US (1931): Drama
81 min, No rating, Black & White

Serious, stupefying version of Tolstoy's novel, featuring the stolid musical-comedy singer John Boles and the Mexican spitfire comedienne Lupe Velez. Boles' speaking voice never changes its mellow tone throughout, but Siberia seems to agree with Velez; she does a little acting and looks radiant. Directed by Edwin Carewe. Universal.


US (1980): Drama
103 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

Ellen Burstyn dies, has an "out of body" experience, then returns with the gift of healing through the power of love. The picture is even and smoothly tasteful--a vat of non-denominational caramel custard. Lewis John Carlino was commissioned to write the script for Burstyn, and he shaped it to her; she bestrides the movie, glowing with love and wholesome humor. (Her simulation of beatific ordinariness is a little frightening.) The director, Daniel Petrie, does some very polished, fluid work, but you're always aware of the planning and calculation. Mysticism doesn't come easy to him. Carlino's script, which attempts to combine holistic healing and feminism, is an amazing fusion of old corn and modern cant. With Sam Shepard, who brings the film some sexy tension as a hell-raising kid whom Burstyn heals after he has been stabbed in a drunken fight, and Richard Farnsworth, Roberts Blossom, Lois Smith, Madeleine Thornton-Sherwood, and Pamela Payton-Wright. And as Burstyn's grandmother, Eva Le Gallienne wrinkles her nose and lifts her head so she can look out of her half-blind eyes, and she spouts homilies as if she'd lived her whole life onstage. Cinematography by Mario Tosi; music by Maurice Jarre. Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

The Return of a Man Called Horse

US (1976): Western
129 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

The stirring early Westerns had a narrative push forward, a belief in the future of a people. That epic spirit--understandably missing from most 70s Westerns--came back in a new form in this surprising film; here, the surge of elation comes from the spiritual rebirth of an Indian tribe. The hero is John Morgan, an English lord, played by Richard Harris. In A MAN CALLED HORSE (1970), directed by Elliot Silverstein, Morgan was captured by the Yellow Hand, a tribe of the Sioux nation; he was accepted as a brother, and free, chose to return to his own country. This sequel, directed by Irvin Kershner, shows that Morgan, once having known that brotherhood and accepted its magical religion, is lost as a white man; when he's in his English mansion he's split off from the life around him--his soul has become Indian. The early part of the film, which cuts from an attack on the Yellow Hand to a foxhunt in England, has an emotional power that is almost comparable to that of the early scenes of THE GODFATHER PART II. Later, there's a memorable sequence with the dark shapes of buffalo running over blinding pale-green meadows. Despite a pulpy script (by Jack DeWitt) and a lot of awkward, unconvincing acting, this Western, with its Old Testament mysticism, which appears to be authentically Indian as well, is a startling affirmative vision. (When Morgan and some of the Indian children take on themselves the burden of suffering, the mutilation scene is very powerful but it's not disgusting, because you can see how the rituals work in the lives of the people. This sequence has been cut from some prints, though it's vital to the story.) Harris comes through with a strong--and often subtle--performance, especially in his early scenes. With Gale Sondergaard (overacting), Geoffrey Lewis, Claudio Brook, and Enrique Lucero as Raven. Music by Laurence Rosenthal; cinematography by Owen Roizman. United Artists.

Return of the Jedi

US (1983): Science Fiction
133 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Some of the trick effects in this concluding film of the STAR WARS trilogy might seem miraculous if the imagery had any luster, but this is an impersonal and rather junky piece of moviemaking. It's packed with torture scenes, and it bangs away at you. And every time there's a possibility of a dramatic climax--a chance to engage the audience emotionally with something awesome--the director Richard Marquand trashes it. In THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, the three central figures seemed capable of real exhilaration and real suffering. Here, they're back to being what they were in the first film--comic-strip characters wandering through a jokey pastiche of the Arthurian legends. But children who have lived their imaginative lives with the Star Wars characters may be so eager to get the payoffs to the story that they'll hardly notice. And they'll probably be charmed by some of the new characters, especially the tribe of potbellied woodland creatures, the furry, cuddly Ewoks, who suggest a cross between koala bears and puli dogs--they're like living Teddy bears. With Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, and Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca. A Lucasfilm, from a screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas, based on Lucas's story; music by John Williams. Released by 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

