Elizabeth Taylor in an all-out, let-it-bleed performance that shows her talent for comic toughness. She appears to be having a roaring good time on camera and she's so energetic that Michael Caine and Susannah York (it's a triangle movie) have to work hard to hold their own. The subject is the shocking messiness of love, and the director, Brian G. Hutton, aims each shot at the jugular; nothing is implied, nothing is suggested-everything belts you. Set in London, it's an entertaining plush circus of a "women's picture," with cinematography in Billy Williams' ripest palette. Edna O'Brien wrote the script and her dialogue has a sardonic tickle to it. With Margaret Leighton. A Kastner-Ladd-Kanter Production; released by Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
Not as cut-and-dried as most low-budget science-fiction thrillers; some novel ideas help to sustain interest in this one, though eventually it goes the tired old moralizing route, and scientific "transgression" results in doom. A solemnly serious Ray Milland is Dr. Xavier, the scientist whose experiments result in the X-ray vision that torments him; Don Rickles helps to redeem the stereotyped role of the greedy carny man who exploits poor Xavier. With John Hoyt, Diana Van Der Vlis, Harold J. Stone, and John Dierkes. Cinematography by Floyd Crosby; written by Robert Dillon and Ray Russell. Produced and directed by Roger Corman, for A.I.P.
An attempt to sell a romantic view of gangsterism in an exotic setting. The yakuza are Japanese mobsters, and one of the items in their "code" is that you can show penitence for an offense against the mob chieftain by slicing off your little finger and presenting it to him. Robert Mitchum plays an American private eye who goes to Japan to rescue an American girl kidnapped by yakuza; he enlists the aid of a "retired" yakuza, a master-teacher of swordsmanship (Takakura Ken, or, if you prefer, Ken Takakura), and they fight side by side, the gun and the sword. At the end, Mitchum realizes that he has offended the swordsman and commits his act of penance. This is a swaggeringly meretricious fairy tale, overloaded with exposition, and solemn when it means to be Orientally inscrutable. Richard Jordan, as Mitchum's bodyguard, gives the film its only fresh, unexpected moments; the director, Sydney Pollack, doesn't seem to understand how action-film mechanisms operate. The script by Paul Schrader, from Leonard Schrader's story, was given a rewrite by Robert Towne. With Brian Keith and Eiji Okada. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.
The astonishingly versatile James Cagney as the prodigious actor-playwright-songwriter George M. Cohan, in a big, enjoyable musical biography, well directed by Michael Curtiz. Made during the Second World War, it's packed with jingoistic Americanism, but this ties in with Cohan's own attitudes and with the unself-conscious Irish-American sentimentality of his songs, and Cagney's stiff-backed hoofing is so spirited that the moldy plot turns hardly bother one. He gets to dance more in this movie than in any of his previous films, and though he was born in 1899 and is somewhat portly here, he is so cocky and sure a dancer that you feel yourself grinning with pleasure at his movements. It's quite possible that he has more electricity than Cohan himself had. (He took the Academy Award for Best Actor.) With Walter Huston, Joan Leslie, Rosemary DeCamp, Frances Langford, Richard Whorf, George Tobias, Jeanne Cagney, Eddie Foy, Jr., Walter Catlett, Irene Manning, S.Z. Sakall, and George Barbier. The script is by Robert Buckner and Edmund Joseph; the cinematography is by James Wong Howe. Warners.
