Hail the Conquering Hero

US (1944): Comedy
101 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

If you've never seen one of Preston Sturges's classic comedies, you may not quite know what hit you. He uses verbal slapstick as well as visual slapstick, and his timing is so quirkily effective that the dialogue keeps popping off, like a string of firecrackers. In this satire on hero worship, patriotism, and mother love, Eddie Bracken, son of his town's biggest First World War hero, joins the Marines in the Second World War and is discharged for hay fever. Ashamed, he writes his mother that he's been sent overseas, and thinking he can never return home, tells his girl (Ella Raines) that he doesn't love her anymore. But one night he's out drinking with six Marines, and one of them, known as Bugsy, for good reason, tells him he should go home and see his beautiful mother; the sergeant agrees, and the upshot is that they drag him home, claiming that he's a war hero. The town goes mad. With Freddie Steele, once middleweight boxing champion of the world, as Bugsy, William Demarest as the sergeant, and Raymond Walburn, Esther Howard, Elizabeth Patterson, Jimmy Conlin, Franklin Pangborn, Chester Conklin, Paul Porcasi, Dewey Robinson, and Arthur Hoyt. Sturges wrote and directed. Paramount.


US (1988): Comedy
96 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The writer-director John Waters treats the message movie as a genre to be parodied, just like the teenpic. Combining the two, he comes up with a pop dadaist musical comedy, set in Baltimore in 1962. Waters loves narrative, and he has half a dozen plots crisscrossing each other. In the middle are the spherical Mrs. Edna Turnblad (played by the male actor Divine) and her baby-blimp daughter, Tracy (Ricki Lake); they wear matching mother-and-daughter outfits. Tracy, who's the newest teenage dancer on "The Corny Collins Show," discovers that black kids aren't allowed to take part and she becomes a leader in the fight for integration. Meanwhile, Divine watches over Tracy and preens like a mother hen. There's a what-the-hell quality to Divine's acting which the film needs; it would be too close to a real teenpic without it. When Divine's Edna Turnblad is onscreen in the sleeveless dresses she's partial to, the movie has something like the lunacy of a W.C. Fields in drag. With Colleen Fitzpatrick as Tracy's bitchy rival Amber, Leslie Ann Powers as shy Penny, and Michael St. Gerard, Clayton Prince, Ruth Brown, Debbie Harry, Sonny Bono, Jerry Stiller, Shawn Thompson, Ric Ocasek, Pia Zadora, Jo Ann Havrilla, and Waters himself as a sicko psychiatrist. Released by New Line Cinema.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Hallelujah the Hills

US (1963): Comedy
88 min, No rating, Black & White

Adolfas Mekas and a troupe of friends made this prankish improvisational movie in Vermont; they parody other movies and frisk about in the snow, or in the autumn woods, or in an old cabin, and the hero, Peter H. Beard, slides off roofs and out of trees. Except for a mock battle in a cemetery, the picture fades from memory very fast. Cinematography by Ed Emshwiller; produced by David C. Stone.

Hallelujah, I'm a Bum

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

This graceful romantic comedy, shot in sepia tones in imaginative Art Deco sets, and with a Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart score, failed when it came out, and it has never attracted much of an audience. Maybe that's because its star is Al Jolson, and people just didn't expect him to be in a stylized, sophisticated, lyrical movie. He's very good in it, though; he doesn't wear blackface or get on his knees to sing. Directed by Lewis Milestone, he just takes it easy, and we can enjoy his finesse. The whimsical script was written by S.N. Behrman and Ben Hecht, and Rodgers and Hart provided a recitative in rhyming couplets. The time is the Depression. Wearing a white suit and hat and a dark shirt, Jolson is Bumper, the "mayor" of a group of hobos who hang out in Central Park-happy-go-lucky 30s versions of beatniks. When Bumper meets an amnesiac girl (Madge Evans) and falls in love with her, he gets a job in order to take care of her; then she regains her memory.� The film is uneven, but it has some of the rhythm and charm of the early-30s Ren� Clair musicals (especially A NOUS LA LIBERT�), and it has the lovely song "You Are Too Beautiful." With Harry Langdon as Jolson's crony, Egghead; Frank Morgan as the dapper, Jimmy Walker-like Mayor of New York City; Chester Conklin as Sunday; and the black actor Edgar Connor as Acorn. When Bumper and Acorn go to work and get paid, Bumper is delighted to have the money but Acorn complains that you have to waste so much time to get it. The clothes show the most elegant side of 30s fashion; the art direction was by Richard Day. United Artists.


