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 minor Frank Borzage melodrama, but not without interest for students of his style. Joan Crawford is a poor girl from the lower east side, unhappily married to a petty crook, who finds relief with Spencer Tracy, a self-made millionaire. Borzage’s gift for compact, succinct, visual metaphor is evident in his use of a flickering lightbulb in the stairway of Crawford’s tenement apartment; it becomes, in the space of a few frames, a heartbreaking symbol of dying hope. With Alan Curtis and Ralph Morgan (1937).
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).
Vincente Minnelli‘s 1955 melodrama is set in a posh mental hospital; he choreographs the various plots and subplots with the same style and dynamism he brought to his famous musicals. Charles Boyer is the head of the clinic, a secret alcoholic worried about competition from hotshot young shrink Richard Widmark. Widmark, in turn, is caught in a triangle with his childish wife (Gloria Grahame) and an understanding colleague (Lauren Bacall). Among the guest loonies are Oscar Levant (who sings “Mother” in a straitjacket), Lillian Gish, Susan Strasberg, Fay Wray, John Kerr, Paul Stewart, and Adele Jergens; John Houseman produced. 124 min.