Thieves Like Us

US (1974): Crime
123 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

Robert Altman finds a sure, soft tone in this movie and never loses it. His account of Coca-Cola-swigging young lovers in the 30s is the most quietly poetic of his films; it's sensuous right from the first pearly-green long shot, and it seems to achieve beauty without artifice. Keith Carradine is Bowie, the boy who escapes from prison with two bank robbers, Chicamaw and T-Dub (John Schuck and Bert Remsen), and Shelley Duvall is Keechie, the girl whose drunken father runs the gas station the convicts hide in. The film is adapted from a neglected 1937 novel by Edward Anderson, which also served as the basis of the Nicholas Ray 1948 picture THEY LIVE BY NIGHT. Although Calder Willingham gets a screen credit for the script, his script didn't have the approach Altman wanted, and Altman's former script girl, Joan Tewkesbury, devised another script, in collaboration with the director, which stays on Edward Anderson's narrative line and retains much of his dialogue. Made in the vegetating old towns of Mississippi, the movie has the ambiance of a novel, yet it was also the most freely intuitive film Altman had made up to that time. Carradine and Duvall have the easy affinity that they showed in their much smaller roles in MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER; when Keechie and Bowie fall in love it's two-sided, equal, and perfect. As the heavy-drinking, half-mad Chicamaw, Schuck-who has a suggestion of bulldog in his face-gives a performance that in some scenes rivals Bogart's Fred C. Dobbs in THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE; he has a comic, terrifying scene when he's in a home and insists on playacting a robbery with a couple of small children and then explodes in a murderous rage when the kids lose interest. Louise Fletcher is impressively strong as the kids' mother--the no-nonsense Mattie. Cinematography by Jean Boffety. United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

The Thin Man

US (1934): Mystery/Comedy
93 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Directed by the whirl-wind W.S. Van Dyke, the Dashiell Hammett detective novel took only 16 days to film, and the result was one of the most popular pictures of its era. New audiences aren't likely to find it as sparkling as the public did then, because new audiences aren't fed up, as that public was, with what the picture broke away from. It started a new cycle in screen entertainment (as well as a Thin Man series, and later, a TV series and countless TV imitations) by demonstrating that a murder mystery could also be a sophisticated screwball comedy. And it turned several decades of movies upside down by showing a suave man of the world (William Powell) who made love to his own rich, funny, and good-humored wife (Myrna Loy); as Nick and Nora Charles, Powell and Loy startled and delighted the country by their heavy drinking (without remorse) and unconventional diversions. In one scene Nick takes the air-gun his complaisant wife has just given him for Christmas and shoots the baubles off the Christmas tree. (In the 70s Lillian Hellman, who by then had written about her long relationship with Hammett, reported that Nora was based on her.) A married couple, Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, wrote the script; James Wong Howe was the cinematographer. The cast includes the lovely Maureen O'Sullivan (not wildly talented here), the thoroughly depressing Minna Gombell (her nagging voice always hangs in the air), and Cesar Romero, Porter Hall, Harold Huber, Edward Brophy, Nat Pendleton, Edward Ellis (in the title role), and a famous wirehaired terrier, called Asta here. Warning: There's a lot of plot exposition and by modern standards the storytelling is very leisurely. Produced by Hunt Stromberg, for MGM.

The Thin Man Goes Home

US (1944): Mystery/Comedy
100 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

This came late in the series but it's still fairly cheerful. It features William Powell, Myrna Loy, Asta, and Anne Revere, who, carrying a rifle and wearing a felt hat that looks as if it might have been discarded by a janitor, makes a fascinating lunatic. Directed by Richard Thorpe; written by Robert Riskin and Dwight Taylor; cinematography by Karl Freund. With Helen Vinson, Gloria De Haven, Lucile Watson, and Harry Davenport. MGM.

The Thing

US (1951): Science Fiction
87 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Scarily effective sci-fi. It's a kind of flying-saucer ghost story, set in the cold--in a remote station at the North Pole. The Thing (played by James Arness) is like a more abstract Frankenstein monster. The events surrounding its appearance are wonderfully well staged; they're so banal and economic and naturalistic they have a kick. Howard Hawks was listed as "presenting" the film, with Christian Nyby listed as director, but chances are that Hawks also had a sizable share in the directing. The amusing, ingenious script, by Charles Lederer (with a possible assist by Ben Hecht), is loosely based on a 1938 story, "Who Goes There?," by John W. Campbell, Jr. (under the name Don A. Stuart). With Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan, Dewey Martin, Eduard Franz, Douglas Spencer, William Self, John Dierkes, and Robert Cornthwaite as Professor Carrington. The bluish looking black and white cinematography is by Russell Harlan; the music is by Dmitri Tiomkin. RKO.

