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No Blade of Grass (1970)
On-the-cheap film of a minor sci-fi classic
I read the novel when I was a lad but was never able to lay hands on the film until recently. The movie is far worse than I had imagined it could be. The acting is very bad - the female lead, played by producer-writer-director Cornel Wilde's wife - is among the worst actresses I've ever seen. She's right up there with Mrs. Tom Laughlin in the horrendous "Billy Jack" movies. The rest of the film is also poorly cast - though it was fun to see one or two familiar faces pop up, among them a prominent actor from "Citizen Kane." The film seems to have been so badly under financed that Wilde was forced to pad the film with stock footage of belching smokestacks, polluted rivers and dead animals. The garishly colored flash forwards are a miserable idea, as is Wilde's narrowing of the frame in scenes of childbirth and particularly gruesome animal carcasses.
Confusion over two versions of "Oceans"
It's important to note there are TWO versions of this film. Jacques Perrin's original runs 104 minutes and is narrated by Perrin in French. Disney bought the film, cut 20 minutes (much of it critical of human activity endangering the oceans and animal habitats), junked Perrin's spare narration, which lets you wonder at the sights on view, and substituted a gabby but emotionally chilly commentary by Pierce Brosnan.
Perrin's original version is not available in the US, per contract with Disney. The original is available in Europe on DVD and Blu-Ray (but unplayable on most US machines) but it seems to lack English subtitles. So you're pretty much stuck with Disney edition.
The original, however, is to my mind better and much more in line with Perrin's "Winged Migration" than the Disney version. The best that can be said for the US edition is that plays down the "humanizing" of animal life that was an annoy hallmark of Disney's True-Life Adventures of the 1950s.
New Faces (1954)
Dated but nostalgic memento of Broadway gone-by
I can't imagine anyone but Broadway babies much liking this film more than 50 years after its release, but it offers a unique slice of American theater history and I am glad it's been preserved. "New Faces of 1952" was the most successful of Leonard Sillman's Broadway shows and introduced a raft of talent - Eartha Kitt (who became an overnight sensation), Paul Lynde, Alice Ghostley, Ronnie Graham, Robert Clary and Carol Lawrence (five years before "West Side Story"). Mel Brooks was one of the writers and Sheldon Harnick ("Fiddler on the Roof") contributed to the score. The skits on contemporary events (a spoof of hip music and the Senate, a sketch on "degenerate" Southern writers like Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams) are, naturally, pretty flat these days. But some of the musical numbers are very nice and it's great to see some old familiar faces when they were young and starting out. The show ran more than a year on Broadway and did a short tour to the West Coast. 20th Century Fox was still eagerly showcasing its CinemaScope format and decided to film the show, rather hastily, in Hollywood. The film is a rarity in that it is one of the few films made from a Broadway with its original cast intact and perhaps the ONLY revue ever filmed pretty much as it was on B'way, though shortened (and somewhat revised to play up Kitt's fame - she didn't sing "Santa Baby" in the original show but does here). Regrettable, Fox didn't preserve the film and let its copyright lapse a number of years ago. The present DVDs, and there are several, all seem to stem from a worn print discovered God knows where. The transfer, washed out and fuzzy but widescreen (at least), seems to have made with a camera photographing a screening (and not quite getting all of the image in). I saw the film when I was very young and don't remember it being this disjointed, leading to suspicions that some short pieces are missing.
ABC Stage 67: A Christmas Memory (1966)
Is it ever on TV any more?
The late Geraldine Page is simply wonderful in this film, made by Frank and Eleanor Perry for ABC TV in 1966. (Sadly, the boy who plays young Truman isn't very good.) But it's a pity this version, which Capote narrates, has been buried or driven off the market by the regrettable, badly written, late 1990s remake with Patty Duke. I haven't seen this adaptation, which was also theatrically released in "Trilogy" with other Capote stories, on television since the mid 80s. Thankfully, it was still on local TV stations at Christmas time then (though in sadly battered prints), and I was able to record it for future years. No Christmas Eve is complete without a showing. It never fails to bring smiles and tears.
The Naked Truth (1957)
Apparently released both as "The Naked Truth" and "Your Past Is Showing" (the name on the title card and title I remember in the U.S. run), this bustling little comedy about tabloid blackmailer is still jolly good fun going on 50 years later. Credit an amusing script and some fine casting that captures a gaggle of top-flight '50s British comedy talent in top form. Terry-Thomas and a young Peter Sellers (filmed here just before he gained fame with "The Mouse That Roared") are at the pinnacle of their Brit-comedy game and are ably abetted by the redoubtable Peggy Mount, luscious Shirley Eaton (a few years before her turn as the "golden girl" in "Goldfinger"), a caddish Dennis Price (as the oily blackmailer) and assorted classic British comedy stars, a number of whom seem to have had recurring bits in the "Carry On" series. The humor here is not as low and juicy as the "Carry On"s or as high and dry as the classic Ealing Studio Ealing comedies of the period - a pleasing mix. By contemporary standards, the film is a little slow - especially the set-up through the opening reels - but it all pays off very nicely with an avalanche of chuckles and a few great belly laughs. Keep a close eye on Sellers: although he plays a single character (a cheesy TV variety show emcee), he dons multiple disguises through the film, warming up for future roles in "Mouse" and "Dr. Strangelove" (where he played three parts in each) and those later "Pink Panther" comedies.
"The Visitor" holds a rare distinction: of the thousands of films I've seen as a paying moviegoer and paid critic, it is probably the one at the VERY bottom of the barrel. Compared to this, "Plan 9 from Outer Space" and other Ed Wood movies come across as masterpieces of celluloid art. A weird Italian-American ripoff of the horror/sci-fi cycle of the '70s (from "Omen" to "Close Encounters"), this movie looks as though it was made by a hallucinating crew that tossed the old script and started with a new one every day. There is virtually no continuity - and most of the big Hollywood names apparently working for scale and by the day (Shelley Winters, John Huston, Glenn Ford, Sam Peckingpah, etc.) stagger very briefly about looking hung over and very confused. For years, I thought my dim recollections of this movie were a bad dream; but IMDb proves I actually DID sit through this, ah, epic. The most vivid memory I have of it, for some reason, is Shelley Winters doing a perky rendition of "Shortn'ng Bread." Nelson Eddy must have spun in his grave - and if was dead yet, that probably killed him!
Pretty much on target
The earlier review is pretty much on target, which Altman was NOT with this film. I haven't seen it since its original release but I have seldom spent two hours in a theater feeling as miserable and disappointed as I was with this film. If some pretentious community theater attempted a sci-fi version of a Ingmar Bergman film, it might come off like this. I can't bring myself to give anything Altman has made a "1" but this is probably the nadir of a career that has had some remarkable highs and lows. I would have walked out, but as a paid film critic I couldn't. (Think about that the next time you envy movie critics.)