• U.S.

Cinema: Quick Cuts

3 minute read
Jay Cocks

FIVE ON THE BLACK HAND SIDE concerns assorted comic crises in a black household that is edging gradually toward the middle class. The movie is predictable but energetic. The jokes are television sitcom, but they are about topics—Africa, black militancy—that up to now have been virtually smothered in sanctimony and good will. It is refreshing to have them treated, as they are here, with a little cordial disrespect. Director Oscar Williams emphasizes the broadness and artificiality of the material and encourages his actors to play big. Clarice Taylor, as a humiliated housewife, and Leonard Jackson, as her aggressively bourgeois husband, respond with enthusiasm.

STEEL ARENA. A bunch of stunt drivers tool around the back country risking their necks for the breezy hell of it, living out some shabby fantasy of success. The drivers are all portrayed by real stunt drivers, which gives the cast a unifying verisimilitude and a certain brazen clumsiness in the expository scenes. These are scant, presumably because everyone is more comfortable behind the wheel. But even the various automobile stunts begin to lose their punch the third time around. The plot, almost inevitably, concerns the one driver who wants to push the risk a little further, and how fate slaps him down. Along this weary route some good redneck ambiance has been provided, especially in a couple of roadside joints—all smoke, neon, parched customers and deadening good times.

ROBIN HOOD is a pleasant enough animated holiday party from the Disney studios. As usual, the villains take the day. Prince John, the regent, is a craven brat, a lion whose crown keeps falling down over his floppy ears and who, in times of stress, sucks his thumb and whimpers for his mother. His consort, Sir Hiss, is a snake in charge of the royal treasury and of soothing the prince.

Terry-Thomas supplies the voice for Sir Hiss, who is appropriately gap-toothed, much to the advantage of his forever-flickering tongue. Peter Ustinov makes a pleasingly florid prince, his voice full of empty threat and tenuous regality.

Robin, a fox, is a bit of a drag, though, and Maid Marian carries on with the giddy decorum of a sixth-grade class room monitor.

Even at its best, Robin Hood is only mildly diverting. There is not a single moment of the hilarity or deep, eerie fear that the Disney people used to be able to conjure up, or of the sort of visual invention that made the early features so memorable. Robin Hood’s basic problem is that it is rather too pret ty and good natured. The animation matches the generally pasteurized quality of the film, although Sir Hiss gets about with considerable ingenuity, and Prince John’s court, complete with rhinoceros guards, elephant heralds and assorted tiny animals as creatures in waiting, comports itself with suitable indignity.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com