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FROM THE LULLING CROWD

John Schlesingers self-possession is often injurious to his movies. Hes so deliberately controlling in pace and style that hes nearly always in danger of killing off lasting interest audiences may have. This is especially true when he does the classics—like Nathanael Wests The Day of the Locust and Thomas Hardys Far From the Madding Crowd. (Not true with the novelesque Sunday Bloody Sunday, but thats subject matter hes much more connected to.) With West, hes a respectful stranger looking in on a Hollywood he seems too poised for. With Hardy, hes mounting considerable due diligence, hes closer to the locales of Wessex and the overly polite, bottled up emotions therein, but whats problematic for viewers is that, despite a strongly appealing cast—Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Terence Stamp and Peter Finch—hes a lulling English Lit professor petering out before climax, pumping the blood of the story too slowly to course through the characters. Far From the Madding Crowd was once dared as a roadshow—very early Masterpiece Theatre before it became de rigueur. Schlesinger and photographer Nicolas Roeg have colored the movie in earthworn greens (take note of those tree trunks in one scene), browns, dingy whites and grays, not inappropriate, just a little dull. Thank the Gods for the weathered if homely faces of all those Dorset extras. Christie is far from the maddening anxieties exhibited in Darling and Doctor Zhivago—she looks and sounds comfortable doing the “big” acting bits, and she handles a ditty surprisingly well, yet were always immersed in her unambiguous, archetypal 60sness and suggestive mouth to be confidant that were impressed by what shes doing. Bates looks like a Leprechaun early on and regrettably stays that way; Stamp is mostly panache as the grenadier (even when kissing a corpse); Finchs Jamaican tan, sometimes oily, steals some of his scenes, except the last one of him awaiting his fate. Richard Rodney Bennetts score Oscar-nominated. National Board of Review: best film—English language, best actor (Finch). 168 minutes. In Panavision.

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ralphbenner@nowreviewing.com 

Text COPYRIGHT © 2003 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.