The raw murderousness of this Brazilian film contrasts with its smooth technical proficiency (it is rather like a handsome American Western directed by a sadist). The bandit (Milton Ribeiro) and his band of outlaws sack a village, brand the women, and carry off the schoolmistress. Violence then breaks out over her fate. The plot is not especially original, and the dialogue is often creaky, but the cinematography, the music (it's an unusually powerful score), and the atmosphere of eroticism and cruelty give the film a fetid fascination. The director, Lima Barreto, with the help of expert European technicians, demonstrated that the infant Brazilian film industry could be corrupt in the course of taking its first baby steps. In Portuguese.
Eisenstein followed POTEMKIN, made in 1925, with this epic celebrating the 10 days in 1917 during which the Bolsheviks overthrew the Kerensky government. It continues his striking experimental methods--the violent juxtapositions, the use of visual symbols to communicate abstract ideas, and the concept of the masses as hero. The movie also has a niche in the history of political falsification: the Soviet government commissioned the film for the 10th anniversary of the Revolution, but it was not shown. Trotsky was one of the main characters in Eisenstein's original version, and Trotsky at the time was organizing demonstrations against the Communist Party; Eisenstein had to spend five months re-editing the work to dislodge Trotsky from his place in the making of the Revolution. Even this edited version was later banned, as "formalist." Maybe because of the pressures Eisenstein experienced, the film lacks excitement, and it may leave you cold. (It's almost impossible to feel cold about POTEMKIN.) Eisenstein's 1924 film, his brutal, bloody STRIKE, has a charge and a sense of a new direction. The satire in OCTOBER is heavy-handed, and its visual puns are too simpleminded; it seems already the end of his youthful, revolutionary period. Silent.
This is probably the most casual of the JAMES BOND series, and in some ways it's more like the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby Road comedies than it is like the Bonds. It features a chase sequence in a crowded marketplace, with a great camera angle on a camel looking up and doing a double-take as an automobile flies over its head. And among the disguises that BOND-Roger Moore-uses are a gorilla suit and an alligator outfit that doubles as a boat. Moore gets most of his effects here by the spark in his worried, squinched-up eyes; he may not be heroic, but he's game. This 14th in the BOND series (or 13th, if you don't include CASINO ROYALE) is set against a tourist-paradise India. It's not the latest-model Cadillac; it's a beat-out old Cadillac, kept running with junkyard parts. But it rattles along agreeably, even though the director, John Glen, seems to lose track of the story, and neither he nor the writers (George MacDonald Fraser, with Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson) appear to have thought out the women's roles. The picture doesn't deliver on the chic perversities suggested by the inelegant title (and some of the decor). As Octopussy, the beautiful amazon Maud Adams is disappointingly warm and maternal--she's rather mooshy. (At one moment, she's a leader, and the next moment she's a dupe who doesn't know what's going on around her.) With Kristina Wayborn as the tall greasy-lipped blonde, and Louis Jourdan, Kabir Bedi, Steven Berkoff, Vijay Amritraj, and David and Tony Meyer as the knife-throwing twins. Produced by Albert R. Broccoli. MGM/United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.
Wounded at noon, the Irish rebel Johnny MacQueen (James Mason) stumbles through the streets of Belfast until midnight--the object of an intense, widespread manhunt. The tormented, delirious man, bleeding to death, seeks (but does not find) refuge on his way to the grave. Despite the reservations we may feel about his final denunciation of a world without charity, it's a memorable scene. Though the director, Carol Reed, doesn't quite succeed in creating a masterpiece (the inflated ideas in the script don't allow him to), there are bravura visual passages, the sound is often startlingly effective, and the film provides an experience that can't be shrugged off. Mason isn't only a resourceful actor; he's also a superb camera subject, and Reed and the cinematographer, Robert Krasker, draw us so close to his Johnny MacQueen that we want to save him to save ourselves. With Kathleen Ryan, W.G. Fay, Maureen Delany, Denis O'Dea, F.J. McCormick, William Hartnell, Dan O'Herlihy, Fay Compton, Cyril Cusack, and, regrettably, Robert Newton, in a badly misconceived performance in a badly misconceived role--the drunken mad painter Lukey. From F.L. Green's novel, adapted by Green and R.C. Sherriff. Score by William Alwyn. (A 1969 American version, THE LOST MAN, starred Sidney Poitier.)
