Vagabond

France (1985): Drama
105 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc
Also known as SANS TOIT NI LOI.

Agnès Varda wrote and directed this scrupulously hardheaded film about an 18-year-old girl on the road, a deliberately homeless drifter who lives on handouts, thefts, a little prostitution, and the occasional odd job. At the opening, her frozen body is discovered in a ditch in the countryside near the city of Nîmes. Varda presents the movie as a documentary investigating how this happened; the characters are the sullen, suspicious, vacant-eyed young girl (played immaculately by Sandrine Bonnaire) and the witnesses to her last weeks. The purity and boldness of Varda's approach may call Robert Bresson to mind, and it's perfectly evident why this film won the Golden Lion at the 1985 Venice Film Festival; it's the work of a visual artist. But we see the closed-off girl strictly from the outside, and this factual, objective view isn't enough. Varda's flat-out approach excludes the uses of the imagination--both hers and ours. With Macha Méril. Cinematography by Patrick Blossier. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Valentino

US (1977): Biography
127 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

By attaching the names of actual people to his sadomasochistic fantasies, the director, Ken Russell, gives the picture a nasty inside-joke appeal. The only redeeming element is Rudolf Nureyev in the title role; he doesn't evoke Valentino, but from time to time he has a captivating, very funny temperament of his own. Despite his inexperience in speaking lines, he is not a novice performer--and he knows how to laugh at himself. His eagerness to please is at war with Russell's spitefulness-Russell turns the great Alla Nazimova (Leslie Caron) into nothing more than a cheap, vengeful, blackmailing bitch, and he shows no feeling for Valentino's wife, Natacha Rambova (Michelle Phillips), who was a superb Art Nouveau designer. In this movie everybody is out to defame Valentino's manhood and he is punched to a pulp while trying to defend himself against the charge of effeminacy. (He hemorrhages.) With Anthony Dowell as Nijinsky, and Carol Kane, Seymour Cassel, Felicity Kendal, and Huntz Hall. Shot in England and Spain, with little attempt (or small success) at matching the sleekness of the remembered Valentino--the beautifully dressed, almond-eyed Latin in his California Spanish, streamlined decor. Written by Russell and Mardik Martin. United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Valmont

France-UK (1989): Drama
137 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A version of the Choderlos de Laclos novel Les Liaisons dangereuses, directed by Miloš Forman, from the script he prepared with the writer Jean-Claude Carrière. In the novel, the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, French aristocrats in the late 1770s, plan their sexual conquests with the cold calculation that might be given to war games--they turn innocent people into pawns. Here, their manipulations are so lightweight and offhand there's no sting to them. There has always been the danger that period movies will become intoxicated with jesters and fire-eaters and village fairs. VALMONT has its share, but it's really into candlelit interiors and pale-rose bodices and rose-and-gold furniture. The story disappears among the cushions. As Valmont, the blandly handsome Colin Firth doesn't have the energy to be a lecher or even to make contact with the audience. With Annette Bening as the Marquise, Meg Tilly as Mme. de Tourvel, Fairuza Balk as Cécile, Fabia Drake as Valmont's aunt, and Jeffrey Jones, Henry Thomas, Aleta Mitchell, and Sian Phillips. The costumes were designed by Theodor Pistek. Orion.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.

Vampire's Kiss

US (1989): Horror/Comedy
96 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

Nicolas Cage is airily amazing here. As a Manhattan literary agent--a poseur with a high-flown accent and a pouty, snobbish stare--he does some of the way-out stuff that you love actors in silent movies for doing. Something between a horror picture and a black comedy, this may be the first vampire movie in which the modern office building replaces the castle as the site of torture and degradation. The young British director Robert Bierman works well with the performers, and despite some narrative confusion (that may be the result of the cutting done by Hemdale, the producing company) the movie has an effective scary wackiness. With Maria Conchita Alonso, Jennifer Beals, Kasi Lemmons, and Elizabeth Ashley. The script is by Joseph Minion; Colin Towns provides an eerie score; Stefan Czapsky's cinematography suggests a madman's city. Hemdale.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.

