Summer films = fluff. That expectation can be a pretty fair assumption just about everywhere except Austin. Our prospects here are different because summertime is when three of our favorite local institutions launch special exhibition series devoted to revivals and classic movie fare.
The Paramount Theatre's Summer Film Classics features mostly double bills throughout the season. Grouped in thematic pairs, screenings are devoted to such things as Cary Grant Week, Nuclear Crises, Lusty Old England, and Thirties Glitz and Glamour. Chapters of the 1940 serial The Shadow will also play with select features, along with Max Fleischer cartoons and coming attraction previews.
Also on tap for the summer is the Austin Film Society's second annual Summer Free-for-All. The free weekly series features not only revivals of classic Hollywood, American independent, and foreign films but also Austin premieres of several new films. The archival-quality repertory series proudly boasts that it is "free of theme, free of charge, and free for all."
Not to be forgotten is the city Parks and Recreation Department's annual Summer Splash Parties at Deep Eddy Pool, where diving into the movies takes on a new literal meaning.
By no means are these the only summer reportory offerings around. Check out the Alamo Drafthouse's weekend screenings for an ever-rotating selection of revival fare. From time to time, revival films also pop up for regular theatrical runs amid the new film releases. Look for such screenings at this weekend's opening at the Dobie Theatre of Lucio Fulci's legendary gore masterpiece, The Beyond, and an early July series of Warner Bros. vault classics at the Arbor.
As these summer calendars began to circulate, a number of people chimed in with thoughts, impressions, and recollections that they wanted to share with others. Too many, in fact. So we've decided to divide the summer up into two halves. All the movies written about here screen between now and July 24, the date we plan to run the second installment of articles. The complete schedules for all three film series can also be found in this section. The abbreviations that accompany each movie capsule are as follows: PAR (Paramount Summer Classics), AFS (Austin Film Society), and SP (Summer Splash Parties). And keep in mind that schedules are always subject to change.
- Marjorie Baumgarten
ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944)
D: Frank Capra; with Cary Grant, Peter Lorre, Raymond Massey, Priscilla Lane, Josephine Hull, Jack Carson, Edward Everett Horton.
Criticized early and often for Cary Grant's over-the-top performance as Mortimer Brewster, a prominent Brooklynite who discovers on his wedding day that the two adorable Ms. Tweetie Pie aunts who raised him from childhood are poisoning the neighborhood's less fortunate with elderberry wine, Frank Capra's 1944 black (and white) comedy is nevertheless one of Grant's most memorable turns onscreen. From the moment Mortimer realizes what these sweet little old biddies are doing (simply putting people out of their earthly miseries), he goes completely insane. Loses his mind. Screaming nearly every line, gesticulating wildly as if he were on fire and running around like one of the Marx Brothers, Grant is almost too painful to watch - in the same way you watch one of your friends going lampshade at an office party. Except he's Cary Grant (with no less than Frank Capra directing him), and he's hilarious. Watching Mortimer go nuclear in the front room of the Brewster homestead, particularly when his murdering psychopath of an older brother and his henchman (a terrific Peter Lorre) decide it's the perfect hideout following their escape from the penitentiary, is like watching a clown car explode. Because the film was adapted from a play and the action takes place almost solely in the house's front room, one can imagine what Grant would have been like in the role on Broadway. Charge!!! (PAR: 6/18-19) - Raoul Hernandez
CHILDREN OF PARADISE (1945)
D: Marcel Carné; with Jean-Louis Barrault, Arletty.
Inspired by the grand novelists of 19th-century France, Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of Paradise) announces its aesthetic intentions early on: The opening credits roll in front of a theatre curtain and from then on the film holds tight to formal, theatrical conventions. Which is not to say that this is a stuffy film; it is a classic of French cinema, though, so it isn't surprising that Garance (Arletty) drolly tells her friend, the "public scribe" Pierre-Francois, that she visits him every day because she's "bored" and because visiting him is like "being at the theatre, so entertaining and so restful." The collaboration of director Marcel Carné and screenwriter Jacques Prevert reached its pinnacle in this tale of "tragic destiny" which was partly filmed during the Occupation, between 1943-1945. The fact that the plot centers around the stiff but vulnerable Garance and her love affair with a famous professional mime (Jean-Louis Barrault) shouldn't lead you to think this is a maudlin movie. It's all the restraint, intelligence, and beauty (both aesthetic and star-driven) you could wish for in a surprisingly quick three-hour French film. (PAR: 7/21) - Claiborne Smith
THE CHINA SYNDROME (1979)
D: James Bridges; with Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon, Michael Douglas.
