On Christmas Day I became a victim of "that virus that's going around." Consequently, I was able to see only two of the rash of films that opened during the holiday season.
I had seen The Little Nuns (Joseph Levine, Luciano Solce) earlier. This refreshing and delightful film is altogether unlike the cynical, brazenly unconventional pictures one has come to expect from Italy. It takes us into a quiet world far removed from the harsh realities of life. The acting is exceptionally good, the direction is excellent, and the photography is superb. But in spite of its warmth and appeal The Little Nuns was not good box office here. It had only a short run.
Next I saw Thunderball (United Artists, Terence Young). And that's another story! Audiences in many parts of the world have come under the spell of James Bond, Agent 007, a character created by the late lan Fleming. We have experienced many such manifestations of mass hysteria, and there is no reason to doubt that we shall survive this one. Since I enjoy a good mystery thriller, I have read some of Mr. Fleming's novels. The first volumes were entertaining and reasonably well written. But I doubt that discriminating readers will classify them as literature of enduring value. And I should like to recommend John le Carre's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold to those who imagine that the antics of Mr. Fleming's super-hero have much in common with the experiences of real-life secret agents. Espionage is a grim, cold, and ugly business, with very little glamour to offset the dangers and the loneliness.
It seems to me that Mr. Fleming's writing deteriorated after the spectacular success of the first James Bond movie. More and more he came to depend on gadgets and gimmicks rather than on a good plot. This is especially noticeable in Thunderball, where a thin and overworked plot has been designed wholly and solely to exploit ingenious mechanical devices. Scan Connery, the British actor who portrays James Bond, has said, "These pictures have become gaudy comic strips, each trying to outdo the previous one."
Many critics have been outspoken in their condemnation of the James Bond novels and films. The wholly justifiable charges brought against the books and the films are often summed up as too much "sex, snobbery, and sadism." O.F. Snelling, an ardent Fleming fan, attempts to explain, not to refute, these charges in his book 007 James Bond: A Report. Mr. Snelling invokes many familiar arguments to defend the behavior of the super-hero. And, of course, everything can be explained or rationalized on the basis of psychological overtones or undertones—the catchall of our age. Since Mr. Snelling relates in detail Agent 007's conquest of panting, nude, and seminude females, he has also made sure that he struck pay dirt.
Thunderball can only be described as salacious. Audience reaction to this type of film follows a definite pattern. There are those who view horror and violence with no outward display of emotion. Children often cry because they are frightened by the cruelty and violence depicted on the screen. These same scenes are greeted with loud laughter by many adults. Displays of sex and passion usually arouse snickers or guffaws. And anyone who is not blind can see the petting that goes on in darkened theaters, just as anyone with ears can hear some of the remarks exchanged in the audience. Can we really profit from a steady diet of sex, violence, and crime? Or do we lower our own standards of taste, ethics, and morals and lose all sense of compassion for the suffering of others? If statistics are a reliable yardstick, we have the answers to these questions. And we have no reason to be proud.
The third picture on my list is the highly touted Super Cinema production Battle of the Bulge (Warners, Ken Annakin), a fictional account of the last desperate campaign waged by the Nazis in the Ardennes Forest in December, 1944. This film is the target of adverse criticism from the Department of Defense, from the Federal Trade Commission, and from former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who declared himself "outraged" by such blatant disregard for facts that are readily available to motion-picture producers. This controversy may have far-reaching effects. We can only hope that it will put an end to the phony war films that are palmed off as "historical."
Seen merely as a film, Battle of the Bulge is neither particularly impressive nor exciting. It is too obviously pure hokum. The photography is often overwhelming.
December really belonged to the television screen. Nothing could have been more thrilling than the successful flight of Gemini 7 and the historic rendezvous in space with Gemini 6. For the first time live cameras permitted us to see the actual recovery of astronauts and their spacecraft. The photographs of the rendezvous were magnificent, and magnificent is the only word that truly describes the entire undertaking.