UK (1936): Thriller/Spy
76 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc
Also known as THE WOMAN ALONE.

Hitchcock thought that he erred in this one, and that that explained why the picture wasn't a hit. But he was wrong: this adaptation of Conrad's The Secret Agent may be just about the best of his English thrillers, and if the public didn't respond it wasn't his fault. Sylvia Sidney and Oscar Homolka are a married pair, the Verlocs, who manage a small movie house; Desmond Tester plays Mrs. Verloc's younger brother, who, unknowingly, carries a bomb in the package her husband has given him to deliver. There's a breathtaking sequence when Mrs. Verloc, who has just learned of her brother's death, watches the cartoon Who Killed Cock Robin? With John Loder as a police detective, Sara Allgood, Martita Hunt, Peter Bull, and Torin Thatcher.


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

A mixed-up and overloaded American spy thriller by Alfred Hitchcock, with the unengaging Robert Cummings in the lead and an unappealing cast, featuring Priscilla Lane and Otto Kruger. Nothing holds together, but there are still enough scary sequences to make the picture entertaining. Universal.


US (1954): Romance/Comedy
113 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Audrey Hepburn is forced to overdo her gamine charm in this horrible concoction about a Cinderella among the Long Island rich. She's the chauffeur's daughter who's in love with the playboy son (William Holden) of her father's employer (Walter Hampden). There's also an older son--an earnest magnate--and Humphrey Bogart got trapped in the role. Billy Wilder directed, and he had a hand in adapting the Samuel Taylor play (Sabrina Fair), though Bogart is said to have accused Wilder's 3-year-old offspring of having written the script. With John Williams, Martha Hyer, Marcel Dalio, Nella Walker, and Francis X. Bushman. Paramount.


US (1943): War
97 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Bogart and an all-male supporting cast that includes J. Carrol Naish and Rex Ingram, in a lost-patrol-type story set during the Second World War. Bogart is a sergeant in command of an American tank that's been cut off from the rest of the Army during the British retreat to El Alamein. The tank keeps rolling, picking up strays along the way until it has a full Hollywood ethnic complement--a Texan, a Brooklynite, a white Southerner, a black Sudanese, and so on. Excitingly staged and stunningly photographed, the film might have been a classic wartime melodrama if it weren't so offensively didactic. John Howard Lawson and the director, Zoltan Korda, wrote the screenplay, based on an incident in a Soviet screenplay, and the picture has the self-righteous, uplifting formula of many Soviet films--Bogart and his buddies capture a complete Nazi battalion. Cinematography by Rudolph Mat�. Columbia.


US (1923): Drama
54 min, No rating, Black & White

One of the true curiosities of film history. Rudolph Valentino's wife, the designer Natacha Rambova (she designed her own name, also), loved Aubrey Beardsley's drawings. She arranged to make this film with Alla Nazimova in the lead and Charles Bryant directing, and she did the decor and costumes, based on Beardsley's drawings. The bizarre results are undramatic and boring, and yet often so decorator-dream-born they're fascinating. Nazimova, one of the greatest actresses of her time, shows almost nothing of her talents here. She has a surprisingly boyish figure in the outr� garments, and throughout much of the film her hair seems to be covered with ball fringe. The movie looks better in stills than when one actually sees it, but a folly like this should probably be experienced. Silent.

Salt of the Earth

US (1953): Docudrama
94 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The raw material for this social realist movie, made in a semi-documentary style, is a 1951-52 strike of Mexican-American zinc miners in New Mexico. The picture was sponsored by the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers (expelled from the C I O in 1950 as Communist dominated), made by blacklisted filmmakers, and financed by money "borrowed from liberal Americans." The miners are supposedly striking for equality with the "Anglos," but the strike is not a bargaining weapon for definite limited objectives. It's inflated with lessons, suggestions, and implications. "Strike" here is used in its revolutionary meaning as a training ground in solidarity, a preparation for the big strike to come; it's a microcosm of the coming revolution. And a pedagogical tone, reminiscent of the 30s, is maintained throughout much of the movie: these strikers are always teaching each other little constructive lessons, and their dialogue is blown up to the rank of folk wisdom. Rosaura Revueltos, the Mexican actress who has the leading role, is nobility incarnate--the Madonna on the picket line. Directed by Herbert J. Biberman; written by Michael Wilson.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book I Lost it at the Movies.

