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Bedtime for Bonzo

A dim sitcom of the kind Universal turned out by the dozens in the early 50s, distinguished—if that’s the word—by the presence of Ronald Reagan, as a college professor who hopes to prove his theories of child development by bringing up a chimpanzee as a human baby. The film is never quite as bad as […]

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Get Carter

Michael Caine stars as Carter, a London hood returning to his home in Newcastle to clear up some family unpleasantness in this 1971 feature. Directed by Michael Hodges (whose later collaboration with Caine, Pulp, proved to be much more satisfactory), with a flair for the wry evocation of genre conventions. Harold Pinter appears as a […]

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Mother

The force of this famous 1926 Russian silent is more mechanical than emotional, centered in the flashy, rhythmic montage techniques of director V.I. Pudovkin rather than in the development of his deliberately stereotypical characters. During the 1905 revolution, a mother (Vera Baranovskaya) hoping to protect her communist son (Nikolai Batalov) reveals the cache of arms […]

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Madame Bovary

Flaubert’s tale, rendered in a seldom-seen 1934 film by Jean Renoir. Eric Rohmer noted that the theatricality of the style is required by the self-conscious theatricality of the characters, particularly that of Bovary herself, the greatest self-dramatizer of literature. But Rohmer’s ingeniousness doesn’t quite explain away the general stiffness—deliberate, presumably, because it is so uncharacteristic […]

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Kameradschaft

G.W. Pabst’s 1931 film recasts an actual incident—a mine disaster on the Franco-German border in 1906—into a parable on international relations; the “little people” transcend their political differences in helping each other. It may be naive and sentimental, but Pabst’s filming packs a punch—the action is well-nigh irresistible. The pessimistic ending, in which the boundaries […]

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Romancing the Stone

Director Robert Zemeckis displays such dazzling cinematic know-how that it’s genuinely depressing when this 1984 film falls off into the usual self-ridicule. It sometimes seems that the main task of filmmakers in the 80s was to placate the smart-asses in the audience; Zemeckis wins them over through a plot (romance novelist stumbles into an adventure […]

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Glen or Glenda?

Ever since screenwriter David Newman wrote it up for a Film Comment article on his “Guilty Pleasures,” this grungy exploitation film from 1953 has been a staple of the underground screening circuits. The director, Edward D. Wood, was himself a transvestite (he boasted of wearing women’s underwear throughout his hitch in World War II), and […]

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Spoiled Children

Bertrand Tavernier’s 1977 film plays off the traditions of the French Popular Front cinema of the 30s; it’s a simply told, optimistic story of a group of high-rise tenants who come together to fight an exploitative landlord. Michel Piccoli plays Bernard, a film director who seems to have made many of Tavernier’s own films; he […]

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Romeo and Juliet

Franco Zeffirelli’s athletic production of Shakespeare’s love story stars Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, with Michael York as Tybalt. Garish and goopy—a kind of West Side Story reworked into its original form—with narration by Laurence Olivier (1968).

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Lumiere

Jeanne Moreau is the director, star, and, more or less, subject of this story about an actress and her circle of friends, all trying to cope with the problems of celebrity, feminism, and romance. Despite a murky narrative, it’s an interesting exercise in egoism (Moreau’s main influence seems to be Jerry Lewis), while for a […]

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The Stranger

Luchino Visconti stifles his operatic voice and prostrates himself before the altar of Camus. The result is a totally schematic vulgarization of Camus’ philosophical treatise in novel form. It’s not Visconti’s “fault” exactly, nor is it the fault of Marcello Mastroianni as Meursault. But Camus’ desperate either/or existentialism is perhaps better left not visualized.

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Beau Pere

A variant on the Lolita myth by Bertrand Blier (Get Out Your Handkerchiefs), with Patrick Dewaere as a philosophical nightclub pianist who finds himself with an amorous 14-year-old (Ariel Besse) on his hands. Though the film has a disturbing tendency to lay all the sexual aggression off on the girl (thus taking the male off […]

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The Bounty

Roger Donaldson’s film of the classic tale of discipline and revolt in the British navy (1984) is far better than its predecessors, despite the dim wattage of Anthony Hopkins (as Captain Bligh) and Mel Gibson (as Mister Christian). Robert Bolt’s screenplay was originally prepared for David Lean, and it contains a lot of Bolt-ish/Lean-ish disquisition […]