US (1972): Drama
105 min, Rated G, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Extraordinarily simple, since it starts from an inspirational story much like THE CORN IS GREEN, yet deeply, emotionally rich. Perhaps the first movie about black experiences in America that can stir people of all colors. With Cicely Tyson (playing the first great black heroine on the screen), Paul Winfield, Kevin Hooks, and Janet MacLachlan. Directed by Martin Ritt, from a script by Lonne Elder III, based on a novel by William H. Armstrong. The score is by Taj Mahal, who also plays the comedy role of Ike. Cinematography by John Alonzo. 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reelin.

Southern Comfort

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

The members of a National Guard squad lost in the maze of the green-gray Louisiana marshlands are hunted down and ambushed by vengeful Cajuns. Walter Hill has a dazzling competence as an action director; he uses the locale for its paranoia-inducing strangeness (it suggests Vietnam), and he uses the men to demonstrate what he thinks it takes to survive. The movie is built like an infernal machine; it closes in on the characters, who are designed to be trapped. (Each of the men seems to shed his anonymity and be given an identity just before he's picked off.) The film is very intense, and there's an unusual sequence, edited to Cajun dance music, in which the two principal characters (Keith Carradine and Powers Boothe) take refuge in a village that is having a celebration. Its limitation is that there's nothing underneath the characters' macho masks, and--partly because there were so many fine, shallow action films made in the studio-factory era--we want more from movies now. The action format colors everything with its own brand of action politics: you get the feeling that the world is threatening your manhood every minute of the day. With a good cast: T.K. Carter as the live-wire dope dealer, Carlos Brown as the high-school teacher, and Peter Coyote, Lewis Smith, Fred Ward, Franklyn Seales, and Les Lannom. (Even the Cajuns--usually a joke in movies--are fairly convincing.) Cinematography by Andrew Laszlo; music composed and arranged by Ry Cooder. Written by Michael Kane, Hill, and the producer, David Giler. 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

The Southerner

US (1945): Drama
91 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Jean Renoir's poetic tribute to some of the patterns of American life. It's an account of the year of a poor white Texas family-a chronicle of seasons and conflicts, adapted from the book Hold Autumn in Your Hand, by George Sessions Perry. Zachary Scott, who usually played lounge lizards, is almost unrecognizable as a young tenant farmer; it was the performance of his career. Betty Field plays his wife, and his relatives and neighbors include Percy Kilbride, Blanche Yurka, J. Carrol Naish, Norman Lloyd, and, regrettably, Beulah Bondi, who is more than a bit much as Granny. The picture has beautiful, evocative moments, mysteriously solemn. Having agreed to release this uneven but affecting picture, United Artists tried to sell it by a campaign of astonishing irrelevance-"She was his woman � and he was her man! That's all they had to fight with-against the world, the flesh, and the devil!" Though William Faulkner worked on the screenplay, Renoir is the only one listed, with Hugo Butler credited for the preliminary adaptation. Werner Janssen did the music. Produced by David Loew and Robert Hakim.


US (1976): Musical
100 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette

As Sister, the hell-bent lead singer of a trio (made up of the three daughters of a domestic servant), the young singer-actress Lonette McKee has the sexual brazenness that stars such as Susan Hayward and Ava Gardner had in their youth. Sister puts the dirty fun of sex into her songs, with the raw charge of a rebellious, nose-thumbing girl making her way. She's terrific, but she has barely had a taste of singing in public when she falls for a sadistic pusher who degrades her. She goes downhill unbelievably fast, and the picture loses its zing when the action shifts to the rise of her docile and dewy-eyed little sister, Sparkle (Irene Cara), who is guided by a hardworking, dimply manager (Philip Michael Thomas). His almost canine devotion defeats the attempts of gangsters to muscle in on her career. The director, Sam O'Steen, may have got a little carried away by the smoky theatrical milieu, but he keeps the movie full of atmospheric detail, and the tawdry black-vaudeville scenes have the teeming, bodies-spilling-out-the-edges quality of Toulouse-Lautrec. The crowded look of the film helps to compensate for the skeletonic Joel Schumacher script, which seems heavily indebted to the story of the Supremes. As a teenage boy who nonchalantly steals a car to take Sister out, Dorian Harewood has the vitality to match McKee's. The songs are by Curtis Mayfield. A Robert Stigwood Production; released by Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Dow.


