CINEMA programmers may often be divided, if not exactly between Good and Evil, then between innocence on the one hand, and on the other the fashionable forces of diabolism and decadence.
It is a pleasure to be able to recommend the delightful double bill devised by the Children's Film Foundation for this year's Royal Premiere which was attended by the Duchess of Kent. Both films, Fern, the Red Deer and Glitterhall, have also had their Yorkshire and Lancashire and West Country Saturday morning premieres. Meanwhile children in London have a chance this very Saturday to catch both movies before they come back on sufnmer release.
"Fern" (Odeon, Shepherd's Bush, 10 am (tomorrow) is a convcntional but thoroughly satisfying animal story about a baby deer calf adopted, bottle-fed and ultimately returned to the wild by Tom (Craig McFarlane) the son of an Exmoor farmer and Tom's town-bred little cousin, Belinda (Candida Prior). Photography of Exmoor farm-life and wild-life is a joy. "Glitterball" (ABC Putney, 10 am tomorrow) is rather more sophisticated and original, an extremely lively piece of nursery science fiction, The star, from another planet, looks a little bigger than a silver golf ball and moves as bewilderingly as quicksilver, with not only a mind but an appetite of its own. Directed by Harley Cokliss from his own original idea, "Glitterball" should enchant most age groups.
Children who can't catch either film at Putney or Shepherd's Bush on Saturday are advised to keep their eyes skinned for the appearance of either before their summer release at one of the Saturday morning children's matinees which are such a boon.
A fairy-tale for slightly older children is Rockey ("A", Leicester Square Theatre). It ran away with this year's main Oscars, but it has very much the same innocence as "Fern" or "Glitterball." It is a male Cinderella story, and the on-andoff-screen Mr Cinders is Sylvester Stallone, a not very experienced Italian-American actor who wrote the film and plays the leading role of a boxer with more physique than art.
Nobody has much hope of Rocky. He has a rather dint, bespectacled girl friend (Talia Shire). The gym manager (Burgess Meredith) despises and abuses him, and when by sheer chance the black world heavyweight champion (Carl Weathers) offers him a fight just for the show, nobody, even Rocky, expects him to last three rounds. Everything goes according to the best Cinderella planning, but what makes the film work yet again is the sincerity of Stallone as both writer and star. He has the oafish appearance and shambling delivery of early Marlon Brando and is at least as difficult to hear. But his sincerity, helped by John Avildsen's skilful direction, achieves that rarest of qualities for a film, the illusion of a one-man creation.
These movies are refreshing by contrast with the other contemporary pictures classified in a recent television programme under the title "Satan Superstar." Michael Winner, never the subtlest or most restrained of directors, is the latest to dabble in such devilry.
Not that The Sentinel ("X", Plaza 2), of which Winner is not only the director but co-producer and coauthor with Jeffrey Konvitz, who wrote the original novel, tries to introduce the Devil himself.
What is offers is a horror film with a psuedo-supernatural slant and a veritable inferno of demons and freaks, from the silent blind priest on guard on the top floor to the appalling assortment of tenants in the empty Brooklyn Heights brownstone house where Alison (Cristina Raines) a model, takes a flat rather than marry her lover (Chris Sarandon). This is nauseating nonsense indeed. The most offensive aspects found the emphasis on suicide, blood and deformity and the super
stitious confusion of religion with diabolism. Thus a cardinal-red personage (Jose Ferrer) is identified as "robed figure." The job of top-floor sentinel, apparently a version of the angel Uriel to keep evil forces at bay, is a post which goes to a succession of suicides and convicted murderers reincarnate as priest or nun.
Perhaps the most salutary interpretation of this ghoulish grotesquerie is as a very sharp warning to modern young women like Alison who prefer to live independently with their boy-friends than to marry them. Standing out from the freaks, one enjoyable performance is Ava Gardner's as the sinisterly plausible estate agent who lets the flat. Seven Beauties ("X", Curzon) is a misleading title. The Neapolitan hero (Giancarolo Giannini) has indeed seven sisters, but they are grotesque monsters. He feels in honour hound to kill the lover exploiting one of them, which lands him in a lunatic asylum before he is transferred to the Italian Army.
Arrived in a German concentration camp, he decides on survival at all costs even that of making love to the elephantine woman camp commandant (Shirley Stoler). On return home after the war he finds all his sisters and the girl he left behind him gone to the bad, This really revolting film is directed by Lina Wertmuller, an Italian despite her name, whose work is already a cult in New York although we have hardly seen it here. She has worked with Fellini, but on the strength of this display I should need more persuading that she has ntore than the facile talent to give a film the illusion of power when its makers stop at nothing.
Freda Bruce Lockhart