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June 20-26, 2007

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This Week's Revivals

By Richard von Busack


Movie Times Airplane!
(1980) The annual series of outdoor free screenings known as Cinema San Pedro begins with an inspired, 1,000-joke burlesque of a bunch of doomed-flight movies, from the Airport series to less-well-remembered white-knucklers like Zero Hour and Fate Is the Hunter. Airplane! spawned a litter of terrible satires, but this original has Robert Stack, Peter Graves and Leslie Nielsen parodying the strong-jawed characters that previously made their fortunes. Everyone has a favorite joke in this one: mine is the parody of Helen Reddy's singing-nun bit in Airport 1975, with an actual Peter, Paul and Mary song used to make matters worse. (Plays Jun 20 at sundown in San Pedro Square in San Jose. Bring a lawn chair.)

Movie Times Bells Are Ringing/Desk Set
(1954/1957) There were many authentic dumb blondes in the movies, but Judy Holliday wasn't one of them. The yellow hair was supposedly her own, as was the fluffy name—a translation of her birth name, Judith Tuvic ("Tuvic" means "holiday" in Hebrew). 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 (Singin' in the Rain). In the Comden/Green musical Bells Are Ringing, her last film, Holliday plays an answering-service owner who falls for the terminally debonair Dean Martin. Songs include "Just in Time" and "The Party's Over." BILLED WITH Desk Set. Spencer Tracy plays a computer designer who seems ready to put a reference librarian (Katharine Hepburn) out of business. Gig Young and Joan Blondell co-star in this romantic comedy about the early effects of automation. (Plays Jun 22-24 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times High Fidelity
(2000) John Cusack stars as an overgrown boy in Chicago—an inspired substitution for the London of the Nick Hornby novel, the city of big shoulders instead of the city of cold shoulders. Running a secondhand record store, our antihero is still immersed in his dreams of music and unable to connect with real women. The sublime soundtrack includes a lot of tasty and obscure indie pop. (Plays Jun 22 at midnight in Campbell at Camera 7, and Jun 23 at midnight in San Jose at Camera 12.)

Movie Times Long Day's Journey Into Night
(1962) The source is Eugene O'Neill's semiautobiographical play about the breakdown of his family—through addiction, through lies, through Catholic guilt, through fatal infatuation with lost dreams. Sidney Lumet's incisive film version still has the power to wound, 45 years later. Katharine Hepburn has one of her two or three best roles as Mary, the opium-addicted mother. She takes the strong, well-bred New England ladies she used to play and skins them alive to reveal the bundle of nerves and hysteria underneath. Jason Robards, who was to O'Neill what Olivier was to Shakespeare, is the gravelly voice of the 20th century shouting down the last one. Ralph Richardson—who excelled at portraying deluded, covert little men—plays the pasteboard legend of a father, a once promising actor who turned himself into a theatrical hack. The little brother (Dean Stockwell), catalyzes the moments when the various acting styles don't hang together—even as the Tyrones hang onto each other for dear life. One of the most tragic and least self-indulgent visions of a family as a self-mutilating machine and often very funny: Hepburn's voice throbbing like a cheap politician as she mock-swears off morphine, Robards putting all the necessary raunch into the phrase "If you can't be good ... be careful!", and Richardson pronouncing the enabler's creed, regarding drunkenness: "It's a good man's failing." (Plays Jun 21-22 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Niles Essanay Film Museum
Weekly screenings of silent movies. Tonight: A Western Redemption (1911) starring Bronco Billy Anderson; The Loafer (1912), The Sheriff's Wife (1913) The Loafer's Mother (1912) The Shotgun Ranchman (1912) and The Sheriff's Wife: the last two filmed locally in Niles. Frederick Hodges at the piano; a relative of tonight's featured director Arthur Mackley is expected to attend. (Plays Jun 23 at 7:30 in Fremont at the Museum's Edison Theater, 27417 Niles Boulevard. www.nilesfilmmuseum.org.)

Movie Times North by Northwest
(1959) The grandfather of the James Bond adventures, with ever-traveling hero, gentlemanly villain and untrustworthy woman—and smashing set pieces scored to ominous music (by Bernard Herrmann). When an ad man (Cary Grant) stands up at the wrong moment at the Plaza Hotel, he's mistaken for an American superagent. He is pursued by the spymaster Van Damm (James Mason at his silkiest). The movie summed up Alfred Hitchcock's American films, according to the director. It is a surreal version of the pioneer's American journey, full of frontier tall-tale elements: from the Temperance fantasy of the city villains who force you to drink to the perilous train trip to the prairies, where a single biplane stands in for thousands of locusts. (Plays Jun 27 at 8:45pm in Redwood City at Courthouse Square; free.)

Movie Times Rear Window
(1954) Photographer L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart) is laid up in a wheelchair in his studio apartment, recovering from a broken leg. One day, he sees evidence in a neighboring apartment that a husband has murdered his wife. The movie's boundlessly clever techniques come to a terrifically simple point: In an instant, Jefferies is transformed from a watcher to a watched, the focus of all eyes in his courtyard. This gorgeous Hitchcock thriller boasts a strong subplot about a man who has had one leg in a trap for weeks and is anxious not to get the other one caught. He is under pressure to marry his affluent girlfriend, Lisa (Grace Kelly). Raymond Burr was never better than he was as hulking Lars Thorwald—no diabolical killer but a shabby, depressed man with gold-rimmed spectacles. (Plays Jun 27 at sundown in San Jose at San Pedro Square; free; www.cinequest.org)


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