BY FREDA BRUCE LOCKHART
not a great film year, and certainly not a great year for the English-speaking cinema. Looking hack over the year I grow more conscious of the gulf yawning between those countries France, Italy, Sweden, Polandwhere movies are made as music is composed, or still pictures painted ; and countries like ours and the United States where movies are made as newspapers or discs are mass produced to make money.
It was a year of "X" films, sex films, black films, grey films reflecting more or less the world around them. Most of all it was a year of huge films, of wider and wider screen spectacles hurled by Hollywood in desperation to counter the ever-present threat of the tiny TV screen in the home.
MY BEST -VET, when I look to choose my
best film of the year, I have no doubt at all that the best film and also the one I enjoyed most was quite a small picture, the Italian IL POSTO which most people in Britain have not yet even seen.
It is an original film by the young director Ermanno Olmi, about another very humble young man in his first office job, beautifully played. Technically it seems perfectly made as a finely turned cabinet. Moreover, wherever you open it, wherever you stop to look at supporting characters or backgrounds, they are as rich and perfectly seen as the central character.
It is a small film because it looks at the whole human comedy through a small opening.
MY next favourite was another comparatively small film, and more sentimental, the Soviet "Ballad of a Soldier", directed by Chukrai as an idyll of the two days' leave chosen by a young involuntary hero of the Red Army for his reward.
A magnificent French film was LEON MORIN, PRETRE, notable especially for Jean-Pierre Belmondo's wonderful performance as the young priest whose firmness of faith makes a convert of the woman whose hostility to the Church would be in danger of turning to love for the man if it were not for the priest's steadfastness.
Half a dozen other French pictures of first quality were shown at festivals and will be generally shown here next year. Emmanuele Riva emerged as the star French actress of the most serious French pictures. with a curious vogue for the American young actress, Jean Scherg. in lighter-weight films. At both extremes Belmondo was the reigning French actor.
SWED1SH Ingmar Bergman camnot be overlooked, and both the medley of black magic with Christianity in THE VIRGIN SPRING, and more modern occultism in THE DEVIL'S EYE he made memorable. But I do not remember his pictures with pleasure, not even the partial pleasure with which I remember
the works from the fascinating new Polish school. EROICA, by Andrzej Munk was a masterpiece, a testament of Polish heroism half tragic, half bitterly ironic. Even Kawalerowicz's beastly film of demoniacally possessed nuns, MOTHER JOANNA OF THE ANGELS, had unforgettably fine things. Germany, of all places, made use of Bruce Marshall's FATHER MALACHY'S MIRACLE, to make a typically bitter statement on the human predicament.
SOME individuals, some pie(ores, and some tendencies bridged the gap between films of quality and films of profit. Chief among them must be Sophia Loren, the cinema's great actress of the day whether in Italian. English or American films. During 1961 she shone in LA CIOCIARA (Two Women), de Sica's harrowing and exuberant film from Moravia's novel about the sufferings of Italians at the hands of their victorious allies. She shone too in the international Anglo-American Spanish ballad EL CID, one of those monster spectacles, stiff at the joints as they move from battle-scape to battle-scape with something of the straight sweep of the castle's move in chess. As Chimene, Miss Loren had little to do but look beautiful, which she did with enough ease to have power in plenty in reserve for the scene where her dying husband arranges that dead or alive he must ride at the head of his troops on the morrow.
grAE these giant spectacles, EL V CID seemed much the best, thanks to Anthony Mann's stylish direction and Charlton Heston's considerable performance in the title role. Almost as effective was SPARTACUS. defended by a cast including many of the respected English actors whose speech is thought appropriate for ancient Rome-Peter Ustinov, Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton & co. The star (and producer) was Kirk Douglas with Jean Simmons for heroine, and the whole film was a cut above the nonsense usual in these spectacular epics.
CCOMING down the scale in size, John Cassavetes. the actor whose "Shadows" (made on a shoestring the previous year) had created great interest, followed up with a notable start in the commercial cinema in TOO LATE BLUES, "X" but certainly one of the year's best American films.
For once there was no great Western, though Marlon Brando's laborious ONE-EYED JACK qualified by size.
An enjoyable Western was THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, but its antecedents were less traditional than usual, for it used the same story as the Japanese THE SEVEN SAMURAI.
DON MURRAY made a worthy effort in THE HOODLUM PRIEST, to tell the story of the Jesuit Father, Dismas Clark, and his work among convicts.
THE MISFITS, from a screenplay by playwright Arthur Miller, was a touching and effective vehicle for his wife, with scope for a very enjoyable last performance by the late Clark Gable, though I remember the last part with its hideous catching of wild horses with almost as much horror as I remember the first with pleasure.
Two men deserved our grateful memories for trying to keep some laughter in the cinema. They are Bob Hope and Walt Disney.
Hope's first comedy of the year. FACTS OF LIFE, co-starring Lucille Ball, was exceedingly funny. Walt Disney, whose films come British or American almost willy-nilly, produced one really original comedy, THE ABSENTMINDED PROFESSOR, with Fred MacMurray. and an amusing cartoon, A HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIANS, from Dodie Smith's book, besides the usual complement of children's and nature films.
BEST British picture was almost certainly A TASTE OF HONEY, directed by Tony Richardson from Shelagh Delaney's fairly horrifying memories of childhood in the industrial North. The seamy circumstances were treated and played with great human feeling.
A FLAME IN THE STREET, about the problems of London's new Coloured population, was a pamphlet written presumably to a brief but came off surprisingly well.
VICTIM, with Dirk Bogarde as the barrister who risked his own reputation to show up the vulnerability of homosexuals to blackmail under present British law, was another piece of pamphleteering, but worthwhile. WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND was an engaging British film of a little girl who thinks she has found Our Lord back on earth, and everybody will remember young Alan Barnes as her small brother.
Technically, THE GUNS OF NAVARONE qualified as British and proved a splendid schoolboys' adventure, though pretty violent.
THERE were some shocking 1. disappointments too. of which the greatest must be KING OF KINGS, to anybody who still expected anything of it.
The effort to make Mexico's Cantinflas an international star flopped miserably in PEPE.
A small film of topical inspiration, which made some impact was Val Guest's THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGIIT FIRE, another in what seems a new school of minor didactic British films.