Love and Corpses
By ISABEL QUIGLY don Pavilion.) — Bed of
Arch.)—The Burmese Harp. (Everyman, Hampstead.) — Night and Fog. (Berkeley.) FOR days, if you remember, or it may have been weeks, after Maclean and Burgess bolted they were 'seen' about the Continent, disguised or undis- guised. I was in Paris at the height of it; and, absurd though it sounds at this distance, the atmo- sphere was so hysterical that every second pair of people seemed suitable or even likely to be the unlikely fugitives. This is the atmosphere to bear in mind at A Touch of Larceny (director : Guy Hamilton; 'U' certificate), whose account of what happens when a man and a top-secret file vanish at once isn't half as farcical as things really were nine years ago.
What I like best about this very bright home- grown comedy is that most of the time it really looks like us, not like actors being us, and its jaunty charm is British without the exaggerated folksiness of so many of our comic efforts. No game old gaffers, no dowagers, no quaint customs like pubs and cricket : just a neat tale with a twist or two and James Mason looking nicely sardonic and local, as if Hollywood and the rest of it had hardly happened to him, and the small parts (Harry Andrews, Rachel Gurney, Barbara Hicks, Percy Herbert, Peter Barkworth, to pick a few from a first-class dozen or so) exactly authentic looking and sounding. Mr. Hamilton has an odd way of directing people through the eyes, as it were, of other people; for instance his heroine, Vera Miles, is not in herself very interesting but somehow seems to reflect what James Mason feels about her; so, as he looks permanently electrified, she even gives off a sort of faint electric glow, especially when she first appears, in the back of a car driven through a glowing, mysterious Chel- sea. In fact, Mr. Hamilton has style, and a deft way with comedy of the national-idiosyncratic sort, now rather suspect; and the pace of his film is so brisk it seems short, a rare thing to feel at a morning press show.
There are two ways of treating an almost in- credible artistic decline. As we came out of A Woman Like Satan ('X' certificate) directed (in- credibly) by Julien Duvivier, one person was say- ing: 'Terrible, isn't it, when you remember Carnet de Bal,' and another : 'I forgive him anything, even this, when 1 remember Carnet de Bal.' Any- way, it's, alas, poor Duvivier, whichever way you take it, and even, if she needed sympathy, which clearly she doesn't, poor Bardot too, for being made to play in a rehashed Blue Angel of quite hideous charmlessness that gives her nothing to do but pout, flounce, and do a bit of stripteasing be- hind what looks like an old-fashioned fringed counterpane.
And there are two ways of treating peasants— or more, but two main ones. Peasantless com- munities like ours tend to glamorise them and others, which have them, tend to stick up notices, like Bob Hope on another occasion, saying Peasants Keep Out. There is nothing glamorous about the peasant community in the Greek film Bed of Grass (director : Gregg Tallas; 'X' certifi- cate), which is primitive in the worst sense of that over-used word—cruel and harsh, superstitious, violent and scareable, with passions so near the
surface they dribble at the mouth, an alarmnni sight. An outcast girl, hounded by her own villagt for being raped: two sex maniacs (by implication, typical peasants). and acres and acres of kith where rape (yes, again, poor girl) is as comrrioll as corn, all add up to. the advertisements tell U; 'Greece's answer to Peyton Place. Anna Braila. the outcast heroine, cavorts about looking dig' c turbingly like something out of Thurber.
And Never So Few (director : John Sturges: 'A' certificate) is one of those long, high-coloured. downcasting, irrevocably awful films, not clalt bad enough to enjoy for laughs. and certainlY twt to be seen for any other reason With Sinatra and Lollo, a remarkably ill-matched pair. in Burnla the war.
If there is a more moving war film than rill Burmese Harp (director : Kon Ichikawa. 'A certificate) I haven't seen it. Its effect is at once powerful and dreamlike and without any argik ment—about right or wrong, guilt or innocence. or even about war in general—stating no case. it is •the most convincing plea for peace. a central, inner peace as the basis of a wider goodwill. that I remember. How hard it has been to make war films about an ideological war like the last. tile unsatisfactoriness of almost every war film has shown. Accusation, apology, lack of accusation or apology, guilt shrugged off, guilt laboured-- whichever way it is it seems wrong. and mates Us relive, often Rngrily, the feelings and attitudes of war. The Burmese Harp does not bring in ideolcr gies : it is about men. You may say that in the ideological tangle of the war men were submerged in ideology, that there was no room for therm for individual humanity.
A film like Resnais' documentary on the con- centration camps, Night and Fog ('X' certificate), now showing at the Berkeley, is enough to make the idea of humanity, the very word—as meaning anything humane or loving—seem bitterly laugh- able. Mountains of human hair made into great rolls of cloth, parchments of human skin, soap out of human fat, gas-chamber ceilings clawed by nothing but human nails, nine million European dead : have we the right to any sense of reconcilia- tion? I saw these two intensely felt films on the same day, one after the other, with a gap for tea in between. The first, the French film, a grind- ing experience that seemed to put out all hope bY fastening guilt, not so much on a specific people or system, as on the evil in us all; the second an experience at once passionate and quietening, without bitterness, anger or vengeance, with no mention of the horrors on either side—not even, except obliquely, the atom bomb. And yet with- out sentimentality or evasiveness, the horrors are there : corpses as dreadful as any in the camps, heaped up unburied. The attitude is one of recon- ciliation—between people, between enemies, be- tween the living and the dead. Films that try to Skirt round the responsibilities of War make one angry. This film accepts them: it says that people grow beyond even their sufferings, and that there is dignity in death, however horrible, if there is love and dignity left behind. The Japanese soldier turned monk, who goes about burying his dead countrymen in Burma, may turn his nose away at the stench of them burning, but in his heart there is love, not nausea, and this seems to be the first film to treat a pile of hideous corpses with love, not nausea. Perhaps this explains its effect.