US (1933): Comedy
95 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

A wisecracking comedy-satire, with Jean Harlow in the title role as a goodhearted, dumb-blond movie star. Great fun in the uninhibited early-30s style, made at MGM before fear of church pressure groups turned the studio respectable and pompous. Lee Tracy is the star's finger-wagging, fast-talking press agent, and Franchot Tone is slickly funny as the man who woos her with lines such as "Your hair is like a field of daisies-I should like to run barefoot through your hair." With Frank Morgan, Una Merkel, Ted Healy, Isabel Jewell, Pat O'Brien, Louise Beavers, Ivan Lebedeff, Mary Forbes, and C. Aubrey Smith. Victor Fleming directed rather stridently and unimaginatively, but from an enjoyably snappy, rude script by John Lee Mahin and Jules Furthman, adapted from a play by Caroline Francke and Mack Crane.


US (1972): Drama
No rating, Color

The four principal characters taunt each other with what are meant to be hideous truths. Larry Cohen, who wrote, produced, and directed, mates the lurid exploitation film with a high-pitched attack on hypocrisy and American values. Excruciatingly shrill. With Yaphet Kotto, Jeannie Berlin, Joyce Van Patten, and Andrew Duggan. Cinematography and editing by George Folsey, Jr.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

Bonnie and Clyde

US (1967): Crime
111 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A landmark movie, this account of the lives of the 30s outlaws Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) keeps the audience in a state of eager, nervous imbalance; it holds our attention by throwing our disbelief back in our faces. In a sense it's the absence of sadism-it is the violence without sadism-that throws the audience off balance. The brutality that comes out of the innocent "just-folks" Barrow-family gang is far more shocking than the calculated brutalities of mean killers. And there is a kind of American poetry in a stickup gang seen chasing across the bedraggled backdrop of the Depression-as if crime were the only activity in a country stupefied by poverty. Arthur Penn directed, from a screenplay by David Newman and Robert Benton, with some rewriting by Robert Towne (who is credited as Special Consultant). With Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, Michael J. Pollard, Gene Wilder, Denver Pyle, Dub Taylor, and Evans Evans. Cinematography by Burnett Guffey; editing by Dede Allen; art direction by Dean Tavoularis; music by Charles Strouse. Produced by Warren Beatty, for Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.


US (1947): Mystery
88 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Elia Kazan was still a fledgling movie director when he did this modest, cleanly made, rather simplistic crime picture, produced by Louis de Rochemont (long associated with the March of Time series), who specialized in the use of documentary locations. It's based on an episode in the career of Homer Cummings (who was Franklin Roosevelt's first Attorney General); as a state's attorney in Connecticut, Cummings became convinced that a man he was about to prosecute was innocent, and set about gathering evidence to clear him. The film was shot in Stamford (the actual events took place in Bridgeport). With Dana Andrews, Jane Wyatt, Lee J. Cobb, Sam Levene, Arthur Kennedy, Cara Williams, Taylor Holmes, Ed Begley, Karl Malden, Robert Keith, Anthony Ross, Bert Freed, and nonprofessionals from the area, and with Joe Kazan (the man later celebrated in AMERICA, AMERICA). The script, by Richard Murphy, was based on the Reader's Digest article "The Perfect Case," written by Fulton Oursler under the pseudonym Anthony Abbott; the cinematography is by Norbert Brodine. 20th Century-Fox.

