Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 30, No. 13. 1967.
Some good films shown recently
Some good films shown recently
The best films of the last two months have been quite exceptional. This fact, unusual in itself, is even more surprising when one considers the time of the year. Somewhere in the incomprehensible bureaucracy that is film distribution a trifle of good sense prevailed, and all was not candy floss trivia during school and university holidays. Among the better films were George Axelrod's weird sickle Lord Love A Duck, Roger Gorman's low-budget excursion into the deep South. The Intruder, and Funeral In Berlin. the second in what is obviously going to be a series. The most conspicuous disaster was Casino Royale, a bloated mess which should never have been made.
I was personally pleased to see a return season of Shane, one of my three or four favourite films and probably the best Western ever made. Peter Munz, writing in the Listener, has described the 'perfection' of Blow Up, but the term, if it means anything at all, would be better applied to Shane, a film which although less pretentious is within its own confines more successful. Taking a notable script by A. B. Guthrie, George Stevens fashioned a definitive, archetypal vision of the lone stranger who rides into trouble, sets it right and then rides out again—a familiar variation of the mystique.
It is pointless to outline here the virtues of the film or ennumerate its many magnificent scenes, but much can be made of the colour photography, greatly enhanced by the new print, and the compositons and groupings. Shane must be one of the best edited films of the sound period. It is the precision and Tightness' of the cutting which gives the film its tight construction and makes it so dramatically effective. There is a brilliant counterpoint of hero (Alan Ladd, beautiful in white buckskin) and villain (Jack Palance, all in black), and these symbolic opposites stand in contrast to those realistic pioneers Van Heflin and Jean Arthur. Brandon de Wilde hero-worships effectively and has been doing so ever since.
When Shane was released it signalled something like the end of an era so far as Westerns were concerned. Most of them since that time have been concerned with examining the motivations of the characters (Invitation To A Gunfighter, One Eyed Jacks) or their responses to a social predicament (Lonely Are The Brave, The Unforgiven), and the 'pure' qualities of the myth have been submerged in a flood of Freud-ianised moralising. Peckinpah's Guns In The Afternoon was a distinguished exception to this trend. Shane also represents the best work done by George Stevens. Prom this peak his course since has been steadily downward.
The situation seen in The Russians Are Coming is fairly predictable. A Soviet submarine runs aground on a small island off the coast of the United States. The people on the island and the Russian crew come to grips and, although initially at loggerheads, eventually find themselves on mutual ground of friendship and peace. At the end the sub sails out to sea, escorted by the locals in defiance of officialdom and the Cold War. The whole thing sounds like an excuse for a rousing display of tub-thumping liberalism, but the author and director have for the most part steered clear of such excesses. Apart from moments of gratuitous preaching between a Russian sailor and an American girl, the film is in no important sense an affirmation of 'The University Of Man' or any other such grandiose sentiment.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable comedy, a film which manages to be very funny, often tense, and sometimes genuinely moving. The writer is William Rose, previously responsible for Kramer's It's A Mad. Etc. World, and he provides here a stream of the kind of inventive lunacy which sparkled only occasionally in the earlier film. Director Norman Jewison does a splendid job with some fine colour photography and an unusually large quota of crane shots. Most of the scenes are well handled, especially the stirring moment when the submarine majestically enters the main harbour of the island. Another highlight has Rozanov (Alan Arkin) rehearsing a group of his men in 'please to get off the streets,' and there is a running gag about, a gormless old soak trying to saddle his horse.
Carl Reiner, Alan Arkin (nominated for an Oscar), Brian Keith and Theodore Bikel standout in an experienced cast. The characters are never insubstantial and this lends an air of reality to incidents which might otherwise be rejected as incredible. Thus the final confrontation between the two groups is quite gripping. Only a fortuitous accident involving a little boy (no. it's not as sick as it sounds) saves a situation which we clearly recognise as being potentially dangerous.
The local volunteers, led by a sabre-brandishing Paul Ford, look like types out of The American Rifleman or Guns And Ammo. If they remind us of the Minutemen then this is a serious note which provokes thought without detracting from the humour —something rare in a comedy. And since The Russians Are Coming is the first 'comedy' in a long time that is consistently funny. I welcome it with open arms and heap praise accordingly
A Man For All Seasons may not be the best film of the year but it is certainly more worthy than most others so honoured by the Academy of MPA&Sc. The film also provided Fred Zinnemann with his third 'Best Director' award. It has always seemed to me that Zinneman. like his British contemporary David Lean, is a highly competent 'academic' director. This is a vague way of saying that although he does the right thing most of the time he rarely shows the flashes of genius that illuminate the work of some other directors, whether they be as consistently competent or not. Still, I think that A Man For All Seasons competes with High Noon among Zlnnemann's better efforts.
To give an example of how variable this director can be: In the 'courtroom' finale one of Mbre's rebuttals is greeted by waves of laughter from the spectators, and Zinne-mann does a quick pan over their faces and figures. This is fair enough although perhaps something of a cliche. The trouble is that after a similar sally a few minutes later the camera movement is repeated and now it looks to me like a serious flaw. Yet earlier on in the film there is one superb image which expresses the concept of kingship in an eloquent and effective manner. More turns to look as he is greeted by Henry, and he, the camera and the audience see for an instant Henry's form silhouetted against the glare of dazzling sunlight. Zinnemann successfully captures what take to be the spirit and appearance of the period, and the struggle between More's conscience and the demands of society is forcefully expressed.
I am somewhat ambivalent about the central character as written by Robert Bolt and played by Paul Scofleld, in that I was never quite sure whether he was a heroic individual or a prig. Scofleld is a bit dry and dispassionate for my liking although he does come to life in the scene in the prison with his family. Leo McKern, Wendy Hiller, and Nigel Davenport are uniformly excellent, while Orson Welles has his best (but alas brief) part since he appeared in Compulsion. I found Robert Shaw's Henry an interesting interpretation, but too often this generally splendid actor sounded as though he was reading his lines rather than speaking them. Ted Moore's photography Is beautifully muted, giving the film the appearance of a well-preserved oil painting, and the music by Georges Delerue is outstanding. Questions of historical accuracy I leave to the appropriate department. A Man For All Seasons is not a great film, but it is undoubtedly a good one.
John Frankenheimer continues to be in the news. He is at present in Hungary filming The Fixer, a story of persecution in Czarist Russia. We are still waiting to see Seconds, described by The New Statesman as 'one of the most extraordinary films seen in London this year.' Frankenheimer's tribute to Formula One motor racing. Grand Prix, is the best new release of recent months. But more of this film another time.