Vampyr

France-Germany (1932): Horror
73 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Most vampire movies are so silly that this film by Carl Dreyer--a great vampire film--hardly belongs to the genre. Dreyer preys upon our subconscious fears. Dread and obsession are the film's substance, and its mood is evocative, dreamy, spectral. Death hovers over everyone. The cast is headed by Julian West (the movie name of Nicolas de Gunzburg), with Henriette Gérard as the vampire, and Rena Mandel and Sybille Schmitz as her potential victims. The incomparable photographic effects are the work of Rudolph Maté. Movie-lovers may cherish what appears to be Dreyer's homage to Cocteau--the use of the little heart from THE BLOOD OF A POET. (Roger Vadim's 1960 exercise in supernatural chic, BLOOD AND ROSES, is based on the same story by Sheridan Le Fanu that Dreyer used.) In German.

Variety

Germany (1925): Drama
104 min, No rating, Black & White
Also known as VARIÉTÉ and VAUDEVILLE.

A German classic of sadomasochism in a circus setting, with the master masochist actor Emil Jannings as an acrobat who leaves his wife for a foreign girl (plumply erotic, saucer-eyed Lya de Putti); he forms a trapeze act with the girl and a younger acrobat (Warwick Ward)--who inevitably seduces her. The enduring power of the movie, directed by E.A. Dupont and photographed by Karl Freund, is not in its far from original story but in the restless, subjective camera and the fast editing which make it an almost voluptuous experience. Von Sternberg's THE BLUE ANGEL and Ingmar Bergman's THE NAKED NIGHT are both indebted to it. (A remake in 1935, with Hans Albers and Annabella, was negligible.) Silent.

Variety Lights

Italy (1950): Drama
93 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette
Also known as LUCI DEL VARIETÀ.

This first film directed by Federico Fellini (working with Alberto Lattuada as co-director) has a backstage story with a theme that he returned to later in the big, trashy phantasmagoria JULIET OF THE SPIRITS. Giulietta Masina plays the aging mistress of the head of a touring company; he goes off with a younger woman, then returns to her. It's a very simple and, in some ways, tawdry film, but Fellini shows his extraordinary talent for the dejected setting, the shabby performer, the fat old chorine, the singer who will never hit the high note. Though he deals with "artists," he doesn't deal with talent or artistry; his specialty is revealing the shoddiness of theatrical life and the forlorn hopes of the performers. For Fellini, the magic of show business is in self-delusion. He achieves some of his most memorable images in the sequence with a troupe on a backcountry road at night and in the stage show representing the glorification of a sex goddess. With Peppino de Filippo, Carla del Poggio, Folco Lulli, and John Kitzmiller. In Italian.

The Verdict

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

The camera sits like Death on the dark, angled images of this anguished movie about a Boston Irish lawyer, played by Paul Newman, who was hurt by those closest to him and became a booze-soaked failure. Lest anybody miss the point, the director, Sidney Lumet, puts dirges on the sound track. When the lawyer goes into court to fight the powerful Archdiocese of Boston, his faith in the judgment of the ordinary people who sit on the jury enables him to redeem himself. It's a Frank Capra setup given art-film treatment. (There's plenty of drizzle and brown gloom.) Newman plays his role for all it has got, making himself look soft and heavier, and even a little jowly, but it's a tired old show-business view of "a good man." In its own sombre, inflated terms, the picture is effective, but it's dragged out so self-importantly that you have time to recognize what a hopelessly naïve, incompetent, and untrustworthy lawyer the hero is. With Charlotte Rampling, James Mason, Jack Warden, Lindsay Crouse, Milo O'Shea, Edward Binns, Julie Bovasso, Lewis Stadlen, and Wesley Addy. The script, by David Mamet, is based on a novel by Barry Reed; the cinematography is by Andrzej Bartkowiak. Produced by Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown. 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

A Very Private Affair

France-Italy (1962): Drama
95 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette
Also known as LA VIE PRIVÉE.

Brigitte Bardot as a spoiled, bratty sex kitten who floats from modelling into movies, becomes a great star, takes innumerable lovers, finds fame and a multiplicity of beds equally unrewarding, and becomes suicidal. The director, Louis Malle, provides prankish, lively moments, though the story, with its many parallels to Bardot's own life, produces a sense of discomfort. It's one of the least interesting of Malle's films: he seems to be trying to show what's under a star's myth, but we don't experience the myth--only the shallowness underneath. With Marcello Mastroianni. Screenplay by Malle and Paul Rappeneau; cinematography by Henri Decaë. In French.

