Movies

|

• HITLER: THE LAST 10 DAYS seems more like a theater piece than a movie, and unfortunately it very quickly becomes theater of the absurd. Here is Der Fuhrer, trapped in a Berlin bunker with the Allies closing in, issuing battle orders to his vanishing army, fantasizing about a last-minute counterattack, and throwing temper tantrums at his surviving generals. Because most of the action takes place inside the bunker, a sense of isolation prevails, and the tragicomic goings-on bear little relation to what's happening in the occasionally-glimpsed outside world. Nor does the acting improve the film's credibility. Alec Guiness plays Hitler with all the shadings of paranoia, meglomania and despair that the role seems to call for; but he injects very little dynamism into the part, behaving more like a petulant bureaucrat than a wounded tyrant. Perhaps this failure is due to the fact that the film is not allowed sufficient context to place Hitler's character in perspective. He is shown only in defeat, never in victory; hence he appears contemptible, but not dangerous. The dialogue is punctuated with British accents, which strike another blow at the film's shaky credibility. This is perhaps unavoidable (most of the actors are British), but annoying nonetheless. The script is serviceable, but never very suspenseful. All the incidents protrayed in the film are supposedly based on actual fact. If this is the case, then the last days of Germany in World War II were far less interesting than we have been led to believe. Rated "PG".

• Few situations in life are more frustrating than a game whose rules change in the middle. This is what our heroesâ€"and I use the term looselyâ€"face in THE LAST OF SHEILA, a fascinating clue-laden mystery yarn which is also a lethal send-up of various Hollywood types. An all-star cast is headed by James Coburn, as a sadistic producer who invites a group of unsuccessful movie colonists aboard his yacht for a week of fun and games. The name of the game is "rattle the skeletons," aimed at exposing a guilty secret in each guest's past. The game goes on its merry way for awhile, but just as the movie appears to become predictable, a sudden and unexpected murder yanks the film into a new course and a more deadly game. From here on, the movie picks up speed and interest, right up to the climax. All the major actors have juicy roles, and play them to the hilt. Richard Benjamin portrays a hack writer and social climber, married to Joan Hackett, a rich heiress. Raquel Welch plays (naturally) a Hollywood star, married to her creepy manager, Ian McShane. James Mason is effective as an over-the-hill director, who has never done anything more notable than television commercials. Dyan Cannon is superb as a salty, acid-tongued, gossipy agent. Much of the drama takes place along the less-traveled areas of the French Riviera, and the location photography is excellent. The script by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins is tight and fast-moving, not wasting a second. Altogether, THE LAST OF SHEILA is a must for both mystery fans and devotees of old-fashioned Hollywood showmanship. Rated "PG".

• GODSPELL appears to be a dramatization of the Gospel according to St. Matthew as performed by The Monkees. Actually, the performers are talented young unknowns, veterans of GODSPELL'S earlier stage productions. The movie is remarkably faithful to the play in spirit and style, but in this case it's a mixed blessing. The low-comedy vaudeville atmosphere and the endless string of Christian parables do not mix well together, and anyone who takes religion seriously, pro or con, will likely be put off by the childish (as opposed to childlike) displays herein. The sheer silliness of the pasted-on Biblical dialogue and the nearly total lack of characterization combine to overwhelm the assembled talent. New York City provides the background for this carnival, apparently to make GODSPELL more "relevant," but instead this device makes the characters look even more foolish and out-of-place. The film's one asset is its musical sequences: the bright, cheerful tunes and imaginative choreography give the cast a chance to show how talented they really are. Thanks to composer Stephen Schwartz for this saving grace. Rated "G".

• Even Sam Peckinpah's most fervent admirers will be hard pressed to explain his romanticizing of a notorious outlaw in PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID. Kris Kristofferson does not play Billy as an all-out hero, by any means; but he is given a much more likeable character than the stone-faced, guiltridden Garrett, played by James Coburn. Billy seems to come across essentially as a free spirit, robbing for sport, killing only when necessary, and protecting the common folks against the evil big business interests that are taking over the west. Garrett, on the other hand, is portrayed as an ex-outlaw who has sold out to the railroad interests, and is now a U.S. Marshal out to destroy his former partner-in-crime. Up to now, Peckinpah has attempted to challenge the prevailing mythology of the Old West, but here he panders to one of the most notorious myths of all: the Romantic Villian. His direction, too, shows a falling-off in quality from some of his previous films; much of the footage is just plain dull, relieved only occasionally by gratuitous violence. Bob Dylan makes his film debut as Billy's scruffy sidekick. His acting is on a par with his singing: rough and unkempt. For this role, it's adequate. Rated "R".