Propaganda for the converted
FILMS Freda Bruce Lockhart Without doubt the most interesting new films arc at the Academy Cinemas 1 and 3 in Oxford Street. The political double feature at Academy 3, consisting of Happiness in Twenty Years ("U") and Mil!house ("U") is the most vitally and topically important political comment on the screen for some years.
Albert Knobler's "Happiness
in Twenty Years" traces the
Communist domination of Czechoslovakia since the end of the last war, from the arrival of soviet tanks for the supposed liberation of the welcoming Czechs after the war to the return of Soviet tanks in 1968 to crush the Dubcek regime's attempt to establish a more liberal regime.
This is as nearly as possible genuine documentary. Knobler, in France, had seen some interesting film from the Dubcek era. It sent him off to Prague, where he collected a mass of documentary film of events from the return of Benes and Masaryk and their government from London, via Moscow, their succession by Gottwald, Novotny and other Communist Party men, culminating hopefully in Dubcek.
After the visit to Moscow (and Masaryk's comment: "I went as Czechoslovak Foreign Minister, I came back as Stalin's lackey"), we watch the gross "personality cult" of the Stalinist era, the Slansky trial (some of which we had surely already seen on television, with the humiliating, but now all-toofamiliar extorted confessions, the enthusiastic "Prague Spring" hopes inspired by Dubcek's stand.
The most poignant part of the film are the scenes of unmistakably real people's grief at the mysterious death of Masaryk — on which no light is thrown. (I met two former secretaries of Masaryk's whose opinions were diametrically opposed as to whether he threw himself from his office window' or was pushed.) I he contrast between the spontaneous tears in which hope was drowned and the thinner but well-drilled songs of the suppressed workers packing
the fairy-tale streets of Prague The fascinating thing about Knobler's film is that it becomes three-dimensional. There is the visual truth of the documentary record. the commentary spoken by Orson Welles of texts quoted from a mass of commentators, and the hindsight of the audience.
The return of the Soviet tanks in 1968 is left to the hindsight of the audience — and none the less moving for that.
Emile de Antonio's Millhouse I reviewed enthusiastically earlier this year. His documentary portrait of President Nixon, too, acquires a new emphasis from the hindsight of the Watergate affair — and the curtain on the Vietnam war which made me instinctively ask "whatever happened to Thieu?"
Both films confirm my impression that propaganda films inevitably preach to the converted. Your view of the Nixon film will inevitably depend on whether you consider the President a villain (when you may find it funny) or a tough man tackling a tough sob. I could even 'dimly glimpse that a Communist might find the miseries of "Happiness in Twenty Years" quite normal. But the two films make an illuminating and important pair.
Claude Chabrol is the fashionable French director of the moment. So Blood Wedding ("X", Academy One) is an assured attraction. The trouble with Chabrol is that his charm is in his style and in his enchanting wife, Stephane Audran, often also in his setting, more seldom in his subjects.
In this film she plays the wife of a mayor (Claude Piepiu) who is having a passionate, hectic affair with his deputy, that ad
mirahlc actor Michel Piccoli, who gives his own wife an overdose.
The first unscrupulous crime to clear the obstacles from their way leads easily enough to the next, The only complication is provided by the woman's perceptive daughter, reminiscent of Bonita Granville in "These Three".
The result is, for me, that Chabrol's usual exquisite treatment of a small French provincial town, the usual brilliant performance of Madame Audran and Monsieur Piccoli and an unfamiliar one from Claude Piepiu as the not wholly cornplaisant husband, make a film that is enthralling but neither interesting nor, in the end, appealing.
I have never shared the appetite for horror films, even as a joke. The Legend of Hell House ("X", Carlton) strikes me as more idiotic than most, and not even funny, with a distinct suggestion of sacrilege in the use of the crucifix in the private chapel.
Those who like ghost stories may be able to dismiss all that as Gothick nonsense and enjoy the critics of the poltergeist and the exploration of what one character describes as the "Mount Everest of haunted houses" by a combined team of a pseudo-scientific machine operated by Clive Revill and two rival mediums (surely not media?) Pamela Franklin and Roddy MacDowell. Gayle Hunnicutt, alas, has nothing to do.