The Most Dangerous Game

US (1932): Thriller/Adventure
63 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

An amusing classic suspense melodrama; the plot was used several times, but this version, directed by Irving Pichel and Ernest Schoedsack, is the most entertaining. Leslie Banks (with his schizoid face--one half suave Englishman, the other half twisted and with suggestions of exotic evil) is the mad hunter who stalks human prey, and Joel McCrea is is target. Fay Wray does her usual charming terrified heroine. RKO.


US (1926): Drama
70 min, No rating, Black & White
Also known as MAT'.

Frequently selected by critics as one of the greatest films of all time. Pudovkin's masterpiece, based on Maxim Gorky's novel, which is set during the 1905 revolution, is not overtly political; it gives an epic sense of that revolution through the emotions of the participants, and sweeps one along by its fervor and a brilliant and varied use of the medium. Vera Baranovskaya plays the mother who is tricked by the police into betraying her son (Nikolai Batalov). Pudovkin (unusual among the great Russian directors for his interest in acting) himself plays the officer who interrogates her. Silent.

The Mother and the Whore

France (1973): Drama
210 min, No rating, Black & White
Also known as LA MAMAN ET LA PUTAIN.

This controversial 3-hour-and-30-minute film, produced, written, and directed by Jean Eustache, is about the aging young of the Left Bank, who live in an atmosphere of apocalyptic narcissism. It is about the disaffection of those who are stranded in a confusion of personal freedom and social hopelessness. Eustache's method resembles the static randomness of the Warhol-Morrissey pictures, but the randomness here is not a matter of indifference; it's a conscious goal. The actors--Jean-Pierre L�aud, Bernadette Lafont, Fran�oise Lebrun, Isabelle Weingarten, and Jacques Renard--were not allowed to deviate from the script, yet Eustache wants the look of chance. He tries to push viewers beyond patience--to rub our noses in his view of reality. Implicitly, he is saying, "I'm going to show you more of the tormented soul than anybody has ever shown you before." This soul belongs to a poor young nurse named Veronika, and the picture stands or falls on the viewer's attitude toward her recital of her sexual humiliations and her loathing of sex without love. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.


France (1966): Drama
80 min, No rating, Black & White

Robert Bresson has made several films of such sobriety that while some people find them awesomely beautiful, other people find sitting through them like taking a whipping and watching every stroke coming. MOUCHETTE, from a Bernanos novel, is about a lonely, mistreated 14-year-old girl who commits suicide. Cinematography by Ghislain Cloquet. In French.

Moulin Rouge

US (1952): Biography
123 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

It's hard to believe this was made by the John Huston who made THE MALTESE FALCON. That was lean; this is fatty (and soft at the center). It's a biography of Toulouse-Lautrec (Jos� Ferrer, standing on his knees in tricky boots), with visual recreations that are often extraordinary. But the script, by Anthony Veiller and Huston, based on Pierre LaMure's book, has been conceived in a deluxe style and takes itself very seriously. It's a pompous movie. Ferrer speaks with a weird, rolling accent and recites his epigrams and his over-written lines as if they were well memorized. With Colette Marchand, Suzanne Flon, and Zsa Zsa Gabor as Jane Avril, singing the famous Georges Auric theme song in a dubbed voice. (Gabor is radiantly pretty, though her gestures while she pretends to sing are idiotic.) Ferrer also plays Lautrec's father--a tall, unfeeling aristocrat. And the cast includes Katherine Kath as La Goulue, Christopher Lee as Gauguin, and Claude Nollier, Muriel Smith, Mary Clare, Jill Bennett, and Peter Cushing. Oswald Morris was the cinematographer; Eliot Elisofon was the color consultant; Paul Sheriff was the art director; the costumes are by Marcel Vert�s. Filmed in France. A Romulus Films Production, released by United Artists.

Mourning Becomes Electra

US (1947): Drama
173 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

O'Neill's 6-hour Freudian-American Greek tragedy accumulates power on the stage, but it merely becomes oppressive in the nearly 3 hours of this painstaking yet static version, written and directed by Dudley Nichols. Rosalind Russell is the Electra, Katina Paxinou her adulterous mother, Raymond Massey her father, and Michael Redgrave her brother. (It is apparent from their accents that they have only recently become a family.) With Kirk Douglas and Leo Genn. RKO.

