Browse Tag

Movietone News 44

In Black & White: gawlDurgnat

[Originally published in Movietone News 44, September 1975]

THE STRANGE CASE OF ALFRED HITCHCOCK, or The Plain Man’s Hitchcock. By Raymond Durgnat. MIT Press. 429 pages. $15.00.

For me, Raymond Durgnat has become, over a period of years, The Man You Love to Disagree With. Not that he doesn’t often strike exactly home, or express wonderfully well what oft was thought. It’s just that he nearly always qualifies or obfuscates his arguments into obscurity or outrageous contrivance. The margins of his newest book, The Strange Case of Alfred Hitchcock, invite—in fact, insist on—the scribbled objections of inveterate Hitchcockians of almost any camp.

Subtitled The Plain Man’s Hitchcock, the book is both exhilarating and exasperating: exhilarating because it is the most complete and ambitious critical examination yet of Hitchcock’s entire body of work, and bids fair to become a definitive source for future Hitchcock criticism; exasperating because in more than 400 pages it never manages to become what it could have been. For one thing, it is hardly a “Plain Man’s Hitchcock,” since the facts on Hitchcock’s life and work, together with a good but simplistic summary of all previous Hitchcock commentary, are confined to two prefatory chapters; the specific analysis of the films, which comprise nearly 350 pages of the text, are neither comprehensive nor—even in the attempt—definitive.

Keep Reading

Review: ‘And Now My Love’

[Originally published in Movietone News 44, July 1975]

The first splotch of color in Claude Lelouch’s And Now My Love occurs somewhere around the end of World War Two. It is not simply a matter of suddenly switching to color stock and letting the cameras roll; instead, the scene is calculated as an eye-catching gesture that begins by looking at a military parade out in a street and then pulling back into a room where two of the characters are making love—a room with a remarkably blue wall and some very conscious lighting effects that nudge us towards an awareness of the scene’s stylized appearance. It’s perhaps the most subtle instance of life and movie intermingling in the film, and it’s so nice because it uses the medium of filmmaking to illustrate the transparent regions of style and artificiality wherein movies must become about themselves as well as about the various and sundry people and events that go to make up the story we’re watching. As for the more explicitly self-inspecting aspects of movies-in-movies, and of And Now My Love—well, cameras staring at cameras seem to hold some fascination for even the most casually infected cinemagoer.

Keep Reading

A Dalmatian Called Nixon

[Originally published in Movietone News 44, September 1975]

The Doberman Gang was playing all over Mexico City when I was there last June—including the front-page headlines. Passing up Byron Chudnow’s three-year-old dog biscuit (retitled El Gran Asalto de los Doberman) was easy, but I did find myself drawn guiltily, morning after morning, into the details of a real-life Doberman gang whose hefty dark chieftain went by the name of “La Jitomata” (“The Tomato”).

Her gang, according to the papers, had racked up more than two years of robberies, assaults, stabbings and homicides using a Doberman called “Samson,” a Dalmatian called “Nixon,” two bulldogs (“La Troya,” “El Goliat”), and assorted other attack dogs to terrorize victims. The gang’s depredations ranged from the capital to Puebla and Acapulco. Now the police, with much selfcongratulation, had rounded up the malefactors; and each day’s newspaper brought new revelations regarding the size of the gang and the Dickensian nature of its internal affairs. “Le Jitomara,” it seemed, was given to recruiting extremely young boys, orphans, seducing them, legally adopting them, and sending them out into a life of crime. Hence, I suppose, the gang’s own sobriquet: “La Banda del Pañal” (“The Diaper Gang”).

Keep Reading

Review: ‘Smile’

[Originally published in Movietone News 44, September 1975]

The bilious purple lettering of the credits prepares us for Conrad Hall’s photographic style through the first half or so of Smile: motion aside, everything appears as it might in a drugstore-developed roll of Kodacolor snapped on a picnic. Smile takes us to Santa Rosa, California—cinematically immortalized as the iconographically ideal American smalltown in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943)—and plunges us eyeball-deep into American camp, several strata below kitsch. The Young American Miss beauty pageant, or rather the sub-pageant designed to yield a contender to represent the state of California, is tooling up. Bruce Dern, as a used-car and trailer dealer known to one and all by the loaded moniker “Big Bob” Freedlander, is deeply touched to learn that Barbara Feldon, a one-time Young American Miss now in charge of marshalling the girls, has provided a special gold nametag for him as head judge. His ole buddy—and Feldon’s hubby Nicholas Pryor—is less than enchanted with her nonstop pageant trip, which condemns him to evenings of TV dinners and booze, and with the initiatory ordeal approaching him: on the eve of turning 35, he must kiss a dead chicken’s ass while his brother, over-the-hill business pals cheer.

