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Jacqueline Bisset

Review: The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean

[Originally published in Movietone News 22, April 1973]

Curious that both films built around the legendary Judge Roy Bean, self-styled purveyor of Law West of the Pecos, should suffer so grossly from mode trouble. The Westerner, directed by William Wyler in 1940, featured one of the all-time great performances on screen in the presence of Walter Brennan (nominally a “supporting actor,” in which category he copped a richly merited third Oscar); Brennan’s irrepressible craziness as the lethal scoundrel with an unreasoning devotion to the beauty of Lily Langtry and an ill-advised sentimental tolerance of drifter Gary Cooper, who ended up killing him, almost saved this confused western that vacillated without conviction between freakishly comical behavioralism and socioeconomic sanctimoniousness about farmers in cattle country, and, visually, between the near-stereoscopic crispness of Gregg Toland’s realistic cinematography and some jarringly pointless and punk process work. John Huston’s new Roy Bean film has no problems as gross as that, but neither has it anything as potently good as Brennan’s characterization to recommend it. Paul Newman can’t resist waving his professional integrity like a flag, and this generally works for the worst (e.g., the hysterical and monolithically conceived WUSA); here integrity takes the form of flamboyantly trying on an unglamorous character part and, moreover, playing it in a single comic key. As George Roy Hill remarked in his documentary about the making of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Newman can play comedy successfully only when he doesn’t remember to tell himself he’s playing comedy. (There is, incidentally, an unforgivable Son of Butch Cassidy number involving Newman, Victoria Principal, a bear, and a song about the marmalade, molasses, and honey that keep falling on my head.)

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Review: The Thief Who Came to Dinner

[Originally published in Movietone News 23, May-June 1973]

The spectre of Blake Edwards hangs over The Thief Who Came to Dinner because two of his frequent collaborators worked on it and because Edwards himself might have made the film go, which Bud Yorkin hasn’t managed to do. Thief cries out for Edwards’s special knack of imparting a combined sense of cool, elegant modernity, subdued emotionality, and unpolemical bitterness that implies a previous history for the characters and a meaningful present-tense context for the generic games being played on screen. Yorkin and his screenwriter Walter Hill (who also worked on Hickey and Boggs and The Getaway) can’t decide whether to go for suspense, comedy, or romance (Edwards could have had all three with delirious simultaneity) and end by providing little of each.

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Review: Day for Night

[Originally published in Movietone News 30, March 1974]

Truffaut’s Day for Night is a delight. It’s a film about some people making a film, with Truffaut himself playing the film-within-a-film’s director, but there’s only a little cinematic selfconsciousness in it. Above all, it is a very charming entertainment. Few, if any, of Truffaut’s films have had such a heady feeling of joy and pleasure all the way through. And few, if any, of the various films made about filmmakers and filmmaking have been so self-effacing. Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Jean-Pierre Aumont and Valentina Cortese play the actors in the film of one M. Ferrand (Truffaut) and each to some extent has been given a role (in Day for Night) which evokes his “real-life” image. But while Truffaut gives the Ferrand character three dream sequences in which a small boy—Ferrand and/or Truffaut as child?—steals some Citizen Kane stills from a theater display, the film is not really Truffaut’s 8 1/2.

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Review: Murder on the Orient Express

[Originally published in Movietone News 39, February 1975]

There’s an air of bad faith, not unlike the scent of bathroom deodorizer, about Murder on the Orient Express. I’m as fond of “production values” as the next fellow, maybe fonder, but I don’t wish to be force-fed them by a soulless dietitian who knows what I as a consumer ought to want. That’s the way Sidney Lumet has directed this film, and all of Geoffrey Unsworth’s filtered lyricism, all of Tony Walton’s art-deco design, all of Richard Rodney Bennett’s tongue-in-jolly-good-show-cheek music can’t convince me that Lumet gives a tinker’s fart about the Orient Express, the old Hollywood, Grand Hotel, or the artificial but scarcely charmless business of working out an Agatha Christie red-herring mystery.

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Film Review: ‘Welcome to New York’

Gérard Depardieu and friends

In the early minutes of Welcome to New York, Gérard Depardieu’s performance as a VIP called Devereaux appears designed to elicit a variety of animal comparisons: pig, bear, bull, rhinoceros. His character grunts and wheezes, an overgrown satyr whose sex addiction can’t be satisfied, regardless of how many prostitutes or innocent bystanders fall into his path. Say this for the well-traveled, enormous Depardieu: He’s the most interesting thing about this bizarre film, and he exposes his baser instincts (and his corpulent body) with fearless abandon.

