Category Archives: 60’s Movies

Cactus Flower (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pretending to be married.

Julian (Walter Matthau) is a dentist who enjoys duping the women he sees into believing that he is married, so he can have the benefit of fooling around with them without the commitment (a sort of ‘friends-with-benefits’ scenario before it became in vogue). Problem is that his most recent girlfriend Toni (Goldie Hawn) wants to get married and threatens to kill herself unless he divorces his wife. Julian readily agrees, but Toni wants to meet his wife first, so he gets Stephanie (Ingrid Bergman) who works as his receptionist to pretend to be his wife. Things though don’t go smoothly as Stephanie has feelings for Julian and Toni realizes this, which makes her reluctant about pursuing her marriage plans with him.

The film is based on the hit Broadway play by Abe Burrows, which in-turn was based on a French play by Pierre Barillet. The plot may sound funny, but it’s actually rather dumb. There’s plenty of men who pretend not to be married when they are in order to have the excuse to fool-around and they’re women who pretend to be married when they really aren’t in an effort to ward off a guy who’s hitting on them, but a guy pretending he’s married to get women to go to bed with him seems pretty strange and I really didn’t get the logic. From his perspective I get it, sex without-the-strings, but what exactly is the woman getting out of it?

Had Toni been using Julian just like he was using her it would’ve made more sense by having her get into the relationship to benefit off of the money he was willing to spend on her, but Toni actually wanted commitment and marriage! Besides that why is she suddenly so concerned about the wife’s feelings now as she’d been having a relationship with Julian for a whole year before and not worried about it then?

There’s also the issue of why this swinging bachelor who’s commitment-phobic already is going to want to get tied-down by a ditzy lady who threatens suicide every time she doesn’t get what she wants. Better for him to dump her now and find some other chick to dupe.

I had problems with Bergman’s character too. For one thing I wanted to see more of a character arc. Having her portrayed as a sexually oppressed, cold, bitchy lady at the start who only softens at the very end once she finally finds ‘true love’ would’ve been more dramatic, but Bergman plays the part too nicely and the bitchy side gets underplayed. Lauren Bacall originated the part on Broadway and I was surprised she was that she wasn’t given the opportunity to reprise the role for the film because if there is one woman who can play a bitch to perfection it’s her.

Gene Saks’ lifeless direction is another detriment. The sets are dreary and unimaginative. The scene at the club is boring because the place has no pizazz. This was the late ‘60s and they should’ve attended some far-out psychedelic place with heavy rock music and people strung-out on acid. Toni could’ve felt comfortable being there while Julian and Stephanie wouldn’t be. This then would’ve given the opportunity to focus on the generational gap between the two as Julian was 25 years older than Toni, but the film really never touches on that.

Hawn’s Academy Award winning performance is excellent especially the close-up shot where her big blue eyes well up and a single tear trickles down her face. The scene at the club where Bergman comes up with ‘the dentist dance’ that everyone else imitates is funny. Otherwise the trite plot is too superficial to be either believable or interesting.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1969

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated M

Director: Gene Saks

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Midnight Lace (1960)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Somebody is stalking her.

Kit Preston (Doris Day) is an American who has just recently married Anthony (Rex Harrison) and moved with him to London. Shortly after her move she begins receiving phone calls from a man who speaks in a strange sounding voice and who threatens her bodily harm. When she goes to the police about it they’re not helpful and soon both her husband and friends begin to question her sanity and whether she is simply making the whole thing up.

The film is based on the stage play ‘Mathilda Shouted Fire’ by Janet Green and for the most part is well-done. I enjoyed the glossiness of it particularly the sumptuous interior design of the large home they lived in. So many times movies with this type of theme are given the low budget treatment, so it’s nice to have one done more on the highbrow level.

The pace is slow and there’s way more talking than action, but I still found myself intrigued. The voice of the stalker though could’ve been done better. I guess it’s nice not having it conform to the stereotype of a madman by having his voice deep and menacing, but this guy sounds like a cartoon character and it’s unintentionally funny. The set-up could’ve also been improved as it starts out right away with her being threatened by him in a park that seems a bit surreal and confusing since we know nothing about this character and a previous backstory would’ve helped.

The villain’s ultimate identity may surprise some, but the film tries so hard to throw in these red herrings to make you think it’s all these other people that a truly savvy viewer will start to consider the one that seems to be the least likely. The plot logistics aren’t particularly well thought out either, but this is clearly not something you’re expected to think about too hard anyways.

