High-school kids in a mythical Midwestern community that bans rock'n' roll and dancing-a piece of neo-Andy Hardyism, with plot elements from REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and dance numbers chopped to pieces in the rock-video manner of FLASHDANCE. (FOOTLOOSE is what they're not.) The director, Herbert Ross, and the writer, Dean Pitchford, exhaust one bad idea after another, and build up to a letdown: you don't get the climactic dance you expect. This will probably be the only rock musical ever made in which every single character is white Protestant. With Kevin Bacon as the new boy in town who challenges the bans and fights for the right of the students to have a senior prom; John Lithgow as the glum Reverend (of the town's only church); Lori Singer as the Reverend's spitfire daughter, Christopher Penn as a sluggish hayseed, and Jim Youngs, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Dianne Wiest. There's an exhilarating title sequence, a good brief scene with a little boy asleep in church, and an entertaining passage in which Bacon teaches Penn to dance. And despite the retrograde material, Lori Singer has a startling radiance, and Penn manages to be funny and appealing. Edited by Paul Hirsch. Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.
Fresh from his Broadway success in Pal Joey, Gene Kelly made his movie début here as a good-bad guy, playing opposite Judy Garland. They are a vaudeville team who are just getting their big break when Kelly is inducted (the period is the First World War); he deliberately injures his hand so he won't have to fight and-the movie having been made during the Second World War-he must then reform and become a gallant hero. The story is naïvely patriotic and sentimental, but Kelly is amazingly fresh; his grin could melt stone, and he and Garland are a magical pair (especially when they're singing "The bells are ringing for me and my gal"). The songs include "Ballin' the Jack," "Smiles," and "After You've Gone," and there are some nifty comedy routines featuring Kelly and Ben Blue. Produced by Arthur Freed and directed by Busby Berkeley; with George Murphy, Horace McNally (later Stephen), Richard Quine, Keenan Wynn, and Marta Eggerth. The writers were Fred Finklehoffe, Sid Silvers, Richard Sherman, and Howard Emmett Rogers. MGM.
Everybody concerned must have thought they were making a classic out of the Hemingway novel, but what with the typical Hollywood compromises, plus the political pressures from Spain and from Catholics-or the fears of such pressures-the whole thing became amorphous and confused. Paramount did rather better by the romance than the politics: Ingrid Bergman is lovely and affecting as Maria. (It's one of her best performances.) Hand-picked by Hemingway to be his hero, Gary Cooper does well, though occasionally he falls into his simpering and, at times, he seems to fade into the background. The film is populated with other famous actors who stand out too much, and most of them go wrong in one scene or another. They include Katina Paxinou, Akim Tamiroff, Arturo de Cordova, Vladimir Sokoloff, Mikhail Rasumny, George Coulouris, Joseph Calleia, Alexander Granach, and many others-even Yvonne De Carlo. The director, Sam Wood, seems to have his hands too full. Dudley Nichols did the screenplay. Paramount.
The 12th JAMES BOND film goes through the motions, but not only are we tired of them, the actors are tired of them-even the machines are tired. It has got to the point where if the machines do something they haven't done before, we've seen it before anyway. Roger Moore is Bond again, and his idea of Bond's imperturbable cool is the same as playing dead. The producers have made the mistake of deciding on a simpler, more realistic package, without dazzling sets or a big, mad supervillain. The heroine (Carole Bouquet) is a lovely tall brunette who photographs like a goddess but has no more animation than the hero; the only jazziness in the movie comes from Lynn-Holly Johnson, playing a teenage trollop who's a champion ice skater. With Topol, Julian Glover, Jill Bennett, Cassandra Harris, and Janet Brown as the Prime Minister. Directed by John Glen; written by Richard Maibaum and Michael Wilson. Produced by Albert R. Broccoli. United Artists.
