The Terminal Man

US (1974): Science Fiction
107 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

One of those errors-of-science thrillers; it's an even worse error of moviemaking. Pitifully miscast, George Segal is a man implanted with a computer that's supposed to regulate his violent temper; it goes haywire and he runs around stabbing people uncontrollably. Mike Hodges, who directed, also is guilty of the adaptation of the Michael Crichton novel. Of all the bad sci-fi movies of the 70s, this one probably has the least charm. With Joan Hackett as a soulful-eyed doctor, Richard Dysart, Jill Clayburgh, Michael C. Gwynne, and Ian Wolfe as a priest. If you close your eyes you can just listen to Glenn Gould playing Bach. Warners.

Terms of Endearment

US (1983): Drama/Comedy
132 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Retro-40s virtue piled on the cartoon underpinnings of TV comedy shows. The movie--which spans 30 years--is a Freudian story of role reversals between mother (Shirley MacLaine) and daughter (Debra Winger), told in a slap-happy style. The mother comes across as a parody of an anti-life monster and the daughter as a natural woman--a life force. The two actresses might be playing in two different movies. Adapted (from Larry McMurtry's novel) and directed by James L. Brooks, this is the kind of bogus picture that gets people to say, "I saw myself in those characters." Of course they see themselves there; Brooks guides the actors with both his eyes on the audience. The mother is a pixie horror--a rich skinflint with a blond dye job and pastel frills. She's a TV-museum piece, like the characters in "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" or "Soap;" she's warped. And so is the pie-eyed lecher who's her next-door neighbor--a former astronaut, played by Jack Nicholson. But the emotion she feels for him transforms her, and when a tragic illness strikes her family she shows her mettle, and his fundamental decency rises to the surface. This real-life tragedy movie uses cancer like a seal of approval. Cancer gives the movie its message: "Don't take people for granted; you never know when you're going to lose them." At the end, the picture says, "You can go home now--you've laughed, you've cried." What's infuriating about it is its calculated humanity. What makes it tolerable are the performers. Debra Winger is incredibly vivid; Nicholson is alert and polished. And the cast includes John Lithgow, Jeff Daniels, and Troy Bishop and Huckleberry Fox as Tommy and Teddy. Academy Awards: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Screenplay, Adaptation; Best Actress (MacLaine); Best Supporting Actor (Nicholson). Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

Tess

France-UK (1979): Drama
170 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Roman Polanski's version of Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles is textured and smooth and even, with lateral compositions subtly flowing into each other; the sequences are beautifully structured, and the craftsmanship is hypnotic. But the picture is tame. There's a visual turmoil in Hardy when he describes the Wessex countryside; Polanski's tastefully cropped compositions and unvaried pacing make nature proper. For a reader, the shock of the 1891 book is that Tess isn't simply a woman at the mercy of men, society, and nature; she's also at the mercy of her own passions. Polanski's Tess (the lovely young Nastassja Kinski, 17 when she played the role) is strictly a victim of men and social conventions. The film takes a sympathetic, feminist position toward her--in a narrow and demeaning sense. She isn't a protagonist; she is merely a hapless, frail creature, buffeted by circumstances. And Kinski--a soft, European gamine--isn't rooted in the earth of England or any other country; she's a hothouse flower, who manages the West Country sounds in a small, uninflected schoolgirl voice. She's affecting and sensitive, but she's in the wrong movie. With fine performances by Leigh Lawson as Alec and by Peter Firth as Angel Clare, and amazingly sharp, clear performances by John Collin as the drunken Durbeyfield, Tony Church as Parson Tringham, and by just about everyone else in the supporting cast. Made in English; shot in France, with cinematography by Geoffrey Unsworth and Ghislain Cloquet.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Tex

