An existential thriller--the most original and shocking French melodrama of the 50s. The opening sequence shows us a verminous South American village and the Europeans trapped in it; they will risk everything for the money to get out. An oil well 300 miles away has caught fire, and the oil company offers four of them $2,000 each to drive two trucks loaded with nitroglycerine (to explode out the fire) over primitive roads. The four are a Corsican (Yves Montand), a Frenchman (Charles Vanel), an Italian (Folco Lulli), and a German (Peter Van Eyck), and the film is about their responses to the gruelling test of driving the trucks. When you can be blown up at any moment only a fool believes that character determines fate. In this situation, courage and caution are almost irrelevant, and ordinary human responses are futile and archaic--yet nothing else is left. If this isn't a parable of man's position in the modern world, it's at least an illustration of it. Henri-Georges Clouzot directed his own adaptation of Georges Arnaud's novel. His most controversial film, it is also his most powerful; the violence is not used simply for excitement--it's used as in Eisenstein's and Buñuel's films: to force a vision of human experience. With Vera Clouzot and William Tubbs. The music is by Georges Auric; the cinematography is by Armand Thirard. Awarded the Golden Palm at Cannes. Originally released in the U.S. in a cut version, partly because of the film's length (156 minutes), and partly because of nervousness about how Americans would react to the sequences touching on the exploitative practices of American oil companies; the footage trimmed was later restored. (You can see the influence of this picture in Peckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH.) In French.
This account of an American infantry platoon in Italy has a great big inexplicable reputation. Maybe people were impressed by its serious and poetic intentions, evidenced by the film's having no one higher in rank than the sergeants who take over when their lieutenant is killed, and by the stylized recurrence of such lines as "There's no sense in it--no sense at all" and "That's the way it is--sure as little apples, that's it." The director, Lewis Milestone, brought the film a visual style, and Robert Rossen's script (from the Harry Brown novel) emphasizes that these civilians turned soldiers are just stumbling about, wondering what's going on. But this is the kind of literate movie that is more impressive than enjoyable. With Dana Andrews, Richard Conte, Lloyd Bridges, John Ireland, Huntz Hall, Herbert Rudley as the psycho, and blond, cracked-voice Sterling Holloway, who gets a death scene. The ballad on the sound track, which adds to the air of fanciness, is by Millard Lampell and Earl Robinson. 20th Century-Fox.
An unusual and relatively little known fable of love in a time of destruction, directed by John Huston. A student (Assaf Dayan) and a young girl of noble birth (Anjelica Huston) try to find an escape hatch from the Hundred Years' War. This romantic idyll is unusually tough-minded, and effective because it is. The movie lacks urgency, but it's compelling, nevertheless. It has at least one superb image--a great, clumping white horse, a dream horse--and when this fairy-tale beast is slaughtered war becomes truly obscene. With Michael Gough, John Hallam, and Robert Lang. The rather literary screenplay is by Dale Wasserman, from a novel by Hans Koningsberger; music by Georges Delerue; costumes by Leonor Fini.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
The implied system of values in the early, heroic Westerns and action-adventure films began to be treated satirically in the "counterculture" movies of the Vietnam and Watergate years. But there were also some hugely popular 70s films, such as this one and DIRTY HARRY, in which the old values returned in a corrupt, vigilante form under the banner of "law and order." This rabble-rousing movie appeals to a deep-seated belief in simple, swift, Biblical justice; the visceral impact of the film makes one know how crowds must feel when they're being swayed by demagogues. It was sold as the true story of crusading Tennessee sheriff Buford Pusser, who cleaned out the moonshining, gambling, and prostitution in his county. But it's a tall tale: a fiction derived from early Westerns. The director, Phil Karlson, is brutally effective; he makes the battle of virtuous force against organized evil seem primordial. Karlson pulls out all the stops of classical cheapie melodrama, right down to the murder of the Pusser family dog and the weeping face of a bereaved child. The picture's crudeness and its crummy cinematography give it the illusion of honesty. With Joe Don Baker, who gives a powerful performance as Pusser, the gifted Elizabeth Hartman as Mrs. Pusser, and Rosemary Murphy, Gene Evans, Brenda Benet, Felton Perry, Kenneth Tobey, Lurene Tuttle, Ed Call, and Noah Beery, who acts Hollywood-cornpone-Southern. Shot in Tennessee; written by Mort Briskin. It spawned sequels and imitations. Released by Cinerama.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.
