By Freda Bruce Lockhart
ACTORS of today object to
themselves or the characters they play being classed together. however loosely, as "Angry Young Men". Their objection is understandable; it is always irritating to be treated as part of a herd.
But it would he difficult not to see This Spurting Life ("X", Odeon, Leicester Square) as a direct descendant of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Room at the Top, A Kind of Loving and others of the new British black country school: while its protagonist Frank Machin (Richard Harris) is outwardly at least of the same uncouth, brutalised type gas the characters played by Albert Finney, Laurence Harvey, Alan Bates, and Tom Courtenay in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. Chance this week brings also Private Potter ("U", Ritz) in which Courtenay plays a hero the antithesis of Frank Machin.
Potter is outwardly the proverbial little man, the dreamer, sensitive and innocent; he is hero and victim of an appealing small film only minimally expanded from television. This Sporting Life, over two hours long. is a great big film extracted from a novel by David Storey. produced by Karel Reisi of "Saturday Night", etc.. and directed by Lindsay Anderson. one of the most gifted and devote of British film men.
The film is played big. photographed big, and Richard Harris abetted by the camera makes Machin a big ape as he is called in the film. So he appears. too, front our first sight of him having his teeth kicked out on the rugger field, the stumps extracted by a backstreetdentist before he goes to a party on the way to the top. or towering over the stringy widow (Rachel Roberts) whom he reawakens radiantly and tragically to love.
Dramatically the film is impressive. with the stature and solidity of a chronicle novel by Cialsworthy or Bennett. Illuminating. too. for anybody like myself who had not realised that professional Rughy League provided this savage underworld shadow of the Twickenham game.
The acting of both Rachel Roberts and Harris is high above standard film performance. For once the movie made me regret not having read the book, and I'm not sure whether that is a measure of my admiration. of my failure to understand. or of its incomplete adequacy as a movie. Various television programmes on This Sporting Life gave a clue by stressing that the novel was in autobiographical form.
Trying to translate this approach into cinema only succeeded (for me) in outlining Machin like a huge poster figure. not in giving him depth despite Mr. Harris's magnificent performance. It has occurred to me since that Machin may have been intended to have at heart the sort of innocence of Private Potter: if so, that was too complex an ambition for David Storey to translate into his own screenplay without making the canvas sometimes seem too big for its context.
* * * DRIVATF. POlTER'S problem is
the opposite: a modest film of a modest soldier set against no thing less than the question of God. Potter is arraigned because he has caused defeat and a comrade's death in battle through crying out loud.
The reason he pleads, that he saw God. sets an impossible puzzle to commanding officer. padre and army psychiatrist—the more difficult in that Potter insists the vision was unsolicited.
Courtenay plays the apologetic but adamant young man on the edge of hysteria with a simplicity that is wholly appealing. He is finely supported by that very good actor Ralph Michael as the chaplain.
Coincidence made a tic-up with TV here. too, for I had watched Andrew Cruikshank and Kenneth Griffith in "Mr. Justice Duncannon" argue with equal mutual respect a case of conscience against the law. Conscience appears too seldom among film credits not to be acknowledged in Private Potter.
* * *
Ithese two pictures .11. heroes for our sympathy protphoesree is no doubt at all that the villain of the week lurks in Critic's Choice ("A". Warner) since critics have become not only Aunt Sallies but, to their own surprise. public enemies of the new intelligentsia. No less a demon than Bob Hope plays one of those Broadway drama critics whose disfavour. it's said. can reduce a play's run to three days. whose notices make the stars quail. who sit up all night awaiting the morning editions.
This monster's second wife (the first is very often present) is the gorgeous Lucille Ball with her brilliant blue eyes and red-gold hair. Into her feathery head she gets the notion of writing a play, and the question is whether to be or not to he reviewed by her husband.
In the hands of two such expert comedians, who have teamed so hilariously before, this should have been either thistledown nonsense Or slashing satire. Of course. there are quite a lot of easy laughs. But there are other passages where everybody has to work terribly hard to get the faintest simper and there are abrupt changes of step or style culminating in the outrageous farce of nearly hanging Mr. Hope upside down from the gallery. Of course, we are so starved of comedy. especially well-dressed comedy. we must be grateful to laugh. But this one is a disappointingly small mercy.