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Cinema: The New Pictures, Apr. 6, 1959

5 minute read

Rio Bravo (Armada; Warner) is a major ($3,000,000) attempt by Hollywood to outgun the six-gunslingers who have recently been pumping the TV audience full of lead (TIME, March 30). The trouble is, Producer-Director Howard Hawks has put too many shooting irons in the fire. The picture has not one but three heroes (John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson); they divide the sympathies and overpopulate the screen. For another thing, the film lasts almost as long (2 hr. 21 min.) as five TV westerns laid end to end—and it makes about as little consecutive sense.

Still, the trigger-happy actors flash their hardware with a difference. Actor Martin makes a snap shot that snips a horseman’s reins at 20 paces. Young (18) Nelson, a popular rock-‘n’-roll singer, gets little opportunity to show off his tonsils in his first Hollywood movie, but he demonstrates a remarkable proficiency with a Colt .45. Wayne, of course, walks off with the show—not by doing anything in particular, but simply by being what he is: at 51, still one of the most believable he-men in Hollywood.

The Naked Maja (Titanus; United Artists) refers to the title of the celebrated nude painted by Spain’s great Francisco Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) and identified by sentimentalists—though not by art historians—as a well-buffed study of his mistress, the Duchess of Alba. A reproduction of the portrait flashes onscreen briefly along with the titles, but this is just about the last note of authenticity in what may be the most inept movie biography since Cecil B. DeMille tore Cleopatra from the pages of history.

Goya, when he tumbled for his ducal doxy, was nearing 50, and totally deaf as the result of a mysterious and paralyzing illness; as an artist, he was a respected court painter to Charles IV, but his searing studies of the agonies of war and the misery of the human condition still lay ahead of him. In the movie (filmed in Rome because the Alba family prevailed on Franco to lock the moviemakers out of Spain), “Paco” Goya is a beardless, hot-blooded youth (Anthony Franciosa) newly arrived in Madrid from the sticks. The duchess (Ava Gardner), a democratic type who prefers saloons to salons, eyes him ravishingly after he rescues her from a ruffian in a tavern. In a twinkling, Paco packs off to the South to love and limn her for the ages.

But the world is too much with them. La Alba’s common touch has drawn deep frowns from the Queen, and to save Goya’s neck, the duchess renounces his attentions and ships him back to Madrid. Feverish at the thought of her fickleness, he churns out the agonized, hellborn Caprichos. In the end, the lovers are briefly, sentimentally reunited at the duchess’ deathbed.

What atrocities they have not committed on history, Writers Norman Corwin and Giorgio Prosperi have dealt out to the script. Neither evidently thought that an account of the Goya-Alba romance need include mention of her husband, or of Goya’s wife and 20-odd children. The characters that do manage to squeeze into the script get lines so cliché-ridden that even the Count of Monte Cristo would wince (“I’ll teach her who’s the Queen of Spain!” cries the Queen of Spain). Actor Franciosa brings a certain expression to the role of Goya, but only one: that of a little boy holding his breath until he gets blue in the face. Still, that puts him one up on Actress Gardner.

Green Mansions (M-G-M), the celebrated 1904 novel by British Naturalist William Henry Hudson, has been a tear-inducing touchstone for three generations of adolescents and a loadstone for three generations of film makers.

At first glance, the book has everything to make a bang-up movie: an outrageously romantic love story, an exotic setting (the little-explored jungles of the upper Orinoco), plenty of Venezuelan savages and poison darts. The book is also illumined with Hudson’s pantheism, derives its deepest quality from a gentle insistence on the spiritual unity of man and nature. But this film version of the book, directed by Actor Mel Ferrer, catches little of the leafy rustle of Hudson’s woodland fantasy, comes out as just another Hollywood jungle bungle.

Hero Abel (Tony Perkins) is a young Venezuelan patriot who heads for the boondocks in search of gold after a political coup fails. Deserted by his Indian guides, he shoots some rapids, almost lands in the mouth of a well-groomed Hollywood jaguar, finally arrives at a village inhabited by hostile Indians. “I gotta outwitcha so I can live,” he mumbles, whereupon he outwits them by standing all day under a fiery sun, talking their bangled ears off. Anyway, the Indians give the hero the run of the plantation, and he soon runs off to have a look at “the forbidden forest.” There he finds a woodsy nymphet (Audrey Hepburn) living with her misanthropic grandfather (Lee J. Cobb). From there out, Director Ferrer works hard to re-create the misty mood of the book, but unfortunately he goes about it like a man trying to spray the whole South American rain forest with an atomizer full of dime-store perfume. As the mysterious child of the wilderness, Audrey Hepburn is spritely enough, but Actor Perkins clumps through the greenery as gingerly and gracelessly as an oversized boy scout bound for a merit badge in campcraft.

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