There are agreeable overtones of Mark Twain tall tales in this good-humored, though uneven, version of the paradoxical life of Judge Roy Bean, with Walter Brennan in the part. The hero, Gary Cooper, a travelling saddle bum, delays being hanged by the Judge (on a false charge of horse thieving) by spinning a yarn about his close friendship with Lily Langtry (the Judge's obsession). The handsome production was directed by William Wyler. With Fred Stone, Doris Davenport, Dana Andrews, Lilian Bond (as Langtry), Chill Wills, Forrest Tucker, Paul Hurst, and Tom Tyler. Script by Jo Swerling and Niven Busch, from a story by Stuart N. Lake. Cinematography by Gregg Toland; music by Dmitri Tiomkin. Produced by Samuel Goldwyn; released by United Artists.
Michael Crichton wrote and directed this sci-fi movie; it's set in Delos, a Disneyland for adults, where vacationers can play out their movie-fed fantasies by living in total environments that simulate past ages--ancient Rome, the medieval world, or the West of the 1880s. Computer-programmed humanoids satisfy the guests' vanity and lust and aggression. The idea is ingenious, and the film might have been marvellous: it isn't, quite (it has the skimped TV-movie look of a too-tight budget), but it's reasonably entertaining, and the leads (Richard Benjamin and Yul Brynner) are far superior to the actors in the usual sci-fi films. With James Brolin. MGM.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.
It's about a younger generation whose souls are bombed out, and a middle-aged middle class that's spiritually desiccated. David Hare, who wrote and directed this English film, is out to show a society where nobody connects with anybody. He devised a who-is-to-blame mystery structure, with interlocking flashbacks. A sallow, dead-eyed graduate student (Tim McInnerny) comes to the Yorkshire village of Wetherby, crashes a dinner party given by an emotionally repressed secondary-school English teacher (Vanessa Redgrave), and the next day returns to her cottage to blow out his brains right in front of her, in her kitchen. The only real mystery is the radiant starshine that Redgrave gives off; she saves the movie from being a totally arid puzzle. With Suzanna Hamilton, Ian Holm, Judi Dench, Stuart Wilson, and Redgrave's daughter Joely Richardson, who plays the teacher as a young woman in love.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
Another of the 40s movies about a career girl who isn't interested in men. Of its sort, it's better than some, largely because Rosalind Russell has a clown's all-out silliness and wildness in the way she gets some of her effects. This time, she plays the country's No. 1 hotshot literary agent. Brian Aherne is a writer assigned to do a magazine profile of her, and Willard Parker is a college professor-author whom she wants to star in the movie of his best-seller. Aherne acts in his usual asexual, bemused manner, and Parker (a huge man, on the order of Randolph Scott) is frenzied yet stolid. With Alan Dinehart and Ann Savage. Directed by Irving Cummings; the script by Therese Lewis and Barry Trivers is based on a story by Erik Charell. Columbia.
Helen Hayes making nice. The mousiest First Lady of the theatre in a classic mouse role. Gregory La Cava directed this version of the James M. Barrie play, a prestigious little number from MGM with a cast that includes Brian Aherne as the opaque husband of the little darling. With Dudley Digges, Donald Crisp, and David Torrence.
This Spanish film by the bad-boy writer-director Pedro Almodóvar has an Off Off Broadway informality. It's a generally likable dadaist farce about working-class family life in Madrid's housing projects--huge block buildings of dinky, cramped apartments. The heroine, Gloria (Carmen Maura), drags herself through 18-hour days with the help of No Doz and an occasional sniff of glue or detergent. She goes out to work as a cleaning woman and also cooks and scrubs for her taxi-driver husband (who's a gifted forger and is involved in a scheme to fake Hitler's memoirs) and her two sons--a 14-year-old drug dealer and a 12-year-old hustler who seduces his schoolmates' fathers. You'll probably never see a woozier treatment of the breakdown of the family and the decay of the society. The picture is like a flip, slaphappy version of THE THREEPENNY OPERA. With Chus Lampreave as the mother, and Verónica Forqué as the prostitute. In Spanish.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.
