• If you've seen the play MAN OF LA MANCHA, prepare to be disappointed in the movie. The transition from stage to screen has left the words and music intact, but little else. In its blatantly literal re-creation of the Cervantes/Don Quixote legend, the film has robbed the character of much of his heroic quality, while emphasizing his madness and the futility of his quest. For instance, the "tilting at windmills" scene took place partially off-stage in the play. It was amusing. On the screen, with a real windmill on a real Spanish plain, it is ludicrous. In the play, the audience could appreciate the inner logic of Don Quixote's quest "to right the unrightable wrong," even while laughing at his mad and futile deeds. In the film, the character of Don Quixote is illuminated almost entirely from the outside. The madness and futility remain, but the inner character shines through only feebly and intermittently. Peter O'Toole's wooden, uninspired performance in the title role accounts in large measure for the dullness of the film's emotional edge. The lack is more keenly felt because the movie does boast two fine supporting performances. Sophia Loren is magnificent as the fiery, angry kitchen-wench Aldonza, trapped in life's gutters and contemptuous of everything and everybody. James Coco plays Don Quixote's warmhearted, proverb-quoting servant Sancho with dignity and aplomb. The musical sequences vary wildly in their effect; some of the songs flow naturally, while others seem tacked on. "The Impossible Dream" suffers from visual poverty—Peter O'Toole stands like a martinet in the early morning light, singing (or more precisely, "lip-synching") as if he were reciting lines. The soul of the play, its burning sense of passionate commitment and conviction, have all but vanished in the film. Only the words and music remain, and they are not enough. Rated "PG".
• Suspense! Thrills! Conflict! Excitement! It's all there, and in abundance, in THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, a chronicle of the efforts of a dozen passengers to survive in an overturned and sinking ship. Gene Hackman, as a resourceful Angry Young Minister with a "Ben Casey" personality, heads an allstar cast. Red Buttons is a mild-mannered haberdasher; Carol Lynley is a member of a touring rock group; Ernest Borgnine is a veteran cop; Stella Stevens is his sullen wife; Leslie Nielsen is the Captain; and Shelley Winters is an archetypical Jewish Mother. This movie has to be seen from the beginning—the capsizing of the ship, one of the film's most exciting scenes, occurs in the first 15 minutes. Many of the special effects are truly spectacular, especially the overturning of the ballroom during the ship's New Year's Eve party. The suspense is maintained as the survivors, led by Hackman, venture deeper and deeper into the ship's interior, pursued by the rising water. The upside-down vessel produces a curious disorientation—one has to keep reminding oneself which way is up. A few moments of comic relief are provided when a boy (Eric Shea) enters one of the ship's bathrooms to discover all the toilets suspended from what has now become the upper walls and ceiling. The dialogue, crisp and tight, seems overdramatic at times but keeps the plot moving. The only flaw of any consequence is a rather contrived rivalry between Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine. It appears that producer Irwin Allen, formerly the brains behind such hokey television fare as "Lost in Space" and "Land of the Giants," has finally launched a winner with THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. Rated "PG".
• The line that separates tragedy from comedy can sometimes be very thin. A curiously offbeat movie, PETE 'N' TILLIE, crosses that line several times, more often than not leaving the audience stranded on the wrong side as it traces eleven years in the marriage of a middle-aged, middle-class couple. Carol Burnett successfully sheds her television image and mannerisms to become a "plain-Jane" housewife, while Walter Matthau is more typically cast as a charming rat with some redeeming qualities. Together they make a believable if not always lovely couple. Geraldine Page, however, seems oddly out of place as Carol's "best friend," a neurotic, overbearing busybody. Episodes detailing marital infidelity, mental breakdown and the death of an only son, are mingled with a slapstick fight over a woman's age, and a running gag in which a family sneaks extra gasoline into a neighbor's Volkswagen to make him believe he's getting fantastic mileage. These constant shifts in mood give the film an oil-and-water quality, with the mixture somewhat smoothed over by inventive and frequently witty dialogue. The performances are superior but slightly understated, helping to blur the movie's tonal transitions. The characters are sketched, rather than finely drawn; they seem real enough, but the audience does not get to fully know them. In concentrating on relationships, the film has somehow lost sight of its characters. When Carol Burnett accuses Walter Matthau of hiding his true feelings, he replies, "Most true feelings deserve to be hidden"—a neat summary of what the film lacks. The performers are impressive, the humor is effective, but as a whole PETE 'N' TILLIE doesn't quite hang together. Rated "PG".
• Depending upon your point of view, CHILD'S PLAY is (pick one): a psychological thriller, a horror flick, an allegory of good and evil, or a case study of diabolical possession. The film contains elements of all the above types, but essentially it is a black comedy, artistically midway between FOOL'S PARADE and ROSEMARY'S BABY. Certainly it takes a macabre sense of humor to use a Catholic boys school as the setting for a series of mysterious and evil deeds, including the gouging out of a student's eye and the desecration of an altar. The students are all creepy young fanatics, bent upon some secret, incomprehensible purpose. The priests and teachers range from normal to neurotic to paranoid, engaging in endless dramatic confrontations and involving the audience in the fun of guessing who is doing what to whom. The actors tackle their demanding roles with gusto, turning in first-rate performances. James Mason heads the cast as a crusty, old-fashioned Latin teacher, hated and feared by the students but now visibly crumbling under the strain of caring for his dying mother. Robert Preston is Mason's arch-rival, a jovial English teacher bursting with energy and goodwill for all. Beau Bridges is a natural as the school's new young coach, a former student who returns to be confronted with the sinister happenings, and finally traces them down to their root. The supporting players are memorable also, especially David Rounds as a troubled young priest in the early stages of renouncing his vows. The parochial school setting makes special effects unnecessary; the atmosphere positively reeks with supernatural menace. A "holy horror," as it were. Rated "PG".