Blazing Saddles

US (1974): Western/Comedy
93 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Mel Brooks' comedy of chaos, with a surfeit of chaos and a scarcity of comedy. The story is about a modern black hipster (Cleavon Little) who becomes sheriff in a Western town in the 1860s; Gene Wilder and Madeline Kahn manage to redeem some of the film, but most of the cast (including Brooks himself) mug and smirk and shout insults at each other. Brooks' celebrated spontaneous wit isn't in evidence: the old gags here never were very funny; rehashed, they just seem desperate. The picture was a hit, though. Also with Dom De Luise, Harvey Korman, Slim Pickens, David Huddleston, Alex Karras, Liam Dunn, George Furth, and John Hillerman. From a story by Andrew Bergman, who worked on the script with Brooks, Richard Pryor, Norman Steinberg, and Alan Uger. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

Blessed Event

US (1932): Comedy
83 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Probably nobody in Hollywood history was better at the art of timing and placing a wisecrack than Lee Tracy. (He used his hands as much as his voice.) In this newspaper comedy-satire based on the rise of the fast-talking gossip columnist Walter Winchell, Tracy shows his peerless style-he can get a sob in his voice for the benefit of his radio listeners while grinning at his intimates. The columnist has a pet peeve-a bright-eyed young crooner with an idiotic smile, played by Dick Powell. It's quick and breezy and very likable. With Mary Brian, Ruth Donnelly, Ned Sparks, Emma Dunn, and Isabel Jewell. Directed by Roy Del Ruth, from a play by Manuel Seff and Forrest Wilson, adapted by Howard Green. Warners.

Blind Husbands

US (1919): Drama
98 min, No rating, Black & White

Erich von Stroheim's first film as writer, director, and star, and he was the designer besides. The setting is a resort in the Dolomites, and von Stroheim plays an immaculately groomed Army officer who makes advances to the na�ve, dark young wife (Francilla Billington) of a vacationing American doctor (Sam de Grasse). Gibson Gowland plays the Alpine guide. The film is a catalogue of the themes von Stroheim later developed, as well as a predecessor of the German mountain films, such as the ones starring Leni Riefenstahl. It isn't likable, exactly, but you certainly can't mistake it for a film by any other director. Silent.

The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom

UK-US (1968): Comedy
93 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

A stagebound whimsey about Harriet Blossom (Shirley MacLaine), the wife of a bra manufacturer (Richard Attenborough). Mrs. Blossom keeps a lover (James Booth) in the attic. Joe McGrath directed this frivolous comedy with an uncertain hand; some sequences are wayward and kinky in a way that works, but when the kinkiness doesn't work the picture is just harmlessly stupid. Based on a play by Alec Coppel. Paramount.

Blithe Spirit

UK (1945): Fantasy/Comedy
96 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

Noel Coward wrote this flippant, ectoplasmic comedy in 1941 to provide some relief for war-torn London; it seemed pleasantly airy in stage productions at the time, but it sags more than a little in this arch David Lean version. You're terribly aware that you're listening to repartee. Rex Harrison plays the English novelist who, in order to gather material for a story, jestingly arranges for a medium to conduct a s�ance. Inadvertently, he conjures up the ghost of his pouty, blond first wife (the husky-voiced Kay Hammond), and she ensconces herself in the home he now shares with his second wife (Constance Cummings), and flits about, making salacious comments. The novelist finds himself in an involuntary state of "astral bigamy." Margaret Rutherford provides some desperately needed gusto. She plays Madame Arcati, the brisk, exuberant medium, who wears long woollen scarves, moves with a skating motion, and whoops clich�s like a football coach. "Let's make it a real rouser!" she cries at the start of a s�ance.