Peter Weir's romantic adventure film is set in Indonesia in 1965, during the political upheavals that shook President Sukarno's unstable government, and centers on the Caucasian community of journalists and diplomats in Djakarta. Linda Hunt has the pivotal male role of the goblinlike Billy Kwan, a half-Chinese, half-Australian cameraman who plays matchmaker and brings together Mel Gibson, as a newly arrived Australian foreign correspondent, and Sigourney Weaver, as the assistant military attaché at the British Embassy. To a degree, Weir is the victim of his own skill at creating the illusion of authentic Third World misery, rioting, and chaos; the emaciation of the natives overwhelms the made-up problems of the Caucasians. But movie squalor has its own glamour, and scene by scene this film is fascinating; despite a certain amount of mystical-East blather, it's alive on the screen. A new-style old-time "dangerous" steaminess builds up as Gibson and Weaver eye each other. And though Billy Kwan is the movie's walking conscience and higher moral purpose, Linda Hunt's lyric intensity and concentration help to purify the lines she speaks. Filmed in the Philippines and Australia. With Bill Kerr, Michael Murphy, Bembol Roco, and Noel Ferrier. The score is entertaining, with records that range from Richard Strauss to Little Richard, and background music by Maurice Jarre, in which gamelan gong sounds are never far away; the script by David Williamson, Weir, and C.J. Koch is based on Koch's highly readable 1978 novel. MGM.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
Stan White (Mickey Rourke), a New York police captain, is assigned to put a damper on the murderous youth gangs who are disrupting life in Chinatown. But Stan--a synthesis of Rambo and Dirty Harry--can't live with compromise; he starts to create chaos in the community so that (in some unexplained way) he can tear out the roots of crime. The movie is a form of hysterical, rabble-rousing pulp, yet it isn't involving; it doesn't have the propulsion of good pulp storytelling. It's sunk in torpor, and Stan, who seems to be continuing the Vietnam war in Chinatown, has no core; he's all blowhard pose. Loosely derived from the novel by Robert Daley, the tawdry script--it gives the characters a flat, stunted vocabulary of about 25 words, most of them the basic four-letter expletives--was written by Oliver Stone, along with Michael Cimino, who directed. The only performance that has any intensity is the quiet one given by John Lone as the sneaky, new young Chinese Godfather--he's Cimino's Heart of Darkness and Yellow Peril, too. Lone is so fine-drawn and elegant he just about turns the movie upside down; this gangster comes across as the only character with any brains or emotional life. The grating-voiced Ariane, a model of Dutch and Japanese parentage, is the TV-newscaster heroine; she's officious and nostrilly, like an Oriental Ali MacGraw. With Raymond J. Barry, Caroline Kava, Dennis Dun, and Leonard Termo. Cinematography by Alex Thomson; music by David Mansfield; production designed by Wolf Kroeger. Parts of Chinatown's Mott Street were re-created in Dino De Laurentiis' studios in Wilmington, North Carolina. A De Laurentiis Production, released by MGM.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
The yearling is a boy's pet deer, and it represents the freedom of the boy's childhood. But when the deer becomes destructive, the boy's mother shoots him. Claude Jarman, Jr., plays the boy Jody, Gregory Peck is his farmer father, and Jane Wyman is surprisingly effective as the hard-bitten, unimaginative mother. An actor named Donn Gift plays the boy's friend--a strange little creature called Fodderwing. What the director, Clarence Brown, does with the material is surprising even if you're familiar with other fine Brown films, such as NATIONAL VELVET and INTRUDER IN THE DUST. When Jody and Fodderwing are together, something quirky and magical seems to be happening on the screen; when Jody and his deer are together the boy's emotion has a fairy-tale glitter; and when Jody's mother reveals a streak of humor she's so pleased at her dumb joke that you find yourself staring in disbelief--and laughing. Even Peck seems to blend into the atmosphere. From Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings book, adapted by Paul Osborn. With Chill Wills, Forrest Tucker, Henry Travers, June Lockhart, Clem Bevans, and Margaret Wycherly. Shot on location; cinematography by Charles Rosher and Leonard Smith. Produced by Sidney Franklin, for MGM.
A Pop Art animated feature with hippie heroes (cartoon versions of the Beatles) going to the rescue of the people of Pepperland and saving them from the Blue Meanies by using the weapons of love and music. Good-natured, full of verbal-visual jokes, and surprisingly entertaining, though the love is less impressive than the music (10 songs by the Beatles). The brightly colored animation is so blatantly derivative that it's an amusing catalogue of 20th-century graphic design. One sequence--the dancing couple for "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"--is a stunning use of stylized human figures, an apotheosis of Rogers and Astaire. Directed by George Dunning; the chief designer was Heinz Edelmann. United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Going Steady.