US (1978): Horror
93 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

John Carpenter, who made this low-budget scare picture, has a visual sense of menace, but he isn't very gifted with actors, and he doesn't seem to have any feeling at all for motivation or for plot logic. An escaped lunatic wielding a kitchen knife stalks people in a small Midwestern town, and that's about it. There's no indication of why he selects any particular target; he's the bogeyman-pure evil-and he wants to kill. The film is largely just a matter of the camera tracking subjectively, from the mad killer's point of view, leading you to expect something awful to happen. But the camera also tracks subjectively when he isn't around at all; in fact, there's so much subjective tracking you begin to think everybody in the movie has his own camera. HALLOWEEN keeps you nervous and jumpy rather than pleasurably excited. Yet it has been a huge box-office success and a lot of people seem to be convinced that it's a classic. Maybe when a horror film is stripped of everything but nightmarish dumb scariness and sudden shocks it satisfies part of the audience in a more basic, childish way than sophisticated horror pictures do. With Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J. Soles, Nancy Loomis, and Tony Moran as the monster. Music by Carpenter; he also wrote the screenplay, with the producer, Debra Hill. Shot in Los Angeles.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Hamburger Hill

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

It tells the story of a squad of 14 American soldiers who, in Vietnam, in 1969, are ordered to take a hill. The men keep going up the hill and being driven back by enemy fire; when it rains, they slide down the mud while the North Vietnamese throw grenades at them. After 10 days they're in control of the hill, but most of the squad have given their lives to it. This film doesn't provide the viewer with the shelter of melodrama. It's a straightforward, unblinking account of the interrelationships of these young men-most of them boys of 19. Almost inevitably, the hill comes to represent Vietnam, but it does so without histrionics. Most of the power of this scrupulously honest memorial isn't in the talk; it's in the terror and the foreignness-the far-from-homeness-of the imagery. Directed by John Irvin, the film has great decency; it joins together terror and thoughtfulness. The script, by Jim Carabatsos, merely touches the appropriate points to achieve a balanced view. Cinematography by Peter MacDonald; editing by Peter Tanner. With Dylan McDermott, M.A. Nickles, Courtney B. Vance, Tegan West, and Steven Weber. An RKO picture, released by Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.


UK (1948): Drama
153 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Laurence Olivier produced and directed this fluid, handsome, satisfyingly paced version, and he himself is a witty and active platinum-blond Hamlet. It's a tribute to Shakespeare's passionate immediacy that everyone has his own idea of the play, and many will find much to quarrel with in this film. (For example, the soliloquies have been turned into interior monologues, which diminishes them.) But even if you feel that certain scenes should be done differently, when has the rest of the play been done so well? Whatever the omissions, the mutilations, the mistakes, this is very likely the most exciting and most alive production of Hamlet you will ever see on the screen. It's never dull, and if characters such as Fortinbras and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have been sacrificed, it's remarkable how little they are missed. With Jean Simmons as Ophelia, Basil Sydney as the King, Eileen Herlie as the Queen, Stanley Holloway as the Grave Digger, Felix Aylmer as Polonius, Norman Wooland as Horatio, Terence Morgan as Laertes, Esmond Knight as Bernardo, Anthony Quayle as Marcellus, Harcourt Williams as First Player, and John Laurie as Francisco. The adaptation is by Alan Dent, and the music is by William Walton.


