Four Friends

US (1981): Drama
115 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

Arthur Penn goes laboriously, painfully wrong in this story about the friendship of three boys and the girl each of them loves at some time-a friendship that spans the American social changes of the 60s, and takes the four through adolescence (in Indiana) to maturity. The script is a semi-autobiographical account by Steve Tesich of the arrival in this country of a Yugoslavian working-class youth, Danilo, who comes with a big, heavy symbolic trunk-it seems to be full of solid values. There's a wholesome, beefy moralism in Tesich's writing, particularly in his sense of humor, and Penn, trying for a large-scale social vision, brings out its hearty bouquet. The film combines the worst of the Freudianism and self-pity of the William Inge-Elia Kazan SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS with the worst of the big, immigrant theme of Kazan's AMERICA, AMERICA, and in order to accommodate a whole catalogue of the 60s-everything from a race riot to the landing on the moon-the plot bounces along exhaustingly. The characters are always learning life's important lessons. In a key sequence we get crosscutting between Danilo folk-dancing in the sunshine with his immigrant-worker friends and the girl with her soul-sick druggie-hippie pals at a strobe-lighted psychedelic revel that features acid and a suicide in flames. It's health versus sickness, life versus death. And the movie carefully spells out which side it's on. The colorless quartet is made up of Craig Wasson as Danilo, Jodi Thelen as the girl, Jim Metzler, and Michael Huddleston. Also with Miklos Simon, Reed Birney, Julia Murray, James Leo Herlihy as a rotten-rich swine, and Lois Smith as his wife-she gets to let out a yelping sound that's like the grandmommy of a scream. So may you. Filmways.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Four Nights of a Dreamer

France (1972): Drama
87 min, No rating, Color

Robert Bresson used to postpone emotion deliberately; here he postpones it indefinitely. Expressionlessly, the non-actors talk of love in this adaptation of the same early Dostoevski story, "White Nights," that Visconti filmed in 1957. Bresson sets it in modern Paris, in color, and with pop music on the track, but the Paris his characters live in might be a crypt. The mixture of the director's famed austerity with this sort of facetiousness is a mistake: the picture borders on deadpan absurdity. With Isabelle Weingarten, Guillaume Des Forets, and Jean-Maurice Monnoyer. In French.

The Fourth Man

Netherlands (1979): Comedy
104 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc
Also known as DE VIERDE MAN.

The dialogue is slangy and pungent. The Dutch director Paul Verhoeven and his usual scenarist, Gerard Soeteman, are out to give us a shockingly good time in this thriller about a homosexual writer (Jeroen Krabb�) who allows himself to be pampered by a rich blond widow (Ren�e Soutendijk), because he has a passionate yen for her longtime lover. The film's comic tone depends on our being tickled by the writer's arrogance and mean-spiritedness. When he sneakily maneuvers the widow into inviting her lover for a visit, he's reminiscent of James Mason's Humbert Humbert in Kubrick's LOLITA, courting Mrs. Haze while he can't wait to get his hands on her daughter. At a literary gathering that recalls the one in THE THIRD MAN, the writer explains that he takes incidents from life and embroiders them, and all through the movie we see glimpses of his embroideries. They're not conscious, they're involuntary imaginings-omens, forebodings, warnings. Some of these dream glimpses relate to Ingmar Bergman movies, some of them to religious symbolism (the writer is a Catholic), and some to his phobia about women. In his visions, the widow is a deadly spider and castrater-a witch. What keeps the movie from being any more than a tongue-in-cheek homoerotic fantasy is that the widow, who needs to be a teasingly ambiguous figure-so that we can't tell if the writer is deluding himself that she's a killer who has already dispatched three husbands, or if his hyperactive imagination is alerting him to the truth-is disappointingly placid, a blank. But the film is amusing, and the talented Jeroen Krabb� plays worminess exuberantly. Adapted from a novel by the Netherlands writer Gerard Reve, who lends the writer-protagonist his own name. A Spectrafilm release. In Dutch.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

