New movies for the Christmas period look like a crop of hardy annuals. There are this year's Bond, this year's Disney and this year's "Airport" omnibus. Two pairs of cops, one based on fact, one on fiction, both try to fight the good cop's fight against corruption. And, of course, -there is Billy Wilder's new version of Howard Hughes's 1931 classic The Front Page.
Series seldom grow stronger as they grow older. So I approached the week without high hopes. Above all, I was ready to think we had come to the end of the James Bond legend. Instead I am bound to admit that The Man with the Golden Gun ("A", Odeon, Leicester Square) is for my tasteejust about the best of Bond. Not that Bond (Roger Moore) is the golden gunman
of the title. That is Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) the million
dollar professional assassin whom "M" (Bernard Lce) and his invaluable Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) assign Bond to pursue.
Once the deafening din of pre-credit music has abated the hunt is on and neither pace nor ingenuity ever flags. Only, as the adventure takes 007 East (Thailand, Japan, China), the endless display of martial arts sometimes palls.
What the public expects Bond to indulge in is superhuman prowess, violence, vulgarity, gadgetry and girls. All arc here in abundance. The violence is very violent, although its tongue-in-cheek exercise makes it as unlikely to give much offence as the lightly
touched impropriety (one of the golden bullets being lodged
in a Beirut dancing-girl's navel!). The gadgetry attains real virtuosity from the car chase where Bond (or his double)_ loops a very big loop. Scaramanga's private island off China where he ex periments in the development of solar energy provide the scifi core of both gadgetry and suspense.
Roger Moore maybe neither as gifted an actor nor as power ful a personality as Sean Connery, but he fits the selfmocking Bond image like the best armour. Christopher Lee must have enjoyed the chance to act a bit. Scaramanga's staff, like Queen Christina's in "The Abdication" consists of one very resourceful dwarf (Herve Villechaize).
and onLsittgirElskla(Mndauads Adams
Good-Night" locked in the boot of the villain's car for a hair-raising journey) are livelier than most Miss Worlds. The familiarity of other names involved, of Guy Hamilton the director, and all his team signifies not contempt but expert skill.
The Island at the Top of the World ("U", Leicester Square Theatre) likewise sails into science-fiction and likewise has more substance than many of the fantasies for which we are so grateful to the Disney studios.
Donald Sinden, as a quirky sea captain, sets out toloOk for his missing son with a
Norwegian archaeologist determined to find the island at the top of the North Pole. They travel by airship captained by a volatile Frenchman (Jacques Marin).
The interesting and original core of the picture is the life on the lost island inhabited not by apes but by venerable figures from the Norse sagas. David Hartman, as the captain's longlost son, and a very pretty and young Swedish actress, Agneta Eckemyr, are the inevitable young lovers. Miss Eckemyr really does look like a mediaeval maiden, almost a young Yseult.
Airport 1975 (" A", Paramount) is not just the old "Airport" with a new passenger list. In one way it follows the old formula for a journey under threat of danger with a well-assorted passengerlist.
The novelty is that when the big Boeing is damaged and the pilot (Peter Lawford) is injured it is the chief stewardess or air hostess (Karen Black) who has to take the controls under the minutely close radio direction of Charlton Heston. So far so good in a contrived way. But that is not enough for the producers of the film who pile threat upon threat. Radio contact is lost with ,Base, where Heston has succeeded in joining George Kennedy to issue instructions. Eventually he is taken up by helicopter and transferred in mid-air through the hole in the cockpit to take over the controls. Even that is not the end for he has to land his planeload without means of checking whether the undercarriage will lock when he puts it down.
Apart from an adequate quantity of fairly mechanical thrills the main entertainment is in picking favourite stars among the passengers (who, of course, include a girl racing to a kidney transplant).
My best were Myrna Loy as a lady who understandably dosed herself with alcohol, Gloria Swanson "as herself" -77years-old and still gorgeous, and Mr. Heston himself, for whom admiration never grows less with the years. Karen Black has a good shot at the stewardess turned pilot, but neither she nor the other stewardesses look as if they had been engaged for that cool. calm poise which characterises most air hostesses I have flown with.
Billy Wilder's new version of The Front Page ("AA", Universal) is very good. But it is difficult to rely on memory to compare it with Howard Hughes's 19 3 I version remembered as a sardonic masterpiece. Based on the play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, and set in the Press Room of a Criminal Court in Chicago where a hanging is awaited, it was and is a savage indictment of Press standards and an affectionate mockery of their wit and ruthlessness.
The 'ist is still there in the screenplay by Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond, also the characters, the frenzied atmosphere and the first-rate cast. Walter Mattau plays Adolf Menjou's old part as Burns, the Editor; Jack Lemmon plays Pat O'Brien's part as the ace reporter who is
trying to leave to get married; David Wayne is the rather precious Benzige,r, Edward Everett Horton's old part.
All are splendid and the fever of Press Day is well caught and the dialogue still bites. It may be only distorting memory which makes the new version look more broadly comic, the savagery less smoothly integrated with the humour. Carole Burnett is left to triumph as the condemned man's disreputable girl-friend with the heart of gold — as Mae Clarke triumphed in the same part.
A recurrent figure in American movies, at least since "Serpicon", is the policeman struggling to be an honest cop. Dave Greenberg (Ron Leibman) and Bob Hantz (David Selby) were I understand two real policemen who got all their colleagues and most bosses against them for the vehement methods by which they attack ed corruption and bureaucracy. By these same methods they are recorded as having a "97 per cent conviction rate."
In The Super Cops we see them operating principally against drug offenders and meeting corruption all the way up to the District Attorney. The pace is furious and the lesson no doubt salutary. In Freebie and the Bean ("X", Warner, West End Two), James Caan and Alan Arkin play another couple of cops whose excess of zeal wreaks havoc wherever they pass. This anarchic black farce is often funny, but there is a real language barrier to understanding the Brooklyn dialogue of these police pictures.