From the Mouths of Critics Come . . .

The last episode of TCM’s Moguls and Movie Stars, “Fade Out, Fade In,” chronicled the Film School Generation and its impact on Hollywood history. The episode also noted the impact of young movie critics of the era, many of whom supported the then-radical films against the old guard of reviewers who were vexed by the New Hollywood. A major incident of the era was the battle among the critics over Bonnie and Clyde, with grand old man Bosley Crowther of The New York Times remarking about the film, “This blending of farce with brutal killings is as pointless as it is lacking in taste, since it makes no valid commentary upon the already travestied truth. And it leaves an astonished critic wondering just what purpose Mr. Penn and Mr. Beatty think they serve with this strangely antique, sentimental claptrap.” Coincidentally, the reviewer for Time magazine also declared Bonnie and Clyde to be “claptrap.” Either Time’s critic had read Mr. Crowther’s review, or “claptrap” was a very popular word at the time.

Crowther’s intense hatred for the film became a rallying point for supporters of the Film School Generation, who felt the movies of these young, college-educated directors were not understood by older critics of the establishment. Crowther wrote three negative reviews and repeatedly criticized the film in other articles, and then in the spring of 1968, he was dismissed from The New York Times. Many assume that Crowther was let go after 27 years because his opinion of Bonnie and Clyde revealed him to be too far behind the times. After hearing the incident recounted in Moguls and Movie Stars, I couldn’t help recall other films that were wrongly maligned by critics upon initial release. With the aid of some helpful resources, including The Critics Were Wrong: Misguided Movie Reviews and Film Criticism Gone Awry, I thought I would share a few examples that I found particularly thought-provoking. This week, I will focus on reviews of movies from “old Hollywood,” including the silent era through the 1960s. Next week, I will dig up reviews of contemporary films, including those of the Film School Generation. I was going to comment on the quotes, or group them together into fun categories, but I decided they are more telling without adding my two cents. Draw your own conclusions.

William Pfaff of Commonweal on An American in Paris (October 19, 1951): “The publicity led this reviewer to expect something unusual. . .But this is substantially the same old stuff. It used to be set in Mexico and used to star Xavier Cugat and a Chihuahua.”

Variety on Buster Keaton’s The General (February 9, 1927): “The General is far from funny. Its principal comedy scene is built on that elementary bit, the chase, and you can’t continue a flight for almost an hour and expect results. Especially is this so when the action is placed entirely in the hands of the star. It was his story, he directed, and he acted. The result is a flop.”

Manny Farber of The New Republic on Laura (October 30, 1944): “As a murder puzzle it leaves out most of the clues and hides the rest, which makes the mystery both baffling and boring. . . it is hard to find anything good in Laura, or simply anything.”

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times on Lawrence of Arabia (December 17, 1962): “It is, in the last analysis, just a huge, thundering camel-opera. . . .”

Manny Farber of The New Republic on My Darling Clementine (December 16, 1946): “John Ford’s slow-poke cowboy epic My Darling Clementine is a dazzling example of how to ruin some wonderful Western history with pompous movie making. . . Given almost equal billing with the Earps in this version of old Tombstone are cloudscapes which are saccharine as postcard art. Typical of director Ford’s unimaginative, conforming tourist sensibility is the setting he uses.”

Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times on Nosferatu (June 4, 1929): “. . . most of it seems like cardboard puppets doing all they can to be horrible on papier-mache settings. . . It is a production that is rather more of a soporific than a thriller.”

Dwight Macdonald of Esquire on Psycho (October 1960): “. . . this is third-rate Hitchcock. . . . I think the film is a reflection of a most unpleasant mind, a mean, sly, sadistic little mind . . . . All in all, a nasty little film.”