The Return of the Soldier

UK (1981): War/Drama
101 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

Adapted by Hugh Whitemore, and directed by Alan Bridges, this film version of Rebecca West's first novel, published in 1918, when she was 25, isn't great or exciting, but it's very enjoyable. With its re-creation of an era when Freudianism was new, it's like a piece of intellectual history, and it gives you the feeling that you sometimes get when you read an "advanced" novel of the 20s and are touched and charmed by its streamlined Victorianism. Julie Christie, Glenda Jackson, and Ann-Margret play the three women who love the shell-shocked amnesiac Captain Chris Baldry (Alan Bates), who has forgotten the last 20 years of his life, and regressed to the time of his greatest joy. The conflict is: Should he be allowed to remain in his boyish state of happiness, or should he be forced to confront the truth? Julie Christie is a ravishing camera subject who knows how to use her beauty against herself--as Chris's wife, she's so outrageously vain that she's funny. Glenda Jackson takes Rebecca West's literary conception of an instinctual, loving woman and plays it with an ease and leanness that's fairly astounding. Ann-Margret has a thankless role, but her bone structure has an aristocratic quality, and she acquits herself with likable dignity. And in a role that could seem ludicrous Alan Bates has a weight and an aura of middle-aged bewilderment that you don't laugh off. The dated modernity of the novel is faithfully reproduced, and it's a fascinating reminder that it has only been a few decades since Freud and Victoria walked arm in arm: in this material, Chris's return to reality doesn't mean learning what his repressed feelings are and freeing himself from a dead marriage--it means going back to being a proper husband and a good soldier. The cast includes Ian Holm, Frank Finlay, and Jeremy Kemp. Cinematography by Stephen Goldblatt; music by Richard Rodney Bennett; production design by Luciana Arrighi; costume design by Shirley Russell.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

The Revolt of Mamie Stover

US (1956): Drama
92 min, No rating, Color

William Bradford Huie's novel THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER had to do with a woman who, after being tossed out of San Francisco, went on to Honolulu and put sex on an assembly-line basis. But the studio executives, who in the 50s were still trying to comply with the provisions of the Production Code, sometimes produced outlandish stories. The film Mamie (Jane Russell) is a poor, misguided kid who wants to make a lot of money to impress the folks back home in Mississippi. When she gets to the islands, she decides that she will join a pal in a dime-a-dance joint. The place is a little raucous, but nothing untoward ever happens to the danseuses. Even so, they are looked down upon by everybody. Mamie, though, manages to cultivate a well-bred writer (Richard Egan), who has a fine home on a hill in Oahu, and she also manages to save a huge packet of cash from her commissions on dancing. When Pearl Harbor is attacked, the writer is taken off to war, and Mamie promises she won't dance anymore but will wait for him stolidly. The lure of money is too much for her, however, and shortly after his departure she's dancing all over the place again. When he returns, he renounces her, and she comes to the realization that money isn't everything and as she can never take up residence with him on his tony hilltop she wends her lonely way back to Mississippi. This synopsis is provided in the event you don't make it to the end--you might be called away to perform delicate heart surgery. Egan gives a performance that would be memorably bad if only one could remember it; with Joan Leslie, Agnes Moorehead, and Michael Pate. The director, Raoul Walsh, seems baffled and eager to get home for dinner; the script is by Sidney Boehm. Produced by Buddy Adler, for 20th Century-Fox.


