Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: Mother, Jugs and Speed

[Originally published in Movietone News 50, June 1976]

Although the advertising works hard to suggest Mother, Jugs and Speed is “a black and blue comedy” in the tradition of M*A*S*H, the actual film bears little resemblance to Altman’s in the areas that count. It’s a cynical comedy and it deals with unsentimental souls on the periphery of the medical profession; there the resemblance ends. Peter Yates’ direction and the agreeable-enough performances come nowhere near the textural crossriffling of Altman’s movie, and the script’s gestures toward the acknowledgment of human pain in the world out there feel as if they’d been plotted on a graph, rather than simultaneously emerging from and validating the subterranean desperation of the characters’ lifestyle.

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Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, Contributors, Film Reviews, Horror

Review: The Omen

[Originally published in Movietone News 50, June 1976]

What partly recommends and partly handicaps The Omen, the latest entry in the horror film genre, is its old-fashioned quality. The film develops its tale of the modern-day birth of Satan’s son with a modicum of special effects and supernatural gimcracks, relying instead on tried and true methods of suspense such as not letting you see things too clearly (à la Val Lewton), mining the potential inhabitedness of any given space for its lode of ominousness, and allowing the implicit contrast between ancient horror and present complacency to breed an unsettling tension. On the negative side, the script too often takes tedious refuge in the old cliffhanger device that traditionally slogs up the action in soap operas and mediocre horror films. The paradigmatic example in The Omen occurs when Gregory Peck, inadvertent parent to devilspawn, is visited by a priest who possesses all sorts of crucial information that, we know, ought to be immediately and cogently communicated. But is it? Of course not. Instead the priest incoherently proselytizes Peck, marking himself at once as an irrelevant religious fanatic and getting kicked out of the busy man’s office for his pains. This ploy ensured several more encounters between the two men before Peck ever got the point. I had gotten the point some time ago and simply went away for awhile, to wait out this spurious method of generating suspense by unnecessarily retarding and prolonging narrative development.

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Posted in: by Greg Way, Contributors, Film Reviews

Out of the Past: The Gospel According to Saint Matthew

[Originally published in Movietone News 50, June 1976]

The austere credits of The Gospel According to Saint Matthew and a dignified dedication panel “To the Dear, Familiar Memory of Pope John XXIII” are accompanied on the soundtrack by pagan-sounding music; and the first shot in the movie proper—a lingering, static, flatly lit closeup of a barely pubescent Virgin Mary—permits the viewer time to acquire his perceptual bearings and further encourages the mood Pasolini steered us toward during the credits: His straightforward commingling of unprettified earthbound realities, a literal presentation of supernatural occurrences, and the viewer’s complacent expectations about them both, force much of the labor onto our side of the screen—underscoring Pasolini’s insistence on the viewer’s own responsibility to make order of the intensely rapid succession of images and swiftly spoken words that fly by in an acceleratingly paced, just-over-two-hour running time. (An index to the film’s speed and compression: It’s the only foreign film for which I’ve ever wished a dubbed print—so dichotomous was the choice at first viewing between watching and reading the movie—until seeing a loathsomely dubbed version restored me to my senses.)

Celebrating the director’s methodology, when the screen time arrives for it Jesus begins his ministry at a breakneck pace, admonishing some travelers to repent as he hurries past them on the road; Pasolini cuts back to the travelers for a low-comedy but credible Who-is-this-clown? take; and barely another beat has passed before we’re at the Sea of Galilee and Jesus is punning to lure fishermen to follow him. With the barest minimum of footage given to establishing shots or transitions, Pasolini spends the next 90 minutes or so studying miracles and parables and Passion events with the same economical, linear energy that heralded their beginning.

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Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors

Review: Midway

[Originally published in Movietone News 50, June 1976]

To make an uninvolving movie out of one of the most decisive battles of the Second World War may seem a dubious challenge, but there’s no denying Universal their full credit in meeting it. Midway has very little to recommend it. Persons who never subjected themselves to Sensurround with Earthquake have their opportunity here (the closest I got was seeing—but scarcely experiencing—the sample sequence run for the benefit of the TV audience at last year’s Oscars, to the exclusion of film clips from the careers of Academy honorees Jean Renoir and Howard Hawks); the opening, tinted monochrome actuality footage of aircraft-carrier takeoffs and a long, riveting approach to a headland is vivid enough in its own right, and the roar and shudder of engines undeniably enhances it. But after that, Sensurround has pretty well shot its wad.

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Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday

[Originally published in Movietone News 50, June 1976]

The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday may rate a footnote in film history as the first Hollywood Western to include oral-genital humor, and if that’s your idea of cinematic immortality, enjoy. As American-International Pictures’ first “class” production, the film does not bode well. Any one of AIP’s beach party flicks was funnier, and quite a few of their horror and action programmers have shown more class. You can wonder about the title for a while (Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday … is it a train? a medicine show act? a holiday?), but what it refers to is this old scout (Lee Marvin) who helped win the West and then misplaced his share of it; and this young refugee from a whorehouse (Kay Lenz) whose name becomes Thursday only momentarily, and irrelevantly. They travel some together, along with a clap-ridden halfbreed who went to Harvard (Oliver Reed) and an ineffectually randy reprobate (Strother Martin). There’s an old pal of the male trio’s (Robert Culp) who’s boondoggled and bombasted his way to a position of political prominence, along the way marrying the scout’s erstwhile girlfriend (Elizabeth Ashley), and we can’t forget—although we try, oh do we try!—the putatively lesbian madam (Sylvia Miles) our adventurers have “stolen” Thursday from. The Old West was a pretty silly place, you know: people fell in the mud a lot, and everybody was basically some kind of cheat. The music tells you when things are supposed to be funny, which is about 95 percent of the time; and about 100 percent of the time, it’s wrong.

