Who'll Stop the Rain? Ignore the sappy title; Paramount didn't have the guts to release it under "Dog Soldiers." But here it is, adapted by author Robert Stone from his award-winning novel--a horrifying movie that graphically portrays Stone's peculiar vision of America in the early '70s. Alexandr Solzhenyitsen aside, it is a curiously amoral world, careening along on its own hellish trip, where the good guys and the bad guys become indistinguishable. Where the last vision of sanity is of ubermensch Ray Hicks (stunningly portrayed by Nick Nolte) slamming a clip into his M-16 and proclaiming that "All my life I've taken shit from inferior people."
"In a world where flying men hunt elephants, people will just naturally want to get high," Michael Moriarty writes his wife (Tuesday Weld) back home in a Berkely bookstore. Moriarty is a war correspondent in Vietnam; what he's seen there disgusts him, and he just wants to get out with the big score--two kilos of heroin. His carrier is Nolte, a Nietzsche-reading, Zen master he knew in the Marines. But Moriarty has no idea just how much entrepeneurial capitalism is frowned upon by corporate America--just who do you cross, running smack from the Golden Triangle? The CIA? The Mob? While Moriarty ponders that, with the aid of two alternately humorous and sadistic thugs, Nolte and Weld are running for their lives, down to Los Angeles and finally out into the desert to an abandoned hippy enclave where Nolte once lived. But the summer of love died long ago, infiltrated by COINTELPRO and laughed to death on Johnny Carson. In the end Nolte is dead too, and Moriarty and Weld are driving back out across the desert back to bourgeois, empty lives in Berkeley. The long night settles in.
It's a disturbing, scary movie, and most viewers, especially women, are turned off by Nolte's super-masculine individualism. In truth, Who'll Stop the Rain? only scratches the surface of these sordid time. But it makes the effort, matched only in this strangely apolitical decade by Chinatown. I admire that, and maybe you will too; Paramount put no money into promotion and it opened and closed most places last August in a week. If you can, watch the reaction of the Cambridge audience, as Moriarty and Weld (people very much like your normal Cambridge intellectual) are forced to rely on the animalistic ex-Marine Nolte. Fearful, scared--above all, transfixed.
North By Northwest. One of Hitchcock's funniest, this wondrous film both showcases and lampoons Cary Grant's talents. A bland New York businessman with an overbearing mother--played by an actress the same age as Grant--he gets caught up in international espionage plots. The real guts of the film are its several amazing set-pieces: the whirlwind opening, in which Grant gets whipped into the spy stuff before he can look askance; a black-humor elevator scene, with Grant at gunpoint as his mother pecks over his captors, "You men wouldn't be trying to kill my son, now would you?" ha-ha; the famous crop-duster scene in which a biplane machine-guns Grant; one scene in which Grant sneaks into an auction, and foils his pursuers by getting himself arrested for disorderly conduct; and the real cliff-hanger denouement on Mount Rushmore. Gasp. Eva Marie Saint is the woman, James Mason the heavy.
Pink Flamingoes. It's late. The bars are crowded, cramping your style. You're wrecked, and your best friend, with blurry-eyed bravado, suggests you go see the greatest movie ever made at its midnight showing at the Welles, Pink Flamingoes. Can you hold you liquor? How unshakable is your friendship? Because this movie and its transvestite hero(ine) Divine aim to reverse your digestive process, and may well succeed. Or perhaps you too consider life reducible to the most blatantly vile, the most howlingly revolting possible common denominator.
Let's pray for your sense of the outrageous when Divine eats turd, when the houseboy violates the pregnant hostage being held in the family cellar, when you get a load of how Divine keeps her behemoth of a mother in a baby's crib. You might just find youself in unrepressed stitches. If not, look at it this way--you can finally do something you always wanted to do but were too cheap to carry out: walk out in the middle of it.
Flesh Gordon. If you're a little less stewed, maybe you can convince your buddy that Flesh Gordon is really lots better. It isn't, but it's shorter. Parodying the thirties Flash Gordon series, Flesh, an all-American Mr. Clean hero and his two musketeers, pursue the evil sex ray to its source, discovering a sexual munchkin land where Prince Precious and his tandy tribe frolic in spite of the Evil Wang's despotic rule. The special effects--including penises as monsters, trees, spaceships, etc.--all seem like the products of a pervert with a chemistry set in someone's bathroom. None of it really very funny, and the Orson Welles print cuts out a good 15 to 30 minutes worth. The experience is like an offcolor morning of bad Saturday cartoons.
A Clockwork Orange. Stanley Kubrick elevates this Anthony Burgess nightmare into a film of frightening precision, thought-provoking and pointed in its satire of "enlightened" modern ideas of criminal reform. Some find the violence sensationalized, but Kubrick gives it all purpose. The perfectly realized vision of London as the decadent plaything of roving gangs turns macabre as Kubrick overlays Rossini, Beethoven, and Purcell music. Don't expect to leave feeling reassured or satisfied; Kubrick doesn't answer the questions he raises about society's right to curb individual freedoms when the individuals smash, batter and rape. Malcolm MacDowells's sympathetic portrayal of Alex, the sadistic and Beethoven-loving gang leader, knots the questions further. When conventional life becomes sanitized and pointless, who's to say violence is an improper response? Kubrick doesn't endorse nihilism, but he presents it as objectively as possible. Clockwork Orange is one of those rare intelligently directed movies that's got subtleties enough to last repeat viewings.
Get Out Your Handkerchiefs. Named Best Film of 1978 by the National Society of Film Critics, this film is a big hit with the Perrier crowd, and it's packed the Welles since the opening. Reminiscent of Cousin, Cousine in its playful attitude toward sexual improprieties, Get Out your Handkerchiefs fails to develop its characters much beyond their pretty faces. Solange, the heroine, has three lovers: two are buffoons, her husband and a stranger he recruited to cheer her up, and one, a thirteen-year-old boy, is sensitive to her need for friendship. The plot is inconsistent, the jokes are obvious, and the direction is heavy handed. You might find this film a clever and coy French farce--if you're drunk.