US (1960): War/Historical
184 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

This may be the best-paced and most slyly entertaining of all the decadent-ancient-Rome spectacular films. It's a great big cartoon drama, directed by Stanley Kubrick, with Kirk Douglas at his most muscular as the slave gladiator Spartacus who leads a rebellion of his fellow-slaves against the might of Rome. Spartacus makes some conscientious speeches--out of Howard Fast (who wrote the novel) by way of Dalton Trumbo (who did the screenplay)--but there's so much else going on that it's easy to brush off the moralizing. Laurence Olivier is Spartacus's antagonist, Crassus, a devious patrician who wants to rule Rome in the name of order--he is designed as a super-subtle fascist. Crassus is a wonderfully gaudy character: he takes Tony Curtis, a young "singer of songs," as his sexual favorite, but he also has a fancy for the slave girl whom Spartacus loves--Jean Simmons. She has never been more beautiful, and the emotions that appear on her humor-filled face are blessedly sane. Peter Ustinov is superb as a slave dealer, who along with his grovelling sycophancy and his merchant's greed has his resentments; and Charles Laughton, amusingly wide in his toga, is a wily old Roman senator. (The two of them have a chat about the beneficial effects of corpulence.) As a gladiator who is Spartacus's friend and who is forced to fight him, Woody Strode has the quietest, most elegant physical presence in the movie. The large cast seems to be having a high good time; it includes Nina Foch, Herbert Lom, John Ireland, John Dall, John Hoyt, and John Gavin as the young Julius Caesar, and Charles McGraw, who has a strongman-of-the-comics jaw, like Kirk Douglas's, as the sadistic master of the gladiators. After the rebellion, Spartacus's group of men, women, children, and animals march to the sea, and it's like a giant kibbutz on the move; they're all hearty and earthy and good to each other--a bunch of picnicking folk singers. Is Kubrick dozing at the controls? He wakes up sharply. Crassus, who has taken command of the armies of Rome, is out to kill the spirit of revolutionary fervor; suddenly, Spartacus's people are confronted with a demonstration of Roman might--acres and acres of soldiers in perfect military formation. Cinematography by Russell Metty; music by Alex North. Hearst's San Simeon was used for some of the locations. (196 minutes.) Universal.

Spawn of the North

US (1938): Adventure
110 min, No rating, Black & White Entertaining action melodrama, dealing with Russian predators becoming involved in the Alaskan salmon-fishing industry. The script shows the happy hand of the wizardly Jules Furthman, especially in the friendship and rivalry of the two heroes (Henry Fonda and George Raft) and their dealings with the heroine (Dorothy Lamour). Directed by Henry Hathaway, this film has many of the elements usually associated with the lusty, romantic movies of Howard Hawks, which Furthman also worked on. Handsomely produced, it includes a surprising sequence: a documentary montage, very well done, showing how the salmon industry works. The other elements are all commercially calibrated in a frank, likable way, with John Barrymore, Akim Tamiroff, Lynne Overman, and Vladimir Sokoloff strutting their stuff in a cast that also includes Louise Platt, Fuzzy Knight, Duncan Renaldo, and a good-natured trained seal. Co-written by Talbot Jennings; cinematography by Charles Lang; music by Dmitri Tiomkin. Produced by Albert Lewin. Paramount. (Remade in 1954 as ALASKA SEAS.)

