Ugetsu

Japan (1953): Drama
96 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

This subtle, violent yet magical film is one of the most amazing of the Japanese movies that played American art houses after the international success of RASHOMON in 1951. The director, Kenji Mizoguchi, handles the narrative in two styles: barbaric sequences dealing with greed and civil war that seem realistic except that the characters are deliberately animalistic and are symbolically acting out the bestial side of man; and highly stylized sequences dealing with the aesthetic, luxurious, and romantic modes of life. When the hero (Masayuki Mori), a grunting peasant potter, develops self-awareness and becomes an artist, the meanings multiply. The film is upsetting and unspeakably cruel at times, and then so suggestive and haunting that it's confounding. When, in the midst of serene elegance, the phantom Lady Wakasa (Machiko Kyo) offers the potter-artist rarefied sensual delights, you know how he feels as he cries, "I never imagined such pleasures existed!" Heavy going in spots, but with marvellous passages that are worth a bit of patience. With Kinuyo Tanaka as the potter's wife. In Japanese.

The Ugly American

US (1963): War/Drama
120 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

This attempt to deal with some of the peculiarities of American foreign policy in Asia is only marginally successful, and the director, George Englund, has zero style, but the film is entertaining anyway. The plot is about the mythical Asian country of Sarkhan, divided by factional disputes and torn between American aid and Communist influence. Its star, Marlon Brando, clearly enjoys the joke of his playing a proper career statesman in a pinstriped suit, who sports a neat little mustache. He's the new U.S. Ambassador to Sarkhan (concocted out of Thailand and Universal's back lot), whose premier is played by the extraordinarily handsome Kukrit Pramoj, who was later to become the Thai premier in fact. He was hired as the film's technical consultant, but Brando and Englund persuaded him to turn actor, and he saves the later part of the action, when Brando's role is dim. With Eiji Okada, Pat Hingle, Sandra Church, Jocelyn Brando, George Shibata, Reiko Sato, Stefan Schnabel, Philip Ober, and Arthur Hill. The screenplay, by Stewart Stern, has fairly remote connections to its credited source, the novel by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick. Cinematography by Clifford Stine.

Ulysses

US (1967): Drama
140 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

No doubt the director, Joseph Strick, hoped for a great deal more, but the film he made is merely an act of homage to Joyce's novel in the form of readings from the book plus illustrated slides. A surface map of the comings and goings in town and "Nighttown," and some plausible facsimiles of Joyce's characters (Buck Mulligan, particularly), it seems both static and jerky. On the sound track are the lines we want to hear and it's good to be reminded of them, but they don't have the sensuality or the weight that they had in the novel; they're merely quotations from a classic, well-selected, intelligently read. Joyce gives us the drama within Stephen's consciousness; the film stays on the outside, and so Leopold Bloom, who is easier to represent, takes over. With Maurice Roeves as Stephen, Milo O'Shea as Bloom, Barbara Jefford as Molly, and T.P. McKenna, Anna Manahan, and Maureen Potter. Adapted by Strick and Fred Haines. Shot in Dublin.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Umberto D.

Italy (1952): Drama
89 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Vittorio De Sica's UMBERTO D. is a stubborn old gentleman with bourgeois standards and no means, isolated in an impersonal modern city, unable to communicate with anyone, except his dog (Flick in the subtitles but pronounced Flike). Umberto's alienation has pride and spirit in it, even though his skinny frame is stiffening. Someone has said that this picture goes a long way toward making us aware of what it is to be a man-and also, for that matter, of what it is to be a dog. There are graceful, beautiful episodes-such as a sequence of a young servant girl rising-that would be unthinkable in a conventional movie, or even in a documentary of the time, since the sequence doesn't illustrate any social thesis but is there for itself, for what Cesare Zavattini, who wrote the script with De Sica, called "the love of reality." This work stands apart from De Sica's other films, with the possible exceptions of THE CHILDREN ARE WATCHING US and SHOESHINE-its moral passion has a special purity. Zavattini wrote that "No other medium of expression has the cinema's original and innate capacity for showing things … in what we might call their 'dailiness.'" Perhaps what makes this film singular is that its "dailiness" is infused with so much awareness that the screen seems luminous. There isn't a minute of banality in this simple, direct film, and there's none of the usual Italian post-synching-even the background sound is live and was recorded at the time. Cinematography by G.R. Aldo. With Carlo Battisti, a retired professor, as Umberto, Maria Pia Casilio as the servant, and Lina Gennari as the landlady. In Italian.