Jean Gabin and Isa Miranda are the restless, lonely lovers in this Franco-Italian production, directed by René Clément. Gabin plays a Frenchman, wanted for homicide, who has fled to Genoa; there he spends a few days with the troubled Miranda and her impressionable daughter (Vera Talchi) before the police close in on him. Though the film won international recognition (the Best Director and Best Actress Awards at Cannes, and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film), it's a rather uneasy mixture of the romantic, melodramatic prewar French style and the harsh, poetic postwar Italian style (especially in the semi-documentary use of the Genoa-waterfront locations and in the attempt at a fresh approach to character). There was gossip that the French team of Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost, who had worked on some of Gabin's fatalistic, atmospheric prewar successes, rewrote Cesare Zavattini's and Suso Cecchi d'Amico's neo-realist script. Whatever the reasons, Clément seems to be pulled in different directions; his "sensitivity" is like a glue holding the picture together. Music by Roman Vlad. In French and Italian.
Barbara Loden wrote, directed, and stars in this story of the minimal love affair of a passive, bedraggled girl from a mining town and a nervous wreck of a small-time crook (Michael Higgins). The director never falls back on coy tricks or clichés and the performances are admirable, but the movie is such an extremely drab and limited piece of realism that it makes Zola seem like musical comedy. Shot in 16 mm, in color.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
The people who made it had half an idea. The film begins as a comedy about a teenage boy in Seattle who is caught up in the fascination of computers and video games; he has all this miracle-working technology and not a thought in the world about what to do with it. Matthew Broderick plays the role with great charm; the boy is like an American Antoine Doinel, and he's the life of the movie. But when this boy accidentally plugs into the Defense Department's war-games system and gets into what he thinks is just another video game--Global Thermonuclear War--the machines take over, especially a huge box of flashing light that sounds like an 18-wheel truck rumbling down the highway. There's also the noise of speechmakers--the director, John Badham, loses his easy touch, and the picture goes flooey. It's at its worst when John Wood is onscreen as a saintly computer scientist who's so brainy and bitter that he rolls his eyes from side to side and wears his hair in bangs. With Ally Sheedy, who has some nifty lines in the first part, and Dabney Coleman, Barry Corbin, and Eddie Deezen as Mr. Potato Head. From a script by Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes. MGM/United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
Walter Hill's spectacle takes its story from Xenophon's Anabasis and its style from the taste of the modern urban dispossessed--in neon signs, graffiti, and the thrill of gaudiness. The film enters into the spirit of urban-male tribalism and the feelings of kids who believe that they own the streets because they keep other kids out of them. In this vision, cops and kids are all there is, and the worst crime is to be chicken. It has--in visual terms--the kind of impact that "Rock Around the Clock" had when it was played behind the titles of BLACKBOARD JUNGLE. It's like visual rock, and it's bursting with energy. The action runs from night until dawn, and most of it is in crisp, bright Day-Glo colors against the terrifying New York blackness; the figures stand out like a jukebox in a dark bar. There's a night-blooming, psychedelic shine to the whole baroque movie. Adapted from the Sol Yurick novel. With Michael Beck, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, David Patrick Kelly, David Harris, Dorsey Wright, James Remar, Thomas Waites, Roger Hill, and Marcelino Sanchez. Cinematography by Andrew Laszlo; art direction by Don Swanagan and Bob Wightman. Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
Lillian Hellman's 1941 Broadway play--a cautionary polemical melodrama about the danger of Fascism in the U.S.--is housebound and fearfully lofty. She performs staggering melodramatic tricks in order to get a big confrontation scene; Dashiell Hammett is credited with the screenplay, but from the theatrical look and sound of things he can't have changed much. Paul Lukas is the European Underground leader who brings his American wife (Bette Davis) and three children home to the Washington mansion of her mother (Lucile Watson). The film has some inadvertent humor: the children of this liberal couple are the most highly disciplined little prigs imaginable. Lukas, repeating his stage role, won an Academy Award; Davis is subdued and unexciting. With George Coulouris as a suave, vile Fascist, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Donald Woods, Henry Daniell, and Beulah Bondi. Directed by Herman Shumlin. Warners.
