MERE size is usually a bore, but given a suitable story, Cinerama can lend a film a valuable sense of occasion, of importance as well as scale.
Alistair MacLean's story for Ice Station Zebra ("U," Casino Cinerama) is, I gather, very much better than the last film of his work we saw. I say "gather" because I am obviously not qualified to judge its scientific content, fictional or factual.
Any woman over the age of, say 35, will probably share my sinking feeling at the prospect of another picture with an allmale cast in uniform, especially in a submarine (these have their own crisis clichés), destined for the Arctic, with a British and a Russian spy on board, 16 American marines and lasting 145 minutes.
If you are a man of any age, so far as I can tell, young enough to play with boats in the bath, old enough to play with trains on the floor, you will be happy for every minute of it.
After the U.S. nuclear submarine Tigerfish, under Commander Ferraday (Rock Hudson), sets off to answer a distress signal from a British Polar weather station, where a capsule has dropped from a space satellite, an hour passes before anything really happens. Then plenty does.
The submarine's arrival, surfacing through the ice cap is thrilling by any standard. The setting on the Arctic curve of the earth's globe magnificently matches the curve of Cinerama. The arrival of a squadron of Soviet jets over the snow is spectacular in every sense. and the settlement there at the summit has a touch of cosmic summitry.
John Sturges' direction keeps up an air of dark, chill menace and the whole operation is carried out with meticulous detail. I don't imagine "Ice Station Zebra" is classified as an educational film, but many of us may be grateful for the "study guide" handed out, with a foreword "To the Teacher."
Most of the cast might be documentary figures, though Patrick McGoohan, as the British agent, is expected to make up by force of brains, wit and talent for the absence of British power from the proceedings. This he does bril
liantly, but I confess the picture still feels more like work than play to r9e *
Two remarkable Italian pictures, both,by Pier Paola Pasolini, the Marxist, who directed the magnificent "Gospel According to St. Matthew," reach London just when the Easter rush of films makes it impossible to give either the space both deserve.
No version of Oedipus Rex ("X," Cameo Poly) can be exactly drawing-room entertainment, though the version we saw last year now seems almost so compared with PasoIini's elemental rendering, rooted in antiquity and Mediterranean history yet fiercely, universally contemporary.
The marching about the sands becomes a little tiresome, as though it were a mannerism carried over from his St. Matthew film. But it is a superb spectacle brought vividly and intimately to life and passion by Franco Citti's Oedipus with Silvana Mangano as a striking Jocasta.
Pasolini's Theorem ("X," Curzon) is in total contrast, a perverse, elegant, almost Antonioni-esque variant on a "Passing of the Third Floor Back" theme.
Terence Stamp is the
Stranger who calls to stay and cast a spell on every member of a supposedly conventional well-to-do Italian household, influencing one to sex, another to sanctity.
The film is fascinating and invariably ravishing to look at. But if the Stranger is meant to be something more important than a passing spellbinder, I do not at first viewing find the point clear or convincing.
Silvano Mangano is again splendid as the mother, and with a "new face" which proves not to be just a basilisk make-up for Jocasta.
* The Greater London Council has granted its own "X" certificate to The Killing of Sister George ("X," Prince Charles Theatre), allowing it to be shown in the London area.
Most readers will surely agree that the British Board of Film Censors was right to refuse the film a certificate, in spite of the great stage success of Beryl Reid.
"Sister George," you may recall, is no nun but a favourite character in a long-running TV serial. Frank Marcus's play makes the BBC's ruthless termination of the character a professional tragedy for the actress, doubling personal tragedy in her private life.
Not having seen the play, I find the screen play coarsens the type and speech unduly. One scene which cannot fail to offend was apparently not explicit in the play and could well be omitted from the film, which it not only embarrasses but unbalances.
For there is much to appreciate: Beryl Reid's hilariously funny scenes, Susannah York's almost too-clever performance as the object of her devotion; the slashing picture of BBC internal manners, and Coral Browne's blood-chilling sketch of a "front-woman" employed to "liaise" with the artists and soothe complaints.
Compared with the excesses permitted in these three Xfilms, and as nudity or seminudity is evidently now permitted, it is quite difficult to see why the same category should be accorded two smaller movies, one French. one Russian.
Stolen Kisses ("X," Academy One) is a minor work by the distinguished director, Francois Truffaut. Even the title is misleading for what is really a rueful, nostalgic backward glance at the youthful follies of an inept young man (Jean-Pierre Leaud).
We meet him being dismissed from the army, after which he cannot do right in any job or contact on which he embarks, until we leave him being taught his first lesson by his original girl-friend: how to butter biscoltes without breaking them. It is all lightly graceful, mildly charming, quite agreeable, a pleasant change from violence and perversion.
* Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors ("X," Paris-Pullman) is a quaintly charming, prizewinning but naif Russian "primitive," a notably picturesque account of life among the people of the Carpathians.
Snowy settings, wooden buildings, the rich ornamentation and vestments in church, the attractive rough white costumes of the mountain people with their long herdsman's horns; all make a delightful picture. The propaganda line is that they suffered from "religion, tradition and superstition."
The style reminded me of a book of Russian fairy-tales I had in the nursery. But surely the Carpathians have not been within any Russian frontiers until the present ones fotmed by the Yalta partition.
100 Rifles ("X," Rialto and Studio One) sounds like many more than a hundred times "bang-bang," and one Mexican troop, with Raquel. Welch to accompany the leader, chases another without Miss Welch across the Mexican desert.
I'm glad to include one more "U" certificate film: a reissue of that very happy period piece Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines ("U," New Victoria).