Ellen Fitzpatrick of Films in Review on Some Like It Hot (April 1959): “The basic gag of this picture is female impersonation, one of the standbys of old-fashioned burlesque. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are the impersonators, and though they do not make like fairies, Wilder does let the action, and some of the dialogue, run along the lines that titillate sex perverts . . . .For much of Some Like It Hot is in very blue taste.”

Russell Maloney of the New Yorker on The Wizard of Oz: “Displays no sense of imagination, good taste, or ingenuity. . .I say it’s a stinkeroo. . .Part of it was the raw, eye-straining Technicolor, applied with a complete lack of restraint.”

Films in Review on Warren Beatty in Splendor in the Grass (November 1961): “I am told Hollywood hopes to make him a star, but his face, at least in this picture, is on the weak side, and doesn’t always photograph well.”

30 Responses From the Mouths of Critics Come . . .
Posted By franko : December 20, 2010 3:25 pm

I actually agree with some of these – Lawrence of Arabia and My Darling Clementine are on my list of awful movies. Especially Clementine which is almost laughably bad, imho. Having said that, I am stunned to find that The General was trashed in its time. Keaton at his worst was better than many at their best.
Another great piece, by the way. :o)

Posted By franko : December 20, 2010 3:25 pm

I actually agree with some of these – Lawrence of Arabia and My Darling Clementine are on my list of awful movies. Especially Clementine which is almost laughably bad, imho. Having said that, I am stunned to find that The General was trashed in its time. Keaton at his worst was better than many at their best.
Another great piece, by the way. :o)

Posted By Lydia M : December 20, 2010 4:11 pm

Wow. These are good for a few laughs now! My jaw dropped at the “Wizard of Oz” review… “…no sense of imagination…” You have GOT to be kidding me!!

Move critics aren’t alone in their gaffs, though: the head of a record company didn’t sign The Beatles because “guitar music is a fad – it’s not going to last.” And the now famous “who is going to want a computer in their home?” after Apple came out with their first computer. Hehehe! How wrong they were!

Am looking forward to next week’s bad reviews!

Posted By Lydia M : December 20, 2010 4:11 pm

Wow. These are good for a few laughs now! My jaw dropped at the “Wizard of Oz” review… “…no sense of imagination…” You have GOT to be kidding me!!

Move critics aren’t alone in their gaffs, though: the head of a record company didn’t sign The Beatles because “guitar music is a fad – it’s not going to last.” And the now famous “who is going to want a computer in their home?” after Apple came out with their first computer. Hehehe! How wrong they were!

Am looking forward to next week’s bad reviews!

Posted By Jeff L. Shannon : December 20, 2010 5:56 pm

To Suzie, what a marvelousdocu this was/is though, huh.

I have several books that touch on this topic too & critics carried a lot more weight then, it’s true.

Even later when ’78′s “Halloween” was released & almost buried, Roger Ebert literally saved the film with his great review & it steamrolled from there.

(P.S. PLEASE DROP ME A LINE AGAIN, IMPORTANT & MERRY CHRISTMAS)

Posted By Jeff L. Shannon : December 20, 2010 5:56 pm

To Suzie, what a marvelousdocu this was/is though, huh.

I have several books that touch on this topic too & critics carried a lot more weight then, it’s true.

Even later when ’78′s “Halloween” was released & almost buried, Roger Ebert literally saved the film with his great review & it steamrolled from there.

(P.S. PLEASE DROP ME A LINE AGAIN, IMPORTANT & MERRY CHRISTMAS)

Posted By AL : December 20, 2010 6:27 pm

No negative reaction/review to a film could even come close to the profound, peculiar hatred with which MYRA BRECKINRIDGE was greeted. The critics (without exception) were almost violent when espousing their outrageous (over)reactions. They didn’t merely dismiss the film, they went on and on and on with their vitriolic comments. I maintain that no other film ever came close to equaling the unique acidiic hysteria that it elicited. I’m not commenting on the film itself, I’m referring to the magnitude of this bizarre, unprecidented response…weird

