The Silencers

US (1966): Spy/Comedy
102 min, No rating, Color

Crude but good-natured super-spy nonsense with Dean Martin (as Matt Helm) and Stella Stevens. Their best sequence together has been lifted from the 1948 JULIA MISBEHAVES. With Cyd Charisse, Daliah Lavi, and Victor Buono. Directed by Phil Karlson. Columbia.

Silk Stockings

US (1957): Musical/Dance/Comedy
117 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A paralyzed version of the Cole Porter Broadway musical based on the Greta Garbo film NINOTCHKA. The director, Rouben Mamoulian, manages to do practically nothing with a cast that includes Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse (as Ninotchka), Barrie Chase, Janis Paige, Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin, Joseph Buloff, George Tobias, and Ivan Triesault. MGM. CinemaScope.


US (1983): Biography
128 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

An absorbing but cloudy and unfocussed account of Karen Silkwood's union activism, her contamination by plutonium, and her death in a single-car crash. Directed by Mike Nichols, this passive advocacy film raises suspicions of many kinds of nuclear-age foul play; it's permeated with paranoia and hopelessness. As the heroine, Meryl Streep tousles her shag-cut brown hair, chews gum, and talks with a twang; she eyes a man, her head at an angle. She has the external details of "Okie bad girl" down pat, but something is not quite right. She has no natural vitality; she's like a replicant--all shtick. Her performance is muted, and Nichols, whose work here is erratic, soft-pedals everything around her. Kurt Russell, who plays Karen's lover, is used mostly for his bare chest and his dimples. Cher (as Karen's friend and roommate) has a lovely, dark-lady presence, but she's used as a lesbian Mona Lisa, all faraway smiles and shrugs. It's a wan, weak role. As a cosmetician in a mortuary, Diana Scarwid rouses the audience from its motion-picture-appreciation blues. She gets laughs out of her tight walk and her line readings; when she prolongs syllables and twists meanings, she sounds like Jean Harlow as a Valley Girl. Some scenes appear to relate to passages that have been cut, and the end is chopped short. The script is by Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen; the cinematography is by Miroslav Ondr�cek. The cast includes Craig T. Nelson, Ron Silver, E. Katherine Kerr, Sudie Bond, Josef Sommer, and Fred Ward. An ABC Motion Picture.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

Silver Streak

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

Some studio executive must have looked at the Colin Higgins script, noticed that most of the action took place on board the train from Los Angeles to Chicago, and said, "Who the hell travels by train?" The movie starts with a mess of exposition, explaining why each of the principal characters didn't take a plane. Jill Clayburgh, Gene Wilder, and Richard Pryor are 1970s performers trapped in this fake 30s mystery-comedy, which is so inept you can't even get angry: it's like the imitations of sophisticated entertainment that high-school kids put on. For about 15 minutes Pryor gives the picture some of his craziness. His comedy isn't based on suspiciousness about whites, or on anger, either; he's gone way past that. Whites are unbelievable to him. He's stupefied at the ignorance of the hero ( Wilder), and he can't believe the way this white man moves. His attempt to teach Wilder how to move like a black man is genuinely funny, but picture relapses and when Pryor is required to show pure-hearted affection for Wilder you have never seen such a bad actor. The villains, headed by Patrick McGoohan, are art forgers. (Has there ever been a good movie about art forgery? The idea is even more hopeless than having an amnesiac hero.) Arthur Hiller directed, lamely; the film features pathetic double-entendres--horticultural and barnyard--and there's a callously unfunny gag--a plane buzzing a flock of sheep just for the fun of it. The picture was a considerable success at the box office. With Ned Beatty, Clifton James, Richard Kiel, Scatman Crothers, Valerie Curtin, Ray Walston, Lucille Benson, Len Birman, and Stefan Gierasch. 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.


