US (1969): Science Fiction/Adventure
134 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

A space epic with a horse-and-buggy script. It's dull out there in space, though not as depressing as listening to the astronauts' wives back home. John Sturges directed, in his sleep. The actors playing Mr. Nice include Gregory Peck, James Franciscus, Richard Crenna, and David Janssen. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

The Marquise of O

France-Germany (1976): Drama
102 min, Rated PG, Color
Also known as DIE MARQUISE VON O�.

Eric Rohmer's word-for-word, gesture-for-gesture transcription of the 1808 Heinrich von Kleist novella manages to miss the spirit just about completely. A bold, funny story becomes a formal, tame film-it's like a historical work recreated for educational television. Edith Clever is skilled and likable as the Marquise, but the droopy Bruno Ganz is miscast as the rapist Count. With Edda Seippel as the Marquise's mother. Cinematography by Nestor Almendros. In German.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

A Married Woman

France (1964): Drama
94 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette
Also known as UNE FEMME MARI�E.

Jean-Luc Godard wrote and directed this peculiarly abstract treatment of a young married woman (Macha M�ril), her dissatisfactions, her patterns as a consumer, and her infidelities. There are witty bits, but they don't add up to much. Godard doesn't seem involved with the woman; he doesn't seem to care about her. With Bernard No�l, Philippe Leroy, and Roger Leenhardt as himself. In French.

The Marrying Kind

US (1952): Drama/Comedy
93 min, No rating, Black & White

In the early 50s, Hollywood wasn't making very many movies about the troubled lives of average couples, and so some people took this uneven, serious sit-com, directed by George Cukor from a script by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, to be highly commendable. As the couple whose marriage is breaking up, Judy Holliday (of the friendly brass lungs) and Aldo Ray (with his lightweight cracked-gravel croak) have a surprising rapport. But there's nothing to this movie except the expertly contrived misunderstandings of simple "little" people. It's warm; at times it's likeable. But does anybody believe a minute of it? With Madge Kennedy as a judge, and Peggy Cass and Phyllis Povah. Columbia.


US (1955): Drama
91 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

It was the first American film to take the Golden Palm at Cannes; then it became a huge success at home and went on to rack up four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Actor-Ernest Borgnine, Director-Delbert Mann, Screenplay-Paddy Chayefsky. Borgnine is the shy, fat Bronx butcher who goes to a dance hall and meets a lonely high-school teacher (Betsy Blair). You have to have considerable tolerance to make it through Chayefsky's repetitive dialogue, his insistence on the humanity of "little" people, and his attempt to create poetry out of humble, drab conversations. With Esther Minciotti as Borgnine's Italian mother; Augusta Ciolli as his aunt; Joe Mantell as Angie, the image of the futile male; and Jerry Paris and Karen Steele. This small-scale, overly celebrated film began life as a television play. (On TV it starred Rod Steiger). United Artists.

Mary of Scotland

US (1936): Historical/Biography
123 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Not a vintage year for Katharine Hepburn films; this was one of her three box-office duds, and it deserved to fail. The picture drips prestige. John Ford directed, and Dudley Nichols adapted the Maxwell Anderson play. And poor Fredric March was enlisted to play the fighting Scotsman Bothwell, who loved Mary and proved to be her undoing. The film is performed in a horribly high-flown style, with everybody posing against the fake-looking backgrounds and reciting lines that are so bad there's no way to say them without sounding affected. March also tries to manage an accent; it's probably Scottish, but all you can be sure of is that it's a mistake. Hepburn tries for an exalted, romantic manner of speech, and she goes in for a lot of openmouthed radiance and fluttering eyelashes. (You can see why she became box-office poison for a while.) With Florence Eldridge, who plays Queen Elizabeth as a wicked witch (she laughs heh heh heh), and Donald Crisp, John Carradine, Robert Barrat, Monte Blue, Alan Mowbray, Moroni Olsen, Frieda Inescort, and Douglas Walton. Produced by Pandro S. Berman, for RKO.