A great many people are inexplicably hooked on this weeper about the unlucky wartime love affair of a duke's nephew (Robert Taylor, trying to act aristocratic) and a dancer (Vivien Leigh). She becomes the saddest-eyed fallen woman ever. The director, Mervyn LeRoy, uses candlelight and rain more effectively than he does the actors, although Vivien Leigh does manage to give a beautiful performance. With Lucile Watson, Maria Ouspenskaya, C. Aubrey Smith, Steffi Duna, and Virginia Field. Adapted from a Robert E. Sherwood play, by S.N. Behrman, Hans Rameau, and George Froeschel. (There was a Universal version in 1931, with Mae Clarke and Kent Douglass-also known as Douglass Montgomery-and an MGM version in 1956, called GABY and starring Leslie Caron and John Kerr. By far the best version is the parody done by Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman on TV.) Produced by Sidney Franklin, for MGM.
The three episodes of this engaging, too-little-known German horror-fantasy incorporate extravagantly villainous performances--Conrad Veidt as Ivan the Terrible, Emil Jannings (in one of his rare comic portraits) as Haroun-al-Raschid, and Werner (Caligari) Krauss as Jack the Ripper. In the Veidt-Ivan sequence, which was obviously a major influence on Eisenstein's IVAN THE TERRIBLE, Ivan is a jokester-poisoner who enjoys presenting his victims with hourglasses timed to run out at the precise moment of their deaths; one day he discovers an hourglass labelled "Ivan." The director, Paul Leni, a former Max Reinhardt collaborator, was an extraordinarily gifted scenic artist; the macabre Expressionistic decor for the Jack the Ripper sequence is made entirely from sheets of painted paper. William Dieterle is also in the cast. Silent.
The plot is Victorian, but the treatment is inspired. D.W. Griffith took a creaking, dated stage melodrama and turned it into a melodramatic epic. Lillian Gish is the girl betrayed by Lowell Sherman and eventually rescued from an icy river by Richard Barthelmess. Audiences giggle at bits here and there, but not at the sequence in which she refuses to part from her dead baby. Griffith stole from Thomas Hardy, but he stole beautifully. One of Griffith's greatest box-office successes, and a film that influenced several Russian epics. (The play by Lottie Blair Parker and Joseph R. Grismer was so popular that Griffith paid $175,000 for the right to adapt it.) Silent.
This satire of Westerns is probably Laurel and Hardy's most comically sustained feature, and it shows off their vaudeville skills in a couple of musical interludes. They do a classic soft-shoe shuffle outside a saloon; Hardy's lolling elephantine grace has never been more ingratiating. And they sing "In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia." As Mickey Finn, the villain in love with his own villainy, James Finlayson is practically a co-star, and Sharon Lynne is the voluptuous blond saloon girl. The film is leisurely in the best sense; you adjust to a different rhythm and come out feeling relaxed, as if you'd gone on vacation. James Horne directed. A Hal Roach Production, for MGM.