US (1982): Drama
103 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

An oddly quiet, tepid, soft film about adolescent travail in Oklahoma. Making his début as a director, Tim Hunter uses setups that are drably simple, and the locations are hazy--the cinematographer (Ric Waite) might be in some personal watery-pastel fog. The movie has no strong images; everything is flattened out. Yet this adaptation of one of the S.E. Hinton novels that became favorites of high-school kids in the 70s has an amiable, unforced good humor that takes the curse off the film's look and even off its everything-but-the-bloodhounds plot. As the prankish 15-year-old Tex, Matt Dillon radiates a mysteriously effortless charm; Dillon has a gift for expressing submerged shifts of feeling--we may feel that we're actually seeing Tex's growth process. The earnest naïveté of this movie has its own kind of emotional fairy-tale magic. Too bad that there's nothing in the very likable TEX to make it linger in the mind--it's visually so fuzzy that it drifts away like a TV show. As Tex's older brother, the promising Jim Metzler has been kept too monotonous, and as the heavy, Ben Johnson gives an unrelieved performance. But there's some lively, smart acting by Meg Tilly as Johnson's daughter, and some good shading in the acting of Pamela Ludwig as a high-school-age mother and Bill McKinney as the boys' rodeo-bum father. The author, Susan Hinton, appears in a bit as the typing teacher; the script is by Charlie Haas and the director. Disney.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Thank Your Lucky Stars

US (1943): Musical/Comedy
127 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Wartime patriotic musical, featuring the Warners stable--somewhat livelier than most of the other revues of this ilk. The high point is Bette Davis complaining of the lack of civilian males in the song "They're Either Too Young or Too Old." With Humphrey Bogart, John Garfield, Dinah Shore, Ida Lupino, Ann Sheridan, Errol Flynn, Hattie McDaniel, Dennis Morgan, Spike Jones and His City Slickers, Eddie Cantor, and many others. David Butler directed, from a not-too-constricting script by Norman Panama, Melvin Frank, and James V. Kern.

That Certain Feeling

US (1956): Comedy
103 min, No rating, Color

Bob Hope's relaxed skill buoys up this adaptation of the Broadway play King of Hearts, by Jean Kerr and Eleanor Brooke. The lines are light and amusing, though the slim contrivance of a plot is overlabored by the heavy hands of the directing team, Norman Panama and Melvin Frank. It's Hope's show: he has some good material and he stays in character as an anxiety-ridden comic-strip artist. Except for one good drunk scene, Eva Marie Saint is a dismayingly flat, uninspired heroine; George Sanders' role as an obnoxious success is too close to low comedy for his suave, jaded style; Pearl Bailey is a rather dubious deus ex machina. Also with Al Capp. Adapted by the directors and I.A.L. Diamond. Paramount.

That Cold Day in the Park

US (1969): Drama
113 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

It is certainly well directed (by Robert Altman), it's well written (by Gillian Freeman), and it is beautifully shot (by Laszlo Kovacs). But does anybody want to see a movie about a desperately lonely spinster (Sandy Dennis) who traps a young man (Michael Burns) and walls him up in her home? There may be something in the film medium itself that works against these stories of obsessional incarceration (THE COLLECTOR also failed): we in the audience are trapped along with the prisoner, and we long to get away. One can admire this film for its craftsmanship; it has a cold brilliance. But that's all. With Luana Anders, John Garfield, Jr., Suzanne Benton, and Michael Murphy. From a novel by Richard Miles; music by Johnny Mandel; art direction by Leon Ericksen. A Canadian production, filmed in Vancouver.

That Man from Rio

France (1964): Comedy/Adventure
114 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette
Also known as L'HOMME DE RIO.

Philippe de Broca's immensely successful parody-fantasy on thrillers and adventure films. With Jean-Paul Belmondo, Françoise Dorléac, and Jean Servais. High spirits and bravura and extravagance, but maybe too much of each. In French.