A Special Day

Canada-Italy (1977): Drama
106 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A schematic romance that takes place in Rome on May 8, 1938, during Hitler's visit with Mussolini. Sophia Loren, without visible cosmetics, wears a drab housedress. But with your husband as the producer and Pasqualino De Santis as the lighting cameraman, who needs makeup and fancy clothes? She has never looked more richly beautiful or given such a completely controlled great-lady performance. This movie is perfectly calibrated for its teeny bit of courage: the big stars playing uncharacteristic roles. She's an oppressed working-class housewife, the mother of six children, and Marcello Mastroianni is a suspected homosexual who has just been dismissed as a radio announcer and is about to be interned in Sardinia. Their humiliation draws them together for a few hours, and we see that society has wronged them, cruelly. It's neo-realism in a gold frame. This strenuous exercise in sensitivity was directed by Ettore Scola in a style that might be called genteel shamelessness--the brief encounter turf so well tended by Noel Coward when he was being "real." There's one miscalculation, though: when Mastroianni is in bed with Loren, he lies there politely, as she puts his hand on her magnificent melon breast. And how can you have any feeling for a man who doesn't enjoy being in bed with Sophia Loren? You lose any interest in the radio announcer; he just fades away. In Italian.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Dow.

Special Section

France (1975): Drama
110 min, Rated PG, Color
Also known as SECTION SP�CIALE.

Costa-Gavras's melodrama, set in Vichy France, raises the question of why highly placed Cabinet ministers, judges, and prosecutors, who were in no immediate danger themselves, carried out measures that flagrantly violated the system of justice they had been trained to uphold. But the casting and the writing are so prejudicial that this purpose is undercut: the collaborators are cartoon figures--vain, ambitious weaklings, easily soft-soaped. Their victims, however, shine with humanity. The film lacks temperament; it seems lifelessly worthy. With Louis Seigner, Michel Lonsdale, Henri Serre, Pierre Dux, Julien Bertheau, Jean Bouise, Julien Guiomar, Heinz Bennent, Michel Galabru, Yves Robert, Eric Rouleau, Bruno Cremer, Jacques Perrin, and many other well-known performers. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Spectre of the Rose

US (1946): Thriller/Dance/Comedy
90 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Ben Hecht wrote, directed, and produced this amusingly florid melodrama about a great mad dancer (Ivan Kirov) who is suspected of having murdered his dancing-partner wife. He marries his new partner (Viola Essen), and it isn't long before George Antheil's music is suggesting horrors to come. Lionel Stander plays a moody poet with a broken heart, and he rasps out the gaudiest mots ever heard in an American movie, while Judith Anderson, as a ballet teacher, and Michael Chekhov, as a shoestring impresario, engage in dialogues about the deep-down-under meaning of art and life. Such ironic asides as "My heart is dancing a minuet in the ashcan" may leave you unsure whether all this high thought is meant to be funny. Kirov, a California high jumper, was a shudderingly bad dancer to have been cast in this Nijinsky ripoff, but Viola Essen is lovely. Cinematography and co-direction by Lee Garmes. Republic.


US (1945): Thriller
111 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The idea is intriguing: a murder mystery set among a group of psychoanalysts, with a solution to be arrived at by clues found in a dream. It was carried out by one of the most highly publicized collaborations of all time: Alfred Hitchcock and Salvador Dali, with Ben Hecht writing the script. Ingrid Bergman is the analyst, Gregory Peck her amnesiac patient--the murder suspect. Yet, with all the obvious ingredients for success, SPELLBOUND is a disaster. It was fitting that the actress who was once described as a "fine, strong, cow-country maiden" should be cast as a good, solid analyst, dispensing cures with the wholesome simplicity of a mother adding wheat germ to the family diet, but Bergman's apple-cheeked sincerity has rarely been as out of place as in this confection whipped up by jaded chefs. With Michael Chekhov, John Emery, Leo G. Carroll. Academy Award for Best Original Score (!), to Mikl�s R�zsa. Produced by David O. Selznick, released by United Artists.

The Spider's Stratagem

Italy (1970): Mystery
100 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

Before he made THE CONFORMIST, Bernardo Bertolucci made this adaptation of Jorge Luis Borges' enigmatic "Theme of the Traitor and Hero" for Italian television. Shot in Sabbioneta, a miniature city between Mantua and Parma, with colonnades that suggest de Chirico, the film is mysteriously beautiful; it has heightened colors and evocative imagery. But Giulio Brogi, playing both the son and the hero-father whose death the son is investigating, is given no character as either, and he lacks energy. The film itself is enervated, and the themes are frustratingly elusive; it's all atmosphere and no strength. With Alida Valli, still splendidly handsome, and with that same secret look she had in THE THIRD MAN. Cinematography by Vittorio Storaro. In Italian.