The film’s main selling point is Day who’s tremendous. This was a big stretch for her, but she comes away in impressive fashion. She vowed afterwards that she would never do another thriller because it was too emotionally draining and I felt emotional drained just watching her. What I liked is that instead of screaming when she panics she breaks out into a teary-eyed wail that makes her seem quite helpless, but still endearing. She stated that during the filming of these scenes she would think back to the real-life abuse that she suffered from her first husband, which makes her emotions genuine and raw and manages to strongly connect with the audience.

My only quibble and this was probably more the fault of the screenwriter than hers, is when her husband is struggling to fight off the bad guy and all she does is stand there and whimper. This was most likely a product of the era where women were expected to be more ‘dainty’ and not get involved in physical altercations, but when a guy is trying all he can to save his life and hers he might appreciate her offering him some assistance.

There’s another scene where she gets stuck in an elevator that is a bit botched too because in her attempt to sound like a hysterical women she comes off more like a gal having a weird orgasm, but overall she’s great. It might even be her best performance as she far outshines Harrison who looks too old to be her husband and wasn’t a good fit at all.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 13, 1960

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Miller

Studio: Universal Pictures

Available: DVD

Fantastic Voyage (1966)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Inside the human body.

When a Soviet scientist (Jean Del Val), who has sought asylum in the US and has crucial top secret information to give to the government, is shot in an attempted assassination, which leaves him comatose, it is up to a team of five American agents (Arthur Kennedy, William Redfield, Raquel Welch, Donald Pleasance, Stephen Boyd) to go inside his body through miniaturization and remove the blood clot on his brain with the help of a laser. The miniaturizing process is a new invention that only lasts sixty minutes before the person, or object that has been made smaller will begin to regrow. The participants must work fast, but there is an added problem as one of them is also secretly a spy who is intent on undermining the mission.

The film is hailed as a classic by many and this is mainly due to its special effects, which even in this day and age aren’t bad. The question of what gets represented here is what it would really look like if a person were put into an actual body is hard to tell, but the effects are exciting even though the characters were simply matted in front of a green screen to create the psychedelic looking background.  Yet I was still impressed as it gives off a sort-of surreal vision that made me feel like I had been transported to some foreign world along with the cast.

The script though unlike the effects is about as amateurish as you can get and if the action hadn’t been so meticulously designed this might’ve been considered a movie more suited to a camp film festival. For one thing it moves too fast particularly at the beginning. There needed to be more of a backstory about how this miniaturization process had been invented, how long it had been put to use, whether it was safe to use and who was the first to try it and had that person had any after effects none of which gets explained and is simply glossed over.

The characters are also overly obedient and willing to take on any assignment with little if any objection no matter what the potential danger. The Stephen Boyd character gets driven to the science lab and then when told that he’ll be shrunk to the size of a fingertip he puts up very little argument even though anyone else would be frightened about the prospect. Having one of the other characters call home to loved ones, or refuse to go on it would’ve helped make them seem less one-dimensional and robotic.

The crew’s conversations are boring and done in too much of a rhythmic way. Anytime an unforeseen problem arises one of them almost immediately comes up with a solution to it. We learn nothing about these people as the journey progresses nor care all that much about them. In fact the only interesting verbal exchanges that do occur are between Edmund O’Brien’s character and Arthur O’Connell’s who are inside the lab and monitoring the proceedings.

I do not have enough background in the science arena to know how authentic any of this is, but Isaac Asimov who was hired to write the novelization to the movie, stated that the script was full of ‘plot holes’. The one thing that did stand out to me was the part where the crew members are inside the patient’s inner ear and all the doctors inside the lab are forced to stand perfectly still and not make any noise as the sound vibrations could prove dangerous. However, it’s virtually impossible for there to be no noise at all. Even if someone tries to be perfectly quiet other noises that are less conspicuous would become more prominent like breathing, heartbeats, or other background sounds. In either event there would still be sound waves going through the patient’s ear long before one of the nurses accidently drops a medical utensil on the floor like they do here.

For popcorn entertainment it’s not too bad. In fact my favorite part was watching the process of how the crew gets miniaturized, which is actually pretty cool, but this is one of those films were you clearly can’t think about it too hard or it will ruin your enjoyment.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 24, 1966

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Richard Fleischer

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Comedians (1967)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life under Papa Doc.

