L'Age d'Or

France (1930): Drama
63 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

The most anti-religious, most anti-bourgeois of all Luis Bu�uel's films and, naturally, the most scandalous. This episodic 60-minute film-surreal, dreamlike, and deliberately, pornographically blasphemous-was written by both Bu�uel and Salvador Dali, who had collaborated two years before on UN CHIEN ANDALOU (1928). With Gaston Modot, Lya Lys, Max Ernst, Pierre Pr�vert, and Jacques Brunius. In French.

L'Amour Fou

France (1968): Drama
252 min, No rating, Black & White

During the first half hour, there's a strong temptation to flee from this legendary Jacques Rivette film, which moves back and forth between the rehearsals for an experimental production of Racine's Andromaque and the disintegrating marriage of the actor-director (Jean-Pierre Kalfon) and his actress-wife (Bulle Ogier). But those who stick with the film may find that Rivette's measured, unemphatic style begins to take hold. Tight little Bulle Ogier is ominously compelling; she gives a superlative performance. And there has never been anything like the folie-�-deux sex-and-destruction orgy that climaxes the marriage. The purpose of the juxtapositions remains damned elusive, but a highly intellectualized horror story develops inside the smooth, elegantly patterned, abstract camera movement. Rivette has a hypnotic style, partly because of his unusual spatial sense and his "normal" use of time. (4 hours and 12 minutes.) In French.


France (1934): Romance
89 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Jean Vigo, who died in his twenties, made only this one feature-length film-a sensuous, poetic love story about a young barge captain on the Seine, who marries and takes his bride with him; after a quarrel she runs off and they lose each other. Jean Dast� and Dita Parlo are the lovers, Michel Simon is the tattooed barge hand who finds her and brings her back. It's a wonderfully spontaneous, unarranged-looking film, photographed by Boris Kaufman, and with a lovely score by Maurice Jaubert. It's also a strange film-much slower and more consciously dreamlike than Vigo's short works. In some ways it's more pleasurable in the memory than while you're seeing it. Its surreal lyricism was described by Elie Faure: "The spirit of Jean Vigo's work is classical, almost violent and always tormented, fevered, overflowing with ideas and with fantasy; truculent; a virulent and even demonical romanticism that still remains humanistic." With Louis Lef�vre. (Not released in the U.S. until 1947.) In French.


Italy (1960): Drama
145 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Antonioni's study of the human condition at the higher social and economic levels-a study of adjusted, compromising modern man, afflicted by short memory, thin remorse, the capacity for easy betrayal. The characters are active only in trying to discharge their anxiety: sex is their sole means of contact. Too shallow to be truly lonely, they are people trying to escape their boredom by reaching out to one another and finding only boredom once again. Because the film is subtle and ascetic, yet laborious about revealing its meanings, it suggests Henry James when he "chewed more than he bit off." Visually, it's extraordinary: a calm hangs over everything-Antonioni's space is a vacuum in which people are aimlessly moving. Searchers and lost are all the same: disparate, without goals or joy. This is upper-class neo-realism-the poetry of moral and spiritual poverty. There had been nothing like it before, and it isn't fair to blame this movie for all the elegant sleepwalking and desolation that followed. There's something great here-a new mood, a new emotional rhythm-even with all the affectation. L�a Massari is the woman who quarrels with her architect lover (Gabriele Ferzetti) and then disappears from the uninhabited island they're visiting; Monica Vitti is her friend who takes up the search and then takes her place with the architect. Also with Dominique Blanchar. Cinematography by Aldo Scavarda; script by Elio Bartolini, Tonino Guerra, and Antonioni. In Italian.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book I Lost it at the Movies.

