US (1987): Comedy
82 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The picture features such faded thrills as a shack full of dynamite, a box packed with rattlesnakes, and an ancient, rickety ladder stretched horizontally between two rooftops. You have to keep reminding yourself that you're not just watching the trailer. Kim Basinger is Nadine, a manicurist in a beauty parlor in Austin, Texas, in 1954, who stalls on giving her small-time dreamer husband (Jeff Bridges) a divorce, because she still loves him. When she has been at the scene of a murder and, by mistake, got hold of copies of state plans for a superhighway--inside information that real-estate speculators could parlay into big money--she turns to him for help, and they're both trapped by the local crook (Rip Torn) who arranged for the copies in the first place. Written and directed by Robert Benton, the picture is like a genteel variant of a redneck hillbilly burlesque about how it pays to be lucky and dumb. Basinger is peculiarly muted as an actress and Bridges no longer has the manic, boyish spontaneity his role calls for. As a scuzzball photographer, Jerry Stiller, who has only one scene before he turns into the murder victim, conveys a lifetime of self-disgust; that's more felt life than anyone else shows. With Glenne Headly, Mickey Jones, and Gwen Verdon. Tri-Star.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

The Naked and the Dead

US (1958): War
131 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

Norman Mailer's Second World War novel, turned into a third-rate action movie. Under Raoul Walsh's direction, the action itself--the assault-craft landings on tropical beaches, the thick, steamy jungle where American patrols reconnoitre behind Japanese lines--is impressive; it's the characterizations (plus the lacklustre casting) that prevent this movie from being in any way memorable. The Denis and Terry Sanders script spells out the men's motivations: there's the maniacal sergeant (Aldo Ray), who steals gold from the teeth of dead Japanese; the starched, too-noble lieutenant (Cliff Robertson); the dedicatedly militaristic brigadier general (Raymond Massey); and assorted types played by Richard Jaeckel, William Campbell, James Best, Joey Bishop, Jerry Paris, L.Q. Jones, and, in flashbacks, Lili St-Cyr and Barbara Nichols. Music by Bernard Herrmann; produced by Paul Gregory, for RKO.

The Naked City

US (1948): Crime
96 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

After the success of their BRUTE FORCE, the producer, Mark Hellinger, and the director, Jules Dassin, returned with this fast-jabbing, empty, Manhattan-set melodrama about the Homicide Squad. The drab script is by Albert Maltz and Malvin Wald; the film is visually impressive only. (William Daniels is the cinematographer.) With Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff, Don Taylor, Ted de Corsia, Frank Conroy, and Tom Pedi. (Not to be confused with an infinitely superior film Dassin made in London in 1950 called NIGHT AND THE CITY.) Universal.

The Naked Edge

US (1961): Thriller
99 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

A stilted, witless English thriller that you watch stupefied, trying to figure out how and why it got made, and how Gary Cooper (looking aged and ill--he has huge bags under his eyes) and Deborah Kerr got suckered into doing it. The picture has fancy lighting and tricky camera positions, but they're no fun: you get very tired of the closeups of Kerr's distraught, finely modelled face and her upswept, lady-like hairdo as she agonizes nobly. She suspects that her husband (Cooper) has committed a murder. After a while a viewer may be more perplexed by mysteries such as why is each room made to look huge? Michael Anderson directed; the script (by Joseph Stefano, from Max Ehrlich's novel First Train to Babylon) seems to have picked up the least entertaining aspects of Hitchcock's SUSPICION. With Michael Wilding, Eric Portman, Peter Cushing, Diane Cilento, Hermione Gingold, Wilfrid Lawson, and Ronald Howard.

The Naked Runner

UK (1967): Spy
104 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

Why didn't Frank Sinatra take the professional pride in his movies that he took in his recordings? This implausible, unconvincing spy story doesn't have a single witty idea, and he's cast in the role of an anxious lifeless mouse. The director, Sidney J. Furie, provides enormous vistas for small bits of dialogue, closeups of cups of creamy brown coffee, fancy simulations of Magritte. What on earth for? Done straightforwardly this movie would still be nothing, but it would be half the length. It's stretched out by having the characters address each other as Mr. So-and-So, and it's full of footsteps: that should be the audience leaving. The screenplay, by Stanley Mann, is based on Francis Clifford's novel. A British production, released by Warners.

