Woman in a Dressing Gown

UK (1957): Drama
93 min, No rating, Black & White

Yvonne Mitchell is extraordinary as the desperately disorganized wife of a neat, rising office worker (Anthony Quayle); she achieves an unusual balance of sensitivity and insensitivity, the painful and the absurd. This English movie, well written in the semi-angry mode, was adapted by Ted Willis from his TV play, and proficiently directed by J. Lee Thompson, though it carries unpretentiousness to a fault. With Sylvia Syms and Andrew Ray.

The Woman in the Window

US (1944): Thriller
99 min, No rating, Black & White

One of the best of Fritz Lang's American movies--a thriller with the logic and plausibility of a nightmare. Lang's technique is so sure and so seductive that the viewer completely identifies with the safe, serene protagonist (Edward G. Robinson), an associate professor of psychology at a New York City college, and shares his shock and fear when he's caught in a trap. The professor is interested in the relation of motive to homicide--an interest that's purely a matter of intellectual curiosity. Then, when his wife and child are out of town, he visits a woman's apartment; her lover comes in and unexpectedly attacks him, and he kills the intruder with a pair of scissors. Joan Bennett is the woman in the case, Dan Duryea is a blackmailer, and Raymond Massey is an assistant district attorney. Nunnally Johnson produced, and adapted J.H. Wallis's novel Once Off Guard. With Dorothy Peterson and Bobby (later Robert) Blake. Cinematography by Milton Krasner. RKO.

A Woman of Affairs

US (1928): Drama
96 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Greta Garbo was never more rapturous than in this adaptation of Michael Arlen's 1924 novel The Green Hat. She and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., are cast as sister and brother, and with their matching profiles they're probably the most glamorous sister and brother look-alikes in film history. Garbo plays a daring, sleekly groomed woman of the 20s who isn't considered good enough to marry the handsome aristocratic stiff (John Gilbert) whom she loves. It turns out that she has the finer code of honor. But Garbo transcends this moral framework: as a woman in love, she has a sensuality that's dreamlike--it knows no bounds. (Watch her in the hospital scene.) The cast includes John Mack Brown, Lewis Stone, Hobart Bosworth, and Dorothy Sebastian. Directed by Clarence Brown, from a script by Bess Meredyth. It's an elegantly sumptuous MGM production, with cinematography by William Daniels, art direction by Cedric Gibbons, and gowns by Adrian. Silent, but it was also made available in a version with added sound effects and music.

Woman of the Year

US (1942): Drama/Comedy
112 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The first of the films co-starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. The chemistry is great, but the plot and the tone are wobbly. He's a sportswriter, and she's a celebrated political journalist (probably modelled on Dorothy Thompson) who doesn't know how to be a woman. The comedy goes sour whenever the movie scores points against her, and the slapstick resolution has an air of desperation. George Stevens directed, from a script by Ring Lardner, Jr., and Michael Kanin. With Fay Bainter, Reginald Owen, and William Bendix. MGM.

The Woman on the Beach

US (1947): Drama
71 min, No rating, Black & White

This Hollywood film by Jean Renoir was cut, re-edited, and partly reshot after a disastrous sneak preview in Santa Barbara. Renoir has said that he was trying to do "a love story in which there was no love," in which the attractions "were purely physical," but that after he remade it, it was "neither flesh nor fish," having "lost its raison d'ętre." What's left suggests that Renoir was attempting an American film with the sensual atmosphere of his French work, such as LA BĘTE HUMAINE; it's a 71-minute melodrama, but it's slow-rhythmed and full of dreamlike ambiguities, tensions, suspicions. Joan Bennett is the petulant femme fatale, married to a great painter (Charles Bickford) who has gone blind. Robert Ryan is the Coast Guard lieutenant who finds her so irresistible that she has him trying to do in her husband. The film, hampered further by a fiercely obtrusive Hanns Eisler score, was a box-office calamity, and finished Renoir in Hollywood; he didn't make another movie until the 50s, when he went to India for THE RIVER. Some critics (most notably Jacques Rivette) consider this mutilated film a masterpiece and that's an appealing idea, but one may have to strain to see it as more than an over-aestheticized, interesting failure. The script by Frank Davis and Renoir was adapted from Mitchell Wilson's novel None So Blind. RKO.