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Review: Le Magnifique

[Originally published in Movietone News 49, April 1976]

Who needs a spoof of Bondian spy flicks in 1976? (For that matter, who needed one in 1973 when this film was made?) For a reel or so, that’s all that Le Magnifique seems to be up to. The reel isn’t hard to endure: Le Magnifique—or rather, one-man fighting machine Bob St. Clare—is personified by Jean-Paul Belmondo, whose wit, egocentricity, and slaloming physicality are not only entertaining but also as endearing as ever. And Philippe de Broca is officially in charge, and hitting his marks frequently enough that we recall how often and how deftly he took our breath away in L’Homme de Rio and other, only slightly lesser Sixties comedies which mixed action and/or enchantment with their slapstick and drollery. In one magical instance, a backward-zooming camera pans a troupe of white-jacketed porters bearing a dozen articles of white luggage at full trot across a Mexican tarmac, to scarlet spy lady Jacqueline Bisset sitting in a sportscar and Belmondo, in dashing tropical spy haberdashery, describing a slowmotion vault into the shot and into the passenger seat of the car—the shot proceeding fluidly and funnily out of the foregoing action, accreting elements and building from chuckle to belly laugh, and then winking away before it can flatten out into complacent savoring of a comic coup. But too many comic moments aren’t magical, and seem embarrassingly anachronistic. Again, who needs a spy spoof now? As de Broca piles joke atop joke on the theme of how callously and carelessly his hero deals out death (during a passionate kiss his hollow tooth containing his emergency cyanide capsule is sucked out by the heroine and spat into a hotel swimming pool instantly awash with the corpses of other guests), it begins to look as if Le Magnifique might be yet another well-meaning but dreary protest about the decreasing value of human life in the contemporary, CIA-pervaded world.

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Review: End of the Game

[Originally published in Movietone News 51, August 1976]

“Corpse provided by Donald Sutherland.” That acknowledgment amid the end credits of End of the Game suggests that a certain spirit of playfulness informed the film’s making. Actor-turned-director Maximilian Schell cast actor-turned-director-turned-actor Martin Ritt in the crucial role of an aging, crotchety, dyspeptic, cigar-puffing police inspector with a 30-year-old injustice on his mind, and Ritt’s performance, albeit single-note and shamelessly coddled by Schell, is undeniably playful, and quite amusing most of the time. Then there’s writer-turned-actor Friedrich Duerrenmatt playing this old writer named Friedrich (“Friedrich … Friedrich … you know, Friedrich! What the hell’s his last name?” Ritt grouses, ploughing through the volumes on his bookshelf while the camera lovingly showcases his ship’s-keel ass), to whom younger police inspector Jon Voight is sent in quest of information that his superior might very well have supplied him; Friedrich playfully puts up his hands and says, “I didn’t do it! … OK, I did do it!”—a murder, that is—while playing chess against himself (“The other one always wins—checkmated by myself!”) and muttering about the necessity of playing the game with a sufficient sense of evil.

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Review: St. Ives

[Originally published in Movietone News 52, October 1976]

Oliver Procane, eccentric planner of multimillion-dollar ripoffs, has been impotent all his life; he enjoys spending his non-criminal time watching silent masterpieces by Vidor and Griffith. It’s entirely possible that J. Lee Thompson & co. were inviting congratulatory inferences here: anybody who appreciates good moviemaking must be a bit of a wimp, so let’s hear it for our manhood! If this be the rationale, St. Ives is one hell of an advertisement for a stud service. This movie is so bad that when the convoluted action takes us to a drive-in movie the same film clips can be glimpsed four times (and no, this wasn’t an exercise in staggered chronology à la The Killing—it was just staggering); that when you see Jackie Bisset in bed in longshot she’s lying on her back, but when you cut to a medium closeup she’s sitting up with a thigh hanging out; that even though the film is punctuated by Siegel-like titles (… LOS ANGELES 11:00 A.M. OCTOBER 25), temporal continuity is so shoddy the hero is privileged, on several occasions, to reveal that he made a little phonecall during some offscreen time and therefore it is perfectly permissible for the cavalry to come to his rescue…. At first it seems that we have here another howler of a miscasting job for Charles Bronson—he’s a semi-starving novelist (who nevertheless maintains a swell wardrobe in his fleabag hotelroom)—but this too is retroactively defused: well, you see, he’s trying to be a novelist, he used to be a crackerjack crime reporter, although guys who have been on the police force long enough to make detective never heard of him….

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Review: When Time Ran Out…

[Originally published in Movietone News 64-65, March 1980]

Going in, Irwin Allen’s latest disaster movie sounds as if it ought to be the ultimate in the genre. Entitled When Time Ran Out…, complete with ellipsis, and based on a novel called The Day the World Ended, the picture starts off with science-fiction-y images of a lone, safety-suited figure picking his way over a steaming grey landscape that surely does suggest a planet in line for burnout. I began to speculate whether a guy like Irwin Allen would bother ripping off a guy like Robert Altman, and have ol’ Paul Newman, from Quintet more recently than Allen’s own The Towering Inferno, materializing out of another bleak futuristic landscape (at least futuristic-in-the-making). But then the solitary stroller turned out not to be Paul at all; and the catastrophe portrayed in When Time Ran Out… proved to be nothing more than your basic Devil at Four o’Clock volcanic trashing of a single tropical island—and maybe only half the island at that.

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