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.
A botch job by Sam Goldwyn, who exercised his power as producer by changing directors—from Howard Hawks to William Wyler—halfway through the shooting. Some sources hold that Wyler shot only the last ten minutes, working from Hawks’s script; others claim that Wyler reshot much of Hawks’s work. But the first part of the film, the best, is unmistakably Hawks, as Edward Arnold and Walter Brennan (in an early part, his first Academy Award performance) fight for the hand of Frances Farmer, against the background of the north-woods logging country. The Edna Ferber story (like her Giant) then shifts generations, and the action loses much of its scale. Farmer remains a wonder, in one of her few fully realized parts as an early and lusty version of the Hawksian woman (1936).
A wide-open San Francisco, circa 1890, is the background for one of Howard Hawks‘s intelligent love triangles: Miriam Hopkins is a mail-order bride whose husband-to-be is killed on the night of her arrival; gambler Edward G. Robinson offers her protection, drifter Joel McCrea offers her solace. A boisterous film with a serious undertone provided by Hawks’s preoccupation with the moral compromise necessary for survival. Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur scripted (1935).
A journalist (arch-WASP Gregory Peck) passes as a Jew to get the inside story on anti-Semitism in America. A product of the dawning era of Hollywood’s social consciousness (1947), it earned three self-congratulatory Academy Awards — best picture, best director (Elia Kazan), and best supporting actress (Celeste Holm) — though it looks pretty timorous now. With Dorothy McGuire, John Garfield, June Havoc, and Albert Dekker. 118 min.