That Night in Rio

US (1941): Musical/Dance/Comedy
90 min, No rating, Color

Alice Faye could dance and she had a lush contralto voice (no lover of movie musicals will forget her "This Year's Kisses" in ON THE AVENUE), but this low-camp musical is one of her co-starring jobs with Don Ameche, the cipher that sings, in a double role. That's twice nothing. As the wife of a Brazilian baron (Ameche) she is weighed down by huge glassy necklaces and by the other characters' references to her great beauty; she keeps staring, in misery and embarrassment. The mistaken-identity plot, with the neglected wife falling in love with the nightclub entertainer (also Ameche) hired to impersonate her husband, is just a farce variation on THE PRISONER OF ZENDA. The film, directed by Irving Cummings, for 20th Century-Fox, features the studio's Brazilian Bombshell, Carmen Miranda--it would be a euphemism to describe her as volatile. She plays the entertainer's girlfriend, wears fruit on her head, and sings "I Yi Yi Yi Yi (I Like You Very Much)." The movie was remade 10 years later as the Danny Kaye vehicle ON THE RIVIERA; those with really long memories may recall that it was done for the first time back in 1935 as a Maurice Chevalier-Merle Oberon musical called FOLIES BERGÈRE. Of the three versions THAT NIGHT IN RIO takes the booby prize. With Maria Montez as Inez, and S.Z. Sakall, J. Carrol Naish, Curt Bois, Leonid Kinskey, Fortunio Bonanova, and Frank Puglia. From a play by Rudolph Lothar and Hans Adler; at least five writers worked on the script. (garish)

That Obscure Object of Desire

France-Spain (1977): Drama
103 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc
Also known as CET OBSCUR OBJET DU DÉSIR.

Luis Buñuel's style here is peerlessly urbane, but the film is a little monotonous. Fernando Rey plays a rich, worldly French widower of perhaps 50, who loves a young Spanish girl; she alternates between promises and postponement--she teases him, fleeces him, enrages him. She claims to love him but says, "If I gave in, you wouldn't love me anymore." In this fifth movie version of La Femme et le pantin, Pierre Louÿs' short novel about a femme fatale, the role is played by two actresses--Carole Bouquet, a tall French girl, poker-faced except for a squint of amusement and a foxy, crooked smear of a smile, and Angela Molina, a shorter, more rounded Spanish girl, who's physically impulsive, and sensual in a traditional heavy-eyed way. This doubling-up stunt doesn't add any meaning: perhaps there's less than if there were a single actress who could capture our imaginations. Buñuel sets up the Louÿs story, then treats it glancingly as a joke to hang other jokes on--and his jokes now don't have the violence underneath to make connections for us. His style is too serene for his subject. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Themroc

France (1973): Fantasy/Comedy
No rating, Color

This anarchistic, deliberately bestial black comedy-fantasy grew out of the post-1968 period in France, when it was fashionable to attack all "structures." It's about sex and the family and revolution, and it stars Michel Piccoli as Themroc (pronounced Temroc), a middle-aged factory worker who revolts, goes back to his flat, throws his material goods into the courtyard, and walls himself up in it, along with his pretty young sister (Béatrice Romand), whom he has been lusting after. He lives like an animal (what animal we'll never know) feasting on pigs--i.e., policemen--roasted on a spit. Soon, others in the block of flats follow suit and join in the orgy. The characters don't speak in any known language; they grunt and squeal and make "animal" sounds. In its assault on taboos, this work somewhat resembles Makavejev's WR-Mysteries of the Organism; unlike Godard's WEEKEND, it revels in barbarism, cannibalism, and bestiality. The director, Claude Faraldo, is ingenious and talented, though the pacing is often too slow and the thinking suggests a dirtier, French STEELYARD BLUES. The usually suave Piccoli is surprisingly effective in his caveman, King Kongish role; the result is much funnier than if a normally crude actor had played the part. The cast includes members of the Théâtre de la Gare; among them are Miou-Miou and Patrick Dewaere.

