Films by Freda Bruce Lockhart
CAN IT be that we are reaching a U-turn? For all the gloom and despondency spread over the cinema's corruption by sex and sadism, its decline through television robbery, video piracy and cassette vandals, new movies suggest a last-minute, awareness that salvation lies in making films again as they used to be — some of them anyway —
in t el i gen t , elegant, accomplished and above all designed to please.
Among the new hopefuls at least one happy anniversary is celebrated' This is the 21st birthday of the Ismail MerchantJames Ivory-Ruth PrawerJhabvala partnership, creators of that wonderful succession of movies in mostly—though not exclusively — Anglo-Indian settings. It is indeed 21 years since their affectionate and engaging satire, Shakespeare Wallah which, with its successors, has given filmgoing Britons a quite new vision of Indians at home and of the British Raj. For myself, these films increasingly inspire me with regret for the folly of my youth in rejecting opportunities to visit India.
Dust and Heat ("15 AA" Curzon) from Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's novel of the same name, tells on several levels the story of a young English memsahib (Greta Scacchi) who goes out in the 1920s to join her young husband (Christopher Cazenove) a junior officer in the British Indian Army. She flouts
tradition by refusing to accompany him to the hills for the summer heat, but stays in the city where she is dominated by the legend of scandal and mystery left by an aunt who preceded her to India. We see Olivia in the 1920s in Satipur or at the Palace in Khatm, her relations of mingled mutual scorn and respect with the Begum, her indiscreet friendship with the local Nawab (another wonderful performance by Shashi Kapoor) and the closeness with which young Olivia's career follows that of her aunt.
A large part of the mastery of these Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala movies is the brilliance conjured
from the actors. As Shakespeare Wallah first showed us the nucleus of the whole enterprise was the touring repertory of the Kendall family. Felicity Kendall is now a London star. Jennifer Kendall last year won a major award for her part in 36 Chowringhee Lane as an elderly English schoolteacher who braves loneliness by choosing to live out her old age in India. In Dust and Heat we see her satirise a different kind
of memsahib, more conventional, who accepts the existence of a perhaps natural division. We see the two cultures matching their ceremonies and religious disciplines. Chid (Charles McCaughlin) is a hippie, a Yank at the court of the Nawab, converted to Hinduism and semi-nudity who
relapses. We see the mixed company toast the KingEmperor and stand up to God Save the King played by a redcoatregimental band, or lolling as they listen to its barely recognisable strains rendered by Indian instruments that sound caterwauling to English ears.
Julie Christie who has had such disappointing parts lately scores again as a supposedly investigative reporter. Ninety per cent of this fascinating film enthralled me and I urge anyone to see it. The final fragment, turning deliberately sour, is perhaps too ambitiously comprehensive, as well as having unpleasant scenes of a local midwife trying to procure an abortion. But this is a rare lapse from the very high standards.
I have never been a thriller addict except perhaps for Hitchcock and Chabrol thrillers. Rather have I wondered when the thriller became an acknowledged category of melodrama. If in doubt do go to see Still of the Night ("15 AA" Odeon, Haymarket. I enjoyed it better than any thriller since Hitchcock died. No doubt it would be classified as a psychological thriller, but it starts with a spectacular bang as a body slips head first out of the car in which the heroine Brooke Reynolds (Meryl Streep) is being driven to her opening scene.
In New York, where her work as an assistant at Crispin's auction rooms alternates with daily sessions with a psychiatrist (Roy Scheider), the psychiatrist finds her mysterious and reserved, and between her complexes and a cop trying at the same time to interrogate him and to make friends, he is not sure who to suspect.
Suspense punctuated with shock is cleverly devised and directed by writer-director Robert Benton who starred Meryl Streep in Kramer v Kramer, An Officer and A Gentleman ("15 AA" Empire Two) does not perform quite the same kind of U-turn, though it is perhaps more truly a return to the film made every few years between wars to show — perhaps to warn — the young of the training they will have to undergo to become elite personnel in the forces.
Here the scene is the Academy for naval pilots. Basically the whole thing is an enormous cliché partly brought up to date — and not much the better for that, although the direction by Taylor Hackford is energetic and accomplished.
One new movie I do not find part of the promising U-turn is Young Doctors in Love ("AA", Leicester Square Theatre) which struck me as a hark-back to the most rubbishy sort of medical series treated here as pseudosurrealist farce. My same young companions who mopped their eyes at An Officer and a Gentleman were not amused.