The story line of this film, directed by George Cukor for the producer David O. Selznick, is basically the same as that of Selznick's later A STAR IS BORN (1937), which he admitted was a reworking of this material. (Cukor also got back to the material when he directed the 1954 version of A STAR IS BORN.) Constance Bennett is a waitress at the Brown Derby who meets a brilliant alcoholic director (Lowell Sherman); she rises to fame as his career collapses. Sherman probably patterned his interpretation on the self-destructive drinking of his brother-in-law John Barrymore. Many of the scenes are like sketches for scenes in the later versions, but this film has its own interest, especially because of its glimpses into the studio world at the time. Screenplay by Jane Murfin, Ben Markson, Gene Fowler, and Rowland Brown; from a story by Adela Rogers St. Johns. With Neil Hamilton, Louise Beavers, Eddie Anderson, and Gregory Ratoff. RKO.
The script for this lavish production, set in Paris, is by Woody Allen, and his oblique humor is occasionally weird and alienating in this expensive context. It's a frenetic but generally funny psychiatric farce. Peter O'Toole plays a fashion-magazine editor who consults a psychiatrist (Peter Sellers) about how to cure his susceptibility to the girls who pursue him; inevitably, Sellers goes berserk trying to discover the secrets of O'Toole's success. Sellers is in the Woody Allen role, but Woody turns up, too, and there is a trio of beautiful, zingy comediennes--Paula Prentiss (who gets to read a poem called "Ode to a Pacifist Junkie"), Romy Schneider, and Capucine. Directed by Clive Donner. United Artists.
Rehashed humor. Peter Bogdanovich tries to resuscitate screwball comedy; his chief source is the 1938 BRINGING UP BABY, with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn--an extended absent-minded-professor joke that's a lovely piece of lunacy. That film's underlying assumption is that if you repress your instincts you can get so disjointed you can forget your own name. Grant, a square pedant engaged to a bossy girl pedant, was a paleontologist, putting together the bones of a dinosaur. Hepburn was a live-animal lover, an uninhibited girl with a fluffy wild mane. She undermined the orderly absent-mindedness of Grant's life, and everything in the movie flowed from that. Bogdanovich takes the plot and the externals of the characters but loses the logic. His picture goes every which way; he restages gags from Buster Keaton and Laurel & Hardy and W.C. Fields, plus a lot of cornball devices. Ryan O'Neal and Barbra Streisand are asked to play Grant and Hepburn. They're given no other characters, and O'Neal is embarrassing as he diligently goes through the Grant motions and mannerisms; Streisand comes off better because she sticks to her own rapid, tricky New Yorkese line readings. As the fiancée, Madeline Kahn does a traditional bossy-female caricature that is strident but sometimes funny, and Liam Dunn has a pleasant bit as a judge--another facsimile. There are a couple of wonderful fresh moments (seconds, really) when Sorrell Booke trips Mabel Albertson and when they wrestle together in a hotel corridor. Though the picture works only fitfully and at a rather infantile, imitative level, that was enough to make it a box-office hit. Also with Austin Pendleton, Kenneth Mars, Michael Murphy, John Hillerman, Randy Quaid, and M. Emmet Walsh. Script by Buck Henry and David Newman & Robert Benton, from Bogdanovich's story line; cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
Woody Allen provides dubbed dialogue for a chopped-up Japanese sexy-spy thriller; the jokes get rather desperate, but there are enough wildly sophomoric ones to keep this pop stunt fairly amusing until about midway. It would have made a terrific short. A.I.P.
The high spots are great: Wallace Beery chains Gloria Swanson to the railway track, and Bobby Vernon dances, in sequences from TEDDY AT THE THROTTLE; Laurel and Hardy go through routines taken from BIG BUSINESS (directed by Leo McCarey, photographed by George Stevens). And there are nostalgic (often remarkable) glimpses of Chaplin and Keaton and Langdon, and Ben Turpin, Charlie Chase, Fatty Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, Mack Swain, Edgar Kennedy, and the Keystone Cops. Robert Youngson compiled these clips, after the success of his THE GOLDEN AGE OF COMEDY. Though both these anthologies of silent comedy have an irritating sentimental commentary, they contain pieces of film that you can't easily see elsewhere.