The Border

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

In this solid, impressive muckraking movie directed by Tony Richardson and filmed largely on location in El Paso, Texas, Jack Nicholson plays a U.S. border patrolman whose job it is to shove Mexicans back to their side of the Rio Grande. The patrolman hates his work; it fills him with disgust, because most of the patrolmen are in cahoots with the American businesses that hire wetbacks, and the patrolmen make their money-their big money-by closing their eyes to vans full of workers earmarked for their business partners. It's an ugly life-persecuting enough Mexicans to keep the government bureaus happy while functioning as slave dealers. Working from a script by Deric Washburn, Walon Green, and David Freeman, and with the cinematographers Ric Waite and Vilmos Zsigmond, Richardson is able to encompass so much in the widescreen frame that he shows how the whole corrupt mess works. Nicholson's role is rather like that of the hero of Kurosawa's IKIRU, who knew that he couldn't do anything big to fight the bureaucracy but was determined to do one small thing. Nicholson tries to help an unspoiled young Mexican girl (Elpidia Carrillo) who is the opposite of his giggly sexpot wife (Valerie Perrine), and he has to fight his pals and go through hell to do it. Nicholson is completely convincing as a man who has been living in dung up to his ears, and so when he feels he has to do something decent before it covers his head, there's nothing sentimental about his need. It's instinctive-like a booze-soaked man's need for a drink of water. With Harvey Keitel, Warren Oates, Shannon Wilcox, and Jeff Morris. Production design by Toby Rafelson; music by Ry Cooder; the theme song is sung by Freddie Fender. Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Born Losers

US (1967): Action
112 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

Featuring teenage girls being raped and tormented by rampaging sadistic motorcyclists (with nicknames such as Gangrene and Crabs), this exploitation picture-a mixture of vigilantism, paranoia, liberalism, and feminist consciousness-must be the most amateurish bad movie that ever wound up on Variety's list of the highest grossing films of all time. It's so pokey (112 minutes) and crudely obvious that it seems almost guileless-helplessly inept. Yet with an appealingly masochistic title, and the lure of the subject, it not only cleaned up financially, but spawned two more films featuring its hero, Billy Jack (Tom Laughlin), a deceptively quiet half-breed Indian. In this first appearance, Billy Jack, the protector of the innocent and abused, single-handedly takes on the whole outlaw motorcycle gang. With Elizabeth James, Jane Russell, Jeremy Slate, Robert Tessier, Jeff Cooper, and William Wellman, Jr. The credits on this A.I.P. production are beefed up with the names Donald Henderson as producer, T.C. Frank as director, and E. James Lloyd as screenwriter, but those are all pseudonyms for Laughlin; Mrs. Laughlin-Delores Taylor-served as executive producer.

Born on the Fourth of July

US (1989): War/Drama/Biography
144 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

An anti-war epic, it's like one of those commemorative issues of Life. This one covers 1956 to 1976, and the counterculture is presented in a nostalgic, aesthetically reactionary way: it's made part of our certified public memories. The director, Oliver Stone, plays bumper cars with the camera and uses cutting to jam you into the action, and you can't even enjoy his uncouthness, because it's put at the service of sanctimony. The pure of heart, Catholic, and patriotic hero Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) thinks war is how he'll prove himself a man. He joins the Marine Corps and is sent to Vietnam; in 1968, his spine is severed, and he's left in a wheelchair, impotent, paralyzed from the chest down. The movie is a scream of rage at how he was betrayed, mutilated, neglected; it's also an uplifting account of how he boozed, quarrelled with everyone, and despaired until he stopped being contemptuous of the war protesters and became active in Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Overblown right from the start, this story is constructed as a series of blackout episodes that suggest the Stations of the Cross; rising strings alert you to the heavy stuff. Then the finale-Resurrection-takes Ron into white light, and John Williams lays on the trumpets. The script, by Stone and Kovic, is based on Kovic's autobiography. With Willem Dafoe, Tom Berenger, Raymond J. Barry as the gentle father, Caroline Kava as the castrating Mom, Kyra Sedgwick as Donna, Frank Whaley as Timmy, Cordelia Gonzalez as the whore, Tony Frank as Mr. Wilson, and Abbie Hoffman. Cinematography by Robert Richardson. Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.