The Spiral Staircase

US (1946): Thriller
83 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Set in New England in 1906, it's about the activities of a finical strangler engaged in eliminating young women who don't measure up to his ideas of physical perfection. His preoccupation sets him in murderous pursuit of Dorothy McGuire, a harmless, attractive mute who serves as companion to gruff Ethel Barrymore, the bedridden mistress of a spooky mansion decorated with the hides of various wild animals and full of creaking doors, gates, and shutters. Robert Siodmak directed this little horror classic; it has all the trappings of the genre--a stormy night and a collection of psychopaths. But the psychopaths are quite presentable people, and this, plus the skillful, swift direction, makes the terror convincing. With George Brent, Kent Smith, Sara Allgood, Elsa Lanchester, and Rhonda Fleming. Produced by Dore Schary. RKO.


US (1984): Romance/Fantasy/Comedy
111 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

This romantic comedy-fantasy about a mermaid (Daryl Hannah) who falls in love with a New Yorker (Tom Hanks) has a friendly, tantalizing magic. Hannah has long blond tresses, wide blue eyes, smiling curvy lips, and the look of a beatifically sexy Nordic goddess, yet her flashing tail and fins are like a butterfly's wings--they're her most ravishing feature; she moves like the glistening vision of mermaids that we all carry from childhood. The director, Ron Howard, has a knack for bringing the sweetness out of his performers without lingering on it. He's also the first film director who has let John Candy loose. As the hero's debonair playboy brother, Candy is a mountainous lollipop of a man, and preposterously lovable. There is a whole cartoonish side of the film, involving a nuthead scientist and a lot of dumb chasing around that has the familiarity of TV humor, but Eugene Levy, who plays the nut case, is inspired; he exults in the comic-book eccentricity of his role, and everything he does is insanely deliberate. The picture is frequently on the verge of being more wonderful than it is--more lyrical, a little wilder. That verge isn't a bad place to be, though. The day after you've seen this movie, you may find yourself running the images over in your mind, and grinning. Written by the team of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, along with Bruce Jay Friedman. With Bobby Di Cicco, Shecky Greene, Dody Goodman, Howard Morris, Richard B. Shull, and Tony Di Benedetto. Produced by Brian Grazer, for Disney.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

Splendor in the Grass

US (1961): Drama
124 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

William Inge wrote the baroque primer-Freud screenplay about the frustrations of adolescent sexuality, set in a small town in Kansas in the 20s, and Elia Kazan whipped it up. The picture is hysterically on the side of young love, and this hysteria seems integral to the film's moments of emotional power, its humor, and its beauty. Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty are high-school sweethearts whose parents think they are too young to marry. And so, deprived of love together, the boy turns to a floozy and the girl, maddened by loss of him, goes to a mental institution. The parents are the mean, hypocritical monsters you expect in this sort of youth-slanted picture that pretends to deal with real adolescent problems but actually begs the issue by having the two kids tenderly in love; the movie doesn't suggest that adolescents have a right to sexual experimentation--it just attacks the corrupted grown-ups for their failure to value love above all else. It's the old corn, fermented in a new way, with lots of screaming and a gang-bang sequence and girls getting pawed on their twitching little schoolgirl behinds; Natalie Wood probably has the most active derri�re since Clara Bow. The extraordinary cast includes Sandy Dennis, Barbara Loden, Zohra Lampert, Pat Hingle, Martine Bartlett, Audrey Christie, Fred Stewart, Gary Lockwood, and Phyllis Diller as Texas Guinan, and Inge himself as the reverend. Cinematography by Boris Kaufman; production design by Richard Sylbert; music by David Amram. Warners.