La Bamba

US (1987): Biography
108 min, Rated PG-13, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Written and directed by Luis Valdez, this is the life story of the Chicano rock 'n' roller Ritchie Valens (Lou Diamond Phillips), who had three hit records before he died at 17 in a plane crash, in 1959. Valdez isn't primarily concerned with Ritchie Valens as the bullet of talent he must have been. The film's Ritchie is simply a warm, friendly Latino version of the boy next door. Ritchie Valens' music, as it's performed by the group Los Lobos, with David Hidalgo singing for Phillips, is what carries the movie along, but even with the music and brief appearances by Stephen Lee, Brian Setzer, and Howard Huntsberry, this is a leaden, lachrymose piece of filmmaking. (No doubt many people are susceptible to the film's mythmaking; you can hear their enthusiastic weeping in the theatre.) With the fiery, hammy Esai Morales as Ritchie's tormented, bad-boy half brother, Bob; Elizabeth Pe�a (she has a comic side) as Bob's wife, who keeps looking at him with disgust; Rosana De Soto as the boys' mother; Joe Pantoliano as Bob Keene; and Marshall Crenshaw as Buddy Holly.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

La B�te Humaine

France (1938): Drama
99 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette
Also known as THE HUMAN BEAST.

Jean Renoir's version of the Zola novel, transferred from the Second Empire to the 30s, has a memorable beginning, with Jean Gabin driving the express on the run from Le Havre to Paris. The train sequences, which are superb-realistic yet poetic-were shot on location and include views of the Gare St. Lazare in Paris in 1938. The film has marvellous atmosphere and a fine cast (Simone Simon, Carette, Fernand Ledoux, Blanchette Brunoy, Renoir himself), but the material, which involves brutal, uncontrollable passion seen in a social framework, turns oppressive, and at times Gabin is a lump. (Remade in Hollywood in 1954 as HUMAN DESIRE, directed by Fritz Lang with Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame.) In French.

La Cage aux Folles II

France (1980): Comedy
101 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The return of Albin (Michel Serrault) and Renato (Ugo Tognazzi). This picture isn't as original as the first, but it gives the actors more range, and it's more smoothly directed (by Edouard Molinaro, who also did the first). A thriller plot serves as a pretext to get the two middle-aged homosexuals out of their apartment and into the straight world. The movie is most inventive when they're in Italy and Albin, dressed as a peasant woman, is toiling in the fields among the women; he looks youthful and radiantly fulfilled-he really believes that he is one of them. Albin doesn't see what we can see: wherever he is and however he's dressed, he's so far into his fantasy that he looks like no one else. This film has nothing to do with the art of movies, but it has a great deal to do with the craft and art of acting, and the pleasures of farce. Serrault gives a superb comic performance-his Albin is a wildly fanciful creation. And maybe it's only in this exaggerated form that a movie about the ridiculousness and the tenderness of married love can be widely accepted now. With Marcel Bozzufi. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

La Chinoise

France (1967): Political
95 min, No rating, Color

The writer-director Jean-Luc Godard's fast, clever political comedy (and elegy) about the late-60s incorporation of revolutionary heroes and ideas into Pop. The film is made in a new, semi-satirical shorthand; it centers on the terrorist actions of a group of young French Maoists-na�ve, forlorn little ideologues who live out a Pop version of THE POSSESSED. Anne Wiazemsky (married at the time to Godard) plays the affectless killer V�ronique, a teenage philosophy student; she and the four other members of her Maoist group share the apartment where most of the movie takes place. They study Marxism-Leninism and chant Chairman Mao's sayings from the little red book like nursery rhymes. Godard's hard-edge visual style is stripped down for speed and wit; he wants you to be able to read the whole picture (and the words) at once. He uses words here in more ways than any other filmmaker has: they're in the dialogue and on the walls, on book jackets and in headlines; they're recited, chanted, shouted, written, broken down; they're in commentaries, quotations, interviews, narration; they're in slogans and emblems and signs. Those who dislike verbal allusions will be irritated, and those who want only straightforward action may be driven wild by Godard's neo-Brechtian displacement devices (his voice on the sound track, a cut to Raoul Coutard at the camera) and by his almost novelistic love of digression-his inclusion of anecdotes, of speculations about movie art, and of direct-to-the-camera interviews. In a section toward the end Godard brings in Francis Jeanson playing himself-an older radical from a humane tradition; Jeanson asks V�ronique the political questions that resonate through the movie-questions about the consequences of terrorism. The movie is like a speed-freak's anticipatory vision of the political horrors to come; it's amazing. With Jean-Pierre L�aud, Juliet Berto, Michel S�mianko, Lex de Bruijn as Kirilov, and Omar Diop as Comrade X. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Going Steady.

