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John A. Alonzo

Review: Sounder

[Originally published in Movietone News 22, April 1973]

Nice. Safe. Inoffensive. These words adequately characterize Sounder and confirm the precise, if surely unintentional, irony of its pitch: “If you are the sort of person who sees only one movie each year, Sounder is the movie you should see this year.” Sounder has little to do with movies except in relation to those patronizing, sociologically oriented terms dear to the hearts of the Judith Crists and Richard Meyers of the world. There are strength, dignity, and a wealth of cinematic possibility in this carefully respectful and humane story about a black man who goes to jail in 1933 Louisiana for stealing food with which to feed his family, about the family that stays behind on their sharecropper spread and lives on and loves him, and about the eldest son (around 14) who becomes the focus of all their hopes, the one who may manage to do better than to survive by the received terms of life’s contract for their kind of folks in that time and place. Unfortunately, Martin Ritt’s realization of those possibilities is inadequate save in the painlessly assimilable mode of Playhouse 90 on the big screen.

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Review: I Will, I Will … For Now / The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox

[Originally published in Movietone News 49, April 1976]

Norman Panama and Melvin Frank used to be partners. Since neither of their latest independent efforts is worth reviewing by itself, and since both represent hazards to public health, this joint quarantine report is offered. I Will, I Will … for Now finds Panama blatantly poaching on territory Frank found profitable—and made comparatively tolerable—in A Touch of Class a couple years ago. Frank’s scenario about a salably bittersweet affair between a married man and a plucky divorcee in an expense-account version of the Jet Set has been transmuted into a wishfully trendy bit of fluff concerning a once-married couple who opt for one more try, but this time under the modish umbrella of a cohabitation contract renewable or cancellable at the end of each year. It’s hard to tell from scene to scene whether they’re with-it or congenitally oldfashioned; while that might have made for a revealing approach to the problems of maintaining an honest commitment in these parlous times of sexual revisionism, in this case the confusion bespeaks filmmakers playing both ends against the middle rather than the comic pathos of well-meaning characters. Gould and Keaton—and Paul Sorvino as the family lawyer who’d been having an affair with the new divorcee—supply the enterprise with more gentle whimsy and emotional integrity than their cinematic context deserves. As for the movie side of things, even ace cameraman John (Chinatown) Alonzo performs as if he were lensing a TV sitcom.

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Review: American Hot Wax / FM

[Originally published in Movietone News 60-61, February 1979]

For a while there it seemed as if the post-mortems on the summer’s rock-oriented pictures like American Hot Wax and FM were being written before the films’ release, let alone box-office decease. But even if the backers will get to file their tax writeoffs, it’s almost certain that many more patrons got to see these films as second features to Saturday Night Fever and Grease as the big winners moved out to the nabes. Co-features don’t earn their parent companies more than token rentals that way; but if they didn’t make money, at least one of these pictures went on to make a few friends.

American Hot Wax celebrates the last few days of Brooklyn disc jockey Alan Freed’s reign as the king of rock’n’roll and the onset of his martyrdom as r&r’s patron saint. It boasts a solid stellar performance by Tim McIntire (previously seen as the least lovable of Robert Aldrich’s Choirboys), and if he doesn’t manage to save the film, he gives it a much-needed center of gravity. More than that, he strikes such a satisfying behavioral tone that, like the platter-playing paterfamilias himself, he tends to validate the enthusiasm for the music he sponsors and win our indulgence of his co-players’ excesses and director Floyd Mutrux’s miscalculations. William A. Fraker contributes his usual admirably controlled camerawork—a nice blend of impressionism and ersatz naturalism that evokes Freed’s not-at-all-glamorous milieu with quiet persuasiveness—but too many of McIntire’s fellow performers skittering through the multi-planar compositions fail to convince us they represent a gregarious humanity doing their thing: they’re just a bunch of actors trying on period poses. Still, thanks to McIntire/Freed’s heroic presence, they are at least carelessly acceptable as denizens of a formative rock culture passionately pledged to keep a faith whose scriptures are being written right on the spot.

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