COLUMNS

  • The Train, Bonnie and Clyde, Reflections in a Golden Eye, Point Blank

    The kooky thing about film acting is its uncontrolled, spilling over quality. The meat of any movie performance is in the suggestive material that circles the edge of a role: quirks of physiognomy, private thoughts of the actor about himself, misalliances where the body isn’t delineating the role, but is running on a tangent to it.

    Burt Lancaster’s stationmaster in The Train—a semi-reluctant fighter in the Resistance stationed in Nazi-occupied France—is an interesting performance because it has almost no center. Seven eighths of his time is spent occupied at work tasks, scrambling around the

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  • Le Départ, Made in U.S.A., Bariera, Mickey One, Puss & Kram, Darling

    If any symbolical figure appeared at the film festival in New York, it was the emergence of the Flat Man, a central character structured like a vapor, a two dimensional hat salesman, telephone operator, or decrepit dirt farmer who doesn’t appear to come from any relevant Past, and after aimless reels of time, there is no feeling that any Future is in sight.

    The only one who could be remembered with any clarity, with any sense of physical impact coming from the screen, was a sportscar fanatic, a late adolescent (Jean-Pierre Léaud) who gives shampoos and delivers wigs throughout Le Départ. With

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  • Don Siegel, Madigan, Coogan’s Bluff, and The Lineup

    Considering the automatic high coloring of his vermin, the anxious hopping around for the picturesque, the hokey scripts with worn-out capers and police-routine plots, why write about Don Siegel? Having made a few good modest-budget films—Baby Face Nelson, Flaming Feather with Presley, Return of the Body Snatchers—that aren’t shown in art theaters, he has been wrongly deified by auteurists, though he’s basically a determinedly lower case, crafty entertainer who utilizes his own violence to build unsettling movies with cheap musical scores that leave in their wake a feeling of being smeared with

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  • The New York Film Festival, My Nuit Chez Maud, Une Femme Douce, The Epic That Never Was, and Pierre and Paul

    In the type of multi-sensation circus that is the New York Film Festival, it is difficult to pin down the precise intellectual tone and incredible grace of Eric Rohmer’s Ma Nuit Chez Maud. What makes it so special is that it’s involved with a whole stratum of European culture that’s totally ignored in films: the intellectual Catholic living in the provinces. Constructed on the encounters of a single person in a new town, its pleasure comes from specificity: of time (Christmas), locale (a bustling job-prosperous town of narrow streets), geography (a wintry, sparse landscape), cast (an unimposing

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  • Duet for Cannibals, Adalen ’31, and Bob and Carol

    Susan Sontag’s Duet for Cannibals looks and feels like skimmed milk. An airless, room-locked, unusually adroit drawing-room comedy. A young man with the style and dress of an avant-garde painter is employed to catalog the life work of a political refugee. There is nothing convincing about his task, his employer’s career or the reason he and his girl are swallowed up by the powerful personalities of the two urbane, pompous vampires in an ultra-bourgeois house. The combination of a gutless spirit and sado-masochistic games (I kill you, you kill me and then we all get up and walk out the door)

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  • The Wild Bunch, Easy Rider, More, The Gypsy Moths, The Rain People, and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice

    The Wild Bunch has a virile ribbon image, often an aerial view, of border life in 1914 Texas, stretched across a mottled wide screen in which there are so many intense, frontal details—five kids marching in a parade with their arms linked, a line of bounty hunters riding straight at the camera—that the spectator’s store chest of visual information is constantly widened. Someone seems to have studied all the frontal postures and somber-sharp detailing in Civil War photographs, as well as the snap-the-whip, across-the-page-compositions that Homer often used as a perfect substructure for the

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  • The Red and the White and Faces

    In The Red and the White, a swift fresh air war movie about Czarists, Red Russians, and a band of Magyars who get tangled within the scythelike moves of both armies in a Hungarian border locale that has a grandiloquent sweep, there are a dozen actors with amazing skin tone, sinew-y health, and Brumel’s high-jumping agility in their work with horses. These actors have an icy dignity—they never mug, make bids for the audience’s attention, or try for the slow motion preening that still goes on in cowboy films. (Jack Palance in Shane, hanging over his saddle iron, spitting tobacco juice, menacing

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  • Pendulum, Bullitt, Coogan’s Bluff, Madigan and The Detective

    There’s no question that there’s a new crowd-pleasing movie around that has to do with a disenchanted cop, a city in which no corner is untainted, and an artichoke plot. Wrapped around a heart that is just a procedural cop story, police routines in Washington (Pendulum), San Francisco (Bullitt), Phoenix (Coogan’s Bluff), and Manhattan (Madigan and The Detective), is a shrubwork of Daily News stories, the whole newspaper from beginning to end: the sensationalism, sentimentality, human interest, plus some liberal editorials. Each film has its mini-version of the drug scene, investigating committees,

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