Daily Archives: March 1, 1988

Susan Slept Here

The brilliant Frank Tashlin directed this 1954 feature about a Hollywood screenwriter (Dick Powell) and his misadventures with a volatile teenager (Debbie Reynolds). In some ways an early version of Tashlin’s Bachelor Flat (1962), it’s narrated by the hero’s Oscar statuette, and some of the gags about 50s Hollywood are priceless (among them a parody of Gene Kelly’s dream ballets). With Anne Francis. 98 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Sixth Sense

A silent experimental film by Spanish architect Nemesio N. Sobrevila, El sexto sentido never received a general release, but it reportedly constitutes a rare and unique effort of its period (1926), heavily influenced by French Impressionist as well as German Expressionist cinema. The leading characters are given such names as The Vampiress, The Optimist, and The Pessimist, and the title refers to the capacities of the camera to get at truth that is inaccessible to the other five senses (which suggests shades of Dziga Vertov). (JR)… Read more »

The Search

The first feature of screenwriter Angelino Fons as director, this 1966 adaptation of Pio Baroja’s classic novel, set in Madrid at the turn of the century, describes the frustrations of a romantic young man from the country (Jacques Perrin).… Read more »

The Sacrifice

Andrei Tarkovsky’s last film (1986, 145 min.) isn’t on the same level as his extraordinary Stalker, but it’s a fitting apocalyptic statement, made when he knew he was dying of cancer. The first and penultimate shotsten-minute takes that are, in very different ways, remarkable and complex achievementsmanage to say more than most films do over their entire length. In between these shots one finds Tarkovsky working in a mode that bears a distinct relationship to Bergmanmade all the more apparent by the Swedish setting, the cinematography (by Bergman’s incomparable Sven Nykvist), and the casting of Erland Josephson in the leadbut the hallucinatory camera movements and the mysticism of the plot could belong to no one but Tarkovsky. As Alexander (Josephson), a university lecturer, celebrates his birthday with family and friends, a major nuclear crisis is reported on TV, followed by a power failure. Praying for the world to return to normal, Alexander promises to give up everything he has and winds up sleeping with his maid, reportedly a witch, to seal the bargain. As with Nostalghia, Tarkovsky’s previous work of exile, it’s possible to balk at the filmmaker’s pretensions and antiquated sexual politics and yet be overwhelmed by his mastery and originality, as well as the conviction of his sincerity.… Read more »

A New Life

There’s something fraudulent about writer-director-star Alan Alda’s implicit claim to be giving us the straight lowdown on midlife crises, in a story about a divorced middle-aged couple (himself and Ann-Margret) embarking on new relationships, when the gist of his message boils down to the usual Hollywood standbys: meeting Mr. (or Ms.) Right, facing up to one’s shortcomings, exercising self-improvement, steering clear of transsexuals in singles bars, and, above all, living one’s life as if Joseph Turrin’s tacky adaptations of baroque music were constantly playing on the sound track. The real trouble, as usual with Alda, is the auteur’s limitless self-absorption, which makes all the other characters elusive shadow figures, including those who are supposed to matter. Ann-Margret, for instance, makes a game try at bringing some reality to the hero’s ex-wife, who, like him, is having an affair with someone nearly half her age, but the material offered to her and her boyfriend John Shea is so elliptically threadbare that they have to build their performances in quicksand; Veronica Hamel as the doctor who becomes Alda’s second wife, and Hal Linden as his best friend and partner at the New York Stock Exchange, suffer from similar undernourishment. Part of the gimmick here is that Alda plays a deliberately abrasive character, very New York aggressive, whose gradual cleaning up of his act is supposed to inspire us all.… Read more »

Nada

Claude Chabrol’s 1973 thriller about a group of political kidnappers in Paris seems to record his disenchantment with the French left during this period as well as his cynical disapproval of the government. While it represents an honest attempt to break out of his preceding cycle of bourgeois melodramas, the plague on both houses delivered by this film is more despairing than edifying, and not very much fun to watch. (The title, which is Spanish for nothing, points to the overall nihilism.) (JR)… Read more »

The House On Carroll Street

Peter Yates, a craftsmanlike director who is generally at the mercy of his scripts, does a creditable job with a romantic thriller screenplay by former blacklisted writer Walter Bernstein (The Front), set in 1951 during the height of the cold-war witch-hunts, that is strong in charm and period flavor but relatively weak in motivations. Aiming for an overall Hitchcockian ambience without the master’s undertow of guilt, the film makes pleasant use of Kelly McGillis as a witch-hunt victim who turns amateur sleuth, and Jeff Daniels as an FBI agent who befriends her; also on hand are Jessica Tandy, and an especially effective Mandy Patinkin as the sweet-talking cold warrior villain. Michael Ballhaus shot the film, and Georges Delerue handled the score. Nothing very profound emerges from the mixture, but this is still a rather stylish and sincere entertainment that passes the time agreeably. (JR)… Read more »

Vice Versa

Thanks to a magically endowed skull that comes from a Buddhist temple, a young executive who buys for a Chicago department store (Judge Reinhold) and his semiestranged 11-year-old son (Fred Savage) unwittingly exchange bodies, and each has to go through a few days living the life of the other. If this sounds familiar, writer-producers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais and director Brian Gilbert have little up their sleeve to make it otherwise. While a few decent laughs are wrung from the situation, most of this movie seems motored by what SF writer James Blish once termed an idiot plota story that can only advance because most of its major characters are idiotsand most of the sexual complications aren’t so much explored as sidestepped. Still, the Chicago locations are pleasant, and most of the castwhich also includes Corinne Bohrer as the hero’s girlfriend and Jane Kaczmarek as his ex-wifedo the best they can with the premise. Unfortunately, the filmmakers’ imaginations extend no further than the basic gimmick, which is exploited mainly for silliness, and a lot of golden opportunities are lost in the process. (JR)… Read more »

Republic Of Sin

From the Chicago Reader (March 1, 1988). — J.R.

