Oh, Henry! On The Film Version Of “Catch-22” (1970)

Catch-22 (film)

Catch-22 (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I dislike Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, which never should have been made into a movie.  It was, though, by Mike Nichols and half-talented scenarist Buck Henry.

About Nichols, Stanley Kauffmann was correct:  “at whatever level, he was born to direct,” and the material in The Graduate and Carnal Knowledge was worthy of him.  But the misguided, sophomoric stuff in the Catch-22 screenplay is not.  (Not that Nichols’s direction is mistake-free; note the use of the 2001 music by Richard Strauss.)

Really, the Heller novel has little sophistication—not none, but little.  What sophistication, what thoughtfulness, is there, however, hasn’t been passed on to the film, because I don’t believe Henry knew how to do it.  Spare me Heller’s Snowden episode, but in the movie it’s no good at all.  Neither are the caricatures from Orson Welles, Bob Newhart, and Buck Henry himself, and the comedy is sometimes too raffish.  A fantasy scene with full frontal female nudity is blatant and unnecessary.  I’m glad Catch-22 did not begin a veritable decline in Nichols’s oeuvre.

Seeing May in The Month Of May: “The Heartbreak Kid”

The Heartbreak Kid is a 1973 picture directed by Elaine May and written by Neil Simon.

In it, a Jewish newlywed, Lenny (Charles Grodin), sees just how vulgar and tiresome his wife Lila (Jeannie Berlin) is, and he regrets marrying her.  But during his honeymoon he himself turns into a deceitful fool-for-love—“in love” not with Lila but with the lovely goy Kelly (Cybill Shepherd), whom he meets on the beach.  Kelly’s father (Eddie Albert) is understandably appalled by the guy, and he instinctively hates him.  The movie’s ending is not exactly sanguine, and not exactly explicable.

Marriage here, except for that between the Eddie Albert character and his wife, is a joke—turned into one by the people involved.  But too much fuzziness brings on some implausible content, such as the virginal Kelly’s cool-woman teasing of Lenny, a married man. . . What’s it all about, Miss May?  You have more reason to be proud of your daughter’s, Miss Berlin’s, fine acting than of the film.

“Bathing Beauty”: This One Can Be All Wet

Bathing Beauty

Bathing Beauty (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Without its music, Bathing Beauty (1944) would have nothing.  Red Skelton is deeply unsatisfactory, even repelling, as the leading man in the film, and has no business being the love interest for Esther Williams.

Williams, of course, is the star who swims, who does what people surely regard as “water dancing.”  An expert dancer, female, who is also beautiful is not very common.  An expert swimmer, Williams is beautiful; but, in truth, swimming is not dancing.  To me, Williams’s doings are of limited interest (plus her acting is mediocre).  Only the synchronized swimming in BB has any aesthetic merit.

The music can be entertaining.  Much of it comes from Harry James, some of it from Xavier Cugat, and its many Latin sounds seem to promise an appearance by Carmen Miranda.  (But no.)  It’s pretty sapid pop, decently sung, in what is a multifarious movie musical.  Not one of director George Sidney’s best, though: consider that Skelton is around a lot of women and a few men, but never seems to maintain a true connection with any of them.

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