The Thing

US (1982): Science Fiction
108 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

This remake of the 1951 version, by the director, John Carpenter, and the special makeup effects wizard, Rob Bottin, was a folie � deux. They went back to the chameleon idea of the original story, so they seem to be trying to outdo the monster from Ridley Scott's ALIEN (1979)--THE one who could take any form and, at one horrifying point, erupted from John Hurt's chest. In its own putting-the-squeeze-on-the-audience terms, ALIEN was effective. This picture isn't (except for an early episode with a husky trying to escape the hunters shooting at it from a plane). It appears to be a film of limited imagination with unlimited horror effects. A new landmark in gore, it features oozing, jellied messes of blood and entrails and assorted parts of the people and serpents and animals that the mutating Thing devours. And it's grimly serious. Carpenter seems indifferent to whether we can tell the characters apart; he apparently just wants us to watch the apocalyptic devastation. With Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, David Clennon, Keith David, Tom Waites, Richard Dysart, Richard Masur, and Donald Moffat. The script--the station is now at the South Pole--is by Bill Lancaster; the music is by Ennio Morricone. Universal.

Things Change

US (1988): Crime/Comedy
100 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A modernist version of a sentimental fable: David Mamet, who directed and was the co-writer (with Shel Silverstein), gives you the blueprint but not the feeling. The story is essentially a heart-warmer: Sicilian-born Gino (Don Ameche), a dignified old Chicago shoeshine man who gets mixed up with mobsters and is mistaken for a Mafia don, emerges unscathed because of his simple goodness--his humanity. Gino becomes the buddy of a blundering mafioso, Jerry (Joe Mantegna); there's nothing to look at except Gino and Jerry's mummified skits, which are directed at a deliberate and unvarying pace. Mamet piles on improbabilities in a matter-of-fact style; flatness of performance seems to be part of the point. This minimalist approach--it suggests a knowingness--takes the fun out of hokum. The result is like a Frank Capra-Damon Runyon comic fairy tale of the 30s in slow motion. With Robert Prosky, Mike Nussbaum, W.H. Macy, and Jonathan Katz. Columbia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.

Things to Come

UK (1936): Science Fiction
92 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

The most elaborate science-fiction movie ever made in England until 2001. H.G. Wells wrote the tendentious screenplay (based on his book The Shape of Things to Come); the celebrated designer William Cameron Menzies directed, Vincent Korda (with L�szl� Moholy-Nagy) worked on the sets, Georges P�rinal was the cinematographer, and Arthur Bliss wrote the score. Wells peers ahead through a century of devastation to the cold, abstract architecture of 2055. The whole "scientific" phantasmagoria is posh and modernistic--an amusingly dated view of the future. (It suggests the 20s.) The movie is more handsome than dramatic, with spacious sets and great costumes (they're like what actors in Greek tragedies wore in avant-garde productions of the 20s), and some wonderful howlers in Raymond Massey's and Ralph Richardson's dialogue and acting. With Cedric Hardwicke, John Clements, Ann Todd, Margaretta Scott, and Derrick de Marney. Produced by Alexander Korda.

The Third Man

UK (1949): Thriller
104 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The most famous collaboration of the director Carol Reed and the screenwriter Graham Greene has the structure of a good suspense thriller and an atmosphere of baroque, macabre decadence. The simple American, Joseph Cotten, arrives in postwar Vienna to meet an old friend, only to be told that the friend has been killed in an accident. In trying to discover the facts, Cotten learns so much about his friend that when he finally finds him alive, he wants him dead. Orson Welles' portrait of the friend, Harry Lime, is a study of corruption--evil, witty, unreachable. It's balanced against Trevor Howard's quietly elegant underplaying of the Army officer who teaches the simple American some of the uglier facts of life. There is an ambiguity about our relation to the Cotten character: he is alone against the forces of the city and, in a final devastating stroke, he is even robbed of the illusion that the girl (Alida Valli) is interested in him, yet his illusions are so commonplace that his disillusion does not strike us deeply. Greene has made him a shallow, ineffectual, well-meaning American. Robert Krasker's cinematography won the Academy Award. The zither music is by Anton Karas.