Born To Dance

US (1936): Musical/Dance
105 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The plot of this big, unimaginative MGM musical is a halfhearted reprise of FORTY-SECOND STREET and ON WITH THE SHOW; this time Eleanor Powell is the understudy who replaces the star (Virginia Bruce). The scriptwriters, Jack McGowan, Sid Silvers, and B.G. DeSylva, didn't even try for plausibility: they had a dancer stepping in for a singer. Produced by Jack Cummings and directed by Roy Del Ruth, the movie was designed to show off Eleanor Powell, who had just scored a success in BROADWAY MELODY OF 1936; the chief woman tapper of the period, she had little natural grace and a rather horsy manner-all wholesome high spirits-but she was certainly proficient. Here she falls for a sailor on leave (James Stewart) and in the finale she taps on a battleship; the number is called "Swingin' the Jinx Away." By the time she finishes, you're overpowered and feel you should cheer. Fortunately, Buddy Ebsen is around. Also Frances Langford, Una Merkel, Reginald Gardiner, Raymond Walburn, and Sid Silvers himself. The Cole Porter score includes the great "I've Got You Under My Skin," as well as "Easy to Love;" the other songs were instantly forgettable.

Born to Win

US (1971): Drama
90 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

An unjustly neglected film. Maybe the mixture of moods (comedy and horror) frightened off the producers; they didn't open it, they just let it out. George Segal gives his most prodigious and imaginative performance as a hipster junkie who is so giddy that he really digs the hustling lower depths he inhabits. The film isn't totally satisfying, but even at its most ragged, it holds one's interest. With Karen Black, Jay Fletcher, Paula Prentiss, and Hector Elizondo. Directed by Ivan Passer, from David Scott Milton's screenplay. United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

Born Yesterday

US (1950): Comedy
103 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Judy Holliday's classic portrait of the dumb blonde-brassy, vacuous Billie Dawn. Broderick Crawford plays the man who "keeps" her-a junkman lately become "a dealer in scrap metal" in the world of cartels. Afraid that Billie will disgrace him in Washington, he hires a newspaperman, William Holden, to make Billie more "couth." Unfortunately, both for the junkman and the picture, the journalist reforms Billie, and as she gains in virtue she diminishes in interest. The second half is pretty dreary: the movie, like the Garson Kanin hit play that it's based on, turns into a civics lesson. Broderick Crawford is too heavy and mean to be funny, and Holden's role is colorless. But you'll remember the early, acquisitive Billie with her truculent voice and glassy eyes, and her gin-rummy game. Directed by George Cukor, who's not in top form; the movie is visually dead. The play was adapted (insufficiently) by Albert Mannheimer. (Judy Holliday had played the role on Broadway; her inflections are so set that there's not much surprise left in her performance.) Columbia.

The Bostonians

US (1984): Drama
120 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Another of the film adaptations of great novels that fail to communicate what's great about the book-in this case, Henry James's liveliest novel, which is set in the period after the Civil War, among the abolitionists who are now turning their energies to the emancipation of women. It must certainly be the best novel in the language about the cold anger that the issue of equal rights for women can stir in a man, but you wouldn't know that from the movie, which was produced by Ismail Merchant and directed by James Ivory, from a script by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Although it's not as limp as some of their other collaborations, they don't dramatize the material, and Ivory doesn't shape the performances. As the tall, distinguished-looking, and intelligent young Mississippian Basil Ransom, who thinks women essentially inferior to men, Christopher Reeve has such a likable, wholesomely romantic presence that he takes the sting out of his lines. And as Verena, the sparkling, flirtatious young girl who has been trained by her mesmerist father to surrender her mind, Madeleine Potter is odd and overcontrolled. The only good reason to see the insignificant, washed-out film is Vanessa Redgrave's performance as the repressed lesbian Olive Chancellor, who takes Verena into her fine house on Charles Street and grooms her to be a spokesperson for the suffragettes. Her voice shaking with emotion, Redgrave gives this woman who is "unmarried by every implication of her being" mythological size. James's story is, of course, a tug-of-war between Ransom and Olive, who are both drawn to Verena. With some fine performers: Jessica Tandy as Miss Birdseye, Linda Hunt as Dr. Prance, Nancy Marchand as Mrs. Burrage (she has one remarkable scene with Olive), and Wesley Addy (who brings just enough grotesquerie to his facial contortions) in the role of Verena's father. Also with Wallace Shawn (Mr. Pardon), Barbara Bryne (Verena's mother), Nancy New (Olive's sister), and John Van Ness Philip (young Burrage). The handsomely lighted cinematography is by Walter Lassally; the costumes are by Jenny Beavan and John Bright.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

Boudu Saved From Drowning

France (1932): Comedy
87 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette
Also known as BOUDU SAUV� DES EAUX.