The Mouse That Roared

UK (1959): War/Comedy
83 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

This is the English comedy in which Peter Sellers--playing a field marshal, an imposingly big-bosomed grand duchess, and the Prime Minister of Grand Fenwick--made his first big impression on American moviegoers. It's about a minuscule mythical country that declares war on the United States, expecting to be quickly defeated and thus eligible for the cash benefits of rehabilitation. Twenty Grand Fenwickians, dressed in armor and toting bows and arrows, set sail for New York in a ramshackle tug. That's about as far as the comedy gets. The film abandons its small, amusing idea and goes off on a wearying tangent about a scientist (David Kossoff) with a big bomb and an ingenue-daughter (Jean Seberg), but it was hugely and inexplicably popular. Leo McKern and William Hartnell are in the cast. Jack Arnold directed; from a novel by Leonard Wibberley, adapted by Roger MacDougall and Stanley Mann.

Movie Movie

US (1978): Comedy
107 min, Rated PG, Color and Black & White, Available on videocassette

It's better than the dum-dum title would suggest: it's a pair of skillful parodies of early 30s movies, written by Larry Gelbart and Sheldon Keller, and directed by Stanley Donen. The two "features," which give chances to a lot of new people, have some of the zest that the brash, intrepid performers fresh from the stage brought to early talkies. The star of both is George C. Scott, who seems to preside. In the first--a black-and-white spoof of Warners fight pictures--he's a white-haired old geezer, a manager-trainer to a young boxer. And in the second--a color parody of backstage musicals, principally based on 42ND STREET--HE'S slick-haired Spats Baxter, a Broadway impresario. As the night-school law student with the knockout punch, Harry Hamlin makes an agreeable d�but, and as the wriggling nightclub performer who corrupts him, Ann Reinking out-Ann-Margrets Ann-Margret. In the second, Barry Bostwick, who plays the singer-composer hero, has that wonderful Dick Powell candied-yam cheerfulness, and there's 6 feet 4 of him falling all over himself; Rebecca York is his saucer-eyed true-blue Ruby Keeler. With Kathleen Beller, Michael Kidd, Jocelyn Brando, Eli Wallach, Red Buttons, and Trish Van Devere, who has a tickling charm in the first but is totally miscast in the second. The film is too tame and too dependent on mismatched metaphors, and the second "feature" sags, but it's generally friendly and enjoyable. There's an expendable introduction by George Burns. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

US (1936): Comedy
115 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Frank Capra-style folk humor is better in slightly shorter doses (this runs almost two hours and the pace could be quicker), but there's no use fighting one's enjoyment of this homey fantasy demonstrating the triumph of small-town values over big-city cynicism. Gary Cooper is Longfellow Deeds the sincere greeting-card poet from New England who comes to New York; Jean Arthur is the wiseacre newspaperwoman who starts out by making a public joke of him and then falls in love with him. The film culminates in a courtroom sequence that introduced the word "pixilated" to just about every American home, and set people to examining each other's casual scribbles or sketches--their "doodles." Robert Riskin adapted the Clarence Budington Kelland Saturday Evening Post story, "Opera Hat." The cast includes George Bancroft, Lionel Stander, Douglas Dumbrille, Ruth Donnelly, Emma Dunn, Raymond Walburn, Warren Hymer, Walter Catlett, Mayo Methot, and Jameson Thomas as the twitcher. Capra took the Academy Award for Best Director. Columbia.

Mr. Hulot's Holiday

France (1953): Comedy
86 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

People are at their most desperate when they are working at enjoying themselves; it is Jacques Tati's peculiar comic triumph to have caught the ghastliness of a summer vacation at the beach. Fortunately, his technique is light and dry slapstick; the chronicle of human foibles and frustrations never sinks to the moist or the lovable. As director, co-author, and star, Tati is sparse, eccentric, quick. It is not until afterward--with the sweet, nostalgic music lingering--that these misadventures may take on a certain depth and poignancy. Won the Golden Palm at Cannes. In French.

Mr. Klein

France (1977): Drama
122 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

The title may sound like a Jewish detergent, but nothing gets washed away in this unsatisfying French quasi-thriller, set in Paris in 1942, during the Occupation. It's about a fashionable art dealer (Alain Delon), an Aryan, who buys up treasures from fleeing Jews and then, through what may or may not be a bureaucratic mistake, becomes confused with another Mr. Klein, a non-Aryan. Written by Franco Solinas, this is the kind of parable-thriller that has to be tight to be effective, but the director, Joseph Losey, keeps it going for over two hours. It's a classic example of his weighty emptiness; the atmosphere is heavily pregnant, with no delivery. Delon gives a serious, deliberately charmless performance; as Klein, he's stiff, almost military in bearing, with a dollar-signs-for-eyes look. We watch as this lacklustre, repellent man, with a void where his soul should be, suffers the nervous, embarrassed anxiety of trying to prove he's not Jewish; the scenes are so pointed that they poke you in the eye. (This is a solemn, medicinal variant on GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT.) With Jeanne Moreau, Michel Lonsdale, and Juliet Berto. Cinematography by Gerry Fisher. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Mr. Lucky