US (1938): War
85 min, No rating, Black & White

"Where is the conscience of the world?" Henry Fonda cries. In Hollywood, obviously. This film represents Hollywood's treatment of the war in Spain; it's a war in some other Spain, with hats by John-Frederics. Madeleine Carroll is the virtuous young woman who is compelled to spy for the nameless "wrong" side; she attempts to destroy the ship that is bringing food to the starving people of a besieged town. The wear and tear of espionage add a deeper throb to her voice, and as her love for the very man who is her enemy-Fonda, the upstanding fellow on the nameless "good" side-becomes more excitingly disturbing to her, she grows radiantly, glossily beautiful. The mixture here-of studio sets, hokum, romance, a stirring sequence or two featuring the faces of the hungry people as they watch the ship, and declamations against war-doesn't work in any terms. With John Halliday as the suave mastermind of the spy ring, and Vladimir Sokoloff and Leo Carrillo. A United Artists release, produced by Walter Wanger and directed by William Dieterle, from John Howard Lawson's script. Hazy and unspecific though the film is, it was protested by Catholic groups.

Blonde Venus

US (1932): Drama
97 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Marlene Dietrich in one of those forgettable stories about women who "sacrifice" their bodies for the noblest of reasons (sick husband Herbert Marshall, child Dickie Moore); the man she sells herself to is played by the young and not yet sufficiently stylized Cary Grant. Once degraded, she sinks down to flophouse level before she pulls herself together and becomes the toast of the nightclub world. The director, Josef von Sternberg, caps the silliness by putting Dietrich into a monkey suit to sing "Hot Voodoo"-a number that may define camp. (It's the only memorable sequence in the movie.) With Sidney Toler as a detective, Cecil Cunningham as a nightclub hostess, and Hattie McDaniel, Sterling Holloway, and Dewey Robinson. The screenplay is by Jules Furthman and S.K. Lauren, based on von Sternberg's story. Paramount.

Blondie of the Follies

US (1932): Comedy
90 min, No rating, Black & White

An unjustly forgotten film-a backstage story with an F. Scott Fitzgerald feeling to it. (It was written by Frances Marion and Anita Loos.) Marion Davies and Billie Dove are a marvellously contrasting pair of Follies girls, and Robert Montgomery is the male lead. Also with Jimmy Durante, James Gleason, ZaSu Pitts, and Douglass Dumbrille. Edmund Goulding directed. MGM.

Blood and Roses

Italy (1961): Horror
74 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette
Also known as ET MOURIR DE PLAISIR. Literally, "And Die of Pleasure."

There's a special reason to see this vampire pastiche: the exteriors were shot at Hadrian's Villa, in color, by the great cinematographer Claude Renoir. The gardens are so fabulously beautiful that this horror film has no horror. But the director, Roger Vadim, is more interested in sensuousness anyway-lush, naughty, hypnotic sensuousness. Possessed by an ancestral vampire, Carmilla (Vadim's wife, Annette Stroyberg, who seems to imitate his earlier wife, Bardot), is a very confused girl looking for love. She secretly longs for her cousin (Mel Ferrer) and is jealous of his fianc�e (Elsa Martinelli). The girls kiss and bite, but Martinelli, who wanders around looking like a Harper's Bazaar model, is so gaunt that Stroyberg couldn't squeeze a drop of blood out of her. The film only wants to turn you on. It's creamy-artistic, with an innocent, playful perversity: there's an elaborate dream sequence with spectral bicycles and dummies of the girls-one pinches the other's nipple. The screenplay, by Vadim and Roger Vailland, is based on the novel Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu. The art direction is by Jean Andre; the Irish-harp score is by Joan Podromines; the costumes are by Marcel Escoffier. A French-Italian co-production, released by Paramount. Partially dubbed into English.

Blood and Sand

US (1941): Drama
123 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

In 1922, Valentino had starred as Juan, the poor Spanish boy who rises to fame in the bullring; in this later version, Tyrone Power played the part but color was the real star of the film. Rouben Mamoulian, who had directed the spectacularly bright BECKY SHARP, the first feature made in the three-color Technicolor process, planned this new film to resemble the works of the great Spanish painters, using dark, ominous tones and splashy, symbolic reds. As the bullfight critic, the huge Laird Cregar pirouettes, whirling Juan's red cape; as a rich, lusciously decadent vampire who represents "death in the evening," Rita Hayworth wears deliberately jarring crimsons. Unfortunately, the script doesn't have the energy of the color design; Tyrone Power looks weary and lacks romantic charge; the pace is draggy, and the presentiments of doom make one groan. In the role of Juan's saintly wife, Linda Darnell is beautiful and ludicrously American, and although, as Juan's mother, Nazimova (in her last screen appearance) manages to bring some emotion into her few scenes, it's embarrassing to see this legendary actress as a clich� peasant, on her knees scrubbing floors. Jo Swerling did the adaptation of the Iba�ez novel; Hermes Pan choreographed the dances and Budd Boetticher choreographed the crowds. With John Carradine, Anthony Quinn, J. Carrol Naish, Vicente Gomez, Lynn Bari, Pedro de Cordoba, Victor Kilian, and Fortunio Bonanova. 20th Century-Fox.