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Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: Vincent, Francois, Paul and the Others / Salut, L’Artiste

[Originally published in Movietone News 50, June 1976]

Vincent is losing his mistress, his factory and his health. In the dark night of the bourgeois soul he goes to see the wife he’s already lost because of the mistress. Embarrassed by his needs, discomfited by the sudden knowledge that another man has just left his wife’s bed, he tries on an expansive gesture in her small apartment—and knocks over a vase of straw flowers. Yves Montand is the miraculous kind of actor who can reach over, restore the flowers, and cap the action with a look and wave that encompass “You know me!”, “You would have that kind of thing in your apartment,” ”I’m really up that well-known tributary,” and “There! good as new!” It’s scarcely an isolated actor’s-moment in Vincent, François, Paul et les autres; Montand and his co-players serve up many. One of the best-acted scenes of 1976 is likely to remain the café interview, a bit later in the film, between Montand and wife Stéphane Audran: he indicating by cautious, hopeful indirection that he’s at liberty, the young mistress is gone, he no longer worries about being a man of affairs in any sense, and maybe they could give it another try; she understanding from the first, supremely considerate of his feelings and vulnerability, but aware that life has moved on and so have they, that she must answer other imperatives now.

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Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: Won Ton Ton, The Dog Who Saved Hollywood

[Originally published in Movietone News 50, June 1976]

Death-wish mechanic Michael Winner first made his name as a director of comedies (You Must Be Joking, The Jokers, I’ll Never Forget Whats’isname)—a fact one remembers only with some straining, and without the assistance of his latest film. James Agee once suggested that really bad movies should go about tinkling a bell and crying “Unclean! Unclean!”; it’s getting so that the bell these days is the cutesypoo title (cf. The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday). Won Ton Ton, played engagingly but not brilliantly by Augustus Von Schumacher, is intended as a surrogate of Rin Tin Tin, no matter what the lawyers say, and his rise to superstardom is the pretext for a crassly comic view of the Film Capital in the Twenties. An index of Winner & co.’s sense of film history: at the world premiere of the new Rudy Montague (Rudolph Valentino by way of Ron Leibman) picture, the image on the screen is blocked-up, ultracontrasty, and scratchy (“Gee, didn’t old movies always look like that?”). Their notion of film comedy is scarcely more astute—as lowbrow as a dachshund and as funny as a dead rat. One of the better lines: landlady Joan Blondell to nude, sunbathing three-year-old after a talent scout has left: “All right, Norma Jean, you can put your clothes on again!”

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Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Documentary, Film Reviews, Musicals

Review: That’s Entertainment, Part Two

[Originally published in Movietone News 50, June 1976]

That’s Entertainment, Part Two begins where the first compilation should have ended, with (a portion of) the first performance of “That’s Entertainment” by Fred Astaire, Nanette Fabray, Jack Buchanan and Oscar Levant in Minnelli’s The Band Wagon. Around this footage Saul Bass has devised one of the most delightful main titles seen in a long while—albeit one that seems, with its cast lists being washed out to sea by the tide or consumed by flames—to hark back to the elephants’-graveyard atmosphere of the first That’s Entertainment’s guest narrations filmed amid the crumbling and deserted MGM studios. The and-this-too-shall-pass-away suggestion proves inapt to an anthology that dwells very little on the fact that “they don’t make ’em like that anymore,” and indeed pays little explicit homage to MGM itself (the only mention of Metro I can recall occurred in a song lyric, from long ago and far away). But MGM films are still the subject of That’s Entertainment, Part Two—and not only MGM musicals but also some of their comedies and, more glancingly, dramatic and adventure films.

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Posted in: by Robert C. Cumbow, Contributors, Directors, Film Reviews, Sam Peckinpah

Review: The Killer Elite

[Originally published in Movietone News 50, June 1976]

Sam Peckinpah’s newest film opens with a whirling drill bit boring through a wall. But, whether by design or accident, The Killer Elite is not the study of espionage screwings and counter-screwings it might have been. In fact, for all its action, it is essentially a talk film. Everybody talks at for-hire protection agent Mike Locken, though he’s almost never interested. His killer-corporation boss, visiting him in the hospital after Locken has been wounded, reflects on the irony of his own situation: “My father was a minister. That’s what he wanted me to be.” To this embarrassingly inappropriate reverie Locken retorts, “Who the hell cares?” winning the applause of the viewer impatient with Strange Interludes. “Heroism is Out,” another character reminds him; but Locken curiously doesn’t sense the sterility in a new age when murder is no longer the passionate response of an individual but the paid service of a corporation.

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