Who Framed Roger Rabbit

(USA 1988)

Let’s get this out up front: the appeal of Who Framed Roger Rabbit is not its outstanding narrative. Based on Gary K. Wolf’s novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman’s screenplay is competently written but it’s conventional if not downright pedestrian, a standard whodunnit complete with hiding, seeking, and a clock ticking. The situations are goofy, the characters are even goofier, and the jokes…well, they’re silly. The whole thing relies too heavily on farce and slapstick for my taste.

Los Angeles, 1947: alcoholic private investigator Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) is summoned to the studios of movie mogul R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern). Studio star Roger Rabbit (Charles Fleischer) is unraveling over romantic rumors involving his amply curvaceous toon wife Jessica (Kathleen Turner) and human Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye), the inventor and maker of the sundry gadgets used in cartoons. It’s affecting the studio’s bottom line, so Maroon hires Valiant to check it out.

After catching Jessica’s act at an underground club, Valiant spies on her and Acme in her dressing room. He takes pictures of them playing “patty-cake.” He turns them over to Maroon, who shows them to Roger. Assuming the worst, he promptly freaks.

The next morning, Acme is found dead — a cartoon safe crushing his head. Naturally, all signs point to Roger. Dastardly Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd), cloaked in a black cape and an evil hidden agenda, is following Roger’s tail. Valiant is unwillingly yanked into a crazy adventure to exonerate Roger, find a will, and stop Doom from selling Toontown, the appropriately named neighborhood where toons live, to a freeway developer.

Despite its shortcomings, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a technical marvel unlike much before it. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, it took awhile to make. It was a box office blockbuster, and it’s easy to see why. From the outset, it’s a dazzling mix of animated characters, or “toons,” interacting with real people. The look and technique are impeccable, with natural movement and even toons and humans touching that melds seamlessly without any jumps or visual hiccups. An ongoing gag with Roger handcuffed to Valiant, for example, is flawless. Clearly, this film was assembled with painstaking attention to timing. It is, in a word, neat.

Plus, the incorporation of classic cartoons — from Betty Boop to Woody Woodpecker to Droopy, to a scene with Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse to a piano duel between Daffy Duck and Donald Duck — is really, really fun. I’m sure this is the only place you’ll ever see Warner Brothers and Disney characters together, and it’s a hoot.

In 2016, the United States Library of Congress deemed Who Framed Roger Rabbit “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).

With Joanna Cassidy, Lou Hirsch, Mike Edmonds, Eugene Guirterrez, Mae Questel, Mel Blanc, Tony Anselmo, Mary T. Radford, Joe Alaskey, David Lander, Richard Williams, Wayne Allwine, Tony Pope, Peter Westy, Cherry Davis, Nancy Cartwright

Production: Touchstone Pictures, Amblin Entertainment

Distribution: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

104 minutes
Rated PG

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B-

It [It: Chapter One]

(USA 2017)

I’ve started a few Stephen King novels during my life, but I’ve never finished reading any of them. I have, however, seen enough movies based on his books to know what I’m getting into.

It is director Andy Muschietti’s take on King’s 1986 novel, which incidentally came out on my 16th birthday. Scary. It tells the story of a group of bullied junior high outcasts who go after a deranged clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) one summer, the Summer of 1989, after he kills stuttering Bill Denbrough’s (Jaeden Lieberher) little brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), the fall before.

Pennywise lives in the sewer of their small town (Derry, Maine) and resurfaces every 27 years to prey on children through their worst fears.

The screenplay, written by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman, is only part of the book — presumably to allow for a sequel. It starts out well enough in the same sweet nostalgic way as, oh, Stand by Me. Muschietti gets deatils of the time period mostly right: the Cure and New Kids on the Block were big in ’89 (even though the former’s “Six Different Ways” was two albums and a compilation earlier), and the reference to Molly Ringwald fits. He goes full on Steven Spielberg, however, about halfway through, turning It into The Goonies with the kids’ “losers club” and all the action switching to a dark cavernous underground sewer. This is to say, It gets cheesy after awhile.