Despite the problems of sound recording in 1931, Jean Renoir went out of the studio and shot this film on the streets and along the banks of the Seine, and so it is not only a lovely fable about a bourgeois attempt to reform an early hippie (Michel Simon is the shaggy-bearded tramp who spills wine on the table and wipes his shoes on the bedspread) but a photographic record of an earlier France. A beautifully rhythmed film that makes one nostalgic for the period when it was made. Cinematography by Marcel Lucien; with Charles Grandval, Marcelle Hainia, Jean Gehret, Max Dalban, Jean Dast�, and Jacques Becker. Not released in the U.S. until 1967. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Boulevard Nights

US (1979): Drama
102 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

Earnest, uninspired movie about the Chicano gangs of the east Los Angeles barrio. There's a well-shot sequence-a psychedelic parade of the decorated, customized low-rider cars cruising on Whittier Boulevard on Saturday night. But the story, about the strivings of the poor and the tragic macho explosions that trap them, is grindingly familiar; it's reminiscent of the Warners working-class-family dramas of the 30s and the later black-family dramas, such as A RAISIN IN THE SUN. There's the hardworking young man (Richard Y�iguez) and his mixed-up, loser brother (Danny De La Paz), who feels like a real somebody only when he's with his gang. De La Paz has a poignant self-destructive quality, like John Garfield in FOUR DAUGHTERS; he's seen in closeup so much, though, that he becomes wearying. With Marta Du Bois. Directed by Michael Pressman, from a script by Desmond Nakano; cinematography by John Bailey; music by Lalo Schifrin. Warners.

Bound for Glory

US (1976): Biography
147 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

As the singer-composer-writer Woody Guthrie, David Carradine has an ornery intransigence that gives this Hal Ashby film a core, and the re-creation of the late 30s is superbly lighted and shot (by Haskell Wexler). The film has a feeling for detail-the matching profiles of two young Baez-like sisters in a squatters' camp, Carradine's lived-in, seat-sprung pants. There's real love in Ashby's staging of the incidents, and a unifying romanticism. Though the story doesn't build dramatically-it straggles just when you want it to soar and it bogs down in backward and forward movement and it's filled in with woozy generalities-this is an absorbing and impressive piece of work. With Melinda Dillon as Mary Guthrie and also as Memphis Sue, and Lee McLaughlin as the fat man who has newsreels going in his head. Ashby deploys huge numbers of extras-900 were used in the camp sequences, and nobody looks anachronistic-yet two of the principals stick out every time they turn up. As a singer-organizer who recruits Guthrie to work for the union, Ronny Cox beams with a Scoutmaster's fervor, and as an all too symbolic member of the working masses, Randy Quaid is like a stock-company peasant. It's also regrettable that the tautness of Carradine's singing voice is betrayed by the Leonard Rosenman score, which uses conventional instrumentation on Woody Guthrie themes. The script, based on Guthrie's (highly readable) autobiography, is by Robert Getchell; however, Ashby and his editor, Robert C. Jones, wrote the explicit messagey material of the latter part. United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

