A Separate Peace

US (1972): Drama
104 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

Not shameful, exactly; not much of anything. John Knowles' prep-school novel hasn't been dramatized; the director, Larry Peerce, seems to think that conversations in lyrical places are all that's needed to make a movie. It's all chatter. The nonprofessional cast acts "natural" enough, but there's no depth of character to this kind of acting, and no excitement. John Heyl, who plays Fearless Finny, bears on amusing resemblance to Burt Lancaster. Paramount.


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

Woody Allen wrote and directed (but does not appear in) this roundelay of unrequited love. The general anguish spans 24 hours at the end of summer, just before September, and the setting is the tasteful yellow-beige interior of the Vermont house that belongs to Lane (Mia Farrow). She's a crushed, suicidal mouse, presumably because at 14 she shot her playgirl mother's brutal lover. The film's limp refinement suggests a generic Chekhov play drained of humor and mixed with Ingmar Bergman's AUTUMN SONATA; the only thing that locates Woody Allen in the real world is that he wrote a screenplay about being haunted by the Johnny Stompanato-Lana Turner scandal. With Elaine Stritch as the belting, domineering life-force mother, and Dianne Wiest, Sam Waterston, Jack Warden, Denholm Elliott, and Rosemary Murphy. Orion.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

The Serpent's Egg

Germany-US (1978): Drama
120 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

Set in Berlin in 1923, this Ingmar Bergman film, made in English in Munich, is about a Jewish-American trapeze artist (David Carradine) and his sister-in-law (Liv Ullmann), who are entrapped by a mad doctor (Heinz Bennent)--a prophet who dreams of what the Nazis will accomplish in the 30s. The movie, which fills the screen with images of fear and blood, of head-splitting pain and death, and then throws in gothic political theories, is a crackpot tragedy. Everything is strained, insufficient, underfelt. Cinematography by Sven Nykvist.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.


US (1973): Crime/Biography
129 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Al Pacino as Frank Serpico, the New York City policeman whose incorruptibility alienated him from his fellow officers and turned him into a messianic hippie freak. The theme is richly comic, and the film is great fun, even though it sacrifices Serpico's story-one of the rare hopeful stories of the time-for a cynical, downbeat finish. Norman Wexler (who wrote JOE, 1970) is responsible for most of the hip humor; he writes virulent lowlife dialogue with a demented lift. The screenplay is by Waldo Salt and Wexler, based on the book by Peter Maas. Directed, sloppily but effectively, by Sidney Lumet-he sends the comic lines across. The picture has a cartoon stridency, and the laughter isn't deep or lasting, but it's good and rude, and there's lots of it. Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

The Set-Up

US (1949): Sports
72 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

This intelligently modest, low-budget film about a shabby, aging prizefighter (Robert Ryan) is generally considered a classic. It's not a great movie, or even a very good one (it's rather mechanical), but it touches one's experience in a way that makes it hard to forget. (Maybe that's why so many movies have imitated it, even though it wasn't a commercial success.) Based on a narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March and written by Art Cohn, it was directed by Robert Wise and shot (by Milton Krasner) in actual locations. Ryan--his face never more craggily heroic than in defeat--raised the picture above its poetry-of-realism aspirations. With Audrey Totter as the fighter's perceptive, harried wife, George Tobias, Wallace Ford, and Alan Baxter. RKO.

Seven Beauties

Italy (1976): Drama/Comedy
115 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

The writer-director Lina Wertm�ller's slapstick-tragedy investigation of an Italian common man's soul, set during the Second World War, with flashbacks to the 30s. Pasqualino, or as he's called, Pasqualino Seven Beauties (Giancarlo Giannini), deserts the Italian Army in Germany, is captured by the Germans, and is sent to a concentration camp. In flashbacks, we see his prewar life as a two-bit mafioso, with fat sisters--the "seven beauties." Pasqualino is everybody's dupe--a man who has swallowed all the lies that society hands out. He believes what the Mafia tells him, what Mussolini tells him, what anybody in authority tells him. As Giannini plays him, he's a Chaplinesque Fascist--the Italian Everyman as a pathetic worm. He's the man who never fights back--the one who wheedles and whimpers and crawls through. Wertmuller reactivates the entire comic-opera view of Italians as cowards who will grovel to survive. The picture is full of flashy ideas, cruelty, moist wistfulness, and pious moralizing, and Wertmuller presents it all in a goofy, ebullient mood. The box-office success of this film represents a triumph of insensitivity. With Elena Fiore, Fernando Rey, Enzo Vitale, Mario Conti, and Shirley Stoler as the gross commandant of the concentration camp (though no woman in Nazi Germany could rise to such a post--Ilse Koch's power at Buchenwald derived from her being the commandant's wife). Cinematography by Tonino Delli Colli; art direction by Enrico Job; music by Enzo Iannacci. In Italian.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