Mary, Queen of Scots

US (1971): Historical/Biography
128 min, Rated PG, Color

Periods of history "fraught with intrigue"--as they used to say--don't film well. Mary's "tragic destiny" has always been a movie flop. There's no motivating idea visible in this version, produced abroad by Hal B. Wallis, and the leaden script, by John Hale, lacks romantic spirit and dramatic sense. We're offered primer polarities: Mary is a woman before she's a queen and Elizabeth vice versa. The banner lines on the ads were: "Mary, Queen of Scots, who ruled with the heart of a woman" and "Elizabeth, Queen of England, who reigned with the power of a man." In other words, Mary the loser was a real woman. (Elizabeth didn't reign with the power of a man but with the power of a queen.) Vanessa Redgrave brings a tremulous, romantic-goddess quality to Mary; Glenda Jackson, likable but as contemporary in this version as Bette Davis, gives Elizabeth a sort of camp humor. Her red wigs seem almost prankishly terrible, as if designed to subvert the imposing production. (She looks like a ragpicker hag dressed by Klimt.) The director, Charles Jarrott, struggles to give it all a little lift, but without a better script Hercules couldn't raise this story off the ground. With Trevor Howard, Timothy Dalton, Ian Holm, Patrick McGoohan, Daniel Massey, and Nigel Davenport. Cinematography by Christopher Challis. Universal.


France-Sweden (1966): Drama
103 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette
Also known as MASCULIN-F�MININ.

Jean-Luc Godard's graceful, intuitive examination of the courtship rites of "the children of Marx and Coca-Cola." The boy, a pop revolutionary (Jean-Pierre L�aud), is full of doubts and questions. The girl (Chantal Goya) is a y�-y� singer with a thin, reedy little voice; her face is haunting just because it's so empty--she seems alive only when she's looking in the mirror toying with her hair. The film--a combination of journalistic sketches, love lyrics, and satire--is about the differing attitudes of the sexes toward love and war in an atmosphere of total and easy disbelief, when government policies are accepted with the same contempt as TV commercials. The two lovers and their friends are united by their disdain for the world of adults, and by the pop culture which they love. The film includes informal boy-to-boy conversations about women and politics; there is a phenomenal six-minute single-take parody interview conducted by the hero with a Miss Nineteen; and there are two boy-girl sessions which define the contemporary meaning of masculine and feminine. Godard captures the awkwardnesses that reveal--the pauses, the pretensions, the mannerisms. He gets at the differences in the way girls are with each other and with boys, and boys with each other and with girls. Not just what they do, but how they smile and look away. In French.

The Mask of Dimitrios

US (1944): Spy/Crime
95 min, No rating, Black & White

This glossy "international" thriller, based on an Eric Ambler novel, seems modest because there are no stars in it, only featured players. In the days when studios had stars under contract, it didn't cost the company anything to toss them into a movie, so this starless picture was considered a real oddity. Peter Lorre is--surprise--the good guy. This doesn't turn out to be such a hot idea: when Lorre isn't being a degenerate, sly pussycat he's plump and pleasant, but colorless. He is cast as a Dutch novelist who tries to track down the background of the corpse, Dimitrios (Zachary Scott). The trail leads to strange places (Istanbul, Smyrna, Sofia, Belgrade, etc.) and to familiar people--Sydney Greenstreet, Victor Francen, Faye Emerson, Eduardo Ciannelli, Florence Bates, Monte Blue, Steven Geray, and John Abbott (you could hardly have a tale of dark intrigue without him). Directed by Jean Negulesco, the picture has more mood than excitement. The screenplay is by Frank Gruber. Warners.

The Mask of Fu Manchu

US (1932): Horror/Adventure
68 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Fortunately, Boris Karloff doesn't seem to take his Oriental accoutrements too seriously. As the sinister Dr. Fu Manchu's daughter, Myrna Loy isn't as archly bemused as Karloff, but she's fun to see in her slinky getup. A tolerable, campy entertainment, with Karen Morley, Lewis Stone, Jean Hersholt, and, in the juvenile lead, Charles Starrett, who has a perfect profile and is a perfectly deadly actor. Charles Brabin and Charles Vidor directed; from the Sax Rohmer story. MGM.


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

A tranquil, sophisticated thriller set in the Hamptons. The orphan heroine (Meg Tilly) belongs to the old rich; her money--about $200 million--has a patina. The men who circle around her are Rob Lowe as a hired-hand yachting captain, John Glover as the last of her mother's many husbands, and Doug Savant as a new police officer. Thin as the picture is, it has an odd, subterranean pull. Murders take place, but the narrative just keeps unfolding effortlessly, and you're drawn along, wanting to understand the pattern of deceit. Bob Swaim directed, from a crafty and even-toned script by Dick Wolf; the cinematography, by David Watkin, gives the life of the rich a luxuriance--makes it palpably desirable. With Dana Delany, Kim Cattrall, and Erik Holland. MGM.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Masquerade in Vienna

Germany (1934): Romance/Drama
87 min, No rating, Black & White
Also known as MASKERADE.

