FILMS Freda Bruce Lockhart Christmas tends to be celebrated in the cinemas by a curious assortment of whatever the industry can rake up for children on holiday with perhaps one "sleeper" — a winner held for the occasion, which most people will want to include in their list of the year's best movies.
Such a winner this year is undoubtedly The Sting ("A", Empire). Directed by George Roy Hill, of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", with the same two stars. Paul Newman and Robert Redford (plus Robert Shaw), it may not have quite the same exhilaration. But the aim is the same — to extract maximum fun out of satirising one of the great Hollywood myths, this time the Chicago gangster world of the twenties.
It is a story of two out and-out confidence tricksters. We have had other films about "con-men" this year, perhaps too many, but this is the most forceful. Robert Redford is the young novice who becomes virtually apprenticed to the great "con-man", Gondorff (Newman). Roy Hill sweeps us at at spanking pace through their adventures with other crooks and cops.
The audience is apt to he as confused as the protagonists over who is or is not what he or she seems. These guys don't have much time for dolls, but Eileen Brennan is fine as one woman who does become comically and disastrously involved. Paul Newman is authoritative as ever, Robert Redford even more impressive as the diffident, jumpy "con" novice, so different from his usual wholesome image. Robert Shaw 1 thought rather wasted.
The marvellous Chicago atmosphere is enhanced by a lovely honky-tonk jazz accompartment. "The Sting" may be open to the same objection as "Butch Cassidy" for making outrageous fun of a seamy slice of history. But it is riotous fun.
The Day of the Dolphin ("A", Leicester Square
THEATRE The publicity for Why Not Stay for Breakfast?, at the Apollo Theatre, states that the play is not for children. The management might have spared the adults as well, and not bothered to put it on at all.
It is a pity to see Derek Nimmo's skill wasted on inferior material, and even more so that of a very talented voung actress, Katy Manning. It is riot just that the play is, in parts, unnecessarily crude, but that it is not a good play. Thanks to the two principal actors, there are funny moments.
J.K. Theatre) is rather an animal film for grown-ups and children too. The presence of that great actor George Scott ensures the interest of serious filmgoers. His delightful dolphin co-stars Alpha and Beta, ensure rapture for children. A colleague calls it the first ecological thriller.
Scott's efforts to protect his beloved dolphins and his research into their linguistic abilities from exploitation by the media and by a network
of bureaucratic organisations as sinister as Watergate provide a plot more intriguing than thrilling. The dolphins are more innocently endearing than intellectually impressive, though the sight of Alpha squawking that "Fah loves Pa" and crying plaintively for "Pa" is truly touching.
The Walt Disney Robin Hood ("U", 'Odeon, Leicester Square) is frankly a disappointment. The historical or legendary characters of Robin Hood, King John, Little John and the rest of the merry men are turned into animals, animated as cartoons and endowed with the familiar voices of Peter Ustinov.
Very small children, or others who do not share my revulsion from such multiplication of freaks; might enjoy it.
At this season film critics turn out their memories to make their choice of ten or twelve best films of the year. Most people had the impression that 1973 marked only a further decline of the cinema into sex and violence. To my surprise my first run-through of titles came up with 23
highly creditable movies.
Out of these I quickly picked five which seem to me unforgettable and not to he left out: "Blanche" Walerian Boroczyk's exquisite ironic
melodrama of medieval France. the most beautiful treatment of the Middle Ages ever filmed.
"Day for Night" — Truffaut's brilliant film about filming, perhaps the most enjoyable entertainment of the year.
"The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" — Bunuel's wickedly funny but mellow comedy.
"0 I.ucky Man" — Lindsay Anderson's English rebel's progress.
"Andrei Ruhlev" Andrei Tarkovsky's magnificent picture of the fifteenth century Russian ikon painter. It might he cheating to include in my "short list" two directors represented by two films each: Tarkovsky, who, besides "Andrei Rublev" also gave us the splendidly imaginative science-fiction "Solaris": and inevitably Chabrol. Neither the latter's "Blood Wedding" nor his "Just Before Night" quite came up to "The Butcher", but both were outstandingly worth seeing.
Three more favourites I ant reluctant to omit are "Save the Tiger", the latter stages of Jack Lemmon's sardonic portrayal of a middle-aged materialist: "The Belstone Fox", James Hill's fox-hunting picture: and "Blues Under the Skin".
The last is a remarkable juxtaposition of sonic historic performances of the art established hy American negro slaves with the sufferings of sonic of their descendants.
To add to my list I could stick a pin in any of another half-dozen titles. So it was not a had year — at least in the cinema.