The Spoilers

US (1942): Western
87 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The fourth version (a fifth came out in 1955) of the Rex Beach story about the brawling Nome of 1898, with its gold miners, crooked lawyers, and fancy women in feather boas. The climax of each version is always a bone-breaking furniture-smashing fight between the two strong men who are battling for the love of the same woman, and in this one John Wayne and Randolph Scott go at each other like mastodons fighting to the death. You know that the fight will turn out the right way for the lady (Marlene Dietrich, decked out in Gay Nineties plumage, like a more willowy Mae West), but the way the whole story builds to it makes it exciting, anyway. However, the man's-man material has been somewhat softened to turn the story into a vehicle for Dietrich, and with Ray Enright directing, the film doesn't have the brutish, raw vitality of the earlier versions. It's tired, a little ordinary; too many Westerns had already lifted the story's most colorful touches. With a brief appearance by the poet of the Yukon, Robert W. Service, and Richard Barthelmess, Harry Carey, Margaret Lindsay, Samuel S. Hinds, and William Farnum, the star of the first version. Adapted by Lawrence Hazard and Tom Reed; produced by Frank Lloyd, for Universal.

The Sporting Club

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

Thomas McGuane's surreal woodland comedy, in which the "aristocracy" of Michigan revert to base animality, fell into the hands of Larry Peerce, who has directed the entire picture in the style of the Jewish wedding party of his GOODBYE, COLUMBUS. An atrocity. With Robert Fields, Maggie Blye, Nicolas Coster, Jack Warden, and Richard Dysart. A Lorimar Production, for Avco Embassy.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

The Spy Who Loved Me

US (1977): Spy
125 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A glitter sci-fi adventure fantasy that balances the indestructible James Bond with an indestructible cartoon adversary, Jaws (Richard Kiel), who is a great evil windup toy. This is the best of the BOND'S starring the self-effacing Roger Moore-there's a robust perversity in the way the film gets you rooting for the bionic monster Jaws when he tears a truck apart in a childish temper. He's 7 feet 2 and has razor-sharp steel teeth; Moore gets the chance to look scared--an emotion that suits him and makes him more likable. The film is a little long, but as the heroine-the Russian-spy counterpart of Bond-Barbara Bach is both luscious and self-parodying; there are magnificent views of Egypt; and the arch-villain Stromberg (Curt Jurgens) has a vast underwater domain and a supertanker that swallows submarines--the sets recall Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS. The designer, Ken Adam, the director, Lewis Gilbert, and the cinematographer, Claude Renoir, have taken a tawdry, depleted form and made something flawed but funny and elegant out of it; they use their sets and locations choreographically, turning mayhem into a comic dance. The last 45 minutes is a spectacular piece of sustained craftsmanship: you see the faces of imperilled men and you feel the suspense, but you're also drinking in the design of the machinery, the patterned movements, and the lavender tones, the blues and the browns. The lavishness isn't wasted--it's entertaining. For Adam, Gilbert, and Renoir the film must have been a celebration of delight in mechanical gadgetry and in moviemaking itself; the sumptuous visual style functions satirically. The script is by Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum; Carly Simon sings the theme song by Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager. Produced by Albert R. Broccoli; United Artists.

St. Louis Blues

US (1929): Musical
16 min, No rating, Color

Bessie Smith appeared in only this one movie; it has an all-black cast and runs 16 minutes. Whatever one might say about the limitations of the story line, derived from the W.C. Handy song by the director, Dudley Murphy, and Handy himself (who served as musical director), seems irrelevant. Even in this folklorish film, made when sound recording was still primitive, she comes through. Here she is, the greatest of all our jazz singers, all 5 feet 9 inches and 200 pounds of her, crowned with a little 20s hat, and when she lets out her harsh, thick voice, full of gin and sensuality and humor, she's one of the most beautiful images that ever filled the screen. With James P. Johnson's Orchestra (most of them were members of the Fletcher Henderson Band); the pianist on the screen is Johnson. Made in Astoria, Long Island. RKO.