The Nanny

UK (1965): Horror
93 min, No rating, Black & White

A small-scale English thriller, directed by Seth Holt--deft enough to be tantalizingly suggestive of what it might have been. Though Jimmy Sangster's script, from Evelyn Piper's novel, is just a routine horror job, there's real promise in the conception of the nanny as a mush-mouthed tyrant, with fraudulent sentiments substituting for feeling. The characters are amusingly "modern": the children are "cool," the father insufferable, the mother weak, the aunt self-centered. So far, so good. The exception is Bette Davis, trying to give a restrained performance as the dowdy, repressed nanny, whose 10-year-old charge suspects her of having killed his little sister. Restraint is what Davis has not got much of. Antennae flailing wildly, she signals us that she's being self-effacing, that she's holding back. Everything she does is out of key with the other performers; her thick eyebrows look false, and she treats her hair like a wig, patting it. You have to hand it to Davis, though: she is a star. When she can't dominate by a good performance, she dominates by a bad one. With Jill Bennett, Wendy Craig, James Villiers, Pamela Franklin, Maurice Denham, Jack Watling, and William Dix.

Nanook of the North

US (1922): Documentary
55 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Robert Flaherty, who began as an explorer and anthropologist, once remarked that in the usual travelog, the filmmaker looks down on and never up to his subject. By looking up, Flaherty created a new genre. He began to record the life of a people with a camera, and then, in editing, to distill the meaning. What Flaherty-a great storyteller-distilled was the heroic beauty in simple everyday experience. Instead of going to a culture with a story, he developed his stories out of what he observed; his films have no human villains, yet they have great drama and a surprising amount of comedy. (Like all great documentarians, he imparts his own spirit to his films.) His feature-length study of the Eskimo Nanook, who lives where nothing grows and who depends on what he can kill, was made in 1920 and 1921. Two years later, while people all over the world were applauding this smiling man in his cold and hostile environment, Flaherty's hero died of starvation. He lives on in this movie in a different way from screen actors of the past: Flaherty closes the distance between Nanook and the audience. Financed by Revillon Fr�res. Silent.


France (1927): Historical/Biography
235 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Presented in a reconstructed version in 1981. Abel Gance originally made it as a 6-hour silent film, in color (the prints were tinted and toned by a dye process), and with sections designed to be run on a triple-width screen, by a process called Polyvision. His conception was far more complex than what directors later did with Cinerama, since Gance frequently used the images at the left and right of the central image for contrapuntal effects--history became an avalanche of armies, battles, and crowds. The film is both avant-garde and old-fashioned. In Gance's view Napoleon (Albert Dieudonn�) is a Man of Destiny. Before that, when he's still a boy (Vladimir Roudenko), he's a Boy of Destiny. As a thinker Gance is essentially a fantasist, a mythmaker enslaved by his own schoolboy gush. And when Napoleon is treated as the embodiment of the French Revolution, you know you're in the grip of a crazy. Gance isn't rounded (as, say, Renoir was). His films are superb in glimpses or in sequences, but they're not unified by simple emotion, as Griffith's epics were. They're held together by obsession, by fervor. (When Gance tries for simple, ordinary feelings, he's usually at his worst.) But he's a great moviemaker. In the opening section, a fortresslike military school is in the distance, while in the foreground the courageous 12-year-old Napoleon commands his outnumbered troops in a snowball fight. The camera seems to encompass miles of landscape, yet there's so much activity within the shots, and the movement of the boys is so quick and darting and funny, that the effect is of your eyes clearing--of everything becoming bright. Gance cuts from the long shots to closeups, and adds superimpositions, and then the cutting becomes fast and rhythmic, with Napoleon's face flashing by in one frame of every four, and you realize that the principal purpose of this jazzy blinking is to give you a feeling for speed and movement--and for the possibilities of the medium. Gance doesn't dawdle; he starts off with pinwheels, sparks, madness. The film was chopped down into so many different versions (some of them re-edited by Gance himself) that it took the English filmmaker and film historian Kevin Brownlow years to assemble this new, relatively complete version. Francis Ford Coppola served as impresario for its release in the United States, and a score was prepared by Carmine Coppola. With Gina Man�s as Josephine, Pierre Batcheff as her lover General Hoche, Nicolas Koline as Fleuri, Annabella as his daughter Violine, Antonin Artaud as Marat, and Gance himself as Saint-Just.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