The Bounty

US (1984): Historical/Drama/Adventure
130 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Based on a script condensed from Robert Bolt's scripts for two projected films about the 1789 mutiny, this misshapen movie doesn't work as an epic-it doesn't have the scope or the emotional surge of epic storytelling. It's certainly not boring, though. The director, Roger Donaldson, shoots very close in for dynamic power-you're thrust right in among the men on the crowded British naval vessel-and Anthony Hopkins, who plays Captain Bligh, gives his vocal cords a workout, ordering Fletcher Christian (Mel Gibson) to stop "mixing with the damned degenerate natives" and shouting that "the ship is filthy." In this version, Bligh is no worse than ambitious, repressed, and somewhat harsh, and Christian is an open-shirted man of impulse-a moody flower child who's drugged on love. Whether because of the condensing or cuts in the editing room or just plain miscalculation, Gibson's romanticism seems faintly absurd, and in his big scene-his emotional outburst during the mutiny-he seems to be having a nervous breakdown. With Wi Kuki Kaa as King Tynah, Tevaite Vernette as Princess Mauatua, skinny-faced Daniel Day-Lewis as Fryer, and, among the effete aristocrats who sit on the court-martial, Laurence Olivier and Edward Fox (who has this performance down pat by now-he lets his crooked front tooth do his acting for him). Adapted from Richard Hough's 1972 book, Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian. The music is by Vangelis, who goes in for effects such as ominous boom-booms when Christian first touches Mauatua's hair; the cinematography is by Arthur Ibbetson. Orion-Dino De Laurentiis.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

The Boy Friend

UK (1971): Musical/Dance
135 min, Rated G, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

It might have been a lovely little musical, with the bittersweet jazz-age gaiety that is foolish and yet heartbreakingly winning. But Ken Russell turned the Sandy Wilson show (first produced in London in 1953) into an anti-musical and destroyed most of the pleasure the audience might have had. Russell's greatest deficiency is that he doesn't understand the charm of simplicity. The glittering, joyless numbers keep coming at you; you never get any relief from his supposed virtuosity. Twiggy sings adequately (though not well enough for the load of singing she's asked to carry), and she dances rather better, but Russell doesn't develop her possibilities, and she remains an appealing blank. With Christopher Gable, Max Adrian, Georgina Hale, Vladek Sheybal, Tommy Tune, Barbara Windsor, Antonia Ellis, and Glenda Jackson in a wonderful cameo as the injured star who is replaced by Twiggy. Cinematography by David Watkin; sets by Tony Walton; costumes by Shirley Russell. Made in England, for MGM.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

A Boy Named Charlie Brown

US (1969): Children's/Animated
85 min, Rated G, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A very sad excuse for a children's picture-a pathetically limp animation feature that barely taps the verbal wit or the great charm of the comic strip it is derived from. Directed by William Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; songs by Rod McKuen; musical score by Vince Guaraldi. National General.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

The Boys From Brazil

US (1978): Thriller
123 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Franklin J. Schaffner's large-scale version of Ira Levin's novel about Nazi experiments in cloning is too logy and literal-minded for suspense, and when an actor like Gregory Peck plays a sadistic Nazi geneticist and speaks in an arch-villain's sibilant German accent, you can't keep from laughing. Peck, in his jungle hideaway, staring into the future as he walks unconcernedly among the mutants he has created, just doesn't have it in him to inspire primitive terror; his effects are all on the surface, and he looks particularly bad because he's playing opposite Laurence Olivier, who is the aged hero, a famous Nazi-hunter (a fictional counterpart of Simon Wiesenthal). Olivier does a flirtatious impersonation of such actors as the late Albert Basserman and Felix Bressart, with their querulous, whiny voices and their fussiness-their way of seeming almost helpless yet resourceful, sagacious, and totally good. He takes off on this cloying humanistic style just enough to be very funny, and then, in the key sequences, he rises above his Viennese singsongy charm and demonstrates that the harmless-old-bore act of the aged can be a way of saving oneself for the things that count. He's the only reason to see this movie. It starts from the dumb idea that Hitler's closest associates-whom he dragged down with him-would want him cloned. Nazism here is comic-book mythology, a consumer product. With James Mason, and an enormous international cast that includes Rosemary Harris, Bruno Ganz, Uta Hagen, Lilli Palmer, Jeremy Black, Steven Guttenberg, Denholm Elliott, John Dehner, John Rubinstein, David Hurst, Michael Gough, Anne Meara, and Prunella Scales. Screenplay by Heywood Gould. A Lew Grade Production; released by 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

The Boys From Syracuse

US (1940): Musical/Comedy
73 min, No rating, Black & White

Hollywood, or at least Universal, should be hanged for what it did to the celebrated Broadway show by George Abbott and Rodgers and Hart (based on The Comedy of Errors). The rewriting was so disastrous that the studio finally cut the picture down to 74 minutes, which doesn't leave much time for Martha Raye and Charles Butterworth or for the wonderful songs-"Falling in Love with Love," "Sing for Your Supper," and "This Can't Be Love." The cast includes Allan Jones, Joe Penner, Rosemary Lane, Irene Hervey, and Alan Mowbray. Directed by Eddie Sutherland; the dance director was Dave Gould.