Barbra Streisand directed, produced, co-wrote, and stars in this musical version of the Isaac Bashevis Singer story "Yentl the Yeshiva Boy," and it has a distinctive and surprising spirit. It's funny, delicate, and intense--all at the same time. Set in the thriving Polish-Jewish communities of an imaginary, glowing past, it tells of a young woman with a passion for religious study who grows up in a tradition-bound society where women are excluded from scholarship; when her widower father (who has secretly taught her) dies, she dresses as a boy and goes off to enroll in a yeshiva in a distant town. There's a running theme in Singer: human beings keep trying to flirt with God, hoping that someday a line of communication can be established, but sex always gets in the way. Dressed as a boy, Yentl is no longer resentful of male privileges, and for the first time she feels attracted to a man--the virile, bearded Avigdor, played by Mandy Patinkin, who can hardly wait for his wedding to Hadass, played by Amy Irving. When these three repressed characters become entangled, the movie (like Singer's story) brushes up against darkness on the one hand and sex farce on the other. The director keeps her balance; her vision is sustained until the end (which is a misstep), and as the yeshiva boy she's a wonderful, giddy little shrimp. The music by Michel Legrand isn't varied enough and the lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman are tainted with feminist psychobabble and Broadway uplift, but Streisand sings with passionate conviction, and as the director she does graceful tricks with the songs. She also brings out the other performers' most appealing qualities; the cast includes Nehemiah Persoff as Yentl's papa, and Steven Hill as Hadass's father. The diffuse, poetic lighting is by the cinematographer David Watkin; the film was shot on Czech locations and in English studios. Streisand's co-writer was the English playwright and television writer Jack Rosenthal. United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.
Akira Kurosawa's boisterous, exuberant comedy-satire about violence, with Toshiro Mifune as an unemployed samurai, a sword for hire. When our Westerner came into town, although his own past was often shady, he picked the right side--the farmers against the gamblers and the cattle thieves. This samurai walks into a town divided by two rival merchants quarrelling over a gambling concession, each supporting a gang of killers. He has his special skills and the remnants of a code of behavior, but to whom can he give his allegiance? He hires out to each and systematically eliminates both. We might expect violence carried to extremity to be sickening; Kurosawa, in a triumph of bravura technique, makes it explosively comic and exhilarating. There is so much displacement of the usual movie conventions that we don't have the time or inclination to ask why we are enjoying the action; we respond kinesthetically. One of the rare Japanese films that is both great and funny to American audiences. (Sergio Leone made his own version of it, A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS.) In Japanese.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book I Lost it at the Movies.
Fred Astaire was paired with Lucille Bremer in this stupefyingly baroque MGM musical set in a mythical South American country and encumbered with what its director, Vincente Minnelli, once called "an insane plot." Astaire is cast howlingly against type as a crooked gambler; when he learns that the beautiful heiress Yolanda believes she has a guardian angel, he pretends to be the angel in order to swindle her. The picture is the most extreme of the big-musical mistakes of the 40s; it's full of surreal dreams and fiestas, and because it goes beyond parody, it perhaps needs to be seen by anyone who wants to know what killed the MGM musicals. Yolanda's bathroom has cascading fountains, and the ballets, staged by Eugene Loring and costumed by Irene Sharaff at her maddest, include such decorator delights as laundresses washing linen in a pool of gold coins. The cast includes Frank Morgan, Mildred Natwick, Mary Nash, and Leon Ames. The script by Irving Brecher is based on a story by Ludwig Bemelmans and Jacques Théry. The songs, by Harry Warren and Arthur Freed, are best forgotten. Produced by Freed.
It starts with attractive Art Deco titles, and the sets and stylized cinematography would suggest high comedy, but as soon as the action starts (in a department store where parolees are hired), you can smell disaster. Sylvia Sidney is the overly sweet and demure ex-convict employee who marries another ex-convict employee (George Raft), even though it violates her parole. This clompingly coy movie was the result of studio interference with a great director (Fritz Lang), who had got himself into what was probably a hopeless project, even if it hadn't been interfered with. Bertolt Brecht had great influence on Lang at the time, and in several episodes, Lang, with the help of the composer Kurt Weill, tried to escape from the pedestrian script (by Virginia Van Upp, from Norman Krasna's story) with musical numbers in the pedagogic Brecht vein. Lang later explained that he didn't get to work out his ideas with Weill, and that with Boris Morros on the scoring, he couldn't get what he'd hoped for. The movie turns out to be a gangster-comedy fairy tale, botched in every department. Lang seems to be trying to be Lubitsch, but without the requisite lightness of touch. With Robert Cummings, Roscoe Karns, Harry Carey, Barton MacLane, George E. Stone, Bernadene Hayes, Willard Robertson, Joyce Compton, Warren Hymer, Guinn Williams, Jack Mulhall, Cecil Cunningham, Arthur Hoyt, and Carol Paige as the torch singer. Paramount.