The Blood of a Poet

US (1930): Fantasy/Drama
58 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette
Also known as LE SANG D'UN PO�TE.

Jean Cocteau's first film is an enigmatic account of a poet's dreams and ecstasies and obsession with the unknown, composed in four illogical, timeless sequences that happen in the instant that a chimney topples. Here is Cocteau's own interpretation: "The poet's solitude is so great, he so lives what he creates, that the mouth of one of his creations lives in his hand like a wound, and that he loves this mouth, that he loves himself in short, that he wakes up in the morning with this mouth against him like a pickup, that he tries to get rid of it on a dead statue-and that this statue begins to live-and that it takes its revenge, and that it sets him off upon awful adventures. I can tell you that the snowball fight is the poet's childhood, and that when he plays the game of cards with his Glory, with his Destiny, he cheats by taking from his childhood that which he should draw from within himself." The first time you see this film, you're likely to find it silly, autoerotic, static, absurd, and you may feel cheated after having heard so much about it. But though it may seem to have no depth, you're not likely to forget it-it has a suggestiveness unlike any other film. Almost 20 years later, in ORPHEUS, Cocteau orchestrated the themes of the dreams and ecstasies of the poet and his obsession with the unknown. Music by Georges Auric. Cinematography by Georges P�rinal. In French.

Blood Simple

US (1984): Crime
97 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A splatter-movie art movie. The director, Joel Coen, wrote the screenplay with his brother Ethan, who was the producer; they made the film independently, but it's a Hollywood by-product. A Texas roadhouse owner (Dan Hedaya) wants to have his young wife (Frances McDormand) and her lover (John Getz) murdered; he hires a killer, a good-ol'-boy private detective (M. Emmet Walsh) who takes his money and double-crosses him. The one real novelty in the conception is that the audience has a God's-eye view of who is doing what to whom, while the characters have a blinkered view and, misinterpreting what they see, sometimes take totally inexpedient actions. Joel Coen doesn't know what to do with the actors (they give their words too much deliberation and weight), but he knows how to place the characters and the props in the film frame in a way that makes the audience feel knowing and in on the joke. His style is deadpan and klutzy, and he uses the klutziness as his trump card. It's how he gets his laughs-the audience enjoys not having to take things seriously. The film provides a visually sophisticated form of gross-out humor; the material is thin, though, and there isn't enough suspense until about the last ten minutes, when the action is so grisly that it has a kick. M. Emmet Walsh is the only colorful performer; he lays on the loathsomeness, but he gives it a little twirl-a sportiness. The grimy, lurid cinematography is by Barry Sonnenfeld. With Samm-Art Williams.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.


US (1978): Drama
116 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

The director, Robert Mulligan, is trying for something crude, powerful, volatile-but it goes terribly wrong. The story is of a brawling Italian Catholic family living in Co-op City, in the Bronx, and the actors-Richard Gere as the sensitive, imaginative 19-year-old, and Tony Lo Bianco as his father, and Paul Sorvino as his uncle-pour on the Mediterranean sensuality and act at their highest pitch. The father and uncle, who are electricians on construction jobs, are frustrated, boozing, skirt-chasing, braggart hardhats; the boy is trying to save himself. This is an ethnic variant of all those the-summer-the-adolescent-became-a-man pictures, done in a messagey, exploitation manner. People laugh with hysterical heartiness, or they've learned their lessons and say things like "Life can hurt. It's made me feel close to all those doin' the hurtin' dance." Gere's performance is all mannerisms-defenseless, sunshiny grins and juvenile torment; Lo Bianco is reaching so frenziedly for large-scale emotions that he seems three feet off the ground; and Sorvino appears to equate hardhat with wide-eyed simpleton. The only actor who gets inside his role is Kenneth McMillan in the minor part of Banion, the crippled barkeeper. With Lelia Goldoni, Marilu Henner, Michael Hershewe, Robert Englund, Yvonne Wilder, and Floyd Levine. From Richard Price's novel, adapted by Walter Newman. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Blossoms In the Dust