Un Carnet de Bal

France (1937): Dance/Animated
109 min, No rating, Black & White

An episodic, star-studded film, directed by Julien Duvivier, that had a great success here in the emerging foreign film theatres and was widely imitated in Hollywood and Europe. A wealthy, nostalgic widow (Marie Bell) goes in search of what might have been. She sets out to find the men listed on the dance program of her first ball, 20 years before, and manages to locate many of the most famous French actors of the day: Harry Baur, who has become a monk; Raimu, a town mayor; Louis Jouvet, a crook; Pierre Blanchar, a shady doctor; Fernandel, a hairdresser; Pierre-Richard Willm, an Alpine guide. The performances form an astonishing catalogue of acting styles. Even Françoise Rosay turns up. People who saw this movie in their youth still talk about its big scene--the revelation of the discrepancy between what the widow remembered as her first great ball and the poor little provincial dance it actually was. And they tend to have the same kind of nostalgia toward UN CARNET DE BAL--which despite its stars and its awards is a little tawdry, too. As a work of romantic entertainment it doesn't compare with Duvivier's other 1937 film, PEPE LE MOKO. But it's redolent of the 30s, and it could serve as a text on the varieties of French acting. Music by Maurice Jaubert; the five writers included Henri Jeanson and Duvivier. In French.

Un Chien Andalou

France (1928): Documentary/Horror/Fantasy/Comedy
20 min, No rating, Black & White

Even if you're prepared for the famous shock image of the sliced eye, Luis Buñuel's and Salvador Dali's short silent film has the hallucinatory and incendiary effect they sought. Some of the images have great poetic force, and at times they have an erotic humor that one has difficulty explaining, even to oneself. With Pierre Batcheff as the cyclist, Dali as the priest, and Buñuel as the man with the razor.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

US (1988): War/Romance
171 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Glorious. Directed by Philip Kaufman, this adaptation of Milan Kundera's novel is touching in sophisticated ways that you don't expect from an American director. A prankish sex comedy, it treats modern political events with a delicate--yet almost sly--sense of tragedy. It's the way the variations of jealousy and erotic attraction are played out by the three principal actors--an Englishman (Daniel Day-Lewis), a Swedish woman (Lena Olin), and a Frenchwoman (Juliette Binoche), all playing Czechs--that gives the movie its wonderfully unresolved texture. The story begins in Prague in 1968, during the period of freedom of expression and artistic flowering known as "socialism with a human face." Day-Lewis's Tomas is a hedonist, a womanizer, and an eminent young brain surgeon; Olin's Sabina, a painter who is his longtime sex partner, and Binoche's Tereza, whom he marries, represent the two poles of his life--lightness and weight. Kaufman has an exuberant temperament, and the spirit of the film is younger and looser than that of the book; a short 173 minutes, the picture has a whirling beauty. With Derek de Lint as the professor who's too virtuous for Sabina, Pavel Landovsky as the man with the tiny pet pig, Erland Josephson as the barroom janitor who was formerly the Czech ambassador in Vienna, Donald Moffat as the chief surgeon, Stellan Skarsgard as the engineer, and Daniel Olbrychski as the interior ministry official. Script by Jean-Claude Carrière and Kaufman; editing by Walter Murch; cinematography by Sven Nykvist. (The Prague scenes were shot in Lyon and Paris.) A Saul Zaentz Production, released by Orion.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Uncommon Valor