If the producer-director-composer-writer, Joseph Brooks, had written a script with a few more strands woven into it, he wouldn't have had to overwork the gamine vulnerability of his star, Didi Conn. The single plot thread has her trying to break away from a career as a comic, which her borscht-belt comedian father (Joe Silver) shoved her into in childhood, and find her own way as a composer-singer-actress. The movie is both amateurish and slick--it oozes heart. The scenes go on too long, and there isn't enough in them--they're stretched out with closeups of the heroine grinning or singing (she's dubbed by Kasey Cisyk)--yet it's all so unabashedly on her side that many in the audience (young girls, especially) seem to respond happily. The whole thing is like a commercial for the insistent title song. With Stephan Nathan, who is amusingly relaxed as the fiancé born to be jilted, and Melanie Mayron and Michael Zaslow. Independently made, released by Columbia.
This early version of the Bonnie and Clyde story, starring Sylvia Sidney and Henry Fonda (neither has ever been better), is perhaps the finest of Fritz Lang's American movies, and certainly one of the finest American melodramas of the 30s. In this version, the young outcasts are seen as innocent victims of the indifference and cruelty of society--a view the audiences of the period readily shared. Even though the social slant may seem like Lang pushing his view of doom, and even though the end seems maudlin, the details and many of the individual sequences are so clearly directed that the social melodrama is transcended. With Jean Dixon, Barton MacLane, Margaret Hamilton, Warren Hymer, Guinn Williams, Charles ("Chic") Sale, and regrettably, William Gargan as Father Dolan. The script is by Gene Towne and Graham Baker. United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
The fifth of the Bonds, it can easily be differentiated from the others because it's the Japanese one. It's a product, but probably the most consistently entertaining of the Bond packages up to the time-not as startling as parts of GOLDFINGER but much superior to THUNDERBALL. Ken Adam's sci-fi production designs (including a hollow volcano) seem almost perfectly calculated for the genre. Lewis Gilbert is a rather more humanistic director than his predecessors and he's a reasonably efficient traffic manager; he doesn't let the actors loiter on the sets too long. And Sean Connery's James Bond isn't the sleek, greasy-lipped dummy of the earlier films; playing the super-hero as a paunchy, rather bemused spectator, Connery gives him more character than he's ever had before. This casual, human Bond is rather tender in his sex relationships-one might almost call them love relationships this time. The Roald Dahl screenplay (out of Jules Verne and old movies) is clever enough, and Donald Pleasence, as Blofeld, pets his white cat ominously. With Alexander Knox as the American president. The cinematography is by Freddie Young. United Artists.
Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth, and it doesn't work out too well, partly because she's too physical--too radiantly, youthfully overpowering for him (she works better with Gene Kelly in COVER GIRL)--and partly because the mixture of the backstage-musical plot and the Second World War enlistment-in-the-Army theme weighs down the songs and dances. Cole Porter did the lyrics and music (which don't stick in the mind); Robert Alton was dance director; Michael Fessier and Ernest Pagano wrote the script; Sidney Lanfield directed. The cast includes Robert Benchley, John Hubbard, Osa Massen, Donald MacBride, Frieda Inescort, Guinn Williams, the singer Martha Tilton, and, among the guardhouse inmates, the Delta Rhythm Boys and a jazz group that contains Chico Hamilton. Rita Hayworth's songs were dubbed by Nan Wynn. Columbia.
Hitchcock reworks THE 39 STEPS, this time using a very young hero and heroine. Once again, the hero (now Derrick de Marney) is accused of a murder he didn't commit; he tries to track down the real killer while the police track him. The bewildered teenage girl (Nova Pilbeam) who tries to help him is too earnest a conception to be very amusing; the film is pretty fair Hitchcock, though not as sexy or as witty as THE 39 STEPS. The bravura sequences include the hero's crashing of a children's party and a nifty sinister joke at the climax: the heroine knows only one thing about the villain--that his eyes twitch. She goes to a dance at a big hotel, and we see the blackface band; the drummer's eyes fill the screen--and twitch. Hitchcock takes the joke even further: as the drummer sees the police enter, he gets nervous, and his rhythm goes so crazily off that the people have to stop dancing. With Basil Radford, Percy Marmont, and Mary Clare. Hitchcock turns up, looking very young, as a press photographer, holding a tiny camera in front of him, like a talisman.
