• Damnation Alley • March or Die • Short Eyes • Every Man for Himself…
• DAMNATION ALLEY should have been released at Thanksgiving. Twentieth Century Fox, which backed the brilliant Star Wars, has, alas, followed it up with a 21st-century turkey.
In what purports to be an adaptation of Roger Zelazny's novel of an epic journey across an America ravaged by an atomic war, the only things done right are the alien skies and tornadoes—and they may have been processed in at the last minute to lend a touch of post-Star Wars "authenticity."
It is no use condemning a movie simply for not following a book—sometimes a movie can actually improve on a book (one example: In the Heat of the Night). But when two screenwriters can come up with only one good line of dialogue between them, even stars as talented as Jan-Michael Vincent, George Peppard, Dominique Sanda, Paul Winfield and Jackie Earle Haley face a hopeless task in trying to create any real drama, let alone any real meaning.
Zelazny's Hell Tanner was an existential hero, and the novel was an expressionistic fantasy full of allusions to Saint-Exupery and such memorable passages as Tanner's soliloquy about the Big Machine. Tanner and the rest in the movie are cliche figures who act like idiots at every stop of their journey, the better to be menaced by giant scorpions or killer cockroaches or whatever.
Oh, there is one fairly good scene in the picture: one of the men painting a mural on the wall of a derelict military base After the Blowup. And occasionally the characters, limited as they are, come to life in fine performances. But the whole is too burdened by a hackneyed script and poor production values (even the focus is lousy most of the way through).
As Tanner was treated by the Elements in the novel, so Zelazny has been treated by Hollywood: "The winds still break about him, and the heavens still throw garbage."
—John J. Pierce
• MARCH OR DIE is an unbelievable mismash of ill-assorted scenes. The material itself (French Foreign Legion) is not very prepossessing, having already been overworked in earlier films. This one adds nothing, except confusion. The whole rhythm of the picture is wrong—a scene leads up toward a climax but there is no climax, only a cut to another scene with no clear relevance to the preceding one—and so on throughout. It is as if the cutting-room employees had been asleep, or even as if the projectionist had paid no attention to the correct order of the reels. The final effect is as frustrating as if a child kept playing the first six notes of a scale, starting with middle C, without ever finishing the sequence.
• SHORT EYES has very little in it that repays viewing aesthetically; it should rather be viewed as a documentary—an unusually harrowing one. Whatever cumulative power the play had has been largely dissipated through scenes of talk in the film. The limitation to one set (The Tombs in New York City), not bothersome in a play, is unduly confining in a film. A true picture of prison life it may be; but one should be forewarned that it is a picture of unrelieved ugliness, lacking in the ability that art has to make even depressing subject-matter inspiring through the treatment of that subject-matter. It should be seen for information, not for enjoyment.
• EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF AND GOD AGAINST ALL is the ambitious title of a not-very-ambitious German film concerning the 1828 case of Kasper Hauser, which achieved international fame and was discussed by Tolstoy and other writers. Until the age of 20 he was kept imprisoned in a dungeon, with food and drink slipped through the door while he slept, so that at maturity he had never seen another human being nor learned the rudiments of language. Clinically it is a most interesting case: how would an adult react to a world he was experiencing for the first time? By what steps would he pick up the language? What misconceptions of reality had he acquired and why?
There are a few revealing details: He is shown a tall tower and says it must have taken a tall man to build it. And then: "There is more space in it than out here." "Why do you say that?" "Because I can turn around here and the tower disappears; but inside, no matter which way I turn the room is always there." But surely the development of a human being raised in utter isolation and suddenly released into society must have been much more interesting than anything shown in this film, which does not even succeed in generating much sympathy for the principal character; it squanders most of its time on the reaction of the villagers to the "stupid lout" (who turns out to be very intelligent) rather than on his own development. The village life of the time and the historical settings are nicely recreated, but the film has not much drive or sensitivity, and the emphasis is more sociological than psychological. One learns much more reading about the Hauser case than seeing this film about it. If this one is typical of the recent "renaissance of German films" (most of which have not been released in the United States, perhaps for good reason), one can only wish nostalgically for the great German film classics such as Fritz Lang's Siegfried, Metropolis, and M the Kidnapper.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Movies".