White

A sensitive and intelligent (though not altogether satisfying) version of D.H. Lawrence's autobiographical novel, adapted by Gavin Lambert and T.E.B. Clarke, and directed by Jack Cardiff. Visually, it's extraordinarily fine, though the visual beauties aren't informed by Lawrence's passionate sense of life. The artist's fire simply isn't here-the movie is temperate, earnest, episodic. But Dean Stockwell does well in the role of Lawrence, and Wendy Hiller as the mother and Trevor Howard as the drunken-miner father are superb; it's possible that Howard has never done anything to match his work here. There are scenes--such as the one of the father getting his weekly bath--that are so remarkable they almost do Lawrence justice; other scenes are merely conscientious. The most embarrassing sequences are two post-coital discussions. In the book they're the culminations of relationships that have been developed over hundreds of pages; in the film it's as if as soon as two people hit the sack, they know exactly what's wrong with the relationship and why it has got to end. With Mary Ure as Clara the suffragette, Heather Sears as Miriam, Rosalie Crutchley as Miriam's mother, and Ernest Thesiger and Donald Pleasence. Cinematography by Freddie Francis; the assistant director was Peter Yates. CinemaScope,
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book I Lost it at the Movies.

Sophie's Choice

US (1982): Drama
157 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

This unusually faithful adaptation of William Styron's Holocaust gothic comes to us stuffed with literary references and encrusted with the weighty culture of big themes: evil, tortured souls, guilt. The director, Alan J. Pakula, did the screenplay himself. He didn't write it, he penned it, and the film tells us that (1) survivors of the death camps carry deathly guilt within them and (2) William Styron is right up there on Parnassus with Thomas Wolfe, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Hart Crane. Meryl Streep plays Sophie the Catholic; Kevin Kline is Nathan the mad-genius Jew, who is her lover and tormentor; and Peter MacNicol is Stingo the Protestant, the young heir to Southern chivalry (and stand-in for Styron)--he moves into the Brooklyn house they live in and becomes involved in their sadomasochistic trials. Styron got these three central characters so gummed up with his idea of history that it's hard for us to find them even imaginable, and Pakula can't get all the crazed romanticism in motion. The movie is a novel being talked to us, and it has the kind of plotting that points relentlessly at a character's secret and then has to have the character lying constantly, so that the lies can be stripped away. As Sophie, Meryl Streep is colorful in the first, late-40s scenes when, red-lipped and with bright-golden curls, she dimples flirtatiously and rattles on in Polish-accented broken English; she does amusing, nervous bits of business, like fidgeting with a furry boa--her fingers twiddling with our heartstrings. But when the flashbacks to Sophie's past start up and the delayed revelations are sprung on us, it's apparent that the whole plot is based on a connection that isn't there--the connection between Sophie and Nathan's relationship and what the Nazis did to the Jews. The narrator is Josef Sommer; the cinematography is by Nestor Almendros. Academy Award for Best Actress (Streep). Produced by Keith Barish and Pakula; released by Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

The Sorrow and the Pity

France-Switzerland-Germany (1970): Documentary/War
260 min, Rated PG, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Magnificent documentary epic on the German Occupation of France. Directed by Marcel Ophüls, this study in the psychology of history makes us ask what we and our friends and families would actually have done if our country had been invaded, like France. It's both oral history and essay: people who lived through the German Occupation tell us what they did during that catastrophic period, and we see and hear evidence that corroborates or corrects or sometimes flatly contradicts them. What makes the film innovative is the immediate annotation of what has just been said. As the perspectives ramify, we begin to get a fuller sense of what it was like to participate in the moral drama of an occupied nation than we have ever had. (4 hours.)
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

Sorry, Wrong Number

US (1948): Thriller
89 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Lucille Fletcher wrote this overextended treatment of her radio play about a bedridden hypochondriac who calls her husband at his office, overhears a couple of men arranging a murder, and slowly comes to realize that she is to be the victim. Barbara Stanwyck is the terrified and, finally, whimpering woman; Burt Lancaster is her morose husband. The director, Anatole Litvak, seems to be defeated by the extravagantly jumbled, shallow script. With Ann Richards. Paramount.

