by H. R. F. KEATING FILMS
Again it broke the bounds of the storytelling methods we are most used to on the box. Instead we got labels giving us the date and a summary of each sequence, we got characters emerging from pen-andink drawings of 1840's life, we got a succession of different heroes.
In short, we were given the full "alienation effect" treatment introduced to the theatre rather long ago by Berthold Brecht. And a damn silly idea it has always seemed to me. It is supposed. I believe, to make us think about the general by stopping us becoming too interested in the particular.
Hence in the present instance as soon as we began to follow the fortunes of the man whose wife was stolen from him by a tough railway navvy we were switched to a completely different hero, the visionary engineer of the tunnel. It was all designed to make us see the building-work as a monstrous piece of general exploitation of suffering humanity.
But, as might be expected by anyone except a German theoretician. if you alienate interest you alienate interest, i.e., you set up a strong desire to switch off. Only stern critical duty kept me watching while the stale lesson was worked out to its quite extraordinary end (sudden appearance in last two minutes of yet another protagonist. a Scotswoman poetically telling of the injustices of the Clearances).
Yet I defend to the end Mr. Dewhurst's right to do it. People can become hooked on the oddest of notions (the Brechtian drama, the word cadences of the Bible) and it is a splendid thing that television can still expose us to such entln.p.i;INrns
Could be good
Saturday, BBC-2: "Review." The arts magazine looks at playwrights, among them W. J. Weatherby, an English journalist who went to live in New York's Negro ghetto and wrote a play of which extracts will he shown.
Monday, ITV: "The Patriot Game." Play by Dominic Behan based on a true story of the I.R.A. in Britain in 1939 and confronting violence and patriotism.
Tuesday. BBC-1: "Viewpoint." Don Salvador de Madariaga, the distinguished Catholic thinker, talks about his new book, "Portrait of a Man Standing." ANEW film season has opened with a handful of adult themes — political, historical or philosophical-to prove that the cinema can live up to them when it has them; or that even when it doesn't quite. the subjects themselves make a welcome change from the "sex-pottery" of recent months.
Irving Lerner has matte a splendid spectacle of Peter Shaffer's ambitious play about imperial Spain's conquest of Peru, The Royal Hunt of the Sun ("U," Odeon, St. Martin's Lane).
The Spanish General Pizarro's (Robert Shaw) enthusiasm to set out across the world to find the Kingdom of Gold fails to extract from the Spanish King Carlos V (James Donald) more than permission and two priests. The rest of the equipment and volunteers for the expedition Pizarro must recruit himself.
Perhaps the journey to the Andes is less extraordinary on the screen, where we are accustomed to spectacular vistas, than it was on the stage of the Old Vic, where I saw the play. But it is impressive enough.
Spanish lancers mow down the unarmed Indians and take the Inca King Atahuallpa (Christopher Plummer) prisoner. Pizarro promises him freedom in exchange for the Inca's promise to fill one of the rooms of his palace with gold.
The core of the film is the relationship between the two leaders. the noble savage and the unlettered Christian soldier, from suspicious curiosity, to trust and appreciation and eventual friendship as each tries to communicate his faith.
This affection only accentuates Pizarro's dreadful dilemma after the Inca has kept his bargain to deliver the gold.
If Pizarro keeps his promise to free Atahuallpa. the Spanish soldiers will be massacred in revenge; if he protects his soldiers, he will betray the Inca. In the end Atahuallpa chooses to die. firmly believing that the Sun. his father, will raise him up next day.
Some critics say Philip Yordan's screenplay falls between the schools of spectacle and human drama. But 1 found the large close-ups in discussion of grave matters of honour and faith very effective. I had always sensed an element of pantomime in the play.
Christopher Plummer's performance as an almost angelic demon king. from grand pantomime fin the sense of grand opera), hissing and mewing his language is a real tour de force.
Robert Shaw makes the plain soldier his match. Of the Spaniards, urging divided advice, Nigel Davenport as the aristocrat, Michael Craig as the second in command, and Leonard Whiting as a devoted page, are outstanding.
What the great film public will make of these debates on questions of honour, faith and morals I am not sure. I confess I found the ending ambiguous. But this is an impressive and absorbing picture.
Political whodunits are not absolutey new in the cinema. But offhand I can't remember one achieving the excitement, suspense and sense of involvment of a vintage Hitchcock thriller as urgently as Z ("A," Curzon). A popular pacifist (Yves Montand) has difficulty getting a hall to lecture in. After the lecture he is jostled in the crowd or pushed over and dies. The whole film is then the process of trial and investigation.
The authorities are all eager to close the case. But the magistrate (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is coolly determined to do his duty of ferreting out the truth. though he insists in calling it an incident rather than an assassination.
The doctors at the autopsy establish that "Z's" death must have been caused not by a fall but by a blow from above—from an iron bar. in fact, wielded by a lorry-driver member of a political organisation.
So the facts go on emerging, a great part in their unearthing being done by a young joun nalist (Jacques Perrin). The sense for the audience of identification with the search is electrifying. You don't need to recognise the mythical State where this official tyranny is exercised through a network of small human agents.
This is a fine film, not to miss. But the director, CostaGavras, is of Greek origin, the script from a novel by Vassili Vassilikos which was, I understand, recognisably based on the Lambrakis assassination.
The exciting film is a Franco-Algerian co-production and to the excellent performances of the French actors the Greek actress, Irene Papas adds impressively the presence of the victim's wife.
Che ("X," Carlton) attempts a different kind of present-day political thriller. Not unnaturally Hollywood sees in today's political rebels the heroes for conventional romantic adventures. What more Robin Hoodlike figure of popular legend than the Bolivian guerrilla leader Che Guevara.
The film, produced andpart-written by Sy Bartlett and directed by Richard Fleischer, tries to fit the legend into a romantic Hollywood pattern.
We are shown Che (Omar Shariff) playing a key part in the success of Fidel Castro's Cuban revolution, then turning away in disillusion when the Kennedy "Bay of Pigs" initiative resulted in the Russians removing missiles from Cuba.
In following Che to his hunt to the death by Bolivian military the film makes a not unintelligent attempt to suggest the contradictions eating the anarchist leader from within. But Omar Shariff's liquid eyes and soft contours give the lie to the well-known lean, ascetic profile.
The film is quite often exciting, but it reminded me often of the wartime resistance stories which subjected reallife heroism to the Hollywood treatment.