A remake of the 1938 FOUR DAUGHTERS, with Frank Sinatra taking over the John Garfield role, the daughters reduced to three, and songs added. It isn't the monstrosity that it might have been, but in the 30s when Garfield, a rootless product of the big city and the Depression, encounters the cozy life of a small-town middle-class family it enrages him by making him feel how deprived he has been; in the 50s when Sinatra, an orphan who has never found a place for himself, expresses the same kind of chip-on-the-shoulder bitterness he seems just a sorehead and a loser. Still, the first half is watchable; Sinatra handles his cynical lines well and there's a lot of activity around the family as you get to know the daughters--Doris Day, Dorothy Malone, and Elizabeth Fraser--and their suitors. But after Sinatra and Day go off to the city together, there's nothing much to look at but their suffering in drab rooming houses. Doris Day is too competent looking to play a passive wifey who just wrings her hands while her husband keeps failing in his singing jobs; from the look of the back of her stiff head and her ducktail bob, you expect her to take over or, at least, do something. And because the period isn't right the story (it comes from Fannie Hurst's novel Sister Act) seems dated. Gig Young gives an appealingly flamboyant performance as the hotshot composer who brings Sinatra to the town to work with him; whenever Gig Young is onscreen, the movie's energy level goes up. With Ethel Barrymore, Robert Keith, and Alan Hale, Jr. Directed by Gordon Douglas; the script is by Julius J. Epstein and Lenore Coffee. The songs include "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Just One of Those Things," and "Hold Me in Your Arms." Warners.
John Ford was to have directed this film, which is based on portions of Sean O'Casey's autobiography and was shot in and around Dublin, but he fell ill, and Jack Cardiff (who directed SONS AND LOVERS) took over. The movie is far from fully realized, and it's much too genteel and discreet, but it has stirring scenes of strikes and political uprisings and some of the same sort of intelligent reticence as parts of SONS AND LOVERS. Rod Taylor gives a surprisingly good performance as the brawling dreamer-hero--a husky revolutionary who digs ditches to support his stoic mother (Flora Robson) and desperately exhausted sister (the remarkable Sian Phillips). The hero has an affair with a chorus-girl trollop (Julie Christie) and becomes involved with a timid librarian (well played by Maggie Smith); in the Dublin literary world he meets Lady Gregory (Edith Evans) and Yeats (Michael Redgrave). One may want to snicker at the hero's quick rise to literary eminence, but compared to other movies about a famous writer's youth, this one is highly intelligent. The script is by John Whiting. MGM.
A farce-parody of Hollywood's mad-scientist movies. You have to let this Mel Brooks comedy do everything for you, because that's the only way it works. If you accept the silly, zizzy obviousness, it can make you laugh helplessly. Gene Wilder is the old Baron's scientist-grandson, Peter Boyle is the new Monster, and Madeline Kahn is the scientist's fiancée, who becomes the Monster's bride. The picture is in black-and-white, which holds it visually close to the films it takes off from. It's Brooks' most sustained piece of moviemaking--the laughs never let up. The script is by Wilder and Brooks. With Cloris Leachman, Marty Feldman, Teri Garr, Liam Dunn, Richard Haydn, Kenneth Mars, and Gene Hackman, bearded, in a masterly bit as a blind man. 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.
The title is slightly sickening, and the movie does have a mushy messagey side, but the story about a family of con artists (Roland Young and Billie Burke are the parents; Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Janet Gaynor are the children) has some good bright moments. There's a posh automobile, the "Flying Wombat," and a memorable sequence in which Fairbanks and Young set out to look for work and pause to watch the honest labor of hod carriers as if they were observing a strange kind of insect activity. Gaynor's peculiarly saccharine charms may be trying but she's held in check; Paulette Goddard is in it too, and she's shiny and attractive. With Minnie Dupree, and Richard Carlson, in his screen début. Directed by Richard Wallace; adapted from I.A.R. Wylie's novella The Gay Banditti, by Charles Bennett and Paul Osborn. The Art Deco sets (and the Wombat) were designed by Lyle Wheeler. Selznick International, released by United Artists.
This piece of heavyweight kitsch is fairly entertaining, what with Marlon Brando as a fearfully handsome German ski instructor turned Nazi (he's also the blondest blond ever seen), Montgomery Clift as a forlorn, romantic American Jew, and Dean Martin as a Broadway playboy. The three meet before the Second World War and then again during it. Directed by Edward Dmytryk and adapted by Edward Anhalt from an Irwin Shaw novel, the film is episodic and overproduced, like a wartime GRAND HOTEL. Maximilian Schell plays a mean Nazi, in contrast to Brando's misguided, agonized idealist, and Hope Lange, Mai Britt, and Barbara Rush are among the women. Also with Lee Van Cleef. Cinematography by Joe MacDonald; music by Hugo Friedhofer. (167 minutes.) 20th Century-Fox. CinemaScope.
