Back to the classics
By Freda Bruce Lockhart
RY an ultimate irony the cinema, twentieth-century folk art of the masses, has The world-wide movie audience built up in half a century is at last regarded as a safe risk on whom Greek tragedy can be let loose with out the intermediary of Tennessee Williams.
With two Antigones, two Phadras (one brought up to date) and two Elektras going the rounds somewhere, the movie magnates and masses must learn if they are not already aware that the Greeks had torrents of words for anything ever seen in the cinema.
The Electra ("A," Cameo-Poly) which arrives in London laden with festival awards, is by Michael Cacoyannis, who worked in England as a young man. His first success, Windfall in Athens, was followed by Stella (with Melina Mercouri), A Girl in Black and others. Associated with most of them is the fine camera work of Walter Lassally. The Cacoyannis Electra soon demonstrates that the cinema has something positive to offer in its popularisation.
When Electra (Irene Papas) stalks forth, head shorn in mourning for her father Agamemnon and shame for her mother Clytemnestra into the countryside of modern Greece she wakes a momentary doubt. It might be felt that she was walking right out of period. But the opposite may equally he true: that the human truth of the drama is rooted in the same Mediterranean countryside.
The screen-play, based on Euripides, is credited to the director Cacoyannis. This is important, for the captions are far above average. In one case at least, when the blackhooded chorus of peasant women — so like the dusty, black-garbed peasants of Southern Italy, keening their litanies in rasping voices — send up a shriek in unison, the caption explains the cause of their horror as dramatically as in the narration of the play.
The savage beauty of Irene Papas (she was the strong. dark-haired partisan in Guns of Navaronc), the magnificence of her mime and declamation, even to ears with no Greek are very impressive. It is right that the golden-haired Orestes should he lighter in type. And the actor who plays her humble husband makes him a moving and admirable figure.
MOST striking to me was the discovery that these ancient Greeks were less divided by time from modern Mediterranean peasants than either is from ourselves by geography and race. This impression was strongly reinforced by the spectacle of bandits and farmers spreading over parched Sicilian ground in search of Salvatore Giuliano, the post-war
Sicilian bandit who ruled over a barren, rocky empire.
For seven years, officials hunted the outlaw who had become as legendary as Robin Hood. Franco Rosi's film Salvatore Giuliano ("X" Paris-Pullman and La Continentale) sets out to conduct its own investigation, beginning with and returning to Giuliano's body, prone in its bloodstained shirt in a courtyard. The phenomenon of the movie is that it never does come to grips with its hero, it leaves him almost as mythical a figure as he was in life. Rosi's film, almost a documentary reconstruction of the various factors in Sicilian life, of vendetta and treachery, of Guiliano's actions, supporters and enemies, of the dark influence of the guerilla fighters for a separate Sicily of the Mafia, suggests that the legendary bandit was almost the creation as well as the victim of these hidden and conflicting influences.
Instead of the black-draped woman in Electra, here are the dark-coated dark-moustached men, meeting all over Sicily to plot and plan. Here is violence fascination and horror. But the spate of regional Italian, the obscurities involved make the investigation almost as confusing as the case to be investigated.
IN a sense the British movie, The Small World of Sammy Lee ("X" Columbia) has much in common with the Sicilian bandit and the Mafia. Sammy Lee (Anthony Newley) could almost be a Giuliano, of the streets, a little king of Soho.
Sammy is the easy-going compere of a "Striptease" show. He is benevolent, likeable, feckless, improvident, a gambler. Two injudicious bluffs at poker land him in jeopardy for £300 to a local gangster whose habit of having his debts collected with razor blades makes him and his sinister henchmen figures of veritable terror.
The film follows Sammy's desperate efforts at the trot to scrounge the money together in time. Directed with considerable resource by Ken Hughes (who made his surprise hit with the Peter Finch Oscar Wilde picture) and played beautifully by Anthony Newley, it is uninterruptedly entertaining. My only reservation is that in building the picture up (from a much sparer TV version surely?) the screenplay has tried to prolong suspense by one twist too many— and a nasty one. To anybody familiar with Soho at its restaurant surface this is a credible and lively pictures of the thieves' kitchens behind the closed doors—even of a moment of macabre honour among the thieves.
AL L these three movies, so widely separated in setting are recognizably co ncerned with human people. The original story of A Girl Called Tamiko ("A" Plaza) may have made some fresh comment on American-Japanese ways of life. But the film, despite good performances by Laurence Harvey and France Nuyen, is so perfunctorily put together and ludicrous in spots it becomes just another trifle of American post-war iaponaiserie.
QOME years ago Sophia Loren 5e7 and Anthony Perkins acted impressively together in Desire Under the Elms, from Eugene O'Neill's play. They are costarred again in Five Miles to Midnight ("A", London Pavilion), a piece of very different calibre.
Since the O'Neill, Sophia Loren have developed beyond doubt into the greatest screen actress of her day. She can rise to O'Neill. But she is wasted on such a hack Hollywood drama as this sorry tale of a marriage run down hill into fraud, blackmail and murder. The descent is hardly diverted on the way by Mr. Perkins apparently playing hide and seek from his landlady, wife, the police. and an observant small boy in and out the windows and roof-tops of their Paris apartment
Mr. Perkins is no longer the brightly-promising young actor of his early films. He has become mannered and has aged without growing up. It seems late now in the afternoon of this very selfconscious faun.