WITHOUT doubt the most exciting, accomplished and important new film is the Italian Illustrious Corpses ("A", Gate, Notting Hill, and ARC Fulham Road).
Francesco Rosi, who directed and partly wrote the film, defines it as a philosophical and political thriller. So it is, but it starts off innocently enough (after a macabre sequence among tombs) as a police investigation of a series of Mafia-like murders of eminent judges.
Rogas (Lino Ventura) is the decent police chief who makes a conscientious job of trying to find the link between the murders. (There are plenty of other illustrious live players in the cast like Max von Sydow and Fernando Reyll).
But the nearer Rogas gets to certainty that the murders represent a vendetta by a victim of a miscarriage of justice, the higher his ins est igations reach into the corridors of power where vain efforts are made to persuade him to drop the case, Surprisingly. Rosi has said the Film is set in an imaginary country, but he admits it is more like Italy. rertainly by the time Rogas has eTome near his target the whole texture of Mien society in its present ferment is spread on the screen. Rosi is evidently as aware of the religious problems as of the political crisis, summed up by a hostess who speaks for the Establishment as: "We Catholic Communist bourgeois." Visually the film is superb. Rosi has worked with Antonioni as well as with De Sica, and the delicacy of colour not black and white, hut golden grey with stone and sand and sunlight is as beautiful as the film is politically and dramatically absorbing.
Burnt Offerings ("AA", London Pavilion and Odeon, Marble Arch) is a more or less up-to-date version of the oldest type of "haunted house" horror movie.
Ben (Oliver Reed) and Marian (Karen Black) with their small son David and Ben's Aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis) take a house for the summer from a strange brother (Burgess Meredith) and sister (Eileen Heckart), It is a pleasing enough prospect; but any experienced filmgoer must recognise at first sight that this is the kind of old (by American standards) mansion in vast acreage where anything can happen.
The landlord's mother goes with the house but never letives her top floor room. The tenants contract to leave her meals on a tray and Marian becomes obsessed with this duty. Ben's Aunt Elizabeth sleeps more and more and fails visibly. Ben has nightmares about elegant chauffeurs who materialise at funerals. A swimming-pool in the garden seems to bewitch father and son into dangerous aquatic acrobatics.
It might all be spooky enough for ghost story addicts. But action develops so slowly that everything can be seen coming, and only gluttons for horror mysteries are likely to find it to their taste.
Volker Schlondorrs film, The Lost Honour of Katharine Blum ("AA", Paris Pullman and Phoenix, East Finchley) based on Heinrich Ball's novel, suggests that some of the German Press became so obsessed with the hunt for the terrorists that they mounted a witch-hunt in which innocent outsiders were caught.
One such victim was apparently Katherina Blum (Angela Winkler). The girl's lover of a night is wanted by the police who in turn are hounded by the "investigative" Press to pursue Katharine to prison and her mother to death. The Press background is fiercely involved. But the film (which won the international Catholic Cinema Office Award at San Sebastian) is powerful, and Angela Winkler makes the heroine substantial and sympathetic.
In the same programme is Tibet ('U"), Felex Greene's record of his latest expedition into the Communist (Chinese brand) empire. Green has the honesty to admit that his film takes no stock of the sufferings of the "old religious society", although it shows some of the splendours of that society with the Dalai Lama's court and its goldroofed temples.
The Tibetan landscape looks as spectacularly beautiful and exotic as could he imagined. But the film is primarily a propaganda exercise in showing the lighter side of annexation by the Chinese, after the United Nations had rejected the application of this ancient nation for recognition of its sovereignty,
Mr Greene vouches for the supposed material benefits of hydroelectric schemes, dams, harvesters and schools after the Chinese took over in 1952 and crushed the revolt which we arc told the people did not support".
There is still just time to recommend one or two choice treasures at the National Film Theatre from the 70th birthday tribute to Laurence Olivier, whose wide range of film work at star and director thoroughly deserves the tribute. Especially worth catching (tomorrow) is "The Beggar's Opera", a rare Olivier foray into music with his agreeable light tenor and co-starring Dorothy Tulin as Polly Peachum, Tonight William Wyler's film of Dreiser's "Carrie" co-stars Jennifer Jortes, and on Sunday there is "Richard III".
Next week there will he matinees of "Othello" and "Three Sisters", while at I i pm next Friday Lord Olivier can be seen in -The Prince and the Showgirl" with the fabulous Marilyn Monroe_
Freda Bruce Lockhart