• REPORT TO THE COMMISSIONER, like Serpico before it, is an indictment of police corruption and abuse of power. Once again a victimless crime provides the basis for the plot, and once again (unfortunately) the issue of victimless crime, and its relation to corruption in the ranks, is bypassed. To its credit, however, the movie does probe the Watergate mentality, and features a dandy attempt at a cover-up following the accidental shooting of an undercover policewoman by an undercover policeman. An investigation of the shooting and subsequent events by the city's police commissioner uncovers an elaborate web of intrigue, deception and espionage. The victim of these devious games is Michael Moriarty, appealing if not quite convincing as a naive "liberal" rookie out to conquer crime with love and understanding. Yaphet Kotto is effective as his street-wise, cynical partner, while Susan Blakely is ambiguous as an undercover narc who spies on pushers by sleeping with them. Tony King delivers a surprisingly strong and complex performance as a drug pusher, while Hector Elizondo is repulsive as a Liddy-type coverup artist. The movie is shot in a gritty, naturalistic style, and emotionally it's a downer. But it provides enough tension, drama and food for thought to compensate for its faults. Rated "PG." —Charles F. Barr
• The detective story is an acquired taste, one I have been unable to acquire. Adapting such a story to the screen does little to make it more palatable. The latest whodunit, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, affords a dozen top-flight actors the opportunity to ham it up in a vehicle that is more artifice than art. But it is absolutely faithful to the genre, and those who liked the Agatha Christie novel will probably love the movie. British actor Albert Finney gives an energetic performance as detective Hercule Poirot, though his accent is so pronounced that at times it is unintelligible. As a passenger on the legendary Orient Express, he is commissioned to solve a murder aboard the train before it reaches Belgrade. Among the suspects are Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, Michael York, Jacqueline Bisset and Lauren Bacall. The audience is bombarded with clues—too many to sort out in the movie's two hours. Sidney Lumet's direction is strongly reminiscent of the 1930's (when the events are supposed to take place), and is as mechanical and contrived as the plot. Rated "PG." —C.F.B.
• Michael Drach's LES VIOLONS DU BAL recollects his experiences as a young Jewish child in occupied France during the Second World War and his eventual escape to Switzerland. It also shows his efforts as an adult trying to convince financial backers that his film should be made and distributed. The money men are skeptical: they don't believe that audiences are interested in the past, especially the past that Drach wants to recreate, without violence and death. But of course they are wrong. Anything remotely connected with the Nazi phenomenon holds enough fascination to support even this slender, albeit beautiful, film. It is not a film of revelations, as was Marcel Ophuls' The Sorrow and the Pity. The closest that Drach comes to acknowledging unpleasantness is in his portrayal of the venality of the French resistance workers who take all of his mother's money and then desert her and young Michel several yards from the Swiss border. The rest of the film is imbued with an elegance that substitutes for content. The impression conveyed by Drach's handsome and cultured family is not that of hardship or deprivation (indeed money never seems to be in short supply despite the absence of Michel's father and the abandonment of all the family's possessions) but of inconvenience, as they move in hiding from household to household, always maintaining their warm good humor and unfailing sense of high style. No matter how difficult the situation becomes, the mother, portrayed by Marie-Josee Nat, never ceases to resemble a fading mannequin. It is a tender, winning film that has, in the words of one of the financial men who remains unpersuaded after a private screening, some interesting moments. For the most part, however, it never becomes more than an indulgent memory, evocative and sentimental, but almost completely without dramatic substance. Not rated. —James F. Carey
• BARR'S "BESTS"
From what was largely a non-vintage year for movies, here are my picks for the "bests" of 1974.
Best picture: Chinatown.
Best actor: Jon Voight in Conrack.
Best actress: Faye Dunaway in Chinatown.
Best supporting actor: Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein.
Best supporting actress: Valerie Perrine in Lenny.