A Woman Rebels

US (1936): Drama
88 min, No rating, Black & White

Arguably Katharine Hepburn's worst picture (most serious rival: MARY OF SCOTLAND), and the central issue--the freedom of women--is made to seem tired, dated, and convictionless. This time Hepburn is Pamela Thistlewaite, daughter of an autocratic judge (Donald Crisp). After an affair (with Van Heflin), she has an illegitimate child; though she's the crusading editor of a women's magazine and a campaigner for women's rights, she fibs about the baby. After much suffering, she realizes she's in love with her longtime faithful suitor (Herbert Marshall). Despite what Hepburn goes through in this movie, she looks great and she has something; she does a lot for her more amusing speeches. Mark Sandrich directed; from Netta Syrett's Portrait of a Rebel, adapted by Anthony Veiller and Ernest Vajda. With Lucile Watson, Doris Dudley, Elizabeth Allan, and David Manners. Pandro S. Berman produced, for RKO.

A Woman Under the Influence

US (1974): Drama
155 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

The writer-director, John Cassavetes, presents his morose yet romantic view of mental disorder, with Gena Rowlands as the helpless victim of a bullying blue-collar husband (Peter Falk) and a repressive society. She's a frantic, wilted Los Angeles housewife who is endowed with a clarity of vision that the warped society can't tolerate, and so she's persecuted. The scenes are often unshaped, and so rudderless that the meanings don't emerge. Rowlands externalizes schizophrenic dissolution; she fragments before our eyes. But her prodigious performance is enough for half a dozen tours de force--it's exhausting. With Katherine Cassavetes. (2 hours and 35 minutes.)
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

A Woman's Face

US (1941): Crime
105 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Joan Crawford as a woman whose soul is blighted by the horrible disfigurement of one side of her face, in a remake of a Swedish film (based on a French play) that the very young Ingrid Bergman had been a hit in. The Swedish setting has been retained--rather inexplicably, since the story is about Crawford's ruthless blackmailing activities, and then her spiritual transformation, once a surgeon (Melvyn Douglas) has healed her face. As her mad, treacherous lover, who wants to involve her in the murder of a child, Conrad Veidt is the gaudiest character. Too bad that the director, George Cukor, doesn't have a little more feeling for the loony baroque; the story is treated much too soberly. However, Cukor toned down Crawford's notorious emotionalism--no small feat. Funniest sequence: a Swedish folk dance, with Crawford in a peasant get-up. With Marjorie Main, Osa Massen, Albert Basserman, Reginald Owen, Connie Gilchrist, and Donald Meek. The screenplay is by Donald Ogden Stewart; cinematography by Robert Planck; music by Bronislau Kaper. Produced by Victor Saville, for MGM.

The Women

US (1939): Comedy
132 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Clare Boothe Luce's ode to wisecracking cattiness, given the full, expensive MGM treatment in its first movie version. It confirms rich men's worst suspicions and fantasies of what women want (money) and what they're like when they're together (clawing beasties). With Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine, Mary Boland, Marjorie Main, Hedda Hopper, Margaret Dumont, Virginia Grey, Virginia Weidler, Ruth Hussey, Phyllis Povah, Lucile Watson, and noble Norma Shearer, weeping, weeping. George Cukor directed--surprisingly coarsely; it's a kicking, screaming low comedy, with a quiet character such as Joan Fontaine coming across as a female wimp. Goddard is a standout--she's fun. And audiences at the time loved Russell's all-out burlesque of women as jealous bitches. Adapted by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin.

Women in Love

UK (1969): Drama
129 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Ken Russell's movie could perhaps be described as a gothic sex fantasy on themes from D.H. Lawrence's novel. Visually and emotionally, it's extravagant and, from time to time, impressive. Because Lawrence was one of the most purple of all great writers (perhaps the most, though rivalled by Conrad), Russell's style might deceive one into imagining that he is providing an equivalent to Lawrence's prose. But though Lawrence's passionate imprecision is what's bad in his writing, one can pass right through it in his Women in Love, because he was reaching for clarity; he might make a fool of himself groping around his characters' psycho-sexual insides like a messianic explorer, but he was opening up new terrain. Russell, on the other hand, heads right for the purple, and his overheated virtuoso tableaux are piled on for our admiration, not for our understanding. The movie is a highly colored swirl of emotional impressions, bursting with intensity that isn't really grounded in anything. Probably to see this particular movie before reading the book is desecration; the novel is a staggering accomplishment--the sort of book that leaves one dumbfounded at how far its author got--and since there are few English novels of this stature, it's mad to jeopardize one's vision of it by reading it in terms of the actors and images of the film. (The movie is rather like Lawrence's accounts of bad sex.) With the bold, tense Glenda Jackson as Gudrun; Jennie Linden as her unimaginative sister, Ursula; Alan Bates as Birkin; Oliver Reed, glum and bilious, as Gerald; and also Vladek Sheybal, Eleanor Bron, Alan Webb, Catherine Willmer, Richard Heffer, Christopher Gable, and Michael Gough. The adaptation is by Larry Kramer, who also produced. The cinematography is by Billy Williams; the score is by Georges Delerue; the set designer is Luciana Arrighi; the costume designer is Shirley Russell.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