Salut l'Artiste

France (1974): Comedy
102 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

The creeping mediocrity of the poetic approach to "ordinary" people makes the film a fairly numbing experience. Marcello Mastroianni plays a wilted, second-rate actor who's also a second-rate person; his mistress sums him up when she says that he doesn't have a presence, he has absence. This is meant to be not a joke but a tragic perception. SALUT L'ARTISTE is a hollow pop film, with a little gas from undigested Antonioni. There isn't much Mastroianni can do but look depressed. Fran�oise Fabian, as the mistress, and Carla Gravina, as his wife, are very low-key. The only spark in the film comes from Jean Rochefort, as an actor who gets fed up, takes a business job, and then, being thought a nonprofessional, is offered a job in a movie. Yves Robert directed. In French.


US (1986): War/Drama
123 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The director, Oliver Stone, is probably aiming for a Bu�uelian effect--a vision so intensely scummy that it clears the air. If the result, with its grime and guilt, comes closer to suggesting a hyperkinetic, gonzo version of Graham Greene, that's still nothing to be ashamed of. Written by Stone and the free-lance foreign correspondent Richard Boyle, the movie presents the civil war in El Salvador during the years 1980 and 1981 as some kind of ultimate bad trip. James Woods, perhaps the most hostile of all American actors, plays Boyle as a scroungy hustler who knows how to function in chaos: the squalid confusion wires him up, and he feels on top of things. The title doesn't refer just to the country: "Salvador" means "savior," and Woods' Boyle is the one who needs to be saved. What Stone has here is a right-wing macho fantasy joined to a left-leaning polemic. He writes and directs as if someone had put a gun to the back of his neck and yelled "Go!" and didn't take it away until he'd finished. With Elpidia Carrillo as the peasant madonna, Jim Belushi as Doctor Rock, John Savage as the dedicated photojournalist, and Michael Murphy, Tony Plana, and Cynthia Gibb. Cinematography by Robert Richardson; music by Georges Delerue. Released via Hemdale; the film was shot in Mexico except for a few scenes set in the U.S.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Salvatore Giuliano

Italy (1966): Political/Drama
125 min, No rating, Black & White

Francesco Rosi is one of the great modern directors, but he has a tendency to be both political and abstract, and often when seeing a Rosi movie one is awed by the compositions and the vividness of the incidents while being flummoxed by the conception. As writer-director of this account of the life and death of the famous Sicilian outlaw, Rosi develops the semi-documentary style that Rossellini had used in PAISAN. The images are never less than arresting, but the ambitious, Marxist point of view is bewildering; somehow Rosi fails to invite us into the story. It may be that his brilliance does not include a gift for simple dramatization. Cinematography by Gianni Di Venanzo. In Italian.

Same Time, Next Year

US (1978): Drama/Comedy
117 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A tepid sweet meal. Genteel lifelong adultery by two ciphers, played by Ellen Burstyn and Alan Alda. The time span is from 1951 to 1977. The gimmick is the way that social changes and fashions in dress and ideas are reflected in these two, and the single joke is that adultery can be regulated and celebrated, just like marriage. Of course it can be, if you remove every ounce of passion and sexual tension from it, which is what the writer, Bernard Slade, and the director, Robert Mulligan, have done. If someone you make the mistake of caring about insists on your going to this movie, take a small flashlight and a book. From Slade's two-character, one-set Broadway hit. Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Sammy and Rosie Get Laid

UK (1987): Drama
100 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

This second film by the director Stephen Frears and the writer Hanif Kureishi, who made MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE, has so much going on that it keeps losing track of what it's about. Sammy (Ayub Khan Din) and Rosie (Frances Barber) and their friends are Third World bohemians who live in a decaying, racially mixed part of London. Sammy's father, Rafi (Shashi Kapoor), who was a minister in the repressive government of Pakistan and is fleeing threats on his life, thinks he can return to the courteous, law-abiding England he remembers from 30 years before. He comes from the airport straight into a race riot--the movie is his nightmare experience of the new London. Houses and cars have been set on fire and we are supposed to see the flames as a destructive-creative element. (Sammy explains the rioting in the streets to Rafi: "Rosie says these revolts are an affirmation of the human spirit. A kind of justice is being done.") What we see is an apocalyptic carnival that's like street theatre. At times, it's as if Swinging London had come back as a race riot. Made in a documentary manner as stylized as a Hollywood musical, the movie is hyperconscious of art, of politics, of itself, and at times it's exasperatingly affectless. At its best, it's playfully Godardian, as in the sequence with the screen split horizontally and three multiracial couples stretched out on top of each other, and the Ghetto Lites singing a reggae version of "My Girl." There are two marvellous performances: by Kapoor, and by Claire Bloom, as a woman he deserted long ago. Wendy Gazelle is likable as an American photographer; Roland Gift (of Fine Young Cannibals) is dimply. Released by Cinecom.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Samson and Delilah

