It started with an innocent phone interview. Norman Jewison was telling Daily Variety columnist Army Archerd about plans to open his acclaimed "A Soldier's Story" in South Africa when Archerd asked, "Will it be shown in integrated theaters?"
"I couldn't have the film play in a restricted or segregated theater," said Jewison. "I'll call you back." He then phoned Columbia Pictures' foreign distribution department -- and found that the movie was indeed slated for theaters with separate sections labeled "European," "colored" and "black." Jewison doesn't want to release the film under those circumstances, Columbia says the situation can't be changed, and everyone's trying to work something out in time for the scheduled Feb. 8 opening.
Even before the furor started, "A Soldier's Story" author Charles Fuller flatly refused to make any personal appearances in South Africa to promote the film, which concerns a murder investigation in an all-black army unit. And neither Fuller, Jewison nor anyone else connected with the film could figure out why the government agreed to show it in the first place . . .
Recent events in New York City have made Charles Bronson's "Death Wish" series timelier than ever -- and now here comes "Death Wish III," which starts filming this April in, naturally, New York. Bronson will star again, but only after a bit of bickering with Cannon Films over the quality of the scripts it had submitted. He originally branded them "schlock" and said he wouldn't perform unless things got better. Cannon retaliated by saying if he wasn't happy, it would hire Chuck Norris. Now, apparently, things are better -- Bronson, at any rate, says the script has been changed and that he'll do it . . .
Like its predecessors, "Death Wish III" will be directed by Michael Winner, who will be in London tomorrow to watch Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher unveil a memorial to a policewoman killed at the Libyan Embassy last year. The memorial came about after Winner wrote a letter to the Daily Mail and lined up such backers as Robert Mitchum and Marlon Brando . . .
The veil of secrecy has finally been lifted on Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo," the first Allen-directed film since "Interiors" in which he doesn't appear. It premiered last weekend in Park City, Utah, where it served as the closing-night attraction at the U.S. Film Festival. Afterward, critics were divided over the merits of the romantic fantasy, in which a bored, film-struck waitress in the 1930s (Mia Farrow) longs for a touch of movie-style magic and gets it when a matinee idol (Jeff Daniels) stops in the middle of a film she's watching, steps off the screen and into the theater and begins a "real-life" romance (leaving the rest of the actors on screen to chat with the audience and await their leading man's return). The Hollywood Reporter found it "innovative and charming," "nimble and dreamy." Daily Variety, on the other hand, called it "initially appealing but frustratingly thin."
Jeff Daniels' character, incidentally, has his own share of frustrations in the film. It seems that he's a great kisser, but he has no idea what to do after a smooch, because that's when his scenes always fade out . . .
"The Purple Rose of Cairo" wasn't in competition at the festival, where top honors went to "Blood Simple," the most talked-about independent film since "Stranger Than Paradise." Actually, "Blood Simple" has generated far more advance raves than "Paradise" ever did. The bloody, tongue-in-cheek murder thriller, made by Minneapolis brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, began stirring up attention in arty circles months ago, and has now made the jump to mainstream attention. Next stop, a mainstream audience? Well, maybe . . .