Ray Bolger's earlier film roles never gave him a full-scale star opportunity, but this time he was able to transfer one of his most famous Broadway performances to the screen. The movie preserves the airy grace of (very likely) the greatest comic dancer this country ever produced. The vehicle is a deftly made musical, taken from the sturdy old farce Charley's Aunt, with Bolger as Oxford's favorite female impersonator. He has a charming partner in Allyn Ann McLerie as Amy, as well as a suitor in Horace Cooper as Mr. Spettigue. There are a pair of lovers--Robert Shackleton and Mary Germaine--but you can find some excuse to step outside during their duet. Frank Loesser wrote the lighthearted score (which includes "Make a Miracle" and "Once in Love with Amy"). This is one of the most pleasing of Hollywood musicals--maybe because it's so unostentatious and unambitious; it seems just right. David Butler directed; John Monks, Jr., did the adaptation of George Abbott's musical version of the Brandon Thomas play. With Margaretta Scott. Warners.
Two New York brothers (George Segal and Ron Leibman) who have promised their dying father they won't put their mother (Ruth Gordon) in a home for the aged are stuck with a demanding senile psychopath. Segal, the unmarried son who lives with her, is in an agony of sexual frustration and walks in a stooped position under his Oedipal load. This Freudian farce was adapted by Robert Klane from his own novel and directed by Carl Reiner. It's full of hip energy and talent, and it's intermittently very funny, though it goes any which way for a gag. The skits tend to fall apart for want of aim, and the unlimited, omni-destructive satirical humor doesn't leave us anything to hold on to--there's nothing for our laughs to bounce off. The high point is perhaps the quietest moment: when Segal, in a near trance of romantic longing, sings "Louise" to the charmingly comic ingenue, Trish Van Devere. With Vincent Gardenia, Paul Sorvino, Rae Allen, Garrett Morris, Rob Reiner, and Barnard Hughes. United Artist.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
A real stinker, with Richard Conte as a psychoanalyst whose wife (Gene Tierney) is an insomniac kleptomaniac with a father fixation. The obtuse Conte doesn't spot any of this, but a thieving, bug-eyed hypnotist (José Ferrer) reads her mind fast, and starts throwing her into trances. He decides to throttle an old flame of his and put the blame on the sticky-fingered Tierney. The plot goes from confusion to chaos when he arranges an ironclad alibi for himself: he has his gall bladder removed just a few hours before the murder. The scriptwriters, Ben Hecht (hiding in shame under the pseudonym Lester Barstow) and Andrew Solt, must have really had it in for the director, Otto Preminger. Others swimming in this stew, taken from a Guy Endore novel, are Charles Bickford, Constance Collier, Barbara O'Neil, Eduard Franz, and Fortunio Bonanova. 20th Century-Fox.
Essentially a character portrait of a lonely old pensioner (Edith Evans) in a grimy English industrial town who chats to herself and has moved into a fantasy world, this film gives one the feeling that it should be loose, discovered material. But though the director, Bryan Forbes, is talented, everything--the furniture, the streets, the people's expressions--looks planned for the camera, and we are led to see things in such a limited way that even what is intelligent and well acted seems false. Not Edith Evans, however. Her performance is so varied--so commanding and noble even when she's rummaging around in old newspapers or talking paranoid nonsense--that she transcends the melodramatic incidents involving a criminal son (Ronald Fraser), a seedy husband (Eric Portman) who deserted her, and a sympathetic social worker (Leonard Rossiter, so conscious of playing kindness you want to smack him). Evans' full-scale performance--the creation of a senile woman's inner life--confers greatness on this otherwise mediocre British film. Forbes wrote the screenplay, from Robert Nicolson's novel. With Nanette Newman, Avis Bunnage, Margaret Tyzack, and Kenneth Griffith.