The Narrow Margin

US (1952): Thriller
70 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Richard Fleischer directed this ingenious little sleeper set on a train. It's about a gangster's widow (Marie Windsor--she was the destructive floozy in THE KILLING) on her reluctant way from Chicago to Los Angeles to testify before a grand jury. The gimmick is that she's being stalked by two mobsters, but they don't know what she looks like. This isn't a first-rate thriller; it's rather drab. Yet the train ride and that gimmick help to provide suspense, and a lot of people remember the movie fondly. (It was made for $188,000.) With Charles McGraw and Queenie Leonard. The screenplay is by Earl Felton. (Remade in 1990 by Peter Hyams.) RKO.


US (1975): Drama
159 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The funniest epic vision of America ever to reach the screen. Robert Altman's movie is at once a GRAND HOTEL-style narrative, with 24 linked characters; a country-and-Western musical; a documentary essay on Nashville and American life; a meditation on the love affair between performers and audiences; and an Altman party. In the opening sequences, when Altman's people-the performers we associate with him because he has used them in ways no one else would think of, and they've been filtered through his sensibility-start arriving, and pile up in a traffic jam on the way from the airport to the city, the movie suggests the circus procession at the non-ending of 81. But Altman's clowns are far more autonomous; they move and intermingle freely, and the whole movie is their procession. The basic script is by Joan Tewkesbury, but the actors have been encouraged to work up material for their roles, and not only do they do their own singing but most of them wrote their own songs-and wrote them in character. The songs distill the singers' lives, as the pantomimes and theatrical performances did for the actors in CHILDREN OF PARADISE. With Ronee Blakley as a true folk artist and the one tragic character, and David Arkin, Barbara Baxley, Ned Beatty, Karen Black, Timothy Brown, Keith Carradine, Geraldine Chaplin, Robert Doqui, Shelley Duvall, Allen Garfield, Henry Gibson, Scott Glenn, Jeff Goldblum, Barbara Harris, David Hayward, Michael Murphy, Allan Nicholls, Dave Peel, Cristina Raines, Bert Remsen, Lily Tomlin, Gwen Welles, and Keenan Wynn. Also with Richard Baskin (who arranged and supervised the music) and Elliott Gould and Julie Christie who do bits as themselves. Cinematography by Paul Lohmann. (161 minutes.) Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

Nasty Habits

US (1977): Comedy
96 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

At its best--high wit and inspired silliness--it's a dream of a satire, reminiscent of Bea Lillie's brand of madness. Adapted from The Abbess of Crewe, Muriel Spark's 1974 Watergate travesty set in a convent, the film features a coiffed little wolf pack--Glenda Jackson, flashing her claws, as Nixon, Geraldine Page and Anne Jackson as Haldeman and Ehrlichman, and, in an inspired bit of casting, Sandy Dennis as their flunky, John Dean. In her first real crack at screen farce, Dennis turns tactlessness and blurting into woozy slapstick; it's a blissful performance--she's such a drip she's creepy. As Kissinger, Melina Mercouri doesn't help much, but the scenarist, Robert Enders, has added a Gerald Ford figure--Anne Meara, who is such a brassy, good-humored top banana that everything she does is funny. The script tapers off toward topicality and obviousness, but Michael Lindsay-Hogg's directing has a balmy gracefulness to it. With Edith Evans, Susan Penhaligon, Eli Wallach, Jerry Stiller, and Rip Torn. Cinematography by Douglas Slocombe.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