UK (1969): Drama
114 min, Rated G, Color, Available on videocassette

Bearded, and with a nasal twang, Nicol Williamson is a surly Hamlet, deliberately, wretchedly unattractive. Williamson's acting is all pathos and vituperation, snarls and tantrums, and he stares so much that he's in danger of wearing out his eyeballs. The tension is gone, because this Hamlet is not a man who is destroyed by the events we see and by his own divided feelings; he is weak at the outset. The play collapses not only as drama but as poetic drama-Hamlet's speeches, as Williamson delivers them, lack beauty. This movie, directed by Tony Richardson, isn't a reinterpretation of Hamlet but an exploitation of what's worst in Nicol Williamson as an actor; it isn't tragic or absurdist-it's just cheap Jacobean-Mod, sexed up whenever possible. Shot in the Round House, the old London engine shed converted into a theatre, where Richardson also staged the play, the film is done almost completely in oppressive closeups. There are a few fine moments: Roger Livesey's entrance with the players provides a touch of humanity; he is in beautiful cracked voice and fine music-hall spirit. And Anthony Hopkins is an appealing though very young Claudius-one rather wishes he were left in peace to rule the country, since Hamlet is obviously unfit. With Marianne Faithfull as Ophelia, Judy Parfitt as Gertrude, Gordon Jackson as Horatio, Mark Dignam as Polonius, and Michael Pennington as Laertes. Cinematography by Gerry Fisher.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

Handle With Care/Citizens Band

US (1977): Comedy
98 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette
Also known as CITIZENS BAND.

A high-spirited, elegantly deadpan comedy, with a mellow, light touch. Paul Brickman, who wrote the screenplay, had an idea worthy of Preston Sturges: that the psychology of those who operate CB radio units might be like the psychology of crank phone callers and breathers and obscene phone callers, too-that as disembodied voices, with identities borrowed from pop fantasies, and signal names to confirm their new self-image, people could live another life on the public airwaves. In the film, the CB users are secret celebrities, eloquent on the air, or, more often, aimlessly loquacious. But they dry up when they actually meet. CB functions as an authorized madness; it allows the characters to release their inhibitions while keeping one foot on the ground. The story is about the people in a Southwestern town and the collisions of their free-floating ids. Paul Le Mat is the hero-a small-town Boy Scout who never grew up. Marcia Rodd is a trucker's hard-bitten wife, and Ann Wedgeworth is a trucker's softheaded wife; these two become a tearstained running gag when it turns out that they're both married to the same trucker. Jonathan Demme directed, in a soft, subdued style-the film is lyrical and wiggy at the same time. It has the consistent vision of a classic comedy; it undercuts the characters' illusions without a breath of ill will. With jutting-jawed Charles Napier as the impulsive, generous bigamist, Alix Elias as the plump, giggly hooker whose CB name is Hot Coffee, Roberts Blossom as the hero's father, Candy Clark, Bruce McGill, Richard Bright, and Michael Rothman as Cochise, Harry Northup as The Red Baron, Leila Smith as Grandma Breaker, Ed Begley, Jr., as The Priest, and Will Seltzer as Warlock. Cinematography by Jordan Cronenweth; titles by Pablo Ferro; music by Bill Conti. Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Hands Across the Table

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

Carole Lombard as a manicurist on the lookout for a wealthy husband meets Fred MacMurray, a fellow who grew up rich but is now broke and intends to marry an heiress. Cynical about romance, these two hang out together while waiting to land their prospective mates. Hers is to be a kindly millionaire (dreary Ralph Bellamy); his is the pineapple king's daughter (Astrid Allwyn). But what you expect to happen happens. As the manicurist puts it, in blunt, archetypal 30s terms-"Hardboiled Hannah was going to fall in love with a bankroll! You can't run away from love." This isn't one of the first-string slapstick romances of its period, but it's a pretty fair example of the second string. Basically uninspired, it's determinedly irreverent. You can see the jokes being set up; when the payoff comes, you're already tired. But MacMurray knows how to read a good line when he gets one, and though he isn't the subtlest of farceurs, that works just fine with Lombard because of her gift for uninhibited comedy. Lombard is the rare performer whose enjoyment of her own jokes adds to the audience's pleasure. Mitchell Leisen, directing his first comedy, had Ernst Lubitsch, the production chief at Paramount, guiding him. With William Demarest, Ruth Donnelly, Marie Prevost, and Edward Gargan. From a Vi�a Delmar story, adapted by Norman Krasna, Vincent Lawrence, and Herbert Fields. Cinematography by Ted Tetzlaff.