Victim

UK (1961): Crime
100 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

This pioneering attempt to create public sympathy for homosexuals and to publicize the English laws that put them in jeopardy is ingenious, moralistic, and moderately amusing. Structurally, it's a slick thriller about a blackmail ring that preys on homosexuals. There's a terribly self-conscious attempt to distinguish between the "love" that the barrister hero (Dirk Bogarde) feels for his wife (Sylvia Syms) and the physical desire--presumably a lower order of emotion--that he once felt for a young man (Peter McEnery), who appears to be more interesting in every way than the wife. The plot requires the barrister to sacrifice his career--to confess his own homosexuality--in order to trap the blackmailers. Basil Dearden directed, from a screenplay by Janet Green and John McCormick. With Dennis Price and Hilton Edwards. The film marked a turning point in Bogarde's career; having been an actor for over 20 years, he was tired of playing boyishly charming, happy, bouncy roles ("I was the Loretta Young of England," he said), and this time he acted his age in what was, in those years, a daring role.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book I Lost it at the Movies.

Victor/Victoria

US (1982): Musical/Comedy
133 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The writer-director Blake Edwards' rough-and-tumble boudoir farce centers on Julie Andrews as Victoria, an English singer stranded in Paris in 1934, who pretends to be a man so that she can get work as a female impersonator. The picture is at its yeastiest in the slapstick embellishments of the preparatory sequences; when the infuriatingly sane and distant Julie Andrews finally gets into men's clothes, there's nothing remotely funny about it. And you don't believe that she could successfully impersonate a woman on the stage. Edwards pulls laughs, though. He does it with the crudest setups and the moldiest, most cynical dumb jokes. As an aging homosexual entertainer who trains Victoria to pass as Victor, Robert Preston brings an unholy glee to his work. He plays a sentimental stereotype so heartily and likably that he redeems the musty material. (This is yet another movie in which a girl's best friend is a homosexual.) James Garner, in a mustache and acting like a funny, scowly Clark Gable, is a nightclub owner from Chicago, and, as the girlfriend he discards when he falls for Victoria, Lesley Ann Warren, gone blond, does dippy, exaggerated versions of Jean Harlow's nasal petulance. She's a comic-strip eccentric, and you feel her sweetness, but Edwards ties tin cans to her tail--he makes her into a nasty, screeching floozy. This picture features speeches about sexual politics that are the latest in show-biz enlightenment; it also features a chorus line, headed by Lesley Ann Warren, that may be the most contemptuous display of women's bodies ever seen in a major-studio movie. With Alex Karras as Garner's bodyguard. The songs by Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse are bland and forgettable. Based on the 1933 German film comedy VIKTOR UND VIKTORIA; this is at least the fifth version. MGM.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Victory

US (1940): Crime/Adventure
78 min, No rating, Black & White

An ambitious attempt to bring the Conrad novel to the screen, which failed both artistically and commercially. The movie tries to stick with the action-adventure aspects of the Dutch East Indies story, yet a queasiness--a sinister unpleasantness--comes through, and the viewer, not given the explication one gets from Conrad, doesn't know quite what to make of it. Fredric March is the morose, handsome hero, and Betty Field is a distressed young girl in a travelling orchestra. The film is dominated by Cedric Hardwicke as the eerie, diseased epicure, Mr. Jones, who plausibly makes a hell's corner of Java and the world around it. This is an unsatisfying film at almost every level, yet it's unusual and disturbing, too. Margaret Wycherly plays the hotelkeeper's weird wife. John Cromwell directed, from John L. Balderston's screenplay. (Maurice Tourneur did a version in 1919 with Jack Holt; William Wellman did another, called DANGEROUS PARADISE and starring Richard Arlen, in 1930; there were also French and German versions that year.) Produced by Anthony Veiller, for Paramount.

A View from the Bridge

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

A complicatedly wrong-headed attempt to make a neo-realist Greek tragedy about a longshoreman in Brooklyn who neglects his wife, because he's in love--although he doesn't know it--with his wife's 18-year-old niece. Sidney Lumet directed, from Arthur Miller's play; acted by Raf Vallone, Maureen Stapleton, Raymond Pellegrin, Carol Lawrence, and Jean Sorel. Shot in France in two versions--French and English.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book I Lost it at the Movies.