Robert Redford is a straw-haired jock from Virginia who wants to have a good time, and Barbra Streisand is a frizzy-haired Communist who's always sure she's right. The picture has some atrocious sequences set in Hollywood during the blacklisting troubles, but the romantic star chemistry of Redford and Streisand turns a half-terrible movie into hit entertainment--maybe even memorable entertainment. Sydney Pollack directed; from Arthur Laurents's novel. With Patrick O'Neal, Viveca Lindfors, Bradford Dillman, and Lois Chiles. Produced by Ray Stark, for Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.
Based on Leonardo Sciascia's novel, A Man's Blessing, this tense, unusual thriller directed by Elio Petri has a nightmare realism that suggests Kafka. The professor-hero (Gian Maria Volonté)--a man who has always been an outsider--finds himself involved in a crime in his own Mafia-ridden Sicilian home town, and this familiar region becomes as terrifying and incomprehensible as the desert in a Paul Bowles story. His life begins to resemble paranoid fantasy--which, the movie suggests, is what life is for people who live in a corrupt society. It's easy to present fantasy on the screen, but to show a man's life in completely realistic terms as this film does and make us experience it as fantasy is difficult. Petri keeps us tense and uneasy, wary, expecting the worst at each moment. The island looks hot and barbaric, ominous and teeming with life. Volonté is a powerful actor who draws you inside his character, and the film is marvellously well-sustained. Gabriele Ferzetti (the weak hero of L'AVVENTURA) is the politician who knows how to get along, and Irene Papas is scarily effective as a survivor--at the end, in her white wedding dress, her black eyes shining, she seems as strong as corruption. Also with Leopoldo Trieste. In Italian.
A misbegotten attempt by MGM to embroider on Noel Coward's TONIGHT AT 8:30 playlets and put them together. (A much better British version came out in the early 50s under the original title.) With Norma Shearer, Melvyn Douglas, Gail Patrick, Marjorie Main, Florence Bates, Lee Bowman, Reginald Owen, Alan Mowbray, Sig Rumann, and Ava Gardner (in her début). None of them have the brittle sentimentality necessary for Coward's brand of light social comedy. Besides, Americans don't move their mouths right for that British chat. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard.
Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov, and Aldo Ray trying very hard to be funny as a trio of convicts who escape from Devil's Island late in the 19th century. They take refuge in the home of a none too bright merchant (Leo G. Carroll) and his opaque wife (Joan Bennett), and coyly busy themselves protecting the kindly dumb merchant from his mean, rich cousin and boss (Basil Rathbone). Michael Curtiz directed this oppressive, misbegotten venture, adapted from the French play La Cuisine des anges, from which the Broadway play My 3 Angels was also taken. Paramount.
Light, easy-going Paramount musical comedy about the wreck of a yacht on a desert island, taken (very loosely) from J.M. Barrie's The Admirable Crichton, one of the most serviceable of screen sources. Bing Crosby is the sailor; the spoiled heiress is Carole Lombard; he doesn't bat her around the way the hero of Lina Wertmüller's shrill SWEPT AWAY does. The other passengers are lecherous Ethel Merman (who sings "It's Just an Old Spanish Custom"), and Ray Milland and Leon Errol as rich prigs. The island, fortunately, isn't deserted; Gracie Allen and George Burns turn up, as naturalists living there. Norman Taurog directed; the Harry Revel and Mack Gordon songs include "Love Thy Neighbor" and "She Reminds Me of You."
This ingenious thriller by Claude Chabrol was made directly after THE COUSINS. Shot by Henri Decaë and featuring peacocks and fields of scarlet poppies, as well as a murderer who conducts Berlioz, it is perhaps the most richly detailed and overripe of Chabrol's films. With Jean-Paul Belmondo, Madeleine Robinson, Bernadette Lafont, Jeanne Valerie, and-as Léda-Antonella Lualdi. In French.