Thirty Day Princess

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

A pleasant, trifling romantic comedy. Sylvia Sidney plays Caterina of Taronia, visiting the United States to get some economic help for her country. Sylvia Sidney also plays Nancy Lane, an American actress hired to impersonate the princess (who has come down with mumps), and to captivate New York's leading newspaper publisher (Cary Grant), who has taken a strong position against aid to Taronia. Grant, still a leading man in this picture (he didn't become a full comedy star until about three years later), is handsome and very engaging, and Sidney--in one of her rare lighthearted performances--is such a skillful technician that you can't distinguish between her technique and her personal charm. (She operates in that area where acting and witchcraft come together.) Marion Gering directed; Preston Sturges, Frank Partos, Sam Hellman, and Edwin Justus Mayer all worked on the inventive, witty script, which was adapted from a Clarence Budington Kelland story. The cast includes Edward Arnold, Vince Barnett, Henry Stephenson, Robert McWade, and Lucien Littlefield. Cinematography by Leon Shamroy. A B.P. Schulberg Production, for Paramount.

This Angry Age

Italy-US (1958): Drama
111 min, No rating, Color

Marguerite Duras's novel is a study of decaying colonialism, set on the Pacific Coast of Indo-China. A Frenchwoman struggles to keep her rice fields safe, but the Pacific is too strong for the flimsy sea wall she has put up; her son and daughter are too busy with their sexual fantasies to care about the land or the wall. There are a great many crosscurrents in the book, and in trying to convey them all, the film turns into a fiasco, but it is in many ways a dazzling fiasco. It has photographic sequences (shot in Thailand) that suggest Renoir's THE RIVER, and some brother-sister scenes between Tony Perkins and Silvana Mangano that suggest Cocteau. The too-ambitious, too-international project was directed by Ren� Cl�ment, with Jo Van Fleet as the mother, and Alida Valli, Nehemiah Persoff, and Richard Conte. Screenplay by Irwin Shaw and Cl�ment; cinematography by Otello Martelli; music by Nino Rota. A Dino De Laurentiis Production.

This Gun for Hire

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

Glossily amusing Paramount version of the Graham Greene spy-intrigue thriller, A Gun for Sale; the film's sentimentality has a satisfying underlayer of perversity. Alan Ladd is the nervous, gentle, and sensitive gunman without a trace of human kindliness; what heart he has he gives to the care of sad cats, mongrels, and such. Laird Cregar is the sinister stout villain with fussy habits; the proprietor of a nightclub, he hires Veronica Lake to entertain the patrons. This was Veronica Lake's first big starring role, and she is the most stylized character of all. Her face is so impeccably blank that when she smiles, as she does perhaps twice in the film, hearts can be heard to break--smack--in the theatre. With Robert Preston, Tully Marshall, Marc Lawrence, and Mikhail Rasumny. Directed by Frank Tuttle; adapted by Albert Maltz and W.R. Burnett.

This Is Elvis

US (1981): Biography
101 min, Rated PG, Color and Black & White, Available on videocassette

A mixture of footage of Presley himself (seen in films, concert clips, TV kinescopes, newsreels, and home movies) and material that Malcolm Leo and Andrew Solt have written and directed, with four actors impersonating Presley at periods of his life that weren't recorded on film, and with the voice of a fifth actor to impersonate him as a narrator. What the actors dish up is a batch of inanities, generalities, and--arguably--fabrications. It doesn't add to the powerful images of Presley--it takes away. Almost everything that Leo and Solt have done to the raw footage makes you cringe. But Presley is the star in his life that he never was in his Hollywood movies; he commands the screen. It's overwhelming to see a life spread out on film--especially the life of someone who peaked a couple of years after finishing high school, when he still had the look of a white-trash schoolboy sheik. Presley showed the strength to peak again when he quit Hollywood, and then just slid. The film is hair-raising because of what Elvis turns into. A David L. Wolper Production, released by Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

This Is the Army

US (1943): War/Musical/Dance
121 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