Anton Walbrook, young and elegant, plays the artist who sketches the wife of a prominent Viennese surgeon in nothing but a mask and a muff, and then is forced to invent a model. Paula Wessely is the girl he invents. Walter Reisch's light, romantic screenplay is an almost perfect example of writing for the screen. Directed by Willi Forst; cinematography by Franz Planer. In German.


Spain (1986): Drama/Comedy
102 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Directed by Pedro Almod�var (just before he made the 1987 LAW OF DESIRE), this comedy is all lush, clownish excess. Everything is eroticized--the colors, the violence. The opening (horrible, slasher images on a VCR--crimes against women--that a retired, gored bullfighter masturbates to) stuns you for a few seconds before it makes you laugh. The characters in this movie act out their wildest fantasies, or, like the handsome, wealthy young virgin �ngel (Antonio Banderas), try to act them out, and embarrass themselves. �ngel is training to be a bullfighter, but he faints at the sight of blood. He's such a supreme fantasist that he hallucinates and sees what happened in a recent series of murders. Unluckily, he's fantasist enough to think that he committed them. The images are sumptuously sick and funny, with hair ornaments used as daggers, tall women in swirling cloaks, and love rites performed on the matador's hot-pink cape spread fanlike on the floor. This trashiness has its own poetry and bravura. Assumpta Serna plays a culmination of the scarlet-woman tradition of Joan Crawford, Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, and Anouk Aim�e--all those flaming man-killers with their too vibrant smiles. And Almod�var himself appears as a mad-genius couturier who messes up his curly hair before he appears in public. Also with Nacho Mart�nez as the matador, Eusebio Poncela as the police inspector, Carmen Maura as the psychiatrist, and Eva Cobo, Julieta Serrano, and Chus Lampreave. Written by the director and Jes�s Ferrero; cinematography by �ngel Luis Fern�ndez. In Spanish.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

A Matter of Time

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

The romantic story, taken from Maurice Druon's novel Film of Memory, is about a peasant girl (Liza Minnelli) who gets a job as a maid in a Roman hotel. A contessa (Ingrid Bergman) who lives there was once a great demimondaine; she talks about her romantic adventures, and the maid visualizes herself living through the events. But the film has been mangled: the producers took it away from the director, Vincente Minnelli, shifted scenes around, cut others, and even added stock footage. The result exposes Liza Minnelli, in particular, to ridicule; however, though Ingrid Bergman's performance has no rhythm left, Bergman herself is assured enough to do much of the role in statuesque repose, and she has a glamour beyond anything she's had before onscreen. With Charles Boyer and Isabella Rossellini; cinematography by Geoffrey Unsworth. Released by A.I.P.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.


UK (1987): Drama
140 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The director, James Ivory, painstakingly reproduces the limp, drawn-out construction of E.M. Forster's novel, written in 1913 and 1914, but not published until 1971, a year after his death. It's about a young man's struggle to come to terms with his homosexuality. Forster wants to show that homosexuality is natural, and so Maurice (pronounced Morris) is an average Edwardian stockbroker who lives in the suburbs--a proper hale-and-hearty fellow, narrow-minded and snobbish, like others of his (middle) class. And then Forster tries to demonstrate that Maurice's full physical commitment to his homosexual drives is his redemption--that it burns away his snobbery and turns him into a more perceptive man, a better man. The trap for both the novel and the film is Maurice's blandness; the actor who plays him--tall, blond James Wilby--comes across as passive and slow. (You'd think being a gay man was tantamount to being retarded.) Ivory has a fine, trained eye for light and composition, but when it comes to capturing the feel of repression and of bursting desire he isn't there. The movie is suffocatingly discreet, with classical music in the clinches. Hugh Grant plays Maurice's upper-class Cambridge friend Clive Durham, with whom he experiences three years of platonic frustration, and Rupert Graves is Durham's under-gamekeeper Scudder, with whom Maurice finally experiences physical love. Also with Billie Whitelaw as Maurice's mother, Judy Parfitt as Durham's mother, and Peter Eyre, Denholm Elliott, Ben Kingsley, Simon Callow, and Helena Michell and Kitty Aldridge as Maurice's sisters. The screenplay is by Kit Hesketh-Harvey and Ivory; the dark-toned cinematography is by Pierre Lhomme. A Merchant-Ivory Production, made in England.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.