Women in Revolt

US (1972): Comedy
97 min, No rating, Color

Three transvestites (Candy Darling, Holly Woodlawn, Jackie Curtis) in a porno burlesque of women's liberation. It sounds like fun, but it isn't. The subject is really the fantasies of Andy Warhol's "superstars;" the dialogue is flat and the camera seems glued to the blemishes on the performers' rumps and thighs. The credits list Andy Warhol as director and Paul Morrissey as executive producer. With Jane Forth.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Spain (1988): Drama
88 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc
Also known as MUJERES AL BORDE DE UN ATAQUE DE NERVIOS.

The most original pop writer-director of the 80s, Pedro Almodóvar is Godard with a human face--a happy face. The artificial is what sends him sky-high, and the Madrid of this film is (as the closing song has it) "Puro Teatro." This comedy looks as if it had been made by a mad scientist playing with chemical rainbow colors--John Lithgow in his lab in BUCKAROO BANZAI. It's all coincidences, and each new one adds to the crazy brio. What seem to be incidental jokes turn out to be essential parts of one big joke. This is a movie where after a while you can't tell sexy from funny. Pepa (Carmen Maura), an actress who works in TV and commercials, turns on her answering machine and learns that she has been jilted. Infuriated, she dashes around, on spike heels, in a short, tight skirt, trying to confront her longtime live-in lover, the elegant, vain Iván (Fernando Guillén). The women of the title include Iván's early lover (Julieta Serrano), his new lover (Kiti Manver), and two (Rossy De Palma and María Barranco) who are involved with his son (Antonio Banderas). Sleek-legged and chic, they run the theatrical gamut. Cinematography by José Luis Alcaine. In Spanish.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.

The Wonderful Crook

France (1974): Adventure
110 min, No rating, Black & White
Also known as PAS SI MÉCHANT QUE ÇA.

Gérard Depardieu as a petit-bourgeois Robin Hood, a man who commits robberies in order to meet the payroll of his family business, a small furniture factory. The Swiss writer-director, Claude Goretta, develops the small stresses and breaks of feeling; we know we're seeing a film made by artists. But Goretta's wheels grind so fine that we become impatient; the hero's arrest is our reprieve. With Philippe Léotard, Marlčne Jobert, Dominique Labourier, and Jacques Debary. Cinematography by Renato Berta. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Words and Music

US (1948): Musical/Dance/Biography
119 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Double bio of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, with Tom Drake and Mickey Rooney insanely miscast in the roles. The story part is painfully embarrassing to watch, but some of the musical numbers are just fine. The huge cast includes Judy Garland, Cyd Charisse, Perry Como, Janet Leigh, Gower Champion, Gene Kelly (who choreographed the "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" ballet that he dances with Vera-Ellen), and June Allyson, whose "Thou Swell" with the Blackburn Twins is a bright spot in her career. Also with Lena Horne singing "The Lady Is a Tramp," and Ann Sothern, Mel Tormé, Betty Garrett, Allyn Ann McLerie, and Marshall Thompson. Norman Taurog directed, from a script by Fred Finklehoffe, based on a story by Guy Bolton and Jean Holloway. Robert Alton and Kelly staged the dances. The roughly two dozen Rodgers and Hart songs include "Where or When," "There's a Small Hotel," and "This Can't Be Love." MGM.

Working Girl

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

Mike Nichols made this Yuppie Cinderella romance, with Melanie Griffith as Tess McGill, a poor but enterprising girl from Staten Island who fights off the sleazoid bosses and struggles to break through the educational-background barriers and climb from Wall Street secretary to executive. We're supposed to be cheered by watching Tess become part of the establishment: she makes it into the world of mergers and acquisitions, and Carly Simon's choral music soars exultantly. Nichols may have been planning to let in a little bit of funk and tackiness, and then backed off; that might explain the double-entendre of the title and some of the plot details. Griffith is very appealing, and she carries what there is of the picture, but this is the kind of star performance in which the heroine's misty eyes and soft-focus smiles (which suggest bleariness) are supposed to turn our brains to jelly. After a bouncy, promising opening, the staging becomes so broad you can't tell whether satire is intended or just dumb jokes. The lines have a lot of surprise, but the situations (and digressions) are moldy. With Sigourney Weaver, Harrison Ford, Joan Cusack, Kevin Spacey, Nora Dunn, Alec Baldwin, Philip Bosco, and Olympia Dukakis. The script is by Kevin Wade; the cinematography is by Michael Ballhaus. 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.

