Movies

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• The great age of barnstorming aviators is recreated in a satisfying, down-to-earth fashion in THE GREAT WALDO PEPPER. Robert Redford makes the most of a winning role as the prototypical handsome daredevil, piloting a biplane through a series of hair-raising stunts for thrills and glory. He is ably assisted by a supporting cast which includes Bo Svenson as a reluctant partner, Bo Brundin as a German flying ace, Susan Sarandon as a would-be wing walker, and Margot Kidder as the girl who's forever patching up Redford to fly another day. All of the breathtaking flying scenes are real, with the actors doing much of their own stunt work. William Goldman, author of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, reprises the theme in this story of flying aces, whose days of glory are fading as the world moves into a more settled, less romantic era. The new age is heralded by an abrupt change of mood about halfway through the film, a little too abrupt for the audience to properly assimilate. As the fickle fans move on to new thrills, government regulators move in for their share of the action, dooming the flying circuses. Redford's revolt against the foreshortening of his career provides grist for a rousing finale of aerial acrobatics, a tribute to those who seek adventure for its own sake. Rated "PG."â€"Charles F. Barr

• Ken Russell's production of TOMMY is an appalling example of what can happen when a filmmaker encounters a medium he does not understand. His destruction of one of the great works of rock music can only be compared to Mike Nichols' savaging four years ago of Catch-22; and why The Who allowed him to get away with it, I can't imagine. What Russell has done is to take the original story, strip it of most of its emotional content, and deliver a blatantly literal interpretation of the basic plot, heavily overlaid with his own patented brand of kinky imagery. The music has been transmogrified from straight-on hard rock to a screamy kind of pop. Most of the original orchestrations have been lost. The focus of attention has been shifted from Tommy to his mother, played with frantic energy by Ann- Margret. Oliver Reed portrays her loutish lover, who kills Tommy's father and precipitates the trauma that drives Tommy deaf, dumb and blind. Roger Daltry of The Who gives little depth to the role of Tommy, though he improves considerably after the "cure." The one effective contribution by Ken Russell is the "Eyesight To The Blind" number, which features a pilgrimage to a cathedral for the worship of Marilyn Monroe. It is more than offset, however, by the spectacle of Ann-Margret writhing in a sea of excremental chocolate and beans. (Russell is evidently heavily into Freudian anal theories.) Tina Turner screams incoherently through the "Acid Queen," though Elton John is effective as the Pin Ball Champ. Some of the images in Tommy are as vile as those in The Exorcist, and impressionable children should stay away at all costs. As for fans of the record and stage versions of Tommyâ€"well, maybe someday someone will do it justice with another movie. Rated "PG."â€"C.F.B.

• Over the years, Neil Simon has built a reputation as the grand master of desperation comedy. But lately the desperation has taken over and the comedy has fled. THE PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE is not all that funny, and Melvin Frank's direction gives the film a tone of chronic, unrelieved hysteria. Jack Lemmon weaves in and out of character as an urban nebbish, coming unstrung as the vicissitudes of fate descend upon him all at once. His portrayal is filled with such whining petulance that any sympathy the audience may have for him is dissipated in short order. Anne Bancroft does somewhat better as Lemmon's long-suffering wife, though her character seems to have been borrowed whole from Suzanne Pleshette on The Bob Newhart Show. Either New York is running out of material, or Simon is. Rated "PG."â€"C.F.B.

• I have always suspected that Barbra Streisand's ability as an actress is considerable, although it is not easy to be sure. Her roles tend to get lost in her overwhelming personality, and if we feel this to be less so in FUNNY LADY, it is only because the role and the personality are more evenly matched. The result is not an unqualified success. Streisand has great charm and style and she looks magnificent, but the mature Fanny Brice demands nothing of her that she could not deliver in her sleep: the superstar playing the superstar, confidently telling the young Billy Rose (James Caan) that he needs her and both of them knowing it to be true. Caan, by contrast, always manages to appear a different person in each of his films and again gives an impressive performance, an especially commendable achievement in light of the uninspired material he has to work against. The film begins with Fanny Brice as an established Ziegfeld star and leaves her as an established Hollywood star. In between, nothing of great consequence happens, and except for a few Billy Rose standard tunes, the music is easily and quickly forgotten. After the success of Funny Girl, the lure of a sequel must have been irresistible, but this one was too easy. Now that it has been done, it is time for Streisand to take on a role that will prove herself the exceptional actress she promises to be.â€"James F. Carey.