Stage Door

US (1937): Drama/Comedy
92 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

One of the flashiest, most entertaining comedies of the 30s, even with its tremolos and touches of heartbreak. As roommates in a New York boarding house for girls aspiring to a stage career, Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers are terrific wisecracking partners. (Rogers, at her liveliest, holds her own with apparent ease.) The other girls waiting for their lucky breaks include Eve Arden (who wears a cat around her neck like a tippet), Lucille Ball, Ann Miller, Andrea Leeds, and Gail Patrick. The cast includes the supremely regal (and supremely funny) Constance Collier as an aged actress who does coaching, Adolphe Menjou as a producer with a roving eye, Franklin Pangborn as his valet, and Samuel S. Hinds, Jack Carson, William Corson, Grady Sutton, Phyllis Kennedy, Katharine Alexander, Ralph Forbes, Mary Forbes, Huntley Gordon, and Theodore Von Eltz. Directed by Gregory La Cava; from the Broadway hit by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, adapted by Morrie Ryskind and Anthony Veiller. Produced by Pandro S. Berman, for RKO.

Stage Door Canteen

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

Patriotism, entertainment, and romance mix badly in this celebration of the 44th Street canteen run for servicemen by stage folk during the Second World War; many famous performers make fools of themselves, and six bands provide the music--those of Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Xavier Cugat, Kay Kyser, Freddy Martin, and Guy Lombardo. When this movie first came out, James Agee said that it was a gold mine for those who were willing to go to it in the wrong spirit. It's depressing, though. Frank Borzage directed; the horribly elaborate narrative by Delmer Daves is about a group of soldiers (Lon McCallister is among them) about to be sent overseas. They go to the canteen on their last night of leave in New York and fall in love with hostesses there. When the embarkation is postponed, they go back for another night, and then a third; by the time their farewells are final, the audience's tears could float them to the war zone. Katharine Cornell, Katharine Hepburn, and Paul Muni fare a shade worse than most of the other 50-odd famous performers; Ray Bolger and Ed Wynn come off rather better. Some other breaks: Ethel Waters sings "Quicksand" with the Basie orchestra, and Peggy Lee sings "Why Don't You Do Right?" with the Goodman band. With Cheryl Walker and William Terry as the young lovers. United Artists.


US (1939): Western
96 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Perhaps the most likable of all Westerns, and a GRAND HOTEL-ON-WHEELS movie that has just about everything--adventure, romance, chivalry--and all of it very simple and traditional. John Ford directed, from a script by Dudley Nichols (with, it's said, uncredited work by Ben Hecht), based on a story by Ernest Haycox--"Stage to Lordsburg." The cast includes John Wayne, at his most appealing as the Ringo Kid, and Claire Trevor as the goodhearted whore, Dallas, and skinny-faced John Carradine as the gambler, Hatfield, and Louise Platt, George Bancroft, Thomas Mitchell as Doc, Andy Devine, Donald Meek, Berton Churchill, Tom Tyler, Chris-Pin Martin, Tim Holt, Francis Ford, Florence Lake, and the second-unit director, Yakima Canutt, as the white scout, and Chief White Horse as the Indian chief. Cinematography by Bert Glennon; filmed in California, Arizona, and Monument Valley, Utah. (There was a pitiful remake, by Gordon Douglas, in 1966; a big, brawling action picture, it featured Ann-Margret as the whore.) A Walter Wanger Production, for United Artists.


US (1987): Crime
115 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Wanting to be loved isn't necessarily the worst thing in an actor: Richard Dreyfuss makes his adorableness amusing here, and gives his most confident star performance to date. He and Emilio Estevez play two Seattle police detectives who are assigned to the night shift on a stakeout, watching the former girlfriend (Madeleine Stowe) of an escaped convict (Aidan Quinn). The Dreyfuss character finds himself falling in love with the woman he's spying on, and when he breaks the rules and spends time with her he's aware that his partner, Emilio Estevez, is watching him. Hypnotized by the soft-lipped Irish-Mexican beauty played by Stowe, he's also mugging for the benefit of the young worrywart Estevez. All this is a jolly setup for amorous farce, and Richard Dreyfuss has a Chaplinesque glee in some of the scenes; he's fun to watch. The director, John Badham, does his most entertaining work in years, but you feel the pressure of engineering underneath. You know that the movie is scheduled to deliver action, and Badham keeps everything dark and grungy, with frequent cuts to the cop-hating escaped convict, who is committing a few murders as he makes his way to Seattle. For all the nippiness in the dialogue (the script is by Jim Kouf) and the comic interplay of the actors, the picture doesn't leave you with anything. Aidan Quinn, who first appears heavily bearded, has a dashing, bulging-blue-eyed scariness. With Forest Whitaker, Dan Lauria, and Ian Tracey. (Shot in and around Vancouver.) Touchstone (Disney).
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