Hannah and Her Sisters

US (1986): Drama/Comedy
106 min, Rated PG-13, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A minor, agreeably skillful movie by Woody Allen, a new canto in his ongoing poem to love and New York City which includes ANNIE HALL and MANHATTAN. It's likable, but you wish there were more to like. The principal characters are members of a show-business family, with the stable, dependable Hannah (Mia Farrow), a successful actress who manages a career and children with equal serenity, as the pivotal figure, and Barbara Hershey and Dianne Wiest as her sisters. Hannah's parents are played by Maureen O'Sullivan and Lloyd Nolan, her financial-consultant husband by Michael Caine, and her TV writer-producer ex-husband by Allen himself. The picture would be lifeless without him; the other roles are so thin that there's nobody else to draw us into the story. All the vital vulgarity of Woody Allen's early movies has been drained away here, as it was in INTERIORS, but this time he's made the picture halfway human. (People can laugh and feel morally uplifted at the same time.) The willed sterility of his style is terrifying to think about; the picture is all tasteful touches, and there's an element of cultural self-approval in its tone, and a trace of smugness in its narrow concern for family and friends. He uses style to blot out the rest of New York City. It's a form of repression, and, from the look of the movie, repression is what's romantic to him. With Max von Sydow as Barbara Hershey's gloomy, rigidly intellectual lover, Julie Kavner as Allen's TV-partner, and Carrie Fisher, Daniel Stern, Sam Waterston and Tony Roberts (both uncredited), and Bobby Short as himself. The cinematography is by Carlo Di Palma. Orion.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Hans Christian Andersen

US (1952): Musical
120 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Lavish, cloying, pseudo-whimsical monstrosity, contrived by Moss Hart and directed by Charles Vidor, under the aegis of Samuel Goldwyn. It's the conceit of the movie to make Andersen (Danny Kaye) a simpleton bordering on active idiocy. With Zizi Jeanmaire, Roland Petit, Erik Bruhn, Joey Walsh, Farley Granger, and John Qualen. The drippy songs are by Frank Loesser. RKO.

The Happening

US (1967): Crime/Comedy
101 min, No rating, Black & White

George Maharis has a couple of funny scenes. That's just about all that can be said for this Elliot Silverstein comedy, though there's a good idea (about a kidnap victim discovering no one wants to ransom him) buried in it. (It's the same O. Henry idea that was buried in the 1958 English comedy TOO MANY CROOKS.) The kidnappers here are four hippies, and the movie means to be very 60s, but the biggest laugh comes when the kidnap victim (Anthony Quinn) says, "When you can't go to the bathroom, that's trouble!" It isn't right to give a movie's jokes away, but if you miss THE HAPPENING, this should help you appreciate what you're missing. With Faye Dunaway (it was her first film), Michael Parks, Robert Walker (Jr.), Milton Berle, Oscar Homolka, Martha Hyer, and Jack Kruschen. The script is by Frank R. Pierson, James D. Buchanan, and Ronald Austin. Columbia.

The Happiest Days of Your Life

UK (1950): Comedy
84 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

If you are the helpless victim of English comedy, you have probably had the dismaying experience of trying to share this taste with someone who has been stonily impervious while you were breaking up. The disease simply isn't communicable-either you get it or you don't, and a plot synopsis of a movie like this one would be no inducement and would probably result in the charge of supreme silliness. But for those who need no inducement: through a bureaucratic error, a boys' school is billeted with a girls' school; there is spinster-grandmother-sergeant Margaret Rutherford as headmistress of St. Swithin's, feuding with soulful-eyed Alastair Sim as headmaster of Nutbourne; there is gangly, gurgling Joyce Grenfell, the undermistress, with her copy of The New Statesman; and there are troops of boys and girls with oaths, sports, mottoes, Grecian dances, and all the hideous paraphernalia of pubescent youth. Frank Launder directed, from John Dighton's play. Ronald Searle provided the drawings for the titles.

Happy Birthday, Wanda June

US (1971): Comedy
105 min, Rated R, Color

Rod Steiger as a sexist big-game hunter, in Kurt Vonnegut's screen adaptation of his 1970 off-Broadway play-an attempt at a Shavian drama of ideas about the end of the bullish dominating male. Steiger's tragedy is that he sounds like Rod Steiger; his familiar vocal rhythms push Vonnegut's florid lines over the cliff, and they splash when they land. The director, Mark Robson, tried for a theatrically stylized tone, and the results are calamitous, though it's not certain that any other directorial approach would have worked much better. With Susannah York, who is miscast but comes through as an able farceur anyway, and Pamelyn Ferdin, who has a few funny moments as Wanda June, and Don Murray, George Grizzard, Steven Paul, and William Hickey. Columbia.