US (1985): War/Historical
123 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Everything in this picture, which goes from the beginning of the American War of Independence in 1776 to the end of combat in 1783, seems dissociated. The director, Hugh Hudson, plunges us into gritty, muddy restagings of famous campaigns, but we don't find out what's going on in these campaigns, or what their importance is in the course of the war. As Tom Dobb, a Glasgow-born fur trader from the Adirondack wilderness who turns guerrilla fighter, Al Pacino wears 18th-century homespun and talks with a Scots accent but in the rhythms of the Bronx. Nastassja Kinski (Daisy McConnahay is her name here, and Joan Plowright is her mother) assists at field amputations and runs supply wagons through redcoat lines, but she seems hectic and feverish and keeps oozing tears. Hudson and the scriptwriter, Robert Dillon, present the war as a primal Oedipal revolt of the Colonies against the parent country, and the relationships of the characters are designed in Oedipal pairs; Hudson also stages torture orgies to indicate how sadistic the redcoats are, and scenes are devised to set up echoes of the ROCKY series and RAMBO. This is a certifiably loony picture; it's so bad it puts you in a state of shock. With Donald Sutherland, sporting a big, black, hairy mole on his jowl, as a redcoat sergeant major who's a sexual psychopath; and Annie Lennox, Sid Owen as Tom's young son Ned, and Dexter Fletcher as Ned grown up. Filmed in England. An Irwin Winkler Production; released in the U.S. by Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Rich and Famous

US (1981): Drama
117 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Twenty years in the lives of two women writers, pals from their college days. Bland Jacqueline Bisset is the "modern" artist-perpetually dissatisfied, self-conscious, hard-drinking. Candice Bergen is the gusher-as a housewife and mother, she writes a roman � clef about her Malibu Colony neighbors, and then she just keeps pouring out her fantasies and getting richer and richer. Bisset is unvaryingly intense; she reads her puffed-up lines straight, and all with the same intonation. If she doesn't know that the picture is a comedy, this may be because Gerald Ayres, who wrote the script, seems to mean everything she says. (Her character is intended to be fearfully intelligent.) Bergen is much the livelier, but her caricature of a shallow bitch is too busy; she's a good sport rather than an actress, though she probably does as much for the role as anybody could. This remake of the 1943 film OLD ACQUAINTANCE (which was based on John van Druten's 1940 play) isn't camp, exactly; it's more like a homosexual fantasy. Bisset's affairs with young men are creepy, because they don't seem like what a woman would get into. And Bergen is used almost as if she were a big, goosey female impersonator. Directed by George Cukor, this movie has an unflagging pace, but it's full of scenes that don't play, and often you can't even tell what tone was hoped for. It's a tawdry self-parody. With David Selby, Hart Bochner, Steven Hill, Matt Lattanzi, Fay Kanin, and Michael Brandon, who makes an uncredited appearance as the man who has sex with Bisset in an airplane washroom. Among the guests in the party scenes are Christopher Isherwood, Don Bachardy, Roger Vadim, Paul Morrissey, Ray Bradbury, Nina Foch, and Gavin Lambert. MGM.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Richard III

UK (1955): War/Historical
155 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Laurence Olivier makes Shakespeare's "son of hell" such a magnetic, chilling, amusing monster that the villainy arouses an almost immoral delight. As director and star, Olivier succeeds with the soliloquies as neither he nor anyone else ever did on film before; they're intimate, yet brazen. If the film were all malevolent crookback Richard, it would be a marvel; unfortunately, he was plagued with quantities of associates and relations, and even when impersonated by Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, Cedric Hardwicke, etc., they're a dull lot. The William Walton score is unimaginative, and the Book-of-Hours camera setups decompose into common calendar art. But none of this matters very much when you can watch Laurence Olivier's lewd courtship of Claire Bloom and hear the inflections he gives lines like "I am not in the giving vein today." With Stanley Baker, Norman Wooland, Pamela Brown, Alec Clunes, Nicholas Hannen, Laurence Naismith, John Laurie, Helen Haye, Michael Gough, and Esmond Knight. Produced by Alexander Korda and Olivier; the adaptation is by Olivier and Alan Dent; the design and costumes are by Carmen Dillon and Roger Furse; the cinematography is by Otto Heller.

Richard Pryor-Live in Concert

US (1979): Comedy
78 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

Probably the greatest of all recorded-performance films. Pryor has characters and voices bursting out of him. He personifies objects, animals, people, the warring parts of his own body, even thoughts in the heads of men and women--black, white, Oriental; when he tells us about his heart attack, he is, in almost the same instant, the helpless body being double-crossed by its heart, the heart itself, a telephone operator, and Pryor the aloof, dissociated observer. Watching this mysteriously original physical comedian you can't account for his gift and everything he does seems to be for the first time. The film retains the impetus of a live performance. Directed by Jeff Margolis.

Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip

US (1982): Comedy
82 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

The master of physical comedy and lyrical obscenity in a one-man show. To those of us who thought his 1979 film, RICHARD PRYOR--LIVE IN CONCERT, was one of the greatest performances we'd ever seen or ever will see, it may be disappointing yet emotionally stirring. That earlier movie made him a legend, and the vast public outpouring of affection for him after his near-fatal accident in June, 1980, when (as he acknowledges here) the dope he was freebasing exploded and set him on fire, has changed him and his relation with the audience. He knows that all he has to do is stand on the stage and be adored. And he knows there's something the matter with this new situation, but he doesn't know how to deal with it. This film isn't in the class of the first, but it has superb bits. Produced by Ray Stark; directed by Joe Layton; cinematography by Haskell Wexler. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

The Richest Girl in the World

US (1934): Comedy
76 min, No rating, Black & White

Miriam Hopkins is the rich girl who is wary of fortune hunters; so she persuades her secretary, Fay Wray, to swap places with her whenever they're in public. Joel McCrea is the young man who falls crazily in love with Miriam, but thinks he'd better be practical and go after Fay. This surprisingly sexy romantic comedy has been almost forgotten. It's not exactly a classic but it's pretty nifty. Hopkins was still in her most seductive phase; this was made just a couple of years after TROUBLE IN PARADISE, and she has her distinctive flash and wit. With Reginald Denny, Henry Stephenson, George Meeker, and Beryl Mercer as the maid. Directed by William A. Seiter, from a story and script by Norman Krasna. The cinematography is by Nick Musuraca; the music is by Max Steiner. Produced by Pandro S. Berman, for RKO.

Ride in the Whirlwind

US (1965): Western
83 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Monte Hellman directed this film and THE SHOOTING in Utah during a seven-week period on a budget of $160,000 (from Roger Corman) for both. Jack Nicholson, who acts in both, was also Hellman's co-producer, and wrote the script for this one. The cast includes Millie Perkins and Cameron Mitchell, and the story has something to do with three cowboys on the run--a metaphysical run. The picture was a critical success in Paris, but Hellman (he later made TWO-LANE BLACKTOP) bakes the Western in the sun too long for most Americans. Maybe the person who wrote the subtitles in the French version added something to the austerity and the bleak riddles.

Ride the High Country

US (1962): Western
94 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Perhaps the most simple and traditional and graceful of all modern Westerns. Sam Peckinpah's small (and humane) classic is unassuming, and its elegiac poetry is plainer than that of Altman's MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER, although the emotional complexity is comparable. That unpublicized fine actor Joel McCrea plays a former marshal who gets a job transporting gold; he signs up another former lawman, Randolph Scott, who has been working as a carnival sharpshooter, to help him. In the film's most astonishing and original sequence, the marriage of an innocent young girl (Mariette Hartley) takes place in a brothel in a mining camp, and the terrified bride realizes that the groom's brothers expect to share her; McCrea and Scott help her escape. In the film's most memorable single image, the old Westerner (McCrea) sinks to the bottom of the frame to die. The cinematography is by Lucien Ballard at his peerless best. MGM. CinemaScope.

Ride the Pink Horse

US (1947): Crime
101 min, No rating, Black & White

One of a kind; no one in his right mind would imitate it. Starting from a novel by Dorothy B. Hughes, Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer concocted this baroque folly about gangsters in the Southwest. Some of the characters speak standard-Hollywood broken English in order to convey the information that they're Mexican; the hero, Robert Montgomery (who also directed), speaks in a tough-guy lingo that isn't just broken--it's smashed. He says of a woman he doesn't like, "She has a dead fish where her heart ought to be." This doesn't quite satisfy him, and he expands the idea. "A dead fish," he goes on, "with a bit of perfume on it." That may be cruel to the woman, but it's a fair summary of the picture. Wanda Hendrix, in dark makeup, gets a ride on a merry-go-round, thus giving the film its inappropriate title. But nothing else would have been appropriate either. With Thomas Gomez, Fred Clark, and Andrea King. Produced by Joan Harrison, for Universal.