A View to a Kill

UK (1985): Spy
131 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The JAMES BOND series has had its bummers, but nothing before in the class of this one. The way the daredevil feats are set up, they don't give you the irresponsible, giddy tingle they should, and the dumb police-car crashes seem to have got in by mistake--they belong to a back-roads chase comedy. The villain, Christopher Walken, is the ultra-blond psychopathic product of a Nazi doctor's experiments, and his major endeavor is to flood Silicon Valley. All that keeps the picture going is that it needs to reach a certain heft to fit into the series. With Roger Moore in his seventh go-round as Bond, Grace Jones, Tanya Roberts, Patrick Macnee, Patrick Bauchau, and a stunning young model named Alison Doody. The action is set mostly in Chantilly, Paris, and San Francisco. Directed (dispiritedly) by John Glen; written (with an air of hopelessness) by Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson. Cinematography by Alan Hume; title song by Duran Duran. MGM/United Artists.

Vigil in the Night

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

This adaptation of an A.J. Cronin novel was a mistake from the word go, but the director, George Stevens, plodded ahead valiantly, dressing up the hopeless. Given the most resplendent makeup and lights, Carole Lombard glows with foolish nobility in the role of a trained nurse who takes the blame for a frivolous--and fatal--mistake by her student-nurse kid sister (Anne Shirley), also lighted phosphorescently; you expect the two girls to rise to Heaven by their cheekbones. After a solemn while, a busload of people are maimed, and eventually the beautiful nurses and Brian Aherne, as the doctor Lombard loves, become involved in an epidemic of cerebrospinal fever. With Robert Coote, Peter Cushing, Brenda Forbes, Doris Lloyd, and Ethel Griffies. RKO.

Village of the Damned

UK (1960): Science Fiction/Horror
78 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A rarely shown thriller about wicked kids. It's clever and has some really chilling moments. George Sanders is the lead, and Martin Stephens is the scariest of the cold-eyed children from outer space. From John Wyndham's novel The Midwich Cuckoos; made in England and directed by Wolf Rilla (a terrific name for the director of this particular film). MGM.

Vincent, François, Paul and The Others

France (1974): Drama
118 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc
Also known as VINCENT, FRANÇOIS, PAUL, ET LES AUTRES.

A fabulous all-star cast that includes Yves Montand, Michel Piccoli, Serge Reggiani, Gérard Depardieu, Stéphane Audran, Marie Dubois, and Antonella Lualdi, in an undeservedly neglected movie about a group of people who take refuge in friendship. All hell breaks loose in their lives, but the friendship pads their falls. The director, Claude Sautet, is a wizard at juggling and balancing the complex DINNER AT EIGHT situation, and he's got the control and refinement of a master--the film may be too impersonally crafted, but it moves rhythmically, as if it were a melancholy, romantic tune. Cinematography by Jean Boffety. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Violets Are Blue…

US (1986): Romance
88 min, Rated PG-13, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A slim, undeveloped movie in which Sissy Spacek, as a globe-trotting photojournalist, is a vaporous figure standing in for all the women who got into what they once thought were the glamorous occupations and find themselves shading 35 or 40 and alone. The movie raises the question: Can this modern woman who has given up the simpler, more basic satisfactions go back to her home town (Ocean City, Maryland) and retrieve the man she left behind? That is, can she have everything--the excitement of her work and the solidity represented by Kevin Kline as the editor of the local paper? And does this man who has been a useful, contented stick-in-the-mud for so long really want to ditch his responsibilities--which include a wife (Bonnie Bedelia) and a son (Jim Standiford)--and become a risk-taker? The director, Jack Fisk, modulates the dialogue so it has a gentle tone, and he uses the oceanside-resort-town locale, with its sailboats and its amusement park, to get the love scenes between the two retro-adolescents moving, but all he can accomplish is to keep the movie lightweight and pretty. Spacek plugs away at her non-role, although, with tendrils of her long red-gold angel hair forever spilling over her face, you wonder how the hell she takes pictures. Kline is doughy and unmagnetic; he gives you the feeling he's an actor with nothing inside. But Bedelia, who has the advantage of playing anger, comes through with a lovely performance. The picture doesn't really get started--to the degree that it ever gets started--until she's around. Based on an idea by Marykay Powell, who was the producer; the script is credited to Naomi Foner (it probably started out as hers). With John Kellogg. Cinematography by Ralf Bode. A Rastar Production, for Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