The Happy Ending

US (1969): Drama
112 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

Richard Brooks wrote and directed this flamboyantly misconceived story of a Denver lawyer's wife (Jean Simmons) who has gone on pills and booze because her life is empty. It's a sort of female version of THE ARRANGEMENT, and it's meant to be a message movie for women's liberation, but this kind of movie never liberated anyone. With John Forsythe, Shirley Jones, and Nanette Fabray. Cinematography by Conrad Hall; music by Michel Legrand. United Artists.

The Happy Time

US (1952): Comedy
94 min, No rating, Black & White

Charles Boyer and Louis Jourdan illustrate the French approach to love in this surprisingly tolerable comedy, set in the 20s. It's about the Canadian split between the relaxed French and the prudish Anglo-Saxons. With Kurt Kasznar, Marcel Dalio, Marsha Hunt, Bobby Driscoll, Linda Christian, and Jeanette Nolan. Produced by Stanley Kramer; directed by Richard Fleischer; from Samuel Taylor's play, adapted by Earl Felton. Columbia.

Hard Times

US (1975): Sports
97 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Spacious, leisurely, and with elaborate period re-creations of Louisiana in the 30s, this first feature directed by the young screenwriter Walter Hill is unusually effective pulp, perhaps even great pulp. The hero (Charles Bronson) rides into town on the rails, looking like an authentic Depression worker-a cap on his head, his face worn, narrow slits of hurting eyes. This aging itinerant never speaks of his past; he hooks up with a gambler (James Coburn) and fights-bare-fisted, no-holds-barred-for gambling stakes. By using Bronson with superb calculation, so that he is the underdog in every situation, Hill gets our hearts pounding in fear that our hero will be hurt or vanquished; the big fight sequence, with Bronson pitted against a boulder of flesh (Robert Tessier), makes you feel the way you did as a kid at the movies. You don't resent the film's grip on you, because Hill respects the loner-underdog myth. Shot on locations in and around New Orleans; with Strother Martin as a hophead medic, and Jill Ireland. Written by Hill, Bryan Gindorff, and Bruce Henstell. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

The Hard Way

US (1942): Drama
109 min, No rating, Black & White

Sharply observed and well acted; it doesn't rise to any heights, but it moves along and holds one's attention. Ida Lupino plays a classic stage-mother role, except it's her younger sister (Joan Leslie) whose career she's pushing, as a way of lifting them both out of grimy, Pennsylvania mill-town poverty. Daniel Fuchs and Peter Viertel wrote the script, from a story by Jerry Wald (who also produced), and it has unusual authenticity and vitality for two thirds of the way; then the film gets lost in a series of compromises. It was essential to establish the fresh-faced younger sister's complicity in Lupino's ruthless scheming and sleeping with anyone who could be useful, but (perhaps on orders from the Warners brass?) Joan Leslie is given a pure, outdoor-life romance, and the picture goes flabby. Ida Lupino's English accent comes through at times but she gives one of the best of her intense, hyperaware, overcontrolled performances (she seemed to relax only in comedy); the conception here justifies much of her tightness, and she suggests desperate, self-pitying layers under the calculation. The male leads, Jack Carson and Dennis Morgan, who play small-time vaudeville hoofers, are very well directed by Vincent Sherman; as a dumb lug who lets the two women walk all over him, Carson is surprisingly touching and convincing. With Gladys George as a beat-out, trampy actress, singing in a whiskey alto, and Paul Cavanagh, Roman Bohnen, Faye Emerson, Julie Bishop, Joan Woodbury, Ann Doran, and Leona Maricle. Well shot (especially the first sequences in the mill town) by James Wong Howe. (Inexplicably, both sisters frequently wear fancy little over-one-eye hats, like papier-m�ch� cream puffs.)


