Whistle Down the Wind
A defense of folly, the faith of children blind and worthless though it is has an enormous protector in the person of Christ, who articulated it. Therefore these Lancashire farm children, who mistake a wanted murderer for Jesus come again, succeed in moving his stony heart to throw away his gun and go peacefully.
There is abundant satire in this, especially as devised for the grand sequence at the middle of the film. The children enter the churchyard and are directed to an ices-and-sweets shop where the vicar is alone at table. They question him about Jesus but his main thought is on God’s wrath concerning thieves and tithes, a question of pilferage from the church.
Ibbetson’s cinematography is among the finest, affording such views of the north country as have rarely been seen.
The L-Shaped Room
Like Whistle Down the Wind, a satire that failed to find an adequate reception, hence its declining critical fortunes, from “touching story” to “episodic”, “failed” and “dated” with English reviewers. The closest thing to it is Lumet’s Bye Bye Braverman, an inestimable film on the last who shall be first.
French girl (Leslie Caron) laid by a striving British actor awaits the baby in a London boarding house, surrounded by various types (Tom Bell, Brock Peters, Avis Bunnage, Cicely Courtneidge, Patricia Phoenix, Bernard Lee, also Emlyn Williams and Gerald Sim).
The material is patently from John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger and Shelagh Delaney’s a taste of honey as filmed by Tony Richardson, the conclusion is she takes the infant home to France, having inspired this work in the form of a short story that “lacks an ending.”
Bernard Shaw’s five rejected novels give a cameo performance. The screenplay outvies any in its charming frankness, a response to John Guillermin’s The Crowded Day, if you like.
Seance on a Wet Afternoon
Some critics have claimed to identify a formal problem without exerting themselves in analysis, even the Monthly Film Bulletin must have had a deadline to meet. Crowther awoke refreshed by his 99-film sleep and enjoyed himself thoroughly.
The gag of the whole film, Mrs. Sludge Kidnaps ‘Er, is altogether so grand that formal misgivings are not only swept aside but on closer inspection really do not exist at all. It should be obvious that the phony medium kidnaps herself, and that her husband’s boisterous ransom maneuvers are the criminal element in his loving and begrudging accessory to fraud.
Attenborough’s makeup and mien somehow combine Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, Kim Stanley also has a double appearance between Jeanne Moreau and Gena Rowlands.
The most strikingly pathetic aspect is the medium’s childish longing to please. The direction is exceedingly sure, right down to the little victim of all this imposture, a bonny English lass.
Patrick Magee’s authoritative Superintendent doesn’t make the critics’ mistake here and there but goes straight to the source.
Variety and the MFB say Forbes shot his central London sequence with hidden cameras (Pasco is onstage in The Private Ear & The Public Eye, Schlesinger’s Billy Liar is at the cinema).
Allied soldiers in a Japanese prison camp for the duration, thus seen by a repulsed Crowther. The Anglo-American alliance, on another level. A specific delineation of circumstances, a specific delimitation of time (given above), engendering his reign.
Finally, by dint of his economy, founded on Jap expropriation of the prisoners’ food and medicine, a specific identity with the Axis war machine. Any of these views is dramatic and consequential, especially the penultimate. Many of the features go into Schaffner’s Papillon, particularly the vermin. Direct influences number among them Brook’s Lord of the Flies, Stevens’ Shane, the East Side Kids (Sgt. Bilko, Top Cat), Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai, Wilder’s Stalag 17, and Reed’s The Third Man, in various ways often humorous and remote.
The Wrong Box
A profoundly difficult and fiendishly intricate satire on the two parties in England, each the recipient of a tontine bonanza should the other brother die.
All the sharp problems resolve to this, with a triple measure of stylistic complexity having at its still centerpoint something like Wilde’s placidity (according to the period), along with a definite homage to Quine’s The Notorious Landlady for the finale, and a sense of humor related to Tourneur’s The Comedy of Terrors.
It likely cannot be understood perfectly at a single viewing (Truffaut insisted on seeing a film thrice before reviewing it, else he would issue an apology to his readers), wherefore the critics may be excused.
An “old bird”, her son’s a thief, she can’t trust a lady in the street, her husband’s a bum gone twenty years, once back he’s off again with a bag of rackets money. “Poor old bitch,” says he. This has been curiously misunderstood from the start as a plea for old age assistance, when you see she has it all along, bare but not dry. “I haven’t any money,” she says like a girl again, the National Assistance will do something.
