Point Blank

The beginning and end of a partnership that transfers to corporate ownership (Multiplex Products Company), the beginning and end of that.

Cf. Byron Haskin’s I Walk Alone.

 

Hell in the Pacific

It should have been perceived at once that this film is more than what reviewers term the usual “fare” (it has something in common with Brook’s Lord of the Flies, for instance), and if it had been released after Deliverance, that might have happened.

Now you have two actors of such capacity with heroic direction on island and sea, with a fine score by Lalo Schifrin, and it has never received the attention that is its due.

Mifune was “an Oriental stereotype”, says Variety, and the New York Times looks down its nose.

East and West that never meet but rarely.

 

Leo the Last

The end of the empire in a nameless London cul-de-sac, the best case for an improved social order.

The inheriting scion, an abstemious bird-watching pacifist, discovers by patient observation that he is a slum landlord. He leads a rebellion on Guy Fawkes Night that achieves what the Blitz could not.

Jewison has the same flickering eye at the periscope in The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming, Lear the feeding scene with smokers in Cold Turkey. The group enlightenment in a swimming pool is a prevalent joke.

There is a right wing to this fowl, led by the estate agent who collects the rents from the pimp in the neighborhood.

The soundtrack is replete with voiceover commentary, catchphrases, song lyrics, bits of verse and conversation (cf. DeMille’s Unconquered). Suschitzky’s cinematography is made as wretched as possible throughout, in advance of the time.

Leo feasts a poor family like Scrooge at Christmas and kills the paterfamilias with kindness. The daughter is forced into prostitution, Leo hits upon his plan.

The basis of the metaphor and much of the film is Hitchcock’s Rear Window, this has not been observed by critics, of whom the most interesting in his nonsensical view has been Roger Greenspun of the New York Times, “the esthetics of commitment... a taste for profitable risk-taking”, and so forth.

The cul-de-sac in Mackendrick’s The Ladykillers, the house guest in Howard & Asquith’s Pygmalion, and the Guy Fawkes children in Richardson’s a taste of honey (by way of T.S. Eliot), have also gone unnoticed.

“A stunning but simplistic political parable” (Time). “Precarious fantasy” (Time Out Film Guide). “At best silly, at worst pretentious allegory and unsuccessful social comment” (Variety). “Infuriating symbolic fantasy” (Halliwell’s Film Guide).

 

 

Deliverance

James Dickey’s screenplay is a parlor trick of a sort, a transposition of Robbe-Grillet’s Le Voyeur (but cp. Anthony Mann’s The Naked Spur significantly), availing itself of at least the one complete model to fabricate a comprehensive satire of Atlanta types and Georgians in general, by way of finding their true character somewhere out behind the piney woods.

Its enormous artificiality is theatrically graduated for structural compression, and this is the key to Boorman’s remarkable technical accomplishment, the graduated approach to the river that is derived from Renoir (The Southerner), who got it from Griffith. That is to say, a complex apparatus of setups and sound registration put together as photographic record and location sound (regulated by focal range and ambience). In effect, the presentation of Deliverance in theaters was a signal triumph of cinema, a technical achievement executing a poetic idea and transcending itself as evocation.

It’s a rare thing to see a poet’s work onscreen. The vertical structure Dickey builds on his originals imparts well-rounded freedom to the actors, who give performances of almost evanescent subtlety, caught by Boorman and Zsigmond with unfailing mastery.

The last encounter with the mountain men is filmed in such a way as to suggest the possibility of a bad dream, the previous one ends with the funeral procession from Dali & Bu˝uel’s Un Chien Andalou and Alan Bridges’ The Shooting Party.

 

Zardoz

The great Stone Head that hovers over savages on horseback, disgorging firearms unto them in masses, bidding them to kill, is the sufficient image. A satire of the so-called intelligentsia, the undoubted beauty of which, for it is very beautifully filmed (Geoffrey Unsworth cinematography), puzzled the mind of Halliwell’s Film Guide, where it is described as a “pompous, boring fantasy for the so-called intelligentsia.The central thread of the argument is from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as a close parodistic analysis, other material is brought in from Schaffner’s Planet of the Apes and Pal’s The Time Machine and Dali & Bu˝uel’s Un Chien Andalou (projected crop report) and Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (a flashback giving the title), even Levy’s Herostratus inside the Tabernacle, the crystalline structure that rules the Eternals, one of whom raises up Exterminators to quell the Brutals of the Outlands, a conceit not far from Godard’s Alphaville. “No-one else wanted to run the Outlands. He’s an artist! He does it with imagination.Therein lies Enlightenment.