US (1943): Drama/Crime/Comedy
100 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A wartime comedy-melodrama, with Cary Grant as a draft-dodging gambler out to bilk a charity organization. He meets a wholesome society girl (Laraine Day) and reforms. It's meant to be breezy, and Grant does get a chance to use Cockney rhyming slang, but the script is gimmicky. He looks uncomfortable in the role of a brash heel, and his mugging doesn't help. H.C. Potter directed competently; the cast includes Florence Bates, Charles Bickford, Kay Johnson, Paul Stewart, and Vladimir Sokoloff. Written by Milton Holmes and Adrian Scott. RKO.

Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation

US (1939): Mystery
63 min, No rating, Black & White

From 1937 to 1939 there were eight of these ingratiating, mildly amusing B-pictures starring Peter Lorre as the smiling, super-polite, super-smart Oriental detective with a bunny-rabbit smile. (This likable fellow--the Columbo of his day--had been thought up by John P. Marquand.) The films were scheduled on the lower half of double bills, but were frequently the better half. This is the last of the batch; in this one Mr. Moto perceives, from an examination of footprints, that a man who is taken for lame is faking. Norman Foster directed; with Joseph Schildkraut, Lionel Atwill, and Virginia Field. 20th Century-Fox.

Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid

US (1948): Fantasy/Comedy
89 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

William Powell fantasizing a romance and Ann Blyth with a lot of scales on her dress. So-so, and that's putting it generously. Audiences loved the idea, though. Irving Pichel directed; the cast includes Irene Hervey, Andrea King, and Clinton Sundberg. Based on a novel by Guy and Constance Jones; the script is by Nunnally Johnson, who was also the producer. Universal.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

US (1939): Political
129 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Frank Capra's attempt to repeat the country-boy-defeating-the-city-slickers formula of MR. DEEDS succeeded commercially, but the picture has more of the heartfelt in it than is good for the stomach, and it goes on for over two hours. James Stewart is the na�ve small-town hero sent to the Senate; Jean Arthur (whose voice is as teasing as it was in MR. DEEDS) is the knowing secretary who is at first horrified by his simplicity. When the young Senator's illusions are shattered, he stages a filibuster, defeats the villains, and reestablishes the whole government on a firm and honorable basis. No one else can balance the ups and downs of wistful sentiment and corny humor the way Capra can--but if anyone else should learn to, kill him. Sidney Buchman wrote the screenplay, from a story by Lewis R. Foster. The cast includes Claude Rains as a corrupt senator, Guy Kibbee as a venal governor, Beulah Bondi as Ma Smith, and Edward Arnold, Thomas Mitchell, Ruth Donnelly, Harry Carey, H.B. Warner, Porter Hall, Astrid Allwyn, and Eugene Pallette, who gets stuck in a phone booth. Members of the U.S. Senate were so outraged about the picture (and for the wrong reasons) that there was actually talk of a retaliatory bill against the movie interests; the storm blew over when it became apparent that the public loved the film. Music by Dmitri Tiomkin; montage by Slavko Vorkapich. Columbia.

Mrs. Miniver

US (1942): War/Drama
134 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

MGM's wartime salute to gallant England, engineered to make the audience choke up. The theme is the gentry under fire, with, at the same time, some regard for the old nobility and a smile for the quaint antics of the servants under stress. Greer Garson is the excruciatingly proper paragon-heroine, courteous and controlled in every crisis, and Walter Pidgeon is her husband. William Wyler directed this generally offensive picture, adapted from a novel by Jan Struther; shamelessly, it ends with the heroic characters singing "Onward Christian Soldiers" in a partially destroyed church. With Dame May Whitty, Richard Ney, Henry Wilcoxon, Helmut Dantine, Reginald Owen, and Peter Lawford. One of the most scandalously smug of all Academy Award winners, it took Best Picture, Director, Actress (Garson), Supporting Actress (Teresa Wright), and Cinematography (Joseph Ruttenberg).