It was 1979 Austin, when the nuclear bug hit. First it was the unheralded release of The China Syndrome, a film that would have left theatres unjustly after a couple of weeks, except that Three Mile Island went and blew its top, and lo and behold, The China Syndrome became a hit. I was 7 years old at the time, and was being raised by hippies. So you had better believe that I was in full awareness of the evils of "nukes." As other parents preached about the evils of marijuana and cocaine, my parents preached the evils of nuclear engineering and yuppyism - the two greatest evils apart from the rise of Reagan. Jane Fonda's journalist and Michael Douglas' cameraman were ethical heroes of mine. Jack Lemmon was a modern-day Capra hero, telling it like it was to the evil corporate monsters out to destroy the world. Darth Vader was a two-bit hood compared to the scum in this film. I won Eeyore's Birthday Costume Contest three weeks after the film came out with my "I Survived Three Mile Island" costume. One glow-in-the-dark mask and a "No Nukes" T-shirt. Ahhh, Austin was such a liberal paradise then. (PAR: 6/23-24) - Harry Knowles
DARK PASSAGE (1947)
D: Delmer Daves; with Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Agnes Moorehead.
It was a common occurrence in my childhood, my mom poking her head into my room and saying, "There's a good movie on TV." Since I generally wasn't allowed to watch television, and certainly not on a weekend, this was always a happy event, particularly for the simple fact that we got to bond. Dark Passage, one of four films made by a legendary Hollywood couple, Bogey and Bacall, was special from the moment we sat on the TV-room couch together - I could tell from the beatific smile on my mother's face; it said this one's special. This alone probably ensured that I would love it, but the film's first-hour device of using the camera as Bogey's eyes - he, an escaped convict - up through the character's plastic surgery was instantly intriguing. The way Bacall looks at the camera, her sleepy eyes holding every secret a woman has ever held, was hypnotic as well, and the easy rapport this real-life husband-and-wife team shared made up for a far-fetched plot. It's not To Have and Have Not, Key Largo, or The Big Sleep, all superior films to this B&B potboiler, but it's one in a series of only four, and as such, when viewed on a Saturday afternoon with my mother, probably 20 years after she had seen it with her mother and grandmother in the same city where it was made and I was born (San Francisco), it reverberates for me like a favorite home movie. (PAR: 7/15-16)
- Raoul Hernandez
D: Sidney Lumet; with Henry Fonda, Walter Matthau, Larry Hagman.
This is among the sickest, most disturbing films I have ever seen. The concept of an accidental nuclear bombing of a Soviet city being rendered politically "okay" by our reciprocal bombing of an American city is repugnant. If ever there were a film to prove two wrongs do not make a right, this is it. Fail-Safe is gripping, terrifying, and horrifying. I can't imagine what it must have been like in 1964, not too long after the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Kennedy's assassination. Well, the atmosphere of 1964 America had to make this film the greatest horror film of all time. People had bomb shelters, they looked up at passing airplanes with fear, and this film knew that. Fail-Safe was the somber flip side to Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. One was deadly serious; the other showed the absurdity of it all. Fail-Safe shows why it should never happen. All the more relevant now that we have had 11 nuclear "tests" in India and Pakistan. What the hell are they testing? The bombs work, one proves it. Give up already. These aren't the mushrooms you want for dinner. (PAR: 6/23-24) - Harry Knowles
FIRST MEN ON THE MOON (1964)
D: Nathan Juran; with Edward Judd, Martha Hyer, Lionel Jeffries.
I first saw this film in glorious 16mm on a sheet hanging from the ceiling of Uncle Bob's house here in Austin. There were ripples in the sheets, and the sound had the constant churning of the projector in the background. I was a starstruck child while watching this film. No, not by the lame actors involved, but by the creations of the greatest cool sculptor of living celluloid beings: Ray Harryhausen. This is one of his weaker films, still the aliens on the moon do it for me. His eye for classic designs and character animation make First Men on the Moon better than this year's Godzilla. Here the effects have personality, the design has the elegance of a Victorian spacecraft, and the look captures the insanity of proper British society landing on the moon... my God, the mind boggles. For those of us raised in the pre-digital age, Harryhausen is a god. Children should be strapped into their seats and made to witness his genius. They will be the better for it. I was.
