MacArthur • One on One • Black and White in Color • Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger
• It was with some misgivings that I went to see MACARTHUR. Considering the bias of the media on all matters political or economic, I wondered what kind of hatchet-job they were going to do on one of their favorite villains. But on this score I need not have worried, perhaps for the same reason as in Patton: the record is so familiar that they would hardly have dared to present glaring factual errors. They could, of course, have distorted the account in other ways: by juxtaposing scenes in such a way as to make a character appear ridiculous, by filming it in a general tone of derision, or by including only scenes that presented one point of view and omitting all others; but any such fears were also without foundation in this case.
The film traces General MacArthur's career from the invasion of the Philippines in 1942 to his farewell speech at West Point in the late 1950's. The historical record is left to speak for itself, and there is enough material to feed both sides in the controversy. On one side, we are given (for example) MacArthur's prediction that the Chinese would not enter the Korean war; on the other side, we are given MacArthur as a brilliant military strategist, such as his strategy of island-hopping in the Pacific war and circumventing the enemy rather than engaging them head-on from one island to the next. Far from being underplayed, MacArthur's policy as head of the Japanese occupation forces of refusing to treat Japan as a conquered nation but as one that must be rebuilt, and whose people must be granted their civil liberties from the outset, is repeatedly emphasized, although this interlude between the two wars does not yield easily to cinematic treatment. Even MacArthur's personal characteristics are treated sympathetically: he does not come through as a posturing self-indulgent egotist but as an intelligent and warm human being, dedicated to acting on principle, with incisive perceptions of reality and an implacable hatred of communism (nor is this last feature ridiculed). It is possible for MacArthur haters to come out still hating him, and certainly his admirers will come out still admiring him; the viewer is left to judge for himself. By contrast, Roosevelt is presented as vain and unprincipled, and Truman as a friendly down-to-earth bumbler, at least in military matters.
The film tries so hard to be historically accurate that it loses somewhat in drama. To build scenes effectively a certain amount of dramatic license is required, and this involves usually "playing around with the facts" more than the makers of this film apparently chose to do. The speeches, for example, are taken verbatim from MacArthur's public utterances. But where fiction would have required developing a theme to its conclusion, history goes on its way without finishing what it started, and the film follows history. The result is that one's sense of drama is sometimes frustrated, but the record is set clearly before us. Such is the conflict that always occurs when aesthetic requirements clash with those of factual accuracy.
The film is not as dramatic as Patton; even when there was an opportunity to present grand climaxes or electric confrontation-scenes, this was not done if the historical record did not support such scenes. Some interstitial scenes were probably inventions of script-writers (Roosevelt at Pearl Harbor: Why haven't you returned to the U.S. during all these years? MacArthur: I believe that the commander should always be with his men. Roosevelt: I agree—and that's why I'm here!), but the temptation to invent such scenes is usually resisted, presumably in the interests of fidelity to history.
The direction is competent without being inspired, and for a change one can fault it for the film's brevity—each scene is cut to the bone, and one could wish that some of the development had been more leisurely. Gregory Peck, whether he is acting in MacArthur or The Omen, can always be relied on to give a sincere, plausible, no-nonsense performance. On balance, the film is more informative than inspiring, more factual than dramatic. When it is dramatic, it is only because the segment of history being presented has itself a dramatic quality. If there are few scenes in which we are deeply moved, there are also few or none in which we fail to be interested and involved as eyewitnesses to history. To those who remember the period, the film recaptures and revivifies the memory of two segments of American history (World War II, Korean War); to those in their 20's or younger, it will give them a factual account of details of recent history of which many of them may previously have been ignorant.
• Though the first half of ONE ON ONE drags a bit, as the protagonist becomes acclimated to details of freshman college life which are so familiar as already to be cliches, the film gathers momentum and becomes intermittently exciting and moving during the second half. If you like basketball, and are interested in university politics toward athletic stars, you will find this film interesting and informative. If you don't particularly care about such themes, you will still find things of interest: the characterization (by Robbie Benson) of the innocent freshman from Colorado adjusting to the rules of a west coast university is nicely done; and the film is definitely up-beat, showing how a determined student beats the odds and triumphs over the system. The confrontation scenes between the student and the head coach are dramatically the best things in the film—that and the climactic basketball game—and will make you either angry (at the coach) or admiring (of the courageous student).
Because it deals with a sport, and because it shows how erstwhile losers can become winners, this film has been compared with last year's Rocky. There is some basis for comparison, though this one does not sustain the dramatic quality as well as Rocky did, and does not have a pattern of revealing textural details that contribute to a fulfilling sense of the whole as Rocky did. But the two are in the same genre nonetheless, and if you liked Rocky you are not likely to dislike this one. Low-key and familiar though it is, it's far from being a waste of time. It is probably one of the season's best films, if one considers the rest of the crop with which it has to be compared.
• New Year's, 1915. A lonely outpost in French West Africa, hot, sleepy, uneventful, a few French soldiers, a Catholic mission, and hundreds of natives. A few miles away, a similar German outpost. None of them know yet that World War I has broken out in Europe. Finally the mail from Europe arrives, and suddenly they discover that they're at war.
You take it up from there. I've described the opening situation; the plot, such as it is, is too good to give away. Not that you should expect much in the way of heavy drama or spectacle; BLACK AND WHITE IN COLOR is low-keyed and develops at a leisurely pace, never letting action take precedence over some insight into the foibles of men or an astute observation about the peculiarities of human relationships. French films are the best at doing this, and this is a superior French film.
More than 50 years after the war, and with French colonialism also a thing of the past, perhaps the makers of this film can afford to take an Olympian stance toward all this. At any rate, they do, and the result is delightful. The film is beautifully crafted, the characters well individuated, the slender plot developed with impeccable good taste. The way it is all said is much more elegant than what is said. Anyway, for a change, you come out of the theater feeling good-and not recalling many recent films that made you feel that way. It may even occur to you that you don't remember seeing a more satisfying film in all of 1977.
• One of the few G-rated films not made by Disney studios, SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER is good children's entertainment. It has interesting special effects and a simple and engaging story line. It retains, however, none of the fascination of the Arabian Nights tales. It's a far cry from a classic like The Thief of Baghdad, with its genii and flying carpets and the atmosphere of magic and enchantment which transports us into an exciting world of fantasy. This one takes place mostly in the Arctic, and the fantasy-world is only incompletely sustained. Any connection with the Sinbad tales you've read is strictly coincidental.