Based on the novel by Graham Greene the film centers on Brown (Richard Burton) an emotionally detached British hotel owner residing in Haiti. He has spent years avoiding the political turmoil of the region and the Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier regime, but finds now that the walls may finally be closing in. He must deal with the suicide of a government official that occurs on his grounds in his pool as well as a visiting American couple (Paul J. Ford, Lillian Gish) with strong political connections. His ongoing affair with the wife (Elizabeth Taylor) of a South American diplomat (Peter Ustinov) risks him further trouble as does his friendship with an illegal arms dealer (Alec Guinness).

The film ebbs-and-flows unevenly and isn’t compelling despite some strong moments here and there. What grabbed my attention was the vivid on-location shooting that gives the movie an interesting visual appeal. Because of the political environment going on in Haiti the producers were not allowed to film there and instead choose the small African country of Benin, which was still called the Republic of Dahomey at the time, as their substitute setting. The contrast of the serene tropical landscape juxtaposed with the abject poverty of its citizens is stunning with the most impactful moment coming when they visit Duvalierville a planned city with expensive buildings and homes being constructed with poor homeless people scurrying around begging for money as the structures go up.

The acting though by Richard Burton is atrocious and a major hindrance. I like Burton and consider him in most productions that he has been in to be a very strong actor, but here he doesn’t seem into the part at all. His presence is quite aloof and conveys little emotion to the point that he seems to be just walking through his role and mouthing his lines.

Taylor on the other hand is quite strong and manages to speak with an authentic sounding German accent. She made many bad film choices later her in career that ended up stigmatizes her acting reputation, but if given the right script and a competent director she could clearly convey an onscreen brilliance, which she does here. Unfortunately she is not seen enough and appears only sporadically throughout. If this is supposed to be a Taylor/Burton picture then the two needed equal screen time and prominent roles instead of one being relegated to what seems like only a minor part.

The supporting cast is excellent and this is a great chance to see up-and-coming African American actors when they were just starting out including: Raymond St. Jacques, James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, George Stanford Brown, and Zakes Mokae.  Gish and Ford offer a surprisingly profound moment when they follow a procession of singing happy young children into a forum for what they think will be a religious ceremony only to find to their shock that everyone is there to witness a firing squad execution instead.

The story has its moments, but I would’ve preferred if it had been a little more focused. At times it is compelling, but it drifts back and forth between too many different story threads and never comes together as a whole not to mention a limp ending that leaves no impact.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 31, 1967

Runtime: 2 Hours 31 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Peter Glenville

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Box Set), Amazon Video, YouTube

The Swimmer (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Swimming his way home.

On a hot summer afternoon Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster) decides to something out of the ordinary. He notices that all of his neighbors have backyard pools and he could essentially ‘swim’ his way home by jogging from house to house and diving into each pool before moving onto the next one. At first it seems like a great idea and the people he meets along the way are happy to see him, but things grow increasingly darker the more pools he goes to as some of the home owners do not welcome his presence while exposing uncomfortable elements from his past. His seemingly successful, happy persona takes a beating and slowly reveals instead a lonely man who’s badly out-of-touch with those around him.

The film is based on a short story written by John Cheever and first published in The New Yorker magazine on July 18, 1964. The story amounted to only 12 pages, but screenwriter Eleanor Perry manages to expand on the idea to create a film full of nuance and interesting dialogue that reveals just enough of the characters to make it insightful without becoming heavy-handed.

Director Frank Perry does a fine job in creating atmosphere by having each residence Ned enters into completely different from each other. Some have jubilant outdoor parties going on while others have just one person there and one pool doesn’t have any water in it at all. The best scenes include a slow-motion segment where Ned and a young lady named Julie (Janet Landgard) jump over hurdles like they are at a track meet as well as the scene where Ned and a young boy named Kevin (Michael Kearney) go to the bottom of an empty pool and pretend like to swim across it like it were still filled with water.

Lancaster gives an excellent performance and it initially comes off almost like a vanity project as the viewer gets to see him practically nude the entire time and in one brief segment his buttocks gets fully exposed. What’s so impressive is the fact that he was in his mid-50s at the time, but has a muscular physique like that of an athletic 20-year-old. His deep blue eyes give a lasting impression especially when they reveal the character’s shocked realization that the bubble he had been living in has now burst.