US (1954): Musical/Dance
103 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Stanley Donen directed this big, highly praised musical, set in Oregon in 1850, and adapted from Stephen Vincent Ben�t's story "The Sobbin' Women" (based on Plutarch's The Rape of the Sabine Women). It's marred by a holiday family-picture heartiness--the MGM back lot Americana gets rather thick. Howard Keel is the lead, with Jane Powell opposite him. The picture is ambitious in its use of dance, and was unusual in that it features male dancers (Jacques d'Amboise, Tommy Rall, Marc Platt, Matt Mattox, Jeff Richards, and Russ Tamblyn), who are most memorable in the "Lonesome Polecat" ballet in the snow. The most prominent among the women is Julie Newmar (then Newmeyer). The choreography is by Michael Kidd; the script is by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett; the score is by Gene de Paul and Johnny Mercer. CinemaScope.

Seven Chances

US (1925): Comedy
56 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The plot gimmick--the hero must be married in a few hours in order to collect an inheritance--is an antique, and the play flopped on Broadway, but what Buster Keaton and his gag writers managed to do with the material will be everlastingly fresh. When the news of the shy hero's need to wed is published in the papers, prospective brides arrive, singly at first and then in droves, and the distraught man, fleeing them, dislodges a boulder, which dislodges others, and soon he is pursued by hundreds of huge boulders. It's a lovely comedy, imaginatively--possibly faultlessly-directed by Keaton. With Snitz Edwards and Ruth Dwyer. Silent.

The Seven Percent Solution

US (1976): Mystery
113 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The plot starts from two pieces of common knowledge--that Sherlock Holmes used cocaine, and that Sigmund Freud took the drug for a period. The fictional Holmes "lived" at the same time as the historical Freud; they're both myths by now, and by crossing these mythologies the film, adapted by Nicholas Meyer from his 1974 best-seller, gives us a luxuriant straight-faced parody, in which the two great detectives--Nicol Williamson's Sherlock Holmes and Alan Arkin's Sigmund Freud--pool their deductive skills to solve the mysterious kidnapping of one of Freud's patients (Vanessa Redgrave). The film is somewhere between the genial "little" English comedies of the '50s, with their nifty plots and overqualified performers, and the splashy, stylized James Bond pictures. Chief among the overqualified performers, who seem to be having an actor's holiday, is Laurence Olivier, in high form as the criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty--a prissy, complaining old pedagogue. Olivier plays the role with the covert wit that is his specialty. The others include Robert Duvall as Dr. Watson, Joel Grey, Anna Quayle, Samantha Eggar, Jill Townsend, Regine, Gertan Klauber, Georgia Brown, Jeremy Kemp, and Charles Gray. Directed by Herbert Ross, this is a highly civilized light entertainment. The production was designed by Ken Adam; the cinematography is by Oswald Morris; "The Madame's Song" is by Stephen Sondheim. Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

The Seven Samurai

Japan (1954): Drama
141 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Seven hired knights defend a village against 40 mounted bandits--their pay a few handfuls of rice. This 3-hour epic on violence and action--Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece--has been widely imitated, but no one has come near it. With Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura. (For a period in the 50s it circulated, in a much shorter version, under the title THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, but in 1960 that title was appropriated by an American version of the story, with the samurai changed to gunmen.) In Japanese.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book I Lost it at the Movies.