The kids are all decent actors, and they keep It moving along. Sadly, though, there aren’t any real surprises here. More creepy and icky than outright frightening, Muschietti relies greatly on special effects; they’re good and a lot of work went into them, but they get tiresome after awhile. Plus, some editing would’ve been a good idea; It is too long.

As It is, it’s not a stinker. However, I wasn’t moved by It, either. It is a big budget Hollywood movie aiming to be a blockbuster, and that’s It.

With Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Beverly Marsh, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Nicholas Hamilton, Jake Sim, Logan Thompson, Owen Teague, Stephen Bogaert, Stuart Hughes, Geoffrey Pounsett, Pip Dwyer, Elizabeth Saunders, Ari Cohen, Anthony Ulc, Javier Botet, Katie Lunman, Carter Musselman, Tatum Lee

Production: New Line Cinema, Ratpac-Dune Entertainment, Vertigo Entertainment, Lin Pictures, KatzSmith Productions

Distribution: Warner Brothers

135 minutes
Rated R

(ArcLight) C

http://itthemovie.com

Hellraiser

(UK 1987)

“Oh, no tears, please. It’s a waste of good suffering!”

— “Pinhead” (the Lead Cenobite)

Roger Ebert famously derided Clive Barker’s directorial debut, the sadomasochistic horror classic Hellraiser, calling it “without wit, style, or reason” for its “bankruptcy of imagination” (http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/hellraiser-1987). Well, talk about tearing your soul apart!

Hellraiser isn’t particularly scary, but it is creepy and fucking weird. I certainly don’t find it lacking wit, style, or imagination; quite the opposite. It’s a ridiculous, kinky, and bloody telenovela. Based on Barker’s short novel The Hellbound Heart, Hellraiser takes the idea of something in the attic to a place no one else has.

Larry (Andrew Robinson) and Julia Cotton (Clare Higgins) have a strained marriage. After leaving Manhattan to go live in his abandoned boyhood home somewhere on the Atlantic coast, Julia finds Larry’s brother — who’s her ex lover — Frank (Sean Chapman in the flashbacks and Oliver Smith in the present) reanimated without skin in the attic. The movie doesn’t explain it, but the novel does: Larry cuts his hand and drips blood onto the attic floor, right where Frank’s comeshot dried up in the floorboards. Nice.

An unrelenting hedonist, Frank lost his body and soul to demons in his quest for sexual gratification. It started with an antique puzzle box that opened a portal to hell and summoned the Cenobites, led by “Pinhead” (Doug Bradley), the apparent spokesman for the motley foursome. Now, Frank needs blood, which is where Julia comes in. Too bad Frank’s daughter, Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), keeps getting in the way.

The special effects look cheap and the plot is choppy. It isn’t clear at first whether the cuts to Frank and Julia getting it on are flashbacks or fantasy, so this detail could have been done better. Nonetheless, Hellraiser is totally engrossing (and at points, just gross). Barker makes a silly story bizarre enough to keep you interested in what happens next. Higgins effectively channels a tortured melodramatic ’50s B-movie damsel in distress. And her big ’80s hair and sunglasses are fabulous!

Perhaps the best thing Hellraiser has going for it, though, is its twisted sense of humor: all of this happens — and will happen again — because Frank thinks with his dick. Now that’s funny.

With Nicholas Vince, Simon Bamford, Grace Kirby, Robert Hines, Anthony Allen, Leon Davis, Michael Cassidy, Frank Baker, Kenneth Nelson, Gay Baynes, Dave Atkins, Oliver Parker

Production: Cinemarque Entertainment BV, Film Futures, Rivdel Films

Distribution: New World Pictures (USA), Entertainment Film Distributors (UK), Highlight Film (West Germany), Paraiso Films S.A. (Spain), Prooptiki (Greece), Roadshow Film Distributors (Australia), Toei Classic (Japan), Vestron Benelux (Netherlands)

94 minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) B-

Music Box of Horrors

http://www.clivebarker.info/hellraiser.html

Drugstore Cowboy

(USA 1989)

“You won’t fuck me and I always have to drive.”

— Dianne Hughes

“If I ever see a hat on a bed in this house, man, like you’ll never see me again. I’m gone.”

