Recommendations for the Week of 1/26/07

Noir City, Castro, Friday through Sunday, February 4. I’m not highlighting any one particular movie here–I haven’t seen any of them. I’m just reminding you of 10 rare, black and white, 35mm double bills showing off the bleakest of Hollywood filmmaking.

Show People, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 3:00. We remember Marion Davies, if we remember her at all, as William Randolph Hearst’s mistress and the inspiration for Citizen Kane’s talentless second wife. But King Vidor’s 1928 backstage-in-Hollywood comedy proves her a considerable talent. The story of knockabout slapstick versus self-consciously arty cinema must have seemed all too autobiographical to Davies, a talented comedienne whose lover and benefactor wanted to show off her class. Part of UC’s Film 50: History of Cinema class, Show People will screen with piano accompaniment by Bruce Loeb.

Some Like It Hot, Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 7:30. Maybe this isn’t, as the American Film Institute called it, the greatest American film comedy yet made. But Billy Wilder’s farce about desperate musicians, vicious gangsters, and straight men in drag definitely belongs in the top 20. And its closing line has never been beat. Part of David Thomson’s A Thousand Decisions In the Dark series.

Ninotchka, Pacific Film Archive, Garbo’s first comedy and penultimate film is sweet, charming, romantic, and very funny. It also nails perfectly the absurdities of Communism–still well respected by many Americans in 1939. As Garbo’s character points out, “The last mass trials were a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians.” But what else would you expect when Ernst Lubitsch directs a screenplay by Billy Wilder? Part of the Archive’s Lubitsch Touch series.

Psycho, Cerrito, Friday through Thursday. Contrary to urban myth, Alfred Hitchcock didn’t really want people to stop taking showers. He was, however, inspired by the television show he was then producing to make a low-budget movie in black and white. The last film in the Cerrito Classics‘ Alfred Hitchcock series.

Singin’ in the Rain, Stanford, Friday through Sunday. In 1952, the late twenties were a fond memory of an innocent time, and nostalgia was a large part of Singin’ in the Rain’s appeal. The nostalgia is gone now, and we can clearly see this movie for what it is: the greatest musical ever filmed, and perhaps the best work of pure escapist entertainment to ever come out of Hollywood. Take out the songs, and you have one of the best comedies of the 1950’s, and the funniest movie Hollywood ever made about itself. But take out the songs, and you take out the best part. On a double bill with An American in Paris.

Casino Royale, Elmwood, opens Friday. The best James Bond flick since From Russia With Love, in large part because it doesn’t feel like a James Bond flick. (In fact, to a large degree, it feels like a James Bond book. And the book it feels like is, amazingly enough, Casino Royale.) Instead of gadgets, countless babes, wit, and incredible cool, you get a well-made and gritty thriller with several great action sequences (and a couple of babes). It just so happens that the protagonist, a newly-promoted, borderline psychotic government agent with a huge chip on his shoulder, is named Bond…James Bond.

The Departed, Lark, opening Friday. Alfred Hitchcock once said he didn’t mind plot holes as long as they went unnoticed until the audience was driving home. That’s exactly how my wife and I reacted to Martin Scorsese’s all-star remake of the Hong Kong police thriller Infernal Affairs. As long we were in the theater, Scorsese’s intense police thriller about two undercover moles–one a cop pretending to be a gangster, the other a gangster pretending to be a cop–riveted our eyes to the screen. Talking about the movie on the way home, the problems kept coming up. But Hitchcock was right. The Departed carries you along like a river, offering fascinating characters portrayed by some of the biggest and most talented male stars around, moral ambiguity, graphic violence, and surprising plot twists that heighten the suspense. So what if it’s full of holes. This is Scorsese’s least ambitious, and his best, film in years.