AMONG the new summer holiday movies, the most nearly grown-up entertainment is Three Women ("AA", Curzon).
Certainly t he most sophisticated, it is written, produced and directed by Robert Altman, of Mash and Nashville.
Not that there is anything very mature about either the characters or their setting in a Californian "desert spa." This is a bathing establishment where stout or ageing ladies and gentlemen swim and diet under a regime of mercenary severity.
Two of the eponymous heroines are the novice bath-attendant Pinkie Rose (Sissy Spacek) and her more extrovert colleague, Millie Lammoreaux (Shelley Duvall), assigned to show Pinkie her duties. Pinkie's naivety infuriates Millie — and perhaps the audience — until Pinkie takes a header into the swimming bath, bashes her skull and emerges a new woman to dominate Millie and take over her personality as well as her uncouth lover, Edgar (Robert Fortier). Her own senile parents Pinkie refuses to recognise.
The third woman is Edgar's pregnant wife, Willie (Janice Rule) callously left to give birth in a painful scene. There's a hint it may all be a dream, but not whether Pinkie's or Altman's. Partly seen darkly through the waters of the swimming bath. it reminded me more of Altman's obscure though beautiful Images than of his other work.
"The film grows on you," I was assured by a man seeing it for the second time. It might. The more you see of people, the better you understand them. My trouble was I never wanted to see any of the characters in Three Women again or to know any more about them, although all three are excellently played and Shelley Duvall may well have deserved her Cannes Festival Best Actress award.
The rest is summer holiday fare. Elder boys who prefer mechanical
toys to dolls will enjoy Smokey and the Bandit ("A", Plaza 1), an extended car chase of uninhibited fun. "Smokey" is apparently local slang for the police. Bandit (Burt Reynolds at his most endearingly self-mocking) is a truck-driver who accepts a challenge to carry a load of contraband beer across Arkansas to Atlanta.
Accompanied — or followed — by an old friend, Cledus (Jerry Reed) in an 18-wheeler, pursued by a clown of a sheriff (Jackie Gleason), Bandit sets out on a topspeed, all-eventful chase. Leaping his truck over rivers, tipped off about police moves over the Citizen's Band radio, Bandit still finds time to pick up a runaway bride (Sally Field) in her weddingdress. The arrival of Smokey helicopters is only one highspot on a speedrun the mechanical-toy boys will find hugely entertaining, though to some of us it may just be noisy.
Walt Disney productions are the customary purveyors of children's screen entertainment. Even the younger groups, however, may not be wholly enchanted or convinced by the magic operation of the Borgia ring bandied back and forth between thieves and pawnbroker iii The Shaggy DA ("I)", General Release). The ring carries an inscription which when read aloud (by no matter whom) transforms young lawyer Wilby Daniels (Dean Jones) into a large sheepdog. There is a little elementary humour in this metamorphosis of man and dog, but most children, I think, demand more logic in their magic. With Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger ("U", Empire) we are back among traditional children's classics. This version, directed by Sam Wanamaker, is co-produced by Ray Harryhausen, the special visual effects wizard. These effects include not only his animal creations like the Minaton, a giant brazen bull-man, and the more avuncular hearth-rug-type tiger, but the exotic shrines and climate of an Arabian Night's World's End.
Sinbad lands at his Arabian port to find the Prince not yet crowned but turned into a baboon by the black magic of his stepmother, Zenobia (Margaret Whiting). Sinbad and his party have to sail on to find a guide to the land beyond the North Wind. Although erratic this is often exciting adventure fantasy and the Harryhausen bestiary quite outclasses the human cast except for Margaret Whiting'S ferocious stepmother. Gulliver's Travels ("U", General Release), starring Richard Harris, takes Swift's great satire right back into the nursery where most of us first met it. This is neither the first film derived from Gulliver's journey to Lilliput nor the most inspired. Live action and animated cartoon are combined, with the difference that miniature sets for Lilliput were built in a British studio, while the animations are by the Belgian studio, Belvision.
The intended third-dimensional perspective is only partially effective and the story, with songs by Michel Legrand, is even less pointed. But as a magazine-type illustration to the youngest nursery version or Gulliver's visit to the little people, it will just about do.
Oren ("A", ABC, Shaftesbury Avenue) also stars Richard Harris but hardly scores a double. It is a very sub-standard spin-off of the Jaws syndrome, with a killer whale instead of a shark, and lacking menace or conviction. Nor is it likely to do much for Charlotte Rampling, whose presence is always welcome, even as a marine biologist.
Brother and Sister ("AA", Paris. Pullman) may sound like another children's tale, but is. not just that. After all the spectacular and subtle Japanese films we have seen, it comes rather like Puccini after Verdi. There is nevertheless a fascinating similarity in the problems which befall the exotic family in a.village outside Tokyo to those which might beset their • Western contemporaries in a comparably novelettisla tale: problems of abortion or miscarriage, television and traffic, drink and unemployment, parents' disappointment with their children and vice versa. Too highly coloured perhaps, but neither inhuman nor dull.