King Kong. If Robert Armstrong, who in this original version plays the daring and sleazy movie director who decides to court the biggest potential box office hit of all times--Kong, the super-beast with a sappy heart--had only known how many bucks Dino DeLaurentis would try to turn on this idea. He would have turned green with envy at the profits, but he would have at least had the comfort of knowing that his version (the one he starred in) was better. Beyond a not-too-great over-all impression and a nostalgic haze, the only scenes that stick in this film are Fay Wray's screen test on the boat heading toward Kong's island and Kong's unveiling in New York before a black tie and monocle society crowd during the Depression. It does indeed best the current version, however, and an evening of applauding and mock sentimentalizing should be in store during this jaunt into the over-exploited movie past.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. If Edward Albee's script weren't so overdetermined and relentless, and thus so inconceivable, this film might really be scary. Elizabeth Taylor plays the bitchy, voluble and (if you will) castrating Martha, the college president's daughter who tortures her History professor husband with his lack of talent, ambition and ability to have snagged tuenure without the help his marriage to her gave him. Richard Burton, as George, is even more frightening in his way: dowdy, soft-spoken, but with a corrosive edge of bitterness, hopelessness and perversity that shows just enought to make his slow, psychological turning of the tables on Martha believable. They toy with their guests (a social-climbing George Segal and a weak-stomached Sandy Dennis). They toy with each other. And Albee toys faciley with the language and all-too-transparent psychological complexities. The intensity ultimately becomes too gimmicky, but the film is still a jolter, and depressing.
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 compliment; his witty rejoinders and awshucks 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.
The Conversation. Gene Hackman turns in a masterful portrayal of a plodding, quiet and eerily and suspicious bugging expert who is hired by he's not sure who to spy on a couple that might be the victims (or the perpretrators) of who knows what hideous crime of romantic vengence. This Francis Ford Coppolla movie--one for which he had trouble finding funding or distributors--works hauntingly on at least three levels. Metaphorically, it serves to highlight the pathologically paranoid mood of the last years of the Nixon administration and the Watergate cover-up. Intellectually, it goes deeper than this; Hackman painstakingly and convincingly becomes a man who just can't handle the perversity and technocartic inhumanity of his occupation, and who begins to fathom the horror of people like him turning around and persecuting people like him. Dramatically, its suspense becomes brilliantly tense at times (in the sanitary paper wrapped around the motel toilet scene, for example). A very fine film, and better the second, more disturbing, time around.
Soft-Core Reality. A series of shorts on wacky subjects: a rampaging native plant of Georgia called Kudzu, the miniature circus Alexander Calder made out of odds and ends and could bring to life for his friends, and a celebration of pigs splashing around in their slop. Six shorts in all.
Expanded Animation. Daring and exciting pieces of animation made possible by the expansion of film imagery made possible by more and more sophisricated techniques, among them rotoscoping, collage and "cameraless" imagery. Includes three Boston premieres.
Small Change. Taking in this new Truffaut is like leafing through a photoalbum of adorable kid pictures. Call this movie a funny, touching toast to the gameness of gamins. Settling into the day-to-day routine of a comfortable French provincial town, Truffaut introduces us, through loosely coordinated vignettes, to all the little grade school tykes and all their mischievous goings-on. This stuff could have become soupy, but Truffaut has retained a clever rascal's nose for stage-stealing devilry. (One example: the town detective's daughter refused to accompany her parents to a restaurant without a mangy toy elephant. But when they leave her at home, she pleads abuse to the neighbors, who fall for it and prepare her a special gourmet care package.) Truffaut does not lean heavy on the social commentary, as he did in The 400 Blows, his first film about growing pains. He's less angry, less insistent, and generally less involved. He lets the town kids take over. And they delight.
The Late Show. Art Carney trudges through the role of washed-up shamus Ira Wells, opposite Lily Tomlin's hippydippy hippy, who hires Wells to find her cat and leads them both into a big mess of a sinister imbroglio. Robert Benton, screenwriter and director, does a lot of borrowing, from both classic and more recent detective flicks, but does his cribbing in style. The actors, meanwhile, are heavily, and affectingly, into themselves: particularly the kharma and vibrations-obssessed Tomlin. With the same L.A. backdrop that the great Chandler stories grew out of, this one proves as well-oiled as the barrel on a Smith and Wesson Model 19 357 Magnum.