Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33, No. 2 4 March 1970
To the National Government and rising prices, add another of life's dismal inevitables: a continuing decline in the standard of cinema attractions during the holidays.
Unfortunately I only left Wellington for a few days and landed up in Nelson. The choice there was even more diabolical: The Longest Day and The Battle of Britain each running in the same fortnight in the city's only theatres.
Meanwhile, in the Capital, things improved briefly during November when the chains used the "silly season" to unload a few embarrassments. Amalgamated went on a culture plunge before the roadshows camped down. The Plaza blazed off with a couple of strong pieces on military/social themes.
Rod Steiger let all stops out in The Sergeant (WarnerSeven Arts), as a man caught between the forces of an authoritarian complex and the inability to find expression for his emotional needs. His vague homosexual attraction to a soldier (John Philip Law) was suppressed in the interests of pride, which became twisted into a dominating possessiveness. The sergeant's self-destructive bent was not guilt about homosexuality, but was connected with his bowing to "weakness", something shameful to the military mind. If the acting was sometimes over-done and the message occasionally delivered with hammer blows, its moments of sensitive direction (by newcomer John Flynn) and careful photography made it one of the more thoughtful recent films.
The Long Day's Dying (Paramount) was even less inhibited, almost to the point of violent hysteria, as it followed the fortunes of three British soldiers trapped behind enemy lines. Charles Wood's script concerned itself in part with one soldier's dilemma of pacifist/professional killer mentality and in general dwelt on the horror of physical violence rather than the stupidities and futility of war (as in Wood's scripts for Charge of the Light Brigade and How I Won the War, the latter still unreleased in Wellington). At times Peter Collinson's direction showed a tendency to make as much as possible from every minor incident. Too often he underlined the obvious when subtlety was needed. But if he couldn't always control the special effects, he did extract some fine performances from his actors.
Baby Love (Avco Embassy-20th Century Fox) wasn't particularly good but it went about as far as one would want it to. A Lolita-ish teeny-bopper, possessed presumably with the curse of her dead mother (a rejected prostitute), moves in with the household of a former lover of her mother's who is now a respectable doctor. The girl soon sets things rolling when she awakens the wife's lesbian tendencies. The girl then sexually ridicules the son, and in one sequence is gang raped military-style in front of him, before she accidentally kills him in the shower. The doctor is not free from her advances either and she does her best to seduce him.
Vittorio de Sica's A Place for Lovers" (MGM) was a stylish but mindless glossy in which Faye Dunaway again showed off a flashy wardrobe, this time to impress Marcello Mastroianni.
Over the road, the Kings flowered with the sex-pot-comedy I Love You, Alice B Toklas, which featured Peter Sellers in a good role as the lawyer-cum-hippie along with a bevy of gags and a delicious performance by Leigh Taylor Young. Unfortunately Alice was struck down by the prevailing morality on drugs and the censor found little amusement in pot cookies and consequently went to work with the scissors.
The year's most under-rated film. The Gypsy Moths, did a box-office sky-dive thanks to MGM's total lack of confidence in it. Perhaps Metro, a company which can ill afford to throw away any film, was so relieved at ending John Frankenheimer's contract it couldn't wait. Frankenheimer is one of the many directors whose films are being released out of sequence in Wellington. His two previously made films for MGM (The Extraordinary Seaman and The Fixer) have yet to be seen.
True to form, Frankenheimer turned what could have been just an ordinary action film into strong drama. The sky-diving sequences are excellent and Burt Lancaster gives an assured performance resembling that of The Swimmer. Frenkenheimer's handling of nudity was more confident than in Seconds, ranging from a very lady-like Deborah Kerr in the buff to the seedy bosomy go-go tart of Sheree North. The small-town mid-West setting spoke volumes about the type of society which gives full backing to Nixon and the Bible.
The Lido continued to alternate between art and crap, with the former getting a good run early on. Truffaut's Stolen Kisses (United Artists) was another screened out of sequence in the director's career, though the fate of The Bride Wore Black (United Artists) is no fault of Amalgamated's. Stolen Kisses continued the quasi-auto-biographical story begun in 400 Blows, taking it on past adolescent love to include a brief Mrs Robinson-style affair. The whole piece was charming if unevenly strung together. Truffaut's quirkish tricks were again evident but the humour was captivatingly appealing.
The David O. Selznick season revived the sprawling, extravagant classic Duel in the Sun and some good vintage Hitchcocks, of the which the best Notorious, wasn't a Selznick at all. Louis Malle's Thief of Paris (United Artists) was a sophisticated tum-of-the-century tale of a slick gentleman anarchist burglar (a suave Jean-Paul Belmondo— who never got caught. Sidney Lumet's The Appointment (MGM) was a Belle de Jour/A Man and a Woman hybrid in which the green-eyed monster chomped its way through acres of mise-en-scene. Lumet s two previous films (it's no longer a trend but a disease), both made for Warners — Seven Arts (Bye, Bye Braverman and The Seagull), have yet to be released.
Kerridge-Odeon, battling to release a huge backlog of films, really got things moving down at the Embassy after Funny Girl departed. Following up Isadora, Universal provided the lively, spectacular musical Sweet Charity which made a welcome change from the usual overbudgetted bombs. Shirley MacLaine and director Bob Fosse showed how musicals ought to be made and turned out the best since West Side Story — a three-week season was far less than it deserved.
Sidney Poitier rejoined the human race after his long sojourn in never-never land with his militant role in the thriller The Lost Man (Universal). It's good to see that a studio whose American production is based mainly on formula TV action melodrama can move with the times to the extent that it will back something like this on racialism and violence. Word is that Poitier felt the original was too strong and would hurt his image but, even with the cuts he ordered. The Lost Man still came over hard and fast.
Goodbye Columbus (Paramount) hit the market just at the right time: when people would rather think about sex and summer than exams. Director Larry Pcerce (The Incident) knew where to place the emphasis: liberal sprinklings from Philip Roth's novella, plenty of beautiful Ali McGraw and an irreverence which made it seem so easy to be entertaining.
The Embassy rounded off the year with The Wild Bunch (Warners-Seven Arts), a western of such magnificence and violence that Sam Peckinpah can assure himself of a glowing place in the cinema pantheon. Using a thoroughly professional cast of veterans, Peckinpah crafted an action spectacular which leaves all the others way behind.
The shocking thine at the Embassy, however, is its penny-pinching policy of showing films intended for 70mm in 35mm when 70mm equipment is on hand. No concession for the patrons tnough: you pay the inflated prices but don't see the big-screen original.
At the Majestic, an early release was given to Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West (Paramount) in which the fatner of the Italian sagebrush sagas acquired the big-budget, big-star, big-story carte-blanche only to have it trimmed down to just over two hours, thus destroying a lot of the film's continuity. But with Henry Fonda, Jason Robards and Charles Bronson on hand, Leone's West still had the mark of an original, even if he has learned the hard way that while big budgets may make better films in some cases, they also make studios more nervous.