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Martin Ritt

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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Blu-ray: ‘The Spy Who Came In From the Cold’

John le Carré’s novels of national intelligence and international espionage during the Cold War arrived as an antidote to the Bond novels of the 1950s and spy fantasy movies of the 1960s and The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, his third novel, perfected his morally ambivalent perspective. This is a culture where ordinary, drab men toil away unglamorously in the shadows while bureaucrats make calculated decisions and spin elaborate schemes that put men in harm’s way. The book was published in 1963 and in 1965 it became the first of le Carré’s novels adapted for the big screen.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is directed and produced by the versatile Martin Ritt, an American with a legacy of intelligent films and mature themes, including the somber, subdued, conflicted modern western Hud. He brings the same commitment to le Carre’s vision. It’s shot on location in Britain and Europe with a British screenwriter, crew, and cast, and it has a sensibility marinated in British restraint and Le Carre’s ambivalence and mistrust of methods and motivations on both sides of the Cold War.

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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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