One of these Exterminators gains entry to the Stone Head, expels the “artist” and travels as a passenger to the paradisal Vortex whence it came, there the Outlands are something of a mystery. His name is Zed, the Britannic “Z”, he is played by Sean Connery, who in Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (dir. John Guillermin) refers to “that vaudeville act... Goering & Himmler.”

“Even supposedly ‘intellectual’ film-makers such as Antonioni, Bergman, and Fellini have succumbed occasionally to the occupational temptation of anti-intellectualism as a means of escaping Hamlet-like from their own passivity. But Boorman carries the self-hatred of the intellectual to ridiculous extremes, and he fails to implicate the viewer besides” (Andrew Sarris, Village Voice). “A glittering cultural trash pile” (Pauline Kael, The New Yorker).

The Stone Head also figures in Byron Paul’s Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N., and there is an interesting parallel in Marc Daniels’ Planet Earth. “The world was dying, we took all that was good, and made an oasis here.The joke basis of this future society with its subtly Egyptian flavor in the working costumes is Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, not to mention the fabled source in the Emerald City of Larry Semon and Victor Fleming (and King Vidor). Menzies’ Things to Come suggests the fruitless dichotomy of Apathetics and Renegades. Elio Petri undoubtedly recalls the final “havoc in the garden of beauty” at the end of Todo modo. For the ending, cf. Keaton in College (dir. James W. Horne) or to be sure Dali & Bu˝uel’s Un Chien Andalou.

Amusing references to the Bond films include the trapdoor slide from Gilbert’s You Only Live Twice (visibly out of Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai) and the projected “touch-teaching” sequence.

“Doesn’t offer satisfying answers” (Nora Sayre, New York Times). “An exercise in self-indulgence” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times). “A brilliant premise which unfortunately washes out in cinematic sound and fury” (Variety). “Cheap sci-fi flick” (Judith Crist, New York). “Pretentious sludge” (TV Guide). Needs a road map simply to follow the plot and sort out its intended parables” (Catholic News Service Media Review Office). “A mess of philosophical pottage” (Time Out Film Guide).

 

Exorcist II
The Heretic

Boorman opens with a flurry of images. The rustic church with its slatted walls is an evocative reminder of the painter’s studio in Orson Welles’ The Trial. There Father Lamont (Richard Burton) is conducting an exorcism which resembles The Night of the Iguana (dir. John Huston). The possessed woman incinerates herself, an image that only seems hard to place. Now Regan (Linda Blair) is seen rehearsing “The Lullaby of Broadway” from Gold Diggers of 1935 (dir. Busby Berkeley). Her therapy sessions with Dr. Tuskin (Louise Fletcher) naturally suggest The Miracle Worker (dir. Arthur Penn). It may be that Otto Preminger’s The Cardinal is cited later, Regan on the rooftop briefly evokes Georges Franju’s Les Yeux sans Visage, and there is a distinct if deceptive echo of Roy Ward Baker’s Quatermass and the Pit.

Exorcist II: The Heretic was made after Zardoz, not before, and yet everyone seems to have thought it was a shambles rather than a cryptogram of The Wizard of Oz. The two instances of self-immolation that occur reflect the fiery exit of The Wicked Witch of the West. Father Lamont’s pilgrimage, Dr. Tuskin’s trance machine (which is nothing but Professor Marvel’s crystal ball), and the locusts taking the place of the flying monkeys are all components of the cipher, which pleasant as it is only provides the basis for an articulation of the material that’s brilliant.

The construction is meticulous throughout. The open hoke of the trance machine is plainly defused by referring to Uri Geller as the setup to a delightful little gag. The polar shift from Iraq/Washington, D.C. to Ethiopia/New York City has the effect of dislocating the narrative just enough to allow for the theme and variations. Little Regan’s Statue of Liberty play at the close allays the locust attack. Louise Fletcher’s uncanny resemblance to Ellen Burstyn in the last scene, combined with Boorman’s dissolve on Regan possessed and “normal”, almost suggests a Bu˝uelian switcheroo.

Critics nowadays want nothing but characters they can “believe in” and stories they can imagine for themselves over popcorn by the fire. Anything more than that and our critics start to use words such as “thought-provoking”, which are no help to audiences who laughed themselves silly at Exorcist II: The Heretic (according to some reports). TV Guide takes a surprisingly charitable view, calling it “no masterpiece.”

 

Excalibur

English filmmakers can’t resist taking the piss out of certain overbearing American science-fiction productions. The Day the Earth Stood Still (dir. Robert Wise) gave us Devil Girl from Mars (dir. David MacDonald) and Stranger from Venus (dir. Burt Balaban), Mighty Morphin Power Rangers provoked Teletubbies.

