“I sat cringing before M-G-M’s Technicolor production of ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ which displays no trace of imagination, good taste, or ingenuity.” That’s how Russell Maloney, The New Yorker’s film critic, reviewed the now beloved film, starring Judy Garland, in 1939. Movies look different with the passage of time—their strengths becoming more visible as conventions expire, their weaknesses more obscured as reputations grow. This week, we’re bringing you reviews that reveal how classic movies looked when they first appeared. In addition to Maloney on “The Wizard of Oz,” you’ll find John C. Mosher on “Citizen Kane,” John McCarten on “All About Eve,” and Whitney Balliett on “North by Northwest.” Pauline Kael reviews “Taxi Driver” and “Star Wars”; Veronica Geng explores “Apocalypse Now”; Terrence Rafferty assesses “Do the Right Thing”; and Anthony Lane examines Jane Campion’s “The Piano.” We hope that these pieces inspire some viewing—or re-viewing—this weekend.
“The loudness, the smash-and-grab editing, the relentless pacing, drive every idea from your head; for young audiences ‘Star Wars’ is like getting a box of Cracker Jack which is all prizes.” Read more.
“The Wizard of Hollywood”
“I will rest my case against ‘The Wizard of Oz’ on one line of dialogue. It occurs in a scene in which the wicked witch is trying to persuade Dorothy, the little girl from Kansas, to part with a pair of magic slippers.” Read more.
“ ‘Taxi Driver’ is a movie in heat, a raw, tabloid version of ‘Notes from Underground,’ and we stay with the protagonist’s hatreds all the way.” Read more.
“Open and Shut”
“Most American movies just want to knock you senseless immediately and get it over with; ‘Do the Right Thing’ tries to wear you down, and its strategies are fascinating.” Read more.
“Since movies hitherto have commenced with a cast list and a vast directory of credits, we are promptly jolted out of our seats when ‘Citizen Kane’ ignores this convention and slides at once into its story.” Read more.
“Hitchcock on Hitchcock”
“ ‘North by Northwest,’ Alfred Hitchcock’s new study of the vagaries of the nervous system under pressure, is the brilliant realization of a feat he has unintentionally been moving toward for more than a decade—a perfect parody of his own work.” Read more.
“Mistah Kurtz—He Dead”
“I don’t know what ‘Apocalypse Now’ is in its entirety (and I am not sure Francis Coppola does), but for most of the way it is the blackest comedy I have ever seen on the screen, taking its tone and spirit not from Joseph Conrad but from—this is the shortest way to say it—Michael Herr.” Read more.
“Bonanza for Bette”
“With Miss Davis and Miss Baxter running in tandem through much of “All About Eve,” the gentlemen in the film have as hard a time making themselves conspicuous as male commuters at a white sale.” Read more.
“ ‘The Piano’ is full of people reaching out to each other, with unnerving results; more often than not, they simply confirm their solitude.” Read more.