Woman of the Year. Early in the movie, Katharine Hepburn raises her skirt above her knee and shows her long, long leg, enough to drive sane men crazy. Her beauty hit the transcendent point in this movie. Before she had been coltish and jagged, but with Women of the Year she entered a new class which she shares with no one. (When I think of her, I quell.) This was the first of her movies with Spencer Tracy. Their later works were wittier and smoother, but nowhere did the chemistry match the sexiness of this first picture which was made by MGM in 1942. Hepburn found the script by two young writers and tricked the knish-like despot who ran the studio, Louis B. Mayer, into paying a huge sum for the rights by inferring that it was by the unfailingly successful team of writers Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. (They were under contract to another studio and, Hepburn suggested, couldn't sell a script under their own names.) Mayer bit and the screenplay by Michael Kanin and Ring Lardner Jr. went into production with the two baby authors making bundles and Hepburn taking an agent's cut. The film was a huge success and the screenplay won an Academy Award for Kanin and Lardner. The movie is legendary for many reasons, some of which have to do with the famous love affair between Tracy and Hepburn. The acting is superlative, beautiful really, and its precision and passion match the act of two professionals discovering that they mesh. This is being shown in a women's series, and although it is a wonderful movie, it is doubtful that it says anything significant or intelligent about women's rights or feminism or any of that stuff. One would be hard-pressed to impose those sort of ideas on it. It's strength is elsewhere. Spencer Tracy, by the way, was the greatest American film actor and that includes Katharine Kepburn or anyone else you'd care to name.
Gaslight. One of George Cukor's stylish pieces of work and Ingrid Bergman's first Academy Award. The important work here, however, is done by a young saucy girl named Angela Lansbury who made her film debut in this. The picture is about a sadistic fellow and his bride. Twelve stars.
Sabotage (1936) is by far the best of the lesser known British Hitchcocks--those which are shown less frequently than the 39 Steps or The Lady Vanishes. Sabotage Is Hitchcock's version of Conrad's The Secret Agent (not to be confused with Hitchcock's The Secret Agent, which in fact has nothing to do with the Conrad novel, as well as being a bomb to be avoided at all costs despite the claim that it is Hitchcock's favorite of his British films, oft-repeated in unscrupulous advertising.) Sabotage must also be distinguished from Saboteur, an American film Hitchcock did during the Second World War, which features a great duel-to-the-death atop the torch of the Statue of Liberty, prefiguring the brilliant kitch Americana of the Mt. Rushmore scene in North Dy Northwest. Among the gems in Sabotage are Oscar Homolka as a magnificent agent of foreign powers and an undisclosible suspence sequence in which Hitchcock totally outraged the sentimental expectations of 1930s film audiences, particularly in America. Showing with Sabotage is Murder, a rarely shown Hitchcock from 1930, which should be great if it is anything like Blackmail (1929), its predecessor and the first British talkie.
It is a shame that Woody Allen's The Front is the only film yet to attempt to deal seriously with one of the darker periods in American history-blacklisting in the McCarthy years.
Although Allen does his best to present some of the feelings that prevailed at the time, he is much too simple and his characters much too thin to leave any lasting impression.
The blacklisted writers aren't given any political beliefs; the bad guys in "the industry" and in Congress seem more stupid assholes than the cunning threats to civil liberties that they really were.
Worse, the movie makes no attempt to show that these vile creatures are only part of a long political continuum that still violates our rights and freedom. Instead, they seem like black-hatted cowboys who have long faded into the setting sun.
Although probably sincere in his efforts, Allen throws the biggest monkey-wrench in the works by being funny. Look out for that scene in the restaurant when he says he got scolded because he bought retail. Same old Allen.
When at a Republican Party fundraiser in Shampoo Julie Christie crawls under the banquet table to give bed-hopping, two-timing Warren Beatty what's coming to him, the audience will laugh it up. Why not split a safe gut at this hind-sighted view of crazy, misguided youth at the down of the Nixon years. Goldie Hawn squirms in her miniskirts; flipped-out flower children skinny dip at a pot party; and Beatty, as the highly heterosexual hairdresser George, gets by for language with just muttering "You're beautiful, baby, beautiful." That director Hal Ashby glosses over and thus cheapens this picture of searching sixties youth by painting them only as mixed-up, inarticulate and over-sexed does not seem to bother anyone. It seems that in looking back our generation is already content to play make believe.
Comic strip is one of the terms critics have used for the Ken Kesey counter-culture novel that inspired One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest. Big Nurse, Billy Bibbet, Randell McMurphy--zip, zam, zowee-am, swoosh, but with a heavy psycho-social punch packed behind it all. Yet the first shots of Milos Forman's movie--grainy, solemn, self-consciously non-colorful--make clear that this Cuckoo will not foist off a super-super allegory of a nut-fram, but a real Oregon mental hospital, in all its disturbing bleakness and isolation. This interpretive risk pays off, and, except for a few "bigger than life" episodes that don't translate in this true-to-life context, the whole picture comes across with much more sincerity than the Kesey original. And in this troubling, de-romanticized setting Jack Nicholson's swagger says it all about the type of guys who won't play ball: he's the archetypal sharpy who tries to break the bank before he realizes the house has rigged the table.
Rebecca, the story of a shy innocent who marries a millionaire only to have everyone compare her damningly with his first, drowned wife, could have turned cruel and vindictive. But Hitchcock works out of a bottomless pit of sinister imagination, and instead of making us feel sorry for the poor put-upon Joan Fontaine, he has us half-believing that she might have this coming to her. Only Hitchcock can make you want to rescue a protagonist and stab her at the same time, and the ambivalence chills. A neat double suspence turn-around caps off the film; all our sympathies change, and we start rooting for the once-hated Oliver faster than a smirk can spead across Hitchcock's face.
In the opening frames of A Matter of Time, Liza Minelli is seen riding in a car, gazing pensively at her visage in a hand-held mirror. If the car were to drive off the nearest cliff, you'd be spared what follows--a series of moronic reflections on the mirror's history, featuring Liza and Ingrid (she ain't getting any younger) Bergman. You'd be better off driving yourself down I-95 to look at the fall foliage.