Posted By AL : December 20, 2010 6:27 pm

No negative reaction/review to a film could even come close to the profound, peculiar hatred with which MYRA BRECKINRIDGE was greeted. The critics (without exception) were almost violent when espousing their outrageous (over)reactions. They didn’t merely dismiss the film, they went on and on and on with their vitriolic comments. I maintain that no other film ever came close to equaling the unique acidiic hysteria that it elicited. I’m not commenting on the film itself, I’m referring to the magnitude of this bizarre, unprecidented response…weird

Posted By Rick Johnson : December 21, 2010 2:04 am

The bottom line is that a review is simply one person’s opinion. Unless you invest that person with some sort of importance, his/her opinion is nothing more than that – another person’s opinion and it means nothing.

Posted By Rick Johnson : December 21, 2010 2:04 am

The bottom line is that a review is simply one person’s opinion. Unless you invest that person with some sort of importance, his/her opinion is nothing more than that – another person’s opinion and it means nothing.

Posted By Dorian Tenore-Bartilucci : December 21, 2010 11:46 am

Great post, and perfect proof that one critic’s masterpiece is another critic’s “claptrap”! :-) History — and the film lovers who make it — has the last laugh.

Posted By Dorian Tenore-Bartilucci : December 21, 2010 11:46 am

Great post, and perfect proof that one critic’s masterpiece is another critic’s “claptrap”! :-) History — and the film lovers who make it — has the last laugh.

Posted By dukeroberts : December 21, 2010 12:39 pm

franko- Seriously? Lawrence of Arabia is awful? My Darling Clementine may have played a little fast and loose with the fate of Doc Holliday, but Lawrence of Arabia is awful? Do you mind if I ask what you dislike about it?

Posted By dukeroberts : December 21, 2010 12:39 pm

franko- Seriously? Lawrence of Arabia is awful? My Darling Clementine may have played a little fast and loose with the fate of Doc Holliday, but Lawrence of Arabia is awful? Do you mind if I ask what you dislike about it?

Posted By Jill : December 21, 2010 2:10 pm

I agree Franko, Lawrence of Arabia is one of the most boring movies I ever saw.

Posted By Jill : December 21, 2010 2:10 pm

I agree Franko, Lawrence of Arabia is one of the most boring movies I ever saw.

Posted By franko : December 21, 2010 7:48 pm

It is of course my own personal opinion and any and all are welcome to one of their own. I find Lawrence of Arabia to be “epically” long and boring, but in particular I find Peter O’Toole to be so full of himself that I want to run from the room screaming whenever he appears on screen. Some actors are great hams because they are so good at what they are doing. Charles Laughton is in my opinion one of the greatest actors ever because he is such an incredible ham. Other actors are unbearable hams because they believe themselves to be incredible actors. Mr. O’Toole is one of the latter.

. . . and that, of course, is my opinion.

Posted By franko : December 21, 2010 7:48 pm

It is of course my own personal opinion and any and all are welcome to one of their own. I find Lawrence of Arabia to be “epically” long and boring, but in particular I find Peter O’Toole to be so full of himself that I want to run from the room screaming whenever he appears on screen. Some actors are great hams because they are so good at what they are doing. Charles Laughton is in my opinion one of the greatest actors ever because he is such an incredible ham. Other actors are unbearable hams because they believe themselves to be incredible actors. Mr. O’Toole is one of the latter.

. . . and that, of course, is my opinion.

Posted By Kingrat : December 22, 2010 5:06 pm

Great post. Some of the critics seem to be seeing a different movie (THE WIZARD OF OZ), but some make relevant points, in a way. SOME LIKE IT HOT in blue (off-color or daring) taste? For the times, yes. Most of us enjoy Wilder’s humor, however. PSYCHO as a nasty little film and Hitchcock having a mean, sly, sadistic side? Well, yes. But PSYCHO as third-rate Hitchcock? Not in the least.