(PAR: 7/8-9) - Harry Knowles
FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956)
D: Fred McLeod Wilcox; with Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Leslie Nielsen.
I can't imagine a world without Forbidden Planet. This film is the warm blanket for science fiction fans. I can't remember when I saw this film the first time. Perhaps it was at the first comic convention I went to. That would have been in Oklahoma City, summer 1972. I was six months old. Did my half-year-old mind understand the sights on that glorious CinemaScope Technicolor screen in the grand ballroom of the Oklahoma Civic Center? The dialogue was obviously lost on me, but those images.... The infinite chasms of technology, the endless hums and zings of the score created by two insane brothers on mystical proto synthesizers. The Id Monster, did I even have one then? At six months, did I have my own subconscious demon, or was I only a subconscious demon? I don't know. I can't remember. Forbidden Planet is it. This is the film from which there is no turning back. With all the digital whiz bang of half a century, it still does not get better than this
B-grade sci-fi adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest. There are two things that the primordial Harry saw at that time that grabbed hold: Robby the Robot, the single coolest creation of mankind, and Anne "Oh, how I want her" Francis. Even then, the lecherous eyes of pre-sexual Harry knew.... (PAR: 7/8-9) - Harry Knowles
D: George Cukor; with Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, Angela Lansbury.
Gaslight is a hallmark of the classical Hollywood cinema psychological thriller. It's brooding, obsessive, and riveting and all because of the chemistry between Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer), a suave but maniacal composer, and his wife Paula (Ingrid Bergman), niece of the famous opera dame Alice Alquist, who was murdered at her home in London's Thornton Square. After they marry, Paula can't stand the thought of moving back to London and the home her aunt willed to her, but she's very obliging and in love, so Gregory has his way. In fact, the film hinges on Gregory having his way, which is why there's a considerable urge to take Paula aside and shake her out of her submission. Gregory, though, is a powerful manipulator, so Paula easily believes that it is her fault that she begins losing things, becomes too "ill" to go out or receive visitors, and starts hearing things. Gregory is brainwashing her, but why? When a keen Scotland Yard investigator played by Joseph Cotten discovers that "any one of a number of unpleasant things" may soon happen to Paula, Gregory's skillfully orchestrated menace unravels, but at a hefty cost to both himself and his wife. (PAR: 7/10-11) - Claiborne Smith
THE HAUNTING (1963)
D: Robert Wise; with Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn.
Hands down the best haunted house film yet made, this adaptation of Shirley Jackson's novel The Haunting of Hill House is creepier than the back of a West Campus fridge in May, with twice the latent evil. Wise, who went on to direct The Sound of Music a scant two years later, pours on the unease like Chechnian motor oil - dark, viscous, and slimy - all the while staying remarkably faithful to the tone of Jackson's tome, if not the details. A mixed-doubles quartet of naysayers and psychics drop by the abandoned house to test its spook quotient. Headed by the eminently level-headed Dr. Markaway (Johnson), they find thrills, chills, and mayhem along with the distilled psychic energy of the mansion's former occupants. Harris is terrific as the dotty Eleanor, a low-level psychic with a bizarre connection to the house, and B-movie stalwart Tamblyn tags along as the voice of reason. Harris and Bloom's night terrors scene - in which an unearthly, unceasing pounding at their door shellshocks them into near catatonia - is one of the most deliciously unnerving in the genre, and still holds up after three-and-a-half decades. If you've never experienced the pure joyous frisson of having your blood run cold, here's your chance. (PAR: 7/10-11) - Marc Savlov
HOW TO STEAL A MILLION (1966)
D: William Wyler; with Audrey Hepburn, Peter O'Toole.