US (1979): Drama
108 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

George C. Scott is the Calvinist father from Grand Rapids who searches for his runaway teenage daughter in the porno-prostitution world of California. The father feels no temptation, so there's no contest; he's above sex, and he hates porno the way John Wayne hates rustlers and Commies. The writer-director, Paul Schrader, sets up the picture as a demonstration of the superiority of fundamentalist moral values over pornographic laxness-as if there were nothing in between. It's a detached, opaque, affectionless movie; since it doesn't regard the young prostitutes as human, there's no horror in their dehumanization-only frigid sensationalism. With Peter Boyle and Season Hubley. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

The Harder They Come

Jamaica (1973): Drama
98 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Jimmy Cliff, the reggae singer, has the verve of an instinctive actor. In this crude but sensual Jamaican film, he plays a country boy who wants to become a pop star and who achieves his ambition only by becoming a famous killer; he reaches the top of the hit-record charts when he's on the Most Wanted posters. The film, directed by Perry Henzell, is feverish and haphazard, but the music redeems much of it, and the rhythmic swing of the Jamaican speech is hypnotic.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

Harlan County, U.S.A.

US (1977): Documentary
103 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

A documentary with a great subject, and with the taste and sensitivity not to betray it. The director, Barbara Kopple, went to live among the coal miners of Harlan County, Kentucky, when they went out on strike in 1973. This film is about an underdog group with its own folk culture, based on the unending struggle with "the owners."
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.


US (1965): Biography
125 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

There is not a single line in the Joseph E. Levine production HARLOW, starring Carroll Baker, that sounds as if the speaker felt it or thought it, or could possibly have said it. The falseness is total: from "Oh, Mama, all they want is my body" to "She died of life. She gave it to everyone else and there wasn't enought left for her." Even the title is false; what we see should be called "Landau." It's about this wonderful agent, Landau (Red Buttons), who wanted to bring this beautiful talent to the world-a story which seems to parallel Levine's faith in Carroll Baker. She's about as talented as Harlow but in different ways. When Landau says to her, "You have the body of a woman and the emotions of a child," we can see it's just the reverse. The script is loaded with such choice epigrams as: "A bedroom with only one person in it is the loneliest place in the world." Surely not lonelier than theatres playing HARLOW? Directed by Gordon Douglas. With Raf Vallone, Angela Lansbury, and Peter Lawford. Released by Paramount.

Harold and Maude

US (1972): Comedy
90 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Bud Cort is Harold, a rich, suicidal introvert with a soft, unformed face-he's 19 but looks younger. Ruth Gordon is poor but spunky Maude, the wizened 79-year-old woman who's like a cheerleader for Life. She lives in a railway car, would like to change into a sunflower, frets over how to save an ailing tree, prankishly steals vehicles and drives crazily; she advises Harold to "reach out." In this satirical-whimsical romantic comedy, directed by Hal Ashby from a script by Colin Higgins, Harold reaches out by falling in love with Maude, and their love is consummated on the eve of her 80th birthday. Many young moviegoers have returned to this eccentric film repeatedly (in 1974, one 22-year-old claimed to have seen it 138 times); maybe this is partly because of its mixture of the maudlin and the highly sophisticated. The message is not very different from that of HELLO, DOLLY! or MAME, but Harold's flaccid asexuality (he's like a sickly infant, a limp, earthbound Peter Pan) and Maude's advanced stage of pixiness give that message a special freaky quality. And the film has been made with considerable wit and skill. The early scenes, in which Harold tries out various gruesome methods of suicide without scaring his unflappable mother (Vivian Pickles), have a stylized humor. But Ashby has directed eccentrically. The actors are often seen at a great distance and the dialogue reaches us from a distance, too; the sound level varies so much that we keep losing the voices, and Harold's lines often fade away. With Cyril Cusack, Ellen Geer, and Charles Tyner. Music by Cat Stevens, with mush-minded lyrics. Paramount.

Harold Robbins' The Betsy

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

The director, Daniel Petrie, aims low and misses his target-maybe through taste and halfheartedness as much as ineptitude. This adaptation of Harold Robbins' novel about three generations of a Detroit automobile dynasty lacks the juicy vulgarity of soul which Robbins requires-it's so tranquil it's like a reverie on the clich�s of the genre. As the superabundantly sexed patriarch of the family, Laurence Olivier keeps on acting after everyone else has given up. He must be doing it for himself-for the sheer love of testing himself as an actor. His energy blasts through the film's largo style; it's a personal triumph. With Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Duvall, Katharine Ross, Jane Alexander, Lesley-Anne Down, Kathleen Beller, Paul Rudd, Edward Herrmann, and Joseph Wiseman. Cinematography by Mario Tosi; screenplay by William Bast and Walter Bernstein; produced by Robert R. Weston. Allied Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.


