Movies

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• CLAUDINE is the best movie so far this year, a well-executed desperation comedy that doubles as an angry social document. Not since MASH has the combination worked so well. James Earl Jones and Diahann Carroll play a sympathetic black couple attempting to carry on a love affair despite the prying eye of the local social worker, ready to cut off the welfare payments to her and her six children at the slightest sign that she is being productive or he is supporting her. Jones, meanwhile, is being socked for stiff alimony payments to support his former wife and three children. Although the movie does not attempt to gloss over their own partial responsibility for their predicament, and does not attack the concept of welfare as such, the film does clearly demonstrate that the welfare system is as arbitrary and demeaning to the recipient as to the unwilling donor. The government giveth, and the government controlleth, the couple's privacy and their relationship are nearly destroyed by the suspicious eye of the social worker, an offensive bureaucratic busybody. Their attempts to work their way out of the situation are thwarted at every turn by the supposedly benevolent government; the welfare system that helps support them has also trapped them. As a byproduct of the system, Diahann Carroll sees her oldest son becoming a black revolutionary, and her teenage daughter beginning to repeat the vicious cycle by becoming pregnant. It seems hardly possible to combine such elements into a comedy, but a wryly ironic script and lively performances succeed in making CLAUDINE entertaining and even, at times, upbeat. Rated "PG."

• In his latest film Sergio Leone, who created the "spaghetti western" in 1964, has given the genre a satirical twist from which it may never recover. Even the title, MY NAME IS NOBODY, is a send-up of Clint Eastwood's famous character, "The Man With No Name." Terence Hill stars as Nobody, a simple youth with a fast draw and an advanced case of hero-worship. The unlikely object of his idolatry is Henry Fonda, an aging gunslinger attempting to sail for Europe to leave his past behind him. But Hill has decided that destiny requires Fonda to exit with a flourish, by singlehandedly fighting the Wild Bunch, "one hundred fifty purebred sons of bitches." The movie lingers fondly over every cliche spawned by the spaghetti westernâ€"the filthy people, the endless staring contests, the revenge ploys. It's all done with such subtlety that it's a full half hour before one realizes the movie is a parody. After that, the fun really begins, with gunfights in a carnival house of mirrors, a drinking-and-shooting contest, the breakup of a gold-smuggling ring, andâ€"inevitablyâ€"the final shoot-out with the Wild Bunch. Those who dislike the slow, drawn-out pacing of the typical spaghetti western should be aware that it also applies here, and because of this leisurely motion MY NAME IS NOBODY will not be to everyone's taste. But for this reviewer, the comedy sequences make sitting through the rest of the movie worthwhile. Rated "PG."

• Clint Eastwood's newest movie is also unfortunately his worst. THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT attempts to be an action drama, a comedy and an engaging character study, but thanks to a wildly erratic script it fails miserably at all three. Eastwood plays a vault-cracker disguised as a preacher to escape the wrath of his former comrades. Jeff Bridges plays his younger sidekick, a devil-may-care type with a cliche for every occasion. George Kennedy is the heavy, vacillating for no apparent reason between friendship and blind hatred for Eastwood. The inconsistencies and plot holes in the screenplay are a wonder to behold. Jeff Bridges, unconcerned while being hotly pursued by a machine-gun-toting maniac, gets cold feet about participating in an armed robbery. Eastwood, after evading his pursuers, is suddenly confronted by them again, with no explanation as to how they found him. The sex is strictly of the motel-room variety, with Bridges in drag as an added attraction. A few isolated scenes near the end of the movie seem to work well by themselves, but not in the context of the rest of the film. The net impression is of a jigsaw puzzle, pasted together with no regard as to whether the parts fit. Rated "R."

• Despite some structural weaknesses in the script, THE TERMINAL MAN is a provocative science-thriller that explores one of the most hotly-debated psychological issues of the day: "conditioning" the human mind. George Segal stars as a computer technical expert whose brain is injured in an automobile accident, resulting in periodic blackouts during which he commits acts of violence. He voluntarily submits to an operation in which electrodes are placed in his brain. A computer then monitors his brain waves, sending an electric shock to stimulate a "pleasure center" whenever a violent blackout threatens. But the experiment goes awry and he escapes from the hospital, leaving a bloody trail for others to follow. Joan Hackett plays a cold, aloof psychologist-"Miss Warmth," as her associates call her. Richard Dysart, of aspirin commercial fame, plays the urbane Dr. John Ellis, who performs the operation, then becomes helplessly horrified at the results. The film is based on the novel by Michael Crichton, who wrote The Andromeda Strain, but Mike Hodges' screenplay is uneven, dwelling too long on the operation itself and opting for a more conventional ending than the book provides. The direction and the photography are excellent and highly stylized; the backgrounds achieve a stark black-and-white simplicity, though the movie is in color. The philosophical issues involved in psychosurgery are raised but not really explored, though there is one gem of a line near the end of the movie. Dr. Ellis, who performed the operation, is asked, "But isn't this mind control?" He replies: "What do you call compulsory education through high school?" Rated "PG."