Stark realism from Italy
ITALIANS are the
acknowledged masters of melodrama, spectacle, opera; of circus, acrobatics, all that is most colourful in entertainment. So it is the more astonishing that, since World War Two at least, Italian filmmakers should have specialised more than others in the starker realism of humanity. And of all the Italian neo-realists or pseudo documentary-makers, none sticks closer to the heart of the matter than Ermanno Olmi, director of 11 Pasha and 1 Fidanzati.
Olmi's latest movie to reach London, One Fine Day ("A," Academy Two) is, if anything, even bleaker, more completely stripped of irrelevant trimmings than the others. He has gone even beyond his usual preference for non-professional actors. In "One Fine Day" Olmi has his characters played by members of their own reallife professions: Bruno, a director of an advertising agency is played by a real agency director, the girl interviewer by a real girl interviewer, and so forth.
Far from any scenic or glamorous attractions, Olmi offers us a film about a group of middle-aged businessmen we might expect to find boring. But he presents them whole. Their work and its problems are as large a part of their lives as the work of Olmi's clerks or factory workers. Bruno's managing director has a heart attack and seems likely to retire. Bruno prepares to step into his shoes. A fatal car accident puts all his professional and private life in jeopardy for a short time and turns his and our attention, like a drowning man's, to a survey of his life, his marriage, his failings and satisfactions.
The people and their predicaments are so recognisably real that although there are hardly any of the Norman Jewison as producer of The Landlord ("X," Prince Charles) and his director, Hal Ashby, get their effects by doing almost the opposite and making all the characters in their anti-racist comedy, black or white, old or young, rather larger than life.
Beau Bridges plays the rich young dilettante who buys himself a tenement in an American "black ghetto." He then finds thc tenants, headed by the magnificent Pearl Bailey as fortune-teller, quite as much as he can manage, though when it comes to con frontation between their various goings-on and the green and pleasant lawns of his family home, he chooses black.
The contrast between the two is handled with considerable skill and imagination, especially in Lee Grant's performance as the landlord's scatty mother, rather as though a character had strayed out of Tennessee Williams to be played by Billie Burke. The whole concoction may seem rather too highly spiced but is
Peter Rogers of the "Carry On" series might be said to have gone into reverse for Assault ("X," Leicester Square Theatre). Instead of the familiar broad burlesque, he has given us an almost earnest tract for the times. As producer George Brown said "It's really a cautionary tale such as I'd spell out to my daughter not to walk home alone."
Schoolgirls from a school set perilously in the midst of what I took to be Surrey woods are understandably forbidden to go home alone through the woods. A surprising number of them succeed in running off to get raped and/or strangled. The suspense about identifying the attacker was confused for me by finding that all the characters -staff, doctors and police — with one exception, looked like instant suspects.
On the whole the film is about as crude as its "Carry On" kin, but perhaps less sure about when it means to be funny. Nevertheless it is good to see Suzy Kendall again, playing an art mistress who is the next best thing to a heroine. Dilys Hamlitt gives a reasonable caricature of a thin lipped headmistress understandably distressed by her double predicament, and James Laurenson makes a promising appearance as a new-style young doctor. The subject of course is nasty, but is such a distressingly frequent headline in the news that it is difficult to protest at its becoming a topic of popular entertainment.
Horror films have long been such a topic — much less understandably in my view. The House That Dripped Blood ("X," New Victoria) contains the whole repertoire -.-skulls, vampires, pins in wax dolls and our two capital "H" stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, notably reinforced by such distinguished visitors as Nyree Dawn Porter, Joss Ackland, Joanna Dunham, Denholm Eliott and John Bryans. The last-named is an especially valuable linkman, as the house agent who does his best to put off prospective tenants because of the house's nasty record.
The excellent standard of the playing and production, in the ingenious framework for this quartet of horror stories by Robert Bloch (of "Psycho") doesmuch more than most movies of its type to maintain interest in the surface suspense. The substance is, of course, as grotesque as ever.