For about half the picture, the hero of The Bridge on the River Kwai is a British Colonel (Alec Guiness) whose depth of courage and sense of duty is at once touching, magnificent, and comic. Part of the success of The Bridge is that its courageous hero is shown from all angles, in all kinds of mirrors. He is strong, stubborn, fallible, maniacal, silly, and wise; and in the end he is pathetic, noble, and foolish. It is as the picture progresses that you become increasingly aware of the complexity—the pathos, the foolishness, the nobility—of the Colonel’s actions.
Once upon a time—in the era of Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men (1957), say—Robert Redford’s The Conspirator could have been the kind of movie that liberal high-school teachers expected their students to see. It’s good for you.
I find my feeling for Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn is a mixture of personal respect and professional regret.
Prolific American film director Sidney Lumet died late last week at the age of 86. He was nominated for five Oscars and won an honorary award from the Academy in 2005. His first film, directed in 1957, was 12 Angry Men; his last, from 2007, was Before the Devil Knows Your Dead. Over five decades, The New Republic's film critic Stanley Kauffmann reviewed dozens of Lumet's films. Here, we present four of those reviews. Q&A, 1990 The Verdict, 1982 Dog Day Afternoon, 1975 Long Day's Journey Into Night, 1962
The film version of The Seven Year Itch, George Axelrod’s Broadway hit, has carried over enough of the play’s sophisticated brightness to indicate the reasons for the play’s success: the perfect fulfillment of the well-known Broadway genre of gag, gag, punch-line, epigram, and paradox, crackling like machine-gun fire for three acts until everyone is exhausted, and everything but the next wisecrack is unreal. Certainly some very funny things get said, as when a vegetarian waitress in an offhand way presents the first serious argument for nudism: pacifism.
They are the two of the oddest men in an American movie of the early 1950s, and, somehow, their oddity is excused by the fact that they meet. Neither one on his own could have sustained a picture. I’m talking about Guy Haines and Bruno Anthony in Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951). The title suggests an accidental meeting, but, once the bump has happened, we don’t credit chance. Bruno is in charge from the start. You can’t look back on the movie and think he wasn’t tracking Guy.
Nobody had seen or heard anything like the first half of Sweet Smell of Success in 1957. It wasn’t just the way the picture went out onto the streets and into the bars of Manhattan, letting cameraman James Wong Howe get his best stuff at dawn and twilight. Film noir had made hay with darkness for ten years, but still, you didn’t get a lot of real night in American pictures.
I wish to report editorial pressure on me to review the film version of “Gone with the Wind,” from which I have been shrinking ever since the first year of hot gossip over who was to play Clark Gable. The editors don’t really care whether it is a good thing for me to see or what line I take on it. What they want is an office guinea pig; they want someone to go sit through that four hours of four million dollars, to see what the shooting’s fer—as naturally no one as smart as an editor would subject himself to such a business without visual proof that it won’t kill you.
There are some rather dumb—but in a way brilliant—gimmicks that have a strong, and it would almost seem a perennial, public appeal. Books or plays or movies based on them don’t even have to be especially well done to be popular: readers and audiences respond to the gimmick. Sometimes this kind of trick idea is so primitive that it’s particularly attractive to educated people—perhaps because they’re puzzled by why they’re drawn to it and so take it to be a much more complex idea than it is. Frankenstein is one of these fantastic, lucrative “ideas”; The Pawnbroker is almost one.
You can see why HBO thought to re-make Mildred Pierce, especially if it had Kate Winslet committed to playing the title part. The James M. Cain novel (published in 1941) is attuned to our grim economy: It’s the story of a single mother in Glendale in 1931 who has to take a job as a waitress and who then builds it into a flourishing, modest restaurant trade, based on the pies she bakes at home. As with so much of Cain, this is a story about money and business—I think he was more interested in those things than in the sex that dogged his reputation.