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July 12-18, 2006

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This Week's Revivals

By Richard von Busack


Movie Times Adventures of Robin Hood/The Wizard of Oz
(1938/1939) Let's not get into a political thing, but this supposedly escapist evening at the movies might be on the piquant side, what with the Powers That Be and the Conditions That Prevail. The Adventures of Robin Hood is a bit slower than you remember, but it does have the definitive Sherwood Forest (played by the live oaks of Chico, Calif.) and Errol Flynn in his best role as a lithe, tough Robin, who "speaks treason fluently." Moreover, the film includes the 19-year-old Olivia de Havilland, making Natalie Portman look plain by comparison. BILLED WITH The Wizard of Oz. A movie that's life itself, for so many people on the outskirts of life. The Wizard of Oz is famous for the unquenchable yearning in Judy Garland's voice, for the witty Tin Pan Alley songs that never could have been written with such enviously easy panache if the composers had known what the film was going to mean to the world 50 years later. The Wizard of Oz is salted with pure horror: the winged monkeys and the disappearance of the Wicked Witch, achieved with a hydraulic elevator and a cloak full of dry-ice smoke. It exists beyond the usual standards of criticism, which is why critics tend not to write too much about it. (The critics of the day weren't kind, griping, as Otis Ferguson did, about Garland: "Her thumping, overgrown gambols are characteristic of its treatment here: when she is merry the house shakes, and everybody gets wet when she is lorn.") Still, The Wizard of Oz is one of those small categories of films where what's onscreen is immaterial to the reactions it rouses in those watching it: the hopes of escape, the misfit's aching memories of persecution and solitude. Deep down, I still prefer Goldfinger. (Plays Jul 14-17 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Double Indemnity
(1944) The deathless film version of James Cain's steel-trap mystery novel in which a hustling insurance salesman outsmarts himself, a heartless blonde loses an unwanted husband and a worn, fatherly little troll almost figures the scam out. It's an unusually graceful tale of murder directed by Billy Wilder with Barbara Stanwyck as the femme fatale Phyllis. Stanwyck—the most versatile of Hollywood studio leading ladies—excels in everything the role requires, from the harsh chemical allure, the salty dialogue and the serious-as-cancer underpinnings. Fred MacMurray is the perfect sucker who narrates the story from the edge of the grave; Edward G. Robinson plays his smart, sad boss, who gives him a light for his last cigarette. (Plays Jul 19 at sundown in San Jose at San Pedro Square; free; please, no outside food or drink.)

Movie Times A Hard Day's Night
(1964) Ironical pop stars George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and John Lennon are chased around England by their demented female fans. Director Richard Lester creates the modern style of the music video in stunt-film techniques designed for TV commercials—speed-up and slow-motion, ultra-close-ups juxtaposed with helicopter shots. It seems as if he were trying to make rock music itself visual, trying to show onscreen the tension between shout and murmur, chorus and verse: the call of the singer, the screaming response of the crowd. Ringo is the one I picked in the schoolyard game where you had to choose just one Beatle to be your friend for life. In one slow, thoughtful moment in this frantic film, Ringo walks off a hangover by an unclean canal on a Sunday morning, his ordinarily soulful face given that saintly look a hangover always gives you—my favorite passage in the film, though most prefer the glimpse of the plain blonde girl weeping her heart out over George. Youth won't endure, but chronic Beatlemania never dies. (Plays Jul 12 at sunset in San Jose at the Cinema San Pedro Square; free; please, no outside food or drink.)

Movie Times Orchestra Wives/The Great Waltz
(1942/1938) Newlywed trumpeter George Montgomery and his wife, Ann Rutherford, are dogged with gossip; the rest of the band thinks the horn player is dallying with a singer (Lynn Bari), but everything gets sorted out with the help of Glenn Miller, seen leading the band through "Chattanooga Choo Choo" and "Moonlight Serenade." Tex Beneke, whom I once waited on when I was bartending (he was a gent), sings his trademarked "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo." Cesar Romero shows off his Latin aplomb, and the show-stopping Nicholas Brothers turn up, too. BILLED WITH The Great Waltz. "I love the waltz, tho' it has its faltz."—San Jose's own Smothers Brothers. Julien Duvivier's version of the story of Johann Strauss (Fernand Gravey), his wife (Luise Rainer) and a pesky third party (Miliza Korjus), a last great cinematic celebration of Germanic culture before the trouble began Over There. (Plays Jul 18-20 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times San Francisco Silent Film Festival
Read article. (The festival plays Jul 14-16 at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco; see www.silentfilm.org for schedule details and ticket info.)

Movie Times Showgirls
(1995) Two of the biggest boobs in showbiz on display: director Paul Verhoeven and the one and only Joe Eszterhas, the latter who moved his kids to Ohio to get them away from the culture whose tone he'd worked so tirelessly to lower. Say it was meant as a joke now, but at the time of its release it was supposed to be the most devastatingly erotic film ever made, at least if you read the advance press and listened to the buzz. It features too much Elizabeth Berkley as the most bird-brained stripper in the history of cinema and not nearly enough Gina Gershon as a hell-kitten who turns into a mother pussy. The kind of movie Russ Meyer would have made if he'd been as soulless as the rest of them. (Plays Jul 13 at 9:30 at Los Gatos theater in Los Gatos, July 14 at midnight at Camera 7 in Campbell and July 15 at midnight at Camera 12 in San Jose, and round the clock for eternity in the only movie theater in hell.)

Movie Times The Story of Mankind/Raffles
(1957/1930) Disaster-movie king Irwin Allen starts his apocalyptic career with a suitably grand subject. After creation of a Super H Bomb, humanity stands ready to be judged worthy to continue its existence, with the Devil (Vincent Price) trying to gather his own and a celestial lawyer, "The Spirit of Mankind" (Ronald Colman), defending us humans. Stock-footage galore (mostly outtakes from Land of the Pharaohs) and an array of skits—Groucho bamboozling the Indians out of Manhattan; Harpo as a harp-playing Isaac Newton clobbered repeatedly by apples; Hedy Lamarr as Joan of Arc; Virginia Mayo as Cleopatra and Peter Lorre as Emperor Nero ("Burn, burn! My lovely Rome!"). "If the High Tribunal ever catches this picture, we're goners"—critic Philip K. Scheuer. A chimera once exclusively entertaining to deviants and drunkards at 4am on the late show, it is presented in a new 35 mm print. BILLED WITH Raffles. Colman stars as a gentleman safecracker called out of retirement to help a pal. A model for cat-burglar movies ever after; Kay Francis co-stars. (Plays Jul 12-13 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)


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