No, there is something else about the film, all that plot that Roger Ebert felt was “unworthy” of her plight as narrowly depicted. The cinematography is famously beautiful, the cast much admired, Edith Evans (bird), Ronald Fraser (son), Eric Portman (husband), and so on.
A jealous wife. “I’m her Cuba, she’s my Bay of Pigs.”
A raid on this millionaire. His safe is empty, his diamonds are in the chandelier, as at the end of Hitchcock’s Family Plot.
But first, a trial run, bringing another safe down to the getaway car, coincident with a concert performance of the Romance for Guitar and Orchestra “by the English composer John Barry”, conducting.
The mastermind is a queer with a checkered past in the polizei of the French Occupation. His wife is the daughter of a failed marriage.
The cat burglar goes to a clinic to take the cure and meet the millionaire. The mastermind gives him a dossier instead. At this point, having trodden alongside Forbes on a seemingly parallel course, critics suddenly realized they were lost without a map. The blame for this was placed on the director.
The scene is Spain, with a gag concerning Neame’s The Man Who Never Was. Michael Caine (Clarke), Giovanna Ralli (Fé), Eric Portman (Moreau), against Salinas.
The Madwoman of Chaillot
The grass-widow countess (Katharine Hepburn) summons the Cour des Miracles to try in absentia a new French oil cartel, found guilty and subsumed by her lowermost cellar. In the course of these proceedings, a radical tool of the cartel falls in love with a café waitress.
The film is intended to provide a restorative against critical misconceptions of The Whisperers, and Edith Evans is here to judge, in the role of another madwoman, one of a coterie.
Der Rosenkavalier (dir. Robert Wiene or Paul Czinner) will be seen to have a place in all this, but not by the very critics it was offered to, pearls before swine.
The extraordinary set at La Victorine directly adjoins the Seine and appears as it should in Je Vous présente Paméla for Truffaut’s La Nuit américaine.
Danny Kaye’s ragpicker acts out the defense in propria persona ideally. John Gavin apes Billy Graham on the dais, Yul Brynner is the corporate billionaire, Charles Boyer his stockbroker, Paul Henreid a complicit general, Donald Pleasence the finder of oil beneath Paris (and uncle to the radical), Oskar Homolka a complicit commissar.
Margaret Leighton is one of the coterie, also Giulietta Masina. Richard Chamberlain and Nanette Newman are the lovers.
Let the dead bury the dead, at least.
The Stepford Wives
Two slatterns from Manhattan, “Gothamites”, take on faux suburbia.
From Ira Levin, the theme of a vague young married woman’s paranoia is close to Rosemary’s Baby (Canby calls it an “adaptation” of the earlier film).
Goldman’s screenplay achieves a Jekyll & Hyde split to carry the theme, which is eventually resolved by maintaining an outside point of view.
Antonioni’s L’Eclisse and Il Deserto rosso are very similar in their droll satire of women adrift. The rich, lustrous filming takes it all in hand. The cagey style of the writing is a pox on both your houses tinged with madness, and even includes a magician’s trick, the knife that doesn’t kill.
The argument between the ungovernable woman and the “pretty pet” was laid down in The Taming of the Shrew (dir. Franco Zeffirelli). Critics have tended to regard The Stepford Wives from an insupportable position and then complain it doesn’t work properly.
the Slipper and the Rose
Poor Cinderella is so unheard-of at court that she is sent into exile discreetly and as tactfully as possible, the facts of the situation being explained to her with great care by the Lord Chamberlain (Kenneth More). The Prince is a duteous son but no trifler, and Cinderella has the ministrations of her supernatural chaperone, who earlier summons the mice to her pumpkin coach in a long shot at a crane position to ballet steps in costume like Tales of Beatrix Potter (dir. Reginald Mills).
Costume design figures strongly in creating atmosphere by way of a color scheme imparted to the eighteenth-century gowns and coats like Edith Head in a dream. Cinema magic is done first by cutting back to Cinderella’s chore-laden kitchen now spic-and-span and brimming with freshly-peeled and cut vegetables, later by hocus-pocus when the camera’s back is turned.
Evidently an allegory related to the theme of Schlesinger’s Yanks, if it is not to be taken as a wager on yanking Vincent Canby’s leg in vain.
The Naked Face
A shrouded figure in a graveyard, a psychoanalyst in Chicago, patient murdered, office ransacked and secretary murdered, a police grudge against him for expert testimony, a capo who wants him dead for professional reasons. The winnowing of all this to a bare conclusion (the grudge is a ploy) explains the title.
Amusing consultations akin to Sekely’s in Hollow Triumph and Huston’s in Freud are a feature of Forbes’ screenplay.