There have been so few good roles written for actresses in recent years that Gerald Potterton’s The Rainbow Boys, opening this month in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, deserves a sustained cheer for giving Kate Reid her best film role to date. It is not just a meaty role but one free of neurosis and hysterics. That’s the wonder of it.
One disadvantage to the current phase of violent films (apart from the fact that one has to be somewhat demented to enjoy them) is the paucity of roles for actresses that such a genre affords. Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Shelley Winters have been forced to play grotesque harridans in campy melodramas, or else face retirement. Younger actresses such as Tuesday Weld and Joanne Woodward are obliged to portray unappealing characters suffering from nervous breakdowns or alcoholism (in Play It As It Lays and The Effect Of Gamma Rays On Man-InThe-Moon Marigolds) just to get a bitesize part. Others such as Lynn Redgrave, Jean Simmons, Rita Tushingham and Anne Bancroft haven’t had a first-rate role in years. Violent films largely mean male-dominated films with women relegated to the background. Women’s Lib may have killed off the love goddess roles (it’s difficult to imagine Rita Hayworth or Marilyn Monroe rising to fame during the late Sixties* or early Seventies) but virtually all types of women’s roles in American movies have diminished in recent years. The two most notable performances this season by an actress — Cicely Tyson in Sounder and Maggie Smith in Travels With My Aunt — are technically faultless but only the first is truly memorable for presenting the emotional complexities of a human being. Travels is a clever caricature, overplayed, producing light and fleeting laughter.
Canadian films haven’t entered an aberrant or barbaric phase, stressing violence as their selling point. Micheline Lanctôt in Gilles Carle’s La Vraie Nature de Bernadette, Geneviève Bujold in Paul Almond’s Journey and Claude Jutra’s Kamouraska, Doris Petrie and Carol Kane in Bill Fruet’s Wedding In White are a few recent examples of the female roles which Canadian films provide. There is more to this issue than simply providing employment for actresses of great talent, actresses that would be going to waste if Canadian film makers were turning out films such as Deliverance, The Valachi Papers, The Getaway and Jeremiah Johnson. Male-oriented stories are more likely to be malevolent than humanistic. The female presence raises the psychological and moral tone of our films.
If The Rainbow Boys were an American film, its central relationship would
probably be between Logan (Donald Pleasance), a 60-year-old miner who lives alone in an old shack near the Fraser River in British Columbia, and Mazella (Don Caifa), a young, footloose adventurer in his mid-twenties who reactivates the older man’s dream of searching for gold. Consciously or not, they would act out a gruff, prickly friendship as father-and-son surrogates with moments of humor, pain and sentiment. This theme is an obsessive one in American films and literature. It appears in sources as diverse as Billy Budd, Death Of A Salesman and The Godfather. The film might be a comedy (although such stories rarely are) but it couldn’t possibly have the lusty high spirits of Gerald Potterton’s bawdy, unbuttoned farce.
Gladys (Kate Reid) is 45, broad in the beam, plain as sin, and absolutely marvelous. An earth-mother with a generous bosom and a flexible price. It is her role which transforms The Rainbow Boys into a comic romp of the highest order, making every line sound much more witty than it really is.
RECOMMENDED THIS MONTH Cries And Whispers: Ingmar Bergman’s best film since Persona; Sleuth: Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine in a witty thriller; Sounder: Cicely Tyson, Paul Winfield, Taj Mahal in the American film that is a shooin for Oscars; Lady Caroline Lamb: highclass soap opera with Sarah Miles all atwitch and Richard Chamberlain knitting his bushy eyebrows as Lord Byron; Lost Horizon: Shangri-la with Burt Bacharach music.
John Hofsess is a Canadian film director and critic
Although Gerald Potterton (who worked with Harold Pinter in creating one of the finest television specials in recent years, Pinter People) wrote several drafts of the screenplay and has nursed the production through many difficulties, the chief credit due him is simply for conceiving of putting Kate Reid and Donald Pleasance together. Their rapport is so keen, their timing so precise, their pleasure so contagious, that one can overlook the thin plot (the search, discovery and ironic loss of the gold) and the facile characterization which makes everyone a lovable eccentric. The Rainbow Boys may offend people who are never able to distinguish between Rabelaisian robustness and obscenity, since its characters talk a blue streak about bodily functions. Chances are, however, you’ll be laughing too hard to take offense. The Rainbow Boys is a strong contender for best Canadian film of the year.
Last Tango In Paris: A defense of the right of Canadians in every province to see the most controversial film of the year (Maclean’s, April) doesn’t imply a defense of the film itself. Like Bertolucci’s earlier film The Conformist, Last Tango In Paris has a foolish, loosely Freudian, sexual thesis; unlike The Conformist, the visual style of Last Tango doesn’t triumph over the intellectual vapidity. The film stands and falls on its ideas, and Bertolucci’s insistence that there is a link between sexual aberrations and fascism, by portraying fascist characters who have sexual aberrations, is simply a naïve tautology. Unless you share Bertolucci’s view (and some do, but then some people think African Genesis is the last word in intellectual endeavor) there is little reason for seeing Last Tango In Paris. Don’t be conned by the film’s sexual reputation, unless repetition of four-letter words and a few primal screams is your idea of “liberation.” Visually the film is quite chaste, except (as usual) for its violence. The film is a powerful statement of ideas that are ridiculous, and while the ideas may be new to movies, they were long ago dispensed with in psychology and other sciences of human nature. Bertolucci on sex is as profound as Woody Allen.
Yet if Bertolucci’s cause célèbre is little more than a variation on The Story Of O in its ideas (and no one would claim that The Story Of O is one of the great books of our time, merely a cultural curiosity) it is nevertheless a film with a dazzling cinematic style. In a word: Bertolucci’s stock-in-trade is to deal with radical chic ideas in a Harper’s Bazaar style. The admission price (a probable $4.50 in Canada) is unjustified by the film’s budget ($1.2 million). After The Godfather and now this, one associates Marlon Brando with inflation. ■
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