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Gerry Fisher

Review: S*P*Y*S

[Originally published in Movietone News 34, August 1974]

The only thing of interest in S*P*Y*S—and it’s of sooooooo little interest—is the mystery of how such sharp guys as Kershner, Gould, and Sutherland ever got mixed up in it; or, beyond that, how, having recognized what a mire they were in (and they must have recognized it, sooner or later), they failed to distribute more clues to their disenchantment as disavowals of any responsibility. Since I’ve tossed more than my share of bouquets toward directors, I’ll continue to play it the auteur way and throw my biggest stink bomb at Irvin Kershner. No semblance of focus or structure is to be detected in the film, and it does seem proper to blame the director for that. Even when a competent, well-intentioned director has his film messed up in production or post-production by the proverbial front office, traces always remain: the occasional sequence left intact, a broken-backed but discernible emotional rhyme scheme in the performances, distinctive niceties in the selection of angles here and there, the way corners of shots get filled up. And I didn’t see nothin’ like that in S*P*Y*S, nowhere, no way.

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Review: Brannigan

[Originally published in Movietone News 41, May 1975]

There’s some terrific supporting material in that cast list, but everybody onscreen looks, and has excellent reason for feeling, pretty embarrassed about the whole thing. Brannigan is the sort of picture that gives John Wayne movies a bad name. Come to think of it, Brannigan is a bad name: it’s locked right in on the monolithic image of Wayne as 110-percent American tough guy with two fists and only one operational brain lobe, and whenever it takes four scriptwriters to come up with that kind of arithmetic, somebody’s in trouble.

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Review: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother

[Originally published in Movietone News 47, January 1976]

Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, and music scorer John Morris notwithstanding, The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother is no Young Frankenstein. What’s been crucially left out of the mix is virtually any feeling for those literary and cinematic forebears all but the most couthless of viewers must have in the back or front of mind. The Mel Brooks film’s attention to the traditions from which it sprang supplied it with not only resonance but also more sheer utilitarian structure than its catch-all creator had ever managed to come up with before. Lacking such scrupulousness, Wilder’s own directorial debut (he did help write Young Frankenstein) is reduced to a series of skits and skips—or hops, as it would musically have it—which stand or stumble according to the sweetness and sureness, or vagrancy and lameness, of the momentary shtick. Only one moment early in the film suggests a commitment to comedic extrapolation and embellishment of Conan Doyle’s abundant narrative quirks: As a menacing—and very literal—heavy (George Silver, the Fat Man of Gumshoe) crouches outside Sherlock Holmes’ door, Holmes (Douglas Wilmer) apprises Watson (Thorley Walters) of the fact by way of flashcard—then proceeds to run through a series of cards anticipating Watson’s ensuing reactions and questions.

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Review: The Romantic Englishwoman

[Originally published in Movietone News 47, January 1976]

The Romantic Englishwoman affords an unexceptionably witty and civilized film experience from the first shivery glimpse of Glenda Jackson’s double reflection over the passing wintry German landscape to the last of the end credits: “A British–French Co-production”. Losey’s direction has never been more assured; the casting leaves nothing to be desired and the performances are elegantly judged; Gerry Fisher’s color cinematography is coolly ravishing, Richard Macdonald’s design precise and gracefully satirical, Richard Hartley’s score a paradigm of haut-bourgeois tastefulness with just the right hint of romantic susceptibility. Will this review continue as a rave; or is he about to heave a “Yes, but—” sigh? Well, I think we’ll keep it a rave, although at the moment I’ll inject a Yes, but delightfully as the intricate narrative game of The Romantic Englishwoman has been conceived and played, I suspect that it’s a rather self-enclosed exercise à la The Servantwith which it has clear thematic connections—while Accident remains the great Losey picture and the director’s most comprehensive work. I arrived at this only slightly disenchanted view of The Romantic Englishwoman after my second look at the film. On first viewing I was completely enthralled; and because I’d hate to compromise anyone’s similar pleasure, I’d rather say next to nothing about “what happens,” so that the viewer will be free to wonder “Is what I think is going to happen going to happen; and if it does, will it happen as I am led to expect it to; and if happens but slightly deviates from my expectations, how and why will it deviate?”

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Accident – ‘one of the great modern films’

Jacqueline Sassard, Dirk Bogarde

[Written in 2006 for Jim Emerson’s Opening Shots project at Scanners]

The opening shot of Joseph Losey’s Accident (1967) begins under the main-title credits and runs for a minute or so after they have concluded. We’re looking at the front of a good-sized but hardly palatial house in the English countryside—the home, as it happens, of an Oxford don whose academic career has been less than stellar. It’s nighttime, tangibly well into the wee hours. No lights are burning, no activity within is apparent. The credits roll without musical accompaniment. On the soundtrack we detect an airplane passing overhead; onscreen, a slight alteration of perspective on the surrounding tree boughs makes us aware that the camera is slowly nudging closer to the house. After a moment, there is the sound of an automobile approaching. The noise grows loud; the engine is racing. Then, a screech of tires and the sound of impact and shattering glass, abruptly cut off. There is a further pause. Then the front door of the house opens, only a hint of light glimmering in the interior. Hesitantly, a man steps out, then begins advancing into the night. Cut to several murky shots impressionistically marking his progress as he moves toward the scene of the titular accident.

The shot, though plain as, uh, day, is remarkable for several reasons. One, of scant concern to most of us, is that with it the director and his first-time cinematographer Gerry Fisher achieved their goal of shooting a color scene that actually looks like what it’s supposed to be: a nighttime exterior as seen by moonlight, rather than a day-for-night fakeroo or some other conventional attempt to imitate nighttime via filters and technical trickery. Losey and Fisher went to extreme pains with the film lab to get the shot to look exactly as they wanted it—even though, as Losey ruefully observed in interview, they knew most theaters would bathe the screen with mauve houselights for the benefit of late-arriving seat-takers, and in any event a few passes in front of the projector’s carbon arc would soon alter the image on the emulsion.

So, technically, a real, if effectively unnoticed and ephemeral, coup.

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