US (1983): War/Adventure
105 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

This realistic action fantasy, in which a group of seven former Marines get together for an expedition into Southeast Asia to bring out the missing-in-action men from their Vietnam unit who have been slave laborers for ten years, is right-wing and racist, but the director, Ted Kotcheff, keeps the grandiosity in check and the movie is understated and surprisingly enjoyable. It moves on a strong emotional current. In the film's terms, the ex-Marines' defiance of the United States government--they keep going even after the C.I.A. fingers them to officials in Bangkok and their weapons are confiscated--is enough to make their mission honorable and make them heroes. As their leader, Gene Hackman treats soldiering in a businesslike way, and he offers a range of held-in, adult emotion that you don't expect to see in an action movie. The cinematography by Stephen H. Burum and Ric Waite and the smooth authority of the editing also help to undercut the cheap jingoism. With the heavyweight prizefighter Randall ("Tex") Cobb, who gives an endearing, uninhibited performance as a slobby, self-destructive biker called Sailor (because he used to "take a lot of red wine and uppers and sail away"), and Fred Ward, Harold Sylvester, Reb Brown, Tim Thomerson, Patrick Swayze, and also Robert Stack, Alice Lau, Debi Parker, Kwan Hi Lim, and Gail Strickland. The script is by Joe Gayton. Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

The Unconquered (Helen Keller in Her Story)

US (1954): Biography
No rating, Black & White

Snapshots, old newsreels, and specially prepared sequences reconstruct the activities of more than 70 years. We see Helen Keller with Mark Twain, G.B. Shaw, Jascha Heifetz, Caruso, and many others; we see her in her Hollywood acting fling in 1919, in Martha Graham's studio, and, finally, in her home life. Through it all there is the mobile, glowing face that in the closing scenes acquires the luster of a legend. Narrated by Katharine Cornell.

Under Capricorn

UK (1949): Drama
117 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A Hitchcock stinker, set in Australia in the early 19th century (though shot in England). High-born English Ingrid Bergman (!) is Lady Henrietta, who elopes with a stable-man, Joseph Cotten (!), becomes alcoholic, and falls in love with her visiting cousin, Michael Wilding. The casting in this movie defies all reason, and includes Margaret Leighton as a servant, and Cecil Parker, Denis O'Dea, and Jack Watling. Script by James Bridie, based on Helen Simpson's novel. Released in the U.S. by Warners.

Under Fire

US (1983): War/Drama
128 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A beautiful piece of new-style classical moviemaking. Everything is thought out and prepared, but it isn't explicit, it isn't labored, and it certainly isn't over-composed. Set in Nicaragua in 1979, during the last days of Somoza's dictatorship, the film is a little like Peter Weir's THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY, but visually and in its romantic revolutionary spirit it's more like Pontecorvo's THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS and BURN! With his subdued impassioned manner, the director, Roger Spottiswoode, brings the Nicaragua of countless news stories right to the center of our consciousness, by showing us how three grown-up Americans react to the Sandinist revolution. The stars are the unostentatiously fine actor Nick Nolte as the photojournalist hero--part artist, part automaton; Joanna Cassidy, strong and stunning as a radio reporter; and Gene Hackman in one of his wonderfully expansive performances as a jaunty, professionally likable war correspondent. The characters around them include Jean-Louis Trintignant as a suave, sleazo Frenchman who works for the C.I.A., Ed Harris as a mercenary with the grin of a happy psychopath, René Enriquez as a Teddy-bear Somoza, and Richard Masur as his American publicity expert. The often edgy and maliciously smart script, by Ron Shelton (working from a first draft by Clayton Frohman), gives the actors some very knowing material. The cinematography is by John Alcott; the Jerry Goldsmith score, which features a bamboo flute from the Andes with a barely perceptible electronic shadow effect, is a beauty. Shot in Mexico. Orion.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