Theodora Goes Wild

US (1936): Comedy
94 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Irene Dunne was better in comedy than in her smug, sacrificial roles, and in this movie and THE AWFUL TRUTH she was at her best. She's too bright--she's almost shrill in her brightness--and she does something clever with her teeth that makes one want to slap her, but she has energy, and this comedy about a small-town girl who writes a best-seller and charms a city sophisticate (Melvyn Douglas) has a corny vitality that almost passes for wit. It was a hugely successful popular entertainment. Richard Boleslawski directed, from Sidney Buchman's screenplay. With Thomas Mitchell and Spring Byington. Columbia.

There Was a Crooked Man…

US (1970): Western
125 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

This example of commercialized black comedy nihilism seems to have been written by an evil 2-year-old, and it has been directed in the Grand Rapids style of filmmaking. The story plays murderous double-crossing games until any characters with a decent impulse are dead fools or have become crooked. There's nobody to root for but Kirk Douglas, a red-haired jokester-killer who is sent to a territorial prison in the Arizona desert in the 1880s; he makes a fool of Henry Fonda, the warden, who is changing the prison from a brutalizing place into a decent one, and he makes corpses of his buddies. Written by David Newman and Robert Benton; directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. With Hume Cronyn, Warren Oates, Burgess Meredith, Lee Grant, Alan Hale, Arthur O'Connell, John Randolph, Martin Gabel, Bert Freed, and Gene Evans. Cinematography by Harry Stradling, Jr. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

There's a Girl in My Soup

UK (1970): Comedy
95 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

A would-be scintillating comedy about a girl who can't decide between a dapper older man and a young hippie--the sort of thing that requires the audience to be enchanted by an elfin kook. Goldie Hawn bats her goldfish eyes, but she seems to have a hook in her mouth; Peter Sellers struggles manfully, trying to find her irresistible. Mechanically directed by Roy Boulting; written by Terence Frisby, from his play. Columbia.

There's No Business Like Show Business

US (1954): Musical/Dance
117 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Square and garish. Conceived as entertainment for the whole family, this musical is about a family of Irish vaudevillians--the Five Donahues; Ethel Merman and Dan Dailey are the parents, and Donald O'Connor, Mitzi Gaynor, and Johnnie Ray are their progeny. The plot is almost insultingly sentimental; it involves a misunderstanding between O'Connor and the girl he loves--Marilyn Monroe, as a seductive but goodhearted Broadway star. You have to put up with Johnnie Ray, who sings like a rutting cat and then--as if to win our indulgence--announces he is going to be a priest. But there's good, fast hoofing by Dailey and O'Connor and Mitzi Gaynor, who has a gleeful bounciness; she and O'Connor are wonderful together. And the Irving Berlin songs can carry you through a lot of tedious silliness. The costumes are so grotesquely tasteless, they become enjoyable--Ethel Merman sings the title song in a monstrous white gown that looks as if it's going to attack her. With Hugh O'Brian. The choreography is by Robert Alton and Jack Cole; the script is by Henry and Phoebe Ephron, from a story by Lamar Trotti. Directed by Walter Lang. 20th Century-Fox.

Therese

France (1986): Biography
91 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

Shot in a diorama in a richly austere visual style--the actors appear against a mottled, opaque backdrop--this Alain Cavalier film is undoubtedly a feat of some sort. (But perhaps it's no more than an art curiosity.) It concentrates our attention on the bare, masterly images (lighted by Philippe Rousselot) that come out of the darkness, and on tiny sounds and whispered bits of conversation. The script, by Cavalier and his daughter, Camille de Casabianca, is a minimalist version of the story of the young girl who at 15 got permission to enter the Carmelite order; she died of tuberculosis in 1897, at 24, and was canonized and became popular as St. Theresa of Lisieux, the Little Flower of Jesus, and the model of the pure woman. (This is at least the fourth French movie she has inspired.) What Cavalier's version gives us is the beaming eagerness of a girl (Catherine Mouchet) who seems born to be a nun. She takes completely literally her marriage to Christ, and burns with love for her bridegroom. For Thérèse, carnal passion and spiritual passion seem fused. But Cavalier's formal, noncommittal style is too measured for you to get any sense that you're observing life in a convent. He walls off Thérèse's inner struggle, and since nothing happens to her outwardly, she becomes only an aesthetic or possibly erotic object. And after a while the film's austerity may begin to seem as repressive as the cloistered life. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Therese Desqueyroux