Although the story about a group of children who discover a murderer hiding in their barn and take him for Jesus Christ is a modern parallel of Christ's progress to the cross, this English film isn't nearly as embarrassing and sickly as that sounds. The directing, writing, and acting are all better than the basic idea. In some peculiar double-edged way the movie is both satirical and straight; Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, who adapted Mary Hayley Bell's novel, kidded the idea in a way that almost make the idea work. SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING began with the working-class hero in a machine shop counting "900 and 90-bloody-9;" in this picture, a 6-year-old boy, every bit as cynical as that hero, attacks his morning boiled egg with a muttered "178." Though the central figure is Hayley Mills, who gives her standard lip-licking performance, she isn't offensive and you can forget about her. The pleasures of the film relate to the egg-eater--the ancient-looking Alan Barnes--and to Diane Holgate, who has unbelievably old, all-seeing, beautiful eyes, and to the dozens of amazing unchildish children who keep filling the screen. They're already wearing the faces they'll be wearing for the rest of their lives, and the startlingly sensible lines they speak are as good as just about anything in English movies of the period. The director, Bryan Forbes, makes them perhaps the least sentimental collection of children you've ever seen in a film, and when the disillusioned egg-eater says, "He's not Jesus. He's just a feller" he's amazingly like that working-class hero with his "What I'm out for is a good time. All the rest is propaganda." With Alan Bates and Bernard Lee.
After starting Hedy Lamarr off big in this country (in ALGIERS), Hollywood could never quite figure out what to do with her. So here she is in her eleventh American picture, in dark suntan makeup and bangles, as a sexy savage who drives white men wild. She wiggles tropically and announces "I am Tondelayo"--a line which served a generation of female impersonators. The setting of this meant-to-be-steamy melodrama is Africa, but you wouldn't know it except for the portentous drums that accompany the credits; nobody ever seems to go outside the headquarters of the rubber plantation. The actors sweat profusely and deliver a succession of howlers--each remark seems to have a long theatrical pedigree. Sample: "The natives have been looking at me lately in a queer sort of way." Walter Pidgeon is cast in what was usually the Clark Gable role (the tough cynic); the others are Frank Morgan as the genial drunken doctor, Richard Carlson as the new arrival, Leigh Whipper as the black servant, and Bramwell Fletcher, Henry O'Neill, Richard Ainley, and Reginald Owen. Directed by Richard Thorpe--so routinely that even the lighting looks stagey. Leon Gordon did the adaptation of his popular play, which was based on the novel Hell's Playground by Ida Vera Simonton. (There was a British film version in 1929.) MGM.
Sentimental patriotism, in the MRS. MINIVER mold, and a truly monstrous cultural artifact. Irene Dunne (looking rather mature) plays a young, small-town girl from Tulsa who is courted by Sir John (Alan Marshal), an English aristocrat; they are married on the eve of the First World War, amid much speechifying about the ties that bind the English (represented by Gladys Cooper as Sir John's indomitable, upper-crust mother and Dame May Whitty as his devoted old nanny) and the Americans (represented by the bride's wise, jolly father, Frank Morgan). Sir John goes directly from his honeymoon to the war; Irene and the English women sit around waiting for the soldiers to come home, and when Gladys Cooper receives word that her other son--Reggie--has been killed in action, she crosses her drawing room, walking straighter than ever. Irene's husband has a few days' leave in Paris, so she takes her baby boy and the silliest hat you've ever seen (it has a floral doodad that sticks up a full six inches), and meets him there, and the three of them watch proudly as the Americans, who have entered the war, march into the city. (That's the movie's emotional peak.) Irene resumes her waiting; Sir John is killed in action, and she goes into a decline, with hysterical seizures. But she regains her self-control and the baby grows into serious-faced little Roddy McDowall, who becomes attached to beautiful little Elizabeth Taylor, whose family lives on the land he will inherit. The picture becomes really grotesque when two horrid, blond German boys show up; they're junior-Nazi types and they seem privy to Hitler's war plans. Watching their ugly behavior, old Frank Morgan, who has been visiting, knows the truth; he tells Irene there's another war coming. Desperate to save Roddy from his father's fate, she packs him up and they head for Tulsa. He's a virtuous tyke, though, and on the train he convinces her that they mustn't run away--they must go back and do what's right. Years pass; he turns into Peter Lawford, Elizabeth Taylor turns into June Lockhart, he goes off to the Second World War, and old Irene, now a Red Cross nurse, finds him among the wounded brought in to her hospital. Probably the movie only appears to go on for several more generations. With Van Johnson, C. Aubrey Smith, John Warburton, Jill Esmond, Brenda Forbes, Norma Varden, and is that Tom Drake as a dead American soldier? Based on a narrative poem by Alice Duer Miller; the screenplay is by Claudine West, George Froeschel, and Jan Lustig. Directed by Clarence Brown (he sinks to the level of the material--this must be his worst-paced movie); produced by Sidney Franklin. MGM.