The celebrated patriotic stage revue, with music by Irving Berlin, originally performed by enlisted men, was given a story line for the movie, and the cast was padded out with civilian screen actors and other notables. The plot spans two wars and features the curious, near-beer prophetic father-son pairing of George Murphy, as Jerry Jones, a First World War soldier who writes an Army show called "Yip, Yip, Yaphank," and Ronald Reagan, as Johnny Jones, who writes the Second World War show "This Is the Army." Having presented these fictitious authors, when it comes time for Irving Berlin to appear (as Irving Berlin) and sing "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning," the film has the devil's own time explaining who he is. It's a huge 2-hour musical that reeks of uplift, but there are a few funny lines, an impressive soldier chorus, and many tolerable, if wholesome, numbers. This is not the Army of FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. Michael Curtiz directed; with Joe Louis, Kate Smith, George Tobias, Joan Leslie, Charles Butterworth, Gertrude Niesen, Frances Langford, Ruth Donnelly, Dolores Costello, Una Merkel, and from the original cast, the tap-dancer Private James Cross and the singer Sergeant Robert Shanley. Warners.

This Man Must Die

France (1970): Thriller
115 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette
Also known as QUE LA B�TE MEURE.

Claude Chabrol directed this suspense movie about a father who sets out to avenge the hit-and-run murder of his son, but his technique sags, and the movie is so attenuated and so unhurried that it dies on the screen. When you hear that the father's quest for the child's murderer is like looking for a needle in a haystack, you want to giggle, because practically the only other man in the movie is the hit-and-run driver. With Michel Duchaussoy as the father, and Jean Yanne, who gives the picture a breath of life, as the uncouth villain. From Nicholas Blake's novel The Beast Must Die. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

This Sporting Life

UK (1963): Sports/Drama
129 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

Lindsay Anderson's movie about an inarticulate professional rugby player (Richard Harris) and a "bruised" woman (Rachel Roberts) was hailed as the best feature ever made in England--maybe because it suggests all sorts of passion and protest, like a group of demonstrators singing "We Shall Overcome" and leaving it to you to fill in your own set of injustices. Like Anderson's later work, it draws its considerable power from what one can only assume is unconscious and semi-conscious material. The film is heavy with multiple meanings that the director doesn't sort out, and even the best sequences are often baffling. The rugby games were said to be a "microcosm of a corrupt society," and you can certainly tell that the movie is meant to be bold and tragic. (It has something of the disturbing brute force of Scorsese's RAGING BULL.) It's a mixture of the powerful, the inexplicable, and the dislikable, with the hurt in Rachel Roberts' face lingering in the memory. The cast includes Colin Blakely, Alan Badel, William Hartnell, and Arthur Lowe. The script is by David Storey, based on his novel. The cinematography is by Denys Coop.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book I Lost it at the Movies.

This Thing Called Love

US (1941): Comedy
98 min, No rating, Black & White

One of those 40s comedies in which the independent-minded heroine has no common sense. Rosalind Russell is the insurance-company executive who insists on a companionate "trial" marriage and a kissless honeymoon, and Melvyn Douglas is her unlucky groom. The picture--it opened at Radio City Music Hall--aimed at nothing more than light hilarity (which it achieves only fitfully), but it was banned by the Catholic Legion of Decency, probably because of Douglas's energetic scrambling efforts to seduce his wife. This is the sort of bedroom farce in which by the time she's ready to say yes he's got poison oak. With Binnie Barnes, Allyn Joslyn, Lee J. Cobb, Gloria Dickson, Don Beddoe, and Gloria Holden. Alexander Hall directed; based on a 1928 play by Edwin Burke, adapted by George Seaton, Ken Englund, and P.J. Wolfson. Columbia.

The Thomas Crown Affair

US (1968): Crime
102 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Seeing it is like lying in the sun flicking through fashion magazines and (as used to be said) feeling rich and beautiful beyond your wildest dreams. As the man who has everything but craves danger and turns to crime out of boredom, Steve McQueen is artful and glamorous; there's a self-awareness in his performance that makes his elegance funny. When he robs a Boston bank and outwits a mercenary woman insurance investigator (Faye Dunaway, in gaudy clothes), he's a hero for the little romantic, adolescent fascist lurking in most of us. Dunaway is so over-coiffed and overdressed, she's like a teenybopper playing at being a great lady, but she and McQueen are amusing together. What gives this trash a life, what makes it entertaining is clearly that the director, Norman Jewison, and some of those involved, knowing of course that they were working on a silly, shallow script--it's by Alan R. Trustman--used the chance to have a good time with it. The cinematographer, Haskell Wexler, lets go with a whole bag of tricks, flooding the screen with his delight in beauty, shooting all over the place and sending up the material. The multiple-screen effects at the beginning are by Pablo Ferro; the dazzling editing is by Hal Ashby; the less dazzling music is by Michel Legrand. With Yaphet Kotto, Jack Weston, and Paul Burke. A Mirisch Production, released by United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Going Steady.

