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Movietone News 48

Review: The Man Who Would Be King

[Originally published in Movietone News 48, February 1976]

John Huston said recently he has made only three good films in the past decade: Reflections in a Golden Eye, Fat City, and The Man Who Would Be King. Though I’m still holding out—more or less alone, I think—for The Kremlin Letter to be included among his better works and I have serious doubts about Reflections, there is certainly no argument that The Man is one of the director’s finest achievements of any decade. It’s a pretty neat trick to make a film so completely faithful to the spirit of Kipling’s original story while not violating for even a moment the spirit of John Huston as well.

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Review: One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest

[Originally published in Movietone News 48, February 1976]

In just about every Jack Nicholson performance there is a moment (often more than one moment) when Nicholson’s face reflects something suddenly and deeply wrong with the universe. In Milos Forman’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest one of those moments of both recognition and profound confusion comes after Billy has been trundled off to bed with Mac’s girlfriend Candy and McMurphy has disposed himself near the open window to wait. He begins by sharing some rum with Chief Bromden and finally sinks to a sitting position on the floor. Closeup on Nicholson’s face. He smiles, glancing in the direction Billy and Candy have gone, and then without warning or apparent reason the grin drops from sight, McMurphy’s mouth opens slightly, and his brows pull a little closer together. The window is open behind him, but somehow you know (regardless of whether you’ve read the book or the play) that McMurphy will not be crawling through it, and you’re not really sure why. After a moment, the smile creeps back onto Nicholson’s face, but then his eyes close and we cut to the next morning, the window still open, McMurphy and the Chief passed out underneath it.

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Review: The Magic Flute

[Originally published in Movietone News 48, February 1976]

While in the past I’ve been struck by a certain, sometimes openly self-conscious interplay between roles and “reality” in Bergman’s films—and while I’ve often felt sorely put upon to endure its exposition—it’s a similar sense of an interface between what is real and what is staged in The Magic Flute that prepares for one of the film’s most delightful achievements: to have us thinking, by the time it’s all over, that all the seemingly different shadings of both Bergman’s and our perception finally rotate in the penumbra of Art. In other guises, maybe that has been Bergman’s “message” all along. The kingdom, though, is not self-enclosed this time, as it was in Cries and Whispers, nor is there that sometimes uneasily taut polarization between the stiflingly realistic overtones and the undercurrents of pure poetry running through the dialogue of Scenes from a Marriage. Nor, for that matter, is there much hint of existential parlor tricks à la Passion of Anna, wherein each of the four main characters, at some point during the movie, takes a moment to sit back, not as the character he/she portrays but as the performer he/she is, and reflect upon the part’s genesis within him-/herself.

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Review: Between Friends

[Originally published in Movietone News 48, February 1976]

by Ken Eisler

One thing about Canadian director Don Shebib, he gives an actor room to stretch out. Too much room, some viewers feel. Shebib is obviously willing to risk viewers’ impatience with yet another long take, à la Cassavetes, of his anti-heroic “boys” horsing around, yet another closeup of some guy struggling to put his inchoate feelings into words. When these indulgences fail, you get one of those arid well-whadda-you-wanna-do-tonight-Marty? patches. But when they work, you may get a passage as moving as Joey’s (Paul Bradley’s) heartfelt, tipsily self-revealing speech at his own wedding in Goin’ down the Road.

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In Black & White: B Movies

[Originally published in Movietone News 48, February 1976]

‘B’ MOVIES. By Don Miller. Curtis Books. 350 pages. $1.50.
KINGS OF THE Bs. Edited by Todd McCarthy and Charles Flynn. Dutton. 561 pages. $6.95.

“If some bright new critic should awaken the world to the merits of Joseph Lewis in the near future,” Andrew Sarris once wrote, “we will have to scramble back to his 1940 record: Two-Fisted Rangers, Blazing Six-Shooters, Texas Stagecoach, The Man from Tumbleweeds, Boys of the City, Return of Wild Bill, and That Gang of Mine. Admittedly, in this direction lies madness.”

