• The new year is off to a promising start with an enjoyable comedy-drama, SILVER STREAK. The title refers to a fictional American version of the late lamented Orient Express, in this case a trainload of intrigue on the "Silver Streak" from Los Angeles to Chicago. Gene Wilder is in top form as a mild-mannered book publisher who boards the train for a few days of peace and quiet, only to become involved with the lovely Jill Clayburgh and a series of bizarre murders. Richard Pryor, who makes an unexpected entrance halfway through the movie, contributes to its lively pace as a jive-talking, small-time thief who knows all the angles. Ned Beatty gives solid support as a fellow passenger on a secret mission, and Patrick McGoohan is coolly menacing as the lead villain. The violence, while not excessive, is realistic enough to remind the audience that Silver Streak is a drama as well as a comedy; but for the most part, the two elements manage to avoid clashing with each other. Despite his mishaps (he keeps falling or being pushed off the train), Wilder emerges as a sympathetic and resourceful hero, and his on-board romance with Clayburgh is handled with wit, charm and style. Many of the comedy sequences are side-splitting, especially Pryor's attempt to disguise Wilder as a spaced-out black man. Colin Higgins' brisk screenplay is energetically directed by Arthur Hiller, and the movie's two-hour running time seems to go by much faster. Rated "PG."
• With Obsession, director Brian DePalma proved he could successfully imitate Alfred Hitchcock. Now, with CARRIE, he makes a strong bid to become Hitchcock's heir apparent. Although Carrie is somewhat more violent than the patented Hitchcock product (and definitely not for the squeamish), the film achieves its terrifying and shocking effects in the context of an integrated plot and three-dimensional characters. Sissy Spacek triumphs in the difficult role of Carrie White, a high school senior who is treated as an outsider by her classmates, and made the butt of cruel jokes. Piper Laurie, returning to films after a long absence, is effective as Carrie's demented mother, a Bible-thumping, anti-sex fanatic. The plot is concocted from three ingredients: Carrie's discovery that she has the power of telekinesis (the ability to move objects with her mind); her earnest, forlorn attempt to win acceptance from her classmates; and a vicious prank being prepared by several girls in her class, who are unaware of Carrie's new "supernatural" power. It all comes together at the Senior Prom, when the prank sets off a chain reaction of shocks that leave most of the audience numb at the end. Director DePalma is innovative in his purposeful use of slow motion and other special effects. The pacing is carefully timed and the camera work is extraordinary. Lawrence Cohen's screenplay, from Stephen King's novel, deftly primes the audience for the movie's dizzying, hair-raising climax. For sheer power, Carrie is a worthy successor to The Exorcist and Jaws. Rated "R."
• Devoted Woody Guthrie fans may be able to sit through BOUND FOR GLORY, a two-and-a-half-hour melange of plotless tedium based on Guthrie's autobiography. There is little to interest anyone else in this rambling tale of a not very likable folk singer. Played by David Carradine, Guthrie comes across as a talented but irresponsible drifter, a "free spirit" who throws away a promising career and neglects his family to indulge his whims. To compound the felony, the film is heaped with the most stale cliches of liberal "social consciousness." In this instance, it's the downtrodden migrant farm workers vs. the greedy, exploiting, violent, tyrannical etc. landowners and food processors. Ronny Cox as a country singer and farm union organizer, Melinda Dillon as Guthrie's long-suffering wife, and Randy Quaid as an out-of-luck farm worker deliver adequate supporting performances. Robert Getchell's screenplay and Hal Ashby's direction creak along slowly, when they move at all. The movie's only superior technical achievement is courtesy of special effects wizard Albert Whitlock and director of photography Haskell Wexler, who capture the reality of a Texas dust bowl storm with vivid imagery. As for the rest of the movie, anyone going to see Bound for Glory is probably bound for boredom. Rated "PG."
• Here are my picks for the "bests" of 1976, a better-than-average movie year:
Best picture: Network.
Best actor: Cliff Robertson in Obsession.
Best actress: Faye Dunaway in Network.
Best supporting actor: Richard Pryor in Silver Streak.
Best supporting actress: Talia Shire in Rocky.
Best director: Brian DePalma for Carrie.