WHETHER this was the fifth or sixth time I have seen Gone With the Wind ("A", Plaza 2) since it was made 35 years ago, I cannot be certain. What I am sure is that every time I see it I enjoy and admire Selznick's great film more and more.
In 1939, "GWTW" looked an over-publicised outside slab of M-G-M romantic fiction. I don't suppose Margaret Mitchell, author of the original novel, thought of herself as a rival to Tolstoy. Today, in a context of films about diabolical possession, reincarnation and pop stars, Victor Fleming's great movie of the Civil War looks like an American "War and Peace".
The solidity of the film's structure, the strength of its roots in America's still recent past, the accomplished weaving of the romantic story into that past make this a veritable film classic. The superlative star performances make it one no film enthusiast of a later generation should miss, a high example of Hollywood film-making at the height of Hollywood's powers. Vivien Leigh's Scarlett O'Hara is the first hint of the consummate actress she became, Olivia De Havilland's Melanie looks if possible an even finer knife-edge clearance of sentimentality. It is always a joy to see Leslie Howard's elegant acting (as Ashley). While Clark Gable's Rhett Butler, beyond doubt, was the crown of Gable's career.
The great quality of "GWTW" is enhanced by the irony of its showing in the same house as, on the lower floor, one of its crass imitators, "Mandingo," reviewed last week, was made.
Among the new movies, only one contemporary piece of Americana.
Robert Altman's Nashville ("AA", Ritz) can hold up its head in the same week as "Gone With the Wind". Nashville, Tennessee, is alternatively described as "Music City, USA" and the "country music capital of the world.' Altman's jamboree, filmed there last year during what seems a combined week of electioneering and country music festival, The undeniable brilliance and appeal, the festival talent (if that is not too strong a word) and Altman's wry commentary on the human comedy reminded me more of "Smile", the hilarious celebration of a "Young American Miss" beauty contest, than of Altman's
own exuberant and sophisticated comedies such as "MASH" or "McCabe and Mrs Miller."
A dazzling and bewildering galaxy of performers portray the artists at a country music festival, sometimes alternating with supporters of an alternative Presidential candidate or Elliot Gould, Julie Christie and other guest stars as themselves.
Among such hordes of talents it is difficult to distinguish for long. But prominent are the gifted Karen Black as Connie White, Ronee Blakley as Barbara Jean, Barbara Baxley as Lady Pearl, David Alkin as Norman the compere, and Keith Carradine as Tom Frank.
Changes of mood from cruelty (to a bad singer driven to strip to quell the audience) to cosiness are as baffling as the diversity of music, from hymnsinging to folksy near-pop. To Old the most irresistible perwonage was Geraldine Chaplin as a BBC drifting reporter always just off the ball.
As eccentric as many of Altman's movies, "Nashville" is a remarkable achievement of the creative co-ordination which is such a vital aspect of filmmaking. Its absurdity and exuberance make it very cheerful if caustic entertainment.
Another cheerful entertainment which combines comedy
with a wry taste is Inside Out ("A", Warner West End 2). To just a few people the taste may be too wry of using the grim plight of Rudolf Hess, still in solitary confinement 30 years after the war, as a peg on which to hscrig an absurd plot, to make the comedy acceptable.
Admittedly Hess is not mentioned as Hess but only as Holtz, Yet there is no other precedent for a top Nazi who might still be approached by a quartet of wartime officers to find where he had hidden the gold bars they last saw in his care.
The quartet is headed by Telly Savalas as an American car salesman and James Mason as the German officer whose prisoner he had been.
Both decide the gold bars would he worth the exceedingly complicated operation involved in tricking and bluffing their way through Allied checkpoints. across Berlin, breaking into the top security prison and getting Holtz out and in again with the unwilling compliance of a Soviet ally. It is all fast-moving and funny in a wry, grey way.
Only people liable to be interested in theories of reincarnation — which should exclude Catholics even nowadays, I think — might find The Reincarnation of Peter Proud ("X", Odeon, Marble Arch) intriguing.
For the quest of Peter Proud (Michael Sarrazin) to solve the mystery of a series of recurrent dreams which plague him is robbed of suspense by the question-begging title and the fact that reincarnation is the only possible solution. Unfortunately Peter's change of identity across the generations has no particular interest in itself.
When I saw "The Exorcist" I thought its importance for good or ill had been grossly exaggerated. Seeing the grossly over-published Italianate "Devil Within Her" ("X", Dominion) makes the earlier film seem almost serious.
This idiotic story of the repulsive experiences of a pregnant young mother (Juliet Mills) under supposed diabolic possession is as tasteless, senseless and boring as its vaunted process of "Vibrasound" is pointless, adding no significance to existing stereophonic processes.
Courts and censors seem always in doubt as to what is obscene. This film exactly fulfils the Concise Oxford Dictionary definition: "Repulsive, filthy, loathsome".
It is difficult to know whether to be more shocked at seeing that lovely young actress Juliet Mills lend herself to it or at seeing Italian producers become increasingly identified with such degrading nonsense.