I love LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and in this film I love Peter O’Toole. In some of his other films, however, my opinion of O’Toole lines up with franko.

Posted By Kingrat : December 22, 2010 5:06 pm

Great post. Some of the critics seem to be seeing a different movie (THE WIZARD OF OZ), but some make relevant points, in a way. SOME LIKE IT HOT in blue (off-color or daring) taste? For the times, yes. Most of us enjoy Wilder’s humor, however. PSYCHO as a nasty little film and Hitchcock having a mean, sly, sadistic side? Well, yes. But PSYCHO as third-rate Hitchcock? Not in the least.

I love LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and in this film I love Peter O’Toole. In some of his other films, however, my opinion of O’Toole lines up with franko.

Posted By Jeff L. Shannon : December 23, 2010 3:50 am

Again to Suzie, yet to hear back from ya’ Are you upset?
If so, please just let me know what about,etc

MERRY CHRISTMAS TOO & TO THE REST “TCM-ITE’S”

As for this post-(I prefer the term “ARTICLE”) I should know this, is/has P. Kael gone away-(passed) already?

Anyone, please assist, but most of all you Suzie-(NOTE: Also, wanted to hear more about your kinda’ roundtable pals & discussion about cinema!?)

& you did what was arguably your finest pc. being that on (NATALIA NIKOLAEVNA ZAKHARENKO NATALIE WOOD) AGAIN, MY THANKS

I correspond once in awhile with sis Lana.

As for critic’s, which most moviegoers insist they don’t listen to. Except for when it’s a concensus on a release, then you bet they do, like “Cattle”

I to get tired & did, when just falling in love with THE MOVIES of these folks that take themselves too seriously & use the term “FILM” as if dissecting something, to impress whomever is watching & or listening & of coursereading

They always figure if they have a “degree” they know it all. NOT TRUE!

Probably thee finest ever & as you know was also ascreenwriter was: James Agee-(l909-l955) his all-timers were “City Lights” “Kane” “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” & to Agee, *Chaplin was like a GOD! (see *Eastwood’s “White Hunter, Black Heart” (l990) & he put his money-(unlike most of them) where his mouth was & scripted “African Queen” “Night of the Hunter”
Not certain why he went at just age 46 though. Possibly another heavy boozer of the era & only wish he got to write at least 1 book.

THANX & PLEASE CONTACT YOUR OL’ BUDDY

(spencer1964@LIVE.com)

Posted By Jeff L. Shannon : December 23, 2010 3:50 am

Again to Suzie, yet to hear back from ya’ Are you upset?
If so, please just let me know what about,etc

MERRY CHRISTMAS TOO & TO THE REST “TCM-ITE’S”

As for this post-(I prefer the term “ARTICLE”) I should know this, is/has P. Kael gone away-(passed) already?

Anyone, please assist, but most of all you Suzie-(NOTE: Also, wanted to hear more about your kinda’ roundtable pals & discussion about cinema!?)

& you did what was arguably your finest pc. being that on (NATALIA NIKOLAEVNA ZAKHARENKO NATALIE WOOD) AGAIN, MY THANKS

I correspond once in awhile with sis Lana.

As for critic’s, which most moviegoers insist they don’t listen to. Except for when it’s a concensus on a release, then you bet they do, like “Cattle”

I to get tired & did, when just falling in love with THE MOVIES of these folks that take themselves too seriously & use the term “FILM” as if dissecting something, to impress whomever is watching & or listening & of coursereading

They always figure if they have a “degree” they know it all. NOT TRUE!

Probably thee finest ever & as you know was also ascreenwriter was: James Agee-(l909-l955) his all-timers were “City Lights” “Kane” “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” & to Agee, *Chaplin was like a GOD! (see *Eastwood’s “White Hunter, Black Heart” (l990) & he put his money-(unlike most of them) where his mouth was & scripted “African Queen” “Night of the Hunter”
Not certain why he went at just age 46 though. Possibly another heavy boozer of the era & only wish he got to write at least 1 book.