US (1941): Biography
100 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

Greer Garson, gowned by Adrian, coiffured by Sydney Guilaroff, and at her most sickeningly prissy. She plays a widow who battles for the legal rights of the homeless waifs of Texas; with her nostrils flaring and her eyebrows poised near her hairline, she enunciates such virtuous sentiments as "There are no illegitimate children, only illegitimate parents." Anita Loos, to her shame, wrote this high-minded prattle, and Mervyn LeRoy directed, in a dreary, inspirational style, for MGM. Walter Pidgeon is the husband who dies early. With Marsha Hunt, Felix Bressart, and Cecil Cunningham.

Blow Out

US (1981): Mystery
107 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

It's hallucinatory, and it has a dreamlike clarity and inevitability, but you'll never make the mistake of thinking it's only a dream. John Travolta is Jack, a sound-effects man who happens to record the noise of a car speeding across a bridge, a shot, a blowout, and the crash of the car to the water below. The driver-the governor who is the most popular candidate for the Presidency-is dead, but Jack is able to rescue the governor's passenger, a cuddly blonde (Nancy Allen). On paper this movie, written and directed by Brian De Palma, might seem to be just a political thriller, but it has a rapt intensity that makes it unlike any other political thriller. Playing an adult (his first), and an intelligent one, Travolta has a vibrating physical sensitivity like that of the very young Brando, and Nancy Allen, who gives her role a flirty iridescence, is equally vivid. It's as if De Palma had finally understood what technique is for; this is the first film he has made about the things that really matter to him. It's a great movie (and probably the best of all American conspiracy movies). With John Lithgow, Dennis Franz, and Deborah Everton as the unlucky hooker. Set in Philadelphia; cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond. A George Litto Production, for Filmways.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.


Italy-UK (1966): Drama
111 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

When the film came out, Michelangelo Antonioni's mixture of suspense with vagueness and confusion seemed to have a numbing fascination for some people which they associated with art and intellectuality. He conducts a leisurely tour of "swinging" London, lingering over the flashiest routes and dawdling over a pot party and a mini-orgy, while ponderously suggesting that the mod scene represents a condition of spiritual malaise in which people live only for the sensations of the moment. Yet despite Antonioni's negativism, the world he presents looks harmless, and sex without "connecting" doesn't really seem so bad. The best part of the movie is an ingeniously edited sequence in which the fashion-photographer hero (David Hemmings) blows up a series of photographs and discovers that he has inadvertently photographed a murder. With Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, Verushka, Jane Birkin, and Peter Bowles. Freely adapted by Antonioni and Tonino Guerra from a short story by Julio Cort�zar, with English dialogue by Edward Bond. Cinematography by Carlo Di Palma.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

The Blue Angel

Germany (1930): Drama
103 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc
Also known as DER BLAUE ENGEL.

The director, Josef von Sternberg, had been working in Hollywood for more than 15 years when he went to Germany, at Emil Jannings' request, to direct this film; he had directed Jannings in THE LAST COMMAND, one of the two American silent films that had won Jannings the Academy Award in 1927-28, and Jannings wanted him to guide his first sound film. They set in motion the Marlene Dietrich myth that was eventually to surpass their fame. Adapted from Heinrich Mann's novel Professor Unrath, this film deals with the breakdown of an authoritarian personality. Jannings plays the inhibited, tyrannical high-school instructor who is prudishly indignant about his students' visiting Lola Lola (Dietrich), the singer at the Blue Angel; he goes to the caf� to put a stop to it and instead succumbs to her callous, impassive sexuality. Dietrich's Lola Lola is a rather coarse, plump young beauty; as she sings "Falling in Love Again," her smoldering voice and sadistic indifference suggest sex without romance, love, or sentiment. The pedant becomes her husband, her slave, her stooge; he travels with the caf� troupe, hawking dirty pictures of his wife. Dietrich is extraordinary, and THE BLUE ANGEL is a movie you can admire sequence by sequence, because it's made in an imaginative, atmospheric style, yet you may feel that you don't really like it on an emotional level; the sexual humiliation gets very heavy in the scenes in which the teacher, now a clown, returns to his home town and to his old classroom. With Hans Albers. Songs by Friedrich Hollaender (later Frederick Hollander). (A 1959 American remake directed by Edward Dmytryk starred Curt Jurgens and Mai Britt.) In German.

