The nicest films sometimes get lost in the stampede. And those most heralded can, just as suddenly, trample sweet anticipation. That's the way the reels unwind this weekend. First the good news.
If you missed the endearing cast of ratchet-jaws in Citizens' Band, a consistently funny re-release that modulated briefly in theaters last spring, you should catch it on the flip-flop at the Inner Circle.
You will meet: a gentle bigamist-trucker (Charles Napier) with the handle "Chrome Angel"; his two duped wives (Marcia Rodd and Ann Wedgeworth); a truck-stop hooker (Alix Elias) who plays Dear Abby to the lot; Paul Le Mat as the Goody Two-shoes vigilante who keeps the airwaves clean; Spider's grizzled, crotchety father; a priest; a Nazi; a lonely teen ("Warlock") and his sultry confessor ("Electra"), and a host of others venting fantasies and frustrations over the airwaves.
This bodacious, well-constructed comedy - directed by Jonathan Demme from Paul Brickman's warm, witty screenplay - treats every character with individual respect. You might even call it a working-class "American Graffiti." A victim of poor marketing - ; studio failure to target an audience, little advertising and a cast of unknowns - it opened in area drive-ins last May and closed in less than a week. Briefly retitled "Handle With Care," it certainly deserves better handling than it got.
As for foreign films, you get to choose from two important works. Padre Padrone, which opened this week at Outer Circle 2, won the top prize at Cannes. A touching film based on the real life of a Sardinian shepherd - a brutalized child, illiterate until he was 20, who becomes a scholar-linguist - it's the directing debut for brothers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani.
And fans of Ingmar Bergman's unsettling kernels of previous Truths should find his latest, The Serpent's Egg, with David Carradine and Liv Ullman, equally intense. It opens Friday at the Cerberus.
Those who count the days to their next Walt Disney outing can stuff themselves this weekend. The time-tested classic Fantasia opens Friday at the Avalon I, which promises to boom out "The Nutcracker Suite," Beethoven's pastoral symphony and Stravinsky's "Rites of Spring" in four-channel stereo. And the latest Disney release, Candleshoe, a soft-shoe mystery in search of laughs, is also at area theaters.
Kids should find the mischief and delight in this superior to the usual Disney fare, although in adapting Michael Innes' mystery novel "Christmas at Candleshoe," director Norman Tokar makes the tale neither as mysterious nor as comic as it could be; film-buff parents might want to stay home. But 10-year-olds should warm to the transformation of brassy cynic Casey Brown (Jody Foster), whom con artist Harry Brundage (Leo McKern) yanks off the streets of Los Angeles and dispatches to Candleshoe castle as a counterfeit heiress. At stake is treasure, said to be buried somewhere on the grounds, that Brundage wants. The cast includes David Niven and Helen Hayes.
Finally, the bad news: The Betsy - the movie, not the car - is a lemon. The car is the 60-mpg gas-sipper that auto magnate Loren Hardeman Sr. (Laurence Olivier) dreams of building as a namesake for his great-grand-daughter, Betsy. To build or not to build is the here-and-now of this film version of the Harold Robbins novel that traces the sexual skirmishes of four generations of Hardemans, a fictitious Detroit dynasty.
The truly shocking thing is how so much acting talent (Robert Duvall, Katherine Ross, Tommy Lee Jones, Jane Alexander, Lesley-Ann Down, PAul Rudd, etc.) could end up as a wastebasket of cardboard cutouts. To see how it happened, grab the novel, turn to a page (any page) and read the dialogue aloud. You will discover something director Daniel Petrio and screenwriter Walter Bernstein obviously missed: that Harold Robbins is better read than spoken. The cast plays Avis to Olivier, as a sentimental cutthroat aptly called "No. 1" - but he doesn't approch the viciousness of the Naxi dentist he played in "Marathon Man." "The Betsy" caroms about like a driverless bumper car, and the viewer never even gets to ride.