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.
She died Tuesday at her Manhattan home after a long illness.
Starting in 1963 at the Tribune, Mrs. Crist wrote about and discussed thousands of movies, and also covered theater and books. She was among the first reviewers of her time to gain a national following, and Roger Ebert credited her with helping to make all film critics better known.
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 ’70s were an inspiring time for movie reviewers. But Mrs. Crist’s 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,’’ Mrs. 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,’’ Mrs. Crist said of 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.’’
Mrs. Crist was occasionally banned from advance screenings, while studios and theaters would threaten to pull advertising.
Preminger, whose ‘‘Hurry Sundown’’ she called the ‘‘worst film’’ she had seen in memory, referred to her as ‘‘Judas Crist.’’ 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.’’
But Mrs. Crist had many friends in the business, from Bette Davis to ‘‘Cleopatra’’ director Joseph Mankiewicz. She ran a film festival for decades out of Tarrytown, N.Y., with guests including Robert Redford, Paul Newman, and Steven Spielberg. Woody Allen’s ‘‘Stardust Memories’’ is believed to have been based in part on Mrs. Crist’s Tarrytown gatherings.
She was born in New York in 1922 and would say that Charlie Chaplin’s silent masterpiece ‘‘The Gold Rush’’ was her first and most vivid film memory.
She attended Hunter College and received a master’s degree from Columbia University’s journalism school. In 1945, soon after graduation, she was hired as a feature writer by the Herald Tribune, where she remained until the paper closed, in 1966, and where colleagues included Jimmy Breslin and Tom Wolfe.
Mrs. Crist reviewed film and theater for the ‘‘Today’’ show from 1964 to 1973, and as a print critic worked for New York magazine, TV Guide, and the New York Post. She was a longtime adjunct professor at Columbia and her essays, interviews, and reviews have been compiled into three books .