Mrs. Soffel

US (1984): Drama
110 min, Rated PG-13, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

This love story with a Victorian madwoman heroine is based on an actual case that goes back to 1901, when the wife of the warden of the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh helped two prisoners--the Biddle brothers--escape from Murderers' Row, and ran off with them. Diane Keaton has some startling moments as the sickly, frustrated, unstable Kate Soffel; Mel Gibson is superb as the passionate opportunist Ed Biddle, and Matthew Modine is very fine as his younger brother Jack. Working from a script by Ron Nyswaner, the young Australian director Gillian Armstrong doesn't lay out the reasons for what happens; she evokes them partially, suggestively. The themes don't fully emerge, but there isn't a single image that looks ordinary or stale, and the movie builds an excitement that has something to do with the fact that the flight of the Biddles with Kate in tow is deranged. (They're killing each other by staying together.) With Edward Herrmann as Soffel, Trini Alvarado, Jennie Dundas, Danny Corkill, and Harley Cross as the Soffel children, and Paula Trueman and Les Rubie as the elderly couple. Cinematography by Russell Boyd; production design by Luciana Arrighi. The prison is the one from which the trio actually fled into the night. MGM.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

The Mummy

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

When Karl Freund, the great UFA cinematographer, came to the U.S. he shot both DRACULA and MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE for Universal, and then the studio offered him the chance to direct THE MUMMY. What he did was so elegant and uncommercial that he got only one other chance to direct (MAD LOVE in 1935) and that was for a different studio, and in a far more obvious macabre style. THE MUMMY unnerves one because instead of fast chills there are long, quiet, ominous scenes; the lighting is so masterly and the moods are so effectively sustained that the pictures gives one prickly sensations. Boris Karloff is the 3000-year-old mummy brought back to life, and the dark, arresting Zita Johann is the English girl whom he stalks in the streets of Cairo because she is the incarnation of the princess he loved. It's silly but it's also disturbingly beautiful. No other horror film has ever achieved so many emotional effects by lighting; this inexpensively made film has a languorous, poetic feeling, and the eroticism that lives on under Karloff's wrinkled parchment skin is like a bad dream of undying love. With Bramwell Fletcher, David Manners, Arthur Byron, Noble Johnson, Leonard Mudie, and the inevitable Edward Van Sloan. The screenplay by John L. Balderston is based on a story by Nina Wilcox Putnam and Richard Schayer; the cinematography is credited to Charles Stumar. Universal.


US (1961): Comedy/Animated
8 min, No rating, Color

A classic satire of the military. Jules Feiffer's character Munro is a 4-year-old who is drafted into the U.S. Army. This 8-minute animated cartoon was directed by Gene Deitch.


UK (1930): Mystery
108 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

A carefully designed early Hitchcock whodunit set among theatre people. It's more languidly paced than his mid-30s work, and the dialogue is spoken in stage rhythms, but there are inventive moments. Herbert Marshall, dryly amiable in his first talking picture, plays an eminent actor--a knight serving on a jury. Convinced of the innocence of the young actress (Norah Baring) who is on trial for murder, he tries to solve the case in order to save her life. There's an experiment with a stream-of-consciousness monologue, there's an odd, perhaps partly improvised comedy scene involving some children invading Marshall's bedroom, and there's also a tricky sequence in which he listens to Tristan on the radio while he shaves. The actual murderer turns out to be a transvestite--daring at the time. It's a very class-conscious film, but in a somewhat snobbish way; we seem to be expected to identify with Marshall's stylish courtliness and to see the "lower orders" through his eyes. With Miles Mander, Esm� Percy, Donald Calthrop, Edward Chapman and Phyllis Konstam as the couple in the breakfast scene, and a glimpse of Hitchcock on a street. The screenplay, by Alma Reville, is taken from the stage version of Clemence Dane's novel Enter Sir John.

Murder at the Vanities

US (1934): Mystery/Musical/Dance
89 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

A backstage musical with a murderer loose in the theatre--an unusual mixture of thriller and musical that is moderately effective both ways, though the doubling of the 30s conventions makes it plot-heavy and doubly antiqued. The star is the dimpled international idol Carl Brisson (who sings "Cocktails for Two"); with Jack Oakie, Kitty Carlisle, Victor McLaglen, Gail Patrick, Dorothy Stickney, Gertrude Michael (who sings "Marahuana"), and some sumptuous footage of Duke Ellington and his orchestra. Directed by Mitchell Leisen; written by Carey Wilson, Joseph Gollomb, and Sam Hellman. Paramount.