France (1962): Drama
107 min, No rating, Black & White

Emmanuèlle Riva (of HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR) as François Mauriac's Thérèse, the provincial bourgeois lady who attempts to murder her gross, prosperous husband (Philippe Noiret) for the best and worst of reasons: he is dull. Directed by Georges Franju, and filmed in the cold Bordeaux of marshes and moors; it was shot on Mauriac's own estate. It's an oblique yet almost painfully lucid account of the stifled emotions that lead to attempted murder. You see bourgeois comfort and hypocrisy through the eyes of the sensitive intelligent person who registers exactly what it all is--you see through Thérèse the poisoner's eyes. The film is measured and relentless, and very beautiful in an ascetic way--but when it's over you're not likely to say, "Let's sit through it again." Riva is an ideal screen actress in the way that Jeanne Moreau and Annie Girardot are ideal: beyond their skills, they're fascinating just to look at. Riva is perfectly balanced against Noiret (whose performance here was prized and celebrated). Mauriac wrote the dialogue; he, his son Claude, and Franju did the adaptation. Cinematography by Christian Matras; with Edith Scob and Sami Frey. In French.

These Three

US (1936): Drama
93 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A beautifully made early version of the Lillian Hellman play The Children's Hour, which effectively transposes the lesbian accusation to a heterosexual accusation. (Hellman did the adaptation.) Merle Oberon (in one of her better performances), Joel McCrea, and Miriam Hopkins are the three leads; Bonita Granville is the ghastly, tale-bearing child who claims to have seen sexual carryings-on; and Catherine Doucet is Hopkins' aunt. William Wyler, who directed, also made the 1962 version (with Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn, and Hopkins in the aunt role), which restored the original charge, but THESE THREE is the better movie. Wyler seems more confident and relaxed in this version; he doesn't hover over things as much. With Alma Kruger, Marcia Mae Jones, Margaret Hamilton, and Walter Brennan. Cinematography by Gregg Toland. A Samuel Goldwyn Production.

They All Kissed the Bride

US (1942): Comedy
85 min, No rating, Black & White

"You're a machine-not a woman," Melvyn Douglas, the bohemian journalist, tells Joan Crawford, the boss-lady with the wrong slant on life. It was the refrain of Hollywood comedies after the Second World War: the heroine has to learn that running things isn't feminine. Joan, the head of a trucking company, proves she's fit to be a bride by doing a jitterbug number and getting drunk. It's grimly unfunny: Crawford, glowering, strides through the role that Carole Lombard's death saved her from. With Roland Young, Billie Burke, Helen Parrish, and Allen Jenkins; directed by Alexander Hall, from P.J. Wolfson's script. Columbia.

They Drive By Night

US (1940): Drama
93 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The director, Raoul Walsh, probably had little to do with the film's schizoid nature. The first half, involving George Raft, Humphrey Bogart, and Alan Hale, is an action-filled, realistic good story about free-lance truck drivers who run fruit and vegetables to the big-city markets. In the second half, Raft, neat, shaved, and respectably at work in an office, is pursued by Ida Lupino, his employer's wife, but manages to hold out, because he is engaged to Ann Sheridan. Nobody cares anymore whether the oranges and lettuce get to market on time; they're busy watching Lupino go off her scheming nut in a big courtroom scene (much like the one Bette Davis had played in 1935 in BORDERTOWN). This part is standard movie melodrama and not particularly well done. With Roscoe Karns, George Tobias, Gale Page, and Joyce Compton; from a novel by A.I. Bezzerides. Warners.