La Femme Infidele

France-Italy (1969): Thriller
98 min, Rated R, Color

This Claude Chabrol film is an exquisitely detailed, impeccably acted, stunningly directed suspense story about adultery and passion among the bourgeoisie. Yet there isn't a breath of life in it. You observe Michel Bouquet's foxy little performance as the cuckold, the glossy beauty of St�phane Audran (she looks like a rich, chic Jeanne H�buterne) as the wife, and Maurice Ronet's assured professionalism as the seducer, and you see the points being made about the hidden violence of overcivilized people. But the expertise is so tired, so masterly and perfectly slick, that the film looks as if Chabrol polished it until he ran out of spit. With Michel Duchaussoy. Chabrol wrote the script; cinematography by Jean Rabier. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

La Guerre des boutons

France (1938): Drama
80 min, No rating, Black & White

This polished little parable on man's folly used to be considered a film classic, but it's the sort of classic that makes you yawn. The children of Longeverne pray for rain to ripen their cabbages; their neighbors, the children of Valrans, pray for sunshine to ripen their grapes. The dispute is bitter and the children organize for battle, with heroes, sacrifices, and all the accoutrements of war except the longed-for buttons of real generals. Jacques Daroy directed, using a mixture of professional and nonprofessional children, as well as Jean Murat and Saturnin Fabre. From the novel by Louis Pergand. (Remade by Yves Robert in 1961.) In French.

La Guerre Est Finie

France-Sweden (1966): Drama
121 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Yves Montand as the Spaniard Diego, a professional (i.e., paid) revolutionary, a courier in the Communist underground, who goes on stoically carrying out policies he knows are futile. Alain Resnais directed this attempt at an elegy on the themes of exile and of living on old ideals-living in the past. The courier is like a weary commuter who has been through it all so many times that he can see what's coming; past and future are one. It's easy to satirize force of habit-as W.C. Fields demonstrated when he blew the head off an ice-cream soda. But Resnais, although he allows most of Diego's associates to appear ridiculous, protects Diego very tenderly. He isn't presented as a Party hack or a tool-he's noble. His melancholy is glamourized, and when he goes to bed with his mistress (Ingrid Thulin) he has such high-quality sex that we actually hear the soprano vocalizing of a heavenly choir. The film, from a script by Jorge Semprun, is ambivalent and smooth and chic, with an overexposed semi-abstract sex scene between Diego and a pouting kitten (Genevi�ve Bujold) and anticipatory flash-forwards. The political material has been subjected to the French equivalent of Hollywoodization; it's soaked in romantic defeatism, in existentialism used decoratively to make a hero of a numb, apathetic man. With Michel Piccoli, Jean Dast�, Bernard Fresson, and Jean Bouise. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

La Marie du Port

France (1951): Drama
100 min, No rating, Black & White

In the 30s, that durable representative of simple, hardworking humanity, Jean Gabin, was the favorite hero of Jean Renoir (LA B�TE HUMAINE, GRAND ILLUSION, LES BAS-FONDS) and Marcel Carn� (QUAI DES BRUMES, LE JOUR SE L�VE). Here he is seen weathered and aged; the passions of his early roles have given way to worldly-wise scepticism. Directed once again by Carn�, he plays a successful restaurant and theatre owner who discovers how susceptible he is to the natural wiles of an inexperienced teenage girl (Nicole Courcel). A highly civilized film, simple in theme yet meant to be subtle in the great French tradition. But the ordinariness of the characters and their emotions becomes oppressive, rather than illuminating. With Blanchette Brunoy and Julien Carette. Cinematography by Henri Alekan; music by Joseph Kosma. From the novel by Georges Simenon. In French.