Movies about women who sacrifice everything for their married lovers or their illegitimate babies were big box office in the 20s and 30s, but they were generally concocted by masters of the tearjerking craft, as in BACK STREET, MADAME X, STELLA DALLAS, THE SIN OF MADELON CLAUDET. The director, Frank Capra, wrote this story himself, and he just didn't have the knack. The heroine is unbelievably sacrificial over a span of twenty years, and despite Barbara Stanwyck's amazingly unaffected, straightforward performance, most of the picture is lifeless. As the lover, Adolphe Menjou has the self-possession of a man with power; you can understand the heroine's attraction to him. But that's as far as plausibility goes. She gives up her baby girl to this lover, to be raised by his childless wife; she marries a nasty newspaperman (Ralph Bellamy) in order to further the lover's political career; she shoots her husband when he threatens to expose the liaison. Even after she's been in prison, she's still protecting her lover's good name. Jo Swerling's dialogue doesn't help: early on, when the heroine arrives late at her secretarial job and her boss asks if she realizes what time it is, she replies, "It is springtime." And there are such unfortunate lines as Menjou's casual, chatty remark to her (when she's already pregnant): "I meant to tell you before that I was married." Capra doesn't dwell on the sad scenes; the picture moves along so efficiently that it doesn't seem maudlin. It just seems a little crazy. Joseph Walker was the cinematographer; with Dorothy Peterson, Charlotte V. Henry, and Myrna Fresholt. Columbia.
René Clément's beautiful, lacerating film on the themes of innocence, Christianity, war, and death. It is perhaps the greatest war film since GRAND ILLUSION. (Neither deals with actual warfare.) On a crowded highway outside Paris in 1940, a delicate 5-year-old girl wanders away from the strafed bodies of her parents, clutching her dead puppy in her arms. She and an 11-year-old peasant boy become playmates: their game-their passion-is to collect dead animals for their private cemetery, and for this game they steal crosses from churches and graveyards. Clément's method of presentation-a series of harsh contrasts, with on the one side the intuitive, lyric understanding between the two children and on the other the ludicrous comedy of the quarrelsome, ignorant peasant adults-is perhaps unfair to the adults. But it's an act of kindness to the audience: without this element of gross caricature, we might dissolve in tears. This classic of the French postwar period was a commercial failure until it won the grand prize at Venice; it went on to international success. With Brigitte Fossey and Georges Poujouly. From the novel by François Boyer. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book I Lost it at the Movies.
The best of the science-fiction interstellar productions of the 50s lifted its plot and atmosphere from Shakespeare: the magical island of The Tempest becomes the planet Altair-4, where the sky is green and the sand is pink and there are two moons. The magician Prospero becomes the mad scientist Morbius (Walter Pidgeon); Prospero's daughter Miranda, who knows no man except her father, is Altaira (Anne Francis); and (though this is less clear) the sprite Ariel becomes Robby, the friendly robot. Caliban has become a marvellously flamboyant monster out of Freud-pure id. It's a pity the film, directed by Fred Wilcox, didn't lift some of Shakespeare's dialogue: it's hard to believe you're in the heavens when the diction of the hero (Leslie Nielsen) and his spaceshipmates flattens you down to Kansas. (More serviceable than one might suspect, The Tempest in the 40s had been set in a ghost town at the edge of a desert in YELLOW SKY, and with a humor frequently indulged in under cover of the Western genre, Miranda became Anne Baxter's Mike.) MGM. CinemaScope.
Chris Sarandon plays an American television star, of Hungarian-Jewish parentage, who leaves his Beverly Hills swimming pool and goes to Europe to star in a fact-based film about Miklos Radnoti, the famous Hungarian-Jewish poet-he was killed near the end of the Second World War, during a forced march from a labor camp in Yugoslavia to Hungary. Directed by Rick King, from a script by Dick Atkins and Charles K. Bardosh, the American-Hungarian co-production is about the effect on the "spoiled" TV star of playing an authentic, suffering artist of the past. There's an idea here, but the moviemakers don't seem sure what to do with it. The material never comes to enough-it's serious (in a slightly affected way), well paced, and utterly uninspired. It simply isn't as deep as it wants to be. With Josef Sommer, Renée Soutendijk, and John Seitz as the sadistic director of the film within a film.