How to Steal a Million is about cat burglary, but it's about cat burglary à la Audrey Hepburn, so it's cat burglary done nice and tasteful. Among the many engaging aspects of this William Wyler film are phrases like "big-time caper" and "electric eyes," a term used to describe the security system protecting the Cellini Venus, a million-dollar sculpture that is the talk of Paris and that Hepburn's father just happened to fake. Hepburn, in fact, comes from a long line of genius art forgers; rather than waste her time trying to reform her father (Hugh Griffith), she takes it upon herself to keep him out of trouble. That task becomes problematic when it's announced that the renowned Professor Bauer is coming to Paris from Zurich to test the authenticity of the Venus. How to Steal a Million doesn't really take off until Peter O'Toole and Hepburn meet when he, a sophisticated high society thief (but a self-described "humble burglar"), is caught by Hepburn stealing one of the father's forgeries. Though they meet under inauspicious circumstances, the real pursuit here is not capturing the fake Venus but the charming pairing of O'Toole and Hepburn. (PAR: 6/27-28) - Claiborne Smith
I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE (1949)
D: Howard Hawks; with Cary Grant, Ann Sheridan, Kenneth Tobey.
This hilarious farce takes place in occupied Germany in the years following WWII. French officer Rochard (Grant) is assigned to pair up with U.S. Lieutenant Catherine Gates (Sheridan) to track down black marketeers. The two can't stand each other's presence, but eventually, their antagonism turns to love and they wind up getting married. Problem #2: navigating the U.S. Army red tape, which classifies Rochard as a war bride and causes the desperate hubby to cross-dress in order to gain entry into the States. Cary Grant makes an even less convincing woman than he does a Frenchman.The alternate title of this movie was going to be You Can't Sleep Here, since Grant hears that over and over as he sleeps in all manner of horribly awkward and uncomfortable circumstances. Sheridan is utterly charming, and the many gags are a reminder of Grant's gifts for physical comedy. It harkens back to the screwball comedies of the Thirties, only with a somewhat more relaxed pace. Sample lines, as Grant is being handed a soggy infant: "Oh, how cute! What is it?"/"It's a human fire extinguisher. Want to hold it?"/"What's its name?"/"Niagara!" (PAR: 6/18-19) - Jerry Renshaw
IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953)
D: Jack Arnold; with Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Charles Drake, Russell Johnson.
A favorite from my youthful Saturday mornings sitting glued to the TV's Monster Movie Matinee, this pre-Body Snatchers tale of alien abduction is classic Fifties sci-fi, from its opening 3-D shots of the otherworldly "meteor" tear-assing over the gray Arizona desert to the cyclopian, shimmery alien that leaves behind a bizarre trail of fairy dust wherever it passes. Director Arnold also helmed the genre classics Creature From the Black Lagoon, Tarantula, and The Incredible Shrinking Man, among others, so you know you're in good hands even if one of the vacant-eyed alien victims looks remarkably like the Professor from Gilligan's Island (yup, that's Russell Johnson, alright). Adapted from a story by Ray Bradbury and featuring a great score by Irving Gertz and Henry Mancini (!), the plot revolves around amateur astronomer John Putnam (Carlson), who witnesses the ET's ship crash near his home. Nobody believes the poor guy, natch, and even his sex-bomb-baby of a girlfriend (Rush) thinks he has heatstroke. He's right, though - those brainiac types always are - and it's up to him to save the world. Miraculously, this never ended up on MST3K as far as I know, though much of the dialogue creaks like a parchment porch swing in July. Still, it's good fun and eminently eerie. Love that theremin, too! (SP: 7/11) - Marc Savlov
IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD (1963)
D: Stanley Kramer; with Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Ethel Merman, Sid Caesar, Edie Adams, Mickey Rooney, Peter Falk, Jonathan Winters, Phil Silvers, Jimmy Durante, and many more.
There's no subtext, no symbolism, no nothing. It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World is just pure farce; and as far as comedies go, it's about as low-concept and elemental as possible. Combine a lot of money and a lot of people, hilarity ensues. The movie opens with the death of a man who tells attempted rescuers of a fortune buried beneath a giant "W." Gradually, about 20 people - including Buddy Hackett, Mickey Rooney, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Ethyl Merman (in what has got to be one of the most perfectly annoying performances of all time), some cops, and about a dozen other "stars" - become involved in the dash for the cash. There's one problem: Nobody is entirely sure where they are going. Only the general whereabouts of the "W" were given. Yes, it's largely a bunch of car-chase-based gaffes and some basic slapstick, but 30 years after its making, it's still funnier than almost anything an ex-Saturday Night Live cast member has made in the last decade.
(PAR: 6/11 & 6/14) - Michael Bertin
JULES AND JIM (1961)
D: Francois Truffaut; with Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner, Henri Serre.