Seven Sinners

US (1940): Drama
87 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Marlene Dietrich's name is Bijou in this one, and her theme song is "I Can't Give You Anything but Love, Baby." The picture is a rowdy mediocrity. Bijou, who entertains in a South Seas caf�, the Seven Sinners, is so attractive to the U.S. Navy that the commander of the fleet finds her a problem. "The Navy has enough destroyers," he says. Tay Garnett's direction keeps the melodrama tolerable, but there's not much glamour in the material. John Wayne is the male lead, and the picture's big moment is a barroom brawl. With Albert Dekker, Broderick Crawford, Anna Lee, and Mischa Auer. Universal.

The Seven Year Itch

US (1955): Comedy
105 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

All that most people remember of this labored farce is the sequence with Marilyn Monroe standing on a New York subway grating when a train whooshes by; the air sends her skirt swirling up to her shoulders. The director, Billy Wilder, and George Axelrod reshaped Axelrod's Broadway hit about the summertime flirtation of a shy married man (Tom Ewell) in order to build up Monroe's role. Wilder flails away at such gags as a plumber (Victor Moore) dropping a wrench in a bathtub occupied by Monroe, who has caught her toe in the faucet. With Evelyn Keyes, Sonny Tufts, Robert Strauss, Oscar Homolka, Carolyn Jones, and Doro Merande. 20th Century-Fox. CinemaScope.

The Seventh Seal

Sweden (1957): Drama
96 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Ingmar Bergman's medieval morality play about man in search of the meaning of life is set in 14th-century Sweden. But it's a magically powerful film--the story seems to be playing itself out in a medieval present. A knight (Max von Sydow), tormented and doubting, returns from 10 wasted years in the Crusades, and Death (Bengt Ekerot) comes to claim him. Hoping to gain some revelation or obtain some knowledge before he dies, the knight challenges Death to a game of chess. As they play, the knight observes scenes of cruelty, rot, and suffering that suggest the tortures and iniquity Ivan Karamazov described to Alyosha. In the end, the knight tricks Death in order to save a family of strolling players--a visionary, innocent, natural man, Joseph (Nils Poppe), his wife (Bibi Andersson), and their infant son. The knight, a sane modern man, asking to believe despite all the evidence of his senses, is childlike compared with his carnal atheist squire (Gunnar Bj�rnstrand). The images and the omens are medieval, but the modern erotic and psychological insights add tension, and in some cases, as in the burning of the child-witch (Maud Hansson), excruciation. The actors' faces, the aura of magic, the ambiguities, and the riddle at the heart of the film all contribute to its stature. In Swedish.

The Seventh Veil

UK (1945): Drama
95 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

In the mid-40s, when the New York critics said a film was for "adult minds" they were referring to something like THE SEVENTH VEIL--a rich, portentous mixture of Beethoven, Chopin, kitsch, and Freud. Ann Todd is the shy young pianist obsessed with the idea that she can never hit those keys again, and Heathcliff-Svengali James Mason is the smoldering cause of it all (his fires always seem to be banked). Herbert Lom performs that marvellous 40s-movie type of psychoanalytic cure: he discovers which of her suitors the heroine really loves. All this nonsense is highly entertaining: maybe, with a few veils stripped away, most of us have a fantasist inside who gobbles up this sadomasochistic sundae, with its culture sauce. Directed by Compton Bennett; screenplay by Muriel and Sydney Box.

Shadow of a Doubt

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

The setting is quiet, clean, sleepy Santa Rosa, California; it is invaded by a psychopathic killer (Joseph Cotten), who comes to visit his unsuspecting and adoring relatives. Until Alfred Hitchcock made STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, he considered this fine thriller (from a script principally by Thornton Wilder) to be his best American film. It's very well worked out in terms of character and it has a sustained grip, but it certainly isn't as much fun as several of his other films. With Patricia Collinge, Teresa Wright, Hume Cronyn, and Henry Travers. Cinematography by Joe Valentine; music by Dimitri Tiomkin. Universal.

Shadow of the Thin Man

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

Hardly even a shadow; Myrna Loy, William Powell, and Asta go through their paces for the fourth time, but the jauntiness is gone. This one is about a murder involving racetrack crooks, and the only thing that gives it any distinction is the cast. The most amazing people keep turning up: Stella Adler as a gambler's blond floozy, Barry Nelson as a muckraking reporter, Joseph Anthony, Donna Reed, Sam Levene, Louise Beavers, Alan Baxter, and many others. Too bad Harry Kurnitz, who wrote the story, didn't give them more to do; W.S. Van Dyke directed. MGM.


