To you, dear reader, from our critic— the best of the season
To you, dear reader, from our critic— the best of the season
IF THE TWO DOZEN new films opening during this holiday season were foodstuffs, it would be a ghastly smorgasbord. There’s Song Of Norway, an immense marshmallow wholly lacking in nutritional value, There’s A Girl In My Soup is pretty thin gruel, Love Story offers mounds of whipped cream, The Great White Hope chunks of dry, stringy fowl. Unfortunately there is no bromide for movie-dyspepsia, so you have to be careful what you eat. The following guide should help prevent indigestion:
Ryan’s Daughter. Playwright Robert Bolt (A Man For All Seasons) and director David Lean (Lawrence Of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago) have created in Ryan’s Daughter an immensely satisfying film, one of the most beautiful and intelligent love stories ever brought to the screen. Rosy Ryan (Sarah Miles) is a young, dreamy Irish girl who falls in love with Charles Shaughnessy (Robert Mitchum), a schoolmaster twice her age, in the small town of Kirrary in 1916. After several months of marriage she realizes that Shaughnessy, though a kind and considerate man, is perfunctory and even dull as a lover. She has an affair with a young British officer, Major Randolph Dorian (Christopher Jones), which becomes a public scandal hotly denounced by the Roman Catholic townsfolk as not only adultery but also treason. Her husband becomes a subject of ridicule, she an object of vilification, yet
their marriage survives and even matures. What elevates Ryan’s Daughter from the level of pulp fiction is its insight that there are forms of love, like the Greek concept of hubris, which overreach human potential and cannot survive. Rosy’s love for Major Dorian is in many ways a perfect union between a man and woman; her marriage, by contrast, is full of dissatisfactions and compromises. Yet it is her marriage that survives and her special, once-in-a-lifetime relationship that perishes. The photography of Freddie Young is outstanding, and actors Trevor Howard, Leo McKern and John Mills round out an excellent cast.
Where’s Poppa? There are so many “restricted” movies being released for the holidays that 1970 could be called the year that Hollywood put the “X” into Xmas. Carl Reiner’s Where’s Poppa? uses four - letter words gratuitously, and even if it’s intended as revenge on all the TV situation comedies where a single parent (usually a widow) rules the roost, it is tasteless, witless satire. George Segal is competent in the thankless role of a middle-aged Jewish lawyer trying to rid himself of his mother, while Ruth Gordon (several degrees dottier than she was in Rosemary’s Baby) is thoroughly grotesque as his senile mother who watches television from morning to night, pours Pepsi-Cola on her breakfast cereal, and when introduced to her son’s newest girl friend (winsomely played by Trish Van De-
vere) makes disparaging remarks about the size of her son’s genitals. No film since Myra Breckinridge has striven so hard to be risqué and shocking while wallowing in infantilism, and there is nothing in Where’s Poppa? that is not more brilliantly dealt with in Philip Roth’s novel Portnoy’s Complaint.
I Never Sang For My Father.
None of playwright Robert Anderson’s work (Tea And Sympathy, You Know I Can’t Hear You When The Water’s Running, I Never Sang For My Father) is first-rate, but director Gilbert Cates has drawn from veteran actors Melvyn Douglas, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons and Dorothy Stickney such moving performances that this offbeat film about the relationship of a father and son has a profound impact. It ends with the words, “Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship which struggles on in the survivor’s mind toward some resolution which it never finds. What did it matter if I never loved him, or he never loved me? But still, when I hear the word ‘Father’ ... it matters.” In a single sentence 1 Never Sang For My Father achieves a compassion most films today fail to acknowledge.
The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes. After a series of sporadically amusing films (The Fortune Cookie, The Apartment, Some Like It Hot) director Billy Wilder has created a minor classic in this sly debunking of Sherlock Holmes (Robert Stephens) and Dr. Watson (Colin Blakely), sustained by a gentle humor that winks knowingly at the furtive vices of Victorian England.
Cromwell. A thinking-man’s epic. Alec Guinness gives a fascinating, low-key performance as Charles I, pitting his wits and will against Richard Harris as Oliver Cromwell. The rise of Puritanism in 17th - century England is clearly a subject of passionate interest to writer-director Ken Hughes, for he brings the ideas of the era to life with an illuminating lucidity, but the film is weakened by warring elements of its own. Hughes’ determination to draw parallels between Cromwell’s fight for a just society and the revolutionary politics of today frequently distorts the material and leaves one feeling less in the presence of a good drama than a dull and dubious thesis. And Frank Cordell’s score is loud, pretentious and employed with an astounding insensitivity.
The Owl And The Pussycat.
The disappointing public response to his first feature (Good-by, Mr. Chips) may explain why director Herbert Ross has turned to sophomoric and sleazy material in The Owl And The Pussycat.
In its lowbrow ideas and values the film tiresomely resembles Never On Sunday — a bookish egghead (George Segal) becomes infatuatedwith a kindhearted prostitute (Barbra Streisand). They have a love-hate relationship for most of the film and can barely stop feuding long enough to make love. The film has only one strength, Miss Streisand’s effervescent comic talents; she is delightful and genuine, though the part is pure fakery. As for Buck Henry’s screenplay, there is better dirty writing on washroom walls. ^
Scrooge. For those tired of the grim, incorrigible world of the 11 o’clock news, there is refreshing relief in Scrooge, the happiest and most charming musical of the year, guaranteed to make you feel like dancing in the streets. Albert Finney, who in Tom Jones, Two For The Road and Charlie Bubbles proved himself an actor of wide - ranging talent, adds a new dimension to the character of Ebenezer Scrooge, portraying him as a romantic idealist in his youth so thwarted by the world about him that he could only cope with life as a cold, meanspirited miser. At the heart of the film there is Charles Dickens’ optimistic faith in rationalism (show a man the error of his ways and he’ll obligingly change himself), which in 1970 is like believing in Santa Claus.
Tristana. Luis Buñuel’s newest work is not only the best film of 1970 but also one that invites repeated viewings for years to come. Catherine Deneuve surpasses her performances in Belle de Jour and Repulsion as a woman of icy sensuality, the perfect embodiment of Buñuel’s sexual mystique (previously developed in Viridiana and Exterminating Angel with Sylvia Pinal and Diary Of A Chambermaid with Jeanne Moreau). The subject of Tristana is the tyranny of love, physical and spiritual possessiveness, the mood one of acerbic, dark humor, with the actors, photography and editing perfectly and brilliantly controlled by Spain’s foremost film director, now at the height of his creative powers. □
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