The New Movies… Some Charm, Some Don’t

Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Fox-Rank) is, I suppose, the most interesting of the fortnight’s new releases. With a certain academic pomposity, and over-literal sub-titles, that somehow make it funnier, it satirically shovels at the heap of waste that is the upper strata of French society, through those two themes of upper middle class circus, the dinner party and the walk in the country.

Everyone is corrupt or insane in this intellectualised piece of cynicism, from the drug smuggling ambassador of a small mysterious republic, to the army colonel who smokes pot between manoeuvres, and the Roman Catholic bishop who just wants to work as a gardener. The film is superbly and delicately detailed in its observation of mannerisms and use of background sounds that heighten the satire.

It worked best for me when being more obviously farcical, but then the more subtle images were probably meant for the bourgeoisie in the audience who could afford to pay £1 a seat at London’s most expensive cinema, where the film is showing. Much of their far from discreet, loud laughter sounded like that which emanates from a university debating chamber, after someone has scored a particularly witty point. It seems searing at the time, but leaves no lasting impression, amusing cynicism tending to attack one’s thoughts only superficially.

Fernando Rey and Muni not being discreet.

Having paid my respects, and £1, to the liberal cinema owners of Bloomsbury, I dashed across two miles of West End traffic in search of a little entertainment or something. It wasn’t worth the cab fare. Ulzana’s Raid (Universal/Fox-Rank) directed by Robert Aldrich, who previously made the partially comic, but nevertheless snide and exploitative “The Killing Of Sister George”, had me swaying between extreme boredom and revulsion whenever my snooze interrupted by the scenes of excessive, motiveless, bloody violence. Burt Lancaster is excessively dry as Mackintosh who is despatched with the US cavalry, captained on this occasion by handsome Bruce Davison, to track down a band of marauding Apaches. The film’s single original episode is Lancaster’s death at the end.

Shamus (Columbia-Wamer) is a routinely scripted, downbeat thriller with Burt Reynolds as yet another seedy, boozy, billiard playing private eye, who accompanied by a paste and tinsel Dyan Cannon, car chases and pointless killings, sets about tracking down gun runners in New York. What lifts the film out of the deepest mire is Buzz Kilik’s direction, skilfully snappy, and executed with an eye to character detail and a great feeling for the atmosphere of Brooklyn where the film is set; he even manages to extract a good performance from Burt Reynolds. It’s just a pity he wasn’t given a more worthwhile subject to direct.

Burt Reynolds really acting at last.

In complete contradiction, veteran Hollywood screenwriter, Ernest Lehman’s adaptation of Philip Roth’s horror of the family novel, Portnoy’s Complaint (Columbia-Warner) has a subtle, potentially expansive script, which adheres closely to the dialogue in the book and should have been accompanied on film by very visual, whispy, wanky fantasies. Instead, Lehman, after years of writing such successes as ‘Hello Dolly’, and now making his directorial debut, creates something like a stage play, with small, stark, sparse, theatrically confined sets. It’s very uncinematic and he wastes the resources he’s been given, like Panavision (wide screen) appallingly. Not even Karen Black as Monkey, the girl who finally helps Richard Benjamin express his fantasies physically, creates anything other than a rehash of her characterisation in ‘Five Easy Pieces’.

Another happy family.

Australian Lace is an odd little short now touring with various films, a semi-documentary with a right wing stilt, about a group of young peoples’ lives in Paddington, the ‘Chelsea’ of Sydney, Australia. Fascinating, because it’s so rare we see anything on Australian life, and its odd, almost Victorian Puritanism.

Another short worth catching is the Cobblers of Umbridge (Anglo-EMI) a very, very funny send-up of the Archers with John Wells, John Fortune et al doing their thing.

Two sparkles to brighten pre-feature tedium.

Carry On Cosa Nostra

THE VALACHI PAPERS, starring Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland and the casting files of Cinecitta, Rome. Directed by Terence Young. Certificate ‘X’. Released by Cinema International.

You can tell by the glint in the eyes of people in Wardour Street that the time will come when Britain’s ailing movie industry will catch up with the latest craze in tinsel town — mafiamania.

Now that The Godfather has made a killing (metaphorical) it seems everyone from Burbank to Palermo is making offers that movie-stars can’t refuse, all in the cause of pictures about killing (real).

I can see the day when our own Sid James is cast as Lucky Luciano, Hattie Jacques as Vito Genovese, Kenneth Williams as Al Capone and Barbara Windsor is miscast as Little Caesar.

The awful monotony of Carry On following in the same smutty jokesteps as the last Carry On has now found its parallel.

After the Godfather, The Valachi Papers. After The Valachi Papers, The Godfather Part Two. The way they’re going on the movie production line it’s just as well fruit parfaits are bullet-proof.

When will this reign of terror end? Not, I’m sad to predict, until the public has shown that it won’t go on paying to see old gangster movies warmed over.

Just in case I haven’t made myself clear yet, I didn’t enjoy The Valachi Papers. I’d seen it all before — in The Godfather, newsreel footage of Vietnam, Roger Corman’s St Valentine’s Day Massacre, road accidents, biology experiments, footage of Nazi war atrocities and the like.

To get away with hideous screen violence, a director has to be good. He has to justify the character’s actions in terms of their emotional surroundings. Terence Young — for all that he directed Dr No, From Russia With Love and Thunderball — is not a good director. His Bond movies were the most yawn-worthy of the series.