A runty little bit of a boy, the son of a Scottish gamekeeper, sees an ad for a bodybuilding course: "Are you undersized? Let me make a man of you!" When we next see the boy, 10 years of sweat and exercise have turned him into a strapping 6 feet 6 inches of solid muscle--muscle even between his ears. He's a dour giant obsessed with his giantism. Bill Travers (after a course of muscle development and a steak diet) was assigned the role of Geordie, who takes up hammer-throwing and meets his match at the Olympics: a 6-foot woman shotputter. Alastair Sim turns up as the Laird, and the Scottish Highlands provide the background for this gentle satire of man's mania for bodybuilding. Too gentle. In its period this was one of the most popular English imports, though it really isn't very lively. The idea is so promising that you keep expecting more pleasure than you get. With Miles Malleson, Norah Gorsen, and Raymond Huntley. Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder wrote the script; Launder, who seems as muscle-bound as the hero, directed--he's slow and heavy. Based on a novel by David Walker.
Nick Nolte plays a holdup man serving "life without possibility"--that is, without possibility of parole. After flunking a couple of suicide attempts, he begins to write plays about imprisonment and then to stage them, and his activities win him his release. He organizes an acting troupe made up of former cons he worked with--a shoplifter (William Forsythe), a murderer (Ernie Hudson), an embezzler (Lane Smith), a pimp (John Toles-Bey), a flasher (Mark Rolston)--and they go on tour in a camper, with no money. The movie is about the men's impulses to revert to their former crime patterns, and about their efforts to become professional men of the theatre. It encompasses way too much, and it never goes very far into the issues it raises, but the messy collision of energies keeps a viewer feeling alive. The picture grew out of the director John Hancock's contacts with the convict Rick Cluchey and his San Quentin Drama Group (whose late-60s show The Cage toured the U.S. and Europe); Hancock and his wife, Dorothy Tristan, who collaborated with him on the script, also did research into other prison theatre groups, and the movie gives the impression that they piled together the stories and anecdotes they liked best, and left the job of unifying them to Nolte. (He does it.) With Joe Mantegna, Rita Taggart, J.J. Johnson, and Anne Ramsey. A Kingsgate Film, released by De Laurentiis.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
Probably the cheerfullest weekend in Havana's history, what with Carmen Miranda, Alice Faye, John Payne, Cesar Romero, Leonid Kinskey, George Barbier, and everybody else on the 20th Century-Fox lot beaming with fatuous good will. Carmen Miranda wears a headgear of grapefruit, grapes, apples, oranges, bananas, lemons, pineapples, and an occasional small plum. Walter Lang directed; Hermes Pan did the choreography. The songs (mostly by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon) are not top drawer.
Only the title of this extraordinary poetic satire is casual and innocent. The writer-director Jean-Luc Godard has a gift for making the contemporary satiric and fantastic. He begins with just a slight stylization of civilized living now--the people are more adulterous, more nakedly mercenary, touchier. They have weapons, and use them at the slightest provocation, and it seems perfectly logical that they should get into their cars and bang into one another and start piling up on the roads. The traffic jam is a prelude to highways littered with burning cars and corpses. As long as Godard stays with cars as the symbol of bourgeois materialism, the barbarity of these bourgeois--their greed and the self-love they project onto their possessions--is exact and funny. The picture goes much further--sometimes majestically, sometimes with surreal details that suggest an affinity between Godard and Buñuel, sometimes with methods and ideas that miss, badly. There are extraordinary passages, such as a bourgeois wife's erotic confession and a long virtuoso sequence of tracking shots of cars stalled on the highway, with the motorists pressing down with all their might on their car horns, which sound triumphant, like trumpets in Purcell. Though deeply flawed, this film has more depth than any of Godard's earlier work. It's his vision of Hell and it ranks with the greatest. As a mystical movie WEEKEND is comparable to Bergman's THE SEVENTH SEAL and SHAME and Ichikawa's FIRES ON THE PLAIN and passages of Kurosawa, yet we're hardly aware of the magnitude of the writer-director's conception until after we are caught up in the comedy of horror, which keeps going further and further and becoming more nearly inescapable, like Journey to the End of the Night. With Mireille Darc and Jean Yanne. Score by Antoine Duhamel. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Going Steady.
