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Michel Legrand

Review: The Outside Man

[Originally published in Movietone News 28, December 1973]

The American cinema owes the French cinema—which is to say French critics and audiences as well as French filmmakers—an enormous debt. And so do any American cinephiles whose cataracted vision began to clear only after Gallic enthusiasm pointed the way to a discovery of our national cinematic treasures. Why, the film noir, one of the richest veins in our movie mines, bears a French moniker; and French cinéastes have emulated that particular tradition time and again, from the commercial likes of Borsalino to the more personal genre work of the recently deceased Jean-Pierre Melville to the radically stylized, self-aware poetry of Godard’s Breathless, Band of Outsiders, Alphaville, and Pierrot le fou. The progression syntactically implied there is stylistic rather than chronological: Borsalino, an enjoyable piece of period fluff concocted by Jacques Deray, postdates the others. It would be nice to say that Deray’s first American-made film added new dimensions to the genre; that a foreign filmmaker practiced in shooting French-based derivations of our native genre might reveal to us unsuspected strains of exoticism gleaming out of the domestic bedrock. But no.

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Review: Cops and Robbers

[Originally published in Movietone News 28, December 1973]

Cops and Robbers is another of those teddibly clever caper comedies whose subject and bid for commercial success are both safely swaddled in kuntemperairy muhlayz. It’s more enjoyable than most, enough so that the casual moviegoer looking to drop out of reality for a couple hours will be reasonably satisfied. The opening is amusing, and stylistically a harbinger of things to come: seen as if from across the street, in the gritty-spongy color cinematography that has become a certification of authenticity (and, frequently, an excuse for sloppy direction and framing), a policeman enters a New York liquor store one evening and holds it up: leaving in his customary, just-walking-my-beat,-putting-in-a-day’s-work saunter, he disappears around the corner while the frantic storeowner hesitantly calls “Police!” and tries to communicate his complete perplexity to a bored derelict who’s been leaning against the store window the whole time. Days later, the cop (Joseph Bologna) delightedly confesses the deed to his neighbor and fellow officer (Cliff Gorman), adding that since it happened he and his wife have had fantastic rapport in the sack. Eventually the two decide to try one together—but no liquor store, no coupla hundred bucks—something big. Before long they have agreed to grab $10 million in bearer bonds and sell them, for 20 percent of value, to the Mafia. And they do it.

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Review: Breezy

[Originally published in Movietone News 35, September 1974]

Breezy confirms the fitful but definite promise of Play Misty for Me and High Plains Drifter: Clint Eastwood can direct. Not brilliantly—at this point, anyway—but intelligently, and with conviction to spare. Conviction has a lot to do with the success of his third film, a movie one has only to synopsize in order to appreciate its bountiful capacity for ending up something dreadful: footloose hippie with big dark eyes, a funky hat, and a guitar keeps getting entangled with middleaged, joyless-playboy divorcé in real estate; she decides she loves him, he decides he “can’t cope” with loving her, they part, and an endearingly disproportionate dog reunites them. You can cut yourself off a generous portion of skepticism and still be won over by the cliché-trampling sincerity of Kay Lenz and William Holden in the respective roles. Eastwood himself stays offscreen this time (save for a brief atmosphere bit in longshot) and perhaps that helped his directorial concentration. Yet in another sense one almost feels his presence in the unforced sympathy he brings to both the young representatives of the counterculture (Breezy’s nicely characterized pals as well as the girl herself) and the well-preserved, semi-sporty, but distinctly middleaged lovers and other strangers Holden shares his California lifestyle with (Eastwood, almost incredibly, is pushing 50). It was by no means a given that Holden’s silvering hair and creased face should play off so movingly against Kai Lenz’s breathtakingly tawny-sleek flesh and clear eyes; shot after shot unobtrusively defines their awakening to a kind of mutual knowledge beyond facile paraphrase, and when Holden turns to Lenz in the night after recounting the failure of his marriage and fairly gasps, “You’re so incredibly new!”—well, it’s a considerably more awesome moment than anyone would have expected from a one-time cattle drover on Friday night CBS.

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Review: ‘Donkey Skin’

[Originally published in Movietone News 45, November 1975]

Jacques Demy’s best films—Lola, The Young Girls of Rochefort—wave the silk scarf of an absurd romanticism so expertly over the abrasive realities of The World We Live In—unwanted pregnancies, painful, irrational separations, grotesquely violent death—that our appreciation of both textures is deeply enhanced in the delirious cinematic process. Donkey Skin, his 1970 retelling of the Perreault fairy tale, almost entirely lacks this sense of imaginative play and stylistic chance-taking. As such, it makes for a pre-afternoon-nap children’s story more elaborately visualized than most, but serves little other purpose.

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Videophiled Classic: ‘The Essential Jacques Demy’

JacquesDemyThe Essential Jacques Demy (Criterion, Blu-Ray+DVD Dual-Format set) collects six features and a few early shorts from the Nouvelle Vague‘s sadder-but-wiser romantic. It’s not my intention to rate him against the movement’s most famous filmmakers – Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Rohmer, Rivette, Varda – but just to find his place among them. Like so many of his fellow directors, Rivette loved American movies, especially musicals, but his taste for American musicals and candy-colored romance was balanced with a bittersweet sensibility. For all the energizing music and dreamy love affairs, his romances more often than not don’t really get happy endings.

Criterion’s 13-disc set, one of their last to come out in the Blu-Ray+DVD Dual-Format, picks six of his defining films from his 1961 debut to his 1982 Une Chambre en Ville, which makes its American home video debut in this set, all transferred from restored and remastered HD editions.

Lola (1961) is a bittersweet musical without the music, lovingly shot in Demy’s hometown of Nantes in black and white CinemaScope by Nouvelle Vague master Raoul Coutard, and set to a lovely score by Michel Legrand. Anouk Aimee, whose appearance in lacy tights, boa, and top hat made her an eternal pin-up dream, is a single mother looking for the father of her child in the port towns of Nantes. As in so many of his films, Demy reveals himself as both eager romantic and sadder-but-wiser realist, and for all the dashed dreams of the film it still manages to have its swoony romantic fantasy come true.

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Review: Gable and Lombard

[Originally published in Movietone News 49, April 1976]

His cowlick is artfully combed and he has the verbal and behavioral tics down pretty good, but there’s so much concentration in the way he sucks his cheeks and pushes his lips out that you begin to think he’s a dental patient waiting for a negligent technician to come back and retrieve the X-ray pads. She doesn’t recall any particular Hollywood blonde of the Thirties, but then again she does manifest some signs of independent life and personality, which can’t be said for his Disneyland robot, however mechanically perfect. It seems pointless to award merits and demerits to Brolin and Clayburgh for not being Gable and Lombard, because only Gable and Lombard were Gable and Lombard, and you can make an honorable try at reconstituting Julius Caesar, Richard the Lion-Hearted, Leonardo da Vinci, Anne Boleyn, Betsy Ross, Emile Zola, Charles Steinmetz, and even Jeanne Eagels or George M. Cohan, but you can’t fake someone whose silver-screen reality is more definitively established than any “real-life” reality ever could be—the medium simply won’t permit it, and God bless the medium! Neither does it make much sense to pretend to tell the story of two entirely made-up creatures whose names just happen to be Gable and Lombard, except maybe in a surrealistic novel—although you can ring in a supporting character, mythical rather than personal, and exploit him as symbol or icon (v. Jerry Lacy’s “Bogart” in Play It Again, Sambut don’t let him get too close to the actual clips from Casablanca).

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