The Fox

US (1968): Drama
110 min, No rating, Color

This is D.H. Lawrence's 1923 novella stripped of its subtlety, Freudianized, and turned into something resembling Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour, but in a woodsy setting. It's now a story about two young women-sickly, chattering, ultra-feminine Jill (Sandy Dennis) and dark, quiet, strong March (Anne Heywood)-who are trying, rather hopelessly, to run a chicken farm in Canada. There is some symbolism about a fox that has been raiding the hen coop, and along comes a marauding male (Keir Dullea, with his voice lowered to indicate masculine strength), who kills the fox, puts the farm in order, and proposes to March, thus awakening the lesbianism dormant in the women. In making the movie sexually explicit, the adapters, Lewis John Carlino and Howard Koch, and the director, Mark Rydell, have diminished the material-have made it tamely "sexy" and brightly colored and "healthy." You have to go back to Lawrence to see how much more powerful and frightening the repressed sexuality that he was writing about was. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Going Steady.


US (1931): Horror
70 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Probably the most famous of all horror films, and one of the best. It was not the first version of the Mary Shelley novel (there had been a FRANKENSTEIN as early as 1910), but this version, directed by James Whale, with Boris Karloff as the sad, lumbering Monster and Colin Clive as the high-strung, tormented Dr. Frankenstein, caught the imagination of a large public-and has held it for decades. With Mae Clarke, John Boles, Edward Van Sloan, and Dwight Frye as the Monster's first victim. Universal. (A few of the original prints were tinted an eerie green-"the color of fear.")


France (1957): Thriller
92 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Louis Malle's first film-a thriller about an attempt at a perfect crime, made in a tense yet velvety style. Jeanne Moreau, who was to become famous the next year in Malle's second film, THE LOVERS, is less expansive here; her sullen, sensual mask is just right for this limited but absorbing policier, set to Miles Davis's music. The film has an unusual sense of control and style, considering that the plot itself is third-rate; the black-and-white cinematography is by Henri Deca�. With Maurice Ronet, Lino Ventura, and Georges Poujouly. In French.


US (1988): Thriller
120 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

It begins promisingly, with Harrison Ford as a San Francisco heart surgeon who comes to Paris with his wife (Betty Buckley); they arrive at their hotel and while he takes a shower she disappears. The director, Roman Polanski, shows his guile and wit, but a thriller needs more than an occasional perverse undertone; it needs some design, some shapeliness. This thing grinds on without ever being able to compensate for its pathetic plot and its unwritten characters. It involves mixed-up suitcases and a couple of nightclubs and rooftops, and dope dealers and Arabs and a childlike, amoral tootsie (Emmanuelle Seigner). The script is credited to Polanski and G�rard Brach; the cinematography is by Witold Sobocinski; the music is by Ennio Morricone. With brief appearances by Alexandra Stewart and David Huddleston. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.


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

The original ads quoted Louella Parsons, who said, "For pure sensationalism FREAKS tops any picture yet produced." She wasn't far off, and it's still a shocker. Though this circus story, directed by Tod Browning, is superficially sympathetic to the maimed and the mindless that it features, it uses images of physical deformity for their enormous potential of horror, and at the end, when the pinheads and the armless and legless creatures scurry about to revenge themselves on a normal woman (Olga Baclanova), the film becomes a true nightmare. If this film were a silent it might be harder to shake off, but the na�ve, sentimental talk helps us keep our distance. With Leila Hyams, Wallace Ford, Harry and Daisy Earles, Johnny Eck (who had half a torso), Randion (known as the Living Torso), the Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, Roscoe Ates, Edward Brophy, and Henry Victor as the strong man. Adapted from the story "Spurs," by Tod Robbins. MGM.

