Cinema: The New Pictures, Mar. 2, 1959

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The Black Orchid (Ponti-Girosi; Paramount) is a sort of Marty-come-lately, inspired by one of the less startling of sociological discoveries: poor people are human. From this premise the moviemakers have deduced the facts of low-budget life as presented in this film: 1) poverty is cute, 2) stupidity is lovable, 3) sentimentality is feeling, 4) hard work never killed anybody, 5) suffering is actually good for people, and 6) anyway, there is always sex.

In the course of their study, the Hollywood sociologists have also investigated a specific minority group, the Italian Americans, and have reached some unshakable conclusions: 1) many of them speak broken English, 2) most of them eat spaghetti, 3) some of them grow up to be gangsters. As a matter of fact, that is what the heroine (Sophia Loren), the widow of a racketeer, is afraid her son will do. The boy is only twelve years old, and already he has been caught tampering with a parking meter and sent off to a work farm. The hero (Anthony Quinn), a well-preserved, middle-aged widower with a small business of his own, makes the widow a heartfelt proposal: Let's get married and give the boy a decent home to grow up in.

It seems a sensible idea, and it might have been the theme of a sensible attempt at row-house realism, but Scriptwriter Joseph Stefano has loaded this piece of pizza with a mess of indigestible sentimentality, and Director Martin Ritt has turned it out half-baked. In the last half of the story, even Actor Quinn, usually a rock-solid performer, comes apart like a discouraged anchovy.

Sleeping Beauty (Buena Vista), if she could see what has happened to her in this full-length feature cartoon by Walt Disney, would wake up screaming. As on a couple of previous occasions (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella), Moviemaker Disney has tangled with an innocent and lovely old folk tale, and this time he can be charged with a particularly unpleasant case of assault and battery. The story itself, as preserved by Charles Perrault, is a legend that elucidates one of life's darkest mysteries: how the human soul lies sunk in a deathlike trance until it is awakened by the heroic spirit. Yet as presented in this "herculean," $6,000,000 version, the myth is just crude continuity for a colossal comic strip, and the more boings and EEEEEEEKs the moviemaker can get into his story, the better he seems to like it.

Even the drawing in Sleeping Beauty is crude: a compromise between sentimental, crayon-book childishness and the sort of cute, commercial cubism that tries to seem daring but is really just square. The hero and heroine are sugar sculpture, and the witch looks like a clumsy tracing from a Charles Addams cartoon. The plot often seems to owe less to the tradition of the fairy tale than to the formula of the monster movie. In the final reel it is not a mere old-fashioned witch the hero has to kill, but the very latest model of The Thing From 40,000 Fathoms.

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