I'll admit it. Ninety percent of the time, Truffaut makes very little sense to me. Small Change? Mississippi Mermaid? I just don't understand. Jules and Jim, however, is comprehensible. It's the story of two men, that'd be Jules and Jim, and one woman, Catherine, and their relationship. Jules and Jim are best friends whose relationship is even strong enough to survive their being on opposing sides in WWI. Jules and Jim both love Catherine, but both cannot have her at the same time (well, theoretically they could, but Truffaut doesn't tackle ménage à trois until a later film). Even though she marries Jules, Catherine herself does love them both. What's remarkable is how constant the bond between the two men stays despite constantly changing relationships with Catherine, which change constantly because Catherine's conception and practice of male-female relationships is so unconventional. Plus, the movie is full of good French dialogue non sequiturs like (and this is from memory so it's not verbatim), "I have a headache. Our children would be tall." (PAR: 7/6-7) - Michael Bertin
MARY POPPINS (1964)
D: Robert Stevenson; with Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyck.
Imaginative, colorful, and charming, Mary Poppins stars Julie Andrews in her film debut as the quirky English nanny who turns a strait-laced London family upside down with her out-of-this world adventures. Aided by Dick Van Dyke, in top form as a chimney sweep named Bert, the two cavort in and out of reality and über-reality with a series of memorable, Oscar-winning songs from Richard and Robert Sherman, such as "Chim Chim Cheree," "A Spoonful of Sugar," and "Supercalifragilisticexpeali-docious" in a combination of vibrant live action film and lush Disney animation. The cast also includes Ed Wynn, Glynis Johns, Hermione Baddeley, and Karen Dotrice, but the film really made Julie Andrews, who is absolutely radiant in the title role. Mary Poppins was also one of the last of the old-school Disney features of the Sixties, which is why its mix of live action and animation was significant in a culture whose Disney-like Ivory Tower was about to be blown away by war and civil strife. Disney's momentum in animation wouldn't pick up again until The Little Mermaid, but Mary Poppins still shines as a delightful way to spend a couple of hours. (SP: 7/18)
- Margaret Moser
MY FAVORITE WIFE (1940)
D: Garson Kanin; with Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Randolph Scott, Gail Patrick.
This 1940 comedy is like a favorite pair of blue jeans. It withstands repeated watchings and, faded but never dated, it just gets more comfortable (and even funnier) with every viewing. Nick Arden (Grant) has just married the glamorous and shallow Bianca (Patrick) when his long-lost, technically-declared-dead wife Ellen (Dunne) shows up after being shipwrecked on an island for seven years. Screwball pandemonium ensues as Nick tries to keep the new Mrs. Arden from discovering the old while he chooses between the two. Grant is suavely befuddled and Dunne devilishly serene, and together they have dead-on comic timing. The memorable moments are too numerous to list, but look for the honeymoon hotel sequence - a series of convoluted entrances and exits that even the Marx brothers would covet and the hilariously sophomoric one-upsmanship between Nick and Ellen's Jack LaLanne-like co-survivor (played to bland perfection by Scott). Will Nick choose the new, stylish, uptight wife or the old, familiar, companionable one? Of course, it's absolutely no contest, but that's just another reason why My Favorite Wife is the perfect movie to slip into after a long, hard day. (PAR: 6/16-17) - Hollis Chacona
MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945)
D: Joseph H. Lewis; with Nina Foch, Dame May Whitty, George Macready, Roland Varno.
If you search high and low in director Joseph H. Lewis' filmography you will not find another film as great as Gun Crazy - that is the long and the short of it. What is surprising is just how inconsistent the rest of his work is. Among more mediocre efforts such as Mad Doctor of Market Street and Cry of the Hunted are such superior films as My Name Is Julia Ross and The Big Combo. Driven by a terrific performance by Nina Foch, My Name Is Julia Ross is a tale of motive and identity. One of those great B movies, its ambitions and achievements ignore the budget in favor of a tight, creepy mystery. A girl answers an ad, she is introduced to the weird family, and we are off. (AFS: 7/14) - Louis Black
OPERATION PETTICOAT (1959)
D: Blake Edwards; with Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, Dina Merrill.