UK (1968): Western
113 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

As the hero of this Western, Sean Connery is tough, like the Clark Gable heroes but smarter and smoother--somewhat less fatuous. Like Charlton Heston, Connery plays conventional heroes the way most actors play villains--scowling and sullen and insolent, not so much the good guy as the rugged superman casually contemptuous of the amenities observed by mere good guys. He has more presence and style (even in his indifference) than this picture deserves. It's one of those movies in which the hero has to be a man of few words because if he ever explained anything to the other characters they wouldn't get into the trouble they get into that he has to get them out of, and there wouldn't be a movie. There isn't much of one anyway. Taken from a Louis L'Amour novel, it's about a group of European aristocrats on safari in New Mexico Territory in the 1880s (with Connery as their guide); it's tidily rigged so that the bad people and the expendable servants get killed off by the Indians and each other, the half-bad people reform, and the good ride away into the bright future. Through the insanities of casting for the international market, that appealing slutty gamine Brigitte Bardot is a countess, delicately wringing her hands while Connery fights an Apache (Woody Strode!). The director, Edward Dmytryk, doesn't even try to bring out Bardot's comic sparkle. The woman who set the style for modern girls to look like amoral teenage whores is supposed to act highborn; she's left stranded on the screen with her smudged, pouty mouth open and the dark roots showing in her yellow hair. With Honor Blackman, Jack Hawkins, Stephen Boyd, Peter Van Eyck, Eric Sykes, Alexander Knox, and Victor French. Made in Spain.


Sweden (1968): Drama
103 min, Rated R, Black & White, Available on videocassette
Also known as SKAMMEN.

Ingmar Bergman's simple, masterly vision of normal war and what it does to survivors. Set a tiny step into the future, the film has the inevitability of a common dream. Liv Ullmann is superb in the demanding central role--one that calls for emotional involvements with her husband (Max von Sydow) and her lover (Gunnar Bj�rnstrand). One of Bergman's greatest films, this is one of the least known. Cinematography by Sven Nykvist. In Swedish.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Going Steady.

The Shameless Old Lady

France (1965): Drama/Comedy
94 min, No rating, Black & White

An agreeable though thin comedy about how an old lady discovers the pleasures of the modern world after her husband's death. A little too lulling and gratifying; it encourages the audience to chuckle in condescension at miserliness and meanness. With that great old screen-stealer Sylvie occupying center stage for a change. Written and directed by Ren� Allio; based on a story by Brecht. With Malka Ribovska, Victor Lanoux, and Jean Bouise; cinematography by Denys Clerval. In French.


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

This sex roundelay is set in a period as clearly defined as the jazz age--the time of the Beatles and miniskirts and strobe lights. When George (Warren Beatty), the hairdresser hero, asks his former girlfriend, Jackie (Julie Christie), "Want me to do your hair?," it's his love lyric. When George gets his hands in a woman's hair, it's practically sex, and sensuous, tender sex-not what his Beverly Hills customers are used to. The film opens on Election Eve, November 4, 1968, and ends the day after Nixon and Agnew's victory; it deals with George's frantic bed-hopping during those 40-odd hours, in which he tries to borrow the money to open his own shop, so he can settle down with his current girlfriend, Jill (Goldie Hawn). The script by Robert Towne, with the collaboration of Beatty (who also produced), isn't about the bondage of romantic pursuit-it's about the bondage of the universal itch among a group primed to scratch. The characters (the others are played by Jack Warden, Lee Grant, Tony Bill, and Carrie Fisher) have more than one sex object in mind, and they're constantly regrouping in their heads. When they look depressed you're never sure who exactly is the object of their misery. The director, Hal Ashby, has the deftness to keep us conscious of the whirring pleasures of the carnal-farce structure and yet to give it free play. This was the most virtuoso example of sophisticated, kaleidoscopic farce that American moviemakers had yet come up with; frivolous and funny, it carries a sense of heedless activity, of a craze of dissatisfaction. With Jay Robinson, George Furth, Brad Dexter, William Castle, and, in a bit, Susan Blakely. Cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.


