IT WOULD be bold to suggest
that films were looking up, but there are signs the cinema may be recovering its long-lost sense of humour. In the depressing interval screen comedy seems to have changed.
To judge by the latest joke films, Woody Allen's Love and Death ("A"' ABC, Shaftesbury Avenue) and Mike Nichols's The Fortune ("AA", Columbia). it has become at once crazier and more sophisticated, an anarchic cinema of the absurd.
Two of the most popular of modern actors, Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty, have not hitherto been notoriously funny. In "The Fortune", under Mike Nichols's direction, they are a riot as a couple of bright young blades of the roaring twenties.
Toughish Warren Beatty sprouts a Mexican-style moustache to become a smarmy adventurer abducting a rich girl. Suave Jack Nicholson is the balding and windblown half-bent accountant he blackmails into marrying a perfect heiress of the cloche hat and Prohibition era (Stockard Channing — yes, the name is true).
The marriage is necessary because of the American law forbidding the transport of a woman across State• borders "Tor imlnoral purposes." The purpose of our.tWo ,bravos is to collar the heiress's fortune. Posing as brothers they set up a menage I trois to await the divorce of the married "brother" (Beatty) and the death of the heiress's'
father. • Infinite and idiotic complications confuse the design and obstruct its objective. But the pace at which it all proceeds, the stylish performance of all three stars and happily chosen period music keep matters entertaining. Neither Jack Nicholson nor Warren Beatty is a born clown but they act clowns very well. The odd ly named Stockard Channing, I should say, is one. So is Woody Allen a born clown and "Love and Death" confirms the impression that he might be going to be one of the cinema's great clowns, in the Keaton-ChaplinMarx line. This week is not only auspicious for welcoming the two new comedies.
Woody Allen's partner, Diane Keaton (no relation, I believe, to Buster, but you may remember her in "The Godfather") is as true a clown as himself. Feminine clowns are rare in the cinema and I must admit that Stockard Charming and Diane Keaton evoked for me comparison with Beatrice Lillie, Cicely Courtneidge and Patsy Kelly. If "The Fortune" is in line with today's fashionable nostagia for the twenties and thirties, "Love and Death" ' follows pat on Mel Brooks's "The Twelve Chairs" with its sly-satire on Russia, old and new. Woody plays a certain Boris Grushenko, who is as timid a victim of the inferiority complex as Woody has ever been — cowardly, diffident, incapable even of matching his cousin Sonja (Miss Keaton) who loves him. Cowardly he lags behind his brothers in Russia's defence in 1805, does all he can to avoid a duel, and when in 1812 he has Napoleon at his mercy, cannot bring himself to kill the "fat little man," In the St Petersburg scenes Woody revels in the rich atmosphere of Russian names and company made familiar by Chekhov and Tolstoy, but his adventures carry him to a Spanish gaol, hence all these flashback recollections.
I am not yet entirely convinced of Woody's genius. But he is welcome as a genuine comic. So is Diane Keaton — and doubly so for achieving the prerogative of a feminine clown and being at the same time truly comic and an extremely
attractive young woman; the double accomplishment she shares with Stockard Channing.
Another of the most successful actors of the past year or two is Gene Hackman. Since "The French Connection" and "The Conversation," it seems Hackman can do no wrong. But he gets into .very turbulent deep water in Night Moves ("X" Warner West End 1).
1 his is one of those maddening puzzle pictures which instead of telling the audience a story, sets it a puzzle and engages in a conspiracy to conceal the solution — even in this case at the end.
Hackman plays a private detective who is hired by a tiresome alcoholic film star to trace her wayward daughter. This leads by untraceable paths to many apparently irrelevant sub-mysteries like the detective's discovery of his wife's unfaithfulness, his own night out with the daughter's stepfather's mistress (a notable performance by Jennifer Warren) and ends with an exceedingly unpleasant drowning — it is not even clear of whom, This extraordinary film is directed with considerable distinction by Arthur Penn (of "Bonnie and Clyde") and played with all Hackmap's impressive concentration —but on what?
Ttte *locatiop settings in Los Angeles and the 'landscapes 'or waterscapes in Florida Keys are fascinating. Every now and then an individual scene, like the detective's with his wife (Susan Clark) stimulates an intelligent interest, hut all connection is lost. The film, though predominantly unpleasant, is spasmodically intriguing, but ends up a sad waste of considerable talents.
One by One ("A", ABC Fulham Road) is strictly for motor-racing addicts. Documentary introduction by the French director Claude Duhoc presents the preparatory stages among the drivers of the Grand Prix, including Jackie Stewart.
Technically and for fans the detail presumably has some interest. But it goes on a very long time before getting to a comparatively short stretch of race between the monster speed-tanks which have so little in common with motor cars. 1 franky missed the human interest so skilfully built up by fictional versions of the same event. like "Grand Prix."