Page 10, 26th February 1982

26th February 1982
Page 10
Page 10, 26th February 1982 — Uncle Tom in a sentimental melodrama of early New York

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Locations: New Rochelle, New York


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Uncle Tom in a sentimental melodrama of early New York

Films by Freda Bruce Lockhart

MY ONLY serious objection to Ragtime (AA. ABC Shaftesbury Avenue) is to its title and the disappointment it could cause.

When the first strains of early rag issued from the white keys under the black fingers of Coalhouse Walker Junior (Howard E. Rollins) my hopes rose that this would be the beginning of the new cycle of musicals I had heard Pauline Kael promise on television the previous evening.

Even my disappointment at finding this not so can hardly count as serious criticism. For true to my reluctance to keep up with current best-sellers, I had never read E. L. Doctorow's novel, so had not realised that Czechoslovak Milos Forman's vivacious movie of little old New York and New Rochelle at the turn of the century had its origins in a best-seller.

To begin with I thought this must be a pseudo-documentary account of some celebrated case of outrage, when a bourgeois American family was scandalised by'ctirde'"df its black tweenies having her baby in their garden.

Father Thaw (James Olson) is stern and shocked, but his softerhearted wife (Mary Steenburgen) decides to adopt the little black boy and with him all the problems of racial justice at that stage of American history.

Once embarked on this sentimental melodrama I realised this was no documentary but rather "Uncle Tom, 1982."

As a foreigner, however gifted, Forman seemed a curious choice of director to replace brilliant Robert Altman when the latter was taken off the picture.

But Forman has succeeded in giving us quite a lively sketch of early New York, when Teddy Roosevelt was President and nickelodeons and their early movies were new, with the raffish showbiz world centring round Madison Square Garden and the beautiful model Evelyn Nesbit (Elizabeth McGovern), while extracting all due sympathy and outraged sense of justice from the final trial of the innocent black man Coalhouse Walker.

The piece de resistance is of course the final arrival on the screen of veteran James Cagney as the Chief of Police, to give a performance which points his lifelong talent to a pitch of octogenarian perfection. There are gaping inconsistencies before the end, but, the film is very enjoyable, even though it runs counter to Scott Joplin's maxim quoted at the beginning of the paperback: "Ragtime should never be played fast".

Christopher Miles evidently has an obsession or addiction for the works of D. H. Lawrence which today seems quaintly oldfashioned. Miles has already made one good film of a Lawrence' story, The Virgin and the Gypsy.

This year, too, we saw a surprisingly good movie of the unfilmable shocker, "Lady Chatterley's Lover".

Now Miles tries again with The Priest of Love (AA, Classic Haymarket, Screen on the Hill) as Lawrence described himself.

Based on a book by Harry T. Moore and on Lawrence's own books and letters and described as his life, it might justly claim to be a sketch for or from his life.

It is the account of one of the hectic journeys to Mexico of Lawrence (Ian McKellen) and his German wife, Frieda (Janet Suzman); and not only Frieda but two other doting ladies, his aristocratic American patroness, Mabel Dodge Luhan (the part does not give Ava Gardner much chance for more than her usual air of distinction and beauty) and the Honourable Dorothy Brett who allows Penelope Keith to blossom out of her Television stereotype into delightful warmth and elegance.

Poet of Love contains some very nice film work, both of direction and acting All the performances from Ian McKellen's Lawrence and his ladies to one of John Gielgud's priceless guest cameos are impeccable. Interpretation may be in the mind of the beholder but to me this often amusing film presents Lawrence more as what we should now call a television personality ("controversial" of course) or "showbiz celebrity" than the "the greatest imaginative novelist of his generation" as E. M. Forster called him or "The Priest of Love" as he called

himself and persuaded his ladies to believe.

The story of the latest Disney studio product is told in the one word of its title: Dragonslayer (A, Classic, Haymarket and Odeon. Marble Arch).

It has, however some nice touches. Set in the darkest of dark ages, it is often very difficult to see what goes on, but an early gleam of light discloses the familiar welcome face (accompanied by the unmistakable voice) of Ralph Richardson, giving a master class in magic and a warning of dragons to a youth outing.

After making their way to the mountain top with a hint of climbing to Christianity from the pagan underworld, the right boy despatches a most lifelike dragon and dealing with hazards, some aerial, en route, everybody will leave for summer holidays in high spirits.

Not remarkable, but up to standard and ever welcome.

If ever a life story of our times demanded the highest glamour and sophisticated gloss Hollywood could lay on to do it justice, it is surely the rise of Coco Chanel to the topmost rung in command of world fashion.

Instead, the producers of Chanel Solitaire (ABC, Shaftesbury Avenue) have made of this great adventure of feminine enterprise a stereotyped sentimental chronicle of familiar stages in Chanel's career, none of them explored in any depth which might illuminate Chanel's taste, philosophy or genius.

Marie-France Pisier is beautiful and charming and just about once catches a distant look of Chanel.

The part does not demand, and she does not give it anything more illuminating than a plain chronicle of known stages in her career.

Of course the story from convent orphanage to the height of haute couture will fascinate many and for millions that will have to do for now.

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