• For the second time this year, Hollywood has produced a new superstar. The first was Liza Minnelli in CABARET; now it's Diana Ross in an intense, moving portrayal of jazz singer Billie Holiday in LADY SINGS THE BLUES. It is chiefly her performance which enables this movie to transcend classification as a show business biography or a "new wave" black movie. It is an unforgettable experience, and in many ways an exciting and frightening one. The joy of watching Billie Holiday struggle and succeed against enormous odds as a black singer in a white man's world, is matched by the horror of seeing her gradually succumb to heroin addiction. The role of Billie Holiday is a demanding one, but Diana Ross performs as if she had been born to it. Certain scenes stand out: her first audition at a cheap night club, incongruous in its combination of awkward dancing and beautiful singing; her shock at the sight of a lynching in the South, and her defiance while trapped in the middle of a Ku Klux Klan parade; her uncontrollable jerking and the glazed, dead look in her eyes after a shot of heroin; her degradation in a padded cell after being arrested on narcotics charges; the triumph of her opening in Carnegie Hall. The script is not always faithful to the facts, but Diana's openness and emotional fire give a sense of reality that is rarely achieved in films. Fine supporting performances are given by Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor, Ned Glass, Sid Melton and several others. The script and direction are good enough to sustain the movie's 2 hour, 24 minute length. But LADY SINGS THE BLUES owes most of its vitality to Diana Ross, and her performance alone is worth the price of admission. Rated "R".
• THE GREAT WALTZ, a movie biography of Johann Strauss, features sumptuous settings, gorgeous costumes and a few superior performances. Unfortunately, it is a "family" film, which translates in this case to a kiddie-level script, replete with melodrama and cliches. Particularly jarring is the intrusion, at various points, of appended lyrics to several Strauss waltzes, to aid in the exposition. This device carries one back to the 1950's and beyond. Horst Bucholz portrays Johann Strauss (the son, not the father) as talented, ambitious, carefree and somewhat of a heel. His role makes up in breadth what it lacks in depth. Though only a supporting player, Mary Costa actually gives a somewhat better performance as his wife. Rossano Brazzi is trapped in the thankless role of a jilted lover, but manages to deliver his inane lines with some feeling. Some of the early scenes, especially the conflicts between Strauss' father, his mother and himself, have a robust, larger-than-life style that is missing from the rest of the film. Andrew Stone directed his own script, and the resulting movie at times looks like a stylized documentary. If he had probed a little deeper into the characters, and created more imaginative and original dialogue, Stone could have produced a more serious documentary without sacrificing the "family" appeal. As it stands, THE GREAT WALTZ contains some fine musical and visual sequences, and little else of consequence in between. Rated "G".
• If you can overlook some of the more obvious plot mechanics, you'll probably enjoy the new offbeat crime drama THEY ONLY KILL THEIR MASTERS. The movie deals with a simple question: Did Murphy kill Mrs. Campbell near her lonely beach house? Murphy knows, but he isn't saying–which is understandable, since Murphy is a dog, a big Doberman. This being the case, it is James Garner, as the harassed, underpaid and underequipped small town chief of police who must unravel the mystery. He is aided by Katharine Ross, fetching as ever, and Harry Guardino, a former classmate who is now the overpaid, overequipped sheriff of the county. James Garner plays a somewhat more serious role in this movie than in his recent television series NICHOLS, and his acting is noticably better—though the film has its fair share of the droll, ironic humor which has become his trademark in recent years. The pace is reasonably fast, and there are plenty of leads, true and false, to keep mystery buffs on their toes. Action scenes include a fire, a chase and several fights. An unusually high number of cameo appearances dot the film, including Edmond O'Brien as a garrulous liquor store owner, Peter Lawford as a rich jet-setter (which must be an easy role for him), Arthur O'Connell as a restaurant manager, and June Allyson almost unrecognizable as the veterinarian's aging wife. Hal Holbrook delivers a fine supporting performance as the veterinarian who keeps one dog too many alive. And Murphy's acting is a credit to his pedigree. Rated "PG".