Broken Lullaby/The Man I Killed

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

Ernst Lubitsch, the master of light and frivolous film art, seems to be doing penance for his own wit in this pacifist drama, adapted from a play by Maurice Rostand. Phillips Holmes, unspeakably handsome but an even more unspeakable actor, is the sickly, sensitive French musician who kills a German soldier (also a musician�) in the trenches. Remorseful, he goes to Germany and settles in with the dead man's family (Lionel Barrymore is the father) and fianc�e (Nancy Carroll, miserably miscast, with a fat braid around her head). Lubitsch can't entirely escape his own talent, and the film is beautifully crafted, but he mistook drab, sentimental hokum for ironic, poetic tragedy. The picture was a box-office fiasco, despite the excessive praise of Robert E. Sherwood, who said, "It is the best talking picture that has yet been seen and heard." Not by a long shot. With ZaSu Pitts, Lucien Littlefield, and Emma Dunn. Adapted by Ernest Vajda and Samson Raphaelson; art direction by Hans Dreier. Paramount.

The Browning Version

UK (1951): Drama
90 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

The cuckolded schoolmaster of Terence Rattigan's play requires a virtuoso actor, and in this British film version, directed by Anthony Asquith, it got one. If the sustained anguish of the role does not allow Michael Redgrave a great deal of room to move around in, it does give him a chance to show what he can do in tight quarters, and that, it turns out, is considerable. He is superb. With Jean Kent as his wife, Nigel Patrick as her lover.


US (1980): Prison
132 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Suggested by the Arkansas prison scandals of the late 60s, this muckraking melodrama has considerable power and some strong performances. In the film, the prison, which is under the control of gun-carrying convict guards who supply slave labor to nearby farms and businesses, is in an unidentified Southern state. Robert Redford plays the warden who tries to clean up the place, but he's the wrong kind of actor for a prison movie-he isn't a tough man of action, and so the character has been mythologized, softened, and honeyed, and he seems to be the selfless white knight of the Westerns. Despite some perplexing scenes-probably occasioned by the fact that the director, Stuart Rosenberg, took over a project that had been shaped for a different director (Bob Rafelson) and tried to mold the material his way-there are individual sequences that may be the best work Rosenberg has ever done on the screen. The script, by W.D. Richter, has offhand dialogue with a warm, funny edge; the cinematography, by Bruno Nuytten, has a marvellous ease. And the remarkable cast includes Morgan Freeman, Richard Ward, Yaphet Kotto, David Keith, Tim McIntire, David Harris, M. Emmet Walsh, and Matt Clark. There are also performers who are used poorly (Murray Hamilton, John McMartin, and Jane Alexander) or use themselves poorly (Everett McGill). 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Brute Force

US (1947): Prison
98 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on laserdisc

The title is accurate: this is a crudely powerful prison picture, produced by Mark Hellinger, written by Richard Brooks, and directed by Jules Dassin. The essentially old-fashioned material was modernized by the use of sadistic scenes and such devices as having the power-mad warden (Hume Cronyn) suggest a home-grown Hitler. This is the kind of movie that is often called a man's picture; that is, fast, action-packed, pseudo-realistic. With Burt Lancaster, Charles Bickford, Roman Bohnen, Ella Raines, Yvonne De Carlo, Ann Blyth, Anita Colby, Sam Levene, Howard Duff, John Hoyt, Jeff Corey, Whit Bissell, and Vince Barnett. Universal.

Bugsy Malone

UK (1976): Musical/Children's
93 min, Rated G, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

An aberration from England, set in New York in 1929 and made with a cast of children, average age 12. The children don't play children, though. Little boys with their hair slicked down impersonate the Hollywood-movie racketeers of the Prohibition era; in their fedoras and double-breasted suits, these hoods look like midgets, and the speakeasies, molls, automobiles are all slightly miniaturized. This picture is a kiddie-gangster musical, with slapstick gang wars; it operates on darlingness and the kitsch of innocence. The almost pornographic dislocation, which is the source of the film's possible appeal as a novelty, is never acknowledged, but the camera lingers on a gangster's pudgy, infantile fingers or a femme fatale's soft little belly pushing out of her tight satin dress, and it roves over the pubescent figures in the chorus line. Alan Parker wrote and directed (it's his first film); the score (sung by adults) is by Paul Williams. With Jodie Foster as the vamp Tallulah, Martin Lev as the villain Dandy Dan, Scott Baio as the good guy, and the appealing Florrie Dugger as the complacent ingenue Blousey. Released by Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Bull Durham

US (1988): Comedy
108 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Written and directed by Ron Shelton, this sunny romantic comedy has the kind of dizzying off-center literacy that Preston Sturges's pictures had. It's a satirical celebration of our native jauntiness and wit; it takes us into a subculture that's like a bawdy adjunct of childhood-minor-league baseball. Kevin Costner plays the smart, hyper-articulate catcher Crash, and comes through with his first wide-awake, star performance; at his best, he's as berserkly ironic as Jack Nicholson is at some of his peaks. After playing for 12 years, Crash arrives in Durham, North Carolina, to join the Durham Bulls and learns that he's been brought in to train baby-faced Nuke (Tim Robbins), a wild young rookie pitcher who is destined to move up. Susan Sarandon plays the beautiful, passionate Annie Savoy, a baseball fanatic who has her own scorecard: "There's never been a ballplayer slept with me who didn't have the best year of his career." What you keep reacting to is the film's exuberant doodles. With Jenny Robertson, Trey Wilson, William O'Leary, Robert Wuhl, and Max Patkin. Cinematography by Bobby Byrne. Orion.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.


