Page 7, 22nd March 1974

22nd March 1974
Page 7
Page 7, 22nd March 1974 — Boring brutality and violence with a beautiful background

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Locations: London, Leicester, Paris


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Boring brutality and violence with a beautiful background

One problem which faces both film companies and film critics is how best to influence the public to see or not to see a film. Direct enthusiasm or indignation seldom has the desired effect, except if manipulated with all the skills of a "blockbusting" publicity campaign.

Take Papillon ("AA,'" Leicester Square Theatre). Your initial attitude of anticipation will, I imagine, be conditioned by whether or not you have read Henri Charriere's best-selling account of his experiences in the dreaded French penal settlements in French Guiana (no longer, of course. operating).

I hadn't read it (even if I had 1 seldom want both to read and see the same popular story). The extract I saw on television made me dread the kind of film I am least interested in and feel I've seen too many of — enough to turn me into a fugitive from any kind of chain gang, however well acted.

Effective contrast

Such discouragement is not, as a matter of fact, a bad way of heightening enjoyment. Realising that the title was a deceptive suggestion of a butterfly-weight light romantic comedy, I set off to see the film in a heavyhearted spirit of duty.

Here indeed was all the brutalityand violence I find boring rather than upsetting. But the beautifully colourful settings (production designer Anthony Masters told me they spent 17 months on location in Jamaica to get the varied backgrounds of seacoast and jungle) are all spectacularly effective.

Changes of camp, from one ghastly reclusion for solitary confinement to the next, with escapes in between, keep the scene varied. The screenplay is by Dalton Trumbo (with . Lorenzo Semple, Jr) who has mastered the slow tension proper to this kind of subject. The film is directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, who made "Patton" — one of the most magistral of American war films since 1945.

Steve McQueen, as Charriere, and Dustin Hoffman, as Louis Dega — his small Jewish fellow-convict, fellowhero — are as effectively contrasted a team in their mutual devotion through adversity as Hoffman and Jon Voight were in "Midnight Cowboy." I shall not forget the ice cold ruthlessness of the French commandant (Richard Angarola), or Barbara Morrison's exceptionally uncharitable Mother Superior. I offer this string of names as the only suggestion I can come up with — other than an appetite for violence — for reasons why anybody should pay to take pleasure so sadly, or why I found the first threequarters of the film absolutely riveting. I can only offer the fact that I did as a tribute to the uncanny skill of the whole team.

In honesty I must recommend it to anybody not positively prone to be distressed by brutality on the screen — and with only the reservation that 2{ hours is too long — by at least three-quarters of an hour.

How to put people off seeing a particular film is at least as tricky a problem. I had already written my mind in the Catholic Herald about "The Exorcist" before it was publicly shown in London. Now that it is playing at its five West End cinemas, I feel bound to reiterate my conviction that the film is simply not worth any of the fuss.

I only wish that wellintentioned bodies such as the

Festival of Light would learn that by agitating for it to be banned (of' course it should be banned if there were any sense in our film censorship, but no more so than half the "X" films which are shown), they are only reinforcing the publicity mustering millions to flock to it.

I agree with whoever first compared it with a Hammer horror picture. I found it much less frightening than a good Hammer horror or the latest Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell ("X," on release). In this farrago of body-snatching and brain-transplanting, Dave Prowse makes an appropriately endearing and grotesque monster, Peter Cushing does his usual elegant mad baron. and Shane Briant makes an agreeable young doctor.

There is no doulit perversity in the way we have all grown to accept these Hammer horrors as fun. Sound British common sense, I can't help feeling. is behind the reaction of both

critics and audiences that as a Film "The Exorcist" is only worth the same kind of giggle. ' But that doesn't make Church Rites a seemly object of it.

How ardently to recommend The Third Part of the Night ("X," Paris-Pullman) is yet another part of the problem. This Polish film, by Andrzej lulasvski, is intensely serious, undoubtedly brilliant in subtlest Eastmancolour, but disturbing and baffling.

But it is a deeply obscure "search-for-identity" story in the nightmare of the hero's memories of growing up under the stress of the Nazi occupation.

I found it fascinating, but the apocalyptic nightthare embraces such horrors—the feeding of lice for typhoid inoculations. as well as more normal terrors like Nazi round-ups or the birth of a baby — as proved too much for the strong-minded Scandinavian friend who accompanied me, So this is recommended with a caution.

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