The Boys in Company C

US (1978): War
127 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

While taking anti-Vietnam-war attitudes, this comedy-melodrama about a group of Marine recruits who go to Vietnam in 1967 attempts to show how comradeship builds character-as in Second World War movies. Rambunctious service-comedy situations are given a raucous, hip updating and encrusted with four letter words. The director, Sidney J. Furie, brings the film energy and he keeps the gags and the sentiment coming. It's an exploitation war movie, with a soccer game that turns into a blood bath, maniacal American officers, and vile South Vietnamese officers who gloat over their profits from dope deals. Mostly, it's like dirty TV, and the highly volatile, predominately male audiences it attracted really got with it. The relatively fresh cast includes Stan Shaw as a black soldier who's as strong a natural leader as John Wayne; James Whitmore, Jr., as the intelligent officer; Santos Morales as a Chicano drill sergeant; Andrew Stevens (who becomes a junkie); Craig Wasson; James Canning; Michael Lembeck; and an ex-Marine sergeant, Lee Ermey, whose voice is wrecked from years of shouting at recruits-he gives his scenes an unusual emotional texture. The mixed-up, messagey script is by Rick Natkin and Furie. (With a John Wayne movie, you at least knew where you were.) Shot in the Philippines. A Golden Harvest Production, with Raymond Chow as executive producer; released by Columbia.

The Boys in the Band

US (1970): Drama
119 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A gathering of homosexuals at a birthday party; it's like the gathering of bitchy ladies in THE WOMEN, but with a 40s-movie bomber-crew cast: a Catholic, a Jew, a Negro, a hustler, one who is butch, and one who is nellie, and so on. They crack jokes while their hearts are breaking. The message appears to be that the spirit of MGM in the 40s still lives in the hearts and jokes of homosexuals. William Friedkin directed Mart Crowley's adaptation of his own play; Crowley preserves the text as if the quips were ageless. With Leonard Frey, Cliff Gorman, and Laurence Luckinbill. Cinema Center.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

The Brave Bulls

US (1951): Drama
108 min, No rating, Black & White

Robert Rossen's overblown production of Tom Lea's novel stars Mel Ferrer as a Mexican matador-a performance that recaptures some of the glamour of early screen idols but is short on strength. There is some nonsense about a heartless blond aristocrat (Miroslava) who two-times the hero with his manager (Anthony Quinn), though it's easy to overlook all that when the bulls pound across the screen. They're the only believable characters. Cinematography by James Wong Howe and Floyd Crosby; script by John Bright. Columbia.


US (1985): Science Fiction/Fantasy
131 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Terry Gilliam, of the Monty Python troupe, presents a retro-futurist fantasy-a melancholy, joke-ridden view of the horribleness of where we are now and the worse horribleness of where we're heading. It's like a stoned, slapstick 1984; a nightmare comedy in which the comedy is just an aspect of the nightmarishness. The title refers to pop escapism of the past-what you can only dream about in the squalor and sporadic terrorist violence of an Anglo-American police state "somewhere in the 20th century." Visually, it's an original, bravura piece of moviemaking, with a weirdly ingenious vertical quality: the camera always seems to be moving up and down, rarely across. You get the feeling that people live and work squashed at the bottom of hollow towers. The clothes, like the furnishings and the ancient TV sets and assorted gadgetry, suggest that nothing has been made or manufactured since the 40s. It's a thrift-shop world of the future. The central character (Jonathan Pryce) is a lowly clerk, a drone; in pursuit of the girl (Kim Greist) he has glimpsed in his dreams, he runs afoul of the state apparatus, and there's a super-realistic inevitability about this. The episodes lack dramatic definition, just as the gags do; they all run together and blur. And the film is both torpid and frantic. Yet Gilliam's vision is an organic thing on the screen-and that's a considerable achievement. Pryce's dead-eyed performance is charmless, but Robert De Niro turns up in a cameo role as a prankster daredevil, a freedom fighter; chomping on a cigar and all revved up, he's the life of the party. And Katherine Helmond, as Pryce's mother, delivers an elegant, broad caricature of a woman obsessed with plastic surgery. Also with Michael Palin, Ian Holm, Ian Richardson, and Kathryn Pogson. The script is by Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, and Charles McKeown; the production designer is Norman Garwood. Released in the U.S. by Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Break of Hearts