Under Milk Wood

UK (1973): Drama
90 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

An affectionate and beautiful reading of Dylan Thomas's radio play--a celebration of the originality and eccentricity in "ordinary" life. Andrew Sinclair, who adapted and directed, provides a fairly modest visual accompaniment. Richard Burton is the principal speaker and performer; Peter O'Toole is the blind Captain Cat; Elizabeth Taylor is the Captain's lost love, Rosie Probert. Also with Victor Spinetti, Glynis Johns, Sian Phillips, Ann Beach, Vivien Merchant, in the cast of about 70. Seeing the people seems to clarify and set the play in one's mind, though one may lose the unkempt luxuriance of Thomas's vision, and perhaps also lose the freedom not to think of the voices in terms of characters--the freedom not to visualize the material. The play was already complete in its original form, as a radio play--a play for voices. For some of us, it took place nowhere but in the poet's unruly head, and the disembodiment played a part in its glorious windiness. Who could handle the sensations this language produces and take in rich visual imagery, too? The only strong visual images in the movie--some superb dark shots of seals--may, on one level, extend the poetry, but they also add something foreign, because they, too, have a life of their own. The adaptation includes a bit lifted from Thomas's short story "Just like Little Dogs."
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

Under the Roofs of Paris

France (1930): Drama
92 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette
Also known as SOUS LES TOITS DE PARIS.

René Clair's first sound film was one of the first imaginative approaches to the musical as a film form. Clair keeps dialogue to a minimum and uses music and sound effects to create a carefree, poetic style. More lyric, less comic, than his other films of this period, SOUS LES TOITS isn't the fun that his 1931 LE MILLION is; it may be a little too pure, too "cinematic." It tells the story of two inseparable friends and the girl they both love. With Albert Préjean as the street singer. In French.

Under the Volcano

US (1984): Drama
109 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Malcolm Lowry, who wrote the novel, had a mystique about booze: he somehow got himself to believe that alcoholic self-destruction would give him access to the states of mind necessary to set words on fire. And his hero, Geoffrey Firmin, the former British Consul in Cuernavaca, is meant to be a genius with the courage to destroy himself so that he can transcend the limits of ordinary men and see things more intensely. For the movie to mean anything resembling the novel, we would have to see something of what Firmin--with his psyched-up consciousness--perceives. But all that it does is take a literal approach to the novel, as if it were no more than an account of the final binge of a drunk who becomes suicidally careless and gets himself killed. Since there's almost no attempt to find equivalents of Firmin's visions or of the excitement of Lowry's incendiary prose, the film puts a terribly heavy burden on Albert Finney, who plays Firmin. The drama has to come from his performance, in a big yet virtually unwritten role, and Finney can't help making us aware that he's giving the role more than his best shot--that he's pushing too hard (frequently in closeup), and overusing his facial muscles. Directed by John Huston, from a script by Guy Gallo, the movie has a deep-toned flossy and "artistic" clarity and a peculiarly literary tone--the dialogue doesn't sound like living people talking. With Jacqueline Bisset, Anthony Andrews (who gives an arch, acting-by-the-manual performance), James Villiers, Emilio Fernandez, Katy Jurado, and Ignacio Lopez Tarso. The cinematography is by Gabriel Figueroa; the score, by Alex North, ages the material, gives it a pompous emotionalism. Filmed in Mexico.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

Unfaithfully Yours

US (1948): Comedy
105 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

One of the most sophisticated slapstick comedies ever made, this classic, written and directed by Preston Sturges, got terrible reviews and failed at the box office. The hero, a symphony conductor (a parody of Sir Thomas Beecham), is played by Rex Harrison, who is at one of his comic peaks. During a concert the conductor, convinced that his wife (Linda Darnell) has been unfaithful to him, fantasizes how he will handle the situation in three different ways, according to the style of the music on the program--Rossini's Overture to Semiramide, the "Pilgrim's Chorus" from Wagner's Tannhäuser, and Tchaikovsky's "Francesca da Rimini." After the concert, he tries to carry them out, scrambling them hopelessly. There are so many great lines and situations in this movie that writers and directors have been stealing from it for years, just as they've been stealing from Sturges's other work, but no one has ever come close to the wild-man deviltry of the best Preston Sturges comedies. With Edgar Kennedy, Rudy Vallee, Kurt Kreuger, Barbara Lawrence, and Lionel Stander. 20th Century-Fox.