National Velvet

US (1944): Drama
125 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

One of the most likable movies of all time. Under the direction of Clarence Brown, the 12-year-old Elizabeth Taylor rings true on every line she speaks; she gives what is possibly her most dedicated performance as Velvet Brown, a little English girl who wins a horse in a village lottery and is obsessively determined to enter him in the Grand National. The film is a high-spirited, childish dream; like THE WIZARD OF OZ, it makes people smile when they recall it. As the jockey who coaches Velvet, Mickey Rooney is very fine in some scenes; in others, he's a shade too professional, too ready with his lines. As Velvet's mother, who was the first woman to swim the English Channel, Anne Revere is convincingly strong and daring, even though she is made all-wise, in the MGM parental tradition. Donald Crisp is Velvet's father, Angela Lansbury is Velvet's dreamy, out-of-it older sister, and Jackie "Butch" Jenkins is the little brother of everyone's dreams. With Arthur Treacher, Reginald Owen, Norma Varden, Terry Kilburn, and Arthur Shields. The 1935 novel, by Enid Bagnold, was adapted by Theodore Reeves and Helen Deutsch. Produced by Pandro S. Berman. (A 1978 sequel, INTERNATIONAL VELVET, starred Tatum O'Neal as Velvet's niece.)

The Natural

US (1984): Sports
134 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs, who feels he has it in him to be the greatest baseball player there ever was. With the forces of evil (Kim Basinger) and good (Glenn Close) contending for his soul, this inspirational fantasy asks: Will Redford hold on to his dream, will he be strong enough to triumph? There isn't a whisper of surprise in Redford's performance, and he's photographed looking like a wary, modest god, with enough back lighting and soft focus to make him incandescent even when he isn't doing a thing. Each time Roy is about to pitch or hit with supernatural help, he's glorified in slow motion, and the rhythm of the shots is unvarying. And we're supposed to sit there oohing and ahing over Robert Redford lifting his leg. Directed by Barry Levinson, in a picturesque, prose-poetry style, the movie turns its source material--Bernard Malamud's lively, magical first novel--into primordial hokum. A few performers--Barbara Hershey, Joe Don Baker, and John Finnegan--stand apart from the sludge of moral uplift; the cast also includes Robert Duvall, Wilford Brimley, Richard Farnsworth, Robert Prosky, Darren McGavin, Michael Madsen, and George Wilkosz as the bat boy. The overly showy, overly dark cinematography is by Caleb Deschanel; the tender, drippy, hymnlike music is by Randy Newman; the script is by Roger Towne, with a credit also to Phil Dusenberry, who wrote an earlier version. Tri-Star.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

Naughty Marietta

US (1935): Musical
106 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

It's an atrocity, of course, and one of the most spoofed of all the Jeanette MacDonald-Nelson Eddy operettas, and yet it has vitality and a mad sort of appeal. When those two profiles come together as they sing "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life," it's beyond kitsch, it's in a realm of its own. She's a princess who has fled France and come to the New World and he's a valiant Indian scout. With Elsa Lanchester, Douglass Dumbrille, Frank Morgan, Joseph Cawthorn, and Cecilia Parker. W.S. Van Dyke directed, from a script by John Lee Mahin, Frances Goodrich, and Albert Hackett based on Rida Johnson Young's operetta. The music is by Victor Herbert. Hunt Stromberg produced, for MGM.

The Navigator

US (1924): Comedy
69 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Arguably, Buster Keaton's finest--but amongst the Keaton riches can one be sure? What isn't subject to debate is that this movie about a useless young millionaire (Keaton), who can't even shave himself, and his rich dizzy girlfriend (Kathryn McGuire) adrift on an enormous, deserted ocean liner without lights or steam is one of the greatest comedies ever made. It was also his biggest box-office success. Keaton (and Donald Crisp) directed. According to Keaton, Crisp was to take care of the dramatic scenes but lost interest in them and "turned into a gagman. Well, that we didn't want, but we did manage to pull the picture through." Keaton pulled it through all right, while playing with the abstract possibilities of the film image the way a violin virtuoso uses his fiddle. Noble Johnson is the cannibal chief; Crisp's face appears in a scene. Metro-Goldwyn. Silent.


Spain (1958): Religious
92 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The hero is a gentle Mexican priest--a Candide who is robbed and cheated--in this simple, masterly, ambiguous film by Luis Bu�uel which is (perhaps in spite of his intention) his most tender. A woman offers Nazarin a pineapple and her blessing. Nazarin is so stubbornly proud that it's a struggle for him to accept, and Bu�uel himself is so proud that he will hardly allow the scene to have any weight. Humility is very difficult for him; he just tosses in the pineapple. He's determined not to give in to the folly of tenderness, but it's there. With Francisco Rabal. In Spanish.