The writer-director, Alan Rudolph, is literary in a subliterate way; he overvalues mournful poetic thoughts. And Richard Baskin, whose suite of rock songs "City of the One Night Stands" was the starting point for this sick-soul-of-Los Angeles movie, growls his guru-wisdom lyrics on the sound track. Their whimsical, laid-back alienation is stagnant and irritating; the picture seems drugged. Keith Carradine, Geraldine Chaplin, Lauren Hutton, Harvey Keitel, John Considine, Sissy Spacek, Sally Kellerman, and others perform attentively, but they're undirected, and you can sense their unease as they trudge from one cheerless affair to the next. Cinematography by Dave Myers. Produced by Robert Altman.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
The most famous French comedy about illegitimacy stars Raimu as the well-digger, Fernandel as his assistant, and the lovely Josette Day (the beauty of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) as the erring daughter. Undeservedly popular, this pastoral romp, written and directed by Marcel Pagnol, did much to convince a generation of art-house patrons that the French who lived close to the soil were warm, witty, and wise. Actually, Raimu and Fernandel, both products of the Marseilles music halls, were about as representative of indigenous peasant humor as an American burlesque graduate like Bert Lahr was of rural humor. But Pagnol knew not only how to use his actors, but how to use traditional, stylized comedy plots in a natural setting and make them look as if they grew there. He also knew how to rework a hit; this movie is a spin-off of THE BAKER'S WIFE. (It took Clouzot to shatter the image of French character that Pagnol had given to the world.) In French.
The film begins with a blast of stereophonic music, and everything about it is supposed to stun you with its newness, its size. The impressive, widely admired opening shots of New York from the air overload the story with values and importance--technological and sociological. And the dance movements are so sudden and huge, so portentously "alive" they're always near the explosion point. Consider the feat: first you take Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and remove all that cumbersome poetry; then you make the Montagues and Capulets modern by turning them into rival street gangs of native-born and Puerto Ricans. (You get rid of the parents, of course; America is a young country--and who wants to be bothered by the squabbles of older people?) There is the choreographer Jerome Robbins (who conceived the stage musical) to convert the street rumbles into modern ballet--though he turns out to be too painstaking for high-powered moviemaking and the co-director Robert Wise takes over. The writers include Ernest Lehman, who did the script, Arthur Laurents, who wrote the Broadway show, and, for the lyrics, Stephen Sondheim. The music is by Leonard Bernstein. The irony of this hyped-up, slam-bang production is that those involved apparently don't really believe that beauty and romance can be expressed in modern rhythms, because whenever their Romeo and Juliet enter the scene, the dialogue becomes painfully old-fashioned and mawkish, the dancing turns to simpering, sickly romantic ballet, and sugary old stars hover in the sky. When true love enters the film, Bernstein abandons Gershwin and begins to echo Richard Rodgers, Rudolf Friml, and Victor Herbert. There's even a heavenly choir. When Romeo-Tony meets his Juliet-Maria, everything becomes gauzy and dreamy and he murmurs, "Have we met before?" When Tony, floating on the clouds of romance, is asked, "What have you been taking tonight?" he answers, "A trip to the moon." Match that for lyric eloquence! (You'd have to go back to Odets.) With Natalie Wood as Maria, Richard Beymer as Tony, and Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, Russ Tamblyn, Eliot Feld, Gus Trikonis, Ned Glass, John Astin, Bill Bramley, and Simon Oakland. Natalie Wood's songs were dubbed by Marni Nixon, Richard Beymer's by Jim Bryant, and Rita Moreno's by Betty Wand. Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director (Wise, Robbins), Supporting Actor (Chakiris), Supporting Actress (Moreno), Cinematography (Daniel L. Fapp), Art Direction and Set Direction (Boris Leven and Victor Gangelin), Sound, Scoring, Costume Design (Irene Sharaff). United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book I Lost it at the Movies.