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Movie critic Judith Crist dies at 90; pioneer was the queen of put-downs

Judith Crist

NEW YORK - Judith Crist, a blunt and popular film critic for the "Today" show, TV Guide and the New York Herald Tribune whose reviews were at times so harsh that director Otto Preminger labeled her "Judas Crist," has died. She was 90.

Her son, Steven Crist, said his mother died Tuesday at her Manhattan home after a long illness.

Starting in 1963, at the Tribune, Crist wrote about and discussed thousands of movies for millions of readers and viewers, and also covered theater and books.

She was the first woman to become a full-time critic at a major U.S. newspaper and was among the first reviewers of her time to gain a national following. Roger Ebert credited her with helping to make all film critics better known, including such contemporaries as The New Yorker's Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris of the Village Voice.

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With the growing recognition of such foreign directors as Francois Truffaut and Federico Fellini, and the rise of such American filmmakers as Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese, the 1960s and 1970s were an inspiring time for reviewers. Crist duly celebrated many movies, but her trademark quickly became the putdown.

An early review was for "Spencer's Mountain," a sentimental family melodrama starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara. Unmoved by a story that became the basis for the TV series "The Waltons," Crist denounced the film's "sheer prurience and perverted morality" and cracked that "it makes the nudie shows at the Rialto look like Walt Disney productions."

The critic really poured it on for "Cleopatra," the budget-busting historical epic that starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and was overwhelmed by the actors' off-screen love affair. "At best a major disappointment, at worst an extravagant exercise in tedium," Crist called the film, dismissing Taylor as "an entirely physical creature, no depth of emotion apparent in her kohl-laden eyes, no modulation in her voice, which too often rises to fishwife levels."

Her conclusion: "The mountain of notoriety has produced a mouse."

Crist was occasionally banned from advance screenings, while studios and theaters would threaten to pull advertising.

She incurred the wrath of Preminger, whose "Hurry Sundown" she called the "worst film" she had seen in memory. After she condemned Billy Wilder's cross-dressing classic "Some Like It Hot" for its "perverse" gags and "homosexual 'in' joke(s)," Wilder allegedly remarked that asking her to review your movie was like "asking the Boston strangler to massage your neck."


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