FILMS by Freda Bruce Lockhart
IN a lean week it proves surprisingly difficult to choose between "Fat City" and "Pulp." John Huston has directed so many great and famous movies going back to The Maltese Falcon," "Treasure of Sierra Madre," "The African Queen" and "Moulin Rouge," to recall my own favourites that his latest work must take prior place.
The hand of a master is immediately recognisable setting
:e seLne of Fat City ("AA," Columbia Cinema) whether among drunks and drop-outs in the meaner streets and dosshouses of Stockton or in the wide open surrounding countryside, and its grip never slackens.
Yet without having read Leonard Gardner's original navel (he also wrote the screenplay) it is not easy to see why it inspired Huston to make "Fat City" his first film in America for ten years.
Perhaps the fact that Huston was once, among many other things, a boxer, gave the story a nostalgic appeal to him. For although the film's publicists insist that "Fat City" is not a boxing picture. its principal characters are two boxers, Billy Tully (Stacy Keach) and Ernie Munger (Jeff Bridges) and their manager Ruben (Nicholas Colasanto), which makes it nearly enough one or anybody like myself for hom boxing is a blind spot.
The fight scenes are like many others in boxing films. lhc relations between the manager and his "kids," too half-sentimental-paternal, part strict commercial have a sentimentality that is almost a cliche of boxing movies.
Relations between the "kids" and their girl-friends are also pretty trite. The unfortunate fully, deserted by his wife, is attached to the neurotic derelict Oma (well played by Susan "Ifyrrell). In Faye (Canis, Clark) the younger Ernie has a more conventionally attractive stand-by.
Certainly "Fat City" cannot be said to glorify boxing. "The
futility and indestructibility of hope" is what the picture is said to be about. Fair enough : but the concentrated futility of failure would make a wholly sordid and depressing spectacle were it not for the superlative workmanship of Huston. his director of photography, Conrad Hall, and his art director, Richard Sylbert.
The sustained vitality and realism they achieve bring a touch of conviction to the compassion it is fashionable to profess for drop-outs. Stacy Keach and Jeff Bridges also bring to the battered boxers zeal and devotion deserving of a worthier cause.
If you appreciate the modern script which sets out less to make a story clear to the spectator than to present him with the engaging bits of a puzzle to piece together as he likes and make what he can of, you .thould find Pulp (AA," London Pavilion), written and directed by Mike Hodges, quite fun. Especially, I should add, if you have a memory well stocked with old gangster-movies.
For Michael Caine (who was Hodges' star in the cold-blooded "Get Carter") here plays a pop-writer of paperback "pulp" fiction who finds himself in the approved manner caught up in adventures more ridiculous than any he could invent.
They take him (don't ask me to trace the route) to Malta, where he is hired (accustomed now to big fees for little work) to ghost the biography of some mysterious personage. On his way to find his subject, Preston King, who turns out /o be Mickey Rooney living in filmstar luxury by the Mediterranean, he copes with various corpses, including the nasty one in the bath.
He involves such notable figures from his kind of fiction as Lionel Stander (just as good as ever and twice as funny), Dennis Price (with far too little to be so funny with) and Lizabeth Scott (more spectral than ever). Mickey Rooney is a joy, evoking a blend of himself and James Cagney. The whole farrago proceeds at such high speed and in such fits and starts it is difficult to follow closely. But the nonsense adds up to a very funny satiric sketch of the "pulp
author," delightfully caricatured by Michael Caine at his most lackadaisical who helps with an intermittent, lethargic self-commentary.
Watching "Pulp" is rather like unwrapping the contents of a giant Christmas cracker. Perhaps it is all too incoherent and esoteric to be wholly satisfactory. But to sustain the interest and fascination of such a jumble of clues is in itself a considerable measure of achievement.
Another mystery package contains three different films, The Possession of Joel Delaney ("X," Astoria and Metropole). It begins promisingly as a bright New York comedy.
Shirley Maclaine is the merry divorcee (still on calling terms with her husband. to his discomfiture) dividing her time between cocktail parties, her
two apparently normal children and a young brother (Perry King) who has been in Tangier and given some cause for anxiety.
In the second part Miss Maclaine tries to come to her brother's rescue, and before long gets involved (indirectly through her devoted Puerto Rican maid) with an exploration into some darker forms of superstition whereby her brother is supposed to be possessed by the spirit of a dead Puerto Rican boy who inpires him to sever girls' heads.
This part is disturbing, especially in its constant confusion of the black magic with Christian symbols holy pictures, crucifixes, and a fair sample of repository art. But there are still valid points of interest in the startled widow's expedition to the Puerto Rican Harlem to find out what has got into her darling brother and her devoted Lukie, the coloured maid.