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August 9-15, 2006

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This Week's Revivals

By Richard von Busack


Movie Times Everybody Sing/Thoroughbreds Don't Cry
(1938/1937) A theatrical family on the skids (Reginald Owen and Billie "Glinda" Burke) is bailed out by a talent show, thrown by their servants (one of whom is Fanny "Funny Girl" Brice). BILLED WITH Thoroughbreds Don't Cry. Judy Garland's first top-billed film, and her first with Mickey Rooney. A racetrack story, with renunciation in it, as well as white blues singer Sophie Tucker. (Plays Aug 22-24 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Ghostbusters
(1984) How could Ivan Reitman have gone from this comedy hit to the dog-egg that is My Super Ex-Girlfriend? Easy: See how sketchily put together this hit is and envision a sloppily failure to come 20 years later. Pro: the lissome Sigourney Weaver, the frightening Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, the furtive Rick Moranis and Bill Murray's blissful sneakiness. Con: Ernie Hudson, practically wearing a T-shirt that says "Black Sidekick," who has the dreary task of occult-proofing the movie for the Bible Belt. ("I like Jesus' style," he exclaims, apropos of nothing.) And then there's Ray Parker's criminally repetitious theme song, a penicillin-resistant earache of the day. (Plays Aug 16 in San Jose at sunset in San Pedro Square; free; please, no outside food or drink.)

Movie Times Girl Crazy/Listen, Darling
(1943/1938) Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland's eighth film together. Sick of his playboy son's constant canoodling, a wealthy dad packs the runt (Mickey Rooney) off to an all-boys school in Arizona, but the dean of the school has a spunky daughter named Ginger (Garland), and when the school turns up broke, they put on a show to raise funds. The dynamic duo work through the Gershwin brothers catalogue: "Embracable You," "But Not for Me," "I Got Rhythm." The laster is performed as a musical rodeo—two types of cruelty for PETA members who hate showtunes. The late June Allyson co-stars, and she and Rooney duet on "Treat Me Rough." The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra turns up. Busby Berkeley directed the musical numbers; Guy Kibbee, avatar of Elmer Fudd, co stars. BILLED WITH Listen, Darling. Mary Astor and Walter Pidgeon are a couple that need to get together, but they're too blind to see it. Enter Judy Garland, who prompts them with "Zing, Went the Strings of My Heart." Alan Hale is the movie's Ralph Bellamy, and the excellent kid actor Freddie Bartholomew tags along. (Plays Aug 15-17 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times High Noon/Love in the Afternoon
(1952/1957) The question of pacifism gets a (slight) hearing, right before the audience's age-old demand for violence has its way, as it always does and always will. Gary Cooper plays the newly retired Marshall Kane, his back against a wall as three criminals arrive on the noon train. Grace Kelly plays the marshall's Quaker wife. The action unfolds in real time, which adds to the tension. Cooper's ill-at-easeness complements the ideological questions. Note how Dirty Harry borrowed the last shot (in another ideologically tormented time, 20 years later). BILLED WITH Love in the Afternoon. An awkward farce about a Parisian private detective (Maurice Chevalier) whose music-student daughter is courting an infamous seducer (Gary Cooper). From the opening sequence, a parody of TV's Dragnet ("This is the city, Paris"), it's plain that director Billy Wilder wasn't responding to the Paris of the time, despite the extensive location work. The film is a pastiche of the movie-studio Paris of Wilder's early Paramount works of the 1930s, which is why the film has an intolerable airlessness. Worst, Wilder's star, a dying Cooper, is also trying to reach back into his past: clad in a tuxedo and smoking the cigarettes that were killing him, he tries to recall the ritzy handsomeness and sophistication that director Frank Capra rubbed off him irrevocably. Lighted to spare his age and his gauntness, Cooper looks like a ghost. It's a good thing that Audrey Hepburn is aboard to give this feeble film some beauty and energy. She sports a loose coiffure that's more youthful, even, than the gamine cut she made famous. The well-known bal musette tune "Fascination" was popularized by this movie. (Plays Aug 19-21 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

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 (Bernard Herrmann), music that's like a whole separate layer of the film. When an ad man stands up at the wrong moment at the Plaza Hotel, he's mistaken for one Irving Kaplan, an American superagent; from this point on he's pursued by agents of the spymaster Van Damm (James Mason at his silkiest). The movie summed up Alfred Hitchcock's American films, according to the director. Those sniffing around the subtext of Hitch can find some meat in the Taming of the Squire sequences, in which the suave ad man, Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant), gets treated like a trick who won't leave by Eva Marie Saint. But mostly, the film is a surreal version of the pioneers' 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 Aug 23 at sundown in San Jose at Cinema San Pedro; free; please, no outside food or drink.)

Movie Times Safety Last
(1923) The Boy (Harold Lloyd) leaves Great Bend and heads to the city. He sends back letters boasting of his accomplishments at a department store. Actually, he is a yardage clerk, and his efforts to hide this humble position get him into trouble. Having built this tower of lies, he ends up obliged to climb it. Hal Roach co-wrote Safety Last, and it has its crude side—more than a couple of black and Jew jokes intrude. But the gags about the maddeningly formal life in department stores are well observed: one wealthy dame is said to be shocked by the sight of Lloyd's shirt sleeves. And the finale is Lloyd's best-known scene, an example of the interior logic of silent comedy, in which it is only natural that a lion might be prowling a skyscraper. The action is built around the famous clock-tower scene—which Spider-Man 2 references, since who is Peter Parker if not the latest version of Lloyd's "specs character"? The clock has two hands, but Lloyd only had 1 1/2, since he had been maimed in a prop explosion years before. Chris Elliot at the Stanford's Wurlitzer. (Plays Aug 18 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)


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