Dopes float. The movies have a long and treasured tradition of making comic mincemeat out of the military and, while it's no M*A*S*H, Operation Petticoat boasts some seriously funny moments. Submarine Commander Admiral Matt Sherman (Grant) is all patriotism and bearing and wisdom, his lieutenant Nick Holden (Curtis), all verve and audacity and flimflam. While their attitudes toward war and military life differ (Sherman is married to it and its rules, playboy Holden brings along his golf clubs), they both want their boat to float. So together they, along with their motley crew and a bevy of stranded Wave babe nurses, subvert orders and reconstitute their drydocked but beloved vessel, using bits of this and pieces of that, most notably a substantial woman's undergarment. I don't really recall a petticoat in the bunch, but then the title Operation Brassiere might have sunk the whole affair. Good thing it didn't. Luaus, sailors, the South Pacific, and Cary Grant. Whoever said "War is hell" obviously never took a ride on a pink submarine. (PAR: 6/20-21) - Hollis Chacona
THE TALL T (1957)
D: Budd Boetticher; with Randolph Scott, Richard Boone, Maureen O'Sullivan, Henry Silva.
The Westerns made in the Fifties are among the most complex and reflective in the genre, especially those by Budd Boetticher and Anthony Mann. Their Westerns are the transitional generic works that pave the way between John Ford and Sam Peckinpah, between Howard Hawks and Sergio Leone (and spaghetti Westerns in general). The evolutionary period that begins with Stagecoach goes through them before it ends up at Star Wars and Star Trek. Boetticher's Westerns are complex dramas in which the enormity of the landscape shrinks into itself, the vastness being sucked into whatever polluted pool of humans he is closely observing. Usually his films are tightly focused on the dynamics of a small group. In The Tall T the group is composed of Randolph Scott as the loner, Richard Boone as the gang leader, and Maureen O'Sullivan as the kidnap victim. Those are the ingredients, but what Boetticher does with them is so extraordinary. (AFS: 6/23)
- Louis Black
TOM JONES (1963)
D: Tony Richardson; with Albert Finney, Susannah York, Hugh Griffith.
That the British should have such a knack for the bawdy never ceases to amaze. England has a lengthy literary tradition of that low-down business, but still it just never seems like the British have it in them. The opening scenes of Tom Jones, structured like silent film, play heartily to the bawdy and poke fun at British decorum while also establishing the vaudevillian motif that helps make this film such a lark. Albert Finney is the "incorrigible hero" Tom Jones, the bastard son of servants who is raised as a gentleman by his parents' employers. Tom is an earnest, amorous, and devilish young lad who is urged by his stuffy superiors to become serious and to pray, "something," they tell him, "for which you have scant relish." Look Back in Anger playwright John Osborne adapted the Henry Fielding novel for the screen and Tony Richardson directed with verve the clever ensemble cast consisting of Hugh Griffith, Susannnah York, Edith Evans, and Joan Greenwood as the wicked wench Molly, who "never felt that one man was quite as good as two." (PAR: 6/25-26) - Claiborne Smith
TWO ENGLISH GIRLS (1972)
D: Francois Truffaut; with Jean-Pierre Léaud, Kika Markham, Stacey Tendeter.
When this film was released in 1971 in France and overseas, it was met with barely a blink of the eye. Truffaut was in the midst of what most critics and audiences considered an interminable slump (he had only one hit, Stolen Kisses, during the 12 years between Jules and Jim and Day for Night), and so Two English Girls was ignored accordingly. What few people realized then, and now, is that it marked the defining turning point in his career as a filmmaker. Here, he abandoned the expressionist romanticism that had infused his previous work for a melodramatic impressionism all his own - emotion is no longer whisked deliriously across the screen; it floats to the top in its own terms. While most often compared to Jules and Jim (both films deal with a ménage à trois and are based on novels by Roche), it has much more in common with Truffaut's The Story of Adele H: characters are given the whole of the cinematic space and then forced to confront every painstaking detail and consequence of their feelings, obsessions, and desires. The result is perhaps Truffaut's most morally centered love story, and one of his most accomplished masterpieces. (AFS: 6/30)
- Jerry Johnson
VIVA LAS VEGAS (1964)
D: George Sidney; with Elvis Presley, Ann-Margret.
