Strauss, Powell, Leone, and Eastwood: Sunday evening at the Pacific Film Archive

I really wish the Pacific Film Archive allowed eating. When you go to two movies, the first starting at 5:00, hunger can become a problem.

And yet I managed it Sunday afternoon/evening. I saw two very different movies, both by filmmakers I respect. Both were in scope, and presented in 35mm prints.

Other than that, they were entirely different.

Oh…Rosalinda!!

This is an Archer production, meaning it was written and directed by Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell. Their work includes Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, and one of my all-time favorites, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, you know what I’m talking about. [Note: I corrected this paragraph on November 20, 2016.]

But this is as far from Carol Reed’s location-shot, noir Vienna as Goodfellas is to Singin’ in the Rain. Oh…Rosalinda was shot entirely on London soundstages, and makes no attempt to look realistic. The sets often appear to be from a stage production.

And that’s absolutely appropriate for this light-as-a-feather musical comedy about adultery and mistaken identity. Yes, the movie entertains, but the absolute refusal to take anything seriously has an alienating effect. Sometimes doing something new and daring doesn’t work.

This was Pressburger and Powell’s first widescreen movie, shot in Cinemascope. They clearly had fun with the wide aspect ratio, but that’s pretty much all they do with it. They rarely use it to tell us something about the place or characters.

I give it a B.

The PFA screened a rare, imported 35mm print in very good condition. With the beautiful music, I often wished that they could have presented it with the original four-track stereo mix (a standard for Cinemescope in 1955). Alas, even if such a print survives, I doubt the PFA had the out-of-date equipment to play it.

Senior Film Curator Susan Oxtoby introduced the film. She told us that next Saturday, David Thomson (who curated the Vienna series) will give a 4:30 lecture before the 5:30 screening of Lola Montez, that the Stanford will soon have its own Thomson-involved Vienna series, and that the PFA has a Pressberger/Powell coming up later this year.

A Fistful of Dollars

I first saw Sergio Leone’s rip-off of Yojimbo on Laserdisc in the early 1990’s. I thought it was a weak Xerox copy of the original. Now that I have seen it again, this time in 35mm on the big screen, my opinion has changed. It’s a pretty good but inferior variation of the original.

This was Leone’s second film as a director, and his first western. More than any other individual movie, it created the so-called spaghetti western trend.

The story is almost identical to Kurosawa’s original. A lone man, incredibly talented at killing, wanders into a small down in the middle of nowhere. The town is torn apart between rival gangs, so the lone man offers his services to one gang and then the other, playing them against each other. Most of the characters and many of the scenes have exact analogs in the original.

But this time, it’s set in northern Mexico. No one has a sword, and everybody has a gun. Eastwood’s Man with No Name shoots and kills four men in what feels like a second.

A Fistful of Dollars provides reasonable entertainment, mixing action, suspense and comedy. Leone doesn’t sermonize like Kurosawa, which may be a good thing.

The 35mm print has some specks—especially at the beginning and end of reels. It was quite grainy, and always has been. You have to expect that from a 1960s film shot in the small-frame/widescreen Techniscope format. But otherwise, it looked fine.

Chronologically, A Fistful of Dollars sits between the Kurosawa masterpiece that inspired it, and Leone’s later masterpieces. In quality, it sits well below either of them, but offers a promise of better work to come. I give it a B.

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