La Notte

France-Italy (1961): Drama
120 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

In Antonioni's earlier L'AVVENTURA, which was also about the moral and spiritual poverty of the rich, his architectural sense was integral to the theme and characters; here, the abstract elements take over, and the drama becomes glacial. And his conception is distasteful: his characters seem to find glamour in their own desolation and emptiness. They are cardboard intellectuals-a sort of international caf� society-and their lassitude seems an empty pose. Marcello Mastroianni plays a blank-faced famous novelist; as his wife, Jeanne Moreau walks endlessly, with the camera fixated on her rear; and Monica Vitti is a brunette with money up to her ears and nothing to do. In Italian.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book I Lost it at the Movies.

La Nuit de Varennes

France-Italy (1982): Historical/Comedy
133 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

Descended from a long line of "Gallic romps," this is a creakingly cultured historical pageant set in the time of Louis XVI. For diverse reasons, assorted historical and fictional personages are travelling by stagecoach to Varennes; the King, who has fled with the Queen, is also on the road, in a coach ahead of them. And what do the ladies and gentlemen who are trailing behind the King do? For two and a half hours, they look knowingly at each other and talk literately. As the decaying Casanova, Marcello Mastroianni (who is made to look toweringly tall) has a couple of superb moments-one with Laura Betti as a jolly touring opera singer, and one with Andrea Ferreol as a wealthy woman who declares her passion for him. Jean-Louis Barrault looks great as the scandalously popular, often pornographic writer Restif de la Bretonne, but the role has been written to make Restif a darling old reprobate, and Barrault just keeps smiling. Also with Hanna Schygulla as a royalist countess; Jean-Claude Brialy, who is almost a comic archetype as her devoted hairdresser; Harvey Keitel as Thomas Paine; and Daniel G�lin and Jean-Louis Trintignant. Written by the director, Ettore Scola, and Sergio Amidei. A French-Italian co-production. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

La Strada

Italy (1954): Drama
115 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The theme of Federico Fellini's spiritual fable is that everyone has a purpose in the universe. It is acted out by three symbolic characters. Giulietta Masina is the waif Gelsomina (soul, innocence, spirit, dreams); Anthony Quinn is the strong man Zampan� (brute physical strength, man as animal); Richard Basehart is an artist-fool (mind). Though the background of the film is neo-realist poverty, it is transformed by the romanticism of the conception. Giulietta Masina's performance has been compared variously to Chaplin, Harry Langdon, Stan Laurel, Barrault, and Marceau, and the comparisons are just-maybe too just. Basehart's performance as the fool, which is not like the work of other performers, is possibly more exciting. Even if one rejects the concepts of this movie, its mood and the details of scenes stay with one; a year or two later, a gesture or a situation suddenly brings it all back. Winner of at least 50 prizes, including the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. In Italian.

La Symphonie Pastorale

France (1946): Drama
105 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Andr� Gide supervised this too little known version of his early, subtly disquieting novel. The director Jean Delannoy is, as usual, careful and literal, and this time his sensitivity enables Pierre Blanchar and Mich�le Morgan to give perhaps their most memorable performances; the film itself is emotionally overwhelming. Blanchar plays a Swiss pastor who finds an ignorant, neglected blind girl (Morgan) and teaches her to live without sight. The pastor's passion for the blind girl destroys his wife and family, and when the girl gains her sight she realizes the damage she has caused and becomes tormented and withdrawn. The film is about the spiritual and psychological blindness that people cannot overcome. Filmed in the Swiss Alps. With Jean Desailly and Line Noro; score by Georges Auric. Truffaut did homage to this film in Marie Dubois's death scene in the snow in SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER, and also in THE WILD CHILD, and he used Desailly in the central role of THE SOFT SKIN. In French.