The World According to Garp

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

The movie version of John Irving's novel, directed by George Roy Hill, from a script by Steve Tesich, has no center; it's a simple series of vignettes, spanning Garp's life from his beginning to his end. This isn't necessarily bad--Hill's pastel, detached, and generally meaningless comedy may, in some ways, be preferable to the baroque apparatus that Irving constructed--but in recounting the book's key incidents Hill and Tesich lay bare the pattern of mutilations in the plot. Tongues, ears, penises, eyes, lives--everybody on the screen is losing something. If you listen to what Garp (Robin Williams) says, the movie is about love of family; if you look at what happens, though, it's a castration fantasy. The masochistic gifted-victim game has been played in recent American writing on just about every conceivable level, but Irving's novel is still something special: he created a whole hideous and deformed women's political group (the Ellen Jamesians) in order to have his author-hero, his alter ego, destroyed by it, and the film is faithful to Irving's "vision." With John Lithgow, who gives an appealing performance as the big-bruiser transsexual Roberta Muldoon, Glenn Close as Garp's mother, Mary Beth Hurt as his wife, and, in a bit, Amanda Plummer as Ellen James. Cinematography by Miroslav Ondrícek. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

A World Apart

US (1988): Biography
112 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Set in 1963, it's about a 13-year-old girl (Jodhi May), who lives a well-ordered, ruling-class life in a fine home in suburban Johannesburg until her father (Jeroen Krabbé), who's a Communist, flees the country in the middle of the night to escape arrest, and her mother (Barbara Hershey), the editor of a small anti-apartheid newspaper, is "detained" for 90 days, and then another 90 days. Based on a semi-autobiographical script by Shawn Slovo, the daughter of the journalist Ruth First and Joe Slovo, the leader of the then-banned South African Communist Party, the movie deals with the girl's feeling confused and resentful, because her parents have never explained anything to her--they've treated her like a baby. Forced to grow up, she perceives the ugliness of apartheid, and wants to join in the fight against it, yet that fight is also her competitor. In prison or out, her mother is not all there for her. When the girl needs her mom, she bashes her head against a principled person. The theme of the movie is the conflict between fighting injustice and what we owe to our families--or, more poignantly, a young girl's pain at the loss of her mother and father, though she knows the reason for it. Shot in Zimbabwe, this remarkable first feature directed by the noted cinematographer Chris Menges (pronounced men-ghees) has a visual snap to it. It's luminous yet very informal. And though, toward the end, it falls into chanting slogans, it has a radiant intelligence. The cast includes Linda Mvusi, who shared the best-actress award at Cannes with May and Hershey, and Tim Roth, Yvonne Bryceland, Albee Lesotho, David Suchet, and Nadine Chalmers.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

The World of Apu

India (1959): Drama
103 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette
Also known as APUR SANSAR.

Satyajit Ray's protagonist, Apu, whose consciousness developed from the village life of PATHER PANCHALI and the university in APARAJITO, marries the exquisite Sharmila Tagore and grows beyond self-consciousness. Rich and contemplative, and a great, convincing affirmation. The full-grown Apu is played by the remarkable Soumitra Chatterji, who starred in several other Ray films. Adapted from a novel by B.B. Bandapaddhay, by Ray; music by Ravi Shankar. In Bengali.

The World of Henry Orient

US (1964): Comedy
106 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Odd and erratic but often touching tragicomedy about two young New York girls who go celebrity hunting. With Peter Sellers, Angela Lansbury, Paula Prentiss, and Tippy Walker and Merrie Spaeth. Directed by George Roy Hill, from a script by Nora and Nunnally Johnson, based on Nora Johnson's novel. United Artists.

World Premiere

US (1941): Comedy
70 min, No rating, Black & White

John Barrymore, in his self-parodying period, doing an entertaining lampoon of a movie producer in an insignificant contraption of a movie, directed by Ted Tetzlaff. With Frances Farmer, Sig Rumann, Ricardo Cortez, and Eugene Pallette. Paramount.

The World's Greatest Lover

US (1977): Comedy
89 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

Gene Wilder's slapstick farce may not be long, but "long" is a relative term, and a half hour of this is eternity enough. It's set in the 20s and has to do with a Milwaukee baker (Wilder) who goes to Hollywood for a screen test, hoping to become a rival to Rudolph Valentino. Infantile humor, for young, slow kids, who want everything pounded at them. With Carol Kane, Dom De Luise, and Fritz Feld. Script by Wilder, with a "thank you" credit to Fellini (for the use of part of the plot of THE WHITE SHEIK). 20th Century-Fox.