This also marks the film debut of Joan Rivers who appears as a party goer who has a brief conversation with Ned. The scene lasts for only a few minutes, but apparently took 7-days to film because of repeated arguments between director Perry and Lancaster over how they wanted to convey her character. Perry pushed for a ‘happy girl’ who Ned rejects, while Lancaster wanted a jaded woman who ends up rejecting Ned, which is how it ultimately plays out and which I preferred.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending where Ned gets to his home only to find it empty and abandoned and he’s unable to get inside is excellent because it helps bring together everything else that came before it. My interpretation is that the pools represented memories of his life and his attempts to somehow reconcile his selfish nature with those that he had abandoned or forgotten from his past. The house symbolizes his empty soul created through years of striving for material gain while callously ignoring, or exploiting others along the way. His inability to get back inside corresponds to his failure to reconcile with himself about his behavior and the empty feeling one ultimately gets when material success ends up not being fulfilling.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The film went through a difficult production that saw many conflicts between Lancaster and Perry that ultimately got Perry fired and replaced by Sydney Pollack who reshot several scenes including the one with Janice Rule who replaced Barbara Loden whose scenes were scrapped entirely. Despite these behind-the-scenes complications the film still comes together as a fluid whole and has a nice visual style that makes it well deserving of its strong cult following.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 15, 1968

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Frank Perry, Sydney Pollack (Uncredited)

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Three (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two guys one chick.

Taylor (Sam Waterston) and Bert (Robbie Porter) are two college chums spending their summer traveling through Europe. When they get to Italy they come upon a free-spirited young woman named Marty (Charlotte Rampling) who agrees to become their traveling companion, but underlying sexual tensions soon rise to the surface. Both men want to make a play for her, but resist because they fear it will ruin their friendship yet as the trip progresses the temptations get too strong to ignore.

Normally I enjoy a film with a laid back pace as I feel American movies tend to be too rushed and leave the viewer no time to allow the characters, story, or imagery to sink in. However, here it’s too slow with plot and character development at a minimum. The extraneous dialogue is not interesting and too much footage is given to capturing the Italian countryside, which makes this seem more like a travelogue.

Waterston is transparent as usual, which makes me wonder how he has managed to have the long career that he has had. Porter, who is better known as a composer, is better looking and much more dynamic and I was surprised that Rampling’s character doesn’t just gravitate towards him immediately as Waterston is dull and wimpy and not what most attractive women would want to consider.

Rampling is great and gives each scene an extra kick, which makes sitting through this meandering production slightly worth it, but the sexual tension is lacking. Supposedly this is what it’s all about, but for the most part it shies away from examining it even though it should’ve been constantly reinforced either through imagery, flashback or dialogue instead of being largely forgotten until the very, very end when it no longer mattered.

This was writer James Salter’s one-and-only foray behind the camera and it’s no surprise he never directed another one as he clearly shows no ability or understanding for pacing.  The characters are not unique enough to be captivating and one eventually begins to wonder why they’re bothering to watch it or what point the filmmakers had for even making it.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 23, 1969

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated M

Director: James Salter

Studio: United Artists

Available: None at this time.

No Way to Treat a Lady (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer enjoys taunting police.

Christopher Gill (Rod Steiger) is a Broadway theater owner suffering from a mother complex who vents his anger by strangling older women at random. He uses a variety of disguises to get into their homes and then when they let down their guard he kills them while leaving a lipstick drawing of lady’s lips on their foreheads as his ‘signature’. Detective Brummell (George Segal), who still lives at home with his overly protective mother (Eileen Heckart), is assigned to the case and quickly forms a communication channel with Christopher who displays a strong narcissistic trait by becoming quite upset if his crimes aren’t given the front page attention that he feels they deserve.

The film is based on William Goldman’s first novel of the same name and inspired by an article he read involving the Boston Strangler. However, in the book version there were two stranglers on the loose and both competing with each other to see who could top the other with their outrageous crimes while in the movie we’re given only one.  To an extent the film works pretty well and has an almost Avant garde flair to it as director Jack Smight gives his actors great latitude to improvise their lines while also allowing the scenes to become more extended than in a regular production.

Steiger’s strong presence gets put onto full display and the wide variety of accents that he uses is impressive. He manages to successfully create a multi-faceted caricature, which keeps it intriguing, but eventually he becomes too self-indulgent with it and in desperate need of a director with some backbone to yell ‘cut’ and reel him in a little.

Originally he was offered the role as the detective, but chose the strangler part instead forcing the part to be enlarged. Segal though holds his own and does so by not competing directly with Steiger’s overacting, but instead pulls back by creating this humble, passive character that’s just trying to do his job, which helps make the contrasting acting styles work and the film more interesting.

