TWO substantial movies to review in one week constitute a bonus in these lean times. Network ("AA"., Leicester Square Theatre) and The Middle Man ("AA", Academy), each in its different mood and sphere, express moral indignation at the corruption of its own civilisation.
Written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet, "Network" is a full-voiced highpitched attack on our Western subjection to television. "The Middle Man" is a gentler but no less perceptive exposure by the great Indian director, Satyajit Ray. of the rat-race in his own country. Both are brilliant movies, fascinating to watch.
Peter Finch made his last film in "Network", and for him it certainly meant going out with a bang. Beak (Finch) is a distinguished newscaster who has been fired because his popularity ratings have begun to slip.
The process is reversed when he goes berserk on the air and scandalises viewers and executives alike by his denunciation of the corruption of the medium and its deception of a public increasingly incapable of distinguishing the truth from what is taught by the tube.
Beale's ratings soar once more when he turns into a modern prophet of doom given his own show by a ruthless woman programme controller, Diana Christensen (played for all she is worth by Faye Dunaway, back at the top of her "Bonnie and Clyde" form).
Beale's show becomes the object of executive wrangling between various interests, including an Arab takeover squad, an "Ecumenical Liberation Army" and a troupe of Communist urban terrorists hired by Diana to prepare a revolutionary series.
Rivalry and disagreement over Beak's future can be resolved only by the logic of the great television delusion. He is shot "on camera" as a lead-in to the new terrorist series.
This is a hectic and exciting melodrama of our times, but the detail is convincing enough to stimulate very serious thought. The cast respond gratefully to the rare opportunities of such a movie, not least of them William Holden as an ageing executive clinging to shreds of respectability. The nice young protagonist of The Middle Man is Somnath (Pradip Mukherjee), a Brahmin graduate whose failure to get an honours degree (owing to the examiner's failure to find the right spectacles) compels him to pursue a commercial livelihood.
In a community where 10 advertisements of jobs vacant bring a million applications Somnath can find no better suggestion than that of his old acquaintance to rent a telephone and desk and set up on his own as a "middle man", arranging deals for commission.
One acquaintance is found to teach him tax-dodging; another trains him not to give away the names of prospective clients to potential rivals. Little by little he
learns the ropes and the tricks of trade. His disillusion is eventually complete when he has to procure a woman for a client, and she turns out to be the sister of his best friend.
This story of the gradual dissolution of a young man's good intentions is subtly and beautifully told, and disarmingly played. It is often very funny indeed, and as often touching. Each of Ray's great films seems to grow mellower in its exploration of the adaptation of the Indian to his changing environment.
Mellowing, too, is noticeable in Twenty-five Years ("U", ABC Bayswater), the Queen's Silver Jubilee Film. It is a fairly conventional scrapbook of old newsreels. royaljourneyings to New Zealand, Finland, Nova Scotia, Fiji, Boston, etc., independence ceremonies and the like, with a great deal of scarlet and gold.
Even so, there are memories for everybody to treasure like the Silver Wedding Guildhall dinner when the Queen said: "We by which I mean both of us". Or the Investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales. Or the Queen dancing with President Ford.
Over the years it is impossible not to notice the mellowing and maturing of the Queen's diction and her growth in gracious authority. One of the nicest touches is the Queen's long private ride round Windsor Park.
It would have been nice if Mr Morley could have included more intimate and informal material, but here is much for which to be grateful.
Jodie Scott is a gifted teenage actress, as she showed in "Taxi Driver" and "Bugsy Malone". But she is still too young to make it worth reviving an indifferent earlier mystery melodrama like The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane ("AA", Plaza 2). In it Jodie does indeed live in a lonely cottage ostensibly with her father who has not, however, been seen for weeks. She is visited by a succession of inquisitive young men starting with Martin Sheen. Alexis Smith gives a strong performance as another young man's mother who comes to investigate and finds more than she bargained for.
Oxford has been having its own First International Film Festival which started with a "symposium on the cinema" held in the Oxford Union and opened with Assassination at Sarajevo, starring Maximilian Schell. Florinda Bolkan and Christopher Plummer. For those who may be in the neighbourhood, there are still two days of the Oxford Festival. Today you can catch, at the ABC, Magdelen Street, Maximilian Schell's "End of the Game" and the German film, "Coup de Grace", also in the afternoon, "Intimacy Brazil" by Mike Sam the young Czech who began his career in this country.
On Saturday, the closing of' the Oxford Festival offers in the after
noon the first British presentation of Truffaut's "Story of Adele H", and in the evening another opportunity to see Visconti's "Ludwig '.
Freda Bruce Lockhart