WR-Mysteries of the Organism

Yugoslavia (1971): Comedy
84 min, No rating, Color
Also known as WR-MISTERIJE ORGANIZMA.

Controversial, comic collage-movie by Dusan Makavejev that mixes and parodies left-wing politics and Wilhelm Reichian psychology; the point of view is so unstable that it seems to be more sophomoric than anything else. With the gifted actress Milena Draviç, as well as Jackie Curtis and Tuli Kupferberg. A Yugoslavian film, filmed in Europe and the U.S. English subtitles and dialogue.

Written on the Wind

US (1956): Drama
99 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

A Texas oil millionaire (Robert Stack) sweeps a secretary (Lauren Bacall) off her feet, marries her, and then gets to wondering whether the baby that she's going to have is really his or if it's the child of his best friend, a geologist (Rock Hudson). The Texan's nympho sister (Dorothy Malone) encourages his suspicions while trying to trap the geologist, who is, indeed, in love with the wife. The director, Douglas Sirk, shows his talent for whipping up sour, stylized soap operas in posh settings. With Robert Keith. The script by George Zuckerman is based on Robert Wilder's novel. Universal.

The Wrong Man

US (1957): Crime
105 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

An unusually drab Hitchcock film, based on a true story about an innocent man (Henry Fonda) sent to prison. The picture has an almost Kafkaesque nightmare realism to it, but the story line wanders diffusely instead of tightening, and the developments become tedious (though the final discovery of the right man is chillingly well done). With Vera Miles, Anthony Quayle, Esther Minciotti, and Harold J. Stone. Written by Maxwell Anderson and Angus MacPhail; music by Bernard Herrmann. Warners.

WUSA

US (1970): Drama
115 min, Rated PG, Color

A garish example of liberal exhibitionism. Stuart Rosenberg over-directed this over-written story of a right-wing political plot in New Orleans. Joanne Woodward has a scar on her face, Paul Newman drinks because he can't face himself, Tony Perkins is quietly going mad, and Cloris Leachman is a crippled newsy. Also with Laurence Harvey, Moses Gunn, Wayne Rogers, Pat Hingle, and Bruce Cabot. The score is by Lalo Schifrin; Robert Stone's script is based on his novel Hall of Mirrors. (After Newman's girl has hanged herself, he visits her grave--in a potter's field, no less--and savagely addresses the departed lady: "I'm a survivor and I'm leaving these flats for the mile-high city. When I get up there, baby--when I look down--I'll have a few regrets." The rhetoric suggests a mixture of WINTERSET and THE OSCAR.) Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

Wuthering Heights

US (1939): Romance
103 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Laurence Olivier has said that in this film the director, William Wyler, taught him how to act on the screen, and there's no doubt that, as Heathcliff, he shows new passion and power. Unfortunately, Merle Oberon's Cathy--though exquisite--lacks the complementary passion; she's a bit chill and dainty for the character hewn in Emily Brontë's "wild workshop" (to use sister Charlotte's phrase). But it's a beautifully made gothic-romantic classic, with many memorable scenes. Hecht and MacArthur did the script; Gregg Toland was the cinematographer; Alfred Newman did the music. The cast includes Flora Robson, David Niven, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Donald Crisp, Hugh Williams, Leo G. Carroll, Miles Mander, Cecil Kellaway, and Alice Ehlers at the harpsichord. The Ventura area (about 40 miles north of Los Angeles) was used for the Yorkshire moors. (The novel was first filmed, in England, in 1920; the many movie versions include one that Buńuel made in Mexico in 1953, an Egyptian production, and another English version, directed by Robert Fuest in 1970 and starring Timothy Dalton and Anna Calder-Marshall. And there have been at least seven TV versions--the Heathcliffs have included Richard Burton, Keith Michell, Charlton Heston, Richard Boone, and Tom Tryon, and the Cathys have included Rosemary Harris and Claire Bloom.) A Samuel Goldwyn Production.

W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings

US (1975): Crime/Comedy
91 min, Rated PG, Color

Burt Reynolds is once more being chased by a sheriff and once more using his beefy, childlike grin, but he gives perhaps his most ingratiating comic performance. He's a con man in this redneck fairy tale set in and around Nashville, in the late 50s. There's a genial, romantic script by Thomas Rickman, and Reynolds seems more human than usual. At times, you can see him working to keep the picture alive--trying to give it some juice and sweetness and humor. He has to work extra hard because the director, John G. Avildsen, seems erratic and outright sloppy. With Art Carney, Conny Van Dyke, Jerry Reed, and Ned Beatty. 20th Century-Fox.

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