US (1953): Western
118 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The Western stranger in town consciously turned into Galahad on the range. Superficially, this is a Western, but from Shane's knightly costume, from the way his horse canters, from the Agincourt music, it's all too recognizable as an attempt to create a myth. With chivalric purity as his motivation, the enigmatic Shane (Alan Ladd) defeats enemies twice his size--the largest is the Prince of Darkness himself, Jack Palance. The earth-loving Wyoming homesteaders befriended by Shane include Van Heflin, Jean Arthur as his wife, and Brandon de Wilde as their child. This George Stevens film is overplanned and uninspired: Westerns are better when they're not so self-importantly self-conscious. However, audiences wept over the scene in which a dog mourns at his master's coffin, and Jean Arthur's farewell handshake to Shane--whom she loves--brought forth sniffles. Brandon de Wilde's final cry, "Shane," was heard for years wherever kids played. With Edgar Buchanan, Elisha Cook, Jr., Ben Johnson, and Emile Meyer. The screenplay is by A.B. Guthrie, Jr., from Jack Schaefer's novel. The cinematography by Loyal Griggs won the Academy Award; this must have struck him as a black joke, because Paramount, in order to take advantage of the new fashion for the wide screen, had mutilated the compositions by cutting off the top and bottom.

Shanghai Express

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

Irresistibly enjoyable. Marlene Dietrich gets to deliver what is perhaps her most memorable line: "It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily." In this glossy mixture of sex and intrigue, Shanghai Lily and her exquisitely stoic beloved (Clive Brook) fall into the hands of sinister Chinese revolutionaries led by Warner Oland. (He gets to deliver a camp classic--"The white woman stays with me.") When this Oriental chieftain questions Lily about why she's going to Shanghai, she answers "To buy a new hat." The scriptwriter, Jules Furthman, must have had a special affection for that line, because he gave it to Lauren Bacall, in her d�but film, TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, in 1944. Directed by Josef von Sternberg, this movie has style--a triumphant fusion of sin, glamour, shamelessness, art, and, perhaps, a furtive sense of humor. With Anna May Wong, Gustav von Seyffertitz, Eugene Pallette, Louise Closser Hale, Lawrence Grant, and Emile Chautard. Cinematography by Lee Garmes; art direction by Hans Dreier; based on a story by Harry Hervey. Paramount.

The Shanghai Gesture

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

Hilariously, awesomely terrible. Pressure groups were so strong at the time that the moviemakers had to clean up John Colton's old melodrama about night-life depravities in Shanghai; Mother Goddam became Mother Gin Sling (Ona Munson), and her establishment became nothing more disreputable than a gambling den. Josef von Sternberg proceeded to pack the orgiastic, smoky atmosphere with crowds of coolies, diplomats, roulette players, and "bird-cage" girls, and in the foreground he put one of the most ridiculous casts ever assembled. Victor Mature, in a burnous, as the languid Dr. Omar--his eyes welling with mysterious passions--is worth the price of admission, and when you throw in Gene Tierney, as Poppy, a rich girl going to the dogs (Tierney acts as if she's having a tantrum in Schrafft's over the fudge sauce), you've got a gorgeous travesty. Some of this effect is probably intentional, but the total effect couldn't have been. Walter Huston stalks through as Mother Gin Sling's former lover, and the cast includes Maria Ouspenskaya, Phyllis Brooks, Ivan Lebedeff, Mike Mazurki, Albert Basserman, Eric Blore, Marcel Dalio, Mikhail Rasumny, and John Abbott. Cinematography by Paul Ivano; art direction by Boris Leven. Produced by Arnold Pressburger; released by United Artists.