This deliberately cynical political farce by the team of Charles Brackett (producer) and Billy Wilder (director) often seems on the verge of being funny, but the humor is too clumsily forced. (The next picture Brackett and Wilder made was SUNSET BLVD.; the jump was enormous.) As Phoebe Frost, congresswoman from Iowa investigating the morale of the American forces in Occupied Berlin, Jean Arthur looks far from her best; she hasn't much to do but act primly shocked at corruption, and then, turning womanly, get into a glittering evening gown, put a flower in her hair, and go after an Army captain-lacklustre John Lund. It's a formula that suited her better some years earlier, and so Marlene Dietrich, as Phoebe's rival-worldly-wise Erika von Schlutow, former mistress of a high-ranking Nazi and now a singer in a cellar called the Lorelei-comes off rather better, though her songs (by Frederick Hollander) are not memorable. With Millard Mitchell, and, in a bit part, Freddie Steele. Written by Brackett, Wilder, Richard Breen, and Robert Harari. Paramount.
Hitchcock appears to have concocted this spy thriller out of all the breathtaking climaxes he'd been hoarding; there's the assassination with the gun concealed by a newsman's camera, the Dutch windmill going against the wind, and a tremendous finale aboard a transatlantic plane from London on the very day war is declared. The plot that links all this is barely functional, and the jaunty reporter-hero (Joel McCrea) is held down a bit when he has to attend to the ever-busy heroine (Laraine Day), but the movie is intermittently first-rate, and the topnotch supporting cast includes George Sanders, Albert Basserman, Herbert Marshall, Edmund Gwenn, Martin Kosleck, Eduardo Ciannelli, Barbara Pepper, and Robert Benchley, who also had a hand in the dialogue. The script was by Charles Bennett and Joan Harrison. Produced by Walter Wanger; released by United Artists.
This bowdlerization follows Kathleen Winsor's novel as if her narrative line had been carved in sacred stone; maybe the literalness is what does it in, despite the efforts of the director, Otto Preminger, to be colorful and gamy. In this view of the Restoration, all males are so sex-starved that a sudden glance from a female reduces them to gibbering lust. Linda Darnell is rounded and enticing but she doesn't have the flash or variety to carry off the starring role. With Cornel Wilde, Richard Greene, George Sanders as Charles II, Richard Haydn, Jessica Tandy, Glenn Langan, Anne Revere, Leo G. Carroll, and Robert Coote. Music by David Raksin; the less than scintillating script is by Philip Dunne and Ring Lardner, Jr. 20th Century-Fox.
Joan Crawford's 30s melodramas are such tinselled toys that they can be completely unconvincing and still be hypnotic. Swathed in Adrian dresses here, and flanked by Clark Gable and Robert Montgomery, she stares at us solemnly, directly-as if challenging us to come to terms with her overwrought modern-woman's problems. In this role, which Tallulah Bankhead had played on Broadway, she's deserted at the altar by Montgomery, then meets Gable and goes on to give Montgomery the same treatment he gave her. In manner, Crawford is somewhere between the lively flapper excitement that made her a star (she could still look sexed to the gills) and the agonized, toothachy concentration that became her style for dramatic acting in the 40s. W.S. Van Dyke directed from Joseph L. Mankiewicz's adaptation of the play by E.B. Roberts and F.M. Cavett. With Rosalind Russell, Billie Burke, Charles Butterworth, Frances Drake, and Arthur Treacher. MGM.
Henry Fonda, as an imperious, wrong-headed lieutenant colonel whose men are massacred because they obey him; the John Ford film, set after the Civil War, never suggests that they should defy him, though he's practically a certifiable maniac. This is one of Ford's beautiful but irritating epic Westerns. The fights and dances and other big scenes are triumphs of staging, but the coy love interest (Shirley Temple and John Agar) and the Irish horseplay are infantile. And the whole picture is bathed in a special form of patriotic sentimentality: scenes are held so that we cannot fail to appreciate the beauty of the American past. With John Wayne, Ward Bond, Anna Lee, Victor McLaglen, Pedro Armendariz, Mae Marsh, Irene Rich, and George O'Brien. The screenplay by Frank S. Nugent was suggested by the story "Massacre" by James Warner Bellah. RKO.
