Raiders of the Lost Ark
Clash of the Titans
Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears
• The plot is sheer hokum: the search for the Ark of the Covenant—the ornate chest that is supposed to contain the original Ten Commandments as given to Moses on Mount Sinai. No, it's not a biblical film; it's an anti-Nazi film. For some far-out reason, Hitler is anxious to get hold of the ark, which he believes has rested all these years in a crypt in Egypt. To lay claim to it before the Nazis do, the RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK do their hair-raising bit, from South American jungles (quite irrelevant to the remainder of the story) to Tibet (dragged in by the hair) to Egypt and finally the islands of the Mediterranean. But the two movie wizards, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, make it continuously suspenseful, with hardly a moment between one episode and the next to recover our breath. Quite understandably, it's the most popular film of 1981.
Old-fashioned romanticism is triumphant once more. Our hero wins against dizzying odds in one escapade after another, even when surrounded by bands of Nazis with machine guns or by hundreds of poisonous snakes. The probability of his escaping alive from these situations is infinitesimal, but credibility flies with the wind as the momentum begins with the first minute and never lets up. Only toward the end do we get De Mille-style special effects, presumably of divine origin, the moral of which seems to be, "Don't tamper with sacred objects," though one would have thought that it would be the divine wish to have the Decalogue disseminated.
The main character is a "total hero," with no discernible defects of either character or strategy: always cool, always in control. The degree of audience identification with him is high from the start and constantly rises. A combination of John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart (complete with hat), Harrison Ford plays the part with aplomb and is likely to begin a new hero cult in an antihero decade of films. The psychological roots of the fascination run deep, and it is popular for the same reason that The Perils of Pauline was popular. Indeed, this film is an updated continuation of those episodes.
• If you have been fascinated by the Greek myth of Perseus and Andromeda, you may be led to see the celebration of this story on film, CLASH OF THE TITANS. But the film will soon make you aware that these myths live better in the imagination than on the silver screen. Whereas scenes can be imagined with appropriate vagueness, film must show them in full explicitness, thus destroying the illusion.
The Medusa, to see whom is to turn to stone, is well enough exhibited for us, along with sundry monsters, two-headed dogs, and other mythic paraphernalia. But one can hardly believe that the original characters in the story behaved in quite so wooden a fashion. Zeus (Laurence Olivier) and his entourage of gods and goddesses are shown as determining all earthly events from their palaces among the clouds (white robes, light blue draperies), but one is at a loss to know why they decide what the earthlings are to do when they are assigned to do them, while the poor mortals go through the motions thinking they are doing them of their own free will.
There is one redeeming feature in the film—the ingenious use of special effects. Pegasus, the flying horse, is a bit clumsy at times, but the mechanical owl who obeys human commands is quite wonderful. Of all the characters in the film, this is the only one that has been conceived and executed with verve, imagination, and a sense of humor.
• It is possible to go 20 miles from Moscow and be in the 18th century, with no electricity or plumbing and farmers who are like serfs, eking out a meager living from land they do not own and requiring a passport to go into the city and then only to take crops to market. Moscow is viewed as the center of light and life, to which everyone who craves any kind of culture or civilized life wishes to go.
And yet it is this very same Moscow life that is described by one of the characters in George Feifer's book Moscow Farewell in a very different way: "This insipid, dingy, dreary life—who cares about pulling out of it? We have no art, no literature, nothing true—only propaganda to keep us morons. You wish you'd been born a century earlier, before the desecration called Soviet rule; or a hundred years from now, when the specter of some civilization may again haunt our land." Because no one knows who may be a KGB plant, everyone is suspicious; but once people take you into their trust, it is total, and human relations are much more intense than in the West.
This face of Moscow life never comes to light in MOSCOW DOES NOT BELIEVE IN TEARS, the Soviet film that won the Academy Award as the best foreign film of 1980. It should never have won over Kurosawa's Kagemusha. Yet, though its picture of Moscow life is much too flattering (working-class apartments aren't that luxurious), and though it says nothing about the police-state aspects of Soviet existence, it is a pleasing and touching film, full of sentiment as well as sentimentality, continuously absorbing and extremely well scripted. It is a story of love, longing, unfulfilled dreams, frustrated hopes, and renewed life. The story told could have taken place almost anywhere.
Two girls come to Moscow, the first to find a dashing and well-paid husband, the second to find relief from boredom and a career. The first must settle for far less than she had expected, and the second becomes mother to a child by a television newscaster who abandons her. The time span covers over 20 years: the first girl's husband becomes an alcoholic, and the second, after years of loneliness, finds the love she has long sought. One scene alone, in which a man meets her in a subway train and wins her heart almost on the spot, makes the picture worth seeing all by itself, by its poignancy, its delicacy of feeling, and its careful character delineation. It may not be the real Moscow, but as a portrait of human hopes and disappointments at any place or time, it rings touchingly true.
• Lauren Bacall pretty much portrays her own career in THE FAN, and James Garner is adequate enough as her ex-husband. But the most fully wrought character is Michael Biehn as the passionate fan of Bacall's who turns gradually vicious when he is ignored. The film's format is that of a mystery story, and if it were only that it would be something less than totally engaging. But in the midst of the development of this story, something else gradually unfolds which is psychologically quite interesting—the pathology of a young adult who has never outgrown his childish impulses of rage and revenge and who kills when he can't get his way. For this character analysis, but not for too much else, the film may be worth seeing.
John Hospers is a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California. His book Understanding the Arts will be published this year by Prentice Hall.