S.O.S. Iceberg

Denmark-Germany-US (1933): Drama/Adventure
77 min, No rating, Black & White
Also known as S.O.S. EISBERG.

An international production (Danish, German, American), this adventure melodrama about a shipwrecked group of explorers hanging on to a glacier that's breaking up was an international hit. Made in Greenland in 1932 and 1933 by the director, Dr. Arnold Fanck, it starred Leni Riefenstahl and a German cast; the American version, with Tay Garnett given the director's credit, retains much of Fanck's footage, and Riefenstahl is still the star, but the other German leads are replaced by Rod La Rocque and Gibson Gowland. From the start, the production doesn't appear to have been taken too seriously by those involved (not, at least, in the way they took THE WHITE HELL OF PITZ PALU seriously), and it's far from a great epic, but it has an entertainingly perilous situation, and there are marvellously photographed sequences. Ernst Udet, who had appeared in PITZ PALU and other Fanck films, does some exhibition-style stunt flying here, as he comes to the rescue. By the time she appeared in this film, Riefenstahl, discovered by Fanck when he saw her dancing the lead role in a ballet when she was 17, had already made her own début as a director, with THE BLUE LIGHT, in 1932.

Souls at Sea

US (1937): Drama
92 min, No rating, Black & White

Swashbuckling action film, based on a trial for a crime on a sailing ship in the early 19th century. The director, Henry Hathaway, can't get the confused script elements to mesh, and the sentimental manipulation is cloying; this is the unlamented type of movie in which a mortally wounded tough guy steals back to die with his sweetheart and slips a wedding ring on her finger. However, Hathaway gets all the panic and fury he can out of the slave trade, a mutiny, a fire at sea, and a crowded lifeboat. The three principals are Gary Cooper, George Raft, and Frances Dee, and the huge cast includes Henry Wilcoxon, Olympe Bradna, Robert Cummings, Joseph Schildkraut, Harry Carey, Porter Hall, and George Zucco. Paramount.

The Sound of Music

US (1965): Musical/Biography
174 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Set in Austria in 1938, this is a tribute to freshness that is so mechanically engineered and so shrewdly calculated that the background music rises, the already soft focus blurs and melts, and, upon the instant, you can hear all those noses blowing in the theatre. Whom could this operetta offend? Only those of us who, despite the fact that we may respond, loathe being manipulated in this way and are aware of how cheap and ready-made are the responses we are made to feel. We may become even more aware of the way we have been turned into emotional and aesthetic imbeciles when we hear ourselves humming the sickly, goody-goody songs. The dauntless, scrubbed-face heroine (Julie Andrews), in training to become a nun, is sent from the convent to serve as governess to the motherless Von Trapp children, and turns them into a happy little troupe of singers before marrying their father (Christopher Plummer). She says goodbye to the nuns and leaves them outside at the fence, as she enters the cathedral to be married. Squeezed again, and the moisture comes out of thousands--millions--of eyes and noses. Wasn't there perhaps one little Von Trapp who didn't want to sing his head off, or who screamed that he wouldn't act out little glockenspiel routines for Papa's party guests, or who got nervous and threw up if he had to get on a stage? The only thing the director, Robert Wise, couldn't smooth out was the sinister, archly decadent performance by Christopher Plummer--he of the thin, twisted smile; he seems to be in a different movie altogether. With Eleanor Parker, Richard Haydn, Peggy Wood, Anna Lee, and Marni Nixon. The music is by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II; the script by Ernest Lehman is based on the stage version by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director, Editing (William Reynolds), Musical Scoring (Irwin Kostal), Sound (the 20th Century-Fox Sound Department).
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

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