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Salient: Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 7. 1969.

Films — Safe Way to Ride High


Safe Way to Ride High

You've got to hand it to Columbia Pictures. In churning out a welter of middlebrow "safe" films it is riding high in profits. Two years ago A Man For All Seasons swept the Oscar list, last year To Sir, With Love and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner topped the box-office lists. This year Oliver! has taken six awards (symbol of Establishment approval) and Barbra Streisand has won one for Funny Girl, coming soon. And now making equally big money is Carl Foreman's Mackenna's Gold.

Yet none of these films is of particular note none of them have branched into any new field, nothing offensive, just right for the big audience. Mind you, Columbia does turn out the odd exception, the best recent example being Anthony Mann's last film A Dandy in Aspic, which put new life into the flagging spy genre.

The raves for Oliver! escape me. Enjoyable though it was in parts, its pretty-pretty songs, the sentimental comparison between the misfortunes of squalor and the pleasures of luxury, the good wholesome characters and the hammy villains palled. Carol Reed's direction injected a bit of life into some of the more extensive musical items, notably in the great mobility of his crane work (a feature also present in Mann's direction). The acting wasn't bad, but only Jack Wild as the Artful Dodger put any gusto into his performance. The colour camerawork inside the studio for the scenes of low-life were heavy and artificial, the parkside sequence light, frothy and equally unreal.

Oliver's popularity is obvious but the overall reception suggests a distressing trend.

* * *

Few would have many doubts about how bloody terrible Mackenna's Gold is. Instead of seeing a travelogue in the supporting programme it has been transferred to the first 15 minutes or so of the feature. Great vistas of the Grand Canyon yawn before one. When some hick sings a suitably hick song, the credits finally disappear, there is a suggestion that something is going to happen. It could have happened in 10 minutes, but it didn't. Another thing, 70mm'prices for a 35mm version is grossly exhorbitant.

Good ole Greg Peck, after pecking off an ole Injun chief, burns the map showing a canyon made of gold. He is soon beset by a little band boasting Omar, he's making eyes . . . Thus begins, finally, the saga of the gold of Mackenna. Shortly afterward we meet what brought most of us along— the chance to glimpse Lee J. Cobb, Keenan Wynn, Edward G. Robinson, Eli Wallach and Anthony Quayle. One way to make a big picture with lots of stars is to hire an actor for a few days and then let him go. Foreman oversteps himself. As "guest-cum-bit parts" this particular effort beats them all.

Anyway, once they've been gotten rid of there's a little bit where Telly Savalas does his usual villain-you-love-to-hate act (even cutting his head while shaving it). His come-uppance comes later.

All of which leaves Omar and Greg with an Indian and two broads. One of them, Julie Newmar (last seen as the ultimate solution in L'il Abner), has a scar on her face and does underwater acrobatics as the Boy on the Dolphin could never do. Her big scene (that it is totally irrelevant could point to Foreman's seeing too many foreign movies) must be the cutting-room footage From The Private Life of Henry VIII. Once over and done with (those who remember Playboy's spread can forget it) we undergo more agonising moments as each foetal ideal takes its first faltering steps, then drops to be replaced by yet another and another host of bad uns. Such plethora prompted a colleague to utter the refrain "Why not?" as each clambered over its fallen predecessor.

The climax turns out to be sub-Haggard, even Ursula Andress did better down south in Omar's land, except the models may be teeny bit bigger. The farce isn't, however, and still the cliches come big and as dangerous as ever. The gold's thar all right but it be fool's (the only character Foreman omitted was Walter Brennan, and I'll never forgive for it, or anything else).

* * *

Turning askew slightly, the only other current film under review is the last of the "A" certificate "Carry ons'. Lavatories are good for reading in (Henry Miller), writing in (Bureess's Enderby), and according to Rogers-Thomas-Rothwell, for having a laugh-in. Staggering as it may stum, the nerve-ending deluge of single-entendres (there's certainly nothing ambiguous) prop up this rather pathetic vehicle extremely well. Production values have improved somewhat, but Carry On Doctor (I.F.D.) is little more than a remake of Carry On Nurse. I laughed of course, but there appeared to be a loss of verve compared with Carry On Cowboy (the first through the sex barrier—the latest. Carry On Camping, threatens to end it) but enough of the formula is present to spread the essence out a little further.

Despite effete Kenneth Williams, it is solidly heterosexual, thus overcoming one aspect which may have lead to the recent decline in popularity. When you combine Harrison Marks with Emergency Ward Ten, I suppose you can't miss, and Doctor certainly isn't short of customers.

* * *

Of other recent films that have passed through 100 Rifles (20th Century-Fox) was interesting in that the director of Will Penny, a moderately successful western of a subdued nature, has turned to full blood and guts in a story of the Mexican Revolution (yes, another: Mexico insists there be plenty of Mexicans in Westerns so Hollywood doesn't have to make them all in Spain). In any case, 100 Rifles was made in Spain and featured Hollywood's answer to the, British combination of 007 and la Bardot—The Body and that Big Nigra Boy. Jim blows up a train and plenty besides, while Raquel stops a train with a shower. Routine but enjoyable plus a few new touches of sadism just to show Leone and company that all isn't going their way.

Brief notes—recommended viewing: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Twentieth Century Fox) is another good film from 20th-Fox in Britain, while next Sunday at the Princess will be the Clive Donner film of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker. Bring your ID cards for concession. Film Society shows The Anniversary, a grand ghoulish comedy of perversion and tastelessness featuring the incomparable Bette Davis. Yet another well-produced one from British 20th-Fox, it has some of the best colour photography ever done in Britain. Screening next Wednesday at 8 in E006.