• Movie buffs who like their movies in the buff are likely to have mixed reactions to LAST TANGO IN PARIS. As noted in the recent heavy media buildup, the film has ample measures of sex and nudity, though not necessarily in the same scenes. Viewers expecting outright pornography will be disappointed: in the sex scenes, the performers are as fully clothed as possible under the circumstances, while the nudity, scattered at random throughout the film, is not markedly different from the casual nudity of many contemporary films. What we have here, aside from the more sensational elements, is a well-crafted European movie with an overworked theme: alienation. Marlon Brando delivers a sympathetic portrayal of what is, at heart, a rather disagreeable character. He plays an American expatriate sponging off his wife, who runs a sleazy small hotel in Paris. Shortly after his wife's suicide, he meets a young French girl and begins an affair with her. In a deliberate move to deny any deep meaning to the relationship, Brando insists that neither of them tell each other their names or anything about their outside lives. This attempt at a purely physical relationship eventually backfires for both of them; the girl becomes alienated by Brando's aloofness, while he becomes more dependent upon her, finally opening up in an attempt to win her back.
Despite Brando's presence, the film is unmistakably European. Bernardo Bertolucci's direction infuses the movie with energy, partially overcoming its atmosphere of decline and despair. Some confusion is occasioned by the continual switching of the dialogue between English and French (with subtitles). And the exclusive use of quick cuts throws off one's sense of timing; the director apparently has never heard of dissolves or fades. The photography is excellent. Maria Schneider is impressive in her first major role as Brando's temporary girl friend, though the character she plays is somewhat shallow and undefined. Jean-Pierre Leaud, as a brash young documentary filmmaker, acts the role as a parody (which could be intentional). All told, LAST TANGO IN PARIS is well photographed, somewhat under-plotted and well acted, but not quite the sex sensation of the century. Rated "X".
• Despite an overblown superhero image, Clint Eastwood successfully creates an allegorical Western morality play in his latest movie, HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER. It's sort of a HIGH NOON in reverse, with Eastwood as an avenging angel (or devil) whose mission is to bring an entire corrupt town to justice. His methods are unorthodox. First he kills three scummy characters who are the town's sole protection against an approaching group of outlaws. Then, after suitable grovelling by the local citizens, he takes on the job of protecting the town himself, using his position to rub everyone's nose in the dirt. As in some of his previous movies, Eastwood's characterization lacks definition, but since the film is more symbolic than realistic, this flaw is not serious. Capable supporting performances are provided by Verna Bloom, Jack Ging, Mitchell Ryan and Mariana Hill. The photography, especially in the title sequence and the climactic scenes, is breathtaking. In addition to starring, Clint Eastwood directed the movie, and his direction maintains the pace and energy even when the screenplay occasionally falters. Rated "R".
• In SCARECROW, it's performance that counts. Gene Hackman and Al Pacino create engaging, sympathetic characters in the midst of a movie that is overlong, thinly plotted, aimless and, despite its realistic atmosphere, heavily contrived. They play a pair of drifters, none too intelligent, who meet by chance and agree to become business partners. Hackman portrays an eccentric ex-con, with a few thousand dollars to his name and ambitions of opening his own car wash. He is secretive, short-tempered and wears half a dozen layers of clothes (which does cut down on the need for a suitcase). Pacino plays a likeable if irresponsible clod, returning to visit the wife and child he abandoned five years ago. He attempts to survive in a hostile world by making people laugh at him. Excellent performances are also turned in by Dorothy Tristan as Hackman's sister, and Ann Wedgeworth as his goodlooking if slightly addled girl friend. The movie itself tends to ramble badly, and it's not until the last half hour that someone remembers that, by golly, there's supposed to be a plot in here somewhere. The final moments are credible, and somewhat reminiscent of MIDNIGHT COWBOY. The problem is that it takes too long to get there. Rated "R".
• Considering its star-filled cast, one might justifiably expect THE TRAIN ROBBERS to be a better movie than it is. Not that it's really bad—it's just so damned ordinary. There's hardly an original plot twist or line of dialogue in the entire film. John Wayne assembles a group of men in Texas around 1870 to find a stolen cache of gold and turn it in for the reward. Along for the ride is Ann-Margret, who is the only person alive who knows where the gold is hidden. As they ride, they are pursued by a gang of outlaws intent on taking the gold for themselves. In this film, it was evidently not deemed necessary to give the outlaws an identity; they are never seen close-up, not even during the inevitable gun battles.
The impersonal nature of the villains robs the film of much of its emotional and dramatic impact, making the violence seem almost gratuitous. The relationships among the principal characters do not fare much better. Rod Taylor and Ben Johnson play old fighting buddies of John Wayne, a static relationship which does not change during the course of the film. A tentative rapport between Wayne and Ann-Margret is abruptly broken off two-thirds of the way through the story when he tells her, "My saddle is older than you are." A sense of isolation, an emotional vacuum, pervades the entire movie, heightened by scenes of vast stretches of desert broken only by a railroad track. Ricardo Montalban plays a mysterious stranger on a mission of his own, and helps to give the plot a surprise twist at the end. Unfortunately, as THE TRAIN ROBBERS proves, a movie cannot live on plot alone. Rated "G".