Alice's Restaurant. Arthur Penn does a nice job of turning Arlo Guthrie's half-hour long ballad about hanging out in western Massachusetts and ingeniously resisting the draft, into a loose, rambling, amiable film. The first half works particularly well. The second half drags on a bit too long and is broken by some inconguously depressing sequences, but the movie still remains one of the best film portraits of what life was like for the draft-board-baiting bohemian back-packers of the '60s.
Annie Hall. Even though it's based on his real-life relationship with co-star Diane Keaton, Woody Allen's latest--and arguably best--film is far more than cinema a clef. Allen's sensitive, sometimes painfully realistic portrait of a failed love affair between a neurotic but lovable New York Jew and a flaky midwestern WASP marks a generally successful departure in thematic approach; "Annie Hall" hoes much farther in exploring human relationships than any of Allen's previous films. Still, the best moments in the film are the deliberate send-ups in which Allen unleashes his scathing wit against such deserving targets as Los Angeles and the Beautiful People, the too-chic Manhattan aesthetes and intellectuals who religiously study The New. Yorker.
His Girl Friday. Wise-cracks have never flown faster or more furiously across the screen. And these lines are beauts, lifted from the classic (and unendingly resurrected) play, "The Front Page" by Hecht and MacArthur, and adapted here by Charles Lederer. Rosalind Russell shows her talent for comedy better in this one than in any other film she ever did; her Hildy Mason is just what the movie stereotype of the street-wise professional woman with romanticism buried,...breathing, deep down inside should be. And Cary Grant, as the editor who has already gone a romantic round one with this woman reporter, is a perfect complement; his witty rejoinders and aw-shucks mugging are irresistible, but you know he'd be unfaithful again in a minute. And not that this film needs anything more to make it a gem, but Howard Hawks' recreation and direction of a late thirties newspaper crew is perfection.
Julia, based on a section of Lillian Hellman's autobiographical book Pentimento, is a sensitive, occasionally self-conscious story of Hellman's lifelong friendship with a woman she calls Julia. The film recounts the girls' adolescent escapades while revealing the foundations of the political beliefs that will eventually take Julia from medical school at Oxford to a workers' community in Vienna. The women are separated through most of their lives; but Julia's need for Hellman's aid in her anti-fascist activities prior to World War II reunite them, with repercussions that even a writer of dime state spy fiction would envy.
Looking for Mr. Goodbar. Diane Keaton plunges into a new area in her line of work--a leading role in a serious drama about a nympho working girl--and she can look back on the departure with satisfaction. Her masochistic Theresa Dunn rivals Keaton's technical excellence in portraying Annie Hall, but the character makes no claims upon our sympathy, despite all the vilification unloaded upon her by Dunn's succession of one-night lovers. Tuesday Weld provides an unmemorable contrast to Keaton as Dunn's capricious older sister Katherine, relying too heavily on the character's caricaturish wackiness to carry her through the part. Richard Brooks' direction and adaption of Judith Rossner's best-selling novel is sufficiently slick to draw crowds to the box office, but the film can be filed as another victim of the typical superficiality of American movies. Sharp witticisms and flashy techniques keep the movie's pace upbeat, while Brooks neglects Dunn's broader significance as a prototypical single woman vainly coping with today's anything-goes morality. The movie consistently entertains, but does little else.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The British comedy group Monty Python has a sense of humor that shines on record and goes over well on television; unfortunately, a feature-length film can accommodate only so many ludicrous even offensive gags before the well runs dry. Seeing an insolent knight in armor whacked down to a limbless torso may amuse the warped souls among us, but this sweeping satire of the Middle Ages soon exhausts the range of laughable subjects that kicked around in King Arthur's day. Scenes occasionally crop up that deserve a hearty guffaw; too bad they are so few and far between.
Outrageous! Only Woody Allen at his best could outdo some of the one-liners in Richard Benner's brilliant comedy about a female impersonator's rise to stardom and the whacked-out woman behind the success. Craig Russell's unabashedly gay hairdresser has graced us with a character we will not soon forget, completely stealing the show in the movie's plot and the movie itself. His series of famed singers and actresses belting out "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" will bring down any house, so carefully honed are his Channings and Ellas. Co-star Hollis McLaren is inevitably overshadowed by Russell's stagewise presence, but the delicate treatment she gives to her Crazy Liza perfectly complements her outlandish buddy.
Valentino. Ken Russell's latest turkey can be credited for furnishing an appealing showcase for Rudolf Nureyev's breathtaking prowess on an empty dance floor, but compliments come to an abrupt halt there. We see all the glamor and fame that filled the tile character's moment in the spotlight, but Nureyev's Valentino remains a distant figure, a romantic anachronism bursting forth with panache and charisma and little else. Russell seems to persist in the belief that audiences enjoy having their senses assaulted and will consider it entertainment; grotesques and caricatures dot the screen in "Valentino," evoking some of Fellini's lesser films. The ambience of the Twenties is effectively recaptured by the film, but "Valentino" never gets around to addressing the ethos that prevailed in the America of that fabled epoch. And judging by this performance, Michelle Phillips would do well to try a comeback as a reconstructed Mama with any Papas she can find.
Wizard or Oz. Contrary to popular belief, this wonderful film is much more than a fantasy for children. Based on the Oz books written around the turn of the century by Populist publicist L. Frank Baum, "The Wizard of Oz" is actually a paean to Rooseveltian progressivism. The Land of Oz, where "we get up at noon, go to work at two we're done, jolly good fun," is actually the world's most advanced welfare state. The lushness of the make-believe countryside, filmed in a beautiful early attempt at color, contrasts starkly with the monochromatic depression reality of dustbowl Kansas. Oz, of course, is really FDR: he can't really do the miraculous things people say he can, but he can give them faith in themselves. And that, the film suggests, is all you really need.