Unfaithfully Yours

US (1984): Comedy
96 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Sloshed, Dudley Moore is a star (as he proved in ARTHUR, which kept him happily stewed throughout); this film takes too long getting him there. It's an uninspired remake of Preston Sturges's 1948 film, which was a great musical joke. Directed by Howard Zieff, from an ingenious script by Valerie Curtin, Barry Levinson, and Robert Klane, this version isn't a total dud, but it's a coarser piece of slapstick, and not at all memorable. Moore is the symphony conductor who thinks his young wife (Nastassja Kinski) is betraying him; he fantasizes how he will handle the situation while he conducts the I. Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, with his supposed betrayer (Armand Assante) as the soloist. Assante's bedroom voice and sleek, well-pleased-with-himself manner are a serviceable contrast to Moore's apoplectic (and ineffectual) rage, and Albert Brooks, who plays the conductor's manager, is really brilliant; he gives the film a crazed, hip subtext. (He came up with some of his own dialogue.) Toward the end, Moore shows his slapstick virtuosity, but he hasn't been as well protected by the director (or by the script) as he might have been; he's rather too pitiable and elfin--and at the very end, he's needlessly infantilized. With Richard B. Shull, Richard Libertini, Cassie Yates, and Magda Gyenes as the giddy, tempestuous Hungarian singer. (The Russian Tea Room footage was shot on a Los Angeles sound stage; so were the interiors of Carnegie Hall and the Plaza Hotel.) 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

Unfinished Business

US (1941): Romance/Comedy
96 min, No rating, Black & White

It starts as a frothy comedy, with Robert Montgomery and Irene Dunne being madcap and frivolous, and there's an entertainingly preposterous inside view of nightclub life, but the froth curdles. Once sentiment gets the upper hand, look for an exit. Before then, Walter Catlett has a few choice moments as the proprietor of a luxurious resort. With Eugene Pallette, as a playboy's butler. Gregory La Cava directed, from Eugene Thackery's screenplay. Universal.

The Unholy Three

US (1930): Crime
72 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Lon Chaney, in a talkie remake of one of his grotesque, horrifying silent hits. He plays Echo, a crooked ventriloquist, who works in a dime museum along with a malevolent midget (Harry Earles, later the star of FREAKS) and a strong man (Ivan Linow). They sell parrots who, with Echo's aid, appear to be great talkers; when dissatisfied customers complain, the three visit the customers' homes, which they subsequently burglarize. (Surely the most outlandish burglary scheme on film.) This sound version, directed by Jack Conway, isn't as nightmarishly well done as the Tod Browning silent, but Chaney ("the man of a thousand faces") demonstrates that he also has a variety of voices (he uses four), and the sound is particularly effective in the courtroom climax when, masquerading as an old woman, he suddenly gives himself away by speaking like a man. With Lila Lee, John Miljan, and Elliott Nugent. MGM.

The Uninvited

US (1944): Horror
98 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey are the brother and sister who buy a house on the Cornish coast only to find it inhabited by a spooky evil presence. Sexy-eyed Gail Russell never could act worth a damn, but she had an eerie luster, and she's lovely as the mysterious young girl who helps in the exorcism. The picture was popular, though it doesn't come anywhere near fulfilling one's initial hopes that it will be a first-rate ghost movie. Charles Brackett produced; Lewis Allen directed; from Dorothy Macardle's novel Uneasy Freehold, adapted by Dodie Smith and Frank Partos; musical score by Victor Young. With Cornelia Otis Skinner (playing the usual Gale Sondergaard role), and Donald Crisp, Alan Napier, Dorothy Stickney, and Barbara Everest. Paramount.