US (1949): Religious
128 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

De Mille, with God as his co-maker. In general, the plot follows the Bible story, though Victor Mature's Samson, costumed in terry-cloth leotards and a monstrous wig, looks bilious and flaccid, as if he couldn't pull down even the papier-m�ch� temple. He does it, though, and he also wrestles a moth-eaten lion and crowns several extras with the jawbone of an ass. Hedy Lamarr's Delilah would be more at home in a Yorkville bar than in a high-toned Philistine residence. All in all, this film does not enhance the glory of De Mille or his Associate; its splendors are purely in the camp division. Among them are George Sanders as the head man of the Philistines, Henry Wilcoxon looking as nobly baffled as ever, and Angela Lansbury as the woman for whom Mature yearns, to the inexplicable despair of Lamarr. The sets are wondrous chintzy. Paramount.

Sanders of the River

UK (1935): Adventure
98 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

One of those all-for-the-glory-of-the-British-Empire specials. Paul Robeson plays Bosambo, a trustworthy Congo chieftain, so loyal to the British that he helps the colonial officials crush a native revolt. Robeson, who had apparently expected this English film--an Alexander Korda production, directed by Zoltan Korda--to have a very different point of view, fought its release. However, despite the junkiness of the Edgar Wallace story on which it is based, and despite the flagrant racism of the noble-savage conception, Robeson himself has a nobility that transcends the picture's terms. He's magnificently stirring in his African bangles, especially when his chants roll out over the waters. Bosambo and Robeson's similar role in KING SOLOMON'S MINES were among his most popular performances. With the elegant Nina Mae McKinney, and Leslie Banks.

The Sandpiper

US (1965): Drama
116 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

At the time it was released, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, who had been the world's most highly publicized scandalous lovers during the making of CLEOPATRA only a couple of years before, had finally got married, and as the massive-headed Burton, looking more foreshortened than ever, eyed the portly Taylor in her Irene Sharaff poncho, and they delivered such lines as "I never knew what love was before" and "I've lost all my sense of sin," the people in the theatres could not contain themselves. The movie will probably never be quite as hilarious again, but it's a classic, no matter when you see it. Burton, an Episcopal clergyman, makes high-toned literary remarks to beatnik-atheist-artist Taylor, such as "I can't dispel you from my thoughts," and then, when he hates himself in the morning, she reassures him with "Don't you realize that what happened between us is good?" At the last, the clergyman, redeemed by contact with the atheist's spiritual values, casts off the temptations of wealth and worldly success and finds his simple faith again. If that isn't enough, there's Charles Bronson playing a sculptor (posing for him, Taylor demurely cups her breasts with her hands--though they seem inadequate to the task). Vincente Minnelli directed from a script by Dalton Trumbo and Michael Wilson. With Eva Marie Saint as the clergyman's wife; she says bright things like "Thinking is a kind of prayer, isn't it?" MGM.

Santa Fe Trail

US (1940): Historical/Adventure
110 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

One of Hollywood's careless, shameless distortions of American history. The team of Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland had thrived under the direction of Michael Curtiz in such films as CAPTAIN BLOOD, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, and DODGE CITY, and so this bloated Western was confected. Flynn plays a monolithically brave Jeb Stuart, and Ronald Reagan is young George Armstrong Custer; they're both after dainty Olivia. The offensive plot pits the two handsome young blades, fresh from West Point, against a rabid, fanatic John Brown (Raymond Massey, at his most burning-eyed hypertense, and photographed to inspire fear and revulsion in the audience). The black men whom Brown seeks to liberate appear to be childish dupes. It's a romantic, action-filled, screwed-up epic; you get the feeling that maybe nobody intended it to be as reactionary as it turned out, with Olivia looking especially fetching in front of the gallows where Brown is hanged. At the end, some good liberal appears to have had a fit of remorse: when the heroine goes on her wedding trip with Stuart, the sound of "John Brown's Body" rises above the rhythm of the moving train. The large cast includes Van Heflin (a dirty villain), Douglas Fowley, Gene Reynolds, Alan Hale, Alan Baxter, Susan Peters, and Ward Bond. The screenplay is by Robert Buckner; music by Max Steiner. Warners.