Near Dark

US (1987): Horror
95 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The vampires here are a gang of outlaws travelling by van, drifting around the country, hibernating in motels during the sunlight hours. Most of the time they pick off a chance victim, but when they're really bloodthirsty they take over a roadside bar and slaughter everybody in it. This thriller, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, has a nocturnal, erotic atmosphere, shards of wit, and some better performances than are customary in the genre. And it becomes more intense as it goes along. Vampirism is reversible here, so the characters' fates aren't sealed, and this allows for curiosity about what will happen to the melancholy heroine, appealingly played by Jenny Wright. (She bites reluctantly and almost mournfully, yet hungrily.) Bill Paxton, as the most rambunctious of the gang, has a biker's gusto that energizes his scenes. Jenette Goldstein makes an impact, too--she's the mom figure of the pack. The cast includes Lance Henriksen as the dad figure, Joshua Miller as the little brother, Adrian Pasdar as the new inductee, Tim Thomerson, and Marcie Leeds. A painter turned filmmaker, Bigelow (who was a graduate student in film at Columbia) shows a talent for the uncanny; the cinematography, by Adam Greenberg, contributes to the exploitation-movie lyricism that draws you into the horror. The script is by Eric Red and Bigelow; music by Tangerine Dream; editing by Howard Smith. Released by De Laurentiis.


US (1976): Drama
121 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Television, Paddy Chayefsky says, is turning us into morons and humanoids; people have lost the ability to love. Who has--him? Oh, no, the blacks, the revolutionaries, and a power-hungry executive at the fictional UBS network named Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway). The cast of this messianic farce includes William Holden, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, Beatrice Straight, and Ned Beatty, and they all take turns yelling at us soulless masses. Sidney Lumet directed. Academy Awards: Best Actor (Finch), Actress (Dunaway), Supporting Actress (Straight), Screenplay (Chayefsky). United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Nevada Smith

US (1966): Western
135 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A Western, derived from material in the Harold Robbins novel The Carpetbaggers that wasn't used in the 1964 film. Steve McQueen plays a half-breed boy who devotes his adolescence and early manhood to tracking down the men who killed his parents. (The boy's Indian mother is mutilated in a shockingly violent scene; it isn't staged to give you a kick but rather to make you understand the boy's helpless rage and his long search for revenge.) McQueen gives an earnest performance, though he is too often openmouthed and slack-jawed; that seems to be his way of acting youthful. The other characters are too conventional--they're bad guys and good, sweet women. The script (by John Michael Hayes) isn't rich enough for the loving care that the veteran director, Henry Hathaway, and the veteran cinematographer, Lucien Ballard, lavish on it. They provide the look of authenticity and the proficiency and beauty of a well-made movie. Ballard's images are like his extraordinary work in THE MAGNIFICENT MATADOR (1955)--A discovery and celebration of blue. With Brian Keith, Suzanne Pleshette, Karl Malden, Raf Vallone, Arthur Kennedy, Martin Landau, Janet Margolin, Howard Da Silva, Pat Hingle, John Litel, Gene Evans, Josephine Hutchinson, Lyle Bettger, Bert Freed, Val Avery, and Ted de Corsia. (Not to be confused with the 1975 made-for-TV movie, also called NEVADA SMITH.) A Joseph E. Levine Production/Avco.

Never Cry Wolf

US (1983): Adventure
105 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Adapted from Farley Mowat's autobiographical book, this Carroll Ballard film is about a young biologist (Charles Martin Smith) working for the Canadian government who is sent to spend a year in the sub-Arctic North. His mission is to find a way to get rid of the wolves that have supposedly been devastating the caribou herds, but he learns that men, rather than wolves, are the predators. Visually (and aurally, too), the film is magnificent. It needs a more stirring script and a central actor with more range (and some depth). But there's a lot of free-floating transcendence, and though it doesn't serve the prosaic story, it certainly holds you. Everything that Ballard (working with Hiro Narita as the cinematographer) shoots seems new, and it has a distinctive, shimmering purity. With Brian Dennehy as Rosie, Zachary Ittimangnaq as Ootek, and Samson Jorah as Mike. Disney.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break

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

W.C. Fields in his prime. Like THE BANK DICK of the year before, this one deals with making a movie. The movie Fields wants to make is set in a Ruritania in the clouds that is native American surrealism--comic-strip foolishness and then some. Up there, he encounters the great-bosomed comic divinity, Margaret Dumont. The film has also its horror: an erstwhile ingenue named Gloria Jean. You can't just shut your eyes because she sings. With Leon Errol; directed by Edward Cline. Universal.