Luis Buñuel’s 1959 El fievre monte a El Pao follows a Latin American country’s attempts at political reform after its dictator is assassinated. Buñuel described this as the worst of his French films (it was a French-Mexican production), yet it has its ardent defenders, among them Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet. As Buñuel’s most directly political work, it certainly warrants a look. With Gerard Philipe, in his last screen appearance, and Maria Felix. Read more »

Race

A rare document of the Spanish cinema, scripted by none other than Franco himself under the pseudonym Jaime de Andrade and based on his own novel (which was written with a future film adaptation in mind). Directed by Jose Luis Saenz de Heredia, cousin of the founder of the Falange, this 1941 film is a fanciful autobiography of Franco, who describes the life and family he would have liked to have had, and stars matinee idol Alfredo Mayo. (JR)… Read more »

Poto And Cabengo

Jean-Pierre Gorin’s first solo effort as a filmmaker after a long period of collaboration with Jean-Luc Godard surpassed all of his previous work hands down. The putative subject is a pair of young female twins in southern California who have apparently invented their own language, and while this personal documentary explores this subject in some detail, it proves to be about a great deal more: Gorin’s own exile, the lower-income white culture of San Diego, the American Dream, and language itself. A memorable, innovative effort, packed with wonder and invention (1979). (JR)… Read more »

Patti Rocks

A sequel to director David Burton Morris’s Loose Ends that is set about a dozen years later, this film consists mainly of Billy (Chris Mulkey) and Eddie (John Jenkins), the two buddies of the previous film, meeting up again in Saint Paul, Minnesota and taking an all-night drive to see Billy’s girlfriend, Patti Rocks (Karen Landry). Patti has become pregnant and wants to have the baby; Eddie insists it’s about time that Billy tell her he’s already married and has a kid. In overall ambience if not in style, this macho bonding exercise recalls the kind of behavior on display in Cassavetes’s Husbands; eventually it adds up to something when Patti Rocks has her say and the plot thickens. But it’s a long haul getting to her apartment, and director Morris can only sustain the long stretches of talkscripted by himself and the three lead actorsin snatches. An independent effort of this kind has its momentsone appreciates, in particular, the local detailsbut it’s hard to find the characters as interesting as the filmmakers want them to be; we’ve been down this long road and heard the equivalent of Billy’s misogynistic raps too many times before. (JR)… Read more »

Paloma Fair

A charming, romantic Spanish musical of 1935, this lighthearted example of zarzuela recalls such early musicals as Under the Roofs of Paris, Love Me Tonight, and The Love Parade in its graceful employment of the medium: one song is sung in superimposed images, another gets passed around an urban neighborhood like a fluffy piece of gossip. Also known as Our Lady of the Dove, Benito Perojo’s movie is set in 1893 and moves around a wedding, a dressmaker’s shop, a printing press, a pharmacy, and the city fair of the title; flamenco dancing is featured in one of the numbers, and a 30s emphasis on working-class labor is often present. With Charito Leonis, Miguel Ligero, and Raquel Rodrigo. (JR)… Read more »

Off Limits

Yet another Vietnam picture, set in Saigon in 1968. This one is a mystery thriller about two plainclothes cops (Willem Dafoe and Gregory Hines) assigned to investigate the murders of half a dozen local prostitutes whose babies were fathered by American servicemen; a high-ranking American officer proves to be one of the suspects. Directed and cowritten by TV veteran Christopher Crowe, and shot on location in Bangkok, the film has the singular virtue of giving more vent to Vietnamese attitudes about the U.S. than is usually found in such pictures, and the dialogue is often pungent and lively. One regrets the hokey finale as the film eventually succumbs to overly familiar generic patterns, but before this happens, some of the complexity of the American presence in Vietnam gets touched upon. (JR)… Read more »

The Milagro Beanfield War

Robert Redford’s second feature as director (after Ordinary People) describes the elaborate consequences when a Chicano handyman in New Mexico (Chick Vennera) illegally irrigates his parched bean field with water earmarked for a major development. Fairly choked with good intentions, whimsy, touches of fantasy, and cardboard liberal stereotypes, this 1988 release does for Mexicans what Louis Malle did for Jews or Walt Disney did for miceslowly, and at great length. The results are a bit like a translation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magical realism by Mortimer Snerd, with pretty landscapes. John Nichols adapted his own novel, assisted by David Ward; with Ruben Blades, Richard Bradford, Sonia Braga, Julie Carmen, James Gammon, Melanie Griffith, John Heard, Carlos Riquelme, Daniel Stern, and Christopher Walken. R, 118 min. (JR)… Read more »