It takes a long time for an actor to develop the assurance that the trim, silver-haired Paul Newman has acquired, and there's a bloom on everything he does in the role of Murphy, the veteran of 18 years on the New York police force, who has spent most of those years in the rotting 41st Precinct, in the South Bronx-the most shattered, crime-ridden section of the city. Murphy and his young partner, Corelli (dark-haired, loose-limbed Ken Wahl), do the best they can in dealing with muggers, arsonists, pimps, pushers, and killers-one of them a fellow-officer, Morgan (Danny Aiello), who throws a Puerto Rican teenager off a roof. The film is an attempt to show urban crisis in extremis, and it's an expression of disgust at racism. But the director, Daniel Petrie, glides over the action, levelling things out, shooting on the hellhole Bronx locations as if he were making a travelogue. Heywood Gould's script, which is based on the accounts of two policemen (Thomas Mulhearn and Pete Tessitore), is an intricately designed mixture of street vaudeville and drama of conscience. The film has many of the ingredients of a shocking, memorable movie, but it's shallow and earnest. Its point is that Murphy's faith in the police is undermined by Morgan's racist action; Murphy can't understand how a cop could do such a horrible thing. For the movie to be really good he would have to understand all too well. It's a mess, with glimmerings of talent and with Newman's near-great performance. The cast includes Rachel Ticotin as a Hispanic nurse, Pam Grier as a stoned hooker, Ed Asner in the tired role of the martinet who takes over as commanding officer at the precinct, Miguel Piñero as a drug dealer, and Kathleen Beller as Corelli's girlfriend. A Time-Life Production; released by 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
Charmless slapstick farce set in the 20s, with Warren Beatty as a larcenous sheik and Jack Nicholson as a gleaming-eyed lowlifer and freaky coward. These two play mercenary clowns who fumble in their attempts to kill a plump-cheeked heiress (Stockard Channing). Mike Nichols directed, from a screenplay by Adrien Joyce (a pseudonym for Carol Eastman). The tone is too playful, too bright. Is the heiress herself meant to be a treasure? Is she meant to be charmingly klutzy? You can't tell. The whole thing seems to exist in a frame of reference that rules out feeling, but then the heiress's mascara is smeared at the end; this suggests that she's capable of suffering, though she has never been permitted a human emotion, such as believing in the two men. Some vital element seems to be missing from the film-affection, maybe, or confidence in the insulated, cloud-cuckoo-land atmosphere (which may remind you of Elaine May's much friendlier A NEW LEAF). Nicholson, with his sparse hair frizzed out in all directions, comes through the best; at moments he lifts himself single-handed into slapstick, like a demented Laurel & Hardy in one. With Scatman Crothers, Richard B. Shull, Dub Taylor, Ian Wolfe, and Florence Stanley. Columbia.
A sour, visually ugly comedy from director Billy Wilder and his co-writer, I.A.L. Diamond, which gets worse as it goes along-more cynical and more sanctimonious. Jack Lemmon plays a TV cameraman who is accidentally knocked unconscious in the course of covering a football game; Walter Matthau (the only possible excuse for seeing the picture) is Whiplash Willie, Lemmon's venomous, shyster-lawyer brother-in-law, who hatches a plot to bilk the insurance companies. By the time that Ron Rich, the decent, heartsick black football player who knocked Lemmon down, arrives to take care of him, and they become loving buddies, only Leslie ("Come back to the raft ag'in, Huck honey") Fiedler could care. With Cliff Osmond, Judi West, Lurene Tuttle, Les Tremayne, Ann Shoemaker, Ned Glass, Archie Moore, and Sig Rumann. United Artists.
Visually, this Soviet film is extraordinary-magnificent scenes in the Asian desert, storms at sea in exquisite silvery blues. The content is a "tragic" love story set in the civil war period. The point of the film is supposed to be that the Red Army girl, who has killed 40 men, falls in love with a White officer, but learns that class conflicts are stronger than love-and he becomes her 41st. This is not likely to be what you'll make of it, though. It runs along rather like an entertaining Hollywood action movie of an earlier era, and the decadent Cossack is so much more attractive than the good Red Army men that you may begin to wonder if sex appeal is a right-wing deviation. The Cossack's suggestion that he and the girl get the hell out of Russia seems remarkably sensible, and when the rather monolithic heroine shoots him down, you're very likely to take the politically frivolous view that she's simpleminded-where would she find another man like that? This was the first film directed by Grigori Chukrai, fresh out of the State Institute of Cinematography. (It was a remake of a 1927 Russian film, based on a novel by Boris Lavrenyov.) In Russian.