The film though fails to ever be effectively compelling. Most thrillers tend to have a quick pace particularly near the end in order to heighten the tension, but the scenes here remain overly long right up to the end. The side story regarding Segal’s budding romance with Lee Remick doesn’t help nor does Heckart’s Jewish mother portrayal, which comes off as a tired caricature. Had these things been put in only as brief bits of comic relief then it might’ve worked better, but with the way it’s done here it takes away from the main story until the viewer loses focus and ends up not caring whether the bad guy gets caught or not.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 20, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 48 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Jack Smight

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Wild in the Streets (1968)

wild-in-the-streets-2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rock star becomes President.

I was going to post this review the day after the election, but decided given the results that I might postpone it a few days as I didn’t want some readers who might feel a bit on edge with the outcome getting any more nervous. The film’s subject matter consists of what at the time was considered simply wild satire, but now in these crazy political times may actually hit frighteningly close to home.

The story centers around Max Frost (Christopher Jones) a rock star who has become a major teen idol to the nation’s young people. Senator Johnny Fergus (Hal Holbrook) is running for office and wants to campaign to lower the voting age to 18 in an attempt to garner support from young Americans, which in turn he hopes will get him into the Presidency. He asks for the assistance of Max to help him in his pursuit. Max agrees, but then promotes the idea to his fan base of lowering the voting age not to 18, but to 14. Fergus is ill-prepared for the onslaught of enthusiasm this idea has with the teens. He reluctantly agrees to compromise and pass a bill that allows this, but to his shock it gets Max elected President and not him. With Max in office things spiral recklessly out-of-control. Hippies take over the senate and pass extreme laws that send anyone over 30 into concentration camps where they are forced fed LSD.

The script by Robert Thom is unabashedly cynical, which is what I liked most about it. It takes no sides. The younger generation is exposed with just as much foibles as the older one. The film never compromises on its dark tone and the bleak scenarios get pushed to the ultimate extreme, but horrifyingly never fall all that far from the truth.

The film’s acerbic humor is refreshingly on-target. Director Barry Shear camouflages the low budget with a quick pace that emphasizes the frailties and reactions of its characters. Holbrook is superb as the idealist who gets a harsh dose of ugly reality that sends him more and more on edge. Shelley Winters is hilarious as Max’s narcissist mother who uses her son’s rise to fame as an opening for her own entrance into the spotlight. She appears sporadically throughout, but manages to own every scene that she is in when she does.

Jones is excellent in the lead and I considered him very much like James Dean both in is looks and acting method. He’s perfect for the role except in close-ups he looks middle-aged as he was already 30, which hurts the theme since anyone over 25 was considered the enemy. Diane Varsi is quite sexy as a flower child and I loved the scene of her first day in congress where she and her radical young followers send the elders in the room into a shocked free-for-all. The film also gives you a glimpse of famous child TV stars in early roles including Barry Williams, famous from playing Greg in ‘The Brady Bunch’ and Kellie Flanagan who went on the play Candice in ‘The Ghost and Mrs. Muir’.

While I was impressed with the bird’s-eye-view of the mob scenes and how many people they were able to get to be a part of the teen protesters I still felt that there should’ve been violence and raw emotion in these sequences in order to have been more effective. The ending makes its point and then gets very heavy-handed and goes on too long repeating the same statement that the audience already got the first time, but overall I really liked this film and felt that now more than ever it’s quite timely.

wild-in-the-streets-1

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 29, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Barry Shear

Studio: American Pictures International

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Love with the Proper Stranger (1963)

love-with-3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He gets her pregnant.

Rocky (Steve McQueen) is a bachelor enjoying his single lifestyle by having one-night-stands with a wide assortment of women while happily avoiding the responsibilities of marriage. Then he meets up with Angie (Natalie Wood) a woman he had sex with months earlier and who now finds herself pregnant. She comes to Rocky hoping that he can help her find a doctor to perform an abortion. Rocky at first barely even remembers her, but then agrees to help her and even offers to pay for half of the costs. Yet as things progress Rocky finds himself beginning to care for Angie and even considers the one thing he thought he’d never do, which is marriage.

The script, by the prolific Arnold Schulman, is certainly edgy for its time and seemed almost groundbreaking and I was surprised it didn’t elicit more controversy especially since it was released to theaters on Christmas day.  The film works for the most part though I was frustrated that we are never shown Rocky’s and Angie’s first meeting. It gets talked about slightly, but there really needed to be a flashback showing how it all came about especially since Angie didn’t seem like the type of woman who would go to bed with a guy so quickly.