Murder by Contract

US (1958): Thriller
81 min, No rating, Black & White

A cleanly constructed low-budget suspense picture about a hired killer (Vince Edwards). Shot in just eight days, it was directed by Irving Lerner, who was better known as an editor. The material is thin, but it has been worked out in visual terms, and the movie is often taut and exciting. Some high-contrast sequences are models of black-and-white atmospheric storytelling. With Herschel Bernardi, Michael Granger, Joseph Mell, and Caprice Toriel as the killer's elusive target. From a screenplay by Ben Simcoe; score by Perry Botkin; cinematography by Lucien Ballard.

Murder by Decree

Canada-UK (1979): Mystery
121 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A newly written Sherlock Holmes story, set in Victorian London. Directed by Bob Clark, this handsome Anglo-Canadian production features fine Whistler-like dockside scenes and many beautiful, ghoulish gothic-movie touches, but the modern political attitudes expressed by the writer, John Hopkins, misshape the picture. The mellifluous-voiced Christopher Plummer makes a good-looking Holmes, but, as usual, Plummer, though accomplished, is totally unconvincing. And, as the role is written, Holmes seems less a master of deduction than a wet-eyed saintly firebrand trying (ineffectively) to save mankind from the corruption of those in power. This Holmes also patronizes the common man, in the form of Dr. Watson, with whom he lives in an "odd couple" relationship that is the film's best comic resource. James Mason is a superb Dr. Watson--silly, querulous, innately good; it's a small-scale but great performance. With Genevi�ve Bujold, who does one of her finest child-woman numbers, and Donald Sutherland, John Gielgud, David Hemmings, Susan Clark, Frank Finlay, and the bland, tedious-as-usual Anthony Quayle. The dialogue is fairly lively, though the plot is impenetrable.

Murder, He Says

US (1945): Comedy
93 min, No rating, Black & White

In the same native cornball-surreal black comedy mode as ARSENIC AND OLD LACE but much looser, sillier, funnier. Fred MacMurray is the insurance agent who stumbles into the house of a family of homicidal hillbillies; Mabel Paige is the unloved grandma, Marjorie Main is the yowling, whipcracking mother, Porter Hall the mousy meek father, and Peter Whitney the half-witted twin sons--one of whom suffers from a crick in his back. Mother's cooking features a poison that glows in the dark, and in the climactic sequence the assembled characters keep turning off the lights and spinning the lazy-Susan table to avoid the poison. (There has probably never been anything like this sequence in other farces; it's a classic of slapstick craziness.) The work of the director, George Marshall, is square at times; it isn't up to the madness and invention of Lou Breslow's screenplay (based on Jack Moffitt's story). With Helen Walker, Jean Heather, and Barbara Pepper. Paramount.

Murder, My Sweet/Farewell My Lovely

US (1944): Mystery
95 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell) is employed by Moose Malloy (Mike Mazurki), a murderous, cretinous giant, to find the sweetheart he lost while doing a stretch in the jug; two beautiful women (Claire Trevor and Anne Shirley) periodically embrace Marlowe--a not especially perceptive detective--for the purpose of pulling his own gun on him. There was a time when Raymond Chandler regarded this movie, based on his Farewell, My Lovely, as the most successful film adaptation of his novels, and thought that Dick Powell came closest to his conception of Marlowe. The author's judgment seems shaky: the movie is energetic enough, but its crumminess can't all be explained by fidelity to the material. Edward Dmytryk directed, in the brutal, fast style popular in the war years; the screenplay is by John Paxton. With Esther Howard, Otto Kruger, Miles Mander, and Ralf Harolde. (The 1945 version is, however, much livelier than a 1975 remake that returned to Chandler's title, Farewell, My Lovely; it was directed by Dick Richards and stars Robert Mitchum as a Marlowe who keeps telling us what's going on, using embarrassingly ornate tough-guy phrases concocted by the scenarist, David Z. Goodman.) RKO.

Murder on the Orient Express

UK (1974): Mystery
127 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

This all-star version of an Agatha Christie antiquity promises to be a sumptuous spread, and so it is, but not as tasty as one had hoped. When the train stops--it's snowbound throughout the murder investigation--the picture loses its impetus. Vanessa Redgrave, Rachel Roberts, and Ingrid Bergman are standouts in a cast that includes John Gielgud, Lauren Bacall, Wendy Hiller, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, Richard Widmark, Tony Perkins, Michael York, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Martin Balsam, George Coulouris, Colin Blakely, Denis Quilley, and Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot. Sidney Lumet directed, from Paul Dehn's script. The percussively edited pre-title montage is by that wizard of film shorthand, Richard Williams; the film proper, shot by Geoffrey Unsworth, reaches its visual peak in the railway station, at the opening. Production design by Tony Walton. Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

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