US (1985): Western
132 min, Rated PG-13, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Probably, to enjoy this roguish, mechanically plotted Western, you'd have to accept the fights and shootouts as decorative, as part of the scenery. The director, Lawrence Kasdan (who wrote the script with his brother Mark), uses accomplished actors: the four heroes journeying west to Silverado in the 1880s are played by Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Kevin Costner, and Danny Glover, and they're variously involved with Linda Hunt, Rosanna Arquette, Brian Dennehy, John Cleese, and Jeff Goldblum. But the atmosphere is arch and uninvolving, and these actors don't seem sure what their characters are meant to be. The film is so opulent it has a nouveau riche aura about it; it's a counterfeit Western, without the feel of the memorable ones. The pounding orchestral score is a bad mistake; it tries to inflate the emotions that the movie intended to arouse. The cinematography is by John Bailey. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Simon of the Desert

Mexico (1965): Comedy
45 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Luis Bu�uel made this short satirical feature (45 minutes) in Mexico, just before he did BELLE DE JOUR. It's a jovial comedy about the temptations of St. Simeon Stylites, the 5th-century desert anchorite who spent 37 years preaching to pilgrims from his perch on top of a column; in both a literal and figurative sense, it's a shaggy-saint story. Simon (Claudio Brook) performs his miracles, and the crowds evaluate them like a bunch of New York cab-drivers discussing a parade: whatever it was, it wasn't much. He restores hands to a thief whose hands have been chopped off; the crowds rate the miracle "not bad," and the thief's first act with his new hands is to slap his own child. The Devil, in the female form of Silvia Pinal (much more amusing as the Devil than she was in her guises in other Bu�uel films), tempts Simon, and at one point frames him in front of the local priests, who are more than willing to believe the worst of him. He falls, of course, because of the animal instincts he has tried to deny. Bu�uel couldn't raise the money to finish the film, and he resorted to a bummer of a jokey ending in which the foolish saint is transported to the modern world and left, a lost soul, in a Greenwich Village discoth�que full of dancing teenagers. Up to then, this little film ranks with Bu�uel's finest; his technique here is so simple and direct that the movie is an aesthetic assault on bourgeois taste. In Spanish.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Going Steady.

Since You Went Away

US (1944): War/Drama
172 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

David O. Selznick must have had a reverent desire to do for the American home front what Hollywood had already done for the British home front in MRS. MINIVER--THAT is, to package a "typical" genteel home (in this case, in the Middle West) in a wishful, postcard version. He wrote the script himself, intending his story to be moving and simple, along epic lines; the result is pedestrian in a peculiarly grandiose manner. Claudette Colbert is the mother of the family, Neil Hamilton is her husband, Jennifer Jones and Shirley Temple are her daughters, Joseph Cotten is her old suitor who still hovers about, and Hattie McDaniel is her cook; others involved in this self-righteous salute to idealized American middle-class values include Nazimova, Robert Walker, Agnes Moorehead, Guy Madison, Monty Woolley, and Lionel Barrymore. The 2-hour-and-51-minute film, directed by John Cromwell, is perhaps more memorable for the James Agee review it occasioned (not the one in Time but the one in the Nation--see his book Agee on Film) than it is for itself: if one reads Agee first, the film may actually become entertaining. Released by United Artists.

Singin' in the Rain

US (1952): Musical/Dance
102 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

This exuberant satire of Hollywood in the late 20s, at the time of the transition from silents to talkies, is probably the most enjoyable of all American movie musicals. The teamwork of the stars, Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, and Debbie Reynolds, is joyful and the material is first-rate--ranging from parodies of the Busby Berkeley style of choreography to the Charleston and Black Bottom performed straight. The film falters during a too-long love song on a deserted studio stage (later cut from some of the prints) and during a lavish oversize Broadway ballet, but these sequences don't seriously affect one's enjoyment. With Jean Hagen as an imbecile movie-queen, Millard Mitchell as a producer, Cyd Charisse as a dancer, Rita Moreno as a flapper actress, Madge Blake as a syrupy columnist, Douglas Fowley as a distraught director. Directed by Kelly and Stanley Donen from the witty, affectionate script by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. The songs by Nacio Herb Brown with lyrics by Arthur Freed include "All I Do Is Dream of You," "Make 'Em Laugh," "I've Got a Feeling You're Fooling," "Wedding of the Painted Doll," "Fit as a Fiddle," "Should I?," "You Were Meant for Me," "Good Mornin'," "You Are My Lucky Star," and, of course, "Singin' in the Rain." The song "Moses" is by Comden and Green and Roger Edens. Cinematography by Harold Rosson. Produced by Freed. MGM.

