The American Friend

France-Germany-US (1977): Mystery
127 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The young German director Wim Wenders is attracted to the idea of telling a story, but he can't quite keep his mind on it; he overdoses on mood-poetic urban masochism-in this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's crime novel Ripley's Game. Wenders' unsettling compositions are neurotically beautiful visions of a disordered world, but the film doesn't have the nasty, pleasurable cleverness of a good thriller; dramatically, it's stagnant-inverted Wagnerianism. Bruno Ganz is impressive as the watchful, anxious-eyed hero; with more than a half-dozen directors (including Dennis Hopper, Nicholas Ray, G�rard Blain, and Samuel Fuller) playing crooks. Script by Wenders; cinematography by Robby M�ller. In English, German, and French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

American Hot Wax

US (1978): Musical
91 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

Cheerfully, trashily enjoyable, even though the hero, the disc jockey Alan Freed (well played by Tim McIntire), is made so righteous that he's like Buford Pusser fighting the enemies of rock `n' roll. The moviemakers (the director Floyd Mutrux, the producer Art Linson, the screenwriter John Kaye) should have had more trust in the 50s rock milieu and in their own talents. Freed's secretary, Sheryl (Fran Drescher), is so entertainingly shrill that she might have had Jean Harlow for a voice teacher; his shovel-faced chauffeur, Mookie (Jay Leno), teases her and keeps her shrieking in outrage. This is a super B-movie. With Laraine Newman, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Moosie Drier as the 12-year-old president of the Buddy Holly Fan Club (5,000 members). The lively cinematography is by William A. Fraker. Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

An American in Paris

US (1951): Musical/Dance
115 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The Academy Award-winning musical, directed by Vincente Minnelli, about a romance between an American painter (Gene Kelly) and a French girl (Leslie Caron). Too fancy and overblown (there's a ballet with scenes in the styles of Dufy, Renoir, Utrillo, Rousseau, van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec), but the two dancing lovers have infectious grins and the Gershwin music keeps everything good-spirited. The songs include "I Got Rhythm," "Embraceable You," and " 'S Wonderful," and Georges Gu�tary sings a spiffy arrangement of "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise." With Nina Foch as a rich, decadent American, and Oscar Levant thumping away happily on the piano. Written by Alan Jay Lerner; choreographed by Kelly; art direction by Cedric Gibbons and Preston Ames; produced by Arthur Freed. MGM.

American Madness

US (1932): Drama
81 min, No rating, Black & White

A topical melodrama of the Depression. It's about a run on a bank-and with a twist that is purest Hollywood. The big banker (Walter Huston) is the hero, and it's his lower-echelon employees who are the villains. Frank Capra directed, and Robert Riskin wrote the script. Capra's dramatic use of the bank, where almost all the action is set, is ingenious, and the sequences of the mounting panic and the storming of the bank are effectively staged, but the resolution is the usual Capra-Riskin populist hokum: the small depositors, grateful to Huston for his help in the past, bring in their savings to preserve his bank from ruin. (Even this early in his career, Capra often underestimated the audience.) In some cities, the picture was too topical: in Baltimore, it opened the day after a bank panic and closed in 48 hours. With Pat O'Brien, Constance Cummings, Kay Johnson, and Gavin Gordon. Columbia.

An American Tragedy

US (1931): Drama
95 min, No rating, Black & White

This version of the Dreiser novel, scripted by Samuel Hoffenstein and directed by Josef von Sternberg, is best in the scenes relating to the poor, pregnant factory girl, Roberta (Sylvia Sidney), and her drowning; Sylvia Sidney is so appealing that the pathos of Roberta's situation is intensified. However, the film vulgarizes Dreiser's conception of Clyde Griffiths (the handsome, long-jawed, blond Phillips Holmes, who died young), and turns his drives and actions into tabloid commonplaces. Sternberg shows surprisingly little of the feeling for psychological complexity that he had brought to THE BLUE ANGEL the year before, and Dreiser furiously protested this picture (he sued Paramount). Although the film respects his framework, it seems indifferent to what it meant in the novel. What's left-a tragic romance-is still very affecting. Frances Dee is the rich Sondra (the role Elizabeth Taylor played in a later version, A PLACE IN THE SUN), and the cast includes Irving Pichel. Lee Garmes is the cinematographer.