Saratoga Trunk

US (1945): Romance
135 min, No rating, Black & White

A brunette Ingrid Bergman plays the fabulous adventuress Clio Dulaine in this exhilarating travesty of Edna Ferber's costume romance about the railroad robber barons. Flanked by Flora Robson in incredible blackface as the mulatto maid Angelique and Jerry Austin as the dwarf manservant Cupidon, Bergman is a demimondaine raised in Paris, who returns to plague her father's respectable Creole family in New Orleans and then invades fashionable Saratoga Springs and conquers all, including Gary Cooper, as the gambling Texan Clint Maroon. This is a lavish piece of frivolous, ebullient moviemaking-replete with details dear to the readers of tempestuous fiction (i.e., the heroine enjoys champagne with peaches in the afternoon), and those who abandon themselves to it for two hours can have a marvellous time. Clio the trollop is Bergman's flirtiest, funniest role; the dark hair seems to liberate her from her usual wholesome blandness. There's a lovely moment when a pompous little lawyer (Curt Bois) looks at her, his eyes misting with admiration, and says, "Madame, you're very beautiful. I mean � beautiful." She smiles, "Yes, isn't it lucky?" Directed by Sam Wood, from Casey Robinson's screenplay. With Florence Bates, John Warburton, John Abbott, and Ethel Griffies. A bad, coy three minutes at the very end. Hal B. Wallis produced. Warners.

Satchmo the Great

US (1957): Documentary
No rating, Black & White

In one scene, 100,000 Gold Coasters celebrate the "return" of the hero--Louis Armstrong. In another scene, a smile hovers on Prime Minister Nkrumah's face as Louis sings, "What did I do to be so black and so blue?" This record of the contact of civilizations was originally prepared for television by Edward Murrow and Fred Friendly; it covers Armstrong's trip to Europe, Africa, and his coming home. At the end there is a sad demonstration of what Dwight Macdonald calls the homogenization of culture: Armstrong performs with the lagging, dragging New York Philharmonic under the direction of Leonard Bernstein, and he looks very proud. But whatever he's doing--blowing the horn or singing "Mack the Knife" in England--the man with the voice that somebody said was "as smooth as a tired piece of sandpaper calling to its mate" is a spellbinder.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

UK (1960): Drama
90 min, No rating, Black & White

It's set entirely in working-class locations, the hero is a Nottingham factory worker, and the film is all told from his point of view. That may help to explain why English critics called it everything from "the finest picture of the year" to "the greatest English picture of all time." It's superbly photographed (by Freddie Francis) and Albert Finney is remarkable as the hero whose vitality has turned to belligerence. But this study of working-class energies and frustrations has been overdirected (by Karel Reisz). Everything is held in check; every punch is called and then pulled. When the hero and his cousin are fishing, the caught fish signals the end of the scene; a dog barks for a fade out. The central fairground sequence is like an exercise in cinematography, and the hero's beating is just another mechanical plot necessity. The fine cast includes Rachel Roberts, Norman Rossington, and Shirley Anne Field. Alan Sillitoe adapted his own novel; music by Johnny Dankworth.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book I Lost it at the Movies.

Saturday Night Fever

US (1977): Drama
119 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

How the financially pinched 70s generation that grew up on TV attempts to find its own forms of beauty and release. John Travolta plays Tony, a 19-year-old Italian Catholic who works selling paint in a hardware store in Brooklyn's Bay Ridge; on Saturday nights, he's off to the local disco dream palace, where he's the champion dancer. It's Tony's pent-up physicality--his needing to dance, his becoming himself only when he dances--that draws us into the pop rapture of this film. The mood, the beat, and the trance rhythm are so purely entertaining, and Travolta is such an original presence, that a viewer spins past the crudeness in the script (by Norman Wexler, based on Nik Cohn's June 7, 1976, New York cover story, "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night"). Karen Lynn Gorney plays opposite Travolta as Stephanie, who is trying to climb out of Brooklyn and onto Manhattan, which is seen as the magic isle of opportunity--not ironically but with the old Gershwin spirit. Young moviegoers saw themselves expressed in this film, as earlier generations had seen themselves in THE WILD ONE, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, THE GRADUATE, EASY RIDER; Travolta became a national cult hero, almost overnight. John Badham directed. With Donna Pescow, Fran Drescher, Barry Miller, Joseph Cali, Paul Pape, Bruce Ornstein, Martin Shakar, Julie Bovasso, Val Bisoglio, and Monti Rock III. The music is by Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb, with additional music by David Shire. Choreography by Lester Wilson; cinematography by Ralf D. Bode. A Robert Stigwood Production, for Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