They Knew What They Wanted

US (1940): Drama
96 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

The Sidney Howard play was highly regarded in 1924, and Hollywood was drawn to this adulterous drama of the San Francisco waitress who agrees to marry Tony Patucci, an Italian grape grower in the Napa Valley, and then, in spite of herself, is seduced by the bridegroom's hired man. It was filmed in 1928 with Pola Negri and in 1930 with Vilma Banky. In this version, Carole Lombard sucks in her gorgeous cheeks and tries to look as if she's desperate to escape a life of poverty and drudgery; while Charles Laughton, as the goodhearted Tony, wears overalls and a droopy mustache, waves his arms ebulliently, and laughs with so much Latin gusto that even Anthony Quinn might be stunned. Lombard and Laughton work at their roles seriously, but who wants to see her in dowdy clothes thinking thoughts, and who wants to see him being earthy and simple and wise? (He has some ingenious moments but his "ethnic" acting isn't remotely Italian-American--at times he might be playing Charlie Chan.) Directed by Garson Kanin, from Robert Ardrey's adaptation; edited by John Sturges. With William Gargan as the hired hand, Harry Carey as the virtuous Doc, and Frank Fay, in one of the least convincing performances of all time, as a purehearted padre. Everybody involved seems to be working against the grain. The picture, which is permeated with spiritual sentiments of the tackiest variety, is like a fake antique. RKO.

They Live by Night

US (1949): Crime
95 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Nicholas Ray made his début as a director with this near-hallucinatory, hardboiled, expressionist version of Edward Anderson's too little known 1937 novel Thieves Like Us. The film-designed as a social tragedy-was ready for release in 1948 (under the title "The Twisted Road"), but RKO apparently thought it lacking in entertainment values and shelved it; released in England, it became a critical and box-office success, and so the studio relented and opened it here, in 1949. A variation of such earlier Bonnie-and-Clyde, on-the-road movies as YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE, it presents the girl, Keechie (Cathy O'Donnell), and her young escaped-convict lover, Bowie (Farley Granger), as doomed innocents, trying to escape the forces pursuing them, looking for a refuge where their baby can be born. Ray's tense choreographic staging and tightly framed compositions give the film a sensuous, nervous feeling of imminent betrayal. Yet this film noir stylization, elegant in design terms and emotionally powerful, is also very simplistic; the movie suffers from metaphysical liberalism--social injustice treated as cosmic fatalism. With Jay C. Flippen and Howard Da Silva, as Bowie's bank-robber friends, Helen Craig, Ian Wolfe, and Marie Bryant. Script by Charles Schnee; produced by John Houseman, under the aegis of Dore Schary. (Robert Altman made another version of THIEVES LIKE US, in 1974.)

They Made Me a Criminal

US (1939): Sports/Crime
92 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The screenwriter must have gone berserk on this one, or maybe it was some higher-up's idea to cast John Garfield as a New York prizefighter on the lam from a murder charge, who gets a job on a date ranch in Arizona, which is run by a kindly old lady (May Robson) as a work farm for delinquent boys--the Dead End Kids. When the do-gooding old broad is about to be evicted, the redeemed Garfield enters a local prizefight, and is spotted by a New York detective (Claude Rains). To add to the unlikeliness, Busby Berkeley was the director. The melodrama is mawkishly familiar, but there are watchable bits along the way, and it's tolerable. Barbara Pepper and Ann Sheridan figure in the big-city dirty glitter at the beginning, and on the ranch there's twisty-mouth Gloria Dickson as the good-woman blonde--she's an odd one, even by Warners' 30s standards. James Wong Howe was the cinematographer. The script, credited to Sig Herzig, is a reworking of the 1933 Warners movie THE LIFE OF JIMMY DOLAN.