US (1955): Documentary
No rating, Black & White

You begin to understand-or rather to feel-the magnetism of this archaic sport as you watch the great Manolete, who died in 1947 at the age of 30. Thin, reserved, sad, he performs the rites of the game with subtle, pure movements. His classic style is contrasted with that of the glamorous, artful Domingu�n, and Belmonte, Arruza, and others. This feature-length documentary, compiled in Europe, has some remarkable footage; it succeeds where fictional treatments have failed-in communicating the elation and the desperation of bullfighters testing themselves.

Bullfighter and the Lady

US (1951): Drama
87 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Produced and directed by Budd Boetticher, this film came out in the same year as Robert Rossen's much more expensive THE BRAVE BULLS; though marred by a synthetic plot, it's a more enjoyable film than its heavily glamourized and publicized rival, and has moments of an authentic seaminess. Robert Stack plays an American who wants to be a bullfighter; Gilbert Roland, in possibly the best performance of his amazingly long career, is an aging matador. With Katy Jurado, Joy Page, Virginia Grey, and John Hubbard. Script by James Edward Grant. Republic.


US (1968): Crime
113 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A competent director (Peter Yates), working with competent technicians, gives a fairly dense texture to a vacuous script about cops and gangsters and politicians. The stars are Steve McQueen with his low key charisma, as the police-officer hero, and the witty, steep streets of San Francisco. There's a big car-chase sequence, which helped to make the movie a hit. With Robert Vaughn as a slimy Mr. Big whose technique of bribery is so blatantly insulting he couldn't give away a lollipop, and Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Duvall, Georg Stanford Brown, Simon Oakland, Norman Fell, and Don Gordon. Script by Alan Trustman and Harry Kleiner, from Robert L. Pike's Mute Witness; cinematography by William Fraker; music by Lalo Schifrin; titles by Pablo Ferro. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Going Steady.

Burden of Dreams

US (1982): Documentary
94 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

Les Blank's feature-length documentary on the making of Werner Herzog's FITZCARRALDO isn't a major work on its own, but it has an unusual effect: it makes FITZCARRALDO crumble in the memory-it merges with it. Blank shows more sensitivity in his shots of the Peruvian Indians than Herzog does, and Blank's footage of Herzog himself, standing and addressing the camera (though with eyes averted), is stronger than anything in FITZCARRALDO. In these monologues, Herzog seems almost priggish in his dissociation from his own filmmaking methods; he speaks of the mammoth physical challenges he sets up as if they had been imposed on him-as if he had been cursed. He turns the production of a film into a mystical ordeal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.


France-Italy (1969): War/Historical
112 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc
Also known as QUEIMADA!.

Gillo Pontecorvo's luxuriant, ecstatic epic about a mid-19th-century slave uprising on a fictitious Spanish-speaking Caribbean island is told from a neo-Marxist, Frantz Fanonian point of view. It is an attempt to plant an insurrectionary fuse within a swashbuckler-to use a popular costume-adventure form to arouse black revolutionary passions. Marlon Brando plays a British agent provocateur who instigates the revolt and then cynically crushes it; he personifies colonial manipulative policies as well as, by implication, the American involvement in Vietnam. As Pontecorvo demonstrated in THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS, he has a true gift for epic filmmaking: he can keep masses of people in movement so we care about them. And here, in his feeling for crowds and battles, for color and images, and for visual rhythms, he's a sensuous, intoxicating director. When blacks ride white horses that prance to what sounds like a syncopated Gregorian chant, the sequence is so shimmering and showy that one knows Pontecorvo and his cinematographer, Marcello Gatti, and his composer, Ennio Morricone, couldn't resist it. BURN! is politically schematic, and almost every line of dialogue jogs us to fit it into a deterministic theory of history, yet the film is large-spirited, and it might have reached a much wider audience if the Spanish government, sensitive about Spaniards being cast as heavies, hadn't applied economic pressure against the producing company, United Artists. So parts of this picture were deleted and others reshot, and the Spaniards, who had traditionally dominated the Antilles, were replaced by the Portuguese, who hadn't but aren't a big movie market. After these delays the picture was given a nervous, halfhearted release. Produced by Alberto Grimaldi; written by Pontecorvo, Franco Solinas, and Georgio Arlorio; production design by Piero Gherardi. With Evaristo Marquez as the black leader, and Renato Salvatori as the mulatto puppet. Shot partly in the Colombian seaport Cartagena.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

