TWO ambitious movies, one American, one British, both founded on fact and both patriotic, provide exciting raceagainst-time climaxes. The excitement of the finales is the more remarkable in that we know both results in advance so that suspense should be preempted.
America's The Right Stuff ("15", Warner and ABC Fulham Road) tells the story at length of the first American into space. The scale of the huge film — over three hours long —, may be justified by the achievement — deliberately compared in the impressive opening sequence with the pioneering conquests of the wild West. But the tale is told in homelier detail of individual stories, though not always intimately enough.
Those of us who have supposed since David Leans magnificent film that it was the RAF who broke the sound barrier may feel surprise to see the American pilots set off to breach it.
First hour dullest
Although the epic is of course factual. the film is based on the book by Tom Wolfe. We see scenes of the rigorous training — not evidently adequate to allay the distress of the pilot (Scott Glenn) who has to wait till bursting point before he gets official permission to wet his pants.
Scenes of comedy are sometimes witty, sometimes uncertainly aimed at the White House and its occupants — Eisenhower, Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson. We see innumerable unsuccessful American attempts at lift-off overtaken by Gagarin's success for Moscow. Our knowledge. nevertheless, that John Glenn (Ed Harris) is going to get there in due course is given no chance to detract from the excitement of the build-up or the triumph of the achievement, though the film could have benefited from a few more such deeper touches as John Glenn's refusal to allow media harassment of his wife immediately before his take-off.
The first hour of this big film is the slowest and so the dullest. Then a new series of technical hitches sets off suspense and establishes the triumph of the heroes, though a characteristically dubious trophy or symbol for heroism is the fan-dancer, naked but for her feathers at the centre of the 5creen.
The English hero of Champions (PG". Odeon Leicester Square) the steeplechase jockey who defeated cancer to ride again and win the Grand National, is certainly made of the right stuff. Bob Champion's Own autobiographical true story has been skilfully divided by Evan John's screenplay and John Irvin's direction into the first painful medical scenes and the last spectacular Grand National. Both phases are so sensitively played by John Hurt ("The Elephant Man") as to make the English picture of heroism as satisfying as the more grandiose American triumph. Carmen is universally familiar as the heroine of Prosper Merimee's story and of Bizet opera. In the past year she has been presented by Peter Brook on the stage, by Jean-Luc Goddard on the screen in First Name Carmen with not too much of Merimee and music by Beethoven instead of Bizet. Now we have the ballet-film Carmen ("U", Curzon) by the distinguished Spanish director, Carlos Saura. Although this is a film within a film. with the choreographer planning the film we shall see. it is probably the most authentic screen version of Carmen since silent days. It glows with the passion of the story and the music while the dancing of Laura del Sol as Carmen and Antonio Gades as her Jose (and choreographer) shows Spanish ballet to be as thrilling as the more internationally popular flamenco. A treat for anybody with a taste for the serious rn usical film
Christopher Petit's first feature film Radio On was much admired particularly for its innovative use of sound. Flight to Berlin ("15". Chelsea Classic. Camden Plaza) co-produced by the British Film Institute and Wim Wender's German company, Road Movies. also begins elegantly enough with the arrest in Berlin of a girl from England (Tusse Silberg) trying to give the right answers to the wrong questions.
Unfortunately the film for all its stylishness. intelligent photography and half a dozen good performances turns into one of those maddening do-ityourself films. The pile-up of clues or red herrings from which we are invited to unravel a story is as obscure as Marienbad. but less fascinating.
Baffled by the title of Testament ("PG". Gate, Notting Hill, Gate. Bloomsbury) I note that it is based on a story The Last Testament by Carol Amen. This mercifully shortish
piece of anti-nuclear propaganda directed by Lynne Littman — one of the credits is to "Jane Fonda's Workout" — makes a movie of the most unrelieved gloom imaginable about a small community who believe California has been hit by the bomb and they have been exposed to radiation. There may be skill in the creation of atmosphere without showing evidence for it, but the film is neither entertaining nor
educational, merely propagandist and defeatist. Jane Alexander is sympathetic without being sentimental as the mother of a young family.
A lapse of memory misled me into seeing Vertigo ("PG" , Plaza), again, believing it to be the thrilling North Northwest. and having quite forgotten Hitchcock ever made such a limp drama as this weird•story of a detective (James Stewart) with vertigo which he seems to pass on to the neurotic Madeleine (Kim Novak). The only pleasures of the film are Hitchcock's usual polish, the San Francisco settings and a chance to see again that delightful actress Barbara Bel Geddes who vanished too soon from movies.
Freda Bruce Lockhart