Perverse in the best sense of the word. As a treatment of sexual opportunism it's a bit reminiscent of DOUBLE INDEMNITY, but it's infinitely more complex. At the start, a young doctor, sensual and handsome, smug with sexual prowess, tells us that his patient, an aging man, is losing his virility. And the old man bends over and bares his buttocks-to take an injection. But the old man doesn't get enough charge from the injection, so he induces the young doctor, who is his daughter's suitor, to make love to his wife. By observing them, by artificially making himself jealous, the old man is able to raise his spirits a bit. The comedy, of course, is that the wife, superbly played by Machiko Kyo, is the traditional, obedient Japanese woman-and she cooperates in her husband's plan. She is so cooperative that, once aroused by the young doctor, she literally kills her old husband with kindness-she excites him to death. (It's both a perfect suicide and a perfect murder.) The title-the key-fits the Tanizaki novel that the film is based on, but the film might better be called the keyhole. Everybody is spying on everybody else, and although each one conceals his motives and actions, nobody is fooled. The screen is our keyhole, and we are the voyeurs who can see them all peeking at each other. When the old man takes obscene pictures of his wife, he gives them to the young man to develop. The young man shows them to his fiancée, the daughter, whose reaction is that she can do anything her mother can do. A further layer of irony is that she can't-the film is also a withering satire on the Westernized modern Japanese girl. As the mother, Machiko Kyo, with her soft, sloping shoulders and her rhythmic padding walk, is like some ancient erotic fantasy. Directed by Kon Ichikawa, this film about pornography would be just about perfect if it didn't have a stupid tacked-on ending (that isn't in the novel). In Japanese.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book I Lost it at the Movies.
With co-directing help from Irving Lerner, Tyrone Guthrie transcribed his famous production, as it was performed at Stratford (Canada) in 1954 and 1955. Guthrie uses the Yeats translation of Sophocles' tragedy, and the cast performs in masks. This is certainly authentic, and no doubt onstage it helped to suggest that the actors represented figures larger than life. The hypnotic effect of the masked, endlessly moving robed figures does begin to suggest a ritual experience, and the readings are very fine, but the camera destroys even ordinary stage distance and brings us smack up against painted, sculpted papier-mâché. One may feel benumbed, looking at the mouth openings for a sign of life underneath. With Douglas Campbell in the lead.
Bette Davis had a great slouch in the role of Mildred, the scheming, deceitful Cockney waitress who sinks her hooks into the sensitive hero, Leslie Howard. (Howard was the man-born-to-be-betrayed until Dirk Bogarde came along.) Davis makes her role work through sheer will; she doesn't let it happen, she makes it happen--and, boy, you'd better watch! Her peroxide-blond Mildred may be too showily mean to be convincing, but Davis's energy was, for the first time, fully released on the screen, and the role made her a star. John Cromwell directed this careful, rather stilted version of the Somerset Maugham novel. The other women in the hero's life are played by the lovely young Frances Dee and the unusual, wry Kay Johnson. With Reginald Denny, Reginald Owen, and Alan Hale. (Remade by Edmund Goulding in 1946, with Paul Henreid and Eleanor Parker, and by Ken Hughes--with additional scenes by Henry Hathaway--in 1964, with Laurence Harvey and Kim Novak.) RKO.