US (1935): Drama
80 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Katharine Hepburn as a tender, guileless young composer, and Charles Boyer as a worldly, philandering symphony conductor. They marry, she leaves him in disillusionment, he drinks and goes to the dogs, she returns to save him. It's dreadful, turgid stuff, yet these two make something of it anyway. She's so intuitive and girlish and wistful that you want to conk her one, but she's so flamingly intense that you find yourself surrendering. With John Beal; directed by Philip Moeller; music by Max Steiner. RKO.

Breakfast at Tiffany's

US (1961): Drama
115 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Audrey Hepburn's Holly Golightly is a tad refined for a girl who lives so improvisationally (on the money men give her), but for about the first three-quarters of an hour, this picture, directed by Blake Edwards, has a fair amount of sophisticated slapstick comedy, especially at a cocktail party that ranks with the best screen parties of the era. If you've read the Truman Capote novella that the movie is based on (and even if you haven't) you may be dismayed to see things go soft and romantic. The film wanders, and Hepburn is forced to become too frail and too enchantingly raffish before it comes to its makeshift, fairy-tale end. The madcap Holly, with her attachment to a writer (George Peppard) whose apartment is just below hers, is, of course, very similar to Sally Bowles with her Isherwood, except that the setting here is New York not Berlin. Patricia Neal is amusing in the rather impenetrable role of an interior decorator who appears to be a lesbian but is also keeping Peppard. (It may be wise not to let the mind linger too long over that.) Mickey Rooney does a wild bit of racial caricature as the Japanese photographer who lives in the apartment above Holly's; it's the most low-down and daring thing in the movie. The cast includes Buddy Ebsen, John McGiver, Martin Balsam, Jos�-Luis de Villalonga, and Gil Lamb. The script is by George Axelrod; the cinematography is by Franz Planer; the song "Moon River" is by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini; Hepburn's clothes are by Givenchy and Neal's are by Pauline Trigere. Paramount.

Breakfast Club

US (1985): Drama
97 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Set mostly in the library of a suburban Chicago high school, this encounter-session movie by the writer-director John Hughes is about five students-a cross-section of the student body-who in the course of serving a 7-4 Saturday detention peel off their layers of self-protection, confess their problems with their parents, and are stripped down to their "true selves." The five are: a champion wrestler (Emilio Estevez), a popular redhead "princess" (Molly Ringwald), a grind (Anthony Michael Hall), a glowering rebel-delinquent (Judd Nelson) who wears an earring, and a shy, skittish weirdo (Ally Sheedy). With the exception of Sheedy, who's a marvellous comic sprite and transcends her role until she is jerked back into the script mechanics, the movie is about a bunch of stereotypes who complain that other people see them as stereotypes. Hughes has talent, and when the kids are just killing time the dialogue has an easy, buggy rhythm, but this is a very wet enterprise. It appeals to young audiences by blaming adults for the kids' misery and enshrining the kids' most banal longings to be accepted and liked. Judd Nelson, who is supposed to represent what authorities want to crush, has the worst-conceived role, though Paul Gleason's part as the callous dean is a close runner-up. Also with John Kapelos as the school janitor. Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

