Jokey movies about religion are not usually to my taste, but it would be difficult to take offence at Oh, God! ("A", Warner, Columbia, ABC Fulham Road and Bayswater, Classic Oxford Street, Scene, Leicester Square).
That talented and endearing veteran comedian George Burns plays God, first as a voice then in a busman's cap, visiting the nice young supermarket assistant (John Denver) he has chosen to spread his message. The message (specifically Christian) is delivered ruggedly but with unforced reverence, and its impact on a modern American community is consistently, shrewdly and unembarrassingly funny.
The parable has some of the primitive religious appeal of "Green Pastures", and its only departure from simplicity and the welcome emphasis on faith and innocence is to take a sound swipe at pretentious hypocrisy and commercial exploitation. Michael Cacoyannis continues to demonstrate that Greek drama, the foundation of our Western theatrical tradition, is just as basic to the cinema. His Iphigenis ("A", Studio 3, Oxford Street, and Odeon, Chelsea) based on Euripides' tragedy of a father's sacrifice to placate the mob of his soldiery, is the most powerfully moving film we have seen for some time.
Cacoyannis applies his appreciation of the natural beauties of Greek land-and-seascape to the majesty of his country's classics. As the young lphigenia, Tatiana Papamoskou is exquisite, and the scene of her pleading with her father, Agamemnon (Costa Kazakos) almost unbearably poignant. Irene Papas's outraged grief as her mother, Clytemnestra, is a truly majestic display of dramatic acting from the whole being. To miss this superb work and still grumble about current film fare would be perverse.
Improperly Dressed ("AA", Minema) is not what it sounds, The title refers to the disguise of girl's clothing in which a young man (Endre Holman) escapes through the aftermath of Hungary's 1919 Communist experiment. Most of the action takes place in an old-world woodland sanatorium where the hero hides as a nurse. The atmosphere is slightly reminiscent of "Last Year in Marienbad" and the film may be found fanciful as well as elusive. But it is often beautiful, with the formal cavorting of horses (which seems part of Hungarian movies) in the snowclad forest.
Not being a regular viewer of the TV series, I do not slip smoothly into the old acquaintance of Sweeney 2 ("AA", ABC Shaftesbury Avenue). To the best of my recollection this is neither quite as violent nor as exciting as the previous spin-off. John Thaw, of course, is Regan, with Dennis Waterman as Carter and Denholm Elliott as the fashionably corrupt chief of the unit set to catch a gang of bank robbers operating and living in luxury on Malta. No doubt, regular addicts of this popular series will feel at home.
The White Wails (ICA, The Mall) is an elegant enough Swedish picture — except for the white subtitles illegible against the white pullover of the heroine (Harriet Andersson). Not the most memorable of Ingmar Bergman's remarkable team of actresses, she cannot under Stig Bjorkman's direction really animate this story of the loneliness and frustration of a divorcee.
Walt Disney productions are seldom as emptily uninspired as Herble Goes to Monte Carlo ("U", Odeon, St Martin's Lane). Herbie, of course, is the car which knows its own mind. But in conducting a romance with the heroine's Lancia, Herbie's mechanical magic is without logic and so without spell to cast.
One of the most satisfactory films I have seen lately is a half-hour "short" made on 16mm and not for
commercial distribution, but for hire or for sale on cassette. This is the 50-minute Mr Speaker made by the Churches' Radio and Television Centre at Bushey.
It is a fascinating account of the Speaker's work and role. Produced by the Rev Leslie Timmins, the film gives hints of Parliamentary spectacle, but even more of "democracy at work" (including a substantial interpolation of Enoch Powell) and a more detailed personality portrait of the present Mr Speaker, George Thomas, the MP for Cardiff West,
Mr Thomas has real star quality and charm, whether in Parliament or the (Methodist) pulpit, with a belief in the importance of the Speaker's role which makes this little film immensely enjoyable and worth seeing. "There is no office," he says "where the unwritten Constitution of the land is protected more than by the Speaker."
It is also satisfactory to see the work of this religious centre, a direct continuation of the pioneer work when the late Arthur Rank, a Methodist flour miller, years ago set up a modest religious film unit at the old Gaumont-British studios. He later, of course, founded the vast Rank Organisation, It is satisfactory, too, to be able to report that The Silent Witness, the documentary on the Holy Shroud of Turin, which I have already reviewed and recommended will from May 6 have a wider audience. It will be showing at the Classic, Victoria.
This is an encouraging move not only for a film of religious interest and importance, but for another film of the supposedly uncommercial length of under an hour. They may not fit programmes, but often suit viewers
Freda Bruce Lockhart