Thoroughly Modern Millie

US (1967): Musical/Comedy
138 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Produced by Ross Hunter, this lavish, oversized musical spoof, set in the 20s, was directed in a desperately with-it style by George Roy Hill, and the players work so hard that one begins to suffer for them and, finally, to feel numb. The picture sank Mary Tyler Moore's screen career for a decade, and it certainly didn't help Julie Andrews (though she looks her best in the 20s clothes), James Fox, John Gavin, or a rather weary Beatrice Lillie. As for Carol Channing, who gets shot out of a cannon and, as usual, grins like an albino Louis Armstrong, she projects too big for even this elephantine movie. Screenplay by Richard Morris; cinematography by Russell Metty. Universal.

Those Lips, Those Eyes

US (1980): Romance/Comedy
107 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

This stagestruck-boy's-coming-of-age movie has no nerve center. Frank Langella plays a song-and-dance man who is the leading performer of a summer-stock theatre that's doing a season in Cleveland in 1951 and Thomas Hulce is a local pre-med student who signs on with the theatre as prop boy and loses his innocence. He is also fired with the ambition to become a playwright and, like the screenwriter David Shaber, to grow up to write this maudlin, autobiographical movie. Directed by Michael Pressman, this production is every bit as tacky and enervated as the stage productions of war-horse operettas that it parodies. There are only a few performances that can be watched without squirming: Glynnis O'Connor as a dancer with the company; Joseph Maher as an aging, alcoholic actor; and Kevin McCarthy as a lecherous New York agent who shows up at the theatre. Released by United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Thousands Cheer

US (1943): Musical/Dance
126 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

An army camp puts on a big show, culminating in "United Nations on the March"--a work by Shostakovich-star extravaganza, Lena Horne sings "Honeysuckle Rose," and Judy Garland tackles "The Joint Is Really Jumpin'," but nothing could save it. Maybe Jos� Iturbi put the seal of doom on the venture when he sat down to play boogie-woogie; he hits the notes all right, but his boogie-woogie is (arguably) the most mechanical ever recorded. The dull, dull plot involves Mary Astor, John Boles, and Kathryn Grayson. With Mickey Rooney, June Allyson, Gloria De Haven, Ben Blue, Eleanor Powell, Lucille Ball, Red Skelton, and many others, plus the bands of Kay Kyser, Benny Carter, and Bob Crosby. Written by Paul Jarrico and Richard Collins; produced by Joe Pasternak. George Sidney directed.

Three Brothers

France-Italy (1980): Drama
113 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette
Also known as TRE FRATELLI.

Three Italian brothers who have emigrated to the cities go back south to their father's farm in the Apulia region for their mother's funeral. The modern-folktale structure is somewhat schematic, but it's a wonderful film that moves on waves of feeling. Directed by Francesco Rosi, from a script he wrote with Tonino Guerra, it might be said to be an inquiry into the terrorist chaos of the country. That's the underlayer: it's about the violence in the cities, the split between the North and the South, the break between the generations. Yet it's set in the old father's world, where the cycle of nature is what matters. It's about ideas, yet it's saturated with emotion. The old man (Charles Vanel, at 89) has lived his life without ever needing to worry about terrorism, crime, chaos; the sons' thoughts and fantasies all come out of their anxieties. The father has his place in the larger ritual; when the sons come back, they realize they've lost their place. Working with his longtime cinematographer, Pasqualino De Santis, Rosi, who has one of the greatest compositional senses in the history of movies, keeps you in a state of emotional exaltation. A simple image--such as that of the old man just walking--has the kind of resonance that most directors never achieve. Though the actors who play the brothers--Philippe Noiret, Vittorio Mezzogiorno, and Michele Placido--are less than exciting, while you're watching this film it envelops you. Grateful for its intelligence, you sink into it. You're led by the camera--something more is always going to be revealed. In Italian.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Taking It All In.