France (1936): Romance/Historical
89 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

This beautifully made version of the legendary tragic love of Archduke Rudolf, heir apparent to the Hapsburg Empire, for the young Maria Vetsera is one of the most memorable of all French romantic movies. (Several less effective versions followed.) Anatole Litvak directed with far more delicacy than he showed in his later work, and the doomed lovers are played by Charles Boyer and Danielle Darrieux. Boyer hangs a cigarette on his Hapsburg lip and grabs a girl's leg and the movie takes off. In this account Rudolf is a dissolute voluptuary redeemed by his love for the innocent Vetsera--and the young Darrieux is so sexy and lovely in the role that you can just about believe it all. The affair ended abruptly in 1889, at Mayerling, the royal hunting lodge in the Vienna woods; the first movie about these lovers was probably the one produced in Russia in 1915. In French.


UK (1968): Romance/Historical
140 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

Omar Sharif, in stunning uniforms, as Rudolf, the Hapsburg crown prince, tragically in love with Catherine Deneuve--pallid and demure as Maria Vetsera. It's fortunate for other stars that Sharif is around to play these noble noodles, or the others might get stuck with them. Sharif's accent may be unaccountable here, since his parents are James Mason and Ava Gardner, but this movie is not to listen to but to swoon over. If you can get in the right mood maybe you won't notice that Sharif plays moments of passion as if he were straightening his collar. He is the least dashing and explosive of romantic stars; there is nothing bottled up in him, not even a hint of repressed emotion. He is so placid an actor that he seems to ruminate before he speaks. Yet his handsome, soulful face is a token of all romantic heroism, and his pained little smile an emblem of doomed romance. In keeping with the 60s, Rudolf is now a morphine addict who is in love with his mother, and he's also a secret revolutionary--he is introduced to us among the students arrested during a demonstration. (He is incognito, of course.) Sharif's eyes don't sparkle the way they did in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, but they make tears beautifully. And, dull as he is--with his sucked-in cheeks for "spirituality," and the greenish tinge to his skin--he is the perfect royal loser. Rudolf seems the part he was born to; that he can't play it is almost beside the point, he is so perfectly cast. Directed and written by Terence Young (with additional dialogue by other hands), this lavish French-British co-production is swathed in lovely decor, and Sharif is surrounded by actors of such overpowering passivity that he almost passes for energetic. No one speaks above a murmur; it's as if the film had been shot in a public-library reading room. The choice of Ava Gardner--a star famous for beauty and underacting--to play Sharif's mother, the empress, seems inspired. They even resemble each other, and one would have to work hard to dislike either of them. With James Robertson Justice, Genevi�ve Page, Ivan Desny, Moustache, Jacques Berthier, and the Grand Ballet Classique de France--which gives the film its only intense moments. The cinematography is by Henri Alekan; the production design is by Georges Wakh�vitch; the costumes are by Marcel Escoffier.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Going Steady.


US (1937): Romance/Musical
132 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in one of their lavish musicals that is enjoyable for more than camp reasons. The picture is too drawn out, the framing story is pitiably artificial, the staging is often suffocating (with MacDonald dressed in acres of ruffles and flounces), and the score rots your brain, but John Barrymore brings a bitter edge to the role of MacDonald's husband, and the atmosphere of thwarted passion is compelling. Robert Z. Leonard directed, replacing Edmund Goulding, after the producer, Irving Thalberg, died; Hunt Stromberg took over as producer. The huge cast includes Herman Bing, Billy Gilbert, Tom Brown, Lynne Carver, Rafaela Ottiano, Paul Porcasi, Sig Rumann, Harry Davenport, Ivan Lebedeff, and Leonid Kinskey. The montages are by Slavko Vorkapich. The script by Noel Langley is loosely based on the 1917 operetta (with music by Sigmund Romberg), which was based on a 1914 German play. (There was a silent film version in 1923.) MGM.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller

US (1971): Western
121 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A beautiful pipe dream of a movie: Robert Altman's fleeting vision of what frontier life might have been, with Warren Beatty as a cocky small-time gambler and Julie Christie as an ambitious madam in the turn-of-the-century Northwest. Delicate, richly textured, and unusually understated, this modern classic is not like any other film. Altman builds a Western town as one might build a castle in the air--and it's inhabited. His stock company of actors turn up quietly in the new location, as if they were part of a floating crap game, and he creates an atmosphere of living interrelationships. With Keith Carradine, Shelley Duvall, Ren� Auberjonois, John Schuck, Bert Remsen, Michael Murphy, Anthony Holland, Corey Fischer, Hugh Millais, Manfred Schulz, Jack Riley, Robert Fortier, and, in the one sequence that doesn't really work, William Devane as a blowhard lawyer. The script by Altman and Brian McKay is based on the novel McCabe by Edmund Naughton; the cinematography is by Vilmos Zsigmond; the production design and costume supervision are by Leon Ericksen; the songs are by Leonard Cohen; and Lou Lombardo is credited as the second-unit director. Filmed in West Vancouver, British Columbia. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.


US (1974): Crime/Action
116 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Prostratingly dull. John Wayne, eager at the time to change his image, plays a tough cop, modelled on Clint Eastwood's Harry Callahan. As a member of the Seattle police force, Wayne clutches a little gun in gnarled hands the size of cattle hocks. John Sturges directed, at a funereal pace. With Eddie Albert and Colleen Dewhurst. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

Me and My Brother

US (1969): Documentary
95 min, No rating, Color and Black & White

The photographer Robert Frank made this film about Julius Orlovsky, a catatonic boy released from a state institution, and how he is taken care of by his brother, Peter Orlovsky, and Allen Ginsberg. Julius appears in the film and is also acted in some sequences by Joseph Chaikin. Frank tries to investigate insanity, methods of treatment, the nature of acting, the nature of what one records on film, and so on; he tries to do too much, and the viewer doesn't get a chance to sort out his own reactions.

Me and My Gal

US (1932): Romance/Comedy
78 min, No rating, Black & White

Joan Bennett is lively as a wisecracking, gum-chewing waitress; Spencer Tracy is her policeman boyfriend. The Irish humor is spread on thick, but every once in a while Arthur Kober, who did the script, gets off a good one. The melodramatic plot revolves around Bennett's brunette sister (Marion Burns), who is in love with a gangster. Raoul Walsh directed this na�ve, pasted-together yet rather pleasing picture. With Henry B. Walthall as a man who has lost the power of speech, George Chandler as his foolish, good-natured son, and J. Farrell MacDonald. Fox.

The Mean Season

US (1985): Thriller
103 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

It starts out huffing and puffing about opportunistic journalism, but it turns out to be nothing more than an inept thriller about a Miami reporter (Kurt Russell) who gets hot tips from a serial murderer about where to look for fresh corpses. And it has an unintentional, bottomless source of hilarity: the reporter's schoolteacher girlfriend, who screams helplessly in emergencies, is played by the 6-footer Mariel Hemingway. The director, Phillip Borsos, and the cinematographer, Frank Tidy, sustain a lively, stormy gothic atmosphere, and most of the cast is good, but the script, based on John Katzenbach's In the Heat of the Summer, and credited to the pseudonymous Leon Piedmont, is hopelessly moralistic and self-important. The film is at its worst when the heroine scolds the hero (she even scolds the killer), and it's at its near worst when the hero and heroine play scare pranks on each other while the Lalo Schifrin score builds ominously. It's at its best when Richard Jordan is onscreen as an insanely clever sociopathic killer. Jordan has put on some heft, and the fleshiness makes his smoothly handsome baby face more imposing; he has a Brando-like look about him here--with his pampered quality and his big, deep voice, he has finally become weird. With Andy Garcia (he's quietly effective as Martinez), Richard Masur, Joe Pantoliano, and Richard Bradford. Orion.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

Mean Streets

US (1973): Crime
110 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A true original, and a triumph of personal filmmaking. This picture about the experience of growing up in New York's Little Italy has an unsettling, episodic rhythm and it's dizzyingly sensual. The director, Martin Scorsese, shows us a thicker-textured rot than we have ever had in an American movie, and a riper sense of evil. With Harvey Keitel as Charlie, Robert De Niro as Johnny Boy, and Richard Romanus, David Proval, Harry Northup, George Memmoli, Amy Robinson, Cesare Danova, and, in bits, David Carradine, Robert Carradine, and the director--he's the gunman in the car. Script by Scorsese and Mardik Martin; cinematography by Kent Wakeford; produced by Jonathan Taplin. (Most of the film was actually shot in Los Angeles.) Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

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