When Lewis Milestone prefaced the credits of his version of the John Steinbeck play and novel with George (Burgess Meredith) and Lennie (Lon Chaney, Jr.) fleeing a posse, he was, no doubt, aiming for economy and tension. He couldn't have guessed that he was starting a new vogue, and that it would become almost standard practice for a film's action to precede the credit information even when the action made no particular sense as a prologue. The story, about the friendship between two lonely, vagrant ranch hands--the small, bedraggled, intelligent George and the simpleminded giant Lennie--is gimmicky and highly susceptible to parody, but it is emotionally effective just the same. The film was beautifully put together, and has a fine Aaron Copland score. Betty Field's silly, vain, hapless Mae is a small acting classic, and the cowboy star Bob Steele is amazingly good as her sadistic husband, Curley. With Leigh Whipper, memorable as the lean, bitter Crooks (an unjolly black man), and Charles Bickford. A Hal Roach Production, released by United Artists.
This formula romantic melodrama, which involved the regenerative moral powers of military discipline, seems to come out of a time warp, but the director, Taylor Hackford, has done a smashing job of making the retrograde love story whiz by. He has a headlong style; he gives the picture so much propulsion that it gains a momentum of its own. It's crap, but crap on a motorcycle. Richard Gere is the tightly wound-up loner who is determined to become a flyer; the movie centers on his 13-week basic-training ordeal at the Naval Aviation Officer Candidate School in the Northwest, near Puget Sound. Gere has a striking moment when the character cracks, after the tough drill sergeant (Louis Gossett, Jr.) has caught him in some petty chiselling and has punished him. But after he has broken down--when you expect him to be emotionally transfigured--he's still Richard Gere, lost in his own placid beauty. As the mill-worker heroine, Debra Winger brings the film sultriness; you pull for this heroine because her tough-chick little-girl insolence plays off the avid look in her eyes that tells you she longs to make human contact. Winger convinces you that this girl really believes her life would be empty if she didn't share it with the hero. Gossett plays the sergeant bone hard; it's a beautifully hammy austere performance. There are also impressive characterizations by David Keith as the hero's friend and Robert Loggia as the hero's father, and there are entertaining flashes of Tony Plana as an officer candidate with a Mohawk haircut and Lisa Eilbacher as a woman candidate. They all work under a handicap: the script, by Douglas Day Stewart, is schematic in the manner of TV drama, circa 1955. Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
A big, heavy anti-war musical in the pukka-sahib tradition of English moviemaking, with John Mills, Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, Redgrave and Corin Redgrave and Vanessa Redgrave, Maggie Smith, Dirk Bogarde, John Clements, Susannah York, Jack Hawkins, Edward Fox, Cecil Parker, Ian Holm, et al.; if a bomb had fallen on the set, the English theatre would have been wiped out. The conception is a music-hall revue in which the songs of the First World War are counterpointed with the battle statistics to evoke the myths and facts of war. There's a suggestion of how things should go in a number with naïve young chorus girls luring the boys to do their duty. And when Maggie Smith delivers a raucous patriotic song, she's startling and vivifying and you can see that the movie, which is based on the stage production by Joan Littlewood's company, is meant to stir your sentiments, evoke nostalgia, and make you react to the obscenity of battles and bloodshed. Apparently it does do all that for some people. But as in Richard Lester's HOW I WON THE WAR and Tony Richardson's THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, the specific target is the follies of the upper classes, and the explanation of war is the British equivalent of the adolescent Mad-magazine approach: wars are made by the officers, who are homicidal imbeciles interested only in personal ambition and indifferent to the death of their men. At times, when these movies positively exult in imbecility (Gielgud's scenes in LIGHT BRIGADE and Olivier harrumphing around in this one) the satire is effective, because the actors can give these monster-ninnies such a glow that their stupidity has a real, Marx Brothers madness to it. But most of the time, particularly in HOW I WON THE WAR and here, the moviemakers just keep demonstrating the same proposition as outrageously as possible. The ritual exhumations of historical figures become as elaborate as their funerals once were; the English pick at their old dead leaders, pounding and jabbing--toreros trying to draw blood from stuffed toy bulls. Directing a movie for the first time, Richard Attenborough has a stately, measured approach--just what the 50 musical numbers don't need.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.