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

US (1969): Drama
121 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Horace McCoy's hardboiled 1930s novel about the Hollywood extras who enter a marathon dance contest is turned into a macabre allegory, with the paranoid, apocalyptic vision of American rottenness that was typical of movies in the Vietnam era. Though the picture staggers under its heavy load of symbolism and is marred by flash-forwards, and even flashbacks triggered by flash-forwards, it's still striking, with vestiges of the hard sarcasm of 30s lower-depths humor--those acrid sick jokes that make one wince and laugh simultaneously. As the defiantly self-destructive, sharp-tongued Gloria, the girl who is so afraid of being gullible that she can't live, Jane Fonda gives a startling, strong performance. She shows the true star's gift of drawing one to her emotionally even when the character she plays is repellent; her Gloria, like Bogart's Fred C. Dobbs, is one of those creations who live on as part of our shared moviegoing experience. The screenwriters, James Poe and Robert E. Thompson, wrote a good role for Gig Young as the promoter-m.c.; he's a crude barker who, in his pitches on the microphone, cheapens every human emotion, but he's also sensitive and empathic. He knows how to handle people in crises--partly, one gathers, because he has been among people in ugly messes all his seamy life. The director, Sydney Pollack, isn't particularly inventive, but he has tight control of the actors. They work well for him, and he keeps the grisly central situation going with energy and drive. The cast includes Michael Sarrazin (his role--that of a man who commits a murder from which he is totally estranged--is the adaptors' worst failure, and he just looks weak, calf-eyed, and vaguely benumbed), Susannah York, Bonnie Bedelia, Bruce Dern, Red Buttons, Allyn Ann McLerie, and Severn Darden. Cinerama Releasing Corporation.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

Thief

US (1981): Crime
122 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Grandiloquent masochism of the kind an adolescent boy might fantasize. With rain outside and smoke inside, this Chicago-set movie is almost a parody of film noir: it's the underworld movies of the 40s and 50s made volcanic and abstract and existential. This is the first theatrical feature by the writer-director Michael Mann, and he has designed it like a choo-choo train to the box office. James Caan is the big-time safecracker who wants to take his bundle and retire, marry, have a nice house, and raise a family. But the corrupt System won't let him. The film is hyper-animated by this conception of existential tragedy: the thief--a loner in pain, the embodiment of a macho mystique--must learn that he's free only when he doesn't care about life and has nothing to lose. The film sets up an improbable character in a series of rigged situations and then leaps to universal despairing conclusions. Mann belongs to the pressure-cooker school of filmmaking: Tangerine Dream's synthesized electronic music pulsates like mad, and the cinematography (by Donald Thorin) is so snazzy it overwhelms the action. (Maybe because of all this high-powered look-at-me filmmaking the picture was a box-office failure.) With Tuesday Weld as the dazed, burnt-out woman whom Caan marries; Willie Nelson, oozing sincerity as Caan's only friend, who dies; and Robert Prosky and James Belushi. United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

The Thief of Bagdad

US (1924): Fantasy/Adventure
155 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., in a lavish Arabian Nights spectacle, designed by William Cameron Menzies and directed by Raoul Walsh. It's slow, dreamy, magically pretty, and enduringly enjoyable. With Anna May Wong, Julanne Johnston, Noble Johnson, Snitz Edwards, Sadakichi Hartmann, and Brandon Hurst. Silent.