La Terra Trema

Italy (1947): Drama
160 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Luchino Visconti's neo-realist tragedy, set among the exploited Sicilian fishermen, is long and full of political clich�s, and yet in its solemnity and beauty it achieves a true epic vision. The film is lyrical yet austere, and it's beautifully proportioned. It may be the best boring movie ever made: although you might have to get up and stretch a few times, you're not likely to want to leave. Filmed on location in Aci-Trezza, Sicily. Director of photography, G.R. Aldo; camera operator, Gianni Di Venanzo. The assistant directors were Francesco Rosi and Franco Zeffirelli. The script is by Visconti. (160 minutes.) In Sicilian dialect.

Lacombe, Lucien

France (1974): War/Drama
137 min, Rated R, Color

About a boy who has an empty space where feelings beyond the purely instinctual are expected to be. The time is 1944, and the boy-a French peasant-goes to work each day hunting down and torturing people for the Gestapo. The director, Louis Malle, casts as Lucien a teenage country boy (Pierre Blaise) who can respond to events with his own innocence, apathy, and animal shrewdness. Malle's gamble is that the cameras will discover what the artist's imagination can't, and, steadily, startlingly, the gamble pays off. Without ever mentioning the subject of innocence and guilt, this extraordinary film, in its calm, dispassionate way, addresses it on a very deep level. With Aurore Cl�ment as a Parisian Jewish girl; Holger L�wenadler as her punctilious, cultivated father; Th�r�se Giehse as her grandmother; Gilberte Rivet as the boy's mother; Stephane Bouy; and Jacques Rispal. The script is by Malle and Patrick Modiano. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

Ladies in Retirement

US (1941): Thriller
92 min, No rating, Black & White

An entertainingly hokey murder chiller on the stage, but not very successfully adapted to the screen. With Charles Vidor directing, this lonely-rural-cottage gothic seems to take itself too seriously, as if it were really a psychological study. Ida Lupino works hard as a severe, plain-faced murderess, Isobel Elsom sips her wine and nibbles her bonbons as the woman who innocently befriends her, and Elsa Lanchester and Edith Barrett are Lupino's loony sisters, who stuff their neat rooms with their collections of crows' feathers, dead birds, and underbrush. From the play by Reginald Denham and Edward Percy; with Louis Hayward. Columbia.

Ladies of Leisure

US (1930): Drama
98 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Though she came from the theatre, Barbara Stanwyck seemed to have an intuitive understanding of the fluid physical movements that work best on camera; perhaps she had been an unusually "natural" actress even onstage. This was her first big hit in the movies. Under Frank Capra's direction, she plays a tough "party" girl (euphemism for call girl) who poses for a wealthy young artist (Ralph Graves); he sees in her the spirituality that she attempts to deny. The story is a museum piece of early-talkies sentimentality, but, in a way, that only emphasizes Stanwyck's remarkable modernism. With Marie Prevost, Lowell Sherman, Juliette Compton, and Nance O'Neil. Beautifully lighted by the cinematographer, Joseph Walker. Columbia.

Lady Be Good

US (1941): Musical/Dance
111 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A dispensable plot about the tribulations of a married song-writing team, but some classic numbers by the Gershwins ("Fascinating Rhythm," "Hang on to Me," and the great title song) and by Arthur Freed and Roger Edens ("You'll Never Know") as well as the slightly sickening Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern effort, "The Last Time I Saw Paris." The cast includes Red Skelton, Ann Sothern, Eleanor Powell, Virginia O'Brien, Robert Young, Dan Dailey, Phil Silvers, Lionel Barrymore, and Jimmy Dorsey and his orchestra. Norman Z. McLeod directed; the choreography is by Busby Berkeley. Based (very remotely) on a 1924 Broadway show. MGM.

