Movies

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• Chalk up another probable Oscar nomination for Dustin Hoffman. His portrayal of the late Lenny Bruce in the film biography LENNY is a masterpiece of total characterization. Whether he succeeded in capturing the real Lenny Bruce is open to debate, but he has certainly created a believable one. The film traces the iconoclastic comic's career from its beginnings in the early 1950's to his tragic suicide fifteen years later. It clearly delineates the ruthless suppression of his freedom of speech and other civil liberties at the hands of a repressive legal and judicial system. The courtroom scenes, with their array of "reasonable" people enforcing blatantly irrational laws, are chilling sights to behold, especially considering that the system that drove Lenny Bruce to his death really hasn't changed that much. But the movie will not provide much comfort to those who view Lenny Bruce as some kind of saint. In addition to talent, perseverance and courage, he is shown to have possessed streaks of cruelty, insensitivity and vindictiveness, especially toward his wife (whose emotional disintegration is superbly portrayed by Valerie Perrine). Lenny also appears during his last years as an obsessive monomaniac whose comedy routines turned into rambling, moralistic lectures that alienated friends and audiences alike. Bob Fosse's direction makes effective use of flashbacks, flash-forwards and intercuts to illuminate the progression and regression of Lenny's character. But it may have been a mistake to shoot the movie in black-and-white; this device seems to make the events more distant and remote from present-day life than they really are. Lenny is really a mirror held up to contemporary society and the way it treats its nonconformists; and as such, the story of Lenny Bruce is still as relevant today as it was a decade ago. Rated "R." â€"Charles F. Barr

• Ingmar Bergman's SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE is, not surprisingly, descended from the drama of sexual conflict of Strindberg and Ibsen. It is a worthy, if somewhat subdued, heir. Throughout the film we are reminded of its ancestry: the husband quotes Strindberg and attends a performance of Ibsen with his wife (Liv Ullmann), and at one point Liv Ullmann reacts with terror at the slam of an off-screen door as her husband walks out on their marriage, ironically recalling Nora's exit from A Doll's House. At first Ms. Ullmann too appears to live in a doll's house of marital bliss, secure in her middle-class professional home, deferring to the stronger personality of her husband. She is a lawyer specializing in family law and he is a professor. As the film follows their separation, divorce and casual, comfortable affair many years later, their complex feelings about each other, their mutual disappointment, continuing need, friendship and affection for each other and the self-realization generated by their experience are revealed in a series of articulate, intelligent dialogues ("Scenes" is really a misnomer). Ms. Ullmann emerges as the stronger, more completely aware character, and the film belongs totally to her. She must surely have the most expressive eyes and face of any actress ever to appear on the screen. Her subtle, sensitive performance, after several disappointing American films, is perfect. Rated "PG." â€"James F. Carey

• Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, the original movie Odd Couple, team up again for some snappy patter and nostalgia highjinks in THE FRONT PAGE. Adapted from the 1928 stage comedy, the movie centers around the newspaper coverage of an impending execution. Lemmon plays a happy-go-lucky ace reporter, torn between a fast-breaking story and an impatient fiancee. Matthau is his domineering, unscrupulous editor, who will pull any string and play any dirty trick to keep Lemmon on the job. Carol Burnett is suitably frantic in an off-beat role as the condemned man's girl friend, while Susan Sarandon has little to do as Lemmon's fiancee. The movie advances at a breakneck pace, with enough twists and turns in the plot to keep the audience absorbed. These virtues are somewhat offset, however, by a severe lack of depth, sufficient to make it impossible for the audience to identify with any of the characters. Austin Pendleton, as the condemned man, is the closest thing to a real person, probably because he seems to know the least about what's going on. The script by Billy Wilder is bright and energetic, if a bit excessive in its use of mild profanity. The sets appear to have arrived in a time capsule from a 1930's movie, as do most of the acting styles. All in all, The Front Page is a diverting and entertaining film, but not an especially memorable one. Rated "PG." â€"C.F.B.

• A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE belongs to Gena Rowlands, but it is a dubious honor. Her Mabel Longhetti is a sensitive, loving, somewhat eccentric woman, devoted to her children and, for some inexplicable reason, to her husband, Nick (Peter Falk). Nick displays affection in his mindless fashion by continually screaming at her and knocking her about. Compounding his incredible stupidity is that of her shrill mother-in-law and her physician. Nurtured in such an environment, she quite naturally loses her mind. Returning from six months in a hospital, Mabel is greeted by the same old gang, who are none the wiser for what she has been through. Before the day is out Nick is again screaming at her and knocking her to the floor, but this time, director John Cassavetes suggests, she is going to brave it and pull through. Why she would want to is anybody's guess. It is an awkwardly made film, badly written and improvised, inarticulate, generally pointless, and peopled by amateur actors, many of them relatives of Cassavetes and Ms. Rowlands, most of whom perform badly. Gena Rowlands performs beautifully, brilliantly, considering the material, but even her extraordinary talent cannot raise this film to the level of a worthwhile failure. (Not rated.) â€"J.F.C.