A Free Soul

US (1931): Drama
91 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

This wheezing melodrama was a sensational success. Adela Rogers St. Johns, the daughter of a lawyer, wrote the story about a brilliant alcoholic lawyer (Lionel Barrymore) whose independent, "free" daughter (Norma Shearer) had a hot affair with a man whom her father had got acquitted on a murder charge-a racketeer known as Ace (Clark Gable). Shearer's acting is dreadful (she seems to be working hard to show poise), but she was in her bold-indiscreet-modern-woman period and looks sexily undressed in her silky Adrian gowns. Gable had erotic menace in his villainous role, and he gives the picture its only charge. (This was the performance that made him a star.) Things get pitifully maudlin when high-minded Leslie Howard, Shearer's former fianc�, shoots Gable and is defended by Barrymore, and Barrymore hams fearfully (he got an Academy Award for it); the father's courtroom plea for Howard is that the whole mess is really his fault-that he didn't give his daughter firm enough guidelines. (He finishes his overwrought summation and drops dead.) This is a vintage fraudulently "daring" movie in the glossy-hokey MGM style. Clarence Brown directed, from John Meehan's script. With James Gleason.

Freebie and the Bean

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

James Caan mugs and Alan Arkin, deadfaced and overcontrolled, relies on vocal tricks-hesitation humor, mostly-to do his acting. They're playing cop-buddies in San Franciso, and they swallow so many of their lines that it could be they're ashamed to say them. There's a beating or a killing or, at least, a yelling scene every couple of minutes in this spoofy slapstick farce, directed by Richard Rush and written by Robert Kaufman (a d�class� George Axelrod). It was conceived in the pre-Watergate Nixon era, and the heroes seem to have a license to maim and slaughter people. The film's DIRTY HARRY spirit combined with its primitive sense of comedy make it a crowd-pleaser, though at one point, when a supposedly funny, carefree car chase goes through a girls' marching band, strewing bodies all over the street, the audience seems to experience a slight discomfort. However, the picture has one big-laugh car stunt: the heroes in their car dive off a bridge ramp into a third-floor apartment, and audiences seem willing to forgive it everything else, even its brutal murder sequences-one in a men's lavatory and one (with porno overtones) in a ladies' lavatory. With Valerie Harper, Loretta Swit, Linda Marsh, Jack Kruschen, Mike Kellin, Alex Rocco, and Christopher Morley as a transvestite. Warners.

The French Connection

US (1971): Crime
104 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Tracking down a shipment of heroin in New York City. A hugely successful slam-bang thriller that zaps the audience with noise, speed, and brutality. It's certainly exciting, but that excitement isn't necessarily a pleasure. The ominous music keeps tightening the screws and heating things up; the movie is like an aggravated case of New York. It proceeds through chases, pistol-whippings, slashings, murders, snipings, and more chases for close to two hours. This is what's meant to give you a charge. There are no good guys. Gene Hackman plays the lowlife police detective who cracks the case; porkpie-hatted and lewd and boorish, he's also a sadist. With Fernando Rey, Roy Scheider, Tony Lo Bianco, and Marcel Bozzufi. Music by Don Ellis; cinematography by Owen Roizman. The script, by Ernest Tidyman, was based on the supposedly factual account by Robin Moore in a book about the largest narcotics haul in New York police history up to that time. William Friedkin directed. Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Hackman), Screenplay. 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

The French Conspiracy

France-Germany-Italy (1973): Political
124 min, Rated PG, Color
Also known as L'ATTENTAT.

The stars in this political thriller bring so many associations from other political thrillers (better ones) that it's almost a satire. But this movie, based on the Ben Barka kidnapping, isn't satire; it isn't anything. No thrills and no political content, just a lot of stars-Gian Maria Volont� talking heroic hogwash as Ben Barka, while Jean-Louis Trintignant, Michel Piccoli, Michel Bouquet, and Philippe Noiret connive and intrigue, and Jean Seberg worries. All the film's energy must have gone into meeting the payroll. Yves Boisset directed. In French.

