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April 25-May 1, 2007

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This Week's Revivals

By Richard von Busack


Movie Times Cabin in the Cotton/42nd Street
(1932/1933) Bette Davis as a patrician young lady of the South who becomes interested in a sharecropper (silent film hero Richard Barthlemess). Michael Curtiz directed. BILLED WITH 42nd Street. "The backstage musical par excellence," wrote Tony Thomas and Jim Terry in their book, The Busby Berkeley Musical. Here's the dialogue to prove it: (to Ruby Keeler's Peggy Sawyer, the understudy girl who takes over after the mean star breaks a leg) "Sawyer, you listen to me and you listen hard. Two hundred people, 200 jobs, 200,000 dollars, five weeks of grind and blood and sweat depend on you. It's the lives of all these people who've worked with you. You've got to go on and got to give, and give and give! They've got to like you, got to! You understand! Sawyer, you're going out a youngster, but you've got to come back a star!" The focus on the hard work of musical-making was Warner Bros.' province, and it fit in with the other socially conscious films they were creating at the studio. ("Inaugurating a New Deal in Entertainment," said the poster, emphasizing the political side of escapism like 42nd Street.) The theme was reprised a dozen times in different Warner Bros. films—powered with choreographer Berkeley's wheeling, marching and military drilling of chorus girls, and sweetened with the adorable but never cloying Ruby Keeler and her swain, Dick Powell. (Plays Apr 28-29 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times D.O.A./The Glass Key
(1950/1942) Luminous toxic matter from the peak of the film noir era. A heartless smoothie named Bigelow (Edmund O'Brien) goes to San Fran for a week to get the hell away from his encircling girlfriend Paula (Pamela Britton). The decadent city is slammed with drunk salesmen up for Market Week, rumbaing the night away. At a party, Bigelow gets one cocktail too many—the poisoned kind. He has to figure out who slipped him the murderous drink before time runs out. Director Rudolph Mate, working at top-speed, makes the contrast between the good and evil sides of life as stark as the difference between Saturday night and Sunday morning. And evil wins, handily. The sweaty jive-club, the bizarre women, the streetscapes of vanished Hollywood and Market Street, and the haunted corridors of the Bradbury Building add up to phenomenal visual excitement. Mate's characters include renegade Armenians—a gang run by Luther Adler, brother of famed acting teacher Stella. The big man keeps a terrific psycho on a slippery leash. Chester, he is called, so schizoid that he can only refer to himself in the second person; he's played by Neville Brand, looking like Lon Chaney warmed over. The score by Dmitri Tiomkin includes orchestration for wolf whistles; it's so het-up that a blind man could follow the action. The serious angst underneath the nightmare plot is a man's fear of being tied down by marriage, and thus it keeps rare company on the male angst front with North by Northwest, Rear Window and Vertigo. BILLED WITH The Glass Key. Dashiell Hammett's political noir is the story of a bent city boss (Brian "The Great McGinty" Donlevy) helped out of a jam by his assistant (Alan Ladd). Veronica Lake co-stars as a senator's daughter. (Plays Apr 25-27 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times To Kill a Mockingbird
(1962) Gregory Peck's best-known role as a lawyer (and single father of two) in the South defending a black man (Brock Peters) accused of rape; Robert Duvall made his debut as the soft-witted Boo Radley. (Plays Apr 28 at 10 am at the Century 20 in Daly City.)


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