Sarris was referring to Lewis’ days as a director of B movies on Hollywood’s “Poverty Row,” and, as he later noted, Lewis has been “discovered,” and so those seemingly forgotten B movies from 1940 are marked by auteurists and cultists for future research. And perhaps it is a form of madness that auteurists or anyone else should want to seriously examine the low-budget films turned out as program fillers on Hollywood’s production lines. For there is little indication so far that this aspect of Hollywood’s history deserves fuller appreciation, and the films themselves have been mostly unavailable since the last great splurge of B movies on television.

But the Poverty Row films of Lewis, Edgar G. Ulmer, Robert Siodmak, Andre DeToth, Anthony Mann and others loom as tantalizing examples of talent and inspiration triumphing over limited means. These directors gained recognition of one sort or another and went on from the Bs to bigger budgets and better things. But has their later success given their B movies a visibility not granted so far to worthy B directors who never graduated to heftier budgets? At present, we have little way of knowing. Felix Feist, for example, is a director about whom next to nothing has been written, but my own chance encounter with The Devil Thumbs a Ride (RKO, 1947) had sufficient appeal to make him a subject for further research of my own. Similarly, Black Angel (Universal, 1946) and a Sherlock Holmes entry like The Scarlet Claw are enough to indicate that Roy William Neill is a director worthy of attention.

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Out of the Past: Hearts of the World

[Originally published in Movietone News 48, February 1976]

Let’s face it. No matter how much homage we pay (and rightly) to D.W. Griffith as the father of narrative cinema, no matter how many ‘sublime’s and ‘magnificent’s we garnish our appreciations with, The Master made his share of films that, as watched movies, are bummers. The film scholar and the diehard film freak want to see them all, and should. The film programmer has other criteria besides his own curiosity to bear in mind, though. If he wants to bust out of the official-classics repertory of The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, Broken Blossoms, Way Down East and Orphans of the Storm but has seen (and probably has had opportunity to see) nothing else, he proceeds at his and his audience’s peril. The colossal miscalculation of a Dream Street or the choppy turgidity of an America may be the reward for his commendable adventurousness. Now, just incidentally, True Heart Susie and Abraham Lincoln are two titles I’d add to any must-see/must-show list of Griffiths; and having just seen Hearts of the World I’m eager to recommend it as well.

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Review: Take it Like a Man, Madam

[Originally published in Movietone News 48, February 1976]

Attend a special screening as one of a collection of handpicked weirdos and you deserve whatever you get. Seattle’s Specialty Films outfit has been looking at a recent Danish film by women, and inviting others to do so as well, as a means of gauging whether the property has any commercial future in the United States. The audience in which I sat was composed of Specialty Films employees, recognized regulars at company-affiliated theaters (the Movie House and the Guild 45th), and two conspicuous sub-groups, “film people” and feminists.

Before the screening got underway, theater owner and Specialty Film’s rep Randy Finley thanked the audience for coming and advised us that we were about to see a very interesting film; advised us also that the first 20 minutes or so was “a little heavy” but we should “stick with it.”

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Detour: Closing Down the Open Road

Ann Savage and Tom Neal

[Originally published in Movietone News 48, February 1976]

Detour is a masterpiece of wry perversity, a film virtually constructed on irony and paradox: an incredibly claustrophobic film about hitchhiking on the “open road”; the bleakest of films noirs, with the bulk of the action taking place during the day and away from the city. But perhaps the supreme ironies relate to the film itself. Despite acting that ranges from incompetent to bizarre, a storyline bordering on the absurd—alternately trashy and fanciful—and a minimum of sets or characters, Detour somehow speaks directly and compellingly to the dark side of several pervasive American myths, forcefully expresses a coherent vision of the way the world operates.

But if Detour can reward the receptive filmgoer, it does, by its very nature, demand a little more than the ordinary film. After all, there is no denying that a film shot in a very short time (rumored to have been four days, more likely five or six), on a budget of—it almost seems—something in the neighborhood of 45 cents, may lack some of the slickness and polish we ordinarily expect. But if we focus on what the film offers rather than what it lacks, we can begin to appreciate what is, on reflection, an extraordinary piece of filmmaking.

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