An Unmarried Woman

US (1978): Drama/Comedy
124 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

Paul Mazursky wrote and directed this buoyant, enormously friendly comedy about Erica (Jill Clayburgh) and her attempt to get back into "the stream of life" after her marriage of 16 years breaks up. It's a tenderhearted feminist picture. What may be disappointing to those who love Mazursky's earlier work is that in trying to identify with Erica and tell the story from a woman's point of view, he shies away from having her look foolish; in crucial parts, he suppresses his sense of satire, and the picture becomes virtuous. With Michael Murphy, Lisa Lucas, Pat Quinn, Kelly Bishop, Linda Miller, Cliff Gorman, Mazursky himself, as Hal, and Alan Bates, whose fine comic, expansive performance as Saul Kaplan, a famous painter, overpowers the movie. Saul is such a rich, loamy Father Earth figure that when Erica resists him in order to satisfy her yearnings for independence she seems puny and a bit of an idiot. 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

The Untouchables

US (1987): Crime
119 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Set in Chicago circa 1930--Al Capone's capital of crime--this Brian De Palma movie, from a script by David Mamet, is like an attempt to visualize the public's collective dream of Chicago gangsters. Our movie-fed imagination of the past is enlarged and given a new vividness. De Palma is a showman here. Everything is neatly done in broad strokes, and the slight unbelievability of it all makes it more enjoyable. Robert De Niro's Capone is a plump peacock with receding hair and a fat cigar in his mouth. The four men who fight to restore the honor of a corrupted society--the four who can't be bribed, the Untouchables--are the fresh-faced young Special Agent Eliot Ness, played by Kevin Costner; a smart, ornery veteran cop, played (magnificently) by Sean Connery; a rookie-cop sharpshooter (Andy Garcia); and a small, middle-aged accountant (Charles Martin Smith). It's not a great movie; it's too banal, too morally comfortable--the script is too obvious. But it's a great audience movie--a wonderful potboiler. It's a rouser. The architectural remnants of the era (including solid traces of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright) have been refurbished to provide a swaggering showcase for the legend. Cinematography by Stephen H. Burum; music by Ennio Morricone. (Every now and then you may wonder what Morricone's throbbing disco-synthesizer beat is doing in this period.) With Jack Kehoe, Billy Drago, and Richard Bradford. Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Up in Central Park

US (1948): Musical/Comedy
88 min, No rating, Black & White

A misery from Universal. The subject of how the Tweed ring was busted isn't exactly ideal musical-comedy material, and with smiley, suave Vincent Price as Boss Tweed, and that most juvenile of all singing juveniles, Dick Haymes, as the reporter who blows the lid off, there's no redemption. Deanna Durbin plays a colleen (yes, really) who is smitten with love for Haymes, and she sings some of the undistinguished songs by Dorothy Fields and Sigmund Romberg. Directed by William Seiter, from Karl Tunberg's script. With Tom Powers.

Up in Smoke

US (1978): Comedy
86 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

You don't have to be an insider to see the humor in dopers' single-minded, never-ending quest for great grass. This piece of stoned-hippie foolishness, starring the comedy team Cheech and Chong, who wrote the script, is fairly consistently funny. It's an exploitation slapstick comedy, rather than a family picture, such as BLAZING SADDLES or HIGH ANXIETY--WHICH means that it's dirtier, wilder, and sillier. (It's also better paced.) With Zane Buzby as the speed-freak, June Fairchild as the woman who snorts Ajax, and Otto Felix, Tom Skerritt, Stacy Keach, Louisa Moritz, Strother Martin, and Edie Adams. Produced and directed by Lou Adler. Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Up the Down Staircase