The Virginian

US (1929): Western
90 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Gary Cooper's first all-talking picture, and the one in which, with the help of the director, Victor Fleming, he found the laconic, straight-arrow character that he was to represent through much of his later career. He plays a Wyoming rancher-lawman in the 1870s who hangs his charmingly weak best friend (Richard Arlen, in a very engaging performance) for cattle rustling. Walter Huston glories in his opportunities as the film's mustachioed bad guy. He and Cooper have a celebrated encounter in a saloon: Huston mutters something not quite audible but beginning "son of a," and the super-calm Cooper, fondling his gun, says, "If you want to call me that, smile." With Chester Conklin and Eugene Pallette. Mary Brian is the pretty schoolteacher from Vermont who wins Cooper, but it's the relationship of Cooper and Arlen which, like the later friendship of Newman and Redford, gives the film its emotional resonance. The movie has an enduring charm; it was the third version of the Owen Wister novel, which also became a TV series in the 60s. Adaptation by Howard Estabrook; dialogue by Edward E. Paramore, Jr. Paramount Famous Lasky.

Viva Maria!

France-Italy (1965): Comedy/Adventure
119 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

After Louis Malle made the masterly but anguished and claustrophobic THE FIRE WITHIN (1963), he did a flipover to the outdoors and the New World. He made this frivolous picaresque, a spoof of revolutionary politics set in the Latin America of La Belle Epoque and starring Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau. At the opening, the child who will become Bardot helps her imperialist-hating father dynamite a British fortress in Ireland, and the contrast between the father's act and the child's blooming, innocent happiness as she plays in the fields planting explosives is rapturously comic. The picture is lavish and visually beautiful (it was shot superbly, by Henri Decaë), and it has a spirit of abandon, but the subsequent bombings and shootings aren't as pointed. And the central conceit involved in the pairing of Bardot and Moreau as carnival striptease artists, both named Maria, doesn't work out. So the slapstick facetiousness is just left there, with nothing under it. But Bardot has never been more radiant than in parts of this film. When she's a tomboy looking for fun, wearing boys' clothes, with a cap (and a smudge on her cheek), she takes the picture clean away from the great Moreau. With George Hamilton, Paulette Dubost, and Claudio Brook. The screenplay is by Malle and Jean-Claude Carrière; the music is by Georges Delerue. In French. Released by United Artists.

Viva Zapata!

US (1952): Biography
113 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Before the rifles of that infamous concealed regiment get poor Zapata (Marlon Brando), John Steinbeck's script has thoroughly done him in. Land and liberty, the simple slogans of the Mexican civil wars of 1911-19, are transformed into the American liberal clichés of 1952 and phrased in that slurpy imitation of simplicity and grandeur which some high-school English teachers and TV producers call "poetry." The virtues of the production are in Elia Kazan's slam-bang direction: some of the scenes have startling immediacy; the fighting is first-rate; even the phony folklore holds one's interest. And the actors are fun to watch: there's the magnetic young Brando (age 27) impersonating a great revolutionary leader--an illiterate young titan, a peasant and a thinker (and, in the time-worn actor-peasant tradition, he screws up his face when he has to think). And there are Anthony Quinn (his performance took the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor) as Zapata's older brother; Jean Peters as Josefa; Joseph Wiseman, acting like some sinister mixture of Judas Iscariot and a junkie, as Fernando the journalist; Alan Reed as Pancho Villa; Lou Gilbert as Pablo; Margo as Soldadera; Harold Gordon as Madero; Frank Silvera as Huerta; and Mildred Dunnock, Abner Biberman, Philip Van Zandt, Henry Silva, and Arnold Moss. The film includes Steinbeck's folly: the famous, supposedly terribly touching wedding-night scene in which Zapata asks Josefa to teach him to read. (To deflower his virgin mind?) Cinematography by Joe MacDonald. A Darryl F. Zanuck Production. 20th Century-Fox.

