• If you liked AUNTIE MAME, you'll probably like TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT even better. This film, adapted from Graham Greene's novel and set for the most part in England, combines the same type of outrageous humor with an even more improbable plot. Maggie Smith, who won an Oscar for THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE, ages about 20 years in this movie to portray "Aunt Augusta," an adventurous, eccentric, amoral schemer who entices her conventional conservative nephew, Henry, into a life of international crime and intrigue. Alec McCowan as the staid Henry is a perfect foil for Maggie Smith's extravagances; the clash of their personalities and lifestyles provides the spark for much of the humor of the film. Lou Gossett is super-cool as Maggie Smith's black "companion" who, as she puts it, "takes care of my needs." Cindy Williams is impressive as a liberated American co-ed in a panic over her suspected pregnancy. Several wildly implausible adventures occur, which are carried off with such dash and style that they appear almost believable. In a memorable ride aboard the Orient Express, Aunt Augusta attempts to smuggle money to finance a revolution in the Middle East, while Henry is initiated into the delights of marijuana and free love. The script, by Jay Allen and Hugh Wheeler, is witty and literate, if sometimes confusing. The sets are well-designed (especially Aunt Augusta's garish apartment) and the photography is excellent. George Cukor's direction is smooth, if a bit claustrophobic. Rated "PG".
• PLAY IT AS IT LAYS features good performances by Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins. Unfortunately, that is about all that can be said in favor of the movie. Adapted from Joan Didion's best-seller, the film is a confusing attempt to depict the mental disintegration of a young woman by making the audience experience it firsthand. While this technique may be valuable as a clinical study, it does not make for an interesting or coherent movie. Tuesday Weld gives a strong (perhaps too strong) portrayal of an aimless, neurotic Hollywood wife, married to an underground filmmaker (Adam Roarke) who is cynically cashing in on the critics' enthusiasm for his product. Anthony Perkins plays her best friend, a burnt-out case whose chief satisfaction in life seems to be expounding on his philosophy of nihilism. Most of the movie's other inhabitants are unpleasant creatures whose function is to reinforce its dark atmosphere. In a series of rambling flashbacks, we discover that Miss Weld has had an abortion, and has a retarded daughter in an institution somewhere. As we soon learn, she herself is in an institution, taking mental journeys into episodes of her past life for lack of anything better to do. These flashbacks serve only to make it clear that her life has not been worth living, let alone recording. By the time she makes her affirmation (to go on living) at the end of the movie, one wonders why she bothers. Her answer, "Why not?", is not a good enough reason, when the rest of the film seems to be an essay on the rottenness and futility of human existence. Rated "R".
• The movies turned out by Walt Disney Productions may seem "old hat" in the Swinging Seventies, but the formula still works its magic on the younger audiences at which it is aimed. This year's winter release, SNOWBALL EXPRESS, is a comedy of misadventures in the tradition of THE ABSENT-MINDED PROFESSOR and BON VOYAGE. Dean Jones, a credible successor to Fred MacMurray, is cast as a respectable middle-class corporate serf who chucks his job as an insurance accountant when he inherits a hotel in the middle of Colorado snow country. Packing his family (one skeptical wife, two cute children and one loveable St. Bernard) into their station wagon, he makes haste to his new inheritance, only to discover that it is an isolated, abandoned old wreck, inhabited by bats, raccoons and a mooching old prospector. Trying to make a go of it despite these setbacks, our hero is further put upon by a temperamental steam engine and an evil banker who is attempting to cheat him out of his inheritance (played with malicious delight by Keenan Wynn). Colorado's wintry landscape is the setting for a bundle of sight gags, including a wild ski ride and an even wilder snowmobile race. The dialogue and plot are vintage Disney, bright and humorous on an elementary level. Rated "G".
• JEREMIAH JOHNSON is a film of many moods, which change as abruptly as the weather on the mountains where the movie takes place. Robert Redford stars as an apprentice "mountain man" who attempts to build a life in the wilderness, with mixed results. Redford is his usual inscrutable self, but for once this trait is used to good advantage, since the film stresses atmosphere and action rather than motivation. The sparse dialogue is rather stilted and formal, a psychological complement to the physical isolation which is the lot of the mountain man. The film starts out as a comedy, with Redford making clumsy, inept attempts to hunt, fish and keep himself alive on a mountain in the dead of winter. Fortunately, he is aided by an ancient mountain veteran whose sole purpose in life is to "hunt griz" (short for grizzly bears). The film turns into a farce as Redford becomes the guest of an Indian tribe. Ignorant of the tribe's customs, he inadvertently finds himself faced with the choice of marrying the chief's daughter or forfeiting his life. He takes the daughter. Following this episode, the movie becomes in turn an adventure, a tragedy and a grim drama.
Despite the lack of a tight plot, a kind of progression is achieved in the gradual change which mountain life works upon Redford. His seemingly aloof and contemplative personality make him ideal for the role. Delle Bolton makes her motion picture debut with a nicely understated performance as his Indian wife. Stefan Gierasch and Charles Tyner add a touch of eccentricity as fellow mountain men and Redford's erstwhile companions. The photography of the Utah mountain scenery is spectacular. Sydney Pollack's direction, while occasionally too slow, sustains the film's many moods and helps create an unusual cinematic portrait of an unusual breed of man. Rated "PG".