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12.19.07

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This Week's Revivals

By Richard von Busack


Movie Times An American in Paris/Singin' in the Rain
(1951/1952) The Gershwin score is the salient feature of the Gene Kelly/Leslie Caron musical An American in Paris, which introduced America to French impressionism. BILLED WITH Singin' in the Rain, which is much closer to perfection. It is a wise-guy parody of the early days of sound film, with Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor conniving to help a pretty but squawky actress (Jean Hagen) make the technical leap into sound. Hagen's comic relief is deathless; no one will forget her Ode to a Movie Star's Sacrifice: "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'." Includes Gene Kelly's remarkable water dance, a city wiseacre's point of view and some fascinating young women: Cyd Charisse and Debbie Reynolds. (Plays Dec 19-20 in downtown San Jose at the California Theatre.) (RvB)

Movie Times It's a Wonderful Life
(1946) The Stanford Theater's annual screening of the holiday favorite spreads to another venue, the beautiful California Theatre in San Jose. In Palo Alto, it sells out, so advance tickets are advised. By its popularity, this film reveals what people truly think of Christmas: in brief, that it is a guilt-haunted festival honoring the longest night of the year, in which anxieties about money and the future prey upon the mind. Frank Capra's based-on-a-pamphlet fable is animated by James Stewart's kindliness as self-sacrificing George Bailey, who decides to take his own life when he is ruined by a chortling banker (Lionel Barrymore). Bailey is saved by a silly apprentice angel (Henry Travers) who decides to show him what the world would be like without him. If the film alternates moments of film-noir clarity with more typical Capra clowning, remember that Dorothy Parker, Clifford Odets and Dalton Trumbo were among the hands that sanded up the screenplay. McBride notes that Trumbo's version had Bailey as a suicidal politician who had gone corrupt: "He was his own Potter." The movie has smothered such self-doubts and fantasies of celestial redemption, in such a way as to eventually make it the most American Christmas movie ever. (Plays Dec 24 in San Jose at the California Theatre, 245 S. First St, and in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.) (RvB)

Movie Times Niles Essanay Film Museum
Regularly scheduled programs of silent movies. Police (1916) starring Charlie Chaplin. Just out of jail, Charlie has to deal with a no-good preacher. The Playhouse (1921) Describing this film, Buster Keaton told Kenneth Brownlow: "I played all the parts. With double exposures, I'm the whole orchestra. I'm the people in all the boxes, in the audience, on the stage. I bought a ticket from myself. ... I was deliberately kidding most of the guys in motion pictures, especially a guy by the name of [Thomas] Ince. At the front of his pictures it would say, "Thomas Ince presents Hemstitching on the Mexican Border. Written by Thomas H. Ince. Directed by Thomas H. Ince. This is a Thomas H. Ince production." Never Weaken (1921) Harold Lloyd. Driven to suicide, The Boy dies and goes to heaven. Or so he thinks. Double Whoopie (1929) stars Laurel and Hardy as hotel doormen who have a rough time of it, though one of the guests (Jean Harlow) gets it worst. Greg Pane at the piano. (Plays Dec 22 in Fremont at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, 37417 Niles Blvd; www.nilesfilmmuseum.org.) (RvB)

Movie Times The Shop Around the Corner/The Bishop's Wife
(1940/1947) The first is among the best movies ever made. Why does this false version of Eastern Europe, assembled at the MGM studio in Culver City, seem so easy to believe? The Shop Around the Corner is a comedy without Budapest location photography, yet Ernst Lubitsch's direction makes Magyars out of Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. Stewart plays Alfred Kralik, the best salesclerk at Matuschek and Company, a small notions store. A woman he thought was a customer, Klara Novak (Sullavan), turns out to be just another job seeker in a city full of them. The rivalry between the two clerks is the backbone of the story, yet the film is actually a heavenly romance. Lubitsch was bold to make a Christmas movie about retail work—a reminder of how love and generosity must fight for a place amid pestering customers, sagging sales and mandatory overtime. BILLED WITH The Bishop's Wife. Whether it's a more restrained angel movie, or whether it's Cary Grant who's playing the angel in question, The Bishop's Wife is a rare intelligent exception to the sappy angel-movie breed, with Grant coming to spiritually revive a bishop (David Niven) who is more interested in worldly matters than in his business as a soul savior. Loretta Young plays the wife, who takes a more than religious interest in the celestial visitor. (Plays Dec 21-23 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.) (RvB)

Movie Times The Sound of Music
(1964) That precious Julie Andrews ditches her career as a nun and nannies a family of singing Teutonic children over the Alps. This much-honored Rodgers and Hammerstein musical was proclaimed as the movie the 1960s would be remembered by. It is remembered—among other things as an object lesson in how popular doesn't equal great. There are some touches of class: the introduction of "Climb Evr'y Mountain" is a real sucker punch, with the Mother Abbess (Peggy Wood) commencing it sideways to the camera. Song titles like "The Lonely Goatherd" are obviously from a more innocent time. (Plays Dec 25-27 in downtown San Jose at the California Theatre.) (RvB)

Movie Times The Wizard of Oz/Miracle on 34th Street
(1939/1947) A movie that is 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 and 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. It exists beyond the usual standards of criticism, which is why critics tend not to write too much about it. Still, The Wizard of Oz belongs in that small category of films where what is 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. BILLED WITH Miracle on 34th Street. Edmund Gwenn plays an old department-store Santa who is convinced that he's the real Santa Claus; Natalie Wood co-stars as a little girl who believes his tale. (Plays Dec 21-23 in downtown San Jose at the California Theatre.) (RvB)


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