The Story: Charles Bronson, posing as Joe Valachi, is jailed in a big Mafia-bust. His old boss Vito Genovese decides to give him the kiss of death. Bronson realises that death’s just waiting round the corner for him, so he sings. You mightn’t think Charles has the voice to go into the musical business but this is no Sound Of Music. The singing (a bit of criminal terminology I picked up from the movie) is done in open session of the United States Investigating Committee into the workings of the Mafia – with coast-to-coast television coverage to add to the drama. Bronson is the first person to say ‘Cosa Nostra’ in front of the Committee.

The Valachi Papers claims to be scouts-honour fact as told by Joe Valachi to the FBI, who were investigating the mafia to put the facts and the canaries in front of the Committee.

Most of the movie happens in flash-backs — at the best of times, a trying and facile technique that is used to cover up for lack of a cohesive story — as Valachi/Bronson gives us the dirt on how Cosa Nostra killing contracts are carried out. He did enough.

In these troubled times it’s reassuring that Bronson chooses to marry Jill Ireland this time round (last time they met, in The Mechanic, she was a whore and he was using her.) This time she gets a gold band and still gets used something rotten. Sometimes you just can’t win.

We get a recounting of a large number of murders, seen through Bronson’s eyes as the necessaries of everyday life (and death).

In fact it’s the ponderously told story of the amoral, everyday life of a mafia-killer.

I’ve seen too much blood around for the slow-killings to have any charm for me. Terence Young would have been as usefully employed trying to glorify the Moors murders or a fatal car accident.

Meanwhile back at the Carry Ons. Maybe the Carry On team needn’t find new riches in the family of life, crime and death. Maybe Tinsel Town has reached the Carry On level. Rock bottom.

Can’t See The Gay For The Whitewash

TCHAIKOVSKY. Directed by Igor Talankin. Music arranged and conducted by Dimitri Tiomkin. Starring Innokenti Smoktunovsky as ‘Tchaikovsky’. Narrated by Laurence Harvey. Distributed by MGM-EMI. Cert ‘U’ Showing at the Odeon, Haymarket, London.

Unlike Ken Russell’s The Music Lovers, the Russian film Tchaikovsky isn’t going to upset anybody, especially people like Mary Whitehouse, Ross McWhirter and David Holbrook, who like the films they see to be completely innocent and without a trace of the realities that exist in the actual world we live in.

Mosfilm studios is rumoured to have made Tchaikovsky because of the treatment of their greatest composers and national heroes received from Mr Russell. What we see in Britain is a considerably shortened version of what was originally a film that ran for just over four hours. Our version is just under two.

The Russians spared no expense in making this epic, but managed to exclude every reference to Tchaikovsky’s real life from the script. What we are left with is a rather naive and sensitive heterosexual character, who has an unhealthy amount of love and devotion for his mother. So everything that embarrassed the Russians when Mr Russell put a little reality into his character is omitted. Really, it’s so whiter than white, it surprised me that it wasn’t Walt Disney production.

Technically the film is superb. The camera work is copied from successful American and European movies that have been developed in the last five years and is extremely well done, but it doesn’t help one not notice the wooden performances from the actors. The music is really beautiful though, and the stereo sound at the Odeon, Haymarket, is excellent. It’s a pity that the film is drastically cut, because we are only treated to small fragments of some of the composer’s finest music. The ballet scenes are given slightly more time, and subsequently they are some of the most enjoyable moments in the film. Highlights from the soundtrack are available on a two-record set issued by Phillips Records, (Cat No 6641048).

Amazed by their childishness, one wonders who the Russians think they are kidding. Tchaikovsky was a homosexual, undoubtably a fairly unhappy one, but whether this was due to his sexuality is debatable. What is obvious, is that his gayness was very much the basis of his inspiration for many of his greatest works. Personally, I would say it was the major influence on his Fourth and Sixth Symphonies. But that’s debatable too.

It’s a shame to see such a fantastic composer, whose genius in many respects will never be equalled, given such a reactionary whitewashing. As a result, the only people likely to be attracted to this film are the most ardent admirers of Tchaikovsky’s music.

Incidentally, on the night I saw Tchaikovsky, the whole of the audience was highly amused at a line from Laurence Harvey’s narration. It was when the composer had moved to Moscow and was “befriended by Nikolay Rubinstein, a great pianist and a gay companion.” And that truly is the only reference to one of the most important aspects of Tchaikovsky’s personality. Maybe that’s even too much for ‘clean-up’ Mary. Better watch out MGM-EMI.

No Offence Meant

THE OFFENCE. Directed by Sidney Lumet. Starring Sean Connery. Released by United Artists. Cert “X”.

Cheaply, hurriedly made in the wake of “Diamonds Are Forever”, the most successful film at the box office in 1972, written by the creator of Z Cars, John Hopkins, this futile little saga set up as a vehicle for Connery’s doubtful acting talents, is rather like an extended version of a TV episode, with the rapidly ageing Sean as a super-violent Barlow type of detective, who’s a child molester on the side.

It all takes place in one of those perpetually dank, dark, Northern newtowns, where, predictably, Connery pulls in some moustached little middle-aged weed, who he attempts to frame as the molester. There is an endless interrogation scene, in the strangest looking police cell I’ve ever seen. It looks more like an unfinished set at Twickenham Studios to me. Anyway there are torrents and torrents of inaudible dialogue and blood, culminating in the death of the man and Connery returning to a dowdy looking wife, and the audience being treated to a very nineteen-sixties kitchen-sink expose of their non-sex lives. One of the most tedious films for ages. To be avoided.