Three Cases of Murder

UK (1954): Mystery
99 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette
Also known as LORD MOUNTDRAGO. Originally one of the three unrelated stories in the English film THREE CASES OF MURDER.

Orson Welles, when he was a magnificent figure and playing at his top flamboyant form. Nobody seems to enjoy the sheer physical pleasure of acting as much as he does in roles like this. As the proud, brilliant Foreign Secretary of the Somerset Maugham story, he's neatly matched against Alan Badel as Owen, a lowborn member of the opposition. There's a supernatural element here that sneaks up on you so cleverly that the analyst (Andr� Morell) chatters along smugly and very convincingly until you realize that his explanations explain nothing. George More O'Ferrall directed this skillful mixture of comedy and horror; the cinematography is by Georges P�rinal. With Helen Cherry as Lady Mountdrago and Zena Marshall as the blonde in the nightclub scene.

Three Comrades

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

Scott Fitzgerald worked on many films, but this is one of the rare ones that actually retain his spirit. (WINTER CARNIVAL is another.) Bits of the dialogue are elegantly romantic, and the atmosphere has his distinctive chivalrous quality. Margaret Sullavan, slender and special, and with her ravishing huskiness, is an ideal Fitzgerald heroine--a perfect Daisy--and she brings her elusive, gallant sexiness to this First World War romance, taken from a Remarque novel. It's conventional and heavy and false in the MGM manner, but with this delicate Fitzgerald feeling rising out of it at times. The movie is still awful; it has a particularly offensive tearjerking score by Franz Waxman. Produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. (Fitzgerald's letter imploring him not to change the dialogue has been published.) The script is credited to Fitzgerald and Edward A. Paramore. Directed by Frank Borzage. With Robert Taylor, Franchot Tone (who is tight-faced here--he's probably conscious of how terrible he is), Robert Young, Monty Woolley, Lionel Atwill, Guy Kibbee, Charley Grapewin, and Henry Hull.

Three Daring Daughters

US (1948): Musical/Comedy
115 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

Joe Pasternak had a monstrous gift for producing relentlessly perky films for the whole family; sometimes, the damned things got to you--all those toothy smiles made you smile back. This one, though, can make you feel your jaw is wired shut. It's a musical that features the full horror of Jeanette MacDonald and Jos� Iturbi; Jane Powell and Edward Arnold also traipse around. Fred M. Wilcox directed; a sizable troupe of screenwriters concocted the script about three girls who are upset by the news that their mother is planning to remarry, and decide to take action. Howard Dietz and Sammy Fain came up with "The Dickey Bird Song." With Larry Adler, Harry Davenport, and a redeemer--Moyna MacGill. MGM.

Three Days of the Condor

US (1975): Thriller
117 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

The director, Sydney Pollack, doesn't have a knack for action pulp; he gets some tension going in this expensive spy thriller (and it was a box-office success), but there's no real fun in it. It may leave you feeling depressed or angry. Robert Redford plays a New York-based researcher for the C.I.A. who accidentally turns up a clue to the existence of a renegade conspiratorial network within the C.I.A. organization and becomes everybody's target. With a miscast, subdued Faye Dunaway as a photographer who shoots bare, wintry scenes and is meant to be half in love with death. Not a girl to jazz things up. In the film's high point of flossy artistry, Redford and Dunaway go to bed together, and their coitus is visualized for us in a series of her lonely, ghostly pictures. Also with Max von Sydow, Cliff Robertson, and John Houseman. Cinematography by Owen Roizman; the script by Lorenzo Semple, Jr., and David Rayfiel was adapted from James Grady's Six Days of the Condor. A Dino De Laurentiis Production, for Paramount.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

The Three Faces of Eve

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

Joanne Woodward's big one--her Academy Award-winning role as the drab Southern housewife and mother with a splintered personality. The heroine calls herself Eve White when she's good and Eve Black when she's bad and sexy, and has yet another personality--that of the upstanding, intelligent woman whom the writer-producer-director, Nunnally Johnson, approves of. Shallow, but the gimmick is appealing, and Woodward's showmanship is very likable. With Lee J. Cobb and David Wayne, and an introduction by Alistair Cooke. Adapted from a book by two doctors: C.H. Thigpen and H.M. Cleckley. 20th Century-Fox. CinemaScope.