The Thief of Bagdad

UK (1940): Fantasy
106 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Magical Arabian Nights adventures, on enormous, spacious sets and in brilliantly clear Maxfield Parrish colors; the screen seems to be made of velvet. Sabu is the boy thief who befriends Ahmed (John Justin), the prince who has been blinded and has had his kingdom usurped by the evil magician, the Grand Vizier Jaffar (Conrad Veidt). Though Justin is a wan embodiment of virtue, Veidt sparkles with villainy; in his dashing black ensembles, he makes superb entrances in the calendar-art vistas that the designer, Vincent Korda, supplied for this essentially cheery Alexander Korda production. Sabu seems most appealing when the wicked Jaffar has turned him into a dog; the dog seems to represent the essence of Sabu, and it even looks like him. Best of all is the deep-rumbling-voiced Rex Ingram as the Djinni of the bottle; this Djinni is not only giant-sized but giant voiced, with a big roaring, threatening laugh and a grin that suggests trouble. (He also has a Southern accent.) Bare except for a loincloth, he has talon fingernails and great quizzical eyebrows, and is bald-headed except for a ponytail. As the heroine, June Duprez--with her soft-lipped pout and sensual, edgy diction--is an unusual enough choice to catch one's interest. And Miles Malleson does a quirky turn as the Sultan, her toy-loving senile father; Malleson is like a toy himself, and when he becomes enchanted by a mechanical flying horse, he and the machine seem a perfect pair. But as a writer, Malleson, who, along with Lajos Biro, did the script, lacks enchantment; the flashback device at the beginning is unnecessarily complicated, and the dialogue throughout is distressingly flat. This adds to the film's other problems--the uneven rhythms and the occasional dead spots, the stagey use of the spectacular sets. Yet considering how many directors took turns on this picture (Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, and Tim Whelan are all credited, and Zoltán Korda and William Cameron Menzies, who are credited only as associate producers, also directed, as did Alexander Korda), it's surprising how well it holds together. The Miklós Rózsa score is intrusive and mood-shattering, but the cinematography by Georges Périnal (with Osmond Borradaile on the outdoor footage, and Robert Krasker as camera operator) and the costumes by Oliver Messel, John Armstrong, and Marcel Vertès have a fairy-tale richness. (This version takes off from the 1924 silent film that starred Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., as the thief, but it's very different.) Vincent Korda, Périnal, and the special-effects team all won Academy Awards.

The Thief of Paris

US (1967): Drama/Comedy
119 min, No rating, Color
Also known as LE VOLEUR.

Jean-Paul Belmondo in Louis Malle's slow-paced, romanticized view of the state of mind of a nihilist thief in late-19th-century France. This thief hates the bourgeoisie, yet is so successful he becomes part of it. Malle shows none of the seaminess of thievery; this is a study of compulsion, and though it's well shot by Henri Decaë, it lacks substance and is tedious. Screenplay by Malle and Jean-Claude Carrière, with dialogue by Daniel Boulanger; based on a novel by Georges Darien. With Geneviève Bujold, Marie Dubois, Charles Denner, Françoise Fabian, Julien Guiomar, Paul Le Person, Marlène Jobert, and Bernadette Lafont. In French.

The Thief Who Came to Dinner

US (1973): Comedy
105 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

A more cynical version of old Hollywood escapist fantasies about nonchalant gentleman thieves. Now the whole society is seen as crooked ("everybody cheats" on expense accounts, we're told), and we're supposed to root for the young, attractive crook who outsmarts all those cheaters. As a swinger jewel thief, Ryan O'Neal turns on the charm; he's got it, all right, but it's processed--he's so assured that he looks spoiled. As his sexy socialite girlfriend, Jacqueline Bisset is so velvety a projection of masculine fantasies that she doesn't have enough rough edges to be alive. The movie is faintly diverting, but the vacuity becomes oppressive. With Warren Oates as a tenacious insurance investigator; Charles Cioffi; Jill Clayburgh, who supplies some bits of humor as O'Neal's ex-wife; and Austin Pendleton as a tormented sissy who writes a chess column. Directed by Bud Yorkin, from a script by Walter Hill, who also wrote THE GETAWAY on the same formula. Set in Houston; score by Henry Mancini; adapted from a novel by Terrence Lore Smith. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

Thieves

US (1977): Comedy
92 min, Rated PG, Color

New York ghetto school-teacher Marlo Thomas lectures her sellout husband, Charles Grodin, who has lost his wild, free spirit, about the glories of a carefree existence--with full dedication to the underprivileged. The author, Herb Gardner (he also took over the direction from John Berry), specializes in the urban poetry of craziness; the characters don't talk--they make speeches, every one of them profound. The husband and wife are followed around by mute ghosts of the city--an emblematic ragpicker (Mercedes McCambridge) and a token skid-row bum (Gary Merrill). With Irwin Corey as the wife's cab-driver father--a 78-year-old leprechaun who chases "tootsies" because tootsies are "hopefulness itself." There's not a believable minute. Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

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