• Paddy Chayefsky once again proves himself the master of lethal satire with NETWORK, an outrageous look at the power games behind big-time television. As in his earlier films, such as The Hospital and The Americanization of Emily, Chayefsky creates characters who indulge in all kinds of exaggerated behavior without becoming caricatures. The plot concerns the fate of a network anchorman who suffers a nervous collapse after being fired, then is rehired when his strange behavior on the air causes his ratings to shoot up. Prime mover behind this maneuver is Faye Dunaway, in the best performance of her career as a hyperactive programming executive whose one-track ambition is to achieve "a 20 rating and a 30 share." Her pursuit of the elusive audience leads her to launch a revolutionary crime drama, "The Mao Tse-Tung Hour," giving control of the show to real live communists (who soon prove to be very adept capitalists). The movie also gives the needle to corporate power games and the extreme suggestibility of the masses. Chayefsky makes some valid points concerning the too-pervasive influence of television, and the decline of individualism in an increasingly corporate world. The screenplay is least effective when it becomes preachy, but fortunately this does not happen too often. Stellar performances, in addition to that of Miss Dunaway, include William Holden as an old-line network executive attempting to hold on to his conscience; Peter Finch as the deranged newscaster; and Robert Duvall as a ruthless hatchet man for the conglomerate that is in the process of taking over the network. By all means, see Network while it is still in the theaters; it may never reach prime-time television! Rated "R."
• VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED would be much better if it were much shorter. Two hours and 35 minutes of mental anguish is simply too much even for as finely crafted a movie as this one. An all-star cast is featured in the true but little-remembered story of a shipload of Jewish refugees which left Germany in 1939 for a promised asylum in Havana, Cuba. But the Nazis never intended for the passengers to disembark in Cuba or anywhere else; they had planned the voyage for a propaganda purpose of their own. The film tells the story as accurately as possible, while protecting the privacy of the survivors. But the story is told in a drawn-out, protracted manner which dilutes its value as a psychological study (there are too many characters) and as an adventure. Little else about the movie can be faulted, however. The photography is meticulous, the costuming authentic, the dialogue refined, and the acting superior. Among the many notable performances are those of Max Von Sydow as the decent, highly moral captain, Ben Gazzara as a one-man rescue mission, Katharine Ross as a high-class prostitute with political connections, James Mason as the only non-corrupt official in Cuba, Orson Welles as a sympathetic Cuban businessman, Helmut Griem as a sadistic Nazi, Malcolm McDowell and Lynne Frederick as a doomed young couple, and a passenger list which includes Oskar Werner, Faye Dunaway, Lee Grant, Sam Wanamaker, Julie Harris and Wendy Hiller. As a political aside, it is worth noting that one of the countries which refuses to grant the passengers asylum was the United States, during the term of that great humanitarian, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Rated "PG."
• The well-worn formula for disaster epics fails to work in TWO-MINUTE WARNING, despite a capable cast and some interesting plot twists. The story revolves around a sniper holed up in an inaccessible area overlooking the Los Angeles Coliseum, where a championship football game is taking place. The crowd of 91,000 includes several presumably important politicians, with the President of the United States scheduled to arrive at any moment. Worst of all, there are only 33 exit gates, creating the potential for a mass panic. The movie's premise is sound, but a key ingredient is missing: motivation. The audience is never shown who the sniper is, who he is trying to kill, or what has triggered his lethal intentions. Without this motivation much dramatic value is lost, and the movie eventually becomes as senseless as the events it portrays. The protagonists and the victims are mostly stock characters, and mostly not very likable. Charlton Heston is a police captain assigned to capture the sniper; John Cassavetes heads a S.W.A.T. team; Martin Balsam is the worried stadium manager; David Groh and Marilyn Hassett are comic relief; Walter Pidgeon is a pickpocket; David Janssen and Gena Rowlands are a soap-opera couple; and Jack Klugman is a two-bit gambler. The premise could have worked as a psychological drama, but with its sketchy characters and gratuitous gore Two-Minute Warning becomes nothing more than a high-class, slice-of-death exploitation picture. Rated "R."
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Movies".