THE variations on the theme of goodies and baddies in Westerns are almost infinite, but they generally work within a fairly rigid framework, where some savages, robbers, murderers, rapists or otherwise antisocial characters are finally brought to some rather rough justice.
Shalako ("A," Leicester Square Theatre), has an interesting new twist in that it manages to keep you excited and involved without any basic moral issues or any worthy reason why you should care who bites the dust.
These non-heroes are a group of the many rich European big game hunters who used to swagger into the Wild West during the last century, and whose covered waggons carried the silks and diamonds that the ladies wore at the after-hunt dinner, al fresco amid the silver candelabras.
The host is a German baron (Peter Van Eyck), whose party includes an exquisite sharpshooting countess (Brigitte Bardot), a seedy English milord (Jack Hawkins), his nearnymphomaniac wife (Honor Blackman) and an elderly American senator (Alexander Knox).
In the retinue are also an
immaculate butler (Eric Sykes) and a tough, unscrupulous "White Hunter" (Stephen Boyd). All very good performers who establish and keep up just the right degree of plausible preposterousness.
There has to be a cowboy, of course, and there is Sean Connery, who delivers the message (underlined by a corpse) that the Apache tribe who own the reservation will not have any rich strangers holding an At Home on this range, and they must get out or be attacked at dawn.
The baron pishes and tushes and refuses to move, the Indians come in, and bullets and arrows start flying in all directions. It is good sharp action and suspense, too, and though the variations in strategy and plot seldom take you by surprise, the tension goes on mounting. Sean Connery seems much happier as a cowboy than as 007 — but then all the way through the film it is the absence of gimmicks and the abundance of good acting as well as action, both directed by Edward Dmitryk so well that they really grow out of each other, that keeps you glued to the seat.
It has been a crop of nonheroes lately, and there comes no bigger non in that field than Alf Garnett of Till Death Us Do Part ("A," Columbia Cert), who denies everything in all directions so consistently that he defies even the basic laws of the survival of the fittest, and presents one more perpetual challenge about how he has managed to live that long without being pushed under a bus.
There is a certain degree and range of awfulness that is funny in itself, and Johnny Speight who has written the television series uses it expertly. The difficulty, though, is to keep it going at the same pitch over a longer time.
A sort of thread of continuity and several different joke settings are built into the film by going back to Alf's life during the war, when his fearful phoney, blustering cussedness is already well built in and well demonstrated.
So there is a sort of shape holding the film together. but it is inevitably rather a tenuous one, because it has no plot line, and ends up rather like the Christmas books published by newspapers of their best cartoons and strips—some better than others. But it will go down well like a box of mixed chocolates of a favourite brand.
Among non-heroes, Brian Keith can be as engaging as any, and Doris Day is everyone's favourite non-heroine. So there must be a sure following, especially during the Christmas holidays for With Six You Get Eggroll ("U," Carlton), a family film in every sense of the phrase. It is the story of the nice widow and widower meeting up, courting and marrying through a long but finally successful battle against the unexpected resistance of their children.
It is all very good clean fun and almost falls over backwards to earn its U certificate —but in spite of the charm and ability of Doris Day and Brian Keith, it is just not as funny as it seems to be trying to be.
suspect an American audience would find it funnier, because it is a social comedy with its own local rules of its own local setting, where you are not allowed to clout the children or ignore the neighbours, and where the conventions are just as established as in the old Aldwych farces in the London theatre of between the wars.
But where the same rules don't exist theatrically, the comedy tends to sag, and to be replaced by a powerful longing to administer a sharp thick ear to the children and go on to some droller subject. Still, it has its moments of charm and humour, and is certainly the
safest bet for the staidest friend or relation for the Christmas reunion.
Coach to Vienna ("X," Curzon) is a rather heavily ironic title to a rather heavily "primitive" film about a wartime encounter in Czechoslovakia between a partisan farmer's young widow and two German soldiers on the run.
It has moments of simple beauty and effectiveness on the classic primitive pattern, but in the same way it tends to be over-simplified to the extent of making you feel you have seen it before.