Pauline Kael, veteran film critic and author of I Lost It at the Movies, a collection of essays and reviews, has said, "I think a good critic is honestly subjective." It is not that Miss Kael believes that objectivity is not necessary or desirable in the appraisal of any art form. She does, but she is convinced that objectivity cannot be completely divorced from subjectivity. These are words of comfort to me at the moment, since I realize that my review of The Loved One (M-G-M & Filmways, Tony Richardson) is both honest and subjective. And I hope that it is not entirely without objectivity.
The Loved One is based on a searing satire written by Evelyn Waugh in 1948. Mr. Waugh had been shocked by the crass commercialism and the pretentious practices that characterized the management of a famous cemetery in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, in the film Mr. Waugh's disciplined satire has been debased to grotesque travesty. Although the opening sequences may be in questionable taste, they are clever and amusing. But soon the entire dreary business deteriorates into sick gags and morbid humor. I know that there were moments when I regretted having had dinner before I exposed myself to this nauseating and revolting spectacle.
The Loved One has been blatantly advertised as "the motion picture with something to offend everyone." This is one of the rare times when a film lives up to advance publicity blurbs.
Apparently movie-goers are eager to be offended, for The Loved One is big box office. At any rate, long lines waited in near-zero temperatures to get into the theater. By contrast, when I went to see The Agony and the Ecstasy (20th Century-Fox, Carol Reed), the theater was less—far less—than half-filled.
I realize that the film version of Irving Stone's best-selling novel is disappointing for many reasons. At best, this is a shallow, one-dimensional portrait of one of the towering figures of the Renaissance. But this is also true of Mr. Stone's book. It, too, fails to present an accurate, searching study of Michelangelo Buonaroti, the famous Florentine whose many-sided genius found expression in sculpture, painting, architecture, and poetry.
In spite of many shortcomings I did not find the picture to be wholly unrewarding. The prologue alone, with its wide-ranging examination of Michelangelo's magnificent sculptures, was worth the price of admission. The photography is superb; the sequences, filmed in Florence, Rome, and the Italian countryside, are fascinating; and the decor and costuming are stunning. It is the script that is dull, and here history is often distorted or bypassed entirely.
Charlton Heston is hampered by inane dialog and a crippling script. Rex Harrison fares better in the role of Julius II, the warrior pope who is regarded as one of the great popes of the Roman Catholic Church. History tells us that Julius II was shrewd, witty, dynamic, and ambitious for temporal power. He was also not only a patron of the arts and of artists but a connoisseur as well. Since Julius II was the first bearded pope, I wonder why Mr. Harrison, a stickler for detail, chose to show him with a clean-shaven face.
The Christmas holidays would not have been complete without a new film from Walt Disney. Children look forward to these pictures and flock to the theater during the vacation period. I have the scars to prove it. I saw That Darn Cat (Buena Vista, Robert Steveson) in a theater jampacked with youngsters and the harried parents who accompanied them. One should see a Disney picture in just such an audience. Nothing is quite so much fun or so refreshing as the spontaneous reaction of youngsters to the action on the screen. For the moment everyone is touched by the magic of youth.
A mere adult might say that That Darn Cat is not the best of the Disney films. He might even say that it is a bit farfetched and contrived. But who would be so mean ?
Every citizen of our nation owes Bob Hope a personal debt of gratitude. For 14 years this man has taken his special Christmas show to American troops stationed in faraway places. In 1964 and again during the past Christmas season he has taken his troupe to the front lines in Vietnam. Even during the years when the world was at peace these annual tours were hard and tiring. Now they are also dangerous—a fact which has deterred neither the players nor Mr. Hope. I found this year's program almost unbearable to watch because it was so poignant. Not the show itself, of course, but the men and women who are involved in grim and frustrating guerrilla warfare. A salute to Mr. Hope, to his troupe, and to our armed services!
Other fine programs on TV were The National Health Test and The Search for Ulysses (CBS). The program titled Testing: Is Anybody Honest? (NBC) was disturbing. To be honest, as a nation we seem to have sacrificed sharply delineated moral values on the altar of conformity and expediency. Black and white have been replaced by shades of gray.