Movies

|

• ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST is detonating across the country like a 20-megaton ideological bomb. Not that it's a "message" film; its lack of preachiness makes it all the more devastating. The parallels between the movie's mental ward and society at large are simply too obvious to miss. The story centers around a classic confrontation in a state mental institution, with Jack Nicholson as a lively, rebellious nonconformist who finds himself pitted against an unlikely but deadly authority figure, Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). His presence is like a tonic on the other patients, rousing them from drug-induced lethargy into bursts of self-assertion that threaten to break down the conformist, servile discipline imposed by the hospital staff. Nicholson leads the patients on incredible escapades, goads them into standing up for rights they never even knew they possessed, and forces the staff to fall back on brute force to fight the rising rebellion. The patients are portrayed as remarkably similar to their everyday counterparts, but whose sanity is stifled by a destructive system of "therapy" that feeds on their neuroses. Millions of people who see the movie will gain their first exposure to a world whose sophisticated methods of control run the gauntlet from intimidation to isolation to shock treatment to lobotomy. The film could have the beneficial effect of jolting public and legal opinion into recognition of the civil rights of patients in mental institutions. In addition, more thoughtful viewers will recognize the movie's mental ward as a microcosm of the relationship between the current government and those of us who are its unwilling inmates. Rated "R." â€"Charles F. Barr

• On May 6, 1937 the giant passenger Zeppelin and the great symbol of Nazi power, the Hindenburg, exploded at Lakehurst, New Jersey moments before completing the first Atlantic crossing of its second season. The official investigation of the explosion was finally unable to choose among possible causes: structural failure, static electricity, sabotage. Hitler, who either could not or would not admit the possibility of an anti-Nazi plot, went to the ironic extreme of labeling the explosion an act of God. The Universal production of THE HINDENBURG, directed by Robert Wise, opts for sabotage, thereby supplying a modicum of suspense to shore up an otherwise creaky plot. But the cause, as well as the plot, is cinematically irrelevant. The sole excuse for the film is the holocaust that it builds towards, and here it must be admitted that Universal and Robert Wise have created the ultimate disaster film, one that will forever relegate to well-deserved obscurity the likes of Earthquake and The Towering Inferno. Like its predecessors, The Hindenburg is a formula film, with a star-studded cast engaged in a series of Grand Hotel vignettes. George C. Scott turns in a strong performance as a career German Air Force officer assigned to the Hindenburg as special security officer in response to an apparent crank letter forecasting its destruction. Scott is the good Nazi, a loyal but soul-searching citizen who is sickened by his country's participation in the Guernica bombings. Roy Thinnes is the bad Nazi, a Gestapo officer placed on the ship to keep an eye on Scott. Anne Bancroft contributes little and is somewhat annoying as the listless, posturing aristocrat whose family lands have been recently confiscated by the government for some nefarious purpose. It is all rather trite, and there is barely enough going on to hold your interest, notwithstanding the technical fascination of observing the inner workings of a Zeppelin. These criticisms pale to insignificance, however, with the sensational explosion that brings the film to a close. It is literally stunning in its impact, at once spectacular and horrible, and finally, a little maudlin. It is a remarkable feat of movie-making, and for sheer film pyrotechnics, one imagines that it will be a long time before it is surpassed. Rated "PG." â€"James F. Carey

• At the opposite end of the spectrum from The Hindenburg stands Lina Wertmuller's SWEPT AWAY BY AN UNUSUAL DESTINY IN THE BLUE SEA OF AUGUST, a delightful, literate and somewhat troubling film. As in her two previous films distributed in this country (The Seduction of Mimi and Love and Anarchy), the fine cast of her third American release is headed by the brilliant Mariangela Melato and the engaging Giancarlo Giannini. In Swept Away, Ms. Wertmuller spins a Marxist tale involving a group of wealthy Italian intellectuals vacationing on a yacht in the Mediterranean. Melato dominates the first half of the film as a voluble woman constantly chattering and giving vent to her habitual dissatisfaction. When she is not railing at the Communists, she is carping at Giannini, one of the crew members, for overcooking the pasta, failing to offer her fresh coffee and not changing his T-shirts as often as she thinks he should. The rugged Giannini's marvelous facial expressions reveal his exasperation and barely-concealed outrage at her verbal sniping, but the dialogue is witty, crisp and frequently very funny, and the tone of the exchanges hardly rises to that of class warfare. When a turn of events finds Melato and Giannini stranded on an unhabited island, she barely notices the changed circumstances as she attempts to continue lording it over him. But Giannini is very much aware that he now has the upper hand, and at this point the tone of the film changes abruptly. He becomes cruel and brutal, avenging himself by beating her into physical and sexual submission while lecturing her on the evils of capitalism. To her great surprise (and that of the audience), she begins to love this rough treatment. Their idyllic relationship is short-lived, however, for rescue forces them to return to the social constraints of their former roles, she silent and saddened to her intellectual husband, he to his lumpish wife. Wertmuller's parable of the uninhibited joys of natural man liberated from the distortions of civilization and therefore free to exercise unrestrained force on his victims is a bit hard to swallow as a piece of serious political doctrine. Her amazing achievement is to pull it off with such high style that her audience becomes quite enchanted by it all, notwithstanding the balderdash that goes along with it. Her success is attributable in large part to the beautiful performances that she draws from Melato and Giannini, and they alone are worth the price of admission. Rated "R." â€"J.F.C.