The French Lieutenant's Woman

UK (1981): Romance
123 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Meryl Streep gives an immaculate, technically accomplished performance as Sarah Woodruff, the romantic mystery woman of John Fowles' novel, but she isn't mysterious. We're not fascinated by Sarah; she's so distanced from us that all we can do is observe how meticulous Streep-and everything else about the movie-is. Harold Pinter, the famed compressor who did the adaptation, has emptied out the story, and the director, Karel Reisz, has scrupulously filled in the space with "art": every vocal inflection is exact, the 1867 settings seem flawless, and the cinematographer Freddie Francis's camera movements and muted colors are superbly elegant. The result is overblown spareness. It's all so controlled that everything seems to be happening punctually, even in the interpolated modern story about the actors who are performing in a movie version of the Fowles book. There are some lovely moments, and a few have magical overtones, but most of the picture might be taking place in a glass case. With Jeremy Irons, Lynsey Baxter, Hilton McRae, Leo McKern, Patience Collier, Charlotte Mitchell, Penelope Wilton, and David Warner. (In the modern scenes Streep wears a short, straight hairdo-the most disfiguring star coiffure since Mia Farrow's thick wig in THE GREAT GATSBY.) Production design by Assheton Gorton. Made at Twickenham Studios, London, and on location in England. United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

French Provincial

France (1974): Drama
91 min, No rating, Color

A gifted young romantic wit, Andr� T�chin�, has turned parody into something so emotionally charged that the meanings radiate every which way. The story spans several decades, contrasting the lives of two brides-Jeanne Moreau, as Berthe the no-nonsense seamstress, and Marie-France Pisier, as R�gina the rapacious bourgeois dreamer-who are both too much for their husbands. Scenes take you back through so many layers of film history that you can't sort out all the influences, but this rich impasto is essentially new. The picture is effective on the most sophisticated level but na�ve and scatterbrained on some of the simplest levels-such as that of telling a coherent story. Written by T�chin� and Marilyn Goldin; cinematography by Bruno Nuytten. With Michel Auclair, Orane Demazis, Julien Guiomar, Fran�oise Lebrun, Claude Mann, Aram Stephan, Marc Chapiteau, and Michele Moretti. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

The French, They Are a Funny Race

France (1956): Comedy
83 min, No rating, Black & White

Released in France as LES CARNETS DU MAJOR THOMPSON, in 1956. A film based on a collection of minor essays has, at the outset, a certain skittishness; the essays themselves formed The Notebooks of Major Thompson, which was written, not by Major Thompson, but by Pierre Daninos, and it was a Frenchman's idea of an Englishman's account of French life. The American writer-director Preston Sturges, an expatriate in the late 50s, turned all this into an amusing series of wheezes-a kind of literate vaudeville. Maybe you can no longer laugh at anecdotes like the British mother's wedding-night advice to her daughter ("My dear, it's utterly unbearable, but just close your eyes and think of England") but acted out, this sort of thing acquires a fresh insanity. There is one routine that is Sturges at his best: an English courtship on horseback, and there are divertissements on French bureaucracy, English body-fitness, and so on. Jack Buchanan is the Major, Catherine Boyl his English wife, Martine Carol his French wife, No�l-No�l his French friend.

Friendly Persuasion

US (1956): Drama
140 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Taken from Jessamyn West's stories, this William Wyler film is disappointing but far from shameful. It's about a group of Quakers in Indiana at the time of the Civil War; they try to hold onto their belief in nonviolence despite the actions of Confederate raiders. The presentation is too gently bucolic; the head of the house (Gary Cooper) races a neighbor to Sunday meeting in the family buggy, and buys an organ, which his wife (Dorothy McGuire) regards as an instrument far too profane to install in a proper home. Meanwhile, their daughter (Phyllis Love) is swooning over the boy next door and their older son (Anthony Perkins) considers pouring lead into the first Rebel who turns up in the neighborhood. This was one of the first of Perkins' confused, canny, emotional characters; his mood shifts hadn't yet become ticky, and he's marvellously likable as he imitates Cooper's lanky movements-he's a very convincing son. The film was actually shot in California and the acreage looks so manicured that one half expects a station wagon to come into view; still, it was an attempt to deal with an offbeat subject, and Wyler's work shows care and taste. With Marjorie Main, Richard Eyer, Robert Middleton, and Walter Catlett. The script is by Michael Wilson; the cinematography is by Ellsworth Fredericks; the music is by Dmitri Tiomkin. Allied Artists.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle

US (1973): Crime
102 min, Rated R, Color

Boston Irish crooks and cops. Robert Mitchum is the aging hood, Eddie Coyle, who is slipping a little information to a smart, treacherous narcotics officer (Richard Jordan), in order to stay out of jail. Peter Boyle, a bartender, handles murder contracts and ruthlessly plays all sides against each other. Based on the novel by George V. Higgins, former assistant attorney general in Massachusetts, this movie should be better; the plot and the dialogue are first-rate. The elements are all there, and Mitchum, looking appropriately square-headed, tries hard and has some good scenes. But you get the impression that the dialogue is moving faster than the action. Probably this picture, directed by the English Peter Yates, needed an American director with an instinctive feeling for the milieu; the movie is shallow and a little mechanical, with noise and loud music used to build up excitement. The police and the gangsters have no roots, and intertwined roots are what the story is meant to be about. Jordan, acting chillingly pleasant, gives the most effective performance, and Steven Keats, as a dealer in guns, gives the showiest one. With Alex Rocco, Joe Santos, Helena Carroll, Mitchell Ryan, and Jack Kehoe. Adaptation by Paul Monash, who also produced, for Paramount.

From Here to Eternity

US (1953): War/Drama
118 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Prewitt, the bugler-hero of James Jones' Dreiserian novel about Army life in Hawaii before Pearl Harbor, is a soldier who loves the Army (he's committed to be a 30-year man), yet he believes that "if a man don't go his own way, he's nothin'." The conflict between his status and his determination to have his rights is the mainspring of the action. Jones' bulky book does such an honest job of storytelling that it triumphs over its pedestrian prose; the movie succeeds by the smooth efficiency of Fred Zinnemann's lean, intelligent direction, and by the superlative casting. Montgomery Clift's bony, irregularly handsome Prewitt is a hardhead, a limited man with a one-track mind, who's intensely appealing; Clift has the control to charm-almost to seduce-an audience without ever stepping outside his inflexible, none-too-smart character. Burt Lancaster has a role that's just about perfectly in his range as Sergeant Warden, the man's man who's also a ladies' man (the lady is Deborah Kerr); Frank Sinatra, in his first straight acting part, surprised audiences with a softly modulated, likable performance as Maggio, who loses his life because of his high spirits; Ernest Borgnine is the smiling, innocently murderous Fatso; Donna Reed is the respectable prostitute. This was the movie of its year, as ON THE WATERFRONT was to be the next year, and not just because each swept the Academy Awards, but because these films brought new attitudes to the screen that touched a social nerve; they weren't the same kind of winner as BEN-HUR. Yet a displacement occurs in the course of the action here: Prewitt's fate gets buried in the commotion of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. And Clift's innovative performance was buried in the public praise for Sinatra and Lancaster. It was almost as if the public wanted to forget Prewitt's troublesome presence. The remarkably compact screenplay is by Daniel Taradash. Produced by Buddy Adler, for Columbia; cinematography by Burnett Guffey. With Philip Ober, Harry Bellaver, and Mickey Shaughnessy.

From Noon Till Three

US (1976): Western/Comedy
99 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

Charles Bronson plays a desperado in the Old West, who takes refuge for three hours with a romantic widow (Jill Ireland) in her Victorian mansion; afterward, she thinks he has been killed and she churns out a popular book-her fantasy version of their time together. When he returns, he is so much less than the creature of her imagination that she doesn't recognize him. This is essentially the plot gimmick of the Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., THE PRIVATE LIFE OF DON JUAN-a dud film of 1934. After an ingenious dream-sequence opening, this Western, written and directed by Frank Gilroy, is a dud, too. The faults are in Gilroy's uninspired writing (he treats us like children), in his pedestrian directing, and in Jill Ireland's performance. It is really a star vehicle for her, and though she is an adequate actress-she has voice and control and carriage-she has no excitement, and no audience empathy whatever. With Douglas Fowley as a grizzled old outlaw. United Artists.