Never on Sunday

Greece (1960): Drama/Comedy
91 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Melina Mercouri, as the happy whore who goes to bed only with men she likes, in Jules Dassin's clumsy fable about the joys of amorality and the stupidity of virtue. Pinheaded Shavian ironies and an exhaustingly robust heroine, but a great success. Made in Greece, with bouzouki music by Manos Hadjidakis. In English and Greek.

The New Land

Sweden (1972): Drama
161 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette
Also known as NYBYGGARNA.

At the end of THE EMIGRANTS, the viewer wanted to go on to find out if the survivors of the mid-19th-century emigration from Sweden found what they had hoped for. In this second half, the master director Jan Troell shows what happened to them in Minnesota. Together, the two halves offer the pleasures of a rich, overflowing epic novel. Max von Sydow has never given a better performance. (In his case, that's saying something.) And Liv Ullmann, pale and fragile, intense and determined, has a delicacy that isn't evident in her performances for Ingmar Bergman. Both films were directed, photographed, and edited by Troell, who also wrote the scripts with the producer, Bengt Forslund, based on novels by Vilhelm Moberg. With Eddie Axberg and Monica Zetterlund. In Swedish.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

A New Leaf

US (1971): Comedy
102 min, Rated G, Color, Available on videocassette

Elaine May adapted and directed this harmlessly doddering comedy about an aristocratic American playboy (Walter Matthau?) who must marry a fortune in six weeks and finds a rich botanist (May). It's an unusually ugly-looking movie, and one can't be sure that much of anything in it was intended, but there is a sweetness about its absence of style and about its shapeless, limp comic scenes. William Redfield and George Rose help. Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

New York Stories

US (1989): Drama/Comedy
123 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A three-part anthology film, with sections by Martin Scorsese, Francis Coppola, and Woody Allen. Scorsese's intensely enjoyable LIFE LESSONS features a masterly performance by Nick Nolte as an Action painter who needs tumult in his life. (Richard Price wrote the script.) Coppola's LIFE WITHOUT ZOE is a forgettable attempt to use New York as a city out of the Arabian Nights. Woody Allen's OEDIPUS WRECKS is a Freudian vaudeville about a Jewish lawyer (played by Allen) who feels that if he marries a Gentile (Mia Farrow) he'll escape his mother (Mae Questel). (He doesn't stand a chance.) This short-story comedy is a bit too long and schematic, but it has some genuine laughs, and a lovely performance by Julie Kavner as a hopeless involuntary comic. All told, the movie is a two-base hit. Touchstone (Disney).
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.