The Sisters

US (1938): Romance
98 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

A costume melodrama beginning, in Montana, on the evening of Theodore Roosevelt's election and ending on the evening of Taft's election. During those years, a benign Bette Davis elopes with a transient newspaperman (Errol Flynn) who drinks. He deserts her For Her Own Good, and she undergoes strenuous hardships, including the San Francisco earthquake, which drives her to take brief refuge in an Oakland brothel, where a goodhearted whore (Lee Patrick) and a kindly madame (Laura Hope Crews, in a frilly neglig�e) nurse her back to health. The marital fortunes of the heroine's sisters (Anita Louise and Jane Bryan) are interwoven. It's an inoffensive but rather pointless story, with a good deal of attention to realistic detail. Hal B. Wallis produced, for Warners, and Anatole Litvak directed; from a novel by Myron Brinig, adapted by Milton Krims. With Beulah Bondi, Donald Crisp, Ian Hunter, Alan Hale, Patric Knowles, Dick Foran, Henry Travers, Harry Davenport, and Mayo Methot.


US (1973): Thriller/Horror
93 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

Brian De Palma's low-budget horror movie about a psychotic ex-Siamese twin has its share of flaked-out humor (as in the TV game-show parody at the beginning) and De Palma does some virtuoso stunts though not in the dream-slapstick style of his later thrillers, CARRIE (1976) and THE FURY (1978). This is a much more primitive scare picture. He lurches his way through; he can't seem to get two people talking to make a simple expository point without its sounding like the drabbest Republic picture of 1938. The facetious dialogue is a wet blanket, and De Palma isn't quite up to his apparent intention--to provide cheap thrills that are also a parody of old corn. He manages the thrills, though (there are some demented knife-slashings), and audiences seemed to be happily freaked by Bernard Herrmann's score, with its old radio-play throb and zing. With Margot Kidder, who knows how to turn on sexiness with a witch's precision, and Jennifer Salt, who gives a feeble performance as a nitwit girl reporter. Also with Charles Durning, Lisle Wilson, Mary Davenport, Bill Finley, and Barnard Hughes. Shakily written by De Palma and Louisa Rose. A Pressman-Williams Production, released by A.I.P.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

Sitting Pretty

US (1948): Comedy
84 min, No rating, Black & White

Clifton Webb became a big box-office hit in this dumb yet lively and, on some levels, satisfying comedy. He plays a supercilious gentleman who moves in on an average disorderly family as a babysitter and brings discipline to the household. Actually, he becomes a domestic tyrant, cowing his charges with his haughtiness and reducing their parents (Robert Young and Maureen O'Hara) to the status of peasants. Audiences guffawed happily when he glared at the family's youngest, who was making a mess with his porridge, and placed the bowl over the baby's head. Webb is abetted by Richard Haydn as the adenoidal neighborhood gossip. Walter Lang directed, from F. Hugh Herbert's screenplay. 20th Century-Fox.

Sixteen Candles

US (1984): Comedy
93 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Samantha (Molly Ringwald), a high-school sophomore, is having the worst day of her life. It's her 16th birthday, and, in the midst of preparations for her older sister's wedding, the whole family has forgotten about it. And in the evening, when she goes to a school dance and longs to be noticed by the handsome senior (Michael Schoeffling) who's the man of her dreams, she's subjected to the humiliating attentions of a scrawny freshman (Anthony Michael Hall), who's known as Geek--a pesty, leering smartmouth with braces on his teeth. Less raucous than the usual 80s pictures about teenagers, this comedy by the young writer-director John Hughes is closer in tone to the gentle English comedies of the 40s and 50s. Hughes devised too much of a farcical superstructure, and a lot of the characters function at a sit-com level, but he brings off some fresh scenes, and he has a feeling for teenagers' wacko slang. (Geek confesses that he has never "bagged a babe.") Molly Ringwald has a lovely, offbeat candor, and Hall's Geek, with his pitchman's hard sell, is a truly weird creation. With Paul Dooley, Carlin Glynn, Blanche Baker, Justin Henry, Gedde Watanabe, Haviland Morris, Liane Curtis, and, in bits, Brian Doyle-Murray and Zelda Rubinstein. Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

The Ski Bum

US (1971): Drama
136 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

Some UCLA film students took over the Romain Gary novel, soaked it in Fellini and Bu�uel, and stuffed it with pot. Weird is a mild word for the result, but a few sequences are also weirdly effective. With Zalman King and Charlotte Rampling. Directed by Bruce Clark; cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond. Avco Embassy.

Skin Game

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

Lighthearted and charming story of a black and white team of con artists in the Old South. Very enjoyable. With Lou Gossett, Jr., James Garner, and Susan Clark. Directed by Paul Bogart, from a script by Peter Stone and Richard Alan Simmons. Warners.

