14 JUNE 1969, Page 22


Indian reservations


The Guru (Academy One, V') The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (Warner, 'A') Run Wild, Run Free (Odeon, Leicester Square, V') The Italian Job (Plaza, V') James Ivory's Shakespeare Wallah has turned out to be a film of rather unexpected staying-power. It is fragile, tentative, some- times almost transparently inexpert; and a Tv screening a few months ago showed that it's still holding up beautifully, while seem- ingly sturdier movies have died in their tracks. Perhaps the attraction is that in it Ivory found the perfect symbol for the battered and lingering end of Empire—the English theatrical troupe, gamely tearing up Shakespeare for solitary maharajahs and indifferent Indian schoolboys—and then refused to treat it as a symbol, but rather as a tangible, wistful, penny-pinching real- ity adrift in the sub-continent.

His new film, The Guru, has nothing quite so genuine to cling to. It is about an amiably vague English pop singer (Michael York) who arrives coincidentally with a dimly wandering hippy (Rita Tushingham), hopeful of imbibing some transcendental Indian something-or-other while studying the sitar. The pop singer thinks he can sit at his guru's feet without actually stirring from his comfortable hotel. The Ustad (Utpal Dutt) thinks otherwise; though he is really too burdened with his two wives, his nervous relations with his own guru, and his complex feelings of cenceit at instruct- ing a pop singer and utter horror at what that alien world represents to give his pupils more than a fraction of his mind.

East is East, and West is still a bull in an Oriental china-shop . . . and The Guru hasn't really a great deal more than that to say. But Ivory and his co-writer, the novelist Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, sidle engag- ingly round their theme, never letting them- selves be trapped into the tedium of a head- on confrontation. Perhaps in consequence, Mr York and Miss Tushingham look faintly at sea, playing parts which are disinclined to work as symbols (the film dodges all the more trying associations with giggling gurus and Beatle communiqués from high places) and yet remain inadequately furnished as characters; or perhaps it is that James Ivory, so adroit with his Indian players, doesn't entirely know what to do with movie stars. At any rate, it is the quarrelsome first wife (the splendid Madhur Jaffrey from Shakespeare Wallah), the hesitant second wife, and the muddled, peevish Ustad who fret and puzzle and worry around the en- counter. The English pair have only, in the end, to pack their bags and go home.

A difference from Shakespeare Wallah is that this time Ivory has one of the big American companies behind him, allowing him colour (Subrata Mitra's camerawork is a ravishing asset), and no doubt opening the way to wider audiences. All the same, I'm not sure that the scale is quite right for his glancing ironies, reticent sidlings, and wayward and reflective tempo. His problem seems to be rather that of his own guru: how far to go, how much to throw open that accessible India of crumbling palaces, cool dawns on great waterways, all the dis- tracting, lost enchantments. Towards the end, he gets the measure of it: the witch woman who's really only a gypsy but who seems so threatening, the mysterious over- heard quarrel in the night, the English girl suddenly stifled by a sense of the alien past. Here's the echo from the Marabar Caves; and if it turns out to be only a bad attack of food-poisoning, that too is in keeping. Perhaps Ivory's real talent is for the sort of farewells which everyone welcomes with rather more relief than they allow them-

selves to admit. At the end, the Ustad bustles up late with his presents and parcels and goodbyes: it is the role of host that has been really taxing.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, like The Guru, picks up quite a bit of sympathetic regard, though doing rather less to earn it when perhaps it needed to do rather more. It is based on the Carson McCullers novel about a deaf mute who attracts the town's misfits and solitaries to his consoling silence, like an analyst who never answers back, and who is never recognised as having woes and regrets of his own. By the end, the roster of disaster is formidable: the Negro doctor dying of cancer, his son-in law who has his leg chopped off while unjustly imprisoned, the crippled landlord, the teenage girl (pro- mising performance, in a wistful Julie Harris style, by Sondra Locke) who realises that she is doomed to drudge around like her mother. Even addicts of Deep South cata- strophe may eventually feel that the town has seceded to the halt, the maimed and the not very bright.

Still, Robert Ellis Miller directs it thought- fully and non-bruisingly, picking off a whole series of valid little character sketches and drawing fondly on a movie tradition of high school dances, rocking chairs on porches, the pitter-pattering indolence of those dreamy little studio towns. In a dis- creet way, the film sets itself in no parti- cular time. Alan Arkin, with his very pale. smooth face and inquisitive eyes, actually looks rather startingly like Harry Langdon or Stan Laurel, one of the great comedians locked in with their own silences. And at its best, particularly before despondency closes in, the film is as eagerly observant as his performance. I particularly like the scene in the town's best restaurant, a strange kind of crimson palazzo of the Deep South. where the Sunday lunchers are drawn to their feet in muffled and silent amazement at the weird, scurrying Laurel and Hardy procession through their midst of two deaf mutes, the thin one drawing the fat one along with a gold-wrapped box of choco- lates dangled in front of his nose.

The mute child in Richard Sarafian's Run Wild. Run Free recovers his voice after getting away from his cross-patch parents (Sylvia Syms and Gordon Jackson) long

enough to be told by John Mills about the wild heart beating beneath Dartmoor's turf and introduced to a tame kestrel and an albino pony. Specifically, the pony decides to lie down and die in the bog, so the boy starts talking to it, and even Bernard Miles. playing a rabid old party with a fearful store of local folklore, can hardly forbear to cheer. Whatever mysterious disease attacks the people in animal films has got a firm grip on everyone here, with com- plications brought on by an over-resolute sensitivity: the heart of Dartmoor can hardly be heard above the boo-hooing over the animals injured, mislaid or dead.

All roads, in The Italian Job, lead to a car chase: a rather engaging one in which three Minis go belting impudently through Turin by way of the roofs, shopping arcades, sewers and several flights of church steps. Anyone who tries to copy almost anything these cars do is likely to be in dire trouble, but it's fun to watch. Most of the violence in Peter Collinson's film is also directed against cars, which seems a little churlish in the circumstances. For. motors apart, it's a trying picture, with Noel Coward inscrutably master-minding an armoured car robbery from his prison cells and Michael Caine carrying it out.