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'Malcolm' Debut On Z Channel

January 25, 1985|KEVIN THOMAS | Times Staff Writer

Watching the 1974 British film of David Halliwell's mid-60s play "Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs," which makes its American premiere with a week of airings on Z Channel starting today at 2:30 p.m., it's possible to imagine why on the stage it was hailed as the first attempt to "show us, from the inside, what is bubbling beneath the Cavalier locks, the frosty scowls, the hairy great-coats and the military jeans of the new young."

It's even easier to see why the film version, underwritten by Beatle George Harrison, never received an American theatrical release. It has such great tedious stretches that it leaves the impression that adapter Derek Woodward never so much as trimmed a word from the play. That's a pity, because "Little Malcolm" is more timeless than most '60s protest pieces--and because John Hurt, David Warner and their co-stars really tear into their parts.

Hurt is a shaggy, disaffected North of England art student who catches up his pals (John McEnery, Raymond Platt)in an anarchic fantasy in which they're to kidnap their hated tutor and then blackmail him into destroying a fine painting which they are to steal. Warner, another student, joins in, though less unquestioningly. Hurt calls himself and his friends the Party of Dynamic Erection, rebelling against "eunuchy." Poor Hurt:he's a fiery speechifier in front of his discipiles but is absolutely tongue-tied in his every encounter with cool, blonde Rosalind Ayres. So much for "dynamic erections."

Hurt's fantasy-making becomes so repetitive--and so long-winded--that its wearying effect actually defeats its intention, which is to show the process by which Hurt et al (except the finally disenchanted Warner)get so carried away they've become dangerous. There are some splendid, eloquent Angry Man outbursts, but the best moment is a hilarious sexual fantasy conjured up by Warner.

"Little Malcolm," which was filmed largely--and rather too symbolically--in an old gashouse, was directed with as much energy as so much verbiage permitted by American expatriate Stuart Cooper, whose shorter films "Overlord" and "A Test of Violence" also screen this coming week on Z.

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