The Five Pennies

They have a value, assigned by song, dreaming, wishing, dancing, laughing, loving, in that sequence.

Dance bands, radio gigs with two guys in the booth who nix Bix, finally a tour that never ends, a daughter in boarding school.

Polio lays her out, the horn goes into the bay for a shipyard job (“No Experience Required”) that hacks the Axis till she can stand on her own two feet at a club on Ventura Boulevard, then Red Nichols belts it out.

A masterpiece by one of the cinema’s great directors. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times calls it “highly palatable schmaltz”, Halliwell’s Film Guide a “rags-to-riches success story”.



The technique of the screenplay and the direction is a recurring rhythm of gag, childhood aperçu, symbolic expression, farce structure, childhood drama, adult drama, it dices up the film into small quantities that carry it along.

Thus you have Cary Grant in a Laurel and Hardy, his kids, their crises and adventures as stages of experience, the main plot centering on “the way of a man with a maid” (Sophia Loren), the kids’ vicissitudes per se, and those of the adults.

Critics have never grasped this, and it made Crowther vituperative in his review, but it makes for a very enjoyable and original evening at the movies.

Shavelson has one great trick of panning from an official view of Washington to a comfortable hotel or a concert. The main effect of the structure is to absolve the past by including it in the present, so that his film is a kind of thinking machine full of vivid memories made actual.

Much depends on Donatello (Harry Guardino), who says, “what a party! You shoulda been there! Ya like broads?”


It Started in Naples

Viaggio in Italia (dir. Roberto Rossellini), leading to Avanti! (dir. Billy Wilder).

The main theme is Shelley, who after all wrote what he wrote.

The intricacy of the construction appalled the critics, who missed the cabaret satire (and the Presley ballad) amongst everything else.

A defense of the island, a romantic fascination, give way to something else.

The crucial point is De Sica’s speech in court assailing his client.

The most serious business in comedy, yet dismissed “in a laughing Mediterranean way.”

The character is an American, because Whistler v. Ruskin shares the theme.


The Pigeon That Took Rome

One of FDR’s, who had to overcome the distance to Anzio (Dmytryk’s film is the natural complement to this), a considerable impediment considered from top to bottom.

A terribly savage comedy in its plain implications, preserving decorum for decorum’s sake, no laughing matter if it comes to that.

“Haven’t you heard, sergeant? This is a very funny war.”

“A good-fun comedy” (Variety). Too rich for Halliwell’s Film Guide by halves, “heavy-going war comedy-drama” and so on, futilely.


A New Kind of Love

On the all-important basis of Dieterle’s masterwork Fashions of 1934, Paris.

Which is to say that 34th Street knockoffs meet shitsack newspaper columns in the City of Light, cf. the central anecdote of Daniel Petrie’s The Bramble Bush.

Title from Chevalier, Feast of St. Catherine, Cardin, Lanvin, Dior...

From this come variously What’s New Pussycat? (dir. Clive Donner) and Crimes of Passion (dir. Ken Russell), cf. Cukor’s Two-Faced Woman and Lubitsch’s Ninotchka. “No-one would ever direct her to the men’s room again.”

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times had no use for it or De Sica’s The Condemned of Altona or Resnais’ Muriel or Castle’s The Old Dark House or Carreras’ Maniac or Annakin’s Crooks Anonymous all on the same Halloween in Manhattan, “not especially funny.Time Out, “laboured, overdressed”. TV Guide, “tasteless farce.” Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “slickly artificial... lame contrivances... phony plot... largely unamusing and, at times, tasteless.Halliwell’s Film Guide, “very thin”.


Cast a Giant Shadow

“The first general of the army of Israel in two thousand years,” Mickey Marcus of Brooklyn.

Kibbutzim and refugees, “an army of schnooks” up against it for their very lives in 1948.

Col. Marcus is Pentagon planning, works with generals, West Point man, Dachau is his assignment.

Early military operations in the Negev and on the convoy route to Jerusalem.

Lean is cited from Lawrence of Arabia more than once to make the point.

A confused, often superficial critic, Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, noted a “confusing, often superficial biography”. The same goes for Tom Milne (Time Out Film Guide), “riddled with clichés and more than a bit silly.”

Halliwell’s Film Guide makes the sincerest effort to grasp Shavelson, “spectacular war biopic with all concerned in good form”, but his wit as usual prevents that from happening to any useful degree, “lacking the clarity and narrative control of a real smash.”

Another authority, Pauline Kael (The New Yorker), records “hours of incoherence and banality”.