Some directors lay on their heavy messages with a trowel; Ken Russell goes at you with a jack-hammer. Women in Love somehow enjoys a reputation as this one man wrecking crew's most meaningful work, but here, as in all his other films, Russell's only evident meaning lies aching behind his zipper. "Was it too much for you?" Oliver Reed asks Alan Bates after they finish a wrestling match in the raw, the homosexual hints dripping off their bodies faster than sweat. Then the line pops up again, this time after Reed has been rollicking in the snow with Glenda Jackson: "Was it too much for you," he asked her, as the irony subtly smashes our way. This is too much, period.
On this beast simplistically lumbers, supposedly in the name of art and sensitivity. See Reed groan and growl with animalistic desires. See the abused Jackson run off with a scrawny but spiritual switch-hitter. See Bates act like a blubbering booby as he tries to convince Reed to reciprocate in a partnership of Platonic love. Art, my Oedipus complex. More like a "Dick and Jane" for voyeurs.
North By Northwest. Clever. One could say as much for any Hitchcock film. But this one has to be his most ingenious, the plot is devilish--and, although Hitchcock never really wrings the full terror out of it, terrifying. Cary Grant plays a Madison Avenue smoothie with a doting mother and a life of business luncheons who gets taken (figuratively, and literally) for a spy. "Nice play-acting, but it won't wash,' his abductor, a chillingly villainous James Mason tells Grant when he tries to clear up this misunderstanding. Grant breaks free, then does some romantic interluding with a seductive Eva-Marie Saint. But she turns out to be Mason's agent (although ultimately a double agent) and the persecution continues. Scary enough. But Hitchcock invests even more genius in a few intricately-constructed and flawlessly-carried-out chase scenes: the escape from the rare antique auction, the low-flying cropduster in the cornfield bit, and the film's finale, a rush from death across the carved faces on Mount Rushmore. Hitchcock himself jaunts onto the screen in the opening minutes, his belly pulling up to and bouncing off the closing door of a bus. He knew what a brilliant film he had constructed, and he wasn't above giving himself a little doff of the chapeau.
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 whackiness to carry her through the part. Richard Brooks' direction and adaptation 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 to the typical super-ficiality of American movies. Sharp witticisms and flashy techniques keep the movie's pace upbeat, while Brooks neglects Dunn's broader significance as prototypical single woman vainly coping with today's anything-goes morality. The movie consistently entertains, but does little else.
Padre, Padrone. Paolo and Vittorio Taviani's entrancing film about the loam-to-letters life of a bestselling Sardinian author from humble peasant origins provides the most convincing evidence since Bertolucci's "Last Tango in Paris" of the resilient vitality in Italian cinema, the recent excesses of Fellini, Antonioni, et al notwithstanding. The Taviani brothers' first film to receive international attention, it features a host of mind-gripping sequences destined to set apart "Padre, Padrone" as one of the most important films to cross the Atlantic in the late 1970s. To name only two: the unforgettable series of shots capturing the varied expressions of a village's collective lust, from a young boy sodomizing a mule to the rusty sex rites of an aged couple; or the scenes showing how far the "spare the rod" philosophy of rearing is literally taken by the father of the future writer Gavio Ledda (Saverio Marconi). Mario Masini's cinematography especially shines in filming the lush greens and radiant ambers of a sunlit Sardinian landscape. But most importantly, few movies have ever probed the bitter relationship of an intractable patriarch and his eldest son more sensitively and his unflinchingly than the quasi-literary "Padre, Padrone."
The Fury. This should have been Brian DePalma's goony epic, a lavish, blood-soaked tale of telekinesis (remember "Carrie"?) and international spies. But John Farris' screenplay turns the sumptuous ingredients into--well, nothing; and although certain scenes leave shivery impressions with their nightmarish silliness, DePalma has paced the film slackly, with none of the mounting horror of his previous efforts. Kirk Douglas, Amy Irving, John Cassavettes, and especially Carrie Snodgrass are wonderful. But don't take a liking to any characters--eventually you will see them lovingly mauled before your eyes. John Williams has provided another goffily bloated score, and if you go in for DePalma's brand of sadism you'll probably have a good time. Otherwise, this is a bloody mess, and a bloody big disappointment.
Belle de Jour. Arguably Luis Bunuel's most gripping study of eroticism, and certainly one of the old master's all-time achievements. This 1967 release documents the plunge of a stunning Catherine Deneuve into the abyss of masochism, highlighted by brilliantly filmed vignettes of surrealism and as bizarre plot twist, bringing Deneuve's wife of a Parisian physician (Jean Sorel) to the doors of a brothel for a job. Only his classic "Los Olivados" approaches the eeriness of the dream sequences in "Bell de Jour," and relative newcomers to Bunuel's work should mark down this Sunday's showing as a must-see. One screening will quickly dispel all doubts about Bunuel's unswaying commitment to art over politics--although we would be forgiven for getting the wrong impression from such bourgeois-baiting as "Phantome de la Liberte" and "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie." While some of the symbolism gets a bit murky--or worse yet, overdone--"Belle de Jour" does leave the movie-goer speechless the first time around. And if all the above are tree, there's still another reason why campus movie-goers should plan on catching "Belle de Jour." Alas, the movie is being taken out of circulation next Monday, and last call is slated for 7:30 p.m. this Sunday at the Harvard-Epworth Church