Breaking In

US (1989): Comedy
91 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The John Sayles script about how professional small-time criminals live and practice their trades is confident, offbeat, and shallow, all at the same time. The director, Bill Forsyth, does a beautiful, clean job; he brings out everything there is to be brought out, but it isn't enough. Burt Reynolds plays an old-pro safecracker who lives in a tract home in Portland, Oregon, and doesn't call attention to himself; he trains a fluky adolescent, played by Casey Siemaszko, who can't resist flashing his new wealth. The film's patterning seems consciously quaint: an experienced prostitute (Lorraine Toussaint) who is training a novice (Sheila Kelley); a pair of retired crooks (Albert Salmi and Harry Carey); a pair of adversarial lawyers (Maury Chaykin and Stephen Tobolowsky). Forsyth may have imagined that he could go around the margins of the quaintness and show us American life out of the mainstream-the stuff you don't usually see in movies, the life behind the billboards. But with a Sayles script you go behind the billboards and there's nobody there. Samuel Goldwyn Company.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.

Breaking the Sound Barrier

UK (1952): Drama
109 min, No rating, Black & White
Also known as THE SOUND BARRIER.

The screen heroes who had been winning the war by killing Japanese or Germans gave way to quiet, worried-eyed heroes in this David Lean epic of the air. The most worried of them all is Ralph Richardson-the courageous, civilized modern man. Sober-faced and businesslike, he keeps his inner tensions under exquisite control (though we are always tipped off that he is suffering more than men who crudely vent their emotions). Terence Rattigan, who wrote the film, didn't exactly break any new ground in the air: he provides Ann Todd with that inevitable role of the prescient wife (the "please don't go up to break the sound barrier tonight, dear" type), and Nigel Patrick, John Justin, Denholm Elliott, and Dinah Sheridan and the others say and do just what you might expect were they carrying the White Man's Burden in remote Outposts of Empire. If you're tolerant, you'll just relax through all this low-keyed English valor and enjoy the soaring cinematography and the supersonic sound effects. Cinematography by Jack Hildyard.


France (1959): Crime
89 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc
Also known as � BOUT DE SOUFFLE.

Jean-Luc Godard's first feature-a witty, romantic, innovative chase picture with the 26-year-old Jean-Paul Belmondo as a Parisian hood, and Jean Seberg as the American girl who casually lives with him and just as casually turns him in to the police when he becomes an inconvenience. Godard, who dedicated this film (made for $90,000) to Monogram Pictures, saw something in the cheap American gangster movies of his youth that French movies lacked; he poeticized it and made it so modern (via fast jump cutting) that he, in turn, became the key influence on American movies of the 60s. Here, he brought together disharmonious elements-irony and slapstick and defeat-and brought the psychological effects of moviegoing into the movie itself. (His hero was probably the first to imitate Bogart.) The film is light and playful and off-the-cuff, even a little silly. Yet the giddy, gauche characters who don't give a damn-the hood who steals a car, kills a highway patrolman, and chases after some money that is owed him for past thefts so he and his impervious, passively butch girl can get to Italy-are not only familiar in an exciting, revealing way, they are terribly attractive. The well-known director Jean-Pierre Melville appears as a celebrity being interviewed; Daniel Boulanger appears as the police inspector. Jean-Louis Richard and Philippe de Broca turn up, and there are also bit appearances by Godard, as an informer, by Truffaut (who supplied the news item on which Godard based the script), and by Chabrol (who lent his name as supervising producer). In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book I Lost it at the Movies.

Brewster McCloud

US (1970): Comedy
101 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

Robert Altman's film was shot in Houston. Gentle Brewster (Bud Cort), who is building wings for himself, is a boy Phantom of the Astrodome who is also an imperilled virgin-a sort of mad, murderous Peter Pan, or Rima the Bird Boy. Sally Kellerman is his bird-mother, who deserts him when he loses his virginity. The idea seems to be left over from a Victorian fable, but the style of the picture is parodistic and manic-like a Road Runner cartoon. The whole thing is amorphous and rather silly, but it's clearly a trial run for some of the effects that Altman brings off in NASHVILLE. MGM.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

Back to Home

Hosted by