This Freudian gangster picture, directed by Raoul Walsh, is very obvious, and it's so primitive and outrageous in its flamboyance that it seems to have been made much earlier than it was. But this flamboyance is also what makes some of its scenes stay with you. James Cagney plays the tough guy who sits on the lap of his mother (Margaret Wycherly), and goes berserk in the prison mess hall when he learns of her death--a horrible sobbing whine comes out of him, and it just keeps coming, as he punches out anyone who gets near him. This is perhaps the most daring sequence Cagney ever performed; he does his most operatic acting in this film, and he has his wildest death scene: he literally explodes. With Virginia Mayo, Edmond O'Brien, Steve Cochran, Paul Guilfoyle, and Fred Clark. The script by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts was based on a story written for the screen by Virginia Kellogg. Warners.
The German geologist-filmmaker Dr. Arnold Fanck made a series of six "mountain films"--all popular successes--starring the young dancer Leni Riefenstahl. This one is the most famous, perhaps because although Fanck directed the outdoor sequences (a celebration of heights, vastness, ordeal, purity), the overall story was in the hands of G.W. Pabst, who obtained marvellously sensual performances from Riefenstahl and Gustav Diessl. It's a passionate, romantic outdoor epic full of that Promethean Alpine idealism about the conquest of the peaks which was soon after to become identified with Nazi mysticism. The celebrated German daredevil ace of the First World War, Ernst Udet (whose later experiences, during the Nazi period, were used as the basis for the 1955 film THE DEVIL'S GENERAL), appears as himself; when the principal characters are trapped on a mountain peak, Udet arrives in a tiny rescue plane. An example of a genre that died, this film of precipices, avalanches, and suffering produces very mixed emotions, but however one feels about it, it is visually stunning. When it opened in the U.S., it had a tremendous success, though its fame was diminished by a bastardized sound version, with sequences shot in a studio replacing the authentic originals.
One of the most beautiful films ever made. Shot in the Camargue, France's wildest, loneliest region, it's a fable--a tragic fairy tale--about a boy's love for the horse he alone is able to tame. Hunted down by a band of men who want the animal, the boy and his horse head out to sea rather than face capture. The filmmaker was Albert Lamorisse; his intentions were clearly to achieve a piece of visual poetry--unlike most filmmakers who head that way he succeeded. James Agee wrote the English narration.
The magnificent Mikhail Baryshnikov, who might have been created for the movie camera, shames the movie he's in. He plays a Russian ballet star who defected from the Soviet Union to the U.S. in the 70s and is on his way to dance in Tokyo when his plane crash-lands in Siberia. The movie's central gimmick is that the ballet dancer is put in the care of a black American tap dancer (Gregory Hines, acting morose and embittered) who defected from the U.S. Army during the Vietnam war. Except for the happiness he has found with his Russian wife (Isabella Rossellini), the tap dancer is miserable, and now a K.G.B. colonel tells him that if he can't persuade the ballet star to renounce the U.S. and perform in just a few days at a Kirov gala, he'll be taken out of the Siberian playhouse where he has been performing and sent to work in the mines. This cheap melodramatic plot is like a straitjacket that the director, Taylor Hackford, got into voluntarily and can't wriggle out of. The film is meant to be about two dancers who, each in his own way, have fled their countries in quest of freedom of movement, but it turned into a movie about dancers in a funk. It's often ludicrously bad, but Rossellini, a great beauty hidden in a mousy role, evokes her mother (Ingrid Bergman), around the time of CASABLANCA, and there's enough footage of Baryshnikov to carry you past the embarrassments of the tacky script. The opening sequence--a performance of the Roland Petit ballet Le Jeune Homme et la mort--is superb; Twyla Tharp choreographed the Baryshnikov-Hines duet to David Pack's "Prove Me Wrong." With Jerzy Skolimowski as the colonel, and Geraldine Page, Helen Mirren, and John Glover. Cinematography by David Watkin. The script is credited to James Goldman and Eric Hughes. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
Jon Hall, Maria Montez, and Sabu, with their marvellous mix of accents, having implausible adventures in the South Sea Islands; they all sound just as they did in ARABIAN NIGHTS. The writer, Richard Brooks, subversively put a character named Tamara in the story; the way it works out, other, serious-minded characters say things like "Well, how are you feeling today, Tamara?" Arthur Lubin directed this hunk of low camp. It may be that these semi-burlesques were more fun to make than to watch. With Turhan Bey, who somehow puts his seal on them, and Sidney Toler, Thomas Gomez, and Paul Guilfoyle. Produced by George Waggner, for Universal.