US (1935): Drama
89 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy as cocky working-class people in love, and Joseph Calleia as the wily Greek who runs the tuna fleet and the cannery. Anita Loos was on the script, and the wisecracks fly, but the direction (by J. Walter Ruben) is weak. MGM produced, and the corporate hand is clearly visible: the labor troubles are the result of an outside agitator who comes in with bombs. The film might be used as an index to Hollywood-movie social attitudes of the period.


France (1954): Crime
115 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

A quartet of thieves breaks into a jewelry store, and for a tense half-hour we watch as they work, silently. It is like a highly skilled documentary on how to disconnect a burglar alarm and open a safe, and it is thoroughly engrossing, because we see the criminals as craftsmen, and we celebrate their teamwork, their finesse, their triumph. Ironically, we find ourselves sympathizing with their honest exhaustion after their dishonest labor. From then on, this movie, made in France, by the American director Jules Dassin, follows the tradition of SCARFACE, PUBLIC ENEMY, and THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (and of MACBETH before them), bringing the tragic, trapped figures (now symbols of our own antisocial impulses) to a cadaverous finish. Along the way, Dassin keeps things actively vicious, with glimpses of underworld prostitutes and hopheads and a murder, a kidnapping, and the thrashing of a faithless mistress, who is stripped. RIFIFI is the granddaddy of a batch of suspense films featuring how to knock over safes or break into banks and museums, but its own chief distinction is its nasty tone. With Jean Servais, Robert Manuel, Carl Mohner, and Dassin as the four; and Robert Hossein, Marie Sabouret, Magali N�el. In French.

The Right Stuff

US (1983): Biography
193 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Based on Tom Wolfe's 1979 book, this often satirical epic--a re-enactment of the early years of the space program (1947-63)--gives off a pleasurable hum. The writer-director Philip Kaufman is working on a broad canvas and it excites him--it tickles him. The movie has the happy, enthusiastic spirit of a fanfare, and it's astonishingly entertaining considering how divided it is in spirit. It contrasts Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) and the other early test pilots who risk their lives in secrecy with the seven publicly acclaimed astronauts who replace the chimps that were sent up in the first American space capsules. The movie is more than a little skewed: it's Kaufman's--and Tom Wolfe's--dreamy vision of the nonchalant Yeager and a past that never was set against a comic view of the modern hype-bound world. Then, it turns out, the astronauts are not quite the square-jawed mannikins they pretend to be; they're phony only on the outside. But whatever one's reservations, the film is great fun to watch. The action zigzags from old-movie romance to cock-eyed buffoonery to the courage (and exaltation) of men alone in tiny capsules orbiting the earth at 18,000 miles an hour. And Kaufman doesn't take the bloom off space by knocking us silly with the grandeur of it all. With Dennis Quaid, who has a devilish kid's smile, with his upper lip a straight line across his face, as Gordon Cooper; the pale-eyed Ed Harris as John Glenn; Fred Ward as Gus Grissom; and Scott Glenn, Pamela Reed, Veronica Cartwright, Mary Jo Deschanel (as Annie Glenn), Jeff Goldblum, Barbara Hershey, Levon Helm, Scott Wilson, Kim Stanley, Jane Dornacker, and many others, including Brigadier General Chuck Yeager as a bartender, Donald Moffat as Lyndon Johnson, and Robert Beer, who's an uncanny look-alike, as Eisenhower. (There are some pretty awful scenes featuring Royal Dano as a black-clad minister.) Cinematography by Caleb Deschanel; special visual effects by Jordan Belson. A Chartoff-Winkler Production, for the Ladd Company; released by Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

Rio Bravo

US (1959): Western
141 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Howard Hawks directed this semi-satiric Western pastiche (mainly of old Hawks movies), with John Wayne as John T. Chance, Dean Martin as a drunk called Dude, Ricky Nelson as Colorado, Walter Brennan as Stumpy, and Angie Dickinson as Feathers. Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett provided the script, Dmitri Tiomkin the score. Silly, but with zest; there are some fine action sequences, and the performers seem to be enjoying their roles. Warners.

