Easter tales resurrected
NOT to be outdone by Cecil B. Demille, whose circus epic The Greatest Show on Earth ran for two hours and 23 minutes, George Stevens countered with The Greatest Story Ever Told (Friday, 12.15pm, 7Two), which came in at just under four hours in its uncut version before studio bosses trimmed it to manageable proportions. It’s distinguished by Max von Sydow’s moving and dignified performance as Jesus, and it’s strange to think that von Sydow once played chess with the Devil (or was it Death?) in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Seven’s other Easter offering is Barabbas (Friday, 9.20am, 7Two), the story of the legendary thief who was sentenced to be crucified beside Jesus but was spared by Pontius Pilate.
Odette (Saturday, 3.50am, Gem) is the story of Odette Churchill (played by Anna Neagle) who spied for the French resistance during World War II and was captured and tortured by the Nazis. It’s moving and harrowing and sadly true, but marked by an excess of patriotic reverence typical of 1950s British war films.
So how about a smart romantic comedy to cheer us up? Melanie Griffith was at the top of her form in Working Girl (Thursday, 8.30pm, 7Two) as Tess Mcgill, an industrious secretary in a brokerage firm who discovers that the woman she is working for (Sigourney Weaver) has pinched her idea for a big deal with a client without crediting her. The ensuing feuds and romantic complications involve Harrison Ford, who is also the lover of Weaver’s character. This buoyant, smoothly acted comedy was among the great feelgood films of the 80s. Another was Tender Mercies (Monday, noon, Gem), Bruce Beresford’s first American assignment. Subtle, low-key and wholly beguiling, it won Oscars for best screenplay (Horton Foote) and for Robert Duvall’s performance as Mac Sledge, a down-and-out country singer who puts his life back together when he meets a widow (Tess Harper) and her young son.
Zatoichi (Saturday, 1.30am, SBS One) is an over-long and mannered Japanese epic about a blind swordsman, played by director Takeshi Kitano. In the version I remember from 2004, the subtitles used the expression
sight-impaired’’ to refer to the blind: a curious example of political correctness when we remember that blindness, for Zatoichi, was a badge of honour.