This affectionate satire on glamour and delusion is probably the most gentle and naturalistic of Federico Fellini's films, but it was not a success, maybe because it is a little flat in places. (Fellini is still clumsy, and the storytelling is rather drawn out.) The heroine, Brunella Bovo (also the heroine of De Sica's MIRACLE IN MILAN), has come to Rome for her honeymoon, but the devotion of the groom (Leopoldo Trieste) is much less important to her than her infatuation with the White Sheik--the hero of a photographic comic strip. She rushes off to find her ideal, and the cheap, crude actor (Alberto Sordi, in a marvellous performance) tries to rise above himself, to the level of her fantasies. The White Sheik, it turns out, is far more a creature of self-delusion than the star-struck bride. The groom, deserted, sad, and anxious, wandering at night in the piazza, finds solace in conversation with a lively, friendly little prostitute (Giulietta Masina; Fellini later developed this episode into NIGHTS OF CABIRIA). Among those who worked on the story and script were Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, and Michelangelo Antonioni. Music by Nino Rota. (It was the source idea of Gene Wilder's THE WORLD'S GREATEST LOVER.) In Italian.
Robert Morley's legs, his arms, and even his head are appendages of his stomach. In this macabre farce, he plays Max, the editor of a gourmet magazine, and he enters his scenes by pointing his gut and then following it--the legs are a distance behind, holding it up. Max is an imperious child, ruling the world of haute cuisine. At 70, the incomparable Morley is clearly overjoyed at having this chance to play an enfant terrible. It's a completely controlled debauch: he knows the precise effects of his pendulous scowl, his sagging lower lip and trembling jellyfish chins; he knows that his eyes are so close together that when he knits his bushy brows the wiry hairs commingle and he's a cartoon. The tone of the film is meant to be debonair slapstick ghoulishness, but the director, Ted Kotcheff, doesn't have the reserve intended by the scriptwriter, Peter Stone; Kotcheff's work is pushed and bumpy. But messy as the film is, it's spirited, it's fun. With Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Stefano Satta Flores, Philippe Noiret, Jean Rochefort, Madge Ryan, and, as the romantic lead, George Segal, who looks as if he hasn't slept for four years--his smile is like a wince. There are good bits by John Le Mesurier, Kenneth Fortescue, Daniel Emilfork, and many others. From the book Someone Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe by Nan and Ivan Lyons; cinematography by John Alcott. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.
John Ford directed this likable comedy about a gentle clerk, his gangster double (Edward G. Robinson in a dual role), and the hardboiled girl, Bill, whom the clerk adores. Bill is Jean Arthur, the comedienne with the wistful-husky voice; that voice was one of the best sounds in the romantic comedies of the 30s and 40s. (Talkies made her a star, but in the silent period she was already a popular leading lady; Ford had directed her in 1923 in a John Gilbert vehicle, CAMEO KIRBY.) Adapted from a W.R. Burnett story, by Jo Swerling and Robert Riskin. With Wallace Ford, Etienne Girardot, Donald Meek, Arthur Byron, and Edward Brophy. Columbia.