What’s Screening: July 29 – August 4

It’s quite a week for vintage cinema in Bay Area theaters. Both Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin will screen (and not on the same day). There are films from Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, William Wyler, Sam Fuller, Christopher Nolan, and the Wachowskis.


Double bills

A- Beat the Devil (1953) & B- Sabrina (1954), Stanford, Saturday & Sunday

Beat the Devil: John Huston’s strange crime comedy goes from Italy to Africa to a very bad boat. Peter Lorre casually offers a short monolog on the meaning of time. Jennifer Jones keeps winning chess games without even trying. And the whole thing is very entertaining.
I can only give Billy Wilder’s SabrinaB-. While Audrey Hepburn romances a miscast Humphrey Bogart, the movie floats along, nice and friendly, occasionally funny, never challenging, and moving towards a resolution as predictable as a full moon.

Theatrical revivals

A+ The Gold Rush (1925), BAMPFA, Thursday, 7:00pm

Free and outdoors! In this epic comic adventure, Chaplin’s tramp travels through the frozen Yukon of the Alaskan gold rush, gets marooned in a cabin with two much stronger men, nearly starves to death, nearly becomes dinner, and falls in love with a dancehall girl who scarcely knows he exists. Within this seemingly serious story, you’ll find some of Chaplin’s funniest set pieces, including the Thanksgiving dinner of boiled shoe, the dance of the rolls, and my favorite: the fight over the rifle that always points at Charlie. Read my Blu-ray Review.

A+ Rear Window (1954), Stanford, Friday, 7:30pm

Alfred Hitchcock at his absolute best! James Stewart is riveting as a news photographer temporarily confined to his apartment and a wheelchair, amusing himself by spying on his neighbors (none of whom he knows) and guessing at the details of their lives. Then he begins to suspect that one of them committed murder. As he and his girlfriend (Grace Kelly) investigate, it slowly dawns on us – but not on them – that they’re getting into some pretty dangerous territory. Hitchcock uses this story to examine voyeurism, urban alienation, and the institution of marriage, as well as treating his audience to great entertainment. Read my A+ Appreciation. On a Hitchcock double bill with To Catch a Thief!

A Seven Chances (1925), Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Saturday, 7:00pm

This Buster Keaton silent feature is one of the strongest laugh machines in existence. Watch it with an audience and you’ll have very few moments to not laugh. Keaton plays a girl-shy stockbroker who’s facing bankruptcy and possibly prison if he can’t get married within a few hours. The picture climaxes with what’s easily the greatest comic chase I have ever seen. Warning: It contains racist humor that was acceptable in the 1920s. But a few cringe-inducing scenes are worth it for the many laughs. Jon Mirsalis provides live accompaniment on the keyboard. Read my Blu-ray review. Part of the Broncho Billy & Friends Silent Film Festival.

A Pickup on South Street (1953), BAMPFA, Friday, 7:00

This Cold War noir stars Richard Widmark as a pickpocket who lifts the wrong wallet on a crowded subway. The wallet’s owner (Jean Peters) has no idea that it contains a piece of microfilm with important government secrets. She’s merely a dupe of Communist agents. The US government, of course, is also after this valuable piece of celluloid. One hell of an exciting story. Read my Blu-ray review. Part of the series From the Front Page to the Front Lines: The Essential Sam Fuller.

A Memento (2000), Balboa, Friday, 9:30pm

Before he started making Batman movies, Christopher Nolan created one low-budget, terrific thriller. Guy Pearce is a man bent on identifying, and then killing, the man who murdered his wife. But due to a brain injury, he can’t hold a memory long – making him dangerous to himself and others. The film is told mostly from end to start, so that like the protagonist, you don’t know what just happened.

A Casino Royale (2006), Balboa, Tuesday, 7:30pm

The best James Bond flick since From Russia With Love, in large part because it doesn’t feel like a James Bond flick. 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 newly-promoted protagonist is a borderline psychotic government agent with a huge chip on his shoulder. And his name is named Bond – James Bond.

A- The Steel Helmet (1951), BAMPFA, Wednesday, 7:00pm

A great war movie doesn’t need a big budget. The Steel Helmet starts with one gruff sergeant trapped behind enemy lines, with a hole in his helmet. Only a few GIs join him as they struggle to find safety and their common humanity. This was set during the Korean War, which was still raging when the film came out. Writer/director Sam Fuller fought through World War II, and knew what men did in wartime. Also, part of the series From the Front Page to the Front Lines: The Essential Sam Fuller.

A- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), New Mission, Saturday, 11:30am; Sunday, 3:45

The most-loved Star Trek movie gives us everything that its predecessor failed to deliver: an exciting and entertaining adventure starring the seven actors and characters that we learned to love from the original TV show, along with a chance for several of those actors to shine. This has almost everything you would want in a Star Trek movie.

A- Bound (1996), New Mission, Friday, 3:45pm; Monday, 7:20pm

Before The Matrix, the Wachowski brothers created a stylish and fun crime thriller about a lesbian couple that go up against the mob. Jennifer Tilly hooks up with Gina Gershon, both sexually and in crime, to steal from her gangster husband (Joe Pantoliano). A very sexy, violent, and suspenseful thriller which adds new meaning to the phrase “money laundering.”

B+ The Rocky Horror Picture Show  (1975), Balboa, Saturday, 11:30pm; Sunday, 11:59pm

With the Bawdy Caste Live Shadow Cast! This is in no way, shape, or form a great movie. It’s cheaply shot. The songs, while catchy, are hardly great rock. The characters are broad clichés, and the plot is almost non-existent. But it’s a crazy, funny, absurd celebration of everything sexual, with Tim Curry carrying the movie as a cross-dressing mad scientist. Also starring a very young Susan Sarandon. Read my report.

C+ Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), check theaters, dates, & times

Japan’s Studio Ghibli doesn’t always make great movies. This one, set in a very quaint and fantasized Europe, isn’t all that much. A young witch moves to the big city, makes friends, and loses her powers, which are only flying with a broom and talking to her cat. Of course, a big disaster gives our protagonist a chance to become a heroine. Not much.

C+ The Curse of the Cat People (1944), Friday, Stanford, 6:05pm, 9:50pm

I was deeply disappointed the first time I saw Val Lewton’s sequel to his very good Cat People. After all, if you’re watching the sequel to a horror movie, you expect horror. But if you look at Curse on its own, it’s an interesting but simplistic drama about a young girl with problems. She lives too much in her imagination, and has a father who doesn’t know what to do about it. It could have been called The Blessing of the Cat People. On a double bill with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which I’ve never seen.

C- South Pacific, (1958), Lark; Monday
* August 1, 6:30pm
* Tuesday, August 2, 10:00am
* Wednesday, August 3, 2:00pm

There’s a fair amount of historical interest in the film version of this Rodger and Hammerstein musical, but not much good filmmaking. It was only the third film shot in Todd-AO, and the first after a major format alteration. It has a big song about the evils of racism (risky at the time). But in the end, this tale of American sailors stationed in a paradise that’s about to become a war zone is just plain bland. Neither the songs, the story, the actors, or even the scenery rises above so-so. See my article on big roadshow musicals of the 50s and 60s. Part of the series Classic Movie Musicals.

Frequently-revived classics