Blue Collar

US (1978): Drama
114 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The phenomenally successful young screenwriter Paul Schrader in his d�but as a director, with a script he wrote with his brother Leonard. It's about three Detroit auto workers (Richard Pryor, Yaphet Kotto, and Harvey Keitel) who rob their union headquarters; the destruction of their friendship as a result of the robbery is used to illustrate the you-can't-win thesis. Shot in an ominous, fatalistic style, the film says that the system grinds all workers down, that it destroys their humanity and their hopes. Schrader's jukebox Marxism carries the kind of cynical charge that encourages people in the audience to yell "Right on!" His hostile, melancholy tone unifies this amalgam of pilfered pieces of old pictures and ideologies, but he has imposed his personal depression on characters who, in dramatic terms, haven't earned it. The picture seems dogged and methodical, though it is graced with a beautiful performance by Kotto, as a man who's gentle and pleasure-loving, and an unusual one by Pryor, who plays a turncoat with mean, calculating little eyes. With Harry Bellaver, George Memmoli, Lucy Saroyan, Cliff De Young, Ed Begley, Jr., Lane Smith, Borah Silver, Leonard Gaines, and Harry Northup. Script suggested by Sydney A. Glass's source material. Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

The Blue Dahlia

US (1946): Mystery
99 min, No rating, Black & White

This untidily complicated thriller threatens to turn into something, but it never does. The director, George Marshall, doesn't provide a tense atmosphere or a hard-boiled pace, and though the screenplay is by Raymond Chandler, the picture just drags along. The performers' responses are too slow; the acting throughout seems lifeless, narcotized. The plot involves Alan Ladd as a Navy flyer whose adulterous wife (Doris Dowling) is murdered; a nightclub proprietor (Howard Da Silva) whose own estranged wife (Veronica Lake) is attracted to the flyer; and the flyer's psychoneurotic buddy (William Bendix) who can never remember just what he's been up to. There are also voyeurs, blackmailers, baffled cops, and mugs in the pay of the nightclub proprietor. Ladd takes many a mauling before he gathers the heroine (Lake) in his arms. With Frank Faylen, Hugh Beaumont, Will Wright, Howard Freeman, and Tom Powers. Three of the players-Dowling, Da Silva (who wears a mustache here), and Faylen-had appeared in THE LOST WEEKEND the year before and each had done good, distinctive work, but, like the rest of the cast here, they sink without a trace. Produced by John Houseman, for Paramount.

The Blue Lagoon

US (1980): Romance/Adventure
104 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The central and virtually the only characters are two little cousins; shipwrecked, they grow up alone together on a South Seas island, and turn into Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins. The film has an inevitable, built-in prurience. All we have to look forward to is: When are these two going to discover fornication? The director, Randal Kleiser, and his scenarist, Douglas Day Stewart, have made the two clean and innocent by emptying them of any dramatic interest. Watching them is about as exciting as looking into a fishbowl waiting for guppies to mate. It's Disney nature porn. The cinematography, by Nestor Almendros, is so inexpressive that we seem to be looking at the scenic wonders of a vacation spa in a travelogue. Taken from a popular novel of 1908, by Henry de Vere Stacpoole, which was adapted to the screen once before, in 1948, with Jean Simmons. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

The Blue Max

US (1966): War
156 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The time is 1918, the Blue Max is the nickname for the highest medal a German Air Corps flyer can get, and the leading role is that of a lowborn oddball (George Peppard), whose only ambition is to get it. Addicts of flying movies swear by this one, but for others, the monoplanes and biplanes can't smash or burn fast enough. Directed by John Guillermin; cinematography by Douglas Slocombe. With Ursula Andress and James Mason. Music by Jerry Goldsmith. 20th Century-Fox. CinemaScope.

