Women’s liberation, missiles in Cuba and Superman in peril: movies and TV

I saw ads for STAND UP AND BE COUNTED (1972) as a teen but knew nothing about the film until I decided to catch it online early this month. Jacqueline Bissette plays a reporter assigned to cover the women’s liberation movement and the effect on her American hometown (her British accent is explained as something she picked up working in the UK). Initially skeptical, she begins to appreciate the movement’s principles, but can boyfriend Gary Lockwood embrace ideas such as doing half the housework and not putting his career first?

I assumed this would be as sexist as The Feminist and the Fuzz so it was a pleasant surprise that it takes its principles seriously, as do the characters — and while message-heavy, the film does focus on the personal impact of sexism in couples Hector Elizondo/Stella Stevens and Steve Lawrence/Loretta Switt. Madilyn Rhue, Nancy Walker, Joyce Brothers, Billie Byrd, Isabel Sanford and Michael Ansara have supporting roles. “Inside, all I was becoming was a walking Ladies Home Journal.”

Set in 1962, Alfred Hitchcock’s TOPAZ (1969) has American spy John Forsythe recruit French spy Frederick Stafford to find out what the Russians are doing in Cuba, much to the displeasure of Stafford’s wife — particularly when the investigation requires Stafford visit his lover, Cuban resistance leader Karin Dor (SPECTRE’s Number Eleven in You Only Live Twice).

This is a much smoother, more watchable production than Torn Curtain but I can see why I found it boring when I first caught it — for a Hitchcock film, let alone one about the Cuban Missile Crisis, there’s a real lack of tension and suspense. The film focuses too much on the nuts and bolts of espionage, feeling as if Hitch or Leon Uris (who wrote the source book) were telling an anti-Bond this-is-real-espionage story, bu I rather doubt it. It doesn’t hep that thel ast third of the film, in which Stafford hunts down a Soviet mole, feels tacked on rather than tied to the main plot.

The audience reaction in test viewings was way negative, particularly to the ending in which the mole — Stafford’s wife’s lover — and Stafford fight a duel, only to have the Red agent shot by one of his own. Instead, Hitchcock cobbled together footage to make the mole commit suicide off-camera, which didn’t win many fans either. He also trimmed several minutes of footage out. The version I saw has the added footage in, and uses a third ending, in which the mole escapes to Moscow while Stafford and his wife take a vacation. Their mutual adultery is left uresolved, which makes the romantic resolution almost as unsatisfying as Suspicion. “Those papers we photographed the other day scared the hell out of me.”

PASSING (2021) adapts Nella Larsen’s 1920s novel, with Tessa Thompson as a black woman in Harlem who discovers her former friend has crossed the color line and now married to a racist (“I hate Negroes.”), despite which the option to revisit Thompson and her old life in Harlem proves irresistible. Very well executed, but the tragic ending, though logical, doesn’t work for me — given all the character dynamics, there were many more interesting directions to go. “Careful — you’re the only white man here.”

The second season of SUPERMAN AND LOIS looks suspiciously like a meta-commentary on Smallville co-star Alison Mack having joined a cult some years later; the big bad is Ally Alston (Rya Kihstedt), a cult leader who’s plotting with her parallel-Earth counterpart to bring the two worlds together, with a corresponding boost in her own powers. Meanwhile the Kent family has to deal with their sons’ teenage growing pains, Lana running for mayor and Lois’ sister Lucy being part of the cult. Well cast but like the first season this feels a little too dark to work for a Superman show (more Arrow than Flash, if you like). “It’s our job to warn people that our world is about to be merged with another Earth by some all-powerful psycho leading a death cult!”

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