US (1967): Drama
124 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

Sandy Dennis, blinking as if she'd taken pills and been awakened in the middle of the night. As the teacher in Bel Kaufman's account of education in a tough New York school, she reacts confusedly before the situations even develop, but the audience is ahead of her, anyway: this is BLACKBOARD JUNGLE with a woman sweating it out. Even in her dopey state, Dennis stumbles with what must be embarrassment on the obligatory speech: "I came here to teach…." There are touching but too heavily pointed vignettes, peculiarly affectless readings from some of the young actors, and a coy score; still, it holds a viewer's attention. An Alan J. Pakula-Robert Mulligan Production, directed by Mulligan, from Tad Mosel's script. With Ruth White, Eileen Heckart, Jean Stapleton, Roy Poole, Patrick Bedford, Frances Sternhagen, Ellen O'Mara, and Sorrell Booke. Warners.

Up the River

US (1930): Prison/Comedy
92 min, No rating, Black & White

The setting is Sing Sing, and damned if the inmates don't file into their cells at night and break into melodious lullabies, their trained voices ringing in the stone corridors. In this co-educational prison, gracious women prisoners engage in badinage--and occasional dalliance--with the men. The picture--a true curiosity--started out to be something quite different. A highly publicized uprising in Auburn Prison in New York led to a spate of plays and movies about prison life. On Broadway, Spencer Tracy had a great success in The Last Mile; MGM rushed to prepare THE BIG HOUSE, a melodrama, and Fox commissioned Maurine Watkins to write UP THE RIVER, which was also to be a melodrama. But THE BIG HOUSE came out first and Fox was going to cancel UP THE RIVER when John Ford, who was scheduled to direct it and had already hired Tracy, came up with the idea of turning it into a spoofy comedy featuring prison baseball instead of a riot. In the finale, Tracy and Warren Hymer, who have broken out in order to help their buddy, Humphrey Bogart, who had got caught in a jam after he'd been released, go back in, so they can play in a big baseball game. Bogart here is not much more than a shiny-faced, gum-chewing, smiling juvenile with a long, skinny jaw, but Tracy, making his film début, is assured and lively as a cocky, tough mug--he keeps his scenes going by a lot of by-play with the other actors. Still, the big galoot Warren Hymer, playing a blissful sort of innocent stupe, gets most of the laughs. The picture--which is slow and bizarrely corny, especially when Bogart is at home with his proper Mom, or goes on a hayride with his convict pals--was very popular. With Claire Luce, William Collier, Sr., Ward Bond, Sharon Lynne, Noel Francis, Wilbur Mack, Morgan Wallace, Robert E. O'Connor, and two actors known as Slim and Clem playing Black and Blue. (Remade in 1938, with Preston Foster.)

Up the Sandbox

US (1972): Comedy
97 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Barbra Streisand has never seemed so radiant as in this joyful mess, taken from the Anne Richardson Roiphe novel and directed by Irvin Kershner. The picture is full of knockabout urban humor, though it doesn't seem to have settled on what it's meant to be about. The heroine is the wife of a Columbia instructor, and the movie is a hip, free-association treatment of her daydreams and conflicting desires, and of a variety of women's-lib problems. With David Selby, Paul Benedict, Paul Dooley, Carl Gottlieb, Moosie Drier, and Jacobo Morales as Fidel Castro. Script by Paul Zindel; cinematography by Gordon Willis. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

Up Tight

US (1968): Drama
104 min, Rated PG, Color

An updated version of THE INFORMER, set in the black community of Cleveland, in the days following the death of Martin Luther King. Everybody tries hard, but the material doesn't transfer successfully, and the movie lacks spirit. With Raymond St. Jacques, Julian Mayfield, Ruby Dee, Roscoe Lee Browne, Juanita Moore, and Frank Silvera. Directed by Jules Dassin in a 40s melodrama style; Dassin also wrote the script, with Ruby Dee and Mayfield. Cinematography by Boris Kaufman. Paramount.