Keep Reading

Review: ‘Undercovers Hero’

[Originally published in Movietone News 44, September 1975]

Undercovers Hero is a mess. In the great tradition of messes, its title doesn’t make sense, although it does serve to convey a category of leeringly mutual understanding between filmmaker and filmwatcher, exploiter and exploitee. If the title actually referred to anyone, it would have to be Undercovers Heroines, thereby designating the half-dozen or so filles de joie who service the clientele of a Parisian brothel that is almost a national shrine and who, when history, duty, and coincidence converge to form a ramshackle ménage-à-trois in the France of 1940, turn Free French agents and begin giving their Nazi occupiers sendoffs beyond their wildest expectations. But far from being Undercovers Heroines, Undercovers Hero isn’t even Soft Beds, Hard Battles, the movie that the Boulting brothers (once-beloved auteurs of Private’s Progress, I’m All Right, Jack, etc.) made in 1973. What was surely already a queasy playing-fast-and-loose with both underground legend and the (if we may make so irreverent) conventions of history has been bludgeoned into a new misshape so puerile, so predictable, so facilely dumb that it crushes rather than enhances any hope of healthily satirical payoff.

Keep Reading

Review: ‘Middle of the World’

[Originally published in Movietone News 44, September 1975]

A thin mist covers an eerily silent, seemingly uninhabited countryside; a car carrying two men seeps into view and, without warning, tumbles off the road and into a field. We suddenly realize that we have viewed what is perhaps death (we never do find out what happens to the men) with what amounts to a stylistic shrug of the shoulders. We hear one or two muffled bumps, the car finally comes to rest, and that’s it: no preparation, no comment, just the bare incident itself seen as though dissociated from any point of view that seems reasonably human. I’m not sure I can say just why I find that scene—which happens about three-quarters of the way through Alain Tanner’s fourth feature film—so effectively chilling. Whatever it is about it seems to spring from unanalyzable sources concealed beneath some mysterious veil of tonal incongruity, and yet the intimations of detachment one receives may find support in a more solid stylistic articulation that serves to integrate Tanner’s themes of communication and perception with a soft-spoken visual approach that is deceptively arbitrary and surprisingly precise.

Keep Reading

Review: ‘Posse’

[Originally published in Movietone News 44, September 1975]

All right. Posse is an unusual Western. But not that unusual. And it doesn’t end like nothing I’ve ever seen. In fact, it ends very much like a number of other films I’ve seen (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was only the first of several to come to mind). The sociopolitical message of the confrontation between a brilliant outlaw and a self-serving politician offers little that Abe Polonsky’s Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here didn’t provide with greater subtlety—and few people have ever accused Polonsky of understatement. Posse really doesn’t have much to say, old or new, yet it does keep insisting. The grizzled typesetter’s comment that “All politicians are full of shit” might as well have Author’s Message flashed over it. A flagrant anachronism, neither appropriate nor cute, is the remark of a newspaper editor—a double amputee whom we are forced to think of in terms of Vietnam—that “This is the age of New Journalism.” And it’s not clear whether the highly visible eagle logo at the beginning and end of the film—”To the Polls, Ye Sons of Freedom”—is intended to exhort (we should all go out and vote to keep Howard Nightingales out of office) or to ring ironically (why vote at all when “all politicians are, etc.”?). This has less to do with ambiguity than with sloppiness, a sloppiness that carries over to the film’s style.

Keep Reading

Review: A Boy and His Dog

[Originally published in Movietone News 44, September 1975]

One plunges straight into unknown territory and action in A Boy and His Dog: Tatterdemalion figures dodging about in a wasteland, shooting at one another without apparent rhyme or reason. Some kind of reconnoitering dialogue—but no lips are seen to move and, visually, spatially, we find ourselves allied with … a boy and his dog? L.Q. Jones, writer and director of the film, gets down to business at once; before we know where we are, we have moved past the weird skirmish on desolate mudflats into the weirder realization that the conversation we have been puzzling over is a telepathic interchange between Vic—that’s the young man—and Blood, a shaggy mutt who has mutated light years beyond the Disneyesque canine to whom he bears some physical resemblance. Our suspension of disbelief about a dog who “talks” fast and dirty to his more-protégé-than-master is as immediate as our delight with Blood’s kinkily risqué sense of humor, his “doubletakes” and moués of disgust and exasperation with his sex-starved friend. Conversations between the two are shot with casual expertise and possess more bite and verve than most exchanges between humans in the film (witness the inane passages between Vic and the siren from “down under” he subsequently encounters), and Tim McIntire’s (Blood’s) delivery of irreverent repartee completes the visual identification of Blood as an authentically salty personality.

Keep Reading