James Agee (1909-1955) fue novelista, periodista, guionista -de La Reina Africana (Huston, 1955), nada menos-, poeta... pero, sobre todo, crítico de cine. El más importante e influyente en el Hollywood de los años 40, "nuestro santísimo patriarca estadunidense", como escribiría alguna vez Jorge Ayala Blanco. He aquí una muestra de sus textos, contenidos en Agee on Film; Criticism and Comment on the Movies (Modern Library, 2000), dentro de una serie de libros sobre cine editados por Martin Scorsese.
George Stevens's last film as a civilian (The More the Merrier) is partly nice and partly disappointing... Stevens has a free, pretty feeling for business (like Jean Arthur's awkwardeness after the love scene of the steps), for special colorations of talk (there is some good adlibbing), and for gratuitous satire... Yet the film as a whole is a tired soufflé, for unfortunately Stevens doesn't know where to stop. Farce, like melodrama, offers very special chances for accurate observation, but here accuracy is avoided ten times to one in favor of the easy burlesque or the easier idealization wich drops the bottom out of farce... The Nation, junio 12 de 1943.
... I saw The Ox-Bow Incident... Ox Bow is one of the best and most interesting pictures I have seen for a long time, and it disappointed me... It seems to me that in Ox-Box artifice and nature got jammed in such a way as to give a sort of double focus, like off-printing in a comic strip. Here was a remarkably controlled and intelligent film; and in steady nimbus, on every detail, was the stiff over-consciousness of those who made it of the excellence of each effect, to such a degree thet the whole thing seemed a mosaic of over appreciated effects wich continually robbed nature of its own warmth and energy, and the makers of the ambitious claims which they had made on nature... Let me al least pay my respects to this film by adding that I find the same arteriosclerotic fault-of-attitude harming still better things: nearly all the good writing of this century, the films of Pudovkin and Pabst, and some of the music of Brahms... The Nation, julio 3, 1943.
...In the line of plain "entertainment" there was no indication that anybody realizes that entertainment and artistry are inseparable and virtually synonymous. The musicals I saw gave perhaps twenty seconds of genuine pleasure whith each tow hours of annihilation. The More the Merrier was fair fun until the whole cast began dancing the joke into my ribs... I can recommend Lassie Come Home to any dog who will check his interests in films in the theater lobby. But if you want simple pleasure you may as well go to another Masie picture or a Laurel and Hardy or an Abbott and Costello... The Nation, 25 de diciembre, 1943.
Frankly, I doubt I am qualified to arrive at any sensible assesment of Miss Elizabeth Taylor. Ever since I first saw the child, two or three years ago, in I forget what minor role in what movie, I have been choked with the peculiar sort of adoration I might have felt if we were both in the same grade of primary school. I feel I am obligated to this unpleasant unveiling because it is now my duty to try to review her, in National Velvet, in her first major role.
So far as I can see on a exceedingly cloudy day, I wouldn't say she is particularly gifted as an actress... She strikes me, however, if I may resort to conservative statement, as being rapturously beautiful. I think she also has a talent, of a sort, in the particular things she can turn on: which are most conspicuosly a mock-pastoral kind of simplicity, and two or three speeds of semi-hysterical emotion, such as ectasy, an odd sort of pre-specific erotic sentience, and the anguish of overstrained hope, imagination, and faith. Since these are precisely the things she needs for her role in National Velvet ... and since I think it is the most hopeful business of movies to find the perfect people rather than the perfect artists, I think that she and the picture are wonderful, and I hardly know or care whether she can act or not... The Nation, 22 de diciembre, 1944.
... Pan-Americana is another of those buckets of good-swill that make wish some Latin American movie people would come north, for a change, and take fair vengeance on the United States; a job at which I would be only too happy to help out. In some other respects, however, I rather liked the picture... The Nation, 3 de marzo, 1945.