Urban Cowboy

US (1980): Drama
135 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Aaron Latham's 1978 Esquire article, "The Urban Cowboy," was subtitled "Saturday Night Fever, Country & Western Style," and it was quite clearly a set of variations on SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977). According to Latham, the headquarters of the young hardhats who worked in the petrochemical plants around Houston was a vast honky-tonk, Gilley's, which featured a mechanical bull, and these anomic young Southwesterners had no way to prove their manhood except by dressing up in boots and jeans and cowboy hats and trying to live out the myths of the West by riding this contraption. The film, directed by James Bridges, from a script he wrote with Latham, views its young hero, Bud (John Travolta), as rootless and ignorant. But on the assumption (probably false) that the audience believes in those antiquated macho values and wants to see them on the screen, the movie also tries to reactivate the cowboy mythology. It dredges up an ex-convict villain (Scott Glenn) out of an ancient Western, so Bud can defeat him on the bucking machine and beat him up in a fistfight as well. The picture is scrappily edited, and the director seems willing to do almost anything for an immediate effect. It's only in the best scenes that satire and sultriness work together. With Debra Winger, who gives a steamy and very appealing performance as the girl Bud marries, and Madolyn Smith as a slumming rich bitch, and Brooke Alderson and Barry Corbin as Bud's aunt and uncle. The country music doesn't supply much excitement. Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Used Cars

US (1980): Comedy
111 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A classic screwball fantasy--a neglected modern comedy that's like a more restless and visually high-spirited version of the W.C. Fields pictures. (The Fields title NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK sums up the theme.) The director, Robert Zemeckis, and his co-writer and producer, Bob Gale, have developed a homegrown surrealism out of earlier American slapstick routines. Set in the world of competing used-car dealers in the booming Southwest, this picture has a wonderful, energetic heartlessness; it's an American tall-tale movie in a Pop Art form. The premise is that honesty doesn't exist; if you develop a liking for some of the characters, it's not because they're free of avarice but because of their style of avarice. Kurt Russell is the hero--a fast-talking supersalesman who's so rambunctiously, ingeniously crooked that he's a standout--a star in the world of the mendacious. With Jack Warden as twin brothers who run rival lots across the street from each other, and Gerrit Graham, Frank McRae, Deborah Harmon, Al Lewis, Alfonso Arau, Harry Northup, and David L. Lander and Michael McKean as the electronic wizards who devise a way to cut into a Presidential address with used-car commercials. Cinematography by Donald M. Morgan; editing by Michael Kahn. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Utu

New Zealand (1983): Drama
104 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

Fresh and surprising. The New Zealander Geoff Murphy treats the conventions of the colonial-epic form with offhand audacity. Set in 1870, this movie about the relations between the Maori, the dark-skinned Polynesians who settled in New Zealand about a thousand years ago, and the British, who began to migrate there in the 19th century and became their rulers, centers on Te Wheke (Anzac Wallace), an English-speaking Maori scout with the British colonial forces. When his people are slaughtered, he feels the need to exact utu--the Maori word that means honor and includes ritualized revenge. Te Wheke becomes a guerrilla leader and runs his army as a parody of the white man's army; he and his guerrillas turn themselves into the Europeans' image of them as butchers and buffoons. Mimicry goes on at so many levels in this horror comedy of colonialism that the viewer may be laughing, exhilarated by constant discovery, yet be a little discombobulated and scared. Murphy throws you at the start and keeps you in a state of suspension. He has an instinct for popular entertainment and a deracinated kind of hip lyricism. The film has sweep, yet it's singularly unpretentious--irony is turned into slapstick. Murphy and his co-writer Keith Aberdein keep skewering your expectations, bringing to the foreground one and then another of the leading characters, played by Bruno Lawrence, Kelly Johnson, Wi Kuki Kaa, Tania Bristowe, and Ilona Rodgers. The score, written by John Charles, was recorded by a traditional Maori flautist and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra; much of the film was shot in high country in wet weather, and the cinematographer, Graeme Cowley, shows you an Arcadian beauty that makes your head swim.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

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