Three for the Show

US (1955): Musical/Dance
93 min, No rating, Color, Available on laserdisc

Betty Grable started singing and dancing in Hollywood musicals in 1930 (when she was 13), and she was thrown into so many dumb, garish pictures, especially during the Second World War when she was known as the number one pin-up girl, that her film career ended before she was 40. This picture was made in her last year in films, and she shows the comedy style of a buoyant veteran. It's a surprisingly bright musical version of the 1940 Jean Arthur comedy TOO MANY HUSBANDS, which was derived from Somerset Maugham's play Home and Beauty. (He wrote it in the winter of 1917-18, while he was recovering from tuberculosis; he did it, he said, to amuse himself and war-weary audiences.) Grable plays a widowed, remarried Broadway star who discovers that her first husband is still alive. With Jack Lemmon, Marge and Gower Champion, Myron McCormick, and Paul Harvey. Directed by H.C. Potter, from the script by Edward Hope and Leonard Stern. Some of the dances (choreographed by Jack Cole) have a charge to them, and the songs include "How Come You Do Me Like You Do" and "Someone to Watch Over Me." Columbia. CinemaScope.

Three Fugitives

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

A crumbum farce by the French writer-director Francis Veber, working in the U.S. (It's a remake of his LES FUGITIFS.) Nick Nolte plays a veteran armed robber who goes to a bank to open an account and is taken hostage by Martin Short, a terrified twerp of an amateur holdup man. He needs money to keep his 6-year-old daughter (Sarah Rowland Doroff) in a special school--she has been mute since her mother died, two years earlier. That's the setup: the three are variously chased, and chase each other. Nolte keeps whamming Short on the head, and the tot ignores her devoted father. He's too small for her. She's smitten by big, blond, blue-eyed Nolte; queasy pedophiliac overtones hover in the air. Everything in the picture seems designed to humiliate the father, and you can't tell what's going on when Short--ostensibly for purposes of disguise--is dressed as a woman and the three form a nuclear family. This salute to macho has cinematography by Haskell Wexler; he lighted something that shouldn't have seen the light of day. With Kenneth McMillan, James Earl Jones, and Bruce McGill. Touchstone (Disney).
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.

Three in the Attic

US (1968): Drama/Comedy
92 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette

Christopher Jones as Paxton Quigley, the unredeemed, self-centered, carnal frat boy who can't abandon promiscuity even after he has discovered love (with Yvette Mimieux). The college humor in this youth-oriented sex-exploitation film is unabashedly coarse and frequently funny. There's too much soft-focus lyricism and leaping about, and the last third is poor, and some of the trying-to-be-bright lines are real thudders, but it has a pleasantly open attitude. Directed by Richard Wilson; the script, by Stephen Yafa, is based on his novel Paxton Quigley's Had the Course. Filmed on location at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and in Durham. A.I.P.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Going Steady.

Three Little Words

US (1950): Musical/Dance/Biography
102 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A big MGM musical bio of the songwriting team of Bert Kalmar (Fred Astaire) and Harry Ruby (Red Skelton). It's a rags-to-riches-and-contentment story, with few opportunities for Astaire to dance and with no more drama than the screenwriter (George Wells) can squeeze out of Kalmar's infatuation with magic and Ruby's obsessive enthusiasm for baseball. The two men have a childish quarrel and the team breaks up, but their devoted wives (Vera-Ellen and Arlene Dahl) soon put that to rights. The movie is witless and totally uninspired but good-natured, especially during the 14 Kalmar-Ruby songs, which include "Nevertheless," "I Love You So Much," "Who's Sorry Now," and "Hooray for Captain Spaulding." With Debbie Reynolds, who plays the boop-a-doop cutie, Helen Kane, and is dubbed by her; Gloria De Haven, who impersonates her mother, (Mrs.) Carter De Haven; a luscious, red-headed band vocalist, Gale Robbins, as the gold-digger who almost snares Ruby; and Keenan Wynn, Carleton Carpenter, Phil Regan, Paul Harvey, and Harry Shannon. Produced by Jack Cummings, directed by Richard Thorpe, and with dances staged by Hermes Pan. Vera-Ellen's songs are dubbed by Anita Ellis.

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