Blue Thunder

US (1983): Action
108 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

There's electricity in the air, and LA at night has a psychedelic, futuristic quality, like Godard's ALPHAVILLE. But the plot is no more than hints and eavesdroppings about a sinister right-wing conspiracy within the government-it involves the use of a sumptuous test-model helicopter with the deceptively romantic name Blue Thunder. The director, John Badham, does a glamorous, showy job, and, what with all the stunt flying and the hair-trigger editing (by Frank Morriss and Edward Abroms), this is the sort of action film that can make you feel sick with excitement, yet it's all technique-suspense in a void. The battle between good and evil rages in the dirty looks that Roy Scheider, a police-officer pilot, exchanges with Malcolm McDowell as an Army colonel, a mad-twit racist. With Daniel Stern in an engaging performance as a rookie police pilot, Warren Oates as a scowling, good-guy police captain, and Candy Clark. The cinematography is by John A. Alonzo; the script is by Dan O'Bannon and Don Jakoby-they obviously don't do people. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Blue Velvet

US (1986): Mystery
120 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Written and directed by David Lynch, this is possibly the only coming-of-age movie in which sex has the danger and heightened excitement of a horror picture. The charged erotic atmosphere makes the film something of a trance-out, but Lynch's humor keeps breaking through, too. His fantasies may come from his unconscious, but he recognizes them for what they are, and he's tickled by them. The film is consciously purplish and consciously funny, and the two work together in an original, down-home way. The setting is an archetypal small, sleepy city in an indefinite mythic present that feels like the past, and Kyle MacLachlan is Jeffrey, the clean-cut young man who's scared of his dirty thoughts (but wants to have them anyway). He commutes between the blue lady of the night (Isabella Rossellini, who's a dream of a freak) and the sunshine girl he loves (Laura Dern). The movie has so much aural-visual humor and poetry that it's sustained despite the wobbly plot and other weaknesses. Lynch skimps on commercial-movie basics and fouls up on them, too. But his use of irrational material works the way it's supposed to: at some not fully conscious level we read his images. With Dennis Hopper, who gives the movie a jolt of horrific energy, and Dean Stockwell, who is a smiling wonder as Ben the sandman. Also with Hope Lange, Priscilla Pointer, Brad Dourif, and Jack Nance. The cinematography is by Frederick Elmes; the production designer is Patricia Norris; the sound design is by Alan Splet; the score is by Angelo Badalamenti. De Laurentiis.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Bluebeard's Eighth Wife

US (1938): Comedy
80 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

A miscast Gary Cooper in a flat comedy, adapted by Brackett and Wilder from the Alfred Savoir play, and directed by Lubitsch. The gimmick is that Cooper has been divorced seven times; his eighth wife, Claudette Colbert, tries to make their marriage last by the supposedly hilarious expedient of refusing to consummate it. Her ruses, which include munching on scallions, finally drive him to a nervous breakdown. The cast includes David Niven, Herman Bing, Elizabeth Patterson, Edward Everett Horton, Franklin Pangborn, and Warren Hymer, so there are some alleviating comic moments. The film bears a heavy mark of the studio, but there are background shots of France. (Sacha Guitry may be glimpsed coming out of a hotel in Cannes.) Paramount.

The Blues Brothers

US (1980): Comedy
130 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A musical slapstick farce, set in Chicago and starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi as deadpan hipster musicians-characters they first used in skits on the television show "Saturday Night Live." But their taciturn style doesn't allow them to show enough personality for this full-length movie, and they don't really click together in the slightly hallucinated way one expects them to. It's a good-natured, sentimental folk-bop movie, in which the Blues Brothers antagonize so many people in the course of rounding up their old band that thousands of vehicles chase them and converge on unlucky streets and plazas. The director, John Landis, has a lot of comic invention and isn't afraid of silliness, but in terms of slapstick craft he's still an amateur. The film's big joke is how overscaled everything in it is; this has an unfortunate result-Landis is working with such a lavish hand that his miscalculations in timing are experienced by the audience as a form of waste. There are too many jokes that miss, too many musical numbers that fizzle. The film, however, brings Aretha Franklin to the screen, and she's so completely there and so funny as she sings "Think" that she transcends the film's incompetence. The picture's tragedy is that she has only one number. With Carrie Fisher, Henry Gibson, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, James Brown, and many other celebrated musicians. Written by Aykroyd and Landis. Produced by Robert K. Weiss; released by Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Blues in the Night