Here the Arthurian legends are garbed in outfits sometimes resembling the critters in Quatermass and the Pit (dir. Roy Ward Baker), with music from The Ring of the Nibelungen (and Orff). It would not be too much to say that the result is undeniably bizarre, but for the audiences that drank at the fount of Star Wars, not even brazen blarney was too much—which is to say, it was filmed in Ireland, and then apparently taken at face value by Variety and the Edinburgh U. Film Society.

 

The Emerald Forest

This is a Tarzan film with Buster Crabbe, but resuming the whole series. Knowledge has been drawn from Penn’s Little Big Man, Donaldson’s The Bounty, Richardson’s The Border, and Hamilton’s Force 10 from Navarone. The Sacred Stones are found in the river like Excalibur, Edith Wharton’s “Xingu” comes to mind.

More than a masterpiece, several times more, because it only says what we have always known from Burroughs’ creation.

In the Amazonian jungle, the Invisible People and the Fierce Ones and the Termite People, who are building a dam.

Several critics have faulted the faultless narrative, some the very fine stylization, a few the overall dramatic tone. In a film as wildly enjoyable as this, they were put off.

 

Hope and Glory

Neville Chamberlain declares war, Dad joins up to do his bit like in the last one, only by the time he’s finished officer training he’s too old to take a commission, therefore he’s sent away from London to a base where he fights the Jerries with a typewriter and the rank of private.

His mate would have married the wife only he didn’t have a job, now he’s on a fiddle like most civilians, and taking her to hear Dame Myra Hess.

What with the raids and assorted crises, Dad garners so much compassionate leave that he’s assigned a post nearer home, “to fight the bloody war down there.Winston Churchill declares the end of the beginning.

“Entirely fictitious,” says the standard disclaimer.

 

Beyond Rangoon

You don’t know about Beyond Rangoon, without you have seen a film by the name of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The critics most assuredly hadn’t.

 

The General

Dublin’s master burglar and thief, who did a deal with the Loyalists and was murdered by the Republicans.

The fourth item in this main structure is the Irish policeman, “the best policeman in the world,” as Richard Boleslavsky says in Acting: The First Six Lessons. “He never sleeps on duty. He dreams wide awake. And the gangster has little chance.”

A game of pairs, “the general” and the policeman, the two factions, the wife and her sister.

Scorsese is instrumental in all this, Raging Bull for the hero (and the cinematography), Goodfellas for much of the dramatic construction.

The two main robberies glancingly suggest Richardson’s the loneliness of the long distance runner (the upstairs window) or perhaps Friedkin’s The Brink’s Job, and Wyler’s How to Steal a Million (Old Masters, the false alarm).

The majesty of the law has not time to make itself known before the killing, a “military necessity”.

 

The Tailor of Panama

It’s a setup and punchline, if you like, but what a setup, what a punchline, and what a middle range of subordinate materials cushions the devastating guffaw.

The opening greatly resembles the setup of His Girl Friday. Hawks has breathless Rosalind Russell about to be whisked off to Albany by Ralph Bellamy, and catches her starry-eyed glance in one close-up that’s the key to the whole business. Here, it’s the opening shot of MI6’s new building on the Thames, too absurd for words.

The rest of the scene is laid in Panama, a poor and corrupt nation latterly in possession of the Canal ceded by President Carter, who is caricatured as Gen. Dusenbaker of the Marines, anxious to get it back. “You are the Canal,” an operative tells the tailor’s wife, an American who works there.

The operative inveigles information from the tailor, who gives it first on a point of pride because the remnants or vestiges of resistance are sneered at, and then because he needs the money. There is no information, because there isn’t any “silent opposition”, but the operative inveigles a small fortune out of Washington via London, and the Americans get their air strike at least, before the tailor’s wife gets it all called off.

The script by several skilled hands is complicated, expressive, rapid and constantly quotable. Boorman’s direction is via Schlesinger in the versatile all-encompassing medium shot and the New Wave vaudeville touches. There is a subtle complexity in all the acting, which is partly put there by Boorman himself, having cast Pierce Brosnan, for example, as the operative both for the Bond satire and for his resemblance (deliberately evoked by Brosnan) to Fred MacMurray in Mitchell Leisen’s Panama film, Swing High, Swing Low (and if this is purely fortuitous, it’s a pure inspiration).

Boorman also has a little echo of Deliverance on the water, as well as a long, well-calculated joke on Casablanca, which is what Panama is, the tailor tells the operative, “Casablanca without heroes.”

An elaborate shot/reverse shot explains the operative’s girl in the embassy, as she’s reflected in an ornate mirror beside him, with the young political officer standing by the portrait of a lady on the embassy wall opposite.