Lady Caroline Lamb

UK (1972): Historical
118 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

Robert Bolt, directing for the first time, thrashes about from one style and point of view to another. The film seems to have been made by a square Ken Russell; Bolt tries for romantic excess, but he can't get anything warmed up. His Caroline Lamb is an hysterical fool but also a misunderstood free spirit struggling against a hypocritical society-a sort of Regency Zelda. Sarah Miles acts like a dizzy shopgirl dreaming of being a great lady, and falling flat even in her dreams; as Byron, Richard Chamberlain scowls and sneers. With Jon Finch as Lamb; Margaret Leighton as his mother; Laurence Olivier as Wellington; and Ralph Richardson as the King.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

The Lady Eve

US (1941): Romance/Comedy
94 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A frivolous masterpiece. Like BRINGING UP BABY, THE LADY EVE is a mixture of visual and verbal slapstick, and of high artifice and pratfalls. Barbara Stanwyck keeps sticking out a sensational leg, and Henry Fonda keeps tripping over it. She's a cardsharp, and he's a millionaire scientist who knows more about snakes than about women; neither performer has ever been funnier. The film, based on a story by Monckton Hoffe, and with screenplay and direction by Preston Sturges, is full of classic moments and classic lines; it represents the dizzy high point of Sturges's comedy writing. With Charles Coburn, Eugene Pallette, William Demarest, and Eric Blore. (Remade as a musical in 1956-THE BIRDS AND THE BEES.) Paramount.

Lady in the Dark

US (1944): Musical
100 min, No rating, Color

Monstrously overproduced musical about the Oedipal hangups and sexual frustrations of a fashion-magazine editor (Ginger Rogers), whose problems are solved when she stops wearing the pants-i.e., gives up her job to a man (Ray Milland). The content is insulting to women; the form is insulting to audiences of both sexes. It's a real botch. Directed by Mitchell Leisen; adapted from Moss Hart's Broadway show, with music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Ira Gershwin. With Jon Hall, Warner Baxter, Mischa Auer, Barry Sullivan, Mary Philips, and Don Loper. Paramount.

Lady in the Lake

US (1946): Mystery
103 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

A Raymond Chandler murder mystery with the camera functioning as the Private Eye-that is, as the eyes of Philip Marlowe, the narrator-protagonist (Robert Montgomery), who is seen in his entirety only when his reflection is caught in mirrors. This novelty is a nuisance, and is frustrating besides, since Montgomery (who also directed) is the only star; the plot isn't involving enough to compensate for the absence of star byplay. At one point, the face of Audrey Totter, the feminine lead, comes swimming out at you, lips ajar, as if to honor you with a great big kiss; then she's lost in shadows. That's about as close as you get to any fun. With Lloyd Nolan, Leon Ames, and Jayne Meadows. MGM.

Lady in White

US (1988): Thriller
112 min, Rated PG-13, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

This ghost movie has an overcomplicated plot, but it has a poetic feeling that makes up for much of the clutter. And its amateurishness often adds to its effectiveness-gives the movie a na�ve power. It's a piece of Catholic Americana with a Disney-Spielberg ingenuousness and shafts of horror. Lukas Haas plays the 9-year-old Frankie Scarlatti, who dreams of his dead mother; on Halloween, 1962, he's locked in the school cloakroom and sees the ghost of a little girl who was murdered by a serial killer. The editing is patchy, and the writer-director Frank LaLoggia, who also composed the score, lingers on actors in a way that exposes their limitations (and his inexperience), but little Lukas Haas has no problem. He loves acting so much that when he's miming spooked terror he's tickled to be doing it. As he plays Frankie, the boy's rapt belief in his visions lends credibility to the events. You get a sense that the horrors that beset him relate to his mother's having died-that the story has (underdeveloped) psychological roots. And there are visual and nostalgic touches that charm you. The location shooting was done in the upstate New York town of Lyons, near Rochester, where LaLoggia was born. With Jason Presson, who's amiable as the older brother, and Alex Rocco, Len Cariou, Katherine Helmond, and Jared Rushton.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

The Lady Is Willing

US (1942): Comedy
92 min, No rating, Black & White

Marlene Dietrich, excruciatingly miscast, as an actress who adopts a baby and marries a pediatrician (Fred MacMurray); the baby has a mastoid operation just as she is opening in a new show. Hatted by John-Frederics, Dietrich simpers and suffers; every nuance is inane. Mitchell Leisen directed, in a spirit of hopelessness, from a script by James Edward Grant and Albert McCleery. With Aline MacMahon, Arline Judge, and Stanley Ridges. Columbia.

