review for The Gypsy Moths on AllMovie

The Gypsy Moths (1969)
by Craig Butler review

The Gypsy Moths is a frustrating and ultimately unsatisfying drama that nevertheless has a certain fascination and an ambiguous moodiness that some will find hypnotic, while others will find it tedious. Both views are right, and one's assessment of Moths will depend on how willing one is to put up with the film's undeniable flaws in order to appreciate its equally undeniable assets. Chief among those assets is its cast, a collection of sterling talent lead by Burt Lancaster's muscular but subdued Rettig. Lancaster captures the character's intense, unstoppable fatalism, but clearly hints at his desire to find something that makes life worth living. There's a combination of sadness, desperation, and tainted joy in his relationship with Deborah Kerr, whose carefully nuanced performance is simply lovely. Both of these stars provide star turns free of the self-conscious mannerism associated with the term, yet their characters remain unknown and hidden to the audience. Clearly, this is a choice of director John Frankenheimer and writer William Hanley, in keeping with their creation of an existential malaise, but it does have a distancing and alienating effect. This spills over into the performances of the other equally strong cast members, with the result that some viewers will simply stop caring about what happens. Frankenheimer's approach is laudable, but proves too heavyhanded and pretentious, but his aerial sequences are simply stunning and above reproach. Moths is an admirable attempt at psychological character study that comments upon the emptiness of many lives, but in the end it's too elliptical and obscure to succeed completely.