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Night Games

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You could call Roger Vadim the Flo Ziegfield of the movies. He's the French director who discovered and married Brigitte Bardot, discovered Catherine Deneuve, married Annette Stroyberg and Jane Fonda, and has now discovered (on "The Guiding Light," a CBS soap opera) one Cindy Pickett, a native of Houston who is described in the movie's production notes as a "supple, green-eyed blonde."

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Cindy Pickett may be, for all I know, Vadim's best discovery. There is no way for me to find out because all I have to go on is Vadim's new movie "Night Games," starring Pickett as a neurotic and sexually repressed Bel Air housewife. The movie is so awkwardly put together from such a dumb screenplay that there is just no telling if Vadim is right in describing her as having more dramatic potential than any other actress he has ever worked with.

One thing's for sure: Potential like that deserves a better movie than "Night Games," which even Vadirn doesn't think is the greatest movie since "And God Created Woman."

Here he is, talking about the project in an interview with me last January: "There is nothing worse than to be around without working ... and I knew I would have to do something. I can't say it's the greatest script I've ever had. The dialogue is not always as good as it could be. I kept asking Raymond Chow, the producer, to hire writers to work on the dialogue, but he wouldn't."

Not the embodiment of enthusiasm. To be fair to Vadim, who does have talent, "Night Games" looks like it was shot on a bargain basement budget. Pickett stars as the housewife, whose rich publisher husband Jason has given her (I quote here from the synopsis) "money, a beautiful house, clothes, cars, everything except the ability, to experience a full and normal sexual relationship."

Jason surprises her with a birthday party (shot so ineptly and with such bad sound that it almost seems as if the movie's crew was not invited). Then they begin to make love, but she reacts violently, Jason flies off to London, and Cindy is left alone in the vast mansion.

What we get next is a long, ambitious passage of fantasy that we never, alas, quite understand. Pickett mopes around the mansion. She has erotic dreams. She is visited by a phantom lover. In one sustained sequence, she is pursued through the Mansion it night. Why? By whom? Perhaps by Sion (Paul Jenkins), the brawling Welsh poet who might have stayed behind in the house after the party guests left. Or perhaps everything is in her imagination...

The movie's conclusion is dated, awkward, and insultingly sexist. Pickett's demon lover engages her in a series of "night games" - dreams? realities? - and finally rapes her. And during the rape, she flashes back to long-repressed memories of when she was attacked by a man during her girlhood. It goes without saying in trash of this sort that these childhood traumas, when recalled, immediately evaporate - leaving our heroine free to truly love Jason when he returns from London.

Well, the movie's premise is obviously shoddy. But is the movie's visual strategy any better? Are we really thrilled by those nighttime chases through the deserted mansion? Not really.

The recent standard in these matters is probably John Carpenter's "Halloween," which aimed for almost pure terror, for nighttime chase scenes uncluttered by anything except the shock-producing apparatus of the visual style. At that basic level of craftsmanship, Vadim is just not as skillful. So "Night Games" not only has a premise that offends us, but doesn't even work on the level of dumb exploitation.

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