Movies

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• Kramer vs. Kramer
• Star Trek
• The Black Hole
• The Black Stallion
• The Electric Horseman

• KRAMER VS. KRAMER is an honest and moving piece of filmmaking, lacking the amount of dramatic confrontation that often occurs in films about divorce but doubtless kept somewhat low-keyed to avoid any suspicion of false melodramatics; and indeed it is powerful real-life drama with no hint of soap opera. The initial situation (the wife leaving), the development (the father pursuing his career and trying to be both parents at the same time), as well as the climactic scenes, are all laid with great care and done with excellent credibility, holding one's absorbed attention throughout. There are fine comic touches, all integral to the story. At any number of points it could easily have gone off the track, but it never does.

For this achievement the principal credit goes to writer-director Robert Benton, who deserves whatever plaudits may come his way for a careful and convincing job. Dustin Hoffman has more variety in the role of the loving father than most recent parts have afforded him, and he takes more naturally to this one than to that of a hunted criminal or a marathon runner. The child, Justin Henry, evokes such sympathy and is so good in his role that he practically runs away with the picture. I have only one small cavil in the case of the other principal, the wife, played by Meryl Streep. She is one of the finest actresses around and can make a thin part rich with meaning by the nuances of feeling she brings to it. Her part here is not exactly thin, but it is hard to believe that, radiating an angelic quality as she always does (and no less sensuous for all that), she would leave a child whom she loves in order to find self-fulfillment (an offshoot of Women's Lib?). Her motives are made quite believable, yet she is cast in a somewhat unfavorable role, and the audience's sympathies extend more to the others than to her. There is thus a cleavage between the actress we see and the role she is called upon to play. But withal, this is as honest and involving an American film as came along in the rather meager movie year of 1979.

• There were episodes of the television series Star Trek that were fun to watch. The same cannot be said of the film STAR TREK, which is an outgrowth of the series. It is ponderous, slow-moving, and full of dead spaces. The principals are visibly older and have apparently lost their ability not to take themselves too seriously. What's left is the visual effects, which are stunning indeed and lovingly exhibited, but hardly worth the $40 million that the film is reputed to have cost.

According to advance reports, THE BLACK HOLE would possess some of the qualities lacking in Star Trek. There is quite a bit of humor in it (grade B through Z), and it is less ponderous than Star Trek and mercifully shorter. The characters are stereotypes, and the film is a kind of space-Western with laser beams replacing rifles. As for enlarging one's conception of the sidereal universe, it falls flat on its face. Not even light can emanate from the black holes of space, but in this film not only light but the characters themselves, biologically fragile as they are and vulnerable to a thousand accidents of space travel, emerge from the black hole smiling and intact. Perhaps the Disney team knows something the astronomers aren't telling us?

• Children will enjoy THE BLACK STALLION, and many adults will enjoy it even more. The story is a lovely and moving one, and the tale of a boy and his horse has never to my knowledge been more stunningly filmed.

The first half is visually about as beautiful as anything we have seen in filmsâ€"horse, child, desert, ocean. The first half contains by far the best of the story, as well: a ship along the North African coast (1946), a shipwreck, the barren desert, the boy finding food for the horse deep under the water and the horse in turn saving the boy's life. Scene after scene is both moving and memorably beautiful.

Then comes civilization, the horse in a midwestern town, then on a farm (here Mickey Rooney turns in one of his most savory performances). It's all interesting enough, but nothing in it can compare with the pictorial quality or the feeling-tone of the first half. Doubtless the filmmakers suspected as much, for the picture concludes with flashbacks of the boy and the horse in the desert, plunging us back into the places where the film shone brightest. With this example before them of an "inspirational" film without undue saccharinity, the makers of quality G-rated films may have a future after all.

• The story line of THE ELECTRIC HORSEMAN is somewhat thin, and the themeâ€"doing what (the hero believes) is the right thing for one particular horseâ€"may seem not to be a sufficient reason for all the labored shenanigans the characters go through to achieve that end. The first half hour of the picture is very unprepossessing indeed. But then bit by bit one gets into it; the interrelation of the characters is smoothly if not profoundly developed; and the last half hour, amidst the deserts and mountains of Nevada and Utah, is in its own way rather touching (even Jane Fonda joining in singing "America the Beautiful").

The whole mix wouldn't work except for the leavening influence of the two principals, Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. Redford especially proves himself to be (unexpectedly, at least to me) a skilled and subtle actor, and Fonda disports herself with her usual sensitivity and intelligence; the chemistry between them is a pleasure to watch. Without the consummate job of acting by this pair, the slender story could not sustain one's interest for more than two hours.

This isn't a propaganda picture like The China Syndrome. Still, one must resign oneself to the thesis that all corporations are evil and those who run them are dolts and charlatansâ€"none of which keeps Ms. Fonda from flashing before us her expensive Sony tape-recorder and fancy television cameras (perhaps Japanese corporations are not evil?) This theme is not emphasized, however, and it finally gets lost in the romantic triangle Fonda-Redford-horse. The film is somewhat reminiscent of an earlier one, also set in Nevada, The Misfits, written by Arthur Miller and giving us the last performances ever by its three principals (Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift). But Misfits deals with catching wild horses, while Horseman wants to return tame ones to the wild.

John Hospers is a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California. His book Understanding the Arts will be published by Prentice-Hall this year.