New York, New York

US (1977): Musical
164 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

An honest failure. This United Artists big-budget musical film, directed by Martin Scorsese, suffers from too many conflicting intentions. Scorsese works within the artifices of 40s movie-musical romances and stylizes the sets in order to emphasize the shot-on-a-sound stage look. Evoking the movie past, he's trying to get at the dark side that was left out of the old clich� plots. But the improvisational, Cassavetes-like psychodrama that develops between the stars (Robert De Niro and Liza Minnelli) seems hollow and makes us uneasy, and sequences go on covering the same uncertain ground; the director seems to be feeling his way through a forest of possibilities (he shot a much longer film and then cut it down to 2 hours, 33 minutes). The effect is of desperately talented people giving off bad vibes. De Niro plays a restless hipster, a tenor-sax player who's frustrated in the big-band era--he's already into the progressive bop that's not yet accepted. Minnelli is a big-band singer who becomes popular with a wide audience through records and in musical movies. The story is about their meeting at a VJ Day celebration, their marriage, its dissolution, and their diverging musical paths. Though his role lacks depth and likability, De Niro, sleek and handsome and jumpy, brings it a locked-in, hotheaded intensity that almost holds the picture together--for the first half, anyway. But the story loses momentum once the girl gets pregnant. Trying to be subdued, Minnelli seems somewhat dazed--openmouthed and vacuous, and unpleasantly overripe. She pushes her scenes; in her hyper way, she's as false as Julie Andrews. Her two big numbers ("But the World Turns Round" and the title song) are, however, in their own wildly hysterical show-biz terms, smashing (and she's in superb voice). With Diahnne Abbott as the Harlem Club singer, Lionel Stander, Barry Primus, Mary Kay Place, Lenny Gaines, George Memmoli, and George Auld, who gives a good, sour performance as the jaundiced band leader and also dubs De Niro's sax. In addition to some mellow big-band standards, there are new songs by John Kander and Fred Ebb. The screenplay started with Earl Mac Rauch; then Mardik Martin, the cast, and others worked on it. The cinematography is by Laszlo Kovacs. Irving Lerner and Marcia Lucas were the editors; the film is dedicated to Lerner, who died during the final editing stages. (In 1981, a longer version--2 hours, 43 minutes--was released, with Minnelli's number "Happy Endings" restored.)

The Next Man

US (1976): Spy
108 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

Glamour and gore, featuring an international-playgirl assassin (Cornelia Sharpe, who speaks tonelessly and slits her eyes to express emotion). The ludicrous story is about a war between oil cartels and a visionary Saudi Arabian diplomat (Sean Connery) who's trying to bring about world peace (by making gaseous speeches). Anti-terrorist sentiments are tossed in between the cheesecake and the bombs, bullets, and knives. The picture teeters on the edge of parody without giving itself the relief of falling over. The producer, Martin Bregman, originated this project; Richard C. Sarafian directed. With Marco St. John, Albert Paulsen, Adolfo Celi, Ted Beniades, Charles Cioffi, and Bregman; cinematography by Michael Chapman. Released by Allied Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Next Stop, Greenwich Village

US (1976): Comedy
109 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

Paul Mazursky's wonderful autobiographical lyric satire about a young comedian's life in the Village in the early 50s. With a tip-top cast headed by Lenny Baker, Ellen Greene, Christopher Walken, and Antonio Fargas, and with Shelley Winters giving perhaps her best performance--as the comedian's mother, whose unused brains and talent have turned her into a morose, irrepressible, howling freak. Also with Jeff Goldblum, Dori Brenner, Lois Smith, Mike Kellin, Michael Egan, John Ford Noonan, Lou Jacobi, Rochelle Oliver, and John C. Becher. 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Next Time We Love

US (1936): Drama
87 min, No rating, Black & White
Also known as NEXT TIME WE LIVE.

Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart are magnetic together in this story of two careers that don't mesh. She's an actress and he's a war correspondent, and despite their love for each other their marriage doesn't work. The movie is unusually delicate and touching. This first pairing of Sullavan and Stewart is memorably romantic. In some scenes she seems miraculous, and though his line readings aren't up to hers, he's remarkably good--he's even sensual here. The film has grace notes, such as Sullavan's being superbly outfitted most of the time. It also has its embarrassments, such as a scene with the pair's too-adorable son learning French; a ludicrously clipped conversation toward the end, when Stewart's ill; and the very last scene, on a train. With Ray Milland, Grant Mitchell, and Robert McWade. Directed by Edward H. Griffith, from a script, by Melville Baker and (uncredited) Preston Sturges, based on stories by Ursula Parrott. Universal.


US (1953): Thriller
89 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

This isn't a good movie but it's compellingly tawdry and nasty--the only movie that explored the mean, unsavory potential of Marilyn Monroe's cuddly, infantile perversity. There's no affection for her here. This picture was made just before she won Hollywood over with GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, and her amoral, destructive tramp--carnal as hell--may represent Hollywood's lowest estimate of her. Monroe's wet-lipped lasciviousness is enough to keep the first half of this murder melodrama going, but by the second half there's nothing but plot twists, centering on Niagara Falls. Joseph Cotten plays the husband whom she plans to kill; Richard Allan is her lover. With Jean Peters and Denis O'Dea. Directed by Henry Hathaway, from a script by Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch, and Richard Breen. Brackett produced, for 20th Century-Fox.