The Savage Is Loose

US (1974): Adventure
114 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, and John David Carson, as their son, are shipwrecked on a jungle island, and so is the audience. Agonizing. Produced and directed by Scott.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

Savage Messiah

UK (1972): Biography
100 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

Another of Ken Russell's unstable satires on romantic artists: it's Henri Gaudier-Brzeska's turn this time. Russell makes prankish, venomous jokes about the Vorticists, the suffragettes, and sensual art lovers. As the hero, Scott Antony is like a young, even less talented Rock Hudson or Stewart Granger, but as his platonic lover, Sophie Gaudier-Brzeska, Dorothy Tutin is a brilliant shrew--comic, high-powered, and erotically nasty. MGM.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

Save the Tiger

US (1973): Drama
101 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The picture asks us to weep for Harry the garment manufacturer (Jack Lemmon), who pimps for his customers so they'll give him their orders, and who plans to set fire to his warehouse so the insurance money will finance filling these orders. The picture is a moral hustle that says this high-living showoff is a victim of American materialism. Harry suffers and jabbers; the writer and producer, Steve Shagan, appears to think he has created a modern tragic hero, and he's determined to puff the movie up with wit and wisdom. Directed by John G. Avildsen. With Jack Gilford, Laurie Heineman, Norman Burton, and William Hansen. Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

Sawdust and Tinsel

Sweden (1953): Drama
92 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Also known as GYCKLARNAS AFTON, LA NUIT DES FORAINS, and THE NAKED NIGHT. Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, the film is set in the circus world at the turn of the century. It opens with a flashback shot on different film stock: a clown's wife--a dumpy, middle-aged woman--bathes exhibitionistically in view of a whole regiment of soldiers; the clown comes and takes her away. From there the story moves to the circus owner, �ke Groenberg, and his voluptuous mistress, Harriet Andersson; this swinish Circe betrays him, and is in turn betrayed, and they go on together. The atmosphere suggests E.A. Dupont's 1925 film, VARIETY, with Emil Jannings, but has upsetting qualities all its own. There is an erotic scene between Miss Andersson and Hasse Ekman, as a seducer-actor, that leaves audiences slightly out of breath. THE NAKED NIGHT is one of the bleakest of Bergman's films: no one is saved from total damnation; life is a circus, and the people are gross clowns; it is a round of frustration, humiliation, and defeat. Yet this heavy, mawkish Expressionism, of a kind widespread in Germany in the 20s, was extraordinarily popular with young Americans in the late 60s. With Anders Ek, Gunnar Bj�rnstrand, and �ke Fridell. In Swedish.

Say Amen, Somebody

US (1982): Documentary
100 min, Rated G, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A sensitive and absorbing documentary about the lives of the pioneers of gospel music. It features Thomas A. Dorsey, an 83-year-old hepcat who is still bouncing to the jazz rhythms that he brought into black people's churches in the late 20s and the early 30s--the Depression years--when he fused their profane and their sacred music and called the result gospel. The music keeps its singer-evangelists young, radiant, hearty. That's the film's unspoken message. At 78, Willie Mae Ford Smith, the matriarch of gospel, has astonishingly firm and strong contralto tones. And the three middle-aged Barrett Sisters--dramatic, physically striking women with ample figures in shiny, clinging blue gowns--sing so exhilaratingly that they create a problem for the young filmmaker, George T. Nierenberg. They bring the film to an emotional pitch, and we in the audience want to go on soaring; we feel let down when we get more reminiscences and only snatches of song. Talented as he is, Nierenberg may be too genteel for his subject. The movie doesn't acknowledge that for a lot of people the rhythmic excitement and spiritual uplift of gospel make it an overpoweringly pleasurable combination that leads to the convulsive writhing and muttering of religious possession. With the twin O'Neal brothers, and a sensationally attractive St. Louis singer, Zella Jackson Price (she looks better than she sounds).
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Say Anything�

