The World, the Flesh and the Devil
The heraldic emblem of all critics is the curate’s egg, “good in parts”. The film is blamed for a second half not so good as the first, the affair has not been followed.
A very interesting construction in the initial scene has Ralph (Harry Belafonte) inspecting a coal mine for seepage, he finds it, there is a cave-in, he’s pinned under a beam but extricates himself. Five days of audible rescue efforts cease without result, he makes his way to the surface unaided, only to find a world unpeopled by radiation poisoning (radioactive sodium isotopes released in the atmosphere after a UN walkout, the danger lasts five days). “End of the World”, screams a newspaper headline.
This scene accounts for the noli me tangere and the dénouement of a film that always elicits a sigh of disappointment from critics instead of a shudder of recognition. Ralph saves things, “that’s why I’m alive”, Picasso and Modigliani line the walls of his extemporized apartment, two painters most influenced by African art. He gets a generator going, lights a New York city block and climbs a skyscraper stairwell to admire the view. His rival Ben (Mel Ferrer) is the captain of a craft called Little Tramp, a sort of sophisticate at the piano of a Manhattan drawing room. These two fight at the latter’s insistence over Sarah (Inger Stevens), until Ralph outside the UN building is reminded of swords and plowshares, unarmed he faces down Ben, the three walk up an empty avenue together (cp. the earlier shot of Ralph and Ben arguing across a Modigliani Portrait of a Woman in the background).
Fortunately, we have Eastwood’s The Eiger Sanction for a key to this film in the relationship of artist and teacher rendered equals by mastery, and there is Zeffirelli’s Tea with Mussolini for the conflict as well.
The similarity of Rozsa’s score to Lust for Life is thus accounted for.
The writer with a career and no money or fame, unable to write. The new Bohemians and their strange, amusing world, another dead end. The fruition of their meeting.
A useful gloss on Tennessee Williams, from The Glass Menagerie (dir. Irving Rapper) to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth (dir. Richard Brooks). The essential dilemma is that of A Fine Madness (dir. Irvin Kershner), the structure that of Rebel Without a Cause (dir. Nicholas Ray), a taste of honey (dir. Tony Richardson) as well.
Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour is practically cited, and Peppard at once follows with Breakfast at Tiffany’s (dir. Blake Edwards) to leave the matter in no kind of doubt.
A.H. Weiler of the New York Times, “colorless potpourri”. Variety cites Previn’s score as “the outstanding aspect of the film.” Leonard Maltin assigns the blame, “MGM was not the studio for this one.” Ruttenberg’s views of North Beach in Panavision and Technicolor deserve mention. Time Out, “hypnotically abominable.” TV Guide, “would have been better left on paper.” Halliwell’s Film Guide, “boring oddity”.
From the same screenwriter, All the Fine Young Cannibals (dir. Michael Anderson), he gives here the title of MacDougall’s next film.