THANX & PLEASE CONTACT YOUR OL’ BUDDY

(spencer1964@LIVE.com)

Posted By Jeff L. Shannon : December 23, 2010 3:54 am

This is a 1st, never even heardof anyone that didn’t at least respect-(if not like) *”LAWRENCE…? & to the person on fellow Irish 0′Toole, you gotta’ admit his work in “Lion in Winter” is larger than life & yet another of OSCARS biggest sins of omissions!!!

Posted By Jeff L. Shannon : December 23, 2010 3:54 am

This is a 1st, never even heardof anyone that didn’t at least respect-(if not like) *”LAWRENCE…? & to the person on fellow Irish 0′Toole, you gotta’ admit his work in “Lion in Winter” is larger than life & yet another of OSCARS biggest sins of omissions!!!

Posted By Jeff L. Shannon : December 23, 2010 4:02 am

SUZIE, a couple ideas to kick around for your usually marvelous section here.

Please just jot ‘em down for future reference-(& AGAIN, PLEASE WRITE ME & GIVE ME YOUR EVER WANTED OPINIONS)

Now that they are about to celebrate “Now Playing Magazine’s” #15th Anniversary-(I must have almost all of ‘em from around ’96 or 1997) Do you think that would be a neat topic?

& “Movie-Magazine’s” in general, dating back to “Photoplay”(among my books I have a listing of it’s own awards, from 1923 onward)

& now that it’s almost OSCAR season-(NOTE: Watch for “The King’s Speech” & “The Social Network” to be the flix to dominate, at this state the former may have the edge, given they adore British, period cinema,etc)
Maybesomething on the AMPAS’ biggest rippoffs-(most glaring example to me being *Chaplin!!!)

THANK YOU

Posted By Jeff L. Shannon : December 23, 2010 4:02 am

SUZIE, a couple ideas to kick around for your usually marvelous section here.

Please just jot ‘em down for future reference-(& AGAIN, PLEASE WRITE ME & GIVE ME YOUR EVER WANTED OPINIONS)

Now that they are about to celebrate “Now Playing Magazine’s” #15th Anniversary-(I must have almost all of ‘em from around ’96 or 1997) Do you think that would be a neat topic?

& “Movie-Magazine’s” in general, dating back to “Photoplay”(among my books I have a listing of it’s own awards, from 1923 onward)

& now that it’s almost OSCAR season-(NOTE: Watch for “The King’s Speech” & “The Social Network” to be the flix to dominate, at this state the former may have the edge, given they adore British, period cinema,etc)
Maybesomething on the AMPAS’ biggest rippoffs-(most glaring example to me being *Chaplin!!!)

THANK YOU

Posted By Stephen Reginald : January 3, 2011 10:57 pm

Bosley Crowther famously panned many movies now considered classics, including “Laura.” Crowther thought that everyone in the film was fine except Gene Tierney!? In fact he went so far as to suggest she ruined the entire film.

Posted By Stephen Reginald : January 3, 2011 10:57 pm

Bosley Crowther famously panned many movies now considered classics, including “Laura.” Crowther thought that everyone in the film was fine except Gene Tierney!? In fact he went so far as to suggest she ruined the entire film.

Posted By John Helgason : January 5, 2011 11:14 pm

Suzi, this is awesome. I agree with most, that we all have a opinions and likes/dislikes. I think the best critics can critique without relying on their personal likes/dislikes, and the worst critics refer to The Wizard of Oz as “a stinkeroo”!

Posted By John Helgason : January 5, 2011 11:14 pm

Suzi, this is awesome. I agree with most, that we all have a opinions and likes/dislikes. I think the best critics can critique without relying on their personal likes/dislikes, and the worst critics refer to The Wizard of Oz as “a stinkeroo”!

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