Page 6, 20th February 1981

20th February 1981
Page 6
Page 6, 20th February 1981 — Venerable oldies that can still deliver the goods

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Organisations: United States War Office
Locations: Naples


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Venerable oldies that can still deliver the goods

SEVEN MOVIES will not Squeeze into this column, except as fingernail sketches. Two new remakes Little Lord Fauntleroy ("U", Classic Haymarket) and The Cat and The Canary ("AA" Odeon, Kensington) signal the survival value of some venerable "oldies".

I never saw the first 1922 version where Mary Pickford played the hero, but I remember Freddie Bartholomew (surely one of the best and most tolerable of child actors) in the 1936 version.

This time round, Ricky Schroder (of The Champ) is the little transatlantic Mr Cinders, summoned with his poor but honest seamstress widowed mother (Connie Booth) from Hester Street. Brooklyn to England and Belvoir Castle, to melt the heart of his noble but disapproving English grandfather (Alec Guinness) and brought up to be the future Earl of Dorrington.

With the infallibility of a good child actor. Ricky Schroder never puts a golden hair wrong.

At the other end of the scale, Alec Guinness is equally impeccable, from stern disapproval of his favourite son's mismarriage with an American commoner to every tug of the grandson at his heartstrings.

Perfect performances too, from Eric Porter as Favisham, the Earl's right-hand man, Connie Booth and Cohn Blakely.

Jack Gold's movie is witty, elegant and tender, poignant without being sickly, it will bring a happy tear to many eyes. Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel, with its Anglo-American gently giving special relationship an almost Upstairs. Downstairs sociology is freshly topical and timelessly irresistible.

The Cat and the Canary has already been filmed four times, the last with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. It is the basic thriller of a party trapped in a house of terror monitored by the sombre often sinister figure of the housekeeper (the late Beatrix Lehmann). Always a nonsensical essay in fear, suspense and surprise, with a first-rate English cast, it still works.

Among my eight new movies, two clearly major works raise the question of the cinema's capacity for dealing with philosophical argument. Stalker ("A" Academy Cinema Two) is Andrej Tarkovsky's latest. Previous pictures I greatly admired were his science fiction masterpiece; Solaris also, Andre] Roublev. his account of an icon painter; and the more obscure. autobiographical and still beautiful Mirror. Stalker is at least as obscure, but still beautiful. Like "Solaris" it records a journey — but a journey whither? Into the future? or into the centre of the soul (as a Russian magazine suggested)?

A meteorite or visitors from another world have devastated the land and littered it with military debris creating an interior zone.

Only official guides (stalkers) know the way and the hero guides two clients. a writer and a professor. At the centre of the Zone is said to be a room where one's deepest desires are fulfilled.

The journey is immensely slow and very beautiful, with a ravishing moment as we enter the Zone and the landscape changes from dense black and white to the most delicate colour. But its meaning grows no clearer to me, nor its three characters any more distinct. The film may be a moralpolitical allegory or a mystical fantasy. I couldn't venture an opinion.

The argument — all in Russian — is so wordy that it is imperative to concentrate on the sub-titles which are so tight-packed they take one's mind and eyes off the picture. A movie so weighted down with words seems to me the antithesis of cinema. And yet Tarkovsky, however unclear his message. is clearly one of the important talents in today's cinema.

Another obscure, long winded argument is The Ninth Configuration ("X", Odeon St Martin's Lane). Written, directed and produced by William Peter Blatty (author of The Exorcist"). this is the most extraordinary movie, set in mistshrouded Gothick "castle" in the North-West United States, said to have been taken over by the United States War Office for the psychiatric rehabilitation of what used to be called shell-shocked war wounded.

While they await the arrival of a Colonel Kane (Stacy Keach), who has a brother known as Killer Kane, patients and therapists talk endlessly round and round the existence — or non-existence — of God.

Blatty assured me from the authority of his Jesuit schooling that this was a very Catholic film. Apart from some emblems I mightn't have guessed it. He also assured me that he had tried in vain to get some of the more repulsive escesses of The Exorcist left out.

When some of the patients find their way to a bar, there proceeds a scene of the most ferocious and disgusting violence I remember on the screen since "The Straw Dogs".

Besides Fauntleroy, another almost acceptable comedy for the young is the latest Disney offering. The Devil and Max Devlin ("A", Rialto). a fairly juvenile variation on the Faust legend.

Devlin (Elliott Gould) is a pop singer who pays a quick visit to the underworld where he is persuaded to collect young souls for the devil.

Most of the recruitment is surprisingly jolly and quite tuneful, though Gould is not much more than a benevolent shadow of his sophisticated comedy self. The only real original is Julie Budd, singer. She is a striking lookalike and singalike to Barbara Streisand.

A simply entertaining comedy is 9 to 5 ("AA", Odeon, Leicester Square). Jane Fonda (making a lovely entrance, bespectacled and straw-hatted), Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton play three smart secretaries only nominally feminist but bent on turning the tables on their male chauvinist

boss (Dabney Coleman). The opening is delicious and promises really witty satire on the place of women in a businessmen's world.

Then the hard-headed writing seems to come unstuck, wilting first into a series of the girls' fantasies, then into loosely constructed farce. leading to an amusing end of scene appearance by Sterling Hayden as Chairman of the Board. It is all enjoyable fun. especially with Lily Tomlin back in good form and Dolly Parton, the singer, making a straight debut as a bubbling blonde newcomer.

The title Prostitute ("X". Screen on the Green) must he very nearly self condemnatory for any surviving Christian filmgoers. Tony Garnett, however, who assisted Ken Leach on the delightful Kes, must be credited with serious intentions in his documentary drama or dramatised documentary which aims to show something of the street girls' private lives, their relations with their customers, their social workers and their exploiters, the authorities and their effort to lobby MP's and others who might help to get the laws affecting them changed.

I've little doubt some of those laws need changing if only to effect a fairer share of blame between the girls and their customers. But the film does not make clear the changes they want: and like other films which try to tackle a sensational subject seriously, it does not disdain trying to make the best of both half-worlds, A semi grotesque concoction is The Reign of Naples (Electric Cinema, Portobello Road, a German Italian cavalcade of a Naples family in the Forties. Told in terms of the cliches of Italian melodrama, it is vehemently anti Christian Democrat and waves its clenched fists. But there is no denying that under most of the histrionics is a recognisably authentic reality.

Freda Bruce Lockhart

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