Nicholas and Alexandra

UK (1971): War/Biography
183 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

As obsequiously respectful as if it had been made about living monarchs who might reward the producer with a command performance. Viewers are put in the position of celebrity-lovers eager to partake of the home life of the dullest of the Czars. Nicholas and Alexandra (Michael Jayston and Janet Suzman) appear to be two dunces sitting on a volcano, and the solemnly square movie is more interested in the dunces than in the volcano. When one is asked to watch them for over 3 hours with no object but to feel sorry for them one's sympathies dry up. The faith healer and "holy man" Rasputin was a very funky monk, but you'd never know it from this movie, which skips the triumph of that crude peasant libertine over the court. It avoids drama, and the death of Rasputin (Tom Baker) is so badly staged that it doesn't seem as if he's hard to kill because he has so much rotten life in him--it just seems as if his murderers are incompetent. Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, without the sweeping mastery of large-scale visual imagery he has shown in the past. With Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, Jack Hawkins, Harry Andrews, and Alexander Knox. Adapted from Robert K. Massie's book, by James Goldman; cinematography by Freddie Young. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.


US (1976): Comedy
121 min, Rated PG, Color

Peter Bogdanovich's slapstick homage to early fly-by-night moviemaking begins in 1910 and ends in 1915, when the director hero (Ryan O'Neal) attends the LA premi�re of THE BIRTH OF A NATION and realizes the inadequacy of the pictures he's been churning out. It sounds promising, but Bogdanovich attempts an exercise in style, and the result is sustained clutter. It's like ONCE IN A LIFETIME played at the wrong speed, and it makes you feel terrible, because you realize how deeply involved the director must have been to go so blindly wrong. With Tatum O'Neal, Burt Reynolds, Jane Hitchcock, Stella Stevens, and Brian Keith. Everyone seems to be on his own. The cinematography is by Laszlo Kovacs. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Night and Day

US (1946): Musical/Biography
128 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

William Bowers, one of the three scenarists, said later that he was so ashamed of this picture that about a year after it came out he called Cole Porter, whose biography it purported to be, and told him how sorry he was, and Porter said, "Love it. Just loved it. Oh, I thought it was marvellous." Bowers says that he told Oscar Hammerstein how puzzled he was by this, and Hammerstein said, "How many of his songs did you have in it?" Bowers answered "Twenty-seven," and Hammerstein said, "Well of course he loved it. They only turned out to be twenty-seven of the greatest songs of all time. You don't think he heard that stuff that went on between his songs, do you?" This utterly wretched movie is possibly endurable to others who can blank out on that stuff in between, which involves Cary Grant, as the composer, starting as an excruciatingly unconvincing bouncy Yale undergraduate. Later on, Grant embraces Alexis Smith from time to time, but nervously, unwillingly--as if she were a carrier of Rocky Mountain spotted fever. No doubt the movie was trying to tell us something. Grant looks constrained and distracted--as if he would give anything to get out of this mess; he relaxes briefly when he sings "You're the Top" with Ginny Simms. With Monty Woolley and many other unfortunates--Mary Martin, Jane Wyman, Victor Francen, Dorothy Malone, Selena Royle, Eve Arden, Donald Woods, Alan Hale, Paul Cavanagh, Henry Stephenson, Clarence Muse, Sig Rumann, and Herman Bing. Arthur Schwartz produced, for Warners, and Michael Curtiz directed.

Night and the City

US (1950): Crime
101 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Several years before he made RIFIFI, Jules Dassin directed this less flamboyant thriller, which is much less well known, but, in some ways, better. Dassin's shocking specialty--a kind of stifled violence that one fears will explode--finds the right milieu in the Gerald Kersh novel, a complex view of the underside of London entertainment. An Anglo-American cast is headed by Richard Widmark, who has possibly his best role as Harry Fabian, "the artist without an art," a tout with a creative passion for fantastic, shady schemes. The victims of his double-crossing artistry include Googie Withers, Francis L. Sullivan, Gene Tierney, Herbert Lom, and--as the old-time wrestler pitted against Mike Mazurki--Stanislaus Zbyszko. With Hugh Marlowe. Script by Jo Eisinger; cinematography by Max Greene.

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