Amici Per la Pelle

Italy (1955): Drama
No rating, Black & White

Franco Rossi's film is an intuitive study of the emotional involvement of two boys-glittering little fawns who suggest an earlier stage in the lives of the schoolboys of LES ENFANTS TERRIBLES (1948). Films that deal with the pains of love in the undifferentiated period of early adolescence are usually crude and coy; this one is almost too tender, too "sensitive" to the beauty of youthful agony. But it respects the dreams and the humor of its subjects. Dark, incredibly beautiful Geronimo Meynier is the assured Mario; blond Andrea Scire (the more gifted actor of the two) is Franco. This movie is conceived on a small scale and it never attracted much of an audience here except among homosexuals-although it doesn't have any overt homosexual content. In Italian.

Among the Living

US (1941): Thriller
68 min, No rating, Black & White

Forgettable horror item about two brothers, one of them a homicidal maniac, the other a prosperous, married citizen; Albert Dekker, unshaved when mad, shaved when sane, plays the pair. With Frances Farmer and Harry Carey. Directed by Stuart Heisler. Paramount.

The Amorous Bus Driver

Italy (1953): Romance/Comedy
92 min, No rating, Black & White
(From TEMPI NOSTRI, the omnibus of five short stories directed by Alessandro Blasetti, released in the U.S. in 1959 as ANATOMY OF LOVE.)

In middle age, Vittorio De Sica exhibited a facility for romantic self-satire (Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren bloomed when he leered). His performance here is a demonstration of the traditional (and highly enjoyable) Italian overacting in which character is subordinate to the florid gestures of gallantry. He's a happy Neapolitan bus-driver who swerves from his prescribed route whenever he sees a woman he deems worth following. With Maria Fiore (who did some chasing of her own in TWO CENTS WORTH OF HOPE) and Eduardo de Filippo. In Italian.


Japan (1953): War/Drama
90 min, No rating, Black & White

Josef von Sternberg's last film; he did not, regrettably, go out in glory. He wrote the screenplay, directed, photographed, and narrated this story, which was shot in a Japanese studio and is based on an actual incident involving a group of Japanese soldiers who were castaways for seven years on a tiny Pacific island during and after the Second World War. However, as he tells it, the men's battles over a sulky, lusting femme fatale called Keiko (Akemi Negishi, who is photographed as if she were Marlene Dietrich in a 30s Paramount swampy jungle) are so pointless and unbelievable that you barely react as they kill one another off. The island has so many dead trees, shining leaves, and writhing shadows that you just want to get out of there.

Anchors Aweigh

US (1945): Musical/Dance
140 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

This Gene Kelly-Frank Sinatra musical has an abundance of energy and spirit, and you may feel it could be wonderful if it weren't so stupidly wholesome, and if you could just do something about Kathryn Grayson and Jos� Iturbi-like maybe turn Terry Southern loose on them. The sugary wholesomeness was the stock in trade of the producer, Joe Pasternak; characters in his movies always look scrubbed and sexless, and act embarrassingly young. Pasternak doesn't destroy Kelly's bounding vitality, however; this was the hit movie that made him a hugely popular star. He and Sinatra play sailors on shore leave in Hollywood who get involved with Grayson, a singer working as an extra and living with her chubby-faced angelic little nephew (Dean Stockwell). In the worst sequence, Sinatra sings Brahms' "Lullaby" to Stockwell. Kelly has three big dance numbers, including the famous Jerry the Mouse cartoon dance, and he and Sinatra perform together amiably. With Pamela Britton, Edgar Kennedy, Grady Sutton, Rags Ragland, Billy Gilbert, and Sharon McManus-the little girl who dances with Kelly. George Sidney directed; Kelly choreographed, with Stanley Donen assisting. The songs are mostly by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne. MGM.

And Then There Were None

US (1945): Mystery
98 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

The Agatha Christie murder mystery and play Ten Little Indians (known in England as Ten Little Niggers) gathers together a group of characters and then ticks them off to the nursery rhyme. Ten people are invited to spend a weekend on an island by a host none of them knows; on arrival, they are notified by phonograph that their host, in absentia, is going to punish them for various crimes they have committed, and they start keeling over like plague victims. This Ren� Clair version isn't exactly full of life to start with, despite the cast-Judith Anderson, June Duprez, Roland Young, Walter Huston, Mischa Auer, Barry Fitzgerald, Richard Haydn, Louis Hayward, C. Aubrey Smith, Queenie Leonard, and Harry Thurston. The efforts at sprightly, stylish comedy don't gain much momentum. Adapted by Dudley Nichols. (There were English versions made in 1965 and 1974. The Christie material was also parodied in the boisterous, unfunny 1976 MURDER BY DEATH, written by Neil Simon.) 20th Century-Fox.