US (1935): Fantasy/Dance/Adventure
95 min, No rating, Black & White

Hilarious, terrible, essential. Over the land of Kor rules She (Helen Gahagan Douglas, before her political career), kept young throughout five centuries by her Flame of Eternal Youth. The stagey decor of Kor is in the Art Deco style of Radio City Music Hall, and you keep expecting the Rockettes to turn up. The dialogue, however, belongs to an earlier age: the great She addresses her subjects with such lines as "You haunters of darkness, how you try my patience!" A pair of lovebirds (Helen Mack and Randolph Scott) intrude upon the realm, and She, who takes a fancy to Scott and plans to make a human sacrifice of her rival, tries one too many dips in the Flame. No one but H. Rider Haggard could have dreamed up the story; Irving Pichel and Lansing C. Holden directed. With Nigel Bruce. Camp like this is a rarity. Adapted by Ruth Rose, with some assistance from Dudley Nichols; produced by Merian C. Cooper, for RKO. (There were versions in 1908, 1911, 1916, and 1917, and a later one, with Ursula Andress, in 1965.)

She Done Him Wrong

US (1933): Comedy
66 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Mae West, the great shady lady of the screen, wiggles and sings "Easy Rider" and seduces virtuous young Cary Grant. A classic comedy and a classic seduction. Written by the star, from her play Diamond Lil, with some help on the script by Harvey Thew and John Bright; directed by Lowell Sherman. With Rafaela Ottiano as the woman who gets herself killed, and Gilbert Roland, Owen Moore, Rochelle Hudson, Dewey Robinson, Noah Beery, and David Landau. Paramount.

She Married Her Boss

US (1935): Comedy
90 min, No rating, Black & White

The flat title tells the whole story of this uninspired office romance. Claudette Colbert, a chic, hyper-efficient secretary, is in love with her rich, miserable department-store-owner boss (Melvyn Douglas). He has a spoiled brat (Edith Fellows) by a previous marriage and a rotten sister who keeps house for him. When he finally marries Claudette, she takes on his domestic mess and discovers that he expects her to be Miss Efficiency forever. This is one of those movies in which all problems are finally solved by the hero and heroine getting drunk and throwing bricks through plate-glass windows. Gregory La Cava directed. Columbia.

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

US (1949): Western/War
103 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

John Ford's film begins with Custer and the disgrace of Little Big Horn, and it has the handsome, faintly melancholy look of Frederic Remington's work. The subject is the burden of command, and the cavalry-captain hero (John Wayne), an officer on his last mission before retirement, is a man who, unlike Custer, is worthy of his office. Like Ford's other large-scale, elegiac Westerns of this period, it's not a plain action movie but a pictorial film with slow spots and great set pieces. There's some tedious Irish comedy (Victor McLaglen is around too much) and an irksome pair of lovers--John Agar and Joanne Dru. The cast includes Ben Johnson, Mildred Natwick, Noble Johnson, George O'Brien, Francis Ford, and Arthur Shields. Based on James Warner Bellah's War Party; screenplay by Frank Nugent and Laurence Stallings. Filmed in Monument Valley. RKO.

She's Gotta Have It

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

The voluptuous, easygoing Nola (Tracy Camila Johns), a graphic designer who lives in the black bohemian world in Brooklyn, is happily juggling three lovers when she's faced by a mock crisis: each of the three men has turned possessive and wants to be her one and only. That's the premise of this quick-witted sex comedy written, directed, and edited by the 29-year-old Spike Lee, who shot it in 16-mm in twelve days, on an almost nonexistent budget. Nola, her three lovers, and her family and friends explain themselves directly to the camera, and the film's basic set is Nola's bed; you can't shoot a movie much cheaper or faster than that. Lee's economies become part of what's enjoyable about the film, and he keeps it all sparking and bouncing along. He gave the script the structure (and title) of an exploitation picture for the soft-core market, but his own exuberance and the soft lighting that the cinematographer Ernest Dickerson uses for the sex scenes transcend that structure and give the movie a lyrical, lilting feeling. Lee doesn't appear to know how to develop the story, and he fumbles toward the end. But by then the picture has built up so much good will that you don't feel too let down. With Tommy Redmond Hicks as the conventional narrow-minded middle-class romantic Jamie, John Canada Terrell as the vain and pretentious Greer, and Spike Lee himself as the jive artist Mars. The jazz score is by his musician father, Bill Lee. (The picture was completed on a final budget of $175,000, of which all except about $60,000 was deferred.)
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

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