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June 14-20, 2006

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This Week's Revivals


Movie Times Bells Are Ringing
(1960) There were many authentic dumb blondes in the movies, but Judy Holliday wasn't one of them. She was probably the brainiest of all actresses to put on the curls and negligee of the blonde clown. Holiday began as a cabaret comedian, whose partners were Betty Comden and the late Adolph Green, partners on Singin' in the Rain. In the Comden/Green musical Bells Are Ringing, her last film before she succumbed to breast cancer, she plays an answering-service owner who falls for the terminally debonair Dean Martin. Songs include "Just in Time" and "The Party's Over." (Plays Jun 18-20 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.) (Richard von Busack)

Movie Times Champagne for Caesar
(1950) Demonstrating Nabokov's comment that "nothing is more exhilarating than philistine vulgarity," this very S. J. Perelmanesque film casts Ronald Colman as Beauregard Bottomley, a lounging Mr. Know-it-all, swept into the TV quiz-show racket. The show's host is played by the professional child-pesterer Art Linkletter, whose usual oddity is only sharpened by a Pagliacci hat he wears on his broadcasts. Colman gets the zinger about Linkletter: "I feel I know personally every one of his teeth." The most amusing part of this energetic and sophisticated comedy is Vincent Price. Price has one of the juiciest, most fragrant comedy roles as the megalomaniac chief of the Milady Soap Company, who keeps busts of Napoleon and Caesar on his desk. But the title actually refers to a talking parrot, Bottomley's pet, who keeps pleading for strong drink. (Plays Jun 14-17 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.) (RvB)

Movie Times Harold and Maude
(1971) Locally shot cult film about a wealthy but morbid young eccentric (Bud Cort) who caps his love affair with death by romancing an elderly bohemian (Ruth Gordon). There was a time when two tickets to this and a marijuana cigarette counted as a date. How well it has aged (along with its Cat Stevens score) may depend on when you first saw it. Unlike many hippie films, it's still remembered fondly, probably because it was well aware of an aura of doom that was already clouding over the flower-people's skies. Probably, it's easier for more people to critique a childhood toy than to evaluate this movie without emotion, but its lasting popularity says it all. (Like so many cult films, it was a flop in its time; Gordon claimed that it took 20 years for her to get any royalties from it.) (Plays Jun 14 at sunset in San Jose at San Pedro Square; www.cinequest.org.) (RvB)

Movie Times Kiki
(1926) Norma Talmadge stars as a hustling gamine who longs to be a stage actress; her clambering disturbs the orderly world of a Parisian producer. Clarence Brown directs. Recently restored by the Library of Congress. Jim Riggs at the Stanford's Wurlitzer. (Plays Jun 17-18 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.) (RvB)

Movie Times Kismet
(1944) Exactly what Edward Said meant by "Orientalism." Ronald Colman plays Hafiz, a beggar and magician of Baghdad who romances the mistress of a dangerous Grand Vizier (Edward Arnold). Memorable especially as the movie where Marlene Dietrich was covered from tip to toe with gold paint, some years before Shirley Eaton tried it. (Plays Jun 21-23 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.) (RvB)

Movie Times Kismet
(1955) "Don't underestimate Baghdad!" Dolores Gray's ripe Dinah Shore impersonation in the recently DVD'd It's Always Fair Weather is one of the high points of the Arthur Freed era at MGM. Here the sleek and cheeky Gray plays Lalume, bored wife of an obese Wazir (Sebastian Cabot) in ancient Baghdad. Her greeting of the pompous tub ("Salaam, my exalted husband") shows how tired she is "of my so-called marriage" and how ready she is to take up with an impudent beggar (Howard Keel, baritone voice and facetious manner) who has just the right kind of patter. The paper moon and plaster minaret, peacocks and monkey-laden production suggest that the "Oasis of Delightful Imaginings" that Lalume wants to leave for is Las Vegas. Kismet is halfway to operetta, thanks to the juveniles, groaner Vic Damone and the sassless Ann Blyth warbling in unison on the Borodin-derived "Stranger in Paradise," an inescapable hit of the day. In his memoirs, Vincente Minnelli claimed the studio blackmailed him into directing Kismet in exchange for getting to make Lust for Life. He should have confessed that he had a little fun with the old warhorse. The best thing to do is to wait for Gray and Keel, the latter rolling his eyes in sarcasm when the ancient Arab-movie bit about the two halves of the matching amulet turns up. (Happily, the long-lost father who owns the other half of the medallion gets thrown straight into a dungeon.) (Plays Jun 18-20 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.) (RvB)

Movie Times My Life With Caroline
(1941) Neglect your wife (Anna Lee) and don't be surprised if she starts making spaniel eyes at an Argentinean pilot (Gilbert Roland); Ronald Colman, as a distracted publisher, tries to free his flirtatious wife from these and other foreign entanglements. A pooch by all accounts, it was the kind of film that gave rise to the wartime joke about RKO: if there was a Japanese bombing raid, the studio was the place to hide, because they hadn't had a hit in years. (Plays Jun 14-16 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.) (RvB)

Movie Times The Princess Bride
(PG; 98 min.) Despite Christopher Guest and his Castillian accent—and it's quite an accent. Despite Andre the Giant and his posse, despite the way my brothers and sister (Renaissance Faire fans all four) adore this. And despite even Peter Falk's warmth in the framing sequences. Despite it all, this movie has always seemed to me about as genuine as Billy Crystal, as deep as Rob Reiner, as unaffectedly natural as Mandy Patinkin and as original as the talent of William "The Recycler" Goldman, the man who wrote it. Hate mail can be directed to the usual address, but this isn't a movie for fans of the writer Angela Carter or the actor Errol Flynn, and director Peter Jackson has twice demonstrated how this kind of fairy tale can be told with respect for its essential power, instead of buttering it up with schmaltz. (Plays Jun 15 at 9:30pm at the Los Gatos Cinema, Jun 16 at midnight at Camera 7 in Campbell and Jun 17 at midnight in San Jose at Camera 12.) (RvB)

Movie Times Saturday Night Fever
See story.

Movie Times The Unholy Garden
(1931) This sounds dainty: Ronald Colman stars as a lamming bank robber who roosts in an Algerian quagmire with other lost souls: a German military turncoat (Ullrich Haupt), a murdering doctor (Lawrence Grant) who uses his wife's skull as a tobacco jar, and an ancient French embezzler with a large hidden fortune and a nubile daughter (Fay Wray). Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur cooked it up, in one night—or so they boasted. (Plays Jun 21-24 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.) (RvB)


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