Lady of Burlesque

US (1943): Mystery/Comedy
91 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Gypsy Rose Lee's murder-mystery novel, The G-String Murders, cleaned up, and burlesque as an institution considerably tamed. The movie has scenes in which burlesque audiences are stimulated into raucous excitement by the sight of girls clothed practically to the stifling point. Barbara Stanwyck's bumps and grinds are communicated via her face and a few percussion sounds, but she acts with a hard realism that suggests something of the milieu, and Michael O'Shea, who plays opposite her, has a relaxed show-biz authenticity. With J. Edward Bromberg, Iris Adrian, Marion Martin, Gloria Dickson, Pinky Lee, Frank Conroy, and Frank Fenton. Considering how few of Gypsy Rose Lee's racy bits are actually left, the director, William Wellman, does a good job of simulating raciness. United Artists.

Lady on a Train

US (1945): Mystery/Comedy
93 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Ugh. A murder mystery that starts from a Leslie Charteris story but never gets anyplace you'd want to go to. Made in the period when the former child star Deanna Durbin was turning into a fairly substantial young matron, the film casts her as a girl who witnesses a murder from a train that is nearing Grand Central and who becomes involved with the friends and relatives of the victim, as well as with a mystery-story writer. (Has that gimmick ever worked?) The film betrays an obvious uncertainty about how the public wants to see its Durbin. One minute she is just a little girl in pigtails lost in a great big raincoat, and the next minute she is a many-curved siren crooning "Give Me a Little Kiss, Will You, Huh?" in a strange, guttural manner evidently intended to suggest that passion has got a stranglehold on her. The cameraman photographs her from so many angles that at any particular moment it's hard to know whether she's standing up or lying down. Charles David directed; with Ralph Bellamy, Edward Everett Horton, George Coulouris, Dan Duryea, David Bruce, Allen Jenkins, and Patricia Morison. The script is by Edmund Beloin and Robert O'Brien. Universal.

Lady Sings the Blues

US (1972): Musical/Biography
144 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The chemistry of pop vulgarization is all-powerful here; factually, this life of Billie Holiday is a fraud, but emotionally it delivers. That great, dizzy imp Diana Ross gives herself to the role with an all-out physicality that wins the audience over. Regrettably, she sings too much like Billie Holiday, and the songs blur one's memories. Sidney J. Furie directed. With Richard Pryor as Piano Man, and Billy Dee Williams. Released by Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

The Lady Vanishes

UK (1938): Spy/Mystery
97 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Alfred Hitchcock's murder mystery about a fussy, jolly old lady who boards a train and disappears on it is directed with such skill and velocity that it has come to represent the quintessence of screen suspense. It provides some of the finest examples of Hitchcock touches-little shocks and perversities of editing and detail. The hero is played by a tall, callow young man making his first major film appearance-Michael Redgrave; the heroine is Margaret Lockwood, and the lady is Dame May Whitty. With Paul Lukas, Cecil Parker, Margaretta Scott, Catherine Lacey, Mary Clare, Linden Travers, Googie Withers, and the team of Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford doing a parody of the "jolly-good-show" type of Britisher. Screenplay by Sidney Gilliat, Frank Launder, and Alma Reville, based on the novel The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White. (A 1979 remake with Elliott Gould, Cybill Shepherd, and Angela Lansbury is good-natured but totally flat; the director, Anthony Page, doesn't seem to have an instinct for the thriller form.)