Wood gives an outstanding performance and manages to dominate the film even when she’s with McQueen, which was no easy feat. I did find it hard to believe that such a beautiful woman would be stuck having to accept a pudgy, klutzy loser like Anthony (played by Tom Bosley in his film debut) as her only possible suitor. She had told no one else about her pregnancy, so I would think many eligible bachelors would be beating down her door to get at her. The fact that Rocky doesn’t immediately remember her is also absurd. Sure, he may have slept with a lot of women, but nobody no matter how many other sex partners they’ve had would ever forget a gorgeous face like Wood’s.

McQueen’s role almost seems comical especially with his character’s hot-and-cold dealings with Angie and his inability to ever communicate with her effectively. My one caveat was his constant wheezing after climbing several flights of stairs. I realize this was to represent his need to give up cigarettes and in turn the other ‘bad habits’ of his lifestyle, but it got annoying and even distracting to hear.

As a drama/romance it’s okay, but would’ve been better had it been filmed in color. The segments are too drawn out and quite talky, which made me believe that this was originally a stage play, but to my shock it wasn’t even though it probably would’ve fared better there. I was also disappointed at the lack of a suitable wrap-up for Bosley’s character who came off like a major schmuck at first, but then he grows on you as the film progresses.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1963

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Robert Mulligan

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 0), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Persona (1966)

persona-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two women become one.

Elisabet (Liv Ullmann) is a famous stage actress who one day decides to quit speaking. Alma (Bibi Andersson) is a nurse at a mental hospital in charge of trying to get Elisabet to talk again, but her efforts prove futile, so the hospital administrator (Margaretha Krook) offers the two her island cottage hoping the quiet, secluded locale will prove more beneficial. As the days wear on Alma begins seeing Elisabet less as a patient and more like a therapist and divulges secrets about her life to her, which causes Alma to feel quite close to Elisabet and treat her almost like a confidant. Then she reads a letter that Elisabet has written where she describes Alma in a condescending way, which creates tension between the two that eventually spills over into a long ongoing confrontation.

This film was considered for many years to be one of the most bizarre and shocking movies ever made and this is mainly due to the strange and eclectic mix of images that gets shown at the beginning. Visions of a lamb being slaughtered, a nail getting pounded into a hand and a close-up of an erect penis flash before the screen while later there is even stock footage of a man setting himself on fire and moments where the film itself gets a hole burned through it.

For me the more subtle moments is what I enjoyed with my favorite scene being the one that occurs in the early morning hours when Elisabet quietly walks into Alma’s room as she sleeps while we hear the distant sound of a boat horn blowing in the background. The shot where the left side of Elisabet’s face gets superimposed next to the right side of Alma’s is also quite amazing.

persona-2

There have been many interpretations through the years over what this film’s ultimate message is. For me it shows how we are more alike than different and how what bonds two people to each may not always be readily apparent and might be something that comes out much later after initially seeming like they are two opposites. I also think it is a great examination at how fragile and interchangeable societal roles can be where someone can seem like the stronger one at one point only to later be shown as the weaker. Alma’s emotional meltdown is the most striking especially after seeming so confident and stable at first while Elisabet’s silence is initially perceived as a rejection to the ugly world around her, but later gets exposed as being more of a rejection of herself and the selfish nature that she harbors.

Andersson, who ironically and sadly can no longer speak in real-life after suffering a debilitating stroke in 2009, gives an excellent performance and I enjoyed how her character exudes ugly emotions like jealousy, envy and even anger and yet still manages to remain likable and relatable. Ullmann has the challenge of keeping her character interesting despite saying very little, but with her ever expressive eyes she does.

The scenic locale of the Faro island where this was filmed is nice, but a patient and doctor sharing someone else’s seaside resort and treating it more like a retreat than a therapy session seemed dubious and almost enough to make anyone fake mental illness if it could get them time off to go there. There is also no explanation to Alma’s fiancée and his feelings about her staying with Elisabet and not him. The sudden arrival of Elisabet’s husband is equally confusing. I liked the scene due to the symbolism that it brings out, but I didn’t understand how he was able to find them at such a remote location especially since he appeared to be blind. The segment seems almost like a dream, which is how I had initially interpreted it when I first saw this film year’s earlier, but it’s never made clear.

On the whole though these issues prove minor and in many ways help make the film even more interesting. My only real complaint is when Alma speaks to Elisabet in regards to her child and the camera stays glued onto Elisabet’s face, which captures her increasingly pained expressions, which is great, but then the scene gets played over while showing Alma’s face as she says the exact same things again, which was too repetitious in a film that is otherwise quite brilliant and a landmark in many ways.

persona-3

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: October 18, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Instant Video