Early Film Reviews (August 1964)

Two movie columns published in Summer ’64, a newspaper published by Columbia University and Teachers College in August 1964, while I was attending summer school there in Manhattan. I recall having seen Hitchcock’s Marnie and Renoir’s Boudu Saved From Drowning that same summer for the same publication, and reviewed at least the former, but apparently either this review never ran or my printed copy of it hasn’t survived -– more likely the former. (I still recall attending the press screening for Bouduand hearing the huffy and irritable old gentleman behind me storm out angrily before the end; then, once I read Bosley Crowther’s negative review in the Times, I realized who this crank was — and why and how he misconstrued the movie’s conclusion.)

That Man from Rio is being released this spring in an attractive, restored 2-disc Blu-Ray package by the Cohen Film Collection, along with de Broca’s follow-up feature. Up to His Ears (Les Tribulations d’un Chinois en Chine, 1965). I’m still hoping for an eventual release of  the long-unavailable Five Day Lover (1961), which I recall as my favorite de Broca feature….One thing that I now think I got wrong about That Man from Rio is cross-referencing it with North by Northwest, when a comparison of Belmondo with Douglas Fairbanks (whose work I hadn’t encountered at the time) would have been far more apt. The shots of him running in this film are even more beautiful in some ways than those in Breathless, and some of his acrobatics are stunning. -– J.R.

Films: Two by de Broca


Now that Alfred Hitchcock has temporarily abandoned the chase movie, a number ofdirectors have been trying their hands at imitations of The 39 Steps and North by Northwest. Earlier this year we had Charade and The Prize, while the New Wave in France has been making much of the Hitchcockian chase for some time now; but until That Man from Rio (now showing at the Paris Theater), it seemed unlikely that any one would rival the master at his own game.

Rarely has there been such a genial exploitation of the improbable. The film opens and closes in Paris, but most of the footage is given over to frantic circumambulations of Rio and Brasilia. Jean-Paul Belmondo races after his kidnapped girl friend via motorcycle, bicycle, car, boat and airplane, pausing only occasionally for bemused grimaces before surging forward again.

Near-catastrophes are rendered in a spirited comic book style made all the more luminous by color — a car careens over a cliff, Belmondo is nearly eaten by an alligator — and every cliché in the genre is honored at one point or another, whether it be crawling along a window ledge or slinging it out in a drunken free-for- all. Philippe de Broca, the director, packs in all the Hollywood mementos that two hours can accommodate; even bits of Tarzan and James Bond are thrown in for good measure. For an evening of calculated insanity it’s unlikely that the moviegoer could find anything better.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Cartouche, a newer film by de Broca which opened recently at the Lincoln Art Theater. Although Cartouche also boasts the services of de Broca, Belmondo, and Technicolor, all three have been brought to naught in this lifeless epic of eighteenth century banditry. Belmondo’s mugging, which is put to such good use in the former film, is reduced here to little more than a set of mannerisms.

Unlike That Man from Rio, Cartouche commits the fatal error of taking its one-dimensional characters seriously, so that what could have been (given the proper enthusiasm) another Tom Jones comes out much closer to Prince Valiant. One is tempted to conclude that the French, when given the sumptuous backing of a Joseph Levine, can turn out spectacles as hollow as any by Hollywood, Claudia Cardinale notwithstanding. For a bit of Gallic Hollywood with some energy behind it, That Man From Rio would be a much better choice.


Films: Two (Not Three) New Comedies

A cheering note suggested by two current Hollywood comedies — What a Way to Go and Good Neighbor Sam — is that American comedy may be finally emerging from what might be called its Doris Day/expense-account period. A few remnants of the nightmare still remain: a lush psychiatrist’s office is the pivotal setting in What a Way to Go, and bleached-blond suburbia continues to rear its ugly head in Good Neighbor Sam; but for once, these devices are used as backdrops for talent rather than as compensations for the lack of it.


What a Way to Go begins, at least, with a novel enough idea. Shirley MacLaine enters a psychiatrist’s office with the complaint that she’s been a jinx to all of her late husbands; all of them have come into enormous wealth after marrying her, and each has died as a consequence of his fortune. The film then proceeds to give us a series of flashbacks chronicling each of the marriages.

Each of the episodes contained in her monologue has something of interest, and the film manages to keep a fairly brisk level, yet when it’s all over something seems to be missing. The problem is not really potential but performance; J. Lee Thompson’s direction manages to deliver the script, but the function is performed as if he were handling a lifeless product. There is a would-be parody of some kind of movie, for example, that appears in each of the :episodes; part of each section is played out in the “style” of the silent movie, the musical, the expensive-budget movie, and so. on. But only the externals of the these forms are recognized, and in the end we are given only bad examples of the genres rather than incisive parodies of them.

Good Neighbor Sam goes on for much too long, but thanks to Jack Lemmon, Romy Schneider, Edward  Andrews and others, a great deal of it turns out to be funny. Lemmon is presented once more with the role of the innocent, law-abiding family man thrown into embarrassing situations, and once again he does an able job with it.

By masquerading as the husband of Romy Schneider in order to help her gain an inheritance, Lemmon is forced to shuttle back and forth between his own house and the one next door. An additional entanglement oecurs when he is obliged to present himself as a respectable family man to one of his advertising firm’s clients (Edward G. Robinson). Outside of the suburban locale, which takes up the bulk of the picture, much of the action takes place in and around San Francisco; and there is one particularly wild ride taken through the city by Lemmon and Louis Nye which is well worth seeing.

Pietro Germi’s Seduced and Abandoned is advertised and billed as a comedy, but for most of its running time, the audience’s laughter seems to come more out embarrassment than out of amusement. There is a certain similarity between this film and Germi’s earlier Divorce Italian-Style, insofar as a major sector of Sicilian life is thrown up for ridicule in each.

The principal target of Seduced and Abandoned is Sicilian honor – specifically, what a father is driven to do in Sicily in order to preserve the illusion of his daughter’s virtue. Much of this makes for high comedy that is every bit as sharp as Germi’s earlier film; but whenever humor fails to satisfy Germi’s appetite for protest, he doesn’t hesitate to proceed directly to pathos. By the end of the movie, there is so much general misery throughout the Sicilian’s family that the very idea of comedy seems to be an anomaly. Perhaps, as far as the film’s point is concerned, this method makes good sense; but one cannot really accept the finale without being disconcerted by the comic scenes that preceded it.

In many respects, Seduced and Abandoned is an extremely well-made movie, and by this criterion it can be recommended far more than either of the films mentioned above. But the spectator would be advised not to go with the expectation of seeing a comedy. –- Jon Rosenbaum

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