From Russia With Love

UK (1963): Spy
118 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The second in the JAMES BOND series-exciting, handsomely staged, and campy-with Sean Connery pitted against a blond Robert Shaw and Lotte Lenya with a dagger in her shoe. Also with Pedro Armendariz, Daniela Bianchi, Vladek Sheybal, and the regulars-Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, and Desmond Llewelyn. Directed by Terence Young, from a script by Richard Maibaum and Joanna Harwood, based on Ian Fleming's novel. The score is by John Barry. United Artists.

The Front

US (1976): Drama/Comedy
94 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The writer, Walter Bernstein, had a nifty comedy idea-to make a movie about the blacklisting in the entertainment industry during the McCarthy era, centering on a political innocent who fronts for blacklisted writers-but he didn't develop its comic potential. Woody Allen gives the film its only spark. He plays Howie, a restaurant cashier and small-time bookie who becomes a front; the funniest, most original scenes show the stirrings of literary vanity within this non-writer. The bulk of the film, though, is set up like a wartime anti-Nazi melodrama; it's the good guys versus the bad guys, and Howie becomes the Everyman who has to learn to choose sides. The pacing of the director, Martin Ritt, is off, the sequences don't flow, and the film seems sterile, unpopulated, and flat. With Zero Mostel in a major role, and Michael Murphy, Herschel Bernardi, Remak Ramsey, and the dark, solemnly woebegone Andrea Marcovicci. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

The Front Page

US (1974): Drama/Comedy
105 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's rowdy dream of newspaper life, first produced on the stage in 1928, seems to be foolproof, and the structure still stands up in this version, directed by Billy Wilder. But something singular and marvellous has been diminished to the sloppy ordinary. Wilder and his co-scenarist, I.A.L. Diamond, think that the way to make a dialogue comedy work for modern audiences is to convert the dialogue into noise; their version is a harsh, scrambling-for-laughs gag comedy. Walter Matthau, who gets a chance at a really classy American character-Walter Burns, the funny, mean, egomaniac editor-plays him like a whistle-stop Bear Bryant. Matthau, however, still gets his laughs. Jack Lemmon doesn't; his Hildy Johnson-the best reporter in Chicago-is like a mortuary assistant having a wild fling. There's only one freshly felt performance-Austin Pendleton's as Earl Williams, the fuddled anarchist concealed in the famous rolltop desk; speaking softly but hurriedly, the words tumbling together in a slight and affecting stammer, Pendleton provides the only touch of innocence in this loud production. With Carol Burnett, Susan Sarandon, David Wayne, Vincent Gardenia, Allen Garfield, Charles Durning, and Herbert Edelman. (The play was also filmed in 1931, in 1940 as HIS GIRL FRIDAY, and in 1988 as SWITCHING CHANNELS.) Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

Full Metal Jacket

US (1987): War
116 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Stanley Kubrick's Vietnam film stays reasonably close to its source, Gustav Hasford's compressed, white-hot novel The Short-Timers, yet the novel has an accumulating force of horror and the movie doesn't. The first three-quarters of an hour is basic training in the Marines stripped down to a cartoonish horrorshow; it's military s & m, and the pounding compulsiveness can easily be taken for the work of a master director. After that, the movie becomes dispersed, and you can't get an emotional reading on it. Kubrick probably believes he's numbing us by the power of his vision, but he's actually numbing us by its emptiness. Here's a director who has been insulated from American life for more than two decades, and he proceeds to define the American crisis of the century. He does it by lingering for a near-pornographic eternity over a young Vietnamese woman who is in pain and pleads "Shoot me! Shoot me!" This is James M. Cain in Vietnam. The script is by Kubrick, Michael Herr, and Hasford. Shot in England, with Matthew Modine as Private Joker, who wears a peace symbol; Vincent D'Onofrio as poor, doughy-faced Pyle; Lee Ermey as the gunnery sergeant; and Arliss Howard, Dorian Harewood, and Adam Baldwin. Released by Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Fun With Dick and Jane

