Village Paper Hates Village Film!


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July 18, 1963, Vol. VIII, No. 39

‘Greenwich Village Story’

By Andrew Sarris

“Greenwich Village Story” (at the Victoria and 55th Street Playhouse) is so basically stupid in its conception that any detailed analysis would be needlessly sadistic. The title itself, the measure of the film’s banality, almost demands the ironic self-consciousness of an old Xavier Cugat swish joke about Green Witch Village. The point is the Village has been bandied about as a figure of speech for so long that even the super-ironies of a Nabokov might misfire in this jaded setting, and writer-director-producer-perpetrator Jack O’Connell is no Nabokov. Not with lines like “I’ve never heard such unvarnished corn.” Now, truth may be varnished or unvarnished, but not corn. This lazily mixed metaphor is typical of the insidious mediocrity of the script when it isn’t an outright howler like when a Madison Avenue copywriter with a three-button suit tries to tell our hero that advertising copy reaches more people than Shakespeare ever did.

The unrelieved literalness of character and plot has to be seen and heard to be believed. Unfortunately, Mr. O’Connell lacks even the consistent point of view of the uninspired fanatic. It is never quite clear whether he is making a home movie for the natives or turning out a freak show for the tourists. He tries to have his marijuana party for local color, and then get off the hook by making the supplier a villain. His view of perverts is that of the wide-eyed prude, and his attitude toward abstract paintings (of a nude model!) is that of the gawking Philistine. At times, O’Connell tries to pull off what he thinks is an Antonioni effect with a subtle camera movement on a two-shot of characters looking abstractedly in different directions, but the imitation is as lacking in substance as the grin of the Cheshire Cat.

The plot reminded me of the late Bobby Clark’s comment on one of his vehicles: “Never was a thin plot so complicated.” A young unpublished writer is living with a ballerina who is depressed because she is pregnant. Writer, rejected by publisher, bawls out ballerina for bugging him about marriage bit, runs off with spoiled society girl equipped with lake cottage and British car with right-hand drive. Writer decides he loves ballerina after all, and returns to find she has died at hands of abortionist marijuana peddler-and-all-purpose villain. Writer is beaten up by abortionist. The end. The leads, Robert Hogan and Melinda Plank, are not particularly offensive until they are called upon to emote Mr. O’Connell’s climatic nonsense. Alas, Miss Plank looks like the kind of nice girl who lacks the bone structure to make it in front of the camera. In his quieter moments, Hogan reminded me a bit of Pat Boone.

A constructive suggestion for new film-makers: Since your players are not getting paid much, why not give them an extra break by identifying them visually either at the beginning like the old Warner Brothers B pictures, or at the end, as Orson Welles does. Finally, I must express my respects to the candid photography of Baird Bryant, the professional editing and the sound recording. Nothing amateurish in these departments, and that is encouraging since Rossellini, Welles, and Godard have turned out great films with even cruder facilities. If anything is holding back cinema in New York, it is not the quality of its technicians. All that is lacking are great directors with great ideas.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]