Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 30, No. 1. 1967.
The holiday film season — an execrable selection
The holiday film season — an execrable selection
This time last year I was able to report on some nine films which had impressed me during the vacation. This feat, alas, cannot be repeated here. Formerly one could have relied on outlying theatres to provide some relief. but over the last three months the film fare in suburbia and city alike has been—to be generous—execrable. The distributors have apparently deluded themselves into thinking that at holiday time the public wants trivia, and this they have provided in abundance.
There were a few return seasons of note, most of. them provided by Harry Griffith, who continues to give excellent service with his two independent theatres. Antonioni's La Notte and Dnlton Trumbo's (dir: David Miller) pseudo-anarchist testament. Lonely Are The Brave, were the standouts, the latter featuring Kirk Douglas' at his best in one of his more subtle Ned Kelly roles. There was the usual quota of Roger Cormans, including his beautiful Masque Of The Red Death, and addicts have assured me that Vadim's Blood And Roses was worth a look.
Typical of American low-budget filmmaking at its best was The Strange One, directed by Jack Garfein (Carroll Baker's husband, for the benefit of the pulp readers). This odd film tells the story of a sadist (Ben Gazzara) in a southern military academy—his encounter with two freshmen and his ultimate humiliation. The script is stuffed with some of the most quirkish pieces of dialogue I have ever heard. Especially delightful are the deadpan insults delivered by Gazzara, who gives a quite remarkable performance. This altogether superior film makes one wonder why Garfein has only made one other (Something Wild, with Ralph Meeker and Mrs. Garfein).
Of the new releases, The Best Man was outstanding. Aided by master photographer Haskell Wexler and a band of first-rate actors, director Franklin Schaffner (Woman Of Summer and The War Lord) has taken an intelligent, witty script by Gore Vidal and made from it a politically shrewd, sophisticated and memorable film. It outlines the conflict between two men jockeying for nomination as Presidential candidate of a political party—Joe Cantwell a better-dead-than-red Goldwaterite, and William Russell, an intellectual liberal of the Adlai Stevenson type. Although the film incorporates some documentary material from an American convention. Schaffner concentrates, for the most part, on the personal aspects of the contest and the dirt and smears thrown up by it.
Schaffner's directorial style clearly derives from TV. and is reminiscent of John Frankenheimer's work in The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days In May. Like Frankenheimer, too, he has a way with actors. Best performance comes from Henry Fonds, who, like his elders. Tracy. March and Robinson, seems incapable of bad acting. Shelley Berman comes over with an oddball caricature of obscene proportions, and Lee Tracy as the ageing president, like Walter Huston in The Treasure Of Sierra Madre, delivers a piece of likeable ham that in some quarters has been mistaken for great acting. The Best Man was one of the best films of the vacation, but I have a feeling that many students missed it.
Joseph Losey's Modesty Blaise, apart from a lew delicious moments and Dirk Bogarde, was. I though, a crass bore. I had high hopes for his much-acclaimed King And Country, finally screened in Wellington alter an interminable delay (the film was released in Britain over two years ago). This wax by far the better film of the two, but the fact that I found it disappointing probably shows up the dangers in expecting too much of an established favourite director. I think there are two reasons why this film is ultimately a failure. Firstly, the sure control that was Losey's in The Servant seems to be missing from King And Country. In the earlier film "Losey's control of camera placement and movement in relation to interior decor Is particularly good" (to quote myself) but in King And Country, where a claustrophobic atmosphere is of similar importance, his camera-work is pedestrian, almost static.
Secondly, the theme and argument of this film seems to be old hat. It has been done better, notably in Kubrick's masterpiece The Paths Of Glory. What really tips the scales, however, is the fact that the dice is so heavily loaded in favour oi Private Hamp. As played by Tom Courtenay, Hamp is the epitome of saintly innocence. No wonder. then, that his ordeal and its outcome seems trite. Give me a war film where the man on trial for his life is a cunning, conniving bastard who has deliberately and maliciously schemed to desert his fellows. Then see the audience struggle with its conscience and question its morality. This fault is common to all such films with liberal pretensions—the heroes being ground under by the state, the military, or whatever, are always resurrected Christs and not normal, indecent, fallible people.
As in the first column last year, I will conclude on a note of high praise for Dirk Bogarde. In King And Country he adds to his ever-growing list of magnificent performances. I presume Courtenay acts well, but since I have disliked every character he has played since the Long Distance Runner. I can't really say.
One to watch out for: Seconds, directed by Frankenheimer, with Rock Hudson.