US (1941): Musical
88 min, No rating, Black & White

Jazz and melodrama, in a fermented mixture. Directed by Anatole Litvak and written by Robert Rossen, this self-serious, overheated Warners picture about the life of travelling musicians was released just before Pearl Harbor. Richard Whorf is the tormented pianist who cracks up, and Betty Field is the bad, bad girl who not only leads him astray but kills Lloyd Nolan, and is herself killed in a car crash with Wallace Ford. Whorf's band includes Elia Kazan; the vocalist is Priscilla Lane. The songs are by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen. Also with Jack Carson, whose trumpet playing is by Snooky Young; and Jimmy Lunceford and his band. Whorf's piano playing is dubbed by Stan Wrightsman.

Blume in Love

US (1973): Comedy
117 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

This romantic, marital-mixup comedy, written and directed by Paul Mazursky, is like a hip updating of THE AWFUL TRUTH. Now the institution of marriage itself is in slapstick disarray. Blume (George Segal), an LA divorce lawyer, is berserkly in love with his ex-wife, the stiff-jawed Nina (Susan Anspach). An inscrutably frustrated, humorless woman, she has taken up with Elmo (Kris Kristofferson), a roly-poly drifter-musician. He's just the right lover for tense Nina: his stoned contentment is the best protection against her high-mindedness. And he's so likable that even Blume, who's obsessed with winning Nina back, has to like him. Mazursky gets LA just right; he sees the pratfall folly of his educated, liberal characters who are up to their ears in social consciousness. This is his most messily romantic movie: he's "too close" to the subject-he's gummed up in it, and the chaos feels good. The scattier his characters are, the more happily he embraces them. They include Marsha Mason (in her film d�but) as a giggly, compliant woman who has an affair with Blume, and Shelley Winters as a legal client. Also with Donald F. Muhich as the divorced couple's deadpan analyst, Mazursky himself as Blume's law partner, Anzanette Chase, and Erin O'Reilly. There are scenes that dawdle, but in Mazursky's best films craziness gives life its savor and a little looseness hardly matters. The cinematography is by Bruce Surtees; the production design is by Pato Guzman. Warners.

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice

US (1969): Comedy
104 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A lively, unabashedly commercial American comedy on the subject of modern sexual mores-the first feature directed by Paul Mazursky. The period is 1969, when the concept of legal marriage is being undermined and Southern California middle-class people are culturally uneasy about clinging to something square, and personally tantalized by thoughts of the sex possibilities they're missing; swinging is in the air. The film contrasts the marriage of Robert Culp, as a documentary filmmaker, and his wife, Natalie Wood, with the mismatch of Dyan Cannon and her lawyer-husband, Elliott Gould-she's bored and he's bewildered. Mazursky and his co-writer, Larry Tucker, who served as producer, designed the picture as a series of sketches, letting the rhythm of the actors' interplay develop as it does in satiric improvisational-revue theatre. Natalie Wood is the wrong kind of actress for this material; she's still doing what she was doing as a child-still telegraphing us that she's being cute-and when she tries hard she just becomes an agitated iron butterfly. But the scenes involving Gould and Cannon are small miracles of timing; Cannon (who looks a bit like Lauren Bacall and a bit like Jeanne Moreau, but the wrong bits) is also remarkably funny in her scenes with an analyst (played by the analyst Donald F. Muhich). You can feel something new in the comic spirit of this film-in the way Mazursky gets laughs by the rhythm of clich�s, defenses, and little verbal aggressions. With Horst Ebersberg, K.T. Stevens, Lee Bergere, Greg Mullavey, and Garry Goodrow. The executive producer was Mike Frankovich, for Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

Bobby Deerfield

US (1977): Sports/Romance
124 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