One of John Ford's most memorable films, and not at all the tedious bummer that the title might suggest. The film is an embroidery (by the scenarist Lamar Trotti) on an actual murder trial in which Lincoln was the defense lawyer. Henry Fonda, in one of his best early performances, is funny and poignant as the drawling, awkward young hero, and Alice Brady plays the mother of the two defendants, Richard Cromwell and Eddie Quillan. With Pauline Moore as Ann Rutledge, Marjorie Weaver as Mary Todd, and Arleen Whelan, Ward Bond, Donald Meek, Robert Lowery, and assorted members of the Ford stock company. 20th Century-Fox.
John Frankenheimer made this melodrama about juvenile gangs in Spanish Harlem, recruiting some of the boys on location. You're awfully conscious that the picture means to be hard-hitting; it sometimes succeeds, but a lot of it is just worthy. Burt Lancaster is the assistant D.A. who came out of the slums and has now got himself married to Dina Merrill, no less. Others involved include Shelley Winters, Telly Savalas, and John David Chandler. Script by Edward Anhalt and J.P. Miller, based on Evan Hunter's novel A Matter of Conviction; cinematography by Lionel Lindon. United Artists.
There's a coziness about the familiar murk and gloom of Victorian London around 1870. The schoolboy Holmes--Nicholas Rowe, a 6-foot-4 adolescent, with a slender, ascetic face--has a gentle, sweet precociousness. As his stocky, loyal chum Watson--a junior version of an old duffer--little Alan Cox has to keep stumbling and sprawling, and he takes his falls like a pro. And with a fiendish killer who is armed with an Egyptian blowgun (which is basically a peashooter), this promises to be a funnier, zestier picture than it turns out to be. Directed by Barry Levinson, from a script by Chris Columbus, it's mildly, blandly amusing as long as it stays within the conceits of the Holmesian legends. It falls apart when it starts turning Holmes into an action-adventure hero, and it lets you down with a thump when it rips off INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM. Levinson's temple of doom (where a fanatic religious sect offers up human sacrifices) has a choir chanting solemnly; the pomposity of this music is lethal--it's like a High Mass for a dead mouse. With Nigel Stock as the smiling, dotty Professor Waxflatter; Earl Rhodes as the slimy, blond young rotter Dudley; Anthony Higgins as a fencing master and all-around smoothie; and Sophie Ward as the too sugary ingenue Elizabeth. Handsomely lighted by Stephen Goldblatt. Amblin Entertainment, for Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.
A few parts pop psychiatry, a few parts adventure, a few parts politics, and a dash of family scandal: that's a basic pop mixture, and at least the movie isn't sluggish. Simon Ward is fine-boned, with a face that holds the camera, and his intelligent impersonation of Churchill from ages 17 to 26 is fun to watch; Anne Bancroft's eye-popping, haughty Jennie Jerome is the stuff of parody. Richard Attenborough directed, from Carl Foreman's adaptation of Churchill's My Early Life. Foreman, who was also the producer, has not merely a popularizing mind but a popularized one, coarsened by conventional plotting, yet bouncingly full of high spirits and remembered twists. You can grow fond of the fertility of the bad ideas. With Robert Shaw as the high-strung father going mad from syphilis, Anthony Hopkins, Ian Holm, Jack Hawkins, John Mills, Pat Heywood, Maurice Roeves, and Patrick Magee. The whole picture seems to be in faded pinks, with lulling mauve-grays and pale pinkish browns; the cinematography is by Gerry Turpin. Released by Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.
Michael Pertwee's English-comedy scripts are sometimes based on such nifty ideas that the films are moderately entertaining despite indifferent directing. In this one Dennis Price has one of his best roles since KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS. He's the blackmailing publisher of a Confidential-type magazine. His victims, who get together to kill him, include: Peter Sellers as a peculiarly nasty television celebrity--Sellers captures the horror and hypocrisy of the role with great finesse (particularly in a sequence with an old man from the Gorbals); Terry-Thomas as a racketeering peer; Shirley Eaton as a model; and the formidable Peggy Mount (a female Charles Laughton crossed with a young Margaret Rutherford) as a novelist. No one could describe the director Mario Zampi's style as subtle, but it's loose enough to allow for good bits by Miles Malleson and Joan Sims, who plays the novelist's daughter.