The Sky Above, The Mud Below

France (1961): Documentary
90 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette
Also known as LE CIEL ET LA BOUE.

You learn a lot about the expedition--about the courage and loyalty of the porters, the height of the mountains to be crossed, the bridges that must be built over the swift rivers, the incredible cold and the prostrating heat, the dysentery and malaria and leeches, the jungle that no white men before had ever charted, and the incredible heroism of the intrepid men who made the movie. You learn surprisingly little about the Stone Age men, the headhunters of New Guinea who are, presumably, the film's subject. One explorer looks very much like another explorer, and their photography of themselves is rarely adventurous. It's a mediocre film with a few informative sequences; it also includes some obviously staged footage. The "poetic" narration is very fancy and may have influenced those who gave this French documentary an Academy Award. Written and directed by Pierre-Dominique Gaisseau.

The Sky's the Limit

US (1943): Musical/Comedy
89 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Dreary RKO musical, with Fred Astaire as a Flying Tiger war hero. He's cast, unfortunately, opposite the wholesome Joan Leslie, with her girl-next-door big smiles. But Astaire does some beautiful solo work, including the memorable "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)." With Robert Benchley, Robert Ryan, Eric Blore, Elizabeth Patterson, Marjorie Gateson, Paul Hurst, Clarence Kolb, and Freddie Slack's orchestra. Directed by Edward H. Griffith; written by Frank Fenton and Lynn Root; songs by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen.

The Slap

France (1974): Comedy
60 min, No rating, Black & White
Also known as LA GIFLE.

Isabelle Adjani playing a charmingly thoughtless, petulant, fibbing teenager in a heartwarming French comedy of the sort that generally isn't imported because it's assumed that Americans who go to foreign films won't be attracted by the French equivalent of the Debbie Reynolds and Sandre Dee movies of the late 50s. ( Adjani was a big hit in France in this role.) Claude Pinoteau directs competently, but the movie is contrived out of spun sugar and endless misunderstandings. Lino Ventura and Annie Girardot are the heroine's estranged parents. With Fran�ois Perrin, Nicole Courcel, Jacques Spiesser, and Georges Wilson. Written by Jean-Loup Dabadie and Pinoteau; music by Georges Delerue. In French.

Slap Shot

US (1977): Sports
122 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Fast, noisy, profane comedy set in the world of minor-league ice hockey. The theme is that the public no longer cares about the sport--it wants goonish vaudeville and mayhem. The director, George Roy Hill, has heated up his technique, and the picture is also geared to giving the public "what it wants"--it has a forced, antagonistic feeling. Hill is making a farcical hymn to violence. Dede Allen's hot-foot editing moves the action along from zinger to zinger, and the Maxine Nightingale record "Right Back Where We Started From" punches up the pacing. The beat gives the film a relentlessness, and expletives are sprinkled around like manure to give it funky seasoning. (Perhaps as a result, the public rejected the film.) Hill lacks the conviction or the temperament for all this brutal buffoonishness, and he can't hold the picture together; what does is the warmth supplied by Paul Newman, as Reggie, a player-coach. Reggie is scarred and bruised, and there are gold rims on his chipped teeth; you don't see much of his eyes. He has never grown up--he's a raucous American innocent, an overage jock, thin-skinned but a little thickheaded. Newman's likableness in the role is infectious. With Michael Ontkean, Lindsay Crouse, Jennifer Warren, Allan Nicholls, Yvon Barrette, M. Emmet Walsh, Paul Dooley, and Jeff and Steve Carlson and David Hanson as the three Hanson brothers, and Kathryn Walker, Swoosie Kurtz, Jerry Houser, Strother Martin, and Melinda Dillon--there's a luscious infantile carnality about her scene in bed with Newman, who's nuzzling her. Screenplay by Nancy Dowd; cinematography by Victor Kemper. Produced by Robert J. Wunsch and Stephen Friedman; distributed by Universal.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.


US (1973): Science Fiction/Comedy
88 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A modern slapstick-comedy classic, directed by and starring Woody Allen. Set 200 years in the future, it's the most stable and sustained of his comedies, with a clean visual style and an elegant design. It's a very even work, with no thudding bad lines and no low stretches, but it doesn't have the loose, manic highs of some of his other films. You laugh all the way through and come out smiling and happy, but you're not driven crazy--not really turned on the way his messier movies can turn you on. With Diane Keaton and John Beck. Written by Allen, and Marshall Brickman; cinematography by David M. Walsh; editing by Ralph Rosenblum; costume design by Joel Schumacher. The music is by Woody Allen with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the New Orleans Funeral and Ragtime Band. United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.


