Unsettled by his experience in World War I, Lake Forest cutup Bill Murray resigns the shallow materialism of his friends and fiancee and sets out on the narrow path to spiritual enlightenment. This intensely embarrassing film clearly has great personal value for Murray (the real-life parallels become chillingly explicit when a subplot introduces a dope- and booze-addicted friend whom Murray is unable to save), but if the motivations are authentic, the result is anything but. The screenplay (cowritten by Murray and director John Byrum) shies away from specifying Murray’s spiritual achievements; instead of maturing, the character simply becomes more smug and condescending, and the movie’s ultimate subject is his fatuous self-satisfaction in the face of the other characters’ carefully delineated weaknesses. Not one moment in the film works the way it was plainly meant to. With Theresa Russell, Catherine Hicks, and Denholm Elliott. PG-13, 128 min.
Underneath this Veronica Lake–Alan Ladd thriller (1946) lies Raymond Chandler‘s only original screenplay—a suitably hard-nosed affair about a war vet whose homecoming coincides with the murder of his unfaithful wife. Though it has the Chandler flavor and occasionally captures the feel of his sunbaked Los Angeles, the film falters under the uncertain, visually uninventive direction of George Marshall—wildly miscast here, when any vaguely sympathetic hack from Stuart Heisler to Frank Tuttle would have been just fine. With William Bendix and Howard da Silva.
Kenji Mizoguchi‘s first postwar film (1946), made under the censorship pressure of the American occupation, might be interpreted as a story about the director’s own artistic confinement as well as that of the great 18th-century wood-block printmaker Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806). (A less offensive and more accurate translation of the title would be Five Women Around Utamaro, which is what the film is called in England.) The film isn’t without its difficulties—a plot with no easy identifications due to a virtual absence of close-ups, a large cast of characters, and a periodic displacement of narrative centers—but these are all intimately related to its uncommon achievements. Significantly, Utamaro’s artistry only becomes visible at any length in the film’s final shot, and many of the moments of greatest beauty and power take place in the margins of the story proper. A neglected and important film by one of the supreme masters. With Minosuke Bando and Kinuyo Tanaka. In Japanese with subtitles. 97 min.
The great Disney Uncle Tom masterwork. Brer Rabbit and company are introduced by dear old Uncle Remus. This is good if very offensive entertainment, and whether you can take it or not is something you’ll have to answer for yourself. The stories are pretty good folk, though a little too coyly calculated. But the plantation stuff is beneath contempt. Better save this for nostalgia only—kids won’t be missing anything if they never encounter this relic.
The film Frank Capra was born to make. This 1946 release marked his return to features after four years of turning out propaganda films for the government, and Capra poured his heart and soul into it. James Stewart stars as a small-town nobody, on the brink of suicide, who believes his life is worthless. Guardian angel Henry Travers shows him how wrong he is by letting Stewart see what would have happened had he never been born. Wonderfully drawn and acted by a superb cast (Donna Reed, Beulah Bondi, Thomas Mitchell, Lionel Barrymore, Gloria Grahame) and told with a sense of image and metaphor (the use of water is especially elegant) that appears in no other Capra film. The epiphany of movie sentiment and a transcendent experience.