A Parisian cocotte (Danielle Darrieux) agrees to a mock marriage ceremony, is deceived by a genuine ceremony but manages to outwit the fate worse than death--respectability. Georges Feydeau, "the father of French farce," wrote about 40 of these beautifully constructed follies; this is one of his most famous. Claude Autant-Lara's direction is all speed and artifice, a surprising change of pace from his other work (DEVIL IN THE FLESH, THE GAME OF LOVE). He emphasizes the stylization by setting the action behind the footlights and moving in and out of the theatre. With Jean Desailly, Carette, and Grégoire Aslan, in what's probably his best screen role, as Le Prince de Palestrie. In French.
Basically a single-joke movie. George Burns is God in a baseball cap; He appears to John Denver, a mild supermarket manager with a Dutch-boy hairdo that makes him look as if he has no ears, and tells him to spread His Word. The movie isn't exactly painful to watch-Burns has his superb quirky timing, and he gets everything imaginable out of his lines-but listening to God's bland messages (which sound like est philosophy) is like sinking in a mountain of white flour. The picture is so cautious about not offending anyone that it doesn't rise to the level of satire, or even spoof. It's very thin and quiet-a soft-sell religious lecture-and there's a vaudeville piety about it, a greeting-card shallowness. (Give brotherly love a chance.) It seems to congratulate the audience for laughing at its harmless little jokes. With Teri Garr, who has a funny moment or two when she squinches her eyes in suffering (she's like a pretty, blond Olive Oyl), and Donald Pleasence, Ralph Bellamy, William Daniels, Barnard Hughes, Barry Sullivan, Jeff Corey, George Furth, Paul Sorvino (in a caricature of a religious faker), and Dinah Shore and Carl Reiner as themselves. From Larry Gelbart's adaptation of Avery Corman's novel. As the director, Reiner is no more than a caretaker (he kept his toupee on), and the cinematographer, Victor Kemper, has thrown the same bright light over everything, as if he thought the picture would play only in drive-ins. Actually, it played widely and was a huge success. The sequel was called OH GOD! BOOK II. Warners.
The muckraking novel by Alice Tisdale Hobart had been a best-seller, and her account--sentimental but basically sound--of how the American oil companies recruited idealistic young men, used them, and then dumped them, seemed a natural for the movies. But with a bathetic script (by Laird Doyle), the apathetic direction of Mervyn LeRoy, and a lacklustre cast (Pat O'Brien, Josephine Hutchinson, Lyle Talbot, Jean Muir, Donald Crisp, John Eldredge, Arthur Byron, Henry O'Neill), the picture fell into the deadly "worthwhile" category. Also with Willie Fung, Keye Luke, Christian Rub, and Willard Robertson. Warners.
Trashy fun, on an unusually literate level. One of the rare dry-eyed "women's pictures," it features bitchery and keeps its passages of self-sacrifice fairly tart. Bette Davis is an admirably tough-minded, no-nonsense serious writer, and Miriam Hopkins is her flouncy, butterfly-brained friend, who, out of envy, becomes the author of slovenly big best-sellers. Adapted from John van Druten's play, it spans 18 years of their love-hate friendship, including a glorious scene in which Davis shakes the catty, hysterical Hopkins. John Loder is Hopkins' husband, who wants to leave her for Davis; Dolores Moran is Hopkins' rebellious daughter; Phillip Reed is a playboy seducer; and Gig Young is the youngman who falls in love with the middle-aged Davis. With Esther Dale, Anne Revere, and Roscoe Karns. Directed by Vincent Sherman. (Remade in 1981, as RICH AND FAMOUS.) Warners.
This wonderful deadpan takeoff of horror plays was directed by the eccentric James Whale in the witty, perverse, and creepy manner he also brought to BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Five travellers (Charles Laughton, Melvyn Douglas, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, and Lilian Bond) are caught in a storm in Wales. They seek shelter in a gloomy mansion, which is inhabited by a prize collection of monsters and decadent aristocrats; a mute, scarred brute of a butler (Boris Karloff) attends a prissy madman (Ernest Thesiger), his religious-fanatic hag of a sister (Eva Moore), his pyromaniac-dwarf younger brother (Brember Wells), and their father--a 102-year-old baronet. (The performer is listed as "John Dudgeon," but the part is actually played by a woman, Elspeth Dudgeon.) Based on J.B. Priestley's novel Benighted, this camp comedy-fantasy was adapted by Benn W. Levy, with additional dialogue by R.C. Sherriff. Universal.