Rio Grande

US (1950): Western/War
105 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

In this John Ford Western, John Wayne is a lieutenant colonel in the cavalry and Maureen O'Hara is his estranged wife, whom he hasn't seen for 16 years; she arrives at the post he commands because their son (Claude Jarman, Jr.) is among the new recruits there. The action involves an Apache uprising, but the conflict is the emotional one between the colonel's sense of duty and his love of his wife; Wayne and O'Hara are very effective together, so that the viewer deeply wants the final reconciliation. The script is by James Kevin McGuinness, based on James Warner Bellah's Mission with No Record. With Ben Johnson, Harry Carey, Jr., Victor McLaglen, Chill Wills, J. Carrol Naish, Grant Withers, and the Sons of the Pioneers as the regimental singers. Republic.

Rio Lobo

US (1970): Western
114 min, Rated G, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

There's a lot of chatter and not much conviction or feeling for the period (the Civil War and after) in this undistinguished Western, made late in the careers of Howard Hawks and John Wayne. The plot requires Wayne to rout a bunch of bad guys who have taken over Rio Lobo, down in Texas. Hawks could sometimes redeem routine material by fresh performances, but he doesn't seem to get with it this time. The picture is lackadaisical, with tiresome (and demeaning) jokes about Wayne's age and girth, a spoofy tone, and sudden bursts of violence. The women are Shasta, played by Jennifer O'Neill, who gets to act like a tomboy daredevil, and Amelita, played by Sherry Lansing, who gets to shampoo her hair and weep a lot and have her face cut by a sadistic villain. It's hard to remember anything the men do; the cast includes Jack Elam, Jorge Rivero, David Huddleston, Chris Mitchum, Victor French, Mike Henry, Bob Steele, and George Plimpton. The script, which suggests a weary rehash of RIO BRAVO and EL DORADO, was written by Burton Wohl and Leigh Brackett. A Malabar Production, for National General.

Rio Rita

US (1942): Comedy
91 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

For masochists. They get the works in this one: Kathryn Grayson shrilling her songs from that quivering heart-shaped mouth, John Carroll acting virile, and Abbott and Costello acting funny. S. Sylvan Simon directed this pitiful version of a good old musical show. MGM.


US (1969): Prison
97 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

Though made by whites, this is one of the first of the films shaped to exploit the anger of the black audience. Based on Frank Elli's book and partly shot in the State Penitentiary in Florence, Arizona, with the warden and the inmates in many of the roles, it stars Jim Brown (his character is virtue incarnate), who is in almost every scene, outwitting the weak and/or sadistic whites. The plotting of the action is poor, but Brown's easy manner has its humorous charm. With Gene Hackman, and Ben Carruthers as a psychotic Indian. Buzz Kulik directed. Paramount.

Risky Business

US (1983): Comedy
96 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

At 17, the high-school-boy hero (Tom Cruise) is equally worried about what college he'll get into and when and how he'll make out with a girl. When his parents go off on a week's vacation and he's left alone in their expensive ersatz-Colonial house on the North Shore of Chicago, he phones for the services of a call girl named Lana (Rebecca De Mornay). Up until her arrival, he is desperate, horny, and ingratiating; imagining himself a rock star dancing, he's a charmingly clunky dynamo. But once Lana glides in, the pictures shifts into an enamelled dreamtime; it gets a vacuous soft-core porno look, and everything is dark and slightly unreal. The movie aims to be hypnotically sexy while satirizing the materialistic values of the affluent. The boy grows up sexually, and financially, too, when the purringly seductive Lana turns him into a pimp and his home into a bordello. There's a stale cuteness in the idea; it's like a George Bernard Shaw play rewritten for a cast of ducks and geese. Directing his first feature, the screenwriter Paul Brickman is overdeliberate, and his control is so tight that there are no incidental pleasures--there's nothing but the one thin situation. De Mornay's Lana is the only person left with any trace of individuality; she's mysterious, supple--a golden blonde with an inward-directed smile, like Veronica Lake, but taller and with a greater range of expressiveness. With Joe Pantoliano, Nicholas Pryor, and Richard Masur. The jangling electronic mood music is by Tangerine Dream. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

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