US (1969): Western
112 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Paul Newman and Robert Redford are charming people to watch on the screen, even when the vehicle doesn't do them justice. George Roy Hill directed this enormously popular, overblown, frolicsome Western from William Goldman's script. With Katharine Ross; cinematography by Conrad Hall. The song "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" is by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

The Buttercup Chain

UK (1971): Drama
95 min, Rated R, Color

British bathos about the unhappy overprivileged. Hywel Bennett and Jane Asher, who love each other, are the children of identical twins; Sven-Bertil Taube is a Swede who swims nude; and Leigh Taylor-Young is an American girl who drives on the wrong side of some very fancy roads. Robert Ellis Miller directed, from Peter Draper's adaptation of Janice Elliott's novel. With Clive Revill and Roy Dotrice.

Butterfield 8

US (1960): Drama
109 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The John O'Hara novel that seemed perfect for the movies, plus the role that seemed perfect for Elizabeth Taylor-and this is the garish mess it became. Daniel Mann's direction is maybe even worse than the Charles Schnee-John Michael Hayes script. With Laurence Harvey; Dina Merrill, doing a noble wife to end all noble wives; and a vacuum on the screen that is said to be Eddie Fisher. MGM.

By Design

Canada (1981): Drama
88 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

A buoyant, quirky sex comedy directed by the Canadian Claude Jutra, who has a light, understated approach to slapstick. His sensibility suggests a mingling of Tati and Truffaut; he never makes a fuss about anything. His two heroines are curly-red-haired Angie (Sara Botsford), who is tall and has a hell raiser's smile, and serious little Helen (Patty Duke Astin). They're in love, and they live and work together happily-they run their own fashion business in Vancouver. When these two face the camera, we're confronted by four bright-blue eyes and a quandary: Helen yearns to be a mother. As they explore the possibilities open to them, Jutra takes a look around the whole modern supermarket of sex. The script, by Joe Wiesenfeld, Jutra, and David Eames, seems to skip along from one incident to the next. What holds the movie together is the bond between the two women, who couldn't be more unlike. At the start, Jutra's matter-of-fact style may take a little getting used to, and there's a bewildering display of the heroines' fashions (which are garish). But then things get going, and the central sequence of crosscutting between two couples in bed is near to being irresistibly funny and, finally, it's romantic. This picture isn't exactly bubbly while you're watching it, but it effervesces when you think it over. It's like a Lubitsch sex comedy stripped of the glamour but not of the fun. With Saul Rubinek as a girl chaser; Clare Coulter as an intense young social worker; Sonia Zimmer as Suzie the model; Alan Duruisseau as a dimply Swede; and Jeannie Elias as the cowgirl teenybopper. Music by Chico Hamilton; cinematography by Jean Boffety.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Bye Bye Birdie

US (1963): Musical/Comedy
112 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The Michael Stewart satirical musical about a rock 'n' roll idol who gets drafted, with its parodistic Charles Strouse and Lee Adams score, sounds like a good movie idea, but the central character (played by Jesse Pearson) has been softened, the sit-com plotting is tedious, and the film aims for cornball zest rather than wit. Ann-Margret, playing a brassy 16-year-old with a hyperactive rear end, takes over the picture; slick, enamelled, and appalling as she is, she's an undeniable presence. The cast, which performs erratically, includes Dick Van Dyke, Janet Leigh, Maureen Stapleton, Paul Lynde, and Bobby Rydell. Directed by George Sidney. Columbia.

Bye Bye Braverman

US (1968): Comedy
109 min, No rating, Color

Sidney Lumet takes Wallace Markfield's mean-spirited satirical novel, To an Early Grave, and turns the material into a crudely affectionate comic romp. The movie is often gross and it's sloppily thrown together, but the characters' rhetoric has some juice in it. No one is ever likely to say that he was put to sleep by Sidney Lumet's good taste. Besides, there may never be another movie on the highly specialized subject of the comic failure of New York Jewish intellectuals. When Braverman, a minor literary figure, suddenly dies, his four literary friends gather in Greenwich Village, pile into a Volkswagen, set out to attend the funeral service in Brooklyn, and get lost. It's a low-comedy situation played for emotional wallowing as well as for laughs. Jewish actors playing Jews have a tendency to overdo it, as if they thought they might be taken for Gentiles if they behaved normally, and Lumet appears to have encouraged this; you keep wishing the camera would back away a bit. With George Segal; Jack Warden (miscast as a poet); Sorrell Booke, who has some wonderful mad movements of his head, as a fussy little book reviewer; Joseph Wiseman, whose cold, bitter characterization is very effective. Also with Alan King, Phyllis Newman, Jessica Walter, Anthony Holland, Zohra Lampert (whose voice seems disembodied), and Godfrey Cambridge, who picks up the pace and brings the movie a welcome contrast. The screenplay is by Herbert Sargent; cinematography by Boris Kaufman. Shot in New York. Warner-Seven Arts.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Going Steady.

Back to Home

Hosted by