Bette Davis doesn't have much talent for masochism. When she attempts the sacrificial-mother roles that were meat and potatoes to many a trouper, she builds the character so painstakingly that she loses her flair and turns mealy. In this costume picture, taken from Zoë Akins' Pulitzer Prize play version of the Edith Wharton novel, she's an unwed mother, forced to turn over her 5-year-old daughter to--of all people--Miriam Hopkins, as her married cousin, and then she must stand by and watch as the daughter grows up treating her contemptuously as a spinster aunt. Full of tight-lipped renunciation, Davis gives what might be called a creditable performance; the picture isn't bad, but it trudges along and never becomes exciting. Edmund Goulding directed smoothly, from Casey Robinson's screenplay. With Jane Bryan as the daughter, and George Brent, James Stephenson, Louise Fazenda, Jerome Cowan, William Lundigan, and Donald Crisp. Warners.
In the person of Guinness, Fagin the Viper, the corrupter of youth, has a sly, depraved charm. David Lean directed this phantasmagoric version of the Charles Dickens novel right after he did GREAT EXPECTATIONS (that was Guinness's first film; this is his second), but it ran into some troubles over here: Fagin, the master pickpocket, is Jewish, and pressure groups objected to such a low Jewish character; with seven minutes of offending closeups and profiles plucked, a somewhat assimilated Fagin was allowed to enter the country in 1951. In a later period, the film would probably have been protested by gay activists as well, because Fagin comes across as a malignant old homosexual. The book is, of course, an attack on cruelty, and the movie in its fidelity is sometimes cruel to the audience, especially in the terrifying scene when Bill Sikes (Robert Newton) murders Nancy (Kay Walsh) because she tried to help Oliver, while his dog scratches at the door, and in the sequence when Sikes has Oliver in his clutches. With John Howard Davies as Oliver, Francis L. Sullivan as Bumble, Anthony Newley as the Artful Dodger, and Diana Dors, Kathleen Harrison, Henry Stephenson, Mary Clare, Ivor Barnard, and Peter Bull. Produced by Ronald Neame, for J. Arthur Rank; screenplay by David Lean and Stanley Haynes; production design by John Bryan; music by Arnold Bax; cinematography by Guy Green; camera operator, Oswald Morris.
On the stage Oliver! was an undistinguished musical that people took their children to, dutifully; it was an English variant of Broadway Americana. The movie transforms the material; it's not only a musical entertainment but an imaginative version of the novel as a lyrical, macabre fable. The tone is set in the opening sequence, in the children's workhouse, when Oliver's "Please, sir, I want some more" leads into a choreographed children's riot. The stylization seems to put quotation marks around everything Dickensian, in a way that makes you more aware of the qualities of Dickens' art. It's as if the movie set out to be a tribute to Dickens and a comment on his melodramatic art as well as to tell the story of Oliver Twist. The songs (by Lionel Bart) provide the distancing that enables us to appreciate Dickens' pathos intellectually, and the director, Carol Reed, gives a superb demonstration of intelligent craftsmanship; he doesn't urge us to tears--he leaves us our pride. Typically, the best moment is a quiet one. Oliver (Mark Lester), who has been listening to "Who Will Buy?," the lovely early-morning song of the tradespeople in Bloomsbury, walks along singing a few bars to himself, and it is probably the most delicately beautiful reprise in movie-musical history. The score isn't great, but it's certainly well sung. With Ron Moody as Fagin; Harry Secombe as Mr. Bumble; Shani Wallis as Nancy; Oliver Reed, who finds the right outlet for his peculiar talents as Bill Sikes; and Jack Wild as the Artful Dodger. The musical sequences were choreographed by Onna White; the cinematography is by Oswald Morris; the set designs are by John Box; the screenplay is by Vernon Harris. Produced by John Woolf.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Going Steady.