“Show time!”

“Well, to begin with, nobody, and I mean nobody, can talk a junkie out of using. You can talk to ’em for years but sooner or later they’re gonna get ahold of something. Maybe it’s not dope. Maybe it’s booze, maybe it’s glue, maybe it’s gasoline. Maybe it’s a gunshot to the head. But something. Something to relieve the pressures of their everyday life, like having to tie their shoes.”

— Bob Hughes

“Narcotics have been systematically scapegoated and demonized. The idea that anyone can use drugs and escape a horrible fate is anathema to these idiots. I predict in the near future right-wingers will use drug hysteria as a pretext to set up an international police apparatus.”

— Fr. Murphy

I love everything about Drugstore Cowboy, the first film I ever saw by director Gus Van Sant. It’s the one that I view as his gold standard even after nearly 30 years. Funny, touching, and insightful in ways that have to be seen, it speaks to me. It probably always will. It’s a rare film that has it all: flawlessly executed from start to finish, it’s totally absorbing and entertaining yet still makes its points in a way that hits hard even after seeing it dozens of times.

Bad Bobby Hughes (Matt Dillon) — or just “Bob” — is the first one to tell you he’s a junkie. He and his wife, Dianne (Kelly Lynch), lead a small nomadic “crew” that consists of Rick (James LeGros) and his young girlfriend, Nadine (Heather Graham). The four of them spend their days getting high and devising elaborate — and amusing — schemes to rob drugs from pharmacies and hospitals. Then they go out and execute their mission.

Once they’ve made a score, they do the drugs they like, sell the ones they don’t, hang out doing little more than watching TV, and move onto another neighborhood somewhere else in Portland, Oregon, when they’ve either run out or overstayed their welcome, whichever comes first.

They’ve repeated the cycle so many times that cocky Detective Gentry (James Remar) and his men are on their trail. Bob manages to stay a step ahead, but it’s getting tougher. He sees that his luck is running out — and it’s not just because of the hex that Nadine inadvertently put on them by mentioning a dog (one thing about Bob: he’s a bit superstitious).

To outrun one such hex — and more realistically, because Bob runs out of ideas and doesn’t know what to do next — they hit the road, stuffing their drug stash in suitcases, shipping them on Greyhound buses, and following them by car. A string of bad luck and bad outcomes presents Bob with an epiphany — and a choice.

With both humor and compassion, Van Sant — and for his part, Dillon — tells a moving and curiously relatable story about people who aren’t necessarily bad, but they’ve allowed their lives to drift away from them. Here, it’s for drugs. They don’t always do the right thing, and often the members of this little family of outcasts are each other’s worst enemies. But they’re realistic. Dillon makes Bob so likable that I find myself rooting for him even when he’s making bad choices; despite his flaws, I like him enough that I can see myself having fun with him.

Drugstore Cowboy easily could’ve been a very different movie. It works because it’s not preachy or judgmental or hyperbolic. Based on a novel by real-life criminal and addict James Fogle (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Fogle), Van Sant and Daniel Yost’s screenplay eschews melodrama for a decidedly objective and almost clinical approach, showing the joys of drugs in some visually well constructed sequences as well as the cost of addiction. The film does an excellent job showing how much work it is to maintain a habit. Throughout the movie, Dillon’s narration keeps the story grounded. Van Sant never sells out his characters’ humanity.

It doesn’t hurt that this film is loaded with spectacular performances all around, including those of Grace Zabriskie as Bob’s battleworn mother and William S. Burroughs as disgraced priest and fellow addict Fr. Tom Murphy. Robert Yeoman’s cinematography gives Drugstore Cowboy a drab, threadbare look that works well with Elliot Goldenthal’s moody score. Every element comes together to make this a truly remarkable film, definitely one of my favorites.

With Max Perlich, George Catalano, Janet Baumhover, Stephen Rutledge, Beah Richards, Robert Lee Pitchlynn, Ray Monge, Woody

Production: Avenue Pictures

Distribution: Avenue Pictures Productions (USA), Astral Films (Canada), Forum Distribution (France), Sandrew Film & Teater (Sweden), GAGA Communications (Japan)

102 minutes
Rated R

(MoviePlex) A+

Postcards from the Edge

(USA 1990)

“I’ll rinse these. I have Woolite in my purse. It’s handy for the road.”

