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Movie Answer Man (12/18/1994)

Q. Re the suggestion by Newt Gingrich that his critics study "Boys Town" to understand how orphanages work. I was surprised that he didn't also cite the 1959 Mamie Van Doren/Paul Anka/Mel Torme classic, "Girls Town." (Jeff Levin, Rochester, N.Y.)

A. The movie was later retitled "Innocent and the Damned," which might reflect Newt's view of himself and his critics.

Q. Now that Altman's "The Player" is out on video, it is possible to detect a subtle device on the sound track that increases the atmosphere of paranoia running through the film. The hero, Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins), commits a murder and is afraid he will be caught. His name is constantly repeated in the dialog. One character will say, "Griffin! Griffin!" Or one says, "Griffin," and another echoes it, "Griffin." Thomas Newman, who wrote the music for the film, uses the same motif subliminally in the music when Griffin arrives at the hotel where he bumps into Malcolm MacDowell. You'll need a good sound system to identify it, but every two bars throughout this music, the words "Griffin-Griffin" are audible in time to the music. Macdowell's opening line of the scene which follows is, "Griffin? Griffin Mill?" (Paul Chapman, London, England)

A. I listened to my laserdisc, and you are correct. This sort of detail may be why some movies seem to work on us in almost inexplicable ways. Certainly during "The Player" I identified with Griffin's growing fear of exposure.

Q. What happened to the other passengers on the subway train in "Speed?" Saw it twice, still haven't figured out if they all bought it when the second and third cars jumped track, or if they just slipped out the back door at 60 mph when no one was looking. (Terry Ryan)

A. They're called "extras" for a reason.

Q. Out of the countless movie renditions of "A Christmas Carol," which version of the Dickens' classic do you think is the best? Which is the worst? (Bret Wiersbe, Griffith, Indiana)

A. The best is probably the famous 1951 British version of "A Christmnas Carol," with Alastair Sim as Scrooge. The worst is probably "Scrooged" (1988), a miscalculated Bill Murray comedy that didn't quite work. The sleeper is "Scrooge" (1970), a musical with Albert Finney wonderful in the title role. You didn't ask, but my favorite holiday movie (after "It's a Wonderful Life") is "A Christmas Story" (1983), based on Jean Shepherd's memories of growing up in northern Indiana.

Q. Regarding your recent Movie Answer Man item about whether Superman or Batman would win in a fight: In "The Dark Knight," by Frank Miller, Batman and Superman have a "fight to the death", and Batman (using his brain and kryptonite) wins the battle. Well, he almost wins; check it out. Which I guess goes to show, brains will always beat brawn, eh? (Joe Long, Redmond, Wash.)

A. Like I said, brains--and kryptonite. Superman always has seemed a litlte dim to me. I checked out the book, and see what you mean by "almost." I think it still counts as a victory, though.

Q. I read in the paper that "Junior," the movie where Arnold Schwarzenegger gets pregnant, has surprised Hollywood executives by its poor performance at the box office. We saw it and liked it a lot. Why is the public staying away? (Sheila Chesham, Chicago)

A. Beats me. I thought it would go through the roof. It's funny, it's warm, and Schwarzenegger handles the situation with great charm, on just the right note. Maybe men were turned off by the prospect of seeing Arnold pregnant? Or...maybe women were.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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