Women on The Verge of A Nervy Breakthrough: Bucking Hollywood's musclemania, Jodie Foster and a clutch of fine young actresses snag some serious roles

Clarice Starling, FBI trainee, is one smart cookie, brighter and more acutely intuitive than the men in charge. Yet she treats them all -- bosses, bureaucrats, the occasional serial killer -- with an elaborate respect whose irony shows only at the cutting edges. When an asylum director sneers that Starling has wasted his time, she replies, "Yessir, but then I would've missed the pleasure of your company, sir." That second sir is the smooth stiletto.

Clarice (Jodie Foster) is the hero of The Silence of the Lambs, a pretty sharp new thriller about a woman poised between two multiple murderers: one...

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