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The Natural

I’ve just about had it with directors who use the mythic mode as an alibi for unshaded characterizations, simpleminded plotting, and swells of artificial emotionality. Barry Levinson’s 1984 film preserves the Arthurian imagery of Bernard Malamud’s baseball novel while stripping away all its darkness and irony; what’s left is a sappy tale of youthful purity […]

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Irma La Douce

Billy Wilder’s soggy and uninspired 1963 adaptation of the hit Broadway musical, minus the songs. Shirley MacLaine stars as a Paris prostitute with a heart of gold who falls for a former policeman (Jack Lemmon) who winds up as her pimp and, in disguise, her only customer. A good example of how a movie can […]

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The Woman Next Door

Certainly the coldest film ever made about l’amour fou, Francois Truffaut’s 1981 production fails to satisfy emotionally but contains some of his most creative direction post-Jules and Jim. It’s a very studied, very formal work in which a tale of fatal attraction (betweeen Gerard Depardieu and Fanny Ardant) becomes a study of the contrasting implications […]

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The Year of Living Dangerously

Peter Weir’s attempt to make a Casablanca for the 80s—a romance set against a background of exoticism and intrigue—suffers from hazy plotting and a constant, pretentious mystification. The lovers—Mel Gibson as a naive Australian reporter and Sigourney Weaver as an employee of the British embassy, both caught up in the Indonesian political turmoil of 1965—have […]

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The Dresser

Director Peter Yates seems to have decided that the way to make a movie about the theater is to suppress every trace of the cinematic. His 1983 adaptation of Ronald Harwood’s play comes down to a scenery-chomping contest between Albert Finney, as a legendary Shakespearean actor on his last legs, and Tom Courtenay, as the […]

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The President’s Analyst

The 60s school of improvisational comedy is beautifully preserved in Theodore J. Flicker’s film, which pits LBJ’s shrink (James Coburn) against a plot for world dominance hatched by TPC (The Phone Company). The vague, shapeless paranoia of the period—a liberal distrust, rather than a radical disgust—is well conveyed through a series of barely connected skits, […]

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The Turning Point

Herbert Ross continues the venerable tradition of butting ballet and melodrama in a story of two old rivals (Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft) squabbling over the artistic soul of MacLaine’s daughter (Leslie Browne). The musical question, as always (cf The Red Shoes), is whether to dance or to love. For a film ostensibly dedicated to […]