Viva Las Vegas is arguably Elvis Presley's best Sixties musical. That qualifying statement still leaves 1958's King Creole as his best dramatic performance and 1957's Jailhouse Rock as his best Fifties musical. And that, overall, is not a bad record for the truck-driving Mississippi hillbilly who only aspired to be a singer. In this yeah-right script, Elvis is a race car driver (wasn't he always?) who heats up the screen with lusciously leggy Ann-Margret. Besides the showstopping theme song and Elvis' now-famous gyrations, Ann-Margret solidly earned her sex kitten status as she sings, shimmies, and shakes through enough costume changes to outfit a small dance company. Never mind the plot, though, just keep the popcorn bucket moving, as over-the-top performances on "Viva Las Vegas," "What'd I Say," and "The Yellow Rose of Texas" keep the camp factor high. And some people say Vegas ruined Elvis! (SP: 6/13) - Margaret Moser
WALK, DON'T RUN (1966)
D: Charles Walters; with Cary Grant, Samantha Eggar, Jim Hutton.
Hard to imagine Walk Don't Run was Cary Grant's final acting role but `tis true. This bit of fluff concerns housing shortages in Tokyo during the Sixties Olympics, which force Grant to share quarters with a young woman (Samantha Egger) creating predictable comic results but plenty of laughs. It's almost endearing how benignly rendered are the circumstances of two strangers crammed into a situation that today would be played with nothing but sexual innuendo. Throughout the general misadventures, the ever-charming Grant huffs and puffs his way through what became his final screen persona - the handsome, affable business/career man whose poised exterior usually hid a warm-hearted soul. Egger and Jim Hutton provide the usual good humor as co-stars but the film belongs - as it should - to the star. (PAR: 6/20-21) - Margaret Moser
WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (1951)
D: Rudolph Maté; with Richard Dere, Barbara Rush.
George Pal, he may not have been a testosterone junkie, but he sure knew what a cool rocketship looks like. Designed like some sort of Werner Von Braun wet dream, the rocket to perpetuate humanity is fantastic. You see, this film doesn't waste time with questions like "How can we stop the end of the world?" because it knows we can't. Instead, it deals with the issues of saving humanity. There can be no last-second prayer. No, it's coming and all the praying in the world ain't gonna do a damn bit of good. We're doomed. Yet it's a wildly uplifting film. Three billion die, but hey, life goes on. It's a George Pal film, but it's one with some chutzpah. Here we see humankind that knows it's the end, no nice, orderly traffic jams. Here a man will beat you to death with a baseball bat to stay alive an extra half second. This is a film where the elderly can be shot. This is a film where all the dogs die. This is George Pal's most serious film. War of the Worlds is his grandest; this has the most nerve. Here you will know what it is to live in the last days of man on earth. (PAR: 7/22-23) - Harry Knowles
THE WOMEN (1939)
D: George Cukor; with Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Joan Fontaine, Paulette Goddard.
The Women is so meticulously and exquisitely crafted that it transcends mere movie immortality and ascends into the realms of sublime divinity. If you're a queen, that is. Few people but the queens and other assorted malcontents really even care that this... this thing, this passion play of gowns, furs, Fifth Avenue, jewelry, more gowns, soignée parties, interiors and artifice, artifice, artifice, even exists. And the dialogue? Easily on the list of Top Five Movies With the Snappiest Dialogue. And, you know what else? There are no men in it. It's 132 minutes of pure mud-slinging, back-biting, shit-eating bitchiness, all dolled up in one tidy little litter box. Meow.
The roles are superbly cast from the saintly society matron of Norma Shearer to Rosalind Russell at her gum-snapping, wisecracking best, to Joan Crawford as the Bitch Queen Hussy of All Time. But the fact is that The Women is a secret plot by a few phenomenally gifted artists and designers to produce a basic-training film for young queens. It was so successful that, look around you, every queen you know in life today is represented in this movie. But it trains queens to be Real Women in every way, how to handle every situation like a real woman, how to speak, walk in heels, how to pose, how to live! Unfortunately for us all, however, women like this don't really exist. They are composite women in a world that never existed. And that's the problem with most queens, too. Anyway, it's glorious in its excesses, but be prepared - the lines fly by so fast, that only after multiple viewings, do you really hear the lines these women are saying to each other, and they are some of the wittiest, most sarcastic, and urbane lines ever written. In my personal video collection, it is Kweenie Klassix #1. In my life, it is God. (PAR: 6/30-7/1)
- Stephen Moser