A Lady's Morals

US (1930): Musical/Biography
75 min, No rating, Black & White

Originally called THE SOUL KISS; neither title indicates what a big, heavy-spirited MGM musical tearjerker this is. Grace Moore plays Jenny Lind, who loses her voice while singing in Norma, and Reginald Denny is a young composer who loves her but goes blind. Wallace Beery turns up as P.T. Barnum. Sidney Franklin directed, and Adrian draped Miss Moore, who moved a little less than gracefully. With Jobyna Howland, George F. Marion, Paul Porcasi, Gilbert Emery, and Bodil Rosing.


US (1985): Fantasy/Adventure
124 min, Rated PG-13, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Set in the Middle Ages, it's about the romance between Princess Isabeau (Michelle Pfeiffer) and the noble Navarre (Rutger Hauer), which is cursed by an evil sorcerer-bishop (John Wood). Each sunrise, Isabeau turns into a hawk; each sundown, Navarre turns into a black wolf. The settings and accoutrements have grandeur; just about everything connected with the movie is big except the storytelling instinct of its director, Richard Donner. At almost every point where we might expect a little ping of surprise or mystery, Donner lets us down. It's a limp and dreary movie. The lovers are helped by a boy thief, played by Matthew Broderick, who is like a contemporary urban-American adolescent placed in medieval France-the effect is something like putting, say, a boy Woody Allen at Robert Taylor's elbow in IVANHOE. The device doesn't feel integral and the boy is made too endearing and impish, yet even when Broderick's lines are irritating, this happy, ingenious young actor isn't. Put up on the screen for comic relief, he has more of a fairy-tale quality than anyone else. With Leo McKern as the swillbelly priest, and Ken Hutchinson. The overly fastidious script, which lifts its climax from Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, is by Edward Khmara, Michael Thomas, and Tom Mankiewicz; the cinematography is by Vittorio Storaro; the disco-medieval music is by Andrew Powell. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

The Ladykillers

UK (1955): Crime/Comedy
90 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

This sinister black comedy of murder accelerates until it becomes a grotesque fantasy of murder. The actors seem to be having a boisterous good time getting themselves knocked off. Alec Guinness, almost done in by great, hideous teeth-so enormous they give him master-criminal status-is the leader of a horrendous gang that includes Peter Sellers as Harry, the plump, awkward teddy boy. Katie Johnson is the cheerful old lady who upsets their fiendish plans simply by living in a world of her own. As her victims are, in some ways, even less real than she (she, at least, is as real as a good fairy), the disasters that befall them are extravagantly funny. With Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Danny Green, Jack Warner, and Frankie Howerd as the barrow boy. Directed by Alexander Mackendrick; written by William Rose.

The Landlord

US (1970): Drama/Comedy
113 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

Hal Ashby's d�but film as a director is one of his best. Based on the novel by Kristin Hunter, a black woman, and adapted by another black writer, William Gunn, it's about an affable, rich blond bachelor (Beau Bridges) who gets in over his head when he buys a house in a black ghetto, intending to throw out the tenants and turn it into his own handsome townhouse. The tenants include Pearl Bailey, and Diana Sands in probably her finest screen performance-when she becomes sexually and emotionally involved with the new landlord, he starts learning something about passion and terror. The dialogue is crisp and often quite startling, and though the editing may be a little too showy and jumpy, the picture has originality and depth, and it's full of sharp, absurdist humor. Lee Grant is particularly funny as Beau Bridges' ditsy mother and Lou Gossett, Jr., is fairly amazing as Diana Sands' axe-wielding husband. Also with Mel Stewart, Susan Anspach, Marki Bey, Grover Dale, Bob Klein, Walter Brooke, and Douglas Grant. Produced by Norman Jewison; cinematography by Gordon Willis; music by Al Kooper. The distributors may have been frightened off by the tense, interracial byplay-or perhaps the public was; relatively few people saw the picture and it's rarely revived. United Artists.

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