â€¢ With daring stunt work and well-focused direction, Clint Eastwood turns a routine espionage thriller into high adventure in THE EIGER SANCTION. The film, adapted from a novel by Trevanian, portrays Eastwood as Jonathan Hemlock, an art teacher and collector who doubles as an undercover assassin for a mysterious government espionage agency. This agency engages in cynical, manipulative double-dealing (could it be the CIA?), but Eastwood's assignment is the relatively honorable one of avenging the death of a friend. His mission takes him on a mountain climbing expedition in the Swiss Alps, where he must discover which member of the party is the agent for the other side. Capable support is provided by Vonetta McGee as a stewardess with a mission, George Kennedy as a resort owner and Eastwood's trainer, and Jack Cassidy as an evil presence out of Eastwood's past. The screenplay is credited to three writers, and the committee approach tends to flatten out the dialogue and bog down the plot in a few places. The climbing scenes, both in Switzerland and in Monument Valley, Arizona are the most spectacular parts of the movie, enhanced by the fact that Eastwood does all his own stunt work. Although pure fiction, The Eiger Sanction has a ring of chilly authenticity because of the recent investigations of the CIA's possible use as an assassination bureau. Evidently the days of "escapist" spy fiction are long gone. Rated "R." â€"Charles F. Barr
â€¢ Devotees of the "sewer school of life" will find a bellyful in THE DAY OF THE LOCUST. For this latest Hollywood foray into self-flagellation, director John Schlesinger has dredged up a short novel by B-movie writer Nathanael West and attempted to turn it into a statement about life. The result is 143 minutes of aimless depravity and nauseating spectacle, enough to make Schlesinger's earlier Midnight Cowboy look like Pollyanna by comparison. With two exceptions, the characters are uniformly petty, venal and dull. The exceptions are Donald Sutherland, who plays the ultimate self-effacing boob, and Burgess Meredith, as a pitiful, drunken vaudevillian. Karen Black portrays a seedy, untalented but ambitious bit-player, while William Atherton plays a young, cynical set designer. Short, arbitrary bursts of activity punctuate the film at intervals, noteworthy only because they momentarily relieve the tedium. They include a near-rape at a drunken picnic, a bloody (and real) cockfight, the collapse of a movie set, and a climax of mob violence which includes a child being stomped to death. If The Day of The Locust were anything less than a total emotional turn-off, it would be accused of exploiting the very vices it is allegedly attempting to damn. As it stands, the film is simply a horror and freak show, fit only for slummers, masochists and New York critics. Rated "R." â€"C.F.B.
â€¢ As luck would have it, THE RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER opened in Los Angeles the same week its illustrious 1963 predecessor, The Pink Panther, was shown on local television. The temptation to compare the two movies is of course irresistable, so here goes: As the imbecilic Inspector Clouseau, Peter Sellers plays the character a bit more broadly than before. But if the sequel is less refined than the original, it is also funnier, a comedy of errors rather than a comedy of manners. With indestructible dignity and aplomb, Sellers bumbles his way through Europe in pursuit of a jewel thief. The highlights, better seen than described, include Sellers gluing himself to a chair, driving a car into a swimming pool (twice), burying fingerprints under a bagful of dusting powder, and trading karate chops with his valet. He also affects a fractured French accent which sends his victims up the wall. This time around there are no co-stars of the magnitude of David Niven and Claudia Cardinale, so Sellers has center stage all to himself. Excellent supporting performances include Herbert Lom as his hapless boss, Christopher Plummer as a retired (?) jewel thief, and Catherine Schell as a woman of mystery. The inventive titles feature the Pink Panther (cartoon version) as a succession of old-time movie stars, and are worth staying to see a second time. Rated "G." â€"C.F.B.
â€¢ From a libertarian perspective The French Connection is perhaps a more significant film than its sequel. The first film made an important point, probably unintentionally, by forcefully demonstrating the futility and the waste, both in an economic sense and in terms of human degradation, of government's efforts to prohibit the sale and use of narcotics. At the end of the film Charnier, the leader of the heroin network headquartered in Marseilles, mysteriously escapes after having been trapped by the New York police. It turns out that he was able to buy his way to freedom. John Frankenheimer's FRENCH CONNECTION II picks up in Marseilles where detective "popeye" Doyle, the paragon of the stupid but honest cop, arrives to continue his pursuit of Charnier. The film has a certain excitement, especially during the last thirty minutes, that is automatically built into any pursuit, but the emphasis is on Doyle himself, and it is not a pleasant experience. The opening scene shows French policemen eviscerating a catch of fish and examining the entrails on a tip that the fish are being used to smuggle narcotics. The information turns out to be bad, but the image is appropriate for the film, which is often physically repellent. In a neat bit of acting, Gene Hackman portrays Doyle as an impulsively brutal and heedless killer operating in a seamy world and driven by his obsession to destroy Charnier, a goal that he finally achieves with his last ounce of strength after what may be the longest foot chase on film. In the process, however, he causes the death of an undercover police agent and burns down a small hotel that houses a number of junkies, without troubling to evacuate it first. Doyle's justification for his methods is that the heroin sold by Charnier has killed more people than his style of enforcing the drug laws. After watching Doyle operate through two films, I find this statistic a little hard to believe. Rated "R." â€"James F. Carey