US (1972): Mystery
138 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

At first, the elation of seeing Laurence Olivier in a big role is sufficient to give this Joseph L. Mankiewicz transcription of the Anthony Shaffer play (about an eccentric author of detective novels and his prey--Michael Caine) a high spirit, and Olivier seems to be having a ripsnorting old time. But the cleverness of Shaffer's excessive literacy wears down, and the stupid tricks that the two characters play on each other keep grinding on. It's Olivier in the kind of material he outgrew more than 30 years ago--it's Olivier in a George Sanders role. Cinematography by Oswald Morris.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

A Slight Case of Murder

US (1938): Crime/Comedy
85 min, No rating, Black & White

A black farce in the manner of ARSENIC AND OLD LACE. It's a burlesque of gangster films, with Edward G. Robinson as a bootlegger who turns legitimate and faces one mortifying mess after another. He drives his family out for a weekend in a country house, and finds the corpses of four gangsters sitting around a table in the spare bedroom. Eventually, at a party back in town, the four are brought in and strung up on hooks in a closet. The director, Lloyd Bacon, succeeds in getting giggles out of some of these scenes, but his style is too broad, and the tone of the film is archly childish. With Allen Jenkins as a beer salesman, Jane Bryan, Bobby Jordan, Ruth Donnelly, Harold Huber, Edward Brophy, John Litel, and Willard Parker. From a play by Damon Runyon and Howard Lindsay, adapted by Earl Baldwin and Joseph Schrank. Warners.


US (1973): Crime/Comedy
97 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

The first feature directed by the advertising ace Howard Zieff is a suspense comedy with a prickly, flea-hopping humor--a sort of fractured hipsterism. As the thick-witted hero looking for the fortune promised him by an embezzler, James Caan demonstrates some of the best double-takes in modern movies. The plot is tired, and the picture never delivers on its promise, but the gags are sneaky and offbeat, and the cast is full of crazies. With Peter Boyle, Louise Lasser, Allen Garfield, Richard B. Shull, and Sally Kellerman, as a speed freak. From an original script by W.D. Richter. MGM.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

Slow Dancing in the Big City

US (1978): Drama
101 min, Rated PG, Color

A boxing-movie-type ballet movie--Rocky as a young ballerina (Anne Ditchburn), who has to learn that she's a champion inside. The man who teaches her is a Jimmy Breslin-like columnist (Paul Sorvino), who works for the News. This is a feminine fantasy (written by Barra Grant), yet it's inspired by the tough-guy-with-a-soft-heart school of journalism, and the film aims for our hearts with brass knuckles, in the Breslin manner. It never once lands on target, and almost all the actors seem to be impaled by the camera. The earnestness and shamelessness of the director, John G. Avildsen (whose previous picture was ROCKY), are so awesome, though, that if the picture fails as romance it succeeds as camp. The ballerina, who has a prissy little-girl voice, talks to her parakeet, whose name is Orville Wright, and when she's loosening her muscles she thrashes around passionately to Carole King's "I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet"--she's the Patti Smith of ballet, pouring sweat and suffering ecstatically for her art. You don't get scenes like this in every movie. With Nicolas Coster, Anita Dangler, Hector Jaime Mercado, and the Manhattan Dance Company. Cinematography by Ralf D. Bode; music by Bill Conti. United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Small Change

France (1976): Drama/Comedy
104 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc
Also known as L'ARGENT DE POCHE.

Fran�ois Truffaut's series of sketches on the general theme of the resilience of children turns out to be that rarity--a poetic comedy that's really funny. Truffaut's deadpan, disjointed style is quicker and surer than ever before; the kids seem to be photographed in the act of inventing slapstick. There's a serious side (the story of a mistreated boy) that's a failure, and Truffaut's view of childhood innocence has elements of middle-class preciousness, but the jokes make the film worth seeing. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Smash Palace