The Anderson Tapes

US (1972): Crime
98 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

An energetic but coarsely made comic melodrama about an attempt to rob all the tenants of a New York apartment house. As the gang leader, Sean Connery manages to rise above the material; most of the rest of the cast plays in a broad style, and there have rarely been so many small, sleazy performances in one movie. (They're so bad they stand out.) A lot of time is spent on a gimmick-everybody's conversations are being recorded-which turns out to be totally irrelevant to the plot. Some may be willing to call this irony. Directed by Sidney Lumet; screenplay by Frank R. Pierson, from a novel by Lawrence Sanders. With Martin Balsam, Dyan Cannon, Alan King, Ralph Meeker, Christopher Walken, Garrett Morris, Val Avery, Dick Williams, Richard B. Schull, Margaret Hamilton, Anthony Holland, Max Showalter, Stan Gottlieb, and Conrad Bain. Columbia.

Androcles and the Lion

US (1952): Comedy
98 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

After Shaw's death, Gabriel Pascal, who had produced Shaw adaptations in England with considerable success but had come a cropper with the lavish CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA, produced his last Shaw work in Hollywood, at RKO. He hired Jean Simmons, who had had a small part in CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA, and Robert Newton, who had attracted attention in MAJOR BARBARA, and Maurice Evans, Elsa Lanchester, Alan Mowbray, Reginald Gardiner, and John Hoyt. The part of Androcles was assigned to the American comedian Alan Young, but since Victor Mature was put in as a Roman captain, opposite Jean Simmons, and his role beefed up to match his physique, Androcles dwindled in importance. Shaw's comedy of ancient Rome came to resemble the Hollywood Roman spectacles of the early-50s period. But if the film isn't one thing or the other, it isn't a total travesty, either-it's rather pleasant. Simmons is lovely to watch and to listen to, and some parts have the Shaw waggishness and charm. Chester Erskine directed, and did the adaptation with Ken Englund; cinematography by Harry Stradling. The cast includes Jim Backus and Gene Lockhart.

The Andromeda Strain

US (1971): Science Fiction
130 min, Rated G, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Biological invasion from outer space. The rapidly expanding green muck is like the various slimy menaces in the unpretentious sci-fi thrillers of the 50s, but Robert Wise, who made this expensive version of the Michael Crichton novel, having chosen a fanatically realistic documentary style, has failed to solve the dramatic problems in the original story. The suspense is strong, but not pleasurable. With Arthur Hill, David Wayne, James Olson, Kate Reid, and Paula Kelly. Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.


US (1937): Drama
91 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The only Marlene Dietrich movie directed by Ernst Lubitsch (though the year before he was the producer of DESIRE). One might expect them to bring out the scintillating best in each other, but the picture is too prettily contrived, and the craftsmanship is right on the surface. Dietrich plays the lonely foreign wife of an eminent English diplomat (Herbert Marshall); she skips off for a day to Paris and visits a house of assignation (euphemistically called a salon) presided over by Laura Hope Crews. There she meets Melvyn Douglas (another government official), and he falls passionately in love with her. Naturally, he turns up at her London home. This is one of Dietrich's stiffest, most impassive performances; the role doesn't give her anything to do but look blankly frightened that her husband will discover her guilty secret. Boredom must have set in for her, because when she has to express emotional turmoil she rattles off her lines without conviction. For want of action, the movie keeps cutting to what's going on among the fleet of servants, which includes Ernest Cossart and also Edward Everett Horton, who playacts as if to an audience of fey 3-year-olds. This movie isn't essentially different from the best of Lubitsch, but it's attenuated. It's the sort of cultivated triangular love affair in which each of the three has a turn at the piano, and Marshall and Douglas, whose acting is a matter of lifted eyebrows and the smallest shifts of inflection, have the affable man-of-the-world conversations that were a feature of "polished" 30s comedies. With Herbert Mundin, Ivan Lebedeff, Dennie Moore, and Herbert Evans. The screenplay is by Samson Raphaelson, from a play by Melchior Lengyel. Paramount.