A rich-meets-rich picture, and worse than one imagines. Al Pacino gives a torpid performance as a spiritually depleted Grand Prix racing-car driver who falls in love with a well-heeled free spirit (Marthe Keller), a metaphysical kook. Though she's dying, she asks him such meaningful questions that he is restored to life. The director, Sydney Pollack, tries for a Lelouch atmosphere but settles for the glitter of cash outlay. From Remarque's Heaven Has No Favorites, adapted by Alvin Sargent; cinematography by Henri Deca�. With Anny Duperey and Romolo Valli. Produced by Pollack; presented by Columbia and Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Boccaccio '70

Italy (1962): Fantasy/Comedy
165 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

A celebrated three-part film, directed by the three reigning Italian directors of the time. The Fellini segment features Anita Ekberg as a big blonde on a gigantic poster advertising milk; the skit is as padded as Ekberg. The Visconti segment is an elegant though overextended sketch featuring Romy Schneider in an attractive performance as a wife who holds her husband (Tomas Milian) by making him pay for her favors. The De Sica segment-the liveliest, and the only one with a Boccaccio flavor-features Sophia Loren as a girl who works with a travelling carnival; in each town she is the prize of a Saturday-night raffle. The way she looks, the whole world would buy tickets. Produced by Carlo Ponti and Antonio Cervi. In Italian.

Body Double

US (1984): Thriller
109 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Brian De Palma, working with material that he has grown past: a murder mystery set in LA, in the overlapping worlds of "serious" acting and performing in porno films. The big, showy scenes recall VERTIGO and REAR WINDOW so obviously that the movie is like an assault on the people who have put De Palma down for being derivative. This time, he's just about spiting himself and giving them reasons not to like him. The central role-that of an actor who suffers from claustrophobia-is played by Craig Wasson, whose conscientious acting is a drag on the movie. Things pick up close to the midway point, when Melanie Griffith arrives and gives a tickling performance as Holly Body, a porno star with a punk-vamp haircut and a sprig of holly tattooed on her rump. Holly is like a dirty-minded teenage seductress, and what she says has an element of surprise even for her; her talk is so sexy it gives her ideas and drives her eyebrows up. But most of the movie lacks zest. In De Palma's CARRIE, when the camera moves languorously around teenage girls in a high-school locker room there's a buzz between the camera and what it's filming. Here, De Palma saves the languorous camera for the sleek, expensive settings, such as the Beverly Hills shopping mall called the Rodeo Collection, and there's not only no comic buzz-the camera seems wowed, impressed. The voyeuristic sequences, with Wasson peeping through a telescope, aren't particularly erotic; De Palma shows more sexual feeling for the swank buildings and real estate. With Deborah Shelton, Gregg Henry, Guy Boyd, David Haskell, B.J. Jones, and Dennis Franz. The script by Robert J. Avrech and De Palma is from De Palma's story (a contraption). Cinematography by Stephen H. Burum; the score, by Pino Donaggio, seems to be ladled on. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.


US (1934): Romance
83 min, No rating, Black & White

George Raft, wearing pants that start at the armpits, and Carole Lombard (before she became a star comedienne), in clinging satin. The Astaire and Rogers pictures were making money for RKO, so somebody at Paramount got the idea of passing off Raft and Lombard as a dance team. The studio poured every sultry effect shameless people could dream up into this movie, and, almost incredibly, got by with it-though it was low camp even then. In the big number, set to Ravel's Bolero, Raft and Lombard gyrate on a circular elevated platform while bare-chested black men sit around them, pounding on drums. Some of those who saw the picture in the 30s could never again keep a straight face when they heard that music. With Ray Milland, Sally Rand, and William Frawley; directed by Wesley Ruggles.

Bombay Talkie

India (1970): Romance/Drama
105 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

A James Ivory film about a bored English woman novelist (Jennifer Kendal) who destroys the life of a young Indian film star (Shashi Kapoor). Ivory's attempt to use the clich�s of early Hollywood melodramas for an ironic effect doesn't work out, but the film is full of fine marginal details-a guru showing his followers color slides of his conquest of Los Angeles, the preparations for a musical film, with plump-bottomed Indian girls dancing on giant typewriter keys. Screenplay by R. Prawer Jhabvala and Ivory; cinematography by Subrata Mitra. Produced by Ismail Merchant.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

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