IT'S NICE TO see Joanne Woodward back on the screen. It's doubly nice to see her in a film as pleasing as ''Mr. and Mrs. Bridge.''
The movie, directed by James Ivory and produced by Ishmail Merchant (they did ''Room With a View''), falters at times, threatening now and then to expire, but it always revives and, at close, leaves you feeling richer for having known these very familiar people.
The movie is period. It begins in 1937, covers the war years and a few years after that. This was, as the movie suggests, a more innocent age. People could live out their lives in relative isolation. The media explosion had not yet begun, so people like Walter and India Bridge could secluded, routine lives with no larger threat than another war or another depression.
The Depression, however, doesn't seem to have much effect on the Bridges. They are upper middle class WASPS, living in a large home in Kansas City. They have a maid who fetches drinks for them.
They do know the joys (and anguish) of parenthood. One daughter wants to move to New York to become an actress. Another marries young, to the wrong man, and the Bridges' son joins the service.
He does come back, and life goes on with the Bridges. Walter is as conservative as ever. He will never change. His wife is less conservative. She would love to have someone to whom she can talk, but she, too, is capable of just so much expression and no more. The Bridges are people who don't really know how to communicate.
India has a good friend, an alcoholic married to a banker. The friend would love to pour her heart out to Mrs. Bridge, and in fact, does, but Mrs. Bridge, try as she might, is small comfort to the woman. Once more, ''Mr. and Mrs. Bridge'' is a film about people who cannot communicate.
There are many other characters in the film, and all ring true. All are complete, no matter how little we see of them.
''Mr. and Mrs. Bridge'' is a lacy film, a mosaic that, in total form, is almost thoroughly delightful, more so, perhaps, to the people who remember these years. You don't have to have had the same background as these people. You only have to have shared some of those years with them.
If you didn't, the film still has charm. This is a movie that should appeal to all, including those to whom this seems another country, another time.
Woodward is immense. As India, she is a woman who would like to shout now and then but doesn't because her husband wouldn't approve. She was nominated for an Academy Award as best actress for this
Paul Newman is slightly miscast as Walter, but he is a good
enough actor to give the role a respectable go.
Blythe Danner is the drinker, and she too is exceptional. Simon Callow, Remak Ramsay, Austin Pendleton, Gale Garnett and Robert Sean Leonard are seen in supporting roles.
''Mr and Mrs. Bridge'' is based on two books written by Evan S. Connell. The first, ''Mrs. Bridge,'' was written in 1959. The second, ''Mr. Bridge,'' was published 10 years later. Ruth Jhabvala, who did the screenplay, combined both to make a rather extraordinary film, one that may include a few red herrings but overall is a pleasure.
The background music is important. You'll hear songs from those years. You'll also see actors trying to do the dances of those years. They don't quite make it, but in all other areas, the film achieves its goals.
''Mr. and Mrs. Bridge'' opens today at the Rotunda.
"Mr. and Mrs. Bridge" *** A decade or so in the lives of Walter and India Bridge, Kansas City citizens who live in a more innocent age.
DIRECTOR: James Ivory
CAST: Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman, Blythe Danner, Simon Callow, Remak Ramsay, Austin Pendleton, Robert Sean Leonard, Saundra McClain, Margaret Welsh, Kyra Sedgwick
) RUNNING TIME: 127 minutes