US (1977): Crime/Comedy
95 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

A nitwit mixture of counterculture politics and madcap comedy, with a bit of toilet humor thrown in. George Segal and Jane Fonda are Dick and Jane of the children's primers, grown up, married, and living beyond their means in LA in a suburban-palatial dream house; when Dick loses his executive job they turn to robbery. What kind of political comedy can you have with a director like Ted Kotcheff who makes practically every employee of every institution-every janitor or clerk-look stupid? When Kotcheff puts the Bach Magnificat on the sound track while a street crowd scrambles for money that's been tossed out of a car, we're supposed to see the contrast between man's possibilities and what men have become. The director doesn't even have the grace to indicate that some of these people may need the money. They're just swine heading for slops. The picture was based on Gerald Gaiser's screenplay for a serious film, which was turned into a lampoon by David Giler, then reworked by Jerry Belson, and finally, sent to Mordecai Richler for a fast (three-week) shuffle. With Ed McMahon as Dick's employer. Produced by Peter Bart and Max Palevsky. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Funny Face

US (1957): Musical/Dance
103 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Fred Astaire as an Avedonish fashion photographer who discovers Audrey Hepburn working in a bookshop and takes her to Paris to model clothes for a Vogue-like magazine. The Givenchy clothes are lovely; the sequences (which Avedon supervised) of Astaire taking photos are often amusingly, romantically misty; best of all, the George and Ira Gershwin score has some of the fresh spriteliness it must have had when it served the original Funny Face on Broadway 30 years before (also with Astaire). This big Stanley Donen musical isn't all it should be, though. You keep wanting it to turn into wonderful romantic fluff, but it's only spottily successful. The Leonard Gershe script (which has no relation to the earlier show) is weak, particularly in Astaire's role, and the movie emphasizes Astaire's age by trying to ignore it. And it's a sour idea to use a Sartre-like thinker (Michel Auclair) as the villain, a philandering phony. Hepburn's rescue from European sex-mad intellectualism by clean-minded, all-American-boy Astaire is so cheap and false a plot development that the picture's sophistication sinks into a very unphotogenic miasma. Still, Hepburn is a charming sidekick for Astaire, and the satirist Kay Thompson is agreeable as the rangy, hard-boiled fashion editor. With Suzy Parker, Ruta Lee, and Robert Flemyng. Produced by Roger Edens, for Paramount; Eugene Loring assisted Donen and Astaire on the choreography.

Funny Girl

US (1968): Musical/Biography
155 min, Rated G, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A bravura performance by Barbra Streisand. As Fanny Brice, she has the wittiest comic inflections since the comediennes of the 30s; she makes written dialogue sound like inspired improvisation. As the shady gambler Nicky Arnstein, phlegmatic Omar Sharif appears to be some sort of visiting royalty, with a pained professional smile to put the common people at their ease. But Streisand's triumphant talent rides right over the film's weaknesses. William Wyler directed, with musical sequences staged by Herbert Ross. With Walter Pidgeon, Kay Medford, and Anne Francis. Screenplay by Isobel Lennart, from her play; songs by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill; production designed by Gene Callahan. Produced by Ray Stark, for Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Going Steady.

Funny Lady

US (1975): Musical/Biography
137 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The moviemakers weren't just going to make a sequel to FUNNY GIRL-they were going to kill us. (And they wanted to outdo CABARET, besides.) Again as Fanny Brice, Barbra Streisand is no longer human; she's like a bitchy female impersonator imitating Barbra Streisand. She's in beautiful voice, but her singing is too terrific-strident overdramatization turns a song into a big number. The picture is overproduced and badly edited, with a 40s-movie-heartbreak plot. A great deal of talent has been badly used, though James Caan has some good scenes as scrubby, anxious Billy Rose, and Streisand is charming in the wittily staged "I Found a Million Dollar Baby in a Five and Ten Cent Store." Ray Stark produced; Herbert Ross directed. The new songs are by Kander and Ebb. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

