Beyond probability the most distinguished movie in London is The Autumn Sonata ("AA", ('lassic, Haymarket), Ingmar Bergman's film starring Ingrid Bergman, which I have already reviewed when it was shown at the London Film Festival. Not that I think it up to the very best of director Bergman's films.
But Ingrid Bergman's performance as the professional pianist who has sacrificed husband and daughters to her career is one of her finest performances; and its confrontation with that of Liv Ullan as the pianist's repressed daughter is a triumphant duet of grand acting in the cinema. For it and for Sven Nykvist's superb photography of Norwegian exteriors and interiors a share of the credit is the director's.
Otherwise Easter holiday attractions in traditional style for the young are welcome. The best British offering is David Cobham's larks the Otter ("A", Rialto), Henry Williamson's famous story filmed almost as a documentary with live animals and huntsmen all beautifully photographed in the lovely West Country.
The photography, both on land and under water, is beautiful, the otters utterly engaging, their antics fitted to illustrate Williamson's classic story with a minimum of sentimentality but with action enough to evoke the excitement as well as the agony, the terror of the hunt. The film captivates by the natural beauty of otters owls and lesser birds, and scenery, rather than by any overdramatisation.
Walt Disney is the key name for holiday films, and this year he is represented by his own 39-yearold Fantasia ("U", Odeon, Haymarket) and by the latest from his professional heirs, Return from Witch Mountain ("U", Odeon, St Martin's Lane).
"Fantasia" was of course Disney's ambitious (some would say over-pretentious) attempt to put serious music through rather unserious ideas, like a chorus of flowers or lambs skipping through the "Pastoral" on the screen.
But there is no doubt that Disney contributed to today's renaissance of popular interest in serious music — whether more by "Fantasia" or "The Band Concert" might be debated.
In the sequel to "Escape to Witch Mountain", Bette Davis, made up .to look like the answer to "Whatever Happened to Baby. Jane?" is the partner in evil of Christopher Lee, villain of many horror films, and here a maddish scientist with a "mind-control" scheme to turn people into robots (decidedly topical).
When a flying saucer full ot children possessed of paranormal, preternatural or telepathic powers lands in the Pasadena Rose Bowl, the wicked partners kidnap them and plan to seize a nuclear plant and use the spooky children in a contest of will power for modern alc hemy.
This witches' brew is a strange potion of sci-fi and pseudo-occult hocus-pocus, but the formula for a straight batttle of wills makes a change, and the professional presence of Davis and Lee for the baddies lends conviction as well as style.
Neil Simon's gift for dialogue has given a new lease of wit to comedy on the London stage and on Broadway. The pleasant success of "The Girl-Friend", too, aroused hope that he would do the same for the cinema, so sadly in need of light comedy.
In California Suite ("AA', Odeon, Leicester Square) the first couple to register at the Beverley Hills Hotel begin by appearing to confirm those hopes. Hannah (Jane Fonda) is an exwife meeting her ex-husband (Alan Aida) to bargain over the custody of their teenage daughter.
Their fairly high-class, topspeed slanging-match thinly conceals their basic insecurity and need of each other as well as of their daughter. But the smart sharp wisecracking has an oldfashioned style and is neither filled out to self-sustenance or matched by the other episodes.
Best of the rest are the English couple, Maggie Smith as an
Oscar-nominated London actress with Michael Caine as her antique-dealer husband, in Hollywood hopefully for the awards. What might be maligned as her actressy hysteria and neurosis at the failure to bring home an Oscar is postulated as due rather to her husband's sexual deviation. Both Maggie Smial and Caine extract considerable poignancy from the uncomfortable situation.
The two other couples fail to find substance or wit to justify the laughter they are expected to arouse. One is a grossly inane bedroom farce with Walter Matthau as the faithful husband of Elaine May finding a floozy dumped in his hotel. bed: the other has Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor as an inane couple of black doctors in another futile farce which wastes both these excellent actors' gifts and makes the film a disappointing whole.
Having unusually missed the Press show and so read the reviews before seeing La Tortue sur le Dox ("X", Paris Pullman), I was disappointed to find my own reactions very much less enthusiastic than the general consensus.
This tale of a writer, Paul (JeanFraniois Stevenin) who suffers an interminable case of "writer's block". when he can write no more, so his co-star Bernadette Lafont has to go out to work until the situation drives her to throw him out, is a neat and tidy job in some ways.
The changing scenes within the small apartment are the same blinkered square which is all the writer at his typewriter sees of the world. But I never believed Paul could write, even when the talent was unblocked and his powers released. It was difficult, too, to believe in a French woman — especially one as attractive and intelligent as Bernadette Lafont .washing up in billowing white sleeves.
Above all, I felt that surely what this maddening young man wants is what teaches most journalists to write whether they feel "inspired" or not — a deadline.
Freda Bruce Lockhart