After the excesses of "The Devils" and "The Music Lovers", Ken Russell's Mahler ("AA", Odeon, Haymarket) comes as an almost sober relief. Whether you like or dislike Mr Russell's films — and I only remember liking "Women in Love" and "The Boy Friend" — there is no gainsaying his brilliance. Either as the enfant terrible of British directors, or as the author of serious television films about musicians (Delius, Debussy, Strauss, Elgar) his creative talent is beyond question.
as rwaahri" deras a • sober niuNssoitetraatlihgllbaitio-fg‘°‘Mraphy. Early scenes indeed suggest a blend of "The Sound of Music" and "White Horse Inn".
But the portrait Russell builds up out of sketches from the composer's life, assembled with characteristic cunning, cut with dynamic economy and permeated with a familiarity with the music rare enough in music-movies, is a life-study in some depth. Russell himself says: "My film is simply about some of the things I feel when I listen to his music."
Rather much of the action takes place in trains as the young Gustav Mahler (Richard Powell) and his wife Alma (Georgina Hale) relive their erratic climb to fame, visiting on the way his family, some of her lovers, a caricature memory of the old Emperor Franz Joseph, a nightmare of Hugo Wolf (David Collings) in a madhouse, Mahler's tragic young brother (Peter Eyre) and of course Cosima Wagner (Antonia Ellis).
Cosima's supposed antagonism to Mahler's candidature for a musical distinction as successor to Liszt and Wolf occasions one sequence of excessive distaste and irreverence — the baptism, heralded by a sidescreen Sacred Heart, when Mahler is advised to disarm Cosima's antiSemitism by becoming a Catholic.
Without this venomous extravaganza, "Mahler" would he a likely and deserving box-office winner, thanks partly to the current vogue for Mahler (encouraged no doubt by Visconti's "Death in Venice-) and partly to Robert Powell's intelligent and sensitive performance as Mahler who "conducted to live, but lived to compose."
From the Wolfgangsee we move to the English Lakes for Swallows and Amazons ("U", ABC 2. Shaftesbury Avenue). One swallow may not even make a spring, but this version of Arthur Ransome's children's holiday naval battle provides a most welcome "U" film for the Easter holidays. The Arthur Ransome stories were, alas, not a classic of my nursery. To me this movie's most encouraging discovery is that these innocent adventures, set in 1929 and almost as harmless as _Wendy's "Lost Boys" in "Peter Pan", are evidently as absorbing to the young barbarians of today.
The Walker children, with parental permission and provision for their sailing dinghy; set up base on an island in the middle of Windermere — exactly the right setting for a private baiday For the young irlagmation — where the Walkers can sail their dinghy "Swallow" in friendly rivalry and pursuit of Nancy and Peggy's faster "Amazon" and where Uncle Jim (Ronald Fraser) in his luxury houseboat, can be east as a pirate. The scenery is beautiful, the atmosphere relaxed and happy. As Mrs. Walker. Virginia McKenna, gives Mum exactly the right mixture of firmness
and fondness to provide the precious anchor of security. My 14-year-old escort from a Catholic public school assured me that the film's only omission was to explain the presence of the policeman who restores "Uncle Jim's" treasure chest — an omission, he assured me, quite understandable as too long an explanation would be entailed. With that reservation I feel safely authorised to recommend this happy film to all families.
Mean Streets ("X", Academy Cinema One), as the title suggests, is a dark contrast to such relaxed, sunny entertainment. Not that the title, though accurate, is remotely adequate. There are mean streets in all cities from Glasgow to Tokyo. But these are particular mean streets of the "Little Italy" quarter of New York, home of second-generation 1talian-Americans. Here we are among the poor grandchildren of "The Godfather" where pen pie live on increasingly empty traditions.
The hero, Charlie Capp, Jr. (Harvey Keitel) goes tO Confession, but only through sense of guilt, without hope of absolution. They live subject to money-lenders, drugs, sickness, vendetta and violence. As soon as any of the group is moved by an impulse of tenderness for the epileptic Teresa (Amy Robinson) or the erratic debt-ridden Johnny Boy, violence erupts as instantly as among fighting dogs.
A new type of villain has suddenly dawned in gangster films — the loan shark, or money-lender as I suppose we used to calf him.
Almost everyone in "Mean Streets" is in ultimate thrall to the loan sharks. As a portrait of a jungle society, Martins Scorsese's movie is frighteningly effective. Never do 1 recall a movie more conducive to despair.