US (1966): Comedy
99 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Richard Lester's short-term camera magic keeps cutting into and away from the comedians (Phil Silvers, Zero Mostel, Jack Gilford, and Michael Hordern), who never get a chance to develop a routine or to bring off a number. They're rushed pell-mell through this fractured version of the wonderful musical farce by Burt Shevelove, Larry Gelbart, and Stephen Sondheim, taken from Plautus (and set in ancient Rome). We get the sense that Lester thinks it would be too banal just to let us see a dance or a pair of burlesque clowns singing a duet. He trashes the men, even old Buster Keaton, and the women are blank-faced bodies or witless viragos. Some of the best effects are the least doctored: Sir Michael Hordern's vocal inflections, a satirical entrance song by Leon Greene. And Lester's fracturing technique is sometimes successful-as in the parody recap of the love duet, which has lyrical wit, like the song in the snow in HELP! Mostly, Lester's visual gags seem just pointless agitation. He proceeds by fits and starts and leaves jokes suspended in midair; it's as if he'd forgotten what it's all for. And for an audience the experience becomes one of impatience and irritation-like coitus interruptus going on forever. With Michael Crawford, Annette Andre, Patricia Jessel, and Beatrix Lehmann. Cinematography by Nicolas Roeg; sets and costumes designed by Tony Walton; script by Melvin Frank (who was the producer) and Michael Pertwee. Released by United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.


US (1971): Drama/Comedy
98 min, No rating, Color

John Korty's loose, unlabored style was probably at its best in this fresh and original film about a young comedian (Peter Bonerz) who gets tired of "improvising" the same material for hundreds of nights as a member of The Committee, the improvisational-revue troupe in San Francisco. He's wry and self-conscious, and automatically turns whatever situation he's in into a put-on-his "life situations" have the rhythm of revue acts, and vice versa. Korty doesn't make a big thing of his funnyman hero; the movie just skips along, and in places (especially in the second half) dawdles along-but without solemnity. Even when it goes flat it has a pleasant soft-edge quality, and the characters have air to breathe. The script is by Korty and Bonerz; the music is by Peter Schickele; Korty was the cinematographer and also did the animation. With Carol Androsky, Sandra Archer, Larry Hankin, Marshall Efron, Barbara Hiken, Jane House, Gerald Hiken, Alan Myerson, Jerry Mander, and Budd Steinhilber as the animator working on insecticide commercials.


US (1936): Crime
94 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

When this melodrama about an orgy of mob violence against an innocent man-it was Fritz Lang's first American movie-opened in London, Graham Greene said in his review that it was "the only film I know to which I have wanted to attach the epithet of 'great.' " Though Americans may rate it high, they are unlikely to go that far. Spencer Tracy (as the victim) and Sylvia Sidney are very fine, and the picture has so much vitality that it's easy to make allowances for the tacky ending, which doesn't jibe with Lang's sensibility and style. But the sensibility and style are themselves hurdles. The schematic view of fate, the lighting and design, the stylized movements of the lynchers all relate to the theatrical wing of the German Expressionist movement; Lang brings a heavy battery of advanced stagecraft to the small-town American Southern setting. Joseph L. Mankiewicz produced; Norman Krasna did the story; Bartlett Cormack and Lang did the screenplay. With Edward Ellis, Walter Brennan, Bruce Cabot, Frank Albertson, and Walter Abel. Cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg. MGM.

The Fury

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

Brian De Palma's visionary, science-fiction thriller is the reverse side of the coin of Spielberg's CLOSE ENCOUNTERS. With Spielberg, what happens is so much better than you dared hope that you have to laugh; with De Palma, it's so much worse than you feared that you have to laugh. The script (John Farris's adaptation of his novel) is cheap gothic espionage occultism involving two superior beings-spiritual twins (Andrew Stevens and Amy Irving) who have met only telepathically. But the film is so visually compelling that a viewer seems to have entered a mythic night world; no Hitchcock thriller was ever so intense, went so far, or had so many "classic" sequences. With Kirk Douglas, Carrie Snodgress, John Cassavetes, Daryl Hannah, Dennis Franz, and Charles Durning. 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

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