US (1989): Drama/Comedy
100 min, Rated PG-13, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) is a high-school senior who doesn't know what he wants to do yet. And he's so in awe of Diane (Ione Skye), the class valedictorian and prize student, that when he phones to ask her to the graduation party he can't keep up a sequential conversation--he babbles, and talks in spurts. Yet when they're out together he makes Diane feel happier than she has ever been. As for Lloyd, he's found bliss. He wants to hang on to Diane--for life. This first picture directed by Cameron Crowe (who wrote FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH) is unabashedly romantic about Lloyd Dobler's capacity to make a commitment. Crowe is great here on oddity and fringe moments; the comedy helps to dry out the romanticism--to give it lightness and a trace of enchantment. And Cusack is a wonder: Lloyd's (nearly) blank look tells you that a lot of things are going on inside him--he has a buzz in his blank face. Crowe's script has some central flaws, and there's no special moviemaking excitement in the picture, but it's a lovely piece of work. Clearly, Crowe loves actors. There's a compelling performance by John Mahoney as Diane's father; there are a couple of astonishingly fluid scenes between Cusack and his real-life sister Joan, playing Lloyd's sister. And the cast includes Lili Taylor as the girl who has written 65 songs about her ex-boyfriend's perfidiousness, Kim Walker, Loren Dean, Jason Gould, Eric Stoltz, Amy Brooks, Chynna Phillips, Lois Chiles, Philip Baker Hall, and a terrific 3-year-old, Glenn Walker Harris, Jr. Cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs. Released by 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.

The Scalphunters

US (1968): Western/Comedy
102 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

A rousing comedy-Western with an amiable tone. Ossie Davis is a runaway slave who is captured by Indians and Burt Lancaster is a stubborn-minded fur trapper. Lancaster gives one of those performances of his that really work and yet are so odd that it's hard to know why they work. Ossie Davis and he play quarrelling buddies, and they're peculiarly funny together, maybe because they're both such physical performers. (At the end they fight in mud and emerge the same color.) Shelley Winters chomps on a stogie and bones up on astrology in the covered wagon she shares with her temporary sweetie, Telly Savalas. Under Sydney Pollack's direction they all perform with wit and--for these four--restraint. The movie becomes a shade idiotic near the end, but it's too enjoyable for that to matter much. With Nick Cravat, Dabney Coleman, and Armando Silvestre. Script by William Norton; music by Elmer Bernstein; cinematography by Duke Callahan and Richard Moore. Produced by Levy-Gardner-Laven, and Roland Kibbee (who also had a hand in THE CRIMSON PIRATE). United Artists.


US (1989): Political/Biography
106 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Tepid. The director, Michael Caton-Jones, and the writer, Michael Thomas, who dig up the Profumo affair, might have used it as the basis for a satirical slice of history; instead, they've made a sentimental docudrama-one more English film about the cruelty of the class system. What sustains a viewer is the narrative, with its evocative details of life in London from 1959 to 1963-how teenage showgirl Christine Keeler (Joanne Whalley-Kilmer), bored with the middle-aged dignitaries that the society osteopath Stephen Ward (John Hurt) introduced her to, took on a West Indian lover and then another West Indian, and how, as a result of a violent quarrel between the two, a newspaperman got on her trail. She then offered up the story of her earlier gentlemen callers, the Tory Secretary of State for War, John Profumo (Ian McKellen), and the assistant naval attach� of the Soviet Embassy (Jeroen Krabb�). And bang! The tabloids whipped up indignation over the decadence of the Establishment-over sadomasochism and spies and naked bathing in Lord Astor's pool. Along the way there's Ward introducing Christine to hash and her becoming spacey, and the music changing, and the kinky Victorian repressiveness giving way to London's Swinging 60s. But Whalley-Kilmer's Christine is opaque, unreadable. She comes to life a bit in her scenes with her showgirl pal, Mandy Rice-Davies, played by Bridget Fonda, who brings a gamine crispness to the role. She's the movie's only wild card. With Daniel Massey, Roland Gift, Britt Ekland, Leslie Phillips, and Trevor Eve. Miramax.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.

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