A little delirious and definitely skewed. Can people who see this picture ever forget the sight of the silvery-blond columnist Dominique (Patricia Neal) galloping up on her black horse and slashing her riding crop across the face of the tall, mocking stranger who had looked at her impertinently while he was using a pneumatic drill in the quarry? He's the genius architect Howard Roark (Gary Cooper). When his design for a public-housing project is altered, he dynamites the building; put on trial, he justifies his action with an attack on collectivism and the parasites of the left. Ayn Rand wrote the screenplay, based on her 1943 novel, and true to her hero's principles, she wouldn't permit any changes in her (megalomaniac, comic-book) dialogue. King Vidor directed this paean to the individualism of "superior" people, made in a sleek, hollow, Expressionist style that owes a lot to film noir. It's an extravaganza of romantic, right-wing camp, with the hyper-articulate superman Roark standing in the wind on top of a phallic skyscraper, and the fierce, passionate Dominique rising in an open elevator to join him there. Despite Rand's denials, Roark was said to be based on Frank Lloyd Wright, and Vidor wanted Wright to design Roark's buildings, but had to settle for some bland imitations. The futurist structures are often obvious models and painted backgrounds. With Raymond Massey as the newspaper tycoon; Kent Smith as the mediocre architect; Robert Douglas as the despicable architecture critic; Henry Hull as Roark's Louis Sullivan-like teacher; and Ray Collins and Jerome Cowan. Warners.
When Marcel Aymé's long short story was published in Partisan Review, it was called simply "Crossing Paris;" this explosively funny movie version, directed by Claude Autant-Lara, was known in England as PIG ACROSS PARIS; in the U.S. it was called FOUR BAGS FULL, but was unknown under any title. Somehow it never caught on here. (It had won the award for best film of the year in France.) The period is the German Occupation: a petty, anxious black marketeer (Bourvil) hires a helper (Jean Gabin) for a night's work-transporting a slaughtered pig across Paris to a butcher in Montmartre. The helper, a famous painter who has taken on the job for the hell of it, has an uproarious night, teasing his dull companion, outwitting both the French police and the German soldiers. Bourvil was selected best actor at Venice for his performance, but the star of the film is Gabin, lusty and powerful as the man who enjoys life so much he can play games with it. In the middle of sordid little perils, the artist devises quick-witted solutions, and then howls with delight, "This pig's making a genius of me!" The contrast between him and the terrified, sweating fellow at his side makes you know you're watching a fable, but Autant-Lara shows class-he doesn't tie it with a ribbon and hand it to you. Screenplay by Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost. In French.
This picture was hugely popular, and you can still feel why. It sets up a happy small-town family-a widowed doctor of music (Claude Rains) and his four musical daughters (Priscilla, Rosemary, and Lola Lane and Gale Page) whose interplay gives off some sparks. All four of the girls are dazzled by a handsome, confident young composer (Jeffrey Lynn), but he brings in a piano player he has hired to do the orchestration on his new composition, and this big-city musician-a cynical loser who claims that the fates have always been against him-disrupts the apparent harmony of the all-American household. This loser was the first important film role for John Garfield, and he's more original and surprising than he was ever to be again. It's as if an Odets depression hero-ethnic and resentful, with a quizzical eyebrow and a hefty chip on his shoulder-had stormed into the Waspy decorum of the 1933 LITTLE WOMEN. Garfield's negativism energizes the movie: you see the birth of a new kind of star. (Later, his loser number got stylized.) Directed by Michael Curtiz, from a lively script, by Julius Epstein and Lenore Coffee, that's based on Fannie Hurst's novel Sister Act, the movie is very shrewdly conceived, even though Rains is allowed to mug and there's a lot of over-obvious acting. Fannie Hurst's sentimental realism-it has a heartless, practical side-is something you can't fight off. (There's a good piece of editing when one of the sisters announces her engagement to the composer, and the other girls' suddenly stricken expressions give way to their announcements of plans.) With May Robson, Frank McHugh, and Dick Foran. (Remade, in 1954, as YOUNG AT HEART, with Frank Sinatra in the Garfield role.) Warners.