Longtime TV and newspaper reviewer Ebert (Roger Ebert’s Book of Film, 1996, etc.) hosts a genial, dutiful Cook’s Tour of 100 film masterpieces.
The selections themselves—two-thirds Hollywood product, the rest mostly from Europe—are hard to quarrel with: Metropolis, Gone with the Wind, The Bicycle Thief, The Seven Samurai, Pulp Fiction. About the most offbeat choice is the very last alphabetical entry, Written on the Wind, and here Ebert’s tone is largely apologetic, as if he were afraid to get caught with an original opinion. Generally eschewing interpretation, each entry—balancing appreciation, plot summary, and a lightly sketched overview of the director’s other work—is a feast of the obvious; readers will probably enjoy these revelations in direct proportion to how little they already know about movies. Ebert never misses a chance to bolster his authority by pointing out that he was the only reviewer to hail Bonnie and Clyde when it first opened or by recalling all the films he’s analyzed frame-by-frame on college campuses. But he never establishes his authority in the obvious way, by writing with the wit, economy, or passion of a reviewer like Pauline Kael (whom he often quotes, and who always sounds more savvy and unafraid than him). For every zinger Ebert gets off—“Louise Brooks regards us from the screen as if the screen were not there; she casts away the artifice of film and invites us to play with her”—there are pounds of blandly recycled filler: “Stanley Kubrick was a perfectionist who went to obsessive lengths in order to get everything in his films to work just right.” Nor does it help when Ebert gets his facts wrong, as when he upgrades Eva Marie Saint’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar for On the Waterfront to Best Actress.
A sad reminder of the current vacuum in American film reviewing. (100 b&w photos)