MAN OF LA MANCHA (United Artists) could have been just another boring, routine eight songs, a dance and a love story musical, but it’s nor, for several reasons.
The story for one, again about man’s mistaken illusions, the subject the cinema seems to tackle best, and most often. This time an eccentric, ageing Spanish aristocrat, who believes he’s Don Quixote, a noble knight. Peter O’Toole, who I believe to be the most gifted actor now working in films, is amazing, made up to look about seventy, as he mounts charges against windmills, woos the innkeeper’s daughter, Sophia Loren, and inspires affection in his loyal Spanish (American accented) servant, played by James Coco. There are several other flaws as well, like badly dubbed singing voices, but well, it is a commercially made musical after all.
Particular praise should go to the soft, mellow colour in which the film was made, which heightens the atmosphere of the slowly ailing, illogical insanity of the main character, and, Arthur Hiller’s stagey, basic direction which helps O’Toole to mould yet another brilliant performance.
NEITHER THE SEA NOR THE SAND (Laurie Marsh Group). Scripted by Gordon Honeycombe from his novel, this rather charming little British film about a couple who meet in wintry Jersey, fall in love, and who then are prematurely separated by the man’s death which the girl cannot, and refuses to believe, imagining the man still to be with her, makes for two intriguing contrasts, romantic and macabre. Susan Hampshire and Michael Petrovich act simply and beautifully and Fred Burnley’s direction succeeds admirably in capturing the two widely opposing elements of romanticism and the macabre, through the spectacular use he makes of the sight and sounds of the sea and scenery. I must praise the exquisite colour photography (Eastman Colour) which ensures the film works so well visually.
Another film which I found to be absorbing, sensitive and made with great dedication, which has generally been poorly reviewed, and underpublicised by its distributors.
WHEN THE LEGENDS DIE (Fox Rank Distributors). Stuart Miller’s debut as a director (he previously worked as William Whyler’s assistant) uses the American rodeo scene — the modern filmic symbol for the death of the traditional American life-style, to illustrate very poignantly how a young Indian from the reserve (Frederic Forest) another debut, is almost destroyed by the conflict between the rodeo life-style and the modern colour fridge syndrome, and finally rejects them both. The conflict is perpetuated by Richard Widmark as an alcoholic ex-rodeo star who cannot believe his way of life is dying, and has dreams of building the young Indian into a big star.
The film has romantic gestures to both the old Indian and white ways of life, loves its characters and I think shows the relationship between the American white man and the Indian, far more realistically than Arthur Penn’s terrible Little Big Man. It’s a pity this new distribution company didn’t publicise When The Legends Die a little more.
because compared to Penn’s film, it’s so sensitive, realistic and worthwhile.
SNOOPY COME HOME (Fox Rank). The second feature length cartoon, based on Charles Schulz’s well-loved comic strip is witty, inventive, thoughtful in places and visually entertaining.
JEREMIAH JOHNSON (Columbia-Warner). Well, you can’t say they don’t make those good clean All-American outdoor adventures any more, because Sydney (they don’t shoot directors) Pollack has come up with one, and what a bore it is too. Robert Redford, over-exposed to the cold, and these days to the film camera too, is set loose in a frozen Northern Carolina of the early eighteen hundreds, where he comes across just about every bearded, cliché ridden bear-trapping character you can imagine. He marries an Indian girl, adopts a wayward little boy/and naturally his happy little family is massacred by a tribe of marauding Indians, who Redford then kills off single handed, of course.
This film should have stopped after the beautiful opening shots of the snow-covered scenery, and had a good think.