Vivacious Lady

US (1938): Comedy
90 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

A good-natured, unpretentiously entertaining comedy, with Ginger Rogers (supremely likable here) as a nightclub singer who marries an assistant professor of biology (James Stewart). The movie is about the collision of cultures. When the newlyweds arrive at his college town--Old Sharon--they discuss the problem of breaking the news to his parents (Beulah Bondi and Charles Coburn), and Ginger finds the perfect solution. "You go tell them how wonderful I am," she says, "and I'll come over later." George Stevens directed in a relaxed style that derives from his early work with Laurel and Hardy, and he coached Ginger Rogers to do some of Stan Laurel's routines. The cast (which includes James Ellison, Grady Sutton, Franklin Pangborn, Jack Carson, Willie Best, and Maude Eburne) all seem to be having a good time. P.J. Wolfson and Ernest Pagano did the script, based on I.A.R. Wylie's story. RKO.

Volpone

France (1939): Comedy
80 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Louis Jouvet is the shameless, swindling Mosca to the crafty, raucous old Volpone of the great Harry Baur, but they both seem tired. Maurice Tourneur directed this fairly straightforward version of the Ben Jonson satire, which is, however, weighed down by the lavish production, and maybe also by the threat of Hitler. Neither Baur nor Jouvet seems to be in a comic spirit. (Imprisoned in 1942, Baur was tortured by the Gestapo; he died a few days after his release in 1943. Jouvet left France in 1940, with part of his acting company, and went to South America; his flight served as part of the basis for Truffaut's THE LAST METRO.) The play was adapted and modernized by Stefan Zweig and Jules Romains, though the setting remains Renaissance Venice. With Jacqueline Delubac and Charles Dullin. In French.

Voyage of the Damned

UK (1976): War/Drama
134 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

This movie is based on the actual 1939 voyage of the S.S. St. Louis with 937 German-Jewish refugees aboard, yet there is not a single moment in the star-packed epic that carries any conviction. As the lines drone on--paced with a sledgehammer--you may feel you could die for a little overlapping dialogue. But with this material you can't even have the frivolous pleasure of derision. Cast as a woman who doesn't excite her husband, Faye Dunaway must have decided that she'd better give the public something, and she comes on looking absolutely smashing, and at one point appears dressed to outdo the Nazis--she wears jackboots and a monocle. As the ship's captain, Max von Sydow acts with some distinction; most of the others--Oskar Werner, Malcolm McDowell, Katharine Ross, Janet Suzman, Maria Schell, Victor Spinetti, Julie Harris, Wendy Hiller, Orson Welles, James Mason, Helmut Griem, Nehemiah Persoff, Sam Wanamaker, Donald Houston, Jonathan Pryce, Leonard Rossiter, Denholm Elliott, José Ferrer, Lee Grant, Ben Gazzara, Luther Adler, Lynn Frederick, Fernando Rey, et al.--are crippled by the dreary script, written by Steve Shagan and David Butler, and the ponderous directing by Stuart Rosenberg. You sit there wondering how there can be so many bad actors in one picture; if you hadn't seen these performers in other roles, you'd assume they were the dregs of the profession. Based on the book by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts; cinematography by Billy Williams. A Sir Lew Grade Production; released by Avco/Embassy.

Voyage Surprise

France (1946): Comedy
108 min, No rating, Black & White

The Prévert brothers--director Pierre and scenarist Jacques--got together on this offhand comedy, and there's nothing comparable to its poetic eccentricity in other French movies of the period; the humor suggests early Marx Brothers, but the improvisatory style is that of Mack Sennett 2-reelers, or a looser, more amateurish version of René Clair's THE ITALIAN STRAW HAT. It can be tedious, but it has a loony, antique grace. In competition with a tourist bureau, a mad old man (Sinoël) collects a busload of uninhibited people, and they go on a "mystery" tour--the route and destination unknown. The surprises follow: they become fugitives from the law; they spend a night in a sumptuous brothel; they are mistaken for a theatrical troupe. Kosma did the music. With Martine Carol, and the dwarf Pierre Piéral, who's like a miniature Bette Davis. In French.

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