New Movies: Rachel, Rachel

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Hunted Animal. The movie marks Paul Newman's debut at the other end of the camera. Since he could not find a director who liked the script, Newman decided to do the job himself. "What the hell," he said, "I majored in directing at the Yale Drama School." Disdaining the usual directorial flourishes, he told his crew, Rachel-style: "I'm a virgin and I need your help." He coached Actress Woodward—his wife—in whispers and in a sort of private language. He had the camera dwell on her lovingly, so much so that one friend described the movie as Newman's "wallet." As a result, he infects the brief love affair with a tenuousness that everyone but Rachel can detect, and infuses the air of the small town with a palpable melancholy and unquiet desperation.

But when the action demands the kind of force that he always delivers as an actor, Newman pulls his punch lines. A half hippie, half religious revival meeting, for example, should have had the kick of LSD. Instead it dissipates and meanders between love and Haight-Ashbury. Moreover, Scenarist Stewart Stern often gets too close to the novel, adopting where he should adapt. Rachel is shackled with prosy monologues that should have been given visual form.

Despite its failings, Rachel, Rachel has several unassailable assets. The spiderweb score, written by Jerome Moross with the cooperation of Erik Satie and Robert Schumann, is the best of the year. Estelle Parsons, as Rachel's fellow schoolteacher, and Frank Corsaro, as a friendly neighborhood mortician, extend their roles beyond the boundaries of the movie.

It is in the transcendent strength of Joanne Woodward that the film achieves a classic stature. There is no gesture too minor for her to master. She peers out at the world with the washed-out eyes of a hunted animal. Her walk is a ladylike retreat, a sign of a losing battle with time and diets and fashion. Her drab voice quavers with a brittle strength that can command a student but break before a parent's will. By any reckoning, it is Actress Woodward's best performance.

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