New Zealand (1981): Drama
100 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A remarkable film from New Zealand on the theme of separating. The husband and wife, played by Bruno Lawrence and Anna Jemison, embody a basic male-female conflict. He's flesh-and-blood and growing bald; she's French-born and fine-boned and fastidious. He runs the business he inherited from his father--the Smash Palace, a vast wrecking yard in an isolated area in New Zealand--and, except for the pleasure he takes in watching their 7-year-old daughter Georgie scooting around in miniature cars, he lives like a single man, puttering with motors, burning up the country roads in the Grand-Prix Formula One racer he's restoring, and drinking beer with his pals. He ignores his wife's complaints, but when she leaves him and, enjoying the upper hand, gets a legal order to prevent him from seeing Georgie, he goes a little crazy. This affable, intelligent man isn't driven mad in the funny, cuckoo sense but in a special, modern, obsessed way. The rage of fathers deprived of their children--something that few men experienced in the past--is no doubt a key madness of our age. The director, Roger Donaldson, has the kind of neo-neorealist technique that a viewer is unconscious of; the director disappears into the story. Even the easy, dry wit seems to belong to the material, along with the summery light. This film can pull you in deep, but some people don't like its almost documentary surface and the fact that the characters are believably real and not unusual--they feel it's too much like life, and that they see it going on all the time. Donaldson's handling of the little girl (Greer Robson) who plays Georgie is beyond praise. He wrote the script with Peter Hansard and Bruno Lawrence; the cinematography is by Graeme Cowley.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman

US (1947): Drama
103 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette
Also known as SMASH-UP.

Alcoholism became a hot, gaudy movie subject after the success of THE LOST WEEKEND (1945), and Susan Hayward had her turn at no-holds-barred drunkenness and suffering in this dismal, overwrought melodrama, directed by Stuart Heisler. At the end, half stewed but valiant, she rescues her little daughter from a burning house and promptly hops on the wagon. It may be hard to believe, but the writers who worked on this included Dorothy Parker and John Howard Lawson, and it was presented with some solemnity as a prestige picture. (It was originally called SMASH-UP-THE STORY OF A WOMAN.) With Lee Bowman, Marsha Hunt, Eddie Albert, Carleton Young, and Carl Esmond. Universal.


US (1975): Comedy
113 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A fresh, mussed-up comedy about the California finals of a national "Young American Miss" contest. A cousin to LORD LOVE A DUCK, the film is an affectionate satirical salute to the square; though we laugh at the gaffes of the rawboned teenage girls, the laughter isn't cruel. Bruce Dern plays the chief judge, a booster who talks in homilies that express exactly how he feels; he's a donkey, but he doesn't have a mean bone in his body. With Barbara Feldon as the girls' den mother, Michael Kidd as the choreographer brought in to stage the beauty pageant, and several talented new actresses--Annette O'Toole, Joan Prather, and Maria O'Brien. Michael Ritchie's direction is highly variable in quality, but he's a whiz at catching details of frazzled behavior. The script is by Jerry Belson; the cinematography is by Conrad Hall. The cast includes Nicholas Pryor, Geoffrey Lewis, Melanie Griffith, Colleen Camp, and Paul Benedict. United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Smiles of a Summer Night

Sweden (1955): Comedy
108 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Ingmar Bergman achieves one of the few classics of carnal comedy: a tragicomic chase and roundelay that raises boudoir farce to elegance and lyric poetry. This film is the culmination of Bergman's "rose" style; as writer and director, he ties up his persistent, early battle-of-the-sexes themes in an intricate plot structure. And in this fin-de-si�cle houseparty setting, with its soft light, its delicate, perfumed atmosphere, and its golden pavilion, the women are all beautiful and epigrams shine. The film becomes an elegy to transient love; a gust of wind, and the whole vision may drift away. As the hostess, the stage actress trying to win back the lawyer she loves, there is the great Eva Dahlbeck (in one inspired, suspended moment she sings "Freut Euch des Lebens"). Ulla Jacobsson is the lawyer's virgin wife; Harriet Andersson, a blonde here but as opulent and sensuous as in her earlier roles, is the impudent, love-loving maid; Margit Carlquist is the proud, unhappy countess. Gunnar Bj�rnstrand is the lawyer, Bj�rn Bjelvenstam is his son, Jarl Kulle is the strutting count, and Naima Wifstrand is the actress's aged mother, who is carried about for her game of croquet. With �ke Fridell as the groom, and, in a bit part, Bibi Andersson. Cinematography by Gunnar Fischer. (Used as the basis for the American stage and screen musical A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC.) In Swedish.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book I Lost It at the Movies.

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