US (1966): Mystery
121 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Paul Newman in a bungled attempt to recapture the Bogart private-eye world of THE BIG SLEEP. In mitigation of his mugging: what can an actor do with a role that calls for him to be half-drowned and beaten to a bloody pulp-all of which merely serves him as an aphrodisiac? Shelley Winters gives the picture artificial respiration for a few minutes, but it soon relapses. Lauren Bacall appears in an in-joke: not in her old role in THE BIG SLEEP but as the rich old paralytic in the wheelchair. Funny like a crutch. The big-name cast includes Julie Harris, Janet Leigh, Pamela Tiffin, Robert Wagner, Strother Martin, Robert Webber, and Arthur Hill. Directed by Jack Smight; adapted from Ross Macdonald's The Moving Target by William Goldman; cinematography by Conrad Hall. A private-eye movie without sophistication and style is ignominious. Nevertheless, HARPER was a hit. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Harry and Tonto

US (1974): Drama
115 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

Paul Mazursky's old-man-on-the-road comedy, with Art Carney, is the most difficult kind of comedy to bring off, because it comes directly from the moviemaker's feelings about life. It has a kind of transparency; that's why someone in the audience can say, "I don't know why I'm crying-this is such a silly movie." Harry is a widowed retired teacher. Evicted from his Upper West Side apartment because the building is being demolished, he tries suburban life in Riverdale with his businessman son (Phil Bruns). Rejecting that, he sets out with his cat Tonto to visit his daughter (Ellen Burstyn), a bookstore owner in Chicago, and his other son (Larry Hagman), who's hanging on by his teeth in Southern California. Uneven and often clumsy, yet with a distinctive satirical charm, the picture is full of misfits and faddists and social casualties. The celebrated acting teacher Herbert Berghof appears as Harry's New York friend, an aged radical. Joshua Mostel is Harry's grandson who has taken a vow of silence. Harry meets a young girl, played by Melanie Mayron, and shares a jail cell with a medicine man, played by Chief Dan George. In a less felicitous episode he visits his first love, Geraldine Fitzgerald. Carney, who was actually 55, plays 72 without overdoing it (and without going lovable on us); Burstyn's charcter is alone and bitter in ways that impress themselves on one's memory; and Larry Hagman is simply amazing. Sally Marr (Lenny Bruce's mother) plays the friendly old broad at the end who suggests to Harry that they get together. Screenplay by Mazursky (who turns up for a flash, cruising Hagman) and Josh Greenfield. Academy Award for Best Actor (Carney). 20th Century-Fox.


France (1937): Drama
105 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette
Also known as REGAIN.

One of the true and essential French film classics. Jean Giono's novel-a love story set in an abandoned village that the lovers bring to life-was made in Provence by Marcel Pagnol. With a superb cast, including the young Fernandel as the itinerant tinker who sells his slavey mistress, Orane Demazis (the Fanny of the Pagnol trilogy), to the hunter, Gabriel Gabrio, and with Marguerite Moreno, Delmont, and Le Vigan. Music by Arthur Honegger. In French.

The Harvey Girls

US (1946): Musical/Dance/Comedy
101 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

In this lavish, high-spirited MGM period musical, Judy Garland leads the forces of respectability (the clean, starched waitresses who serve travellers food only), and Angela Lansbury is the wicked, glittering dance-hall queen whose girls provide God-knows-what illicit pleasures. The central conceit of glorifying progress and moral uplift in a musical comedy set in New Mexico in the 1880s is certainly a strange one, but it worked out surprisingly well-though the charm is mostly heavy. With John Hodiak (an ill-chosen romantic partner for Judy Garland) and Ray Bolger, Cyd Charisse, Marjorie Main, Kenny Baker, Virginia O'Brien, Chill Wills, Selena Royle, and Preston Foster. There is, of course, the deservedly famous classic number "On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe"-it's one of the triumphant sequences in screen-musical history-as well as a batch of other Johnny Mercer and Harry Warren songs, including "The Wild, Wild West" and "It's a Great Big World." George Sidney directed.

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