During the 30s the international press ridiculed Hitler's supposed infatuation with the red-haired dancer-skier-actress turned movie director, Leni Riefenstahl, to whom he had entrusted the production of movies on his political conventions and on the 1936 Olympic Games. The results were the two greatest films ever directed by a woman. Out of the Nuremberg Rally of 1934, Riefenstahl made the most outrageous political epic of all time, the infamous, hypnotic TRIUMPH OF THE WILL; out of the Berlin Olympics she made a great lyric spectacle. OLYMPIAD is only incidentally a record of the actual games: she selected shots for their beauty rather than for a documentary record. After 18 months of editing she emerged with over 3 hours of dazzling quality--a film that affects one kinesthetically in response to movement, and psychologically in response to the anguish and strain of men and women competing for a place in history. Despite Hitler's Aryan myth, she knew beauty when she saw it: in the throbbing veins of Jesse Owens' forehead (in her book on OLYMPIAD, Riefenstahl has a simple caption for his picture--"Jesse Owens, der schnellste Mann der Welt"); in the lean Japanese swimmers; in the divers soaring in flight so continuous that they have no nationality. Viewed now, OLYMPIAD is an elegy on the youth of 1936: here they are in their flower, dedicated to the highest ideals of sportsmanship--these young men who were so soon to kill each other.
A dadaist English comedy. Clive Brook, Beatrice Lillie, Roland Culver, and Googie Withers hold to the drawing-room style of an antique play by Frederick Lonsdale so relentlessly that the old, arch clichés of "daring" dialogue are reactivated. You can't help responding to these old quips when they are delivered by actors who appreciate their absurdity. Groomed by Cecil Beaton, the quartet of players is surrealistically elegant. As the stiff-backed shrew, Bea Lillie delivers what has been acclaimed as the perfect Lillie line: "You will find the dinghy by the jetty." As the heroine, an American heiress, Googie Withers demonstrates that an actress can be utterly charming even while parodying romantic charm. Everyone who has seen the movie seems to remember the great proposal scene and the great refusal, and Googie Withers asking, "What color are my eyes?" The real star of the piece is the fantastically adroit Clive Brook; his timing is perfection, both in the role of the exhausted, effete Duke, and in the direction. He also did the adaptation (with Terence Young).
The kind of uplifting twaddle that traffics heavily in rather basic symbols: the gold light on the pond stands for the sunset of life, and so on and on. Directed by Mark Rydell, from Ernest Thompson's adaptation of his own 1978 play, the movie is a doddering valentine in which popsy Norman (Henry Fonda), who's having his 80th birthday, and mopsy Ethel (Katharine Hepburn), who's nearing her 70th, crack jokes, weather domestic crises, and show us the strength of solid Yankee values. Or is it "good American stock," or Hepburn's pedigreed cheekbones? The movie is shaped so that it seems to be getting at the problems of old age (Norman's eyes and ears are failing, his memory is spotty, and his body is becoming more and more unreliable), but then his crankiness is made to appear sly--a form of one-upmanship. He's meant to be a lovable curmudgeon. With Jane Fonda, who gives a tense performance in the terrible role of the neurotic daughter of the lovey-dovey old pair; and Dabney Coleman, Doug McKeon, and William Lanteau. Produced by Bruce Gilbert; released by Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.
This Bond thriller--the sixth, and set mainly in Switzerland--introduces a new Bond, George Lazenby, who's quite a dull fellow, and the script, by Richard Maibaum, isn't much, either, but the movie is exciting, anyway. In some ways, it's the most dazzling of the series up to this time. The director, Peter Hunt, looks to be a wizard at action sequences, particularly in an ethereal ski chase and a mean, fast bobsled chase. Diana Rigg is a tall, amusing Mrs. Bond, and Gabriele Ferzetti (from L'AVVENTURA) is an amiable gangster-tycoon; he and Ilse Steppat, the indefatigable villainess, help give the picture some tone. With Telly Savalas as Blofeld. The second unit work is by John Glen; there's additional dialogue by Simon Raven. Produced by Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli. United Artists.