Stalag 17

US (1953): War/Drama
120 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

In this rowdy comedy about Americans in a German prisoner-of-war camp during the Second World War, William Holden's hair-trigger performance as the crafty, cynical heel who turns into a hero won him a new popularity, as well as the Academy Award for Best Actor. He had been a sensitive but milder actor before, and even the despairing range he demonstrated in SUNSET BLVD. hadn't prepared audiences for the abrasive edge and distinctively American male energy he showed in this role, which is rather like the parts that catapulted Bogart to a new level of stardom in the early 40s. The melodramatics of the plot are low-grade, and the material, taken from a play by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski--two ex-G.I.s who were interned in the actual Stalag 17--is still structured and performed like a play, but the gallows humor is entertaining, despite some rather broad roughhouse effects. Billy Wilder directed and had a hand in the adaptation, and it's a safe bet that he'd taken a long look at GRAND ILLUSION--Otto Preminger does an Erich von Stroheim-Kommandant number. With Don Taylor, Robert Strauss, Harvey Lembeck, Neville Brand, Peter Graves, and Sig Rumann. Paramount.

Stand by Me

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

On a summer weekend in 1959, four 12-and 13-year-old boys from the fictional Castle Rock, Oregon (pop. 1,281), go on an overnight hike in the woods outside town to look for the body of a boy their age who has been missing for several days. The four, misfits who feel rejected, keep intuiting one another's emotions, and they're plucky--when they get in tight spots, they stand by each other. They're like a pastoral support group, quick to perceive signs of trouble and to lay gentle, firm hands on needy shoulders. Rob Reiner's film, taken from Stephen King's autobiographical novella The Body, overdoses on sincerity and nostalgia. Seeing it is like watching an extended Christmas special of "The Waltons" and "Little House on the Prairie"--it makes you feel virtuous. All that stays with you is the tall tale that Gordie, the central character, tells his friends around the campfire; it's a stupendous gross-out about a fat boy known as Lardass (Andy Lindberg) who enters a blueberry-pie-eating contest. With Wil Wheaton as the little Gordie and Richard Dreyfuss as the adult Gordie who narrates the story, and River Phoenix, Jerry O'Connell, Corey Feldman, Kiefer Sutherland, and, in a flashback, John Cusack. The screenplay is by Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.


US (1937): Comedy
91 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

An erratic script about a high-strung Hollywood director (Humphrey Bogart, howlingly miscast); a classy efficiency expert (Leslie Howard) trying to make sense of the motion-picture business; and a sensible girl (Joan Blondell) who was once a child star. At one point, she does a wicked imitation of Shirley Temple. The movie was moldy even when it came out, but it's harmless and rather likable. With Alan Mowbray, Jack Carson, and Marla Shelton. Directed by Tay Garnett; script by Gene Towne and Graham Baker, based on a Clarence Budington Kelland story; produced by Walter Wanger. United Artists.

The Star

US (1952): Drama
89 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Very bad. Bette Davis as a star who once won an Academy Award but is now down on her luck; she lands in jail for drunken driving, and is saved by Sterling Hayden, a boat-builder who once acted with her. Others who wander about in this lachrymose, exploitative treatment of the lives of aging stars (it was originally written for Joan Crawford) are Natalie Wood, Minor Watson, Barbara Lawrence, and Warner Anderson. Directed--feebly--by Stuart Heisler. Davis throws her weight around but comes through in only a few scenes. Script by Katherine Albert and Dale Eunson. 20th Century-Fox.

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