Richard Alleva

At the time he wrote this review, Richard Alleva was a free-lance writer living in Washington D.C. He still works as a film critic for publications such as Commonweal today.

recent articles

The Mystery of Sherlock Holmes: Why Do We Love Doyle’s Detective?

Why are Britain’s Granada TV productions of the Sherlock Holmes stories, presented in America on PBS’S Mystery series, so good? And—not quite the same question—why have they been so universally and enthusiastically recognized by public and critics as being so good, as being in fact easily the best adaptations of the Holmes literature ever committed … Read more

The Village Singer: An Appreciation of Frank Capra, 1897 – 1991

Frank Capra is now as inescapable at Christmastide as Dickens because he created a film classic that sums up the American Christmas as completely as A Christmas Carol crystallizes the British Yule. The Dickens novella is evangelical-Protestant; It’s a Wonderful Life is democratic-populist and, despite the voice of God in its prologue and the intervention … Read more

Jack Lewis Goes to Broadway

There is no such thing as stage biography. Life doesn’t cooperate with art, certainly not with the art of the drama. When a playwright presents a real person’s life on stage, or even just part of that life, he may not only pluck events out of life’s disorganized flow and arrange them for maximum narrative … Read more

On Screen: The Last Christmas Movie?

Comfort and Joy Written and Directed by Bill Forsyth MCA Home Video I’ve always had a sneaking fondness for the commercialism of Christmas. It’s a childhood penchant that I’ve never been able to shake. Of course, as a Catholic boy educated in parochial schools, I was always sternly reminded of the sacred nature of the … Read more

An Appreciation of Greta Garbo: The Anti-Celebrity

The last image of Camille faded to black. Marguerite had died once more, and Robert Taylor had again collapsed onto Garbo’s deathbed. The applause from the audience in the repertory movie house testified to a general feeling of delighted surprise. Some of the younger viewers had never seen Garbo before and were obviously in the … Read more

On Screen: A Lord for the Lite Generation

Lord of the Flies Screenplay by Sara Schiff From the novel by Sir William Golding Directed by Harry Hook A Castle Rock Entertainment Release What happens when a novel written by a man who believes in good and evil falls into the hands of filmmakers who believe in nothing but adjustment and maladjustment? And what … Read more

On Screen: Engraving Glory

Glory Screenplay by Kevin Jarre Directed by Edward Zwick A Tri-Star Release I know nothing about its production history, but I suspect that few movies have been as well planned, or as carefully shot according to plan, as Glory. This account of the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry, the first all-black company to fight … Read more

On Screen: Patronizing Patriots

Born on the Fourth of July Screenplay by Ron Kovic and Oliver Stone Directed by Oliver Stone Oliver Stone’s trump card of casting for his film, Born on the Fourth of July, wasn’t Tom Cruise, though Cruise gives an estimable performance as Ron Kovic, the paralyzed Marine turned anti-war activist. Stone’s real coup was the … Read more

On Screen: Once More Unto the Breach

 Henry V Script Adaptation and direction by Kenneth Branagh A Samuel Goldwyn Films Release It was at the age of 15 that I found in a public library the recording of speeches from Henry V made by Laurence Olivier in the 1940s. These readings were not excerpts from the soundtrack of Olivier’s famous movie but … Read more

On Screen: The Joke’s on the Secularists

Crimes and Misdemeanors Written and directed by Woody Allen An Orion Release Woody Allen’s latest film, Crimes and Misdemeanors, is not a farce (though it has a few gags), not a satire (though it contains a few of Allen’s customary targets), nor a straightforward drama. In fact, it is not only unlike any of Allen’s … Read more

On Screen: Killing Romero Twice

Romero Written by John Sacret Young Directed by John Duigan A Paulist Picture Should any American movie-maker be trusted with any story which features peasants, particularly Hispanic peasants, listening humbly and gratefully to idealistic priests? Considering what Hollywood artisans have made of idealistic priests (Miracle of the Bells, The Cardinal) and noble peasants (Juarez, Viva … Read more

On Screen: Whiz Kid Goes Straight

Casualties of War Written by David Rabe Directed by Brian DePalma A Columbia Release Trying to explain his distaste for stage director Max Reinhardt’s work, the Viennese poet-critic Karl Kraus wrote, “Formerly the sets were made of cardboard and the actors were genuine. Now the sets are indubitably real, and the actors are made of … Read more

On Screen: Bites Out of the Big Apple

New York Stories Written by Richard Price, Francis and Sofia Coppola, and Woody Allen Directed by Martin Scorsese, Francis Coppola, and Woody Allen Reviewed by Richard Alleva When Norman  Mailer campaigned for mayor of New York City more than fifteen years ago, he ran on the singularly radical, clownish, and insightful principle that the city … Read more

On Screen: Games of Corruption

As the last shot of Dangerous Liaisons faded to black at the close of the screening I attended, the audience gave a collective sigh of release. I hasten to note that a sigh of release is not at all the same thing as a sigh of relief, such as one might emit at the end … Read more

On Screen: Bone Crunching for Liberals

A young poet named Keith Wilson has written a story in free verse titled “The Dog Poisoner.” In it, the narrator remembers that sometime during his childhood he and his pals became aware that someone was leaving about the neighborhood chunks of hamburger filled with ground glass. Dogs ate them and died horribly. The narrator … Read more

On Screen: Gorillas in the Mist and Bird

Gorillas in the Mist Screenplay by Anna Hamilton Phelan Directed by Michael Apted A Universal Release Bird Screenplay by Joel Oliansky Musical Direction by Lennre Niehaus Directed by Clint Eastwood A Warner Brothers Release It’s a snap to dress an actor up as Einstein, put him through some pantomime of research, exile and elder statesmanship, … Read more

On Screen: A Handful of Dust

Imagine that you are hearing a piece by Mozart played at the wrong tempo by a first-rate orchestra. All the notes in the score are sounded. The familiar melodies and counter-melodies run their course. The composer’s instrumentation is adhered to, and the players achieve an aural voluptuousness that ravishes the ear. Yet the result is … Read more

On Screen: The Last Temptation of Christ

The Last Temptation of Christ is based on a novel of the same name by Nikos Kazantzakis, who is universally regarded as a serious writer. When Kazantzakis’s dead body was shipped to Athens in 1957, the archbishop there refused to allow it to lie in state in a church (though the remains were later given … Read more

On Screen: Big

One of the nicest things about Big is that it isn’t. This comic fantasy, unlike so many recent efforts in this genre (Explorers, Weird Science, Gremlins), is a modest movie. It doesn’t punch its audiences with special effects, outlandish settings, contraptions, hairbreadth escapes, or various monsters from outer space or underground. Instead, offers the one … Read more

On Screen: Colors

Looking at the newspaper ad for Colors (photo of Robert Duvall and Sean Penn, clad as cops, striding forward purposefully shoulder to shoulder), I anticipated a film in the Joseph Wambaugh mode: a study of policemen as latter-day Roman legionnaires trying vainly but nobly to stem the tide of barbarism; a film that might be … Read more

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