The Great Dictator. Chaplin, it seems, can do nothing inconsequential. Even this, which many people don't find very funny, seems to delineate the conflicts between silent and talking pictures as clearly as anything ever will. It's so much slower and more static than his silent features, and his persona does not translate well to sound. Once he began to talk, the Tramp was no longer very funny, but Chaplin's Hitler figure, Adenoid Hynckel, stumbled onto the fact that much of sound comedy has to do with an assault on the ear. The Dictator's nonsense talk strikes the viewer as brilliant from the moment he hears it. In fact, all the hostile humor in the picture strikes home, and the Hynckel sequences are all memorable. Unfortunately, the sappy stretches go after the viewer with the insistent momentum of a molasses tidal wave and one wonders where Chaplin comes off with the nerve of portraying the persecuted as these sweet-eyed Jews the puts on the screen. Paulette Goddard really gets insufferable, but the globe-ballet is perhaps the most wondrous piece of screen acting of the greatest artist in all movies. In both the good and bad ways, this picture helps one remember the story about W.C. Fields and the writer who asked him who the world's greatest comedian was. "I am," said Fields. Well what about Chaplin, the interviewer asked. "Chaplin," Fields answered. "He's no comedian. He's a goddamn ballerina." One takes heart in the knowledge that by the time he made his next feature, Monsieur Verdoux, Chaplin had learned how to turn his blue-streaking tendencies into an advantage. One other thing; the last speech is rather moving (as much because of the actor as the writer) no matter what the louses say.
Luis Bunuel was once a great director, but you'd never know it to see The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, his first film to draw a mass audience. With the help of a minimal and episodic plot, Bunuel steers a group of severely dignified French coke-smugglers-cum-diplomats through a series of incongruous situations, most of which end up with them walking down a long country road to nowhere. The guiding theme seems to be none too funny comedy masquerading under the claim "isn't this surrealistic." Bunuel's new surrealism has none of the acid critical touch that characterized his earlier films like Viridiana or Belle de Jour. The same obsessive themes appear--bizarre sexual fetishes, anti-clericalism, absurdly stiff social rituals--without being integrated into any larger perspective. Phantom of Liberty is even worse. When we are shown aunt-nephew incest side by side with sadomasochistic monks and nuns in a French country inn, or when we see an elaborate fantasy in which people at a formal dinner sit about publicly on toilets and retire to a dark stall to eat, these are simply contextless bits whose crudity is a far cry from, say, Bunuel's brilliant portrait of the country landlord who forced Jeanne Moreau to parade about in his dead wife's shoes while reading to him from Huysman's decadent novel Against Nature in Diary of a Chambermaid.
Playtime at 5:30 and 9:40; The Great Dictator at 7:25
The Boys in the Band at 7:30 and 9:40
Hitchcock's Family Plot at 7:45 and 9:45
Seven Beauties at 1, 3:10, 5:20, 7:30, 9:45
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie at 4:35 and 8:20; Phantom of Liberty at 2:45, 6:20, and 10:05
ORSON WELLES I
Underground (de Antonio on Weathermen) at 4,6,8, and 10
Tunnelvision at 4:15, 6, 7:45, 9:30, 11:15
Bananas at 4, 7:25; Slither at 5:35 and 9
Helen Hayes and Gary Cooper in Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, today at 7:30. Directed by Frank Borzago and worth your while, even--especially--now.