Angel and the Badman

US (1947): Western
100 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Pleasantly unslick minor Western, with John Wayne as Quirt, the gunfighter who reforms, matched against Bruce Cabot as the villainous Laredo. It's easily distinguishable from other Wayne Westerns: Gail Russell, of the sexy-sad eyes, is the Quaker heroine-one of the few Western heroines who suggests softness and body warmth. James Edward Grant, who worked on many Wayne films as a writer, was both writer and director this time; he did not excel in the latter capacity, though he did stage a classic Wayne walk to meet the villains for the final shootout. Wayne is in a dark shirt and dark wide hat, and he moves fast, swivel-hipped, like a broken-field runner. With Irene Rich, Harry Carey, Lee Dixon, Tom Powers, and Paul Hurst. The second-unit director, Yakima Canutt, was responsible for the big action sequences. A John Wayne Production, for Republic.

Angel Heart

US (1987): Thriller/Mystery
113 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

There's no way to separate the occult from the incomprehensible in this Alan Parker film set in 1955. Mickey Rourke plays a private eye who is hired by a mysterious client (Robert De Niro) to search for information about a crooner of the prewar era who has disappeared. Rourke searches in the murkiest holes in America-New Orleans is almost as dim as the New York slums. Every place Rourke goes is artfully arranged to be scuzzy, and he's scuzzy, although women don't seem to mind. He has a cajoling, intimate manner with Elizabeth Whitcraft as a ready-for-action blonde, with Charlotte Rampling as a sullen psychic, and especially with the sexpot Lisa Bonet as a teenage Mambo priestess who has a penchant for smearing herself with chicken blood. This is a lavishly sombre piece of hokum-funereal and loony. Parker broods while serving up slit throats, bodies with hearts cut out (and placed nearby for your delectation), a man plunged face down in a vat of scalding gumbo, chickens being drained in voodoo rites, and assorted solemn mutilations. And it all looks fussed over. Parker simply doesn't have the gift of making evil seductive, and he edits like a flasher. With Brownie McGhee, Michael Higgins, and Stocker Fontelieu in the vat. Parker wrote the screenplay, based on William Hjortsberg's Falling Angel. Cinematography by Michael Seresin; music by Trevor Jones. Tri-Star.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Angel on My Shoulder

US (1946): Fantasy
101 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Gangster whimsey-which is to say the very worst kind. Paul Muni is depressingly arch as a tough-talking gangster who is shot, sent to Hell, and there discovered by the Devil (Claude Rains) to be a dead ringer for an upstanding judge who has been saving people and sending them to Heaven. In order to spread evil on earth, the Devil arranges to get the bad guy into the body of the judge; pretty soon the gangster is involved in a political campaign, and with the judge's fianc�e (Anne Baxter), too. The picture was a deserved flop. Archie Mayo directed. United Artists.

Angels Over Broadway

US (1940): Drama
80 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Ben Hecht wrote, produced, and, with the famous cinematographer Lee Garmes, directed this night-life story about a poor clerk (John Qualen) who is going to kill himself if he can't get $3,000, and a drunken playwright (Thomas Mitchell) who takes him in charge. The playwright thinks that since sharp gamblers always let you win at poker before they trim you, the trick is to leave the game early. Rita Hayworth and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., are the young lovers who complicate the playwright's plan. Hecht's characters talk too much, but he was a compulsive gambler himself, and there's a genial, original spirit to this movie. Columbia.

Angels With Dirty Faces

US (1938): Crime
97 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

An entertaining picture lurks behind that uninviting title. Warners threw its assets together in this one: James Cagney at his cockiest as a gangster, Pat O'Brien as a priest, and Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan, George Bancroft, and the Dead End Kids, too. It has jokes and romance and a smashing big last sequence on Death Row-the priest asks the gangster to act cowardly when he's executed, so that he won't be a hero to the Dead End Kids, and Cagney comes through with a rousing finale. Michael Curtiz directed; John Wexley and Warren Duff wrote the screenplay, based on Rowland Brown's story. (It was followed the next year by THE ANGELS WASH THEIR FACES.)

Animal Crackers

US (1930): Comedy
98 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The Marx Brothers in their pre-Hollywood period; like THE COCOANUTS of the year before, it was a Broadway musical comedy, slightly adapted, and filmed in Astoria-and it looks stagey. But the film is too joyous for cavilling. Groucho is the fearless African explorer Captain Spaulding, who deigns to attend a party at Rittenhouse Manor on Long Island; Margaret Dumont is Mrs. Rittenhouse and Lillian Roth is her daughter Arabella. Arguably the best line: "Signor Ravelli's first selection will be 'Somewhere My Love Lies Sleeping' with a male chorus." Once again, the writers were George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind; this time the songs (the justly celebrated "Hooray for Captain Spaulding" and "Why Am I So Romantic") were by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. Directed by Victor Heerman. Paramount.

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