— Doris Mann

Postcards from the Edge is, of course, Carrie Fisher’s semi-autobiographical novel about a floundering actress, Suzanne Vale (Meryl Streep), teetering on has-been status as she puts her life back together after a near fatal overdose. For her film adaptation, Fisher shifts the focus from the rehabilitation process to the relationship between Suzanne and her mother, legendary Hollywood superstar Doris Mann (Shirley MacLaine). It’s a good call: as last year’s documentary Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (https://moviebloke.com/tag/bright-lights-starring-carrie-fisher-and-debbie-reynolds/ ) demonstrated, Fisher and Reynolds were a solid and supportive albeit wacky team. Their relationship clearly offers ample fodder for this film.

Ably directed by Mike Nichols, Postcards from the Edge takes on addiction, family relationships, and show biz. In order to continue a film she’s working on, Vale must place herself under the care of a “responsible” adult — strictly for insurance purposes, a producer (Rob Reiner) assures her. That leaves her mother, who’s more than willing to help. In fact, it makes her beam all the more. So, Vale does what she must: she moves into her mother’s mansion in Beverly Hills.

Fisher might embellish a few things or flat out make shit up, like the sleeping pill story and her mother’s closet alcoholism. Maybe not. It doesn’t matter: Streep is excellent here, as is the entire cast. The real fun, though, is watching MacLaine emulate Reynolds. She has every tick and foible down perfectly. The homecoming party Doris throws for Suzanne and the is snarky, hilarious, and illuminating — I have the distinct impression that it really happened exactly the way it plays out here. Genius!

With Dennis Quaid, Gene Hackman, Richard Dreyfuss, Mary Wickes, Conrad Bain, Annette Bening, Simon Callow, Gary Morton, C. C. H. Pounder, Robin Bartlett, Barbara Garrick, Anthony Heald

Production: Columbia Pictures Corporation

Distribution: Columbia Pictures, Columbia TriStar Films

101 minutes
Rated R

(MoviePlex) B

http://www.sonypicturesmuseum.com/collection/719/postcards-from-the-edge

Léon Morin, Priest [Léon Morin, prêtre]

(France / Italy 1961)

When young widow Barny (Emmanuelle Riva) bursts into a confessional and tells the priest, Léon Morin (Jean-Paul Belmondo), that “religion is the opiate of the masses,” it’s pretty clear that director Jean-Pierre Melville isn’t going easy on us. For awhile, it’s not clear where he’s going at all with Léon Morin, Priest [Léon Morin, prêtre], a moody work that percolates with repressed sexuality while it dives into religion, philosophy, and politics.

The story, based on Béatrix Beck’s novel and set in a tiny town somewhere in the French Alps during the Italian occupation right before the Nazis took over, centers on Barny as her relationship with Fr. Morin develops and intensifies. She reveals that she’s a communist militant, possibly a lesbian, and Jewish by injection (i.e., her dead husband was a Jew). She tries to provoke him with her jabs at the Catholic Church, but Fr. Morin’s responses are measured and considered. She’s seduced.

It looks like something sexual is going to happen between them: he’s young and handsome, and she’s been without a man for so long that she’s lusting after a female coworker (Nicole Mirel). Once the two are alone behind the closed door of Fr. Morin’s office in a church tower, it happens: they engage in…discourse, discussing the tenets of Catholicism.

Léon Morin, Priest is low on action and heavy on dialogue, and as a result it often feels lethargic. All of the “important” discussions — the ones that advance the plot, anyway — occur in one room, which does nothing to accelerate the pace. The discussions involve dry topics like theology and philosophy and religious dogma.

However, Melville keeps it interesting with what’s going on in the background: he’s brutally frank about the casual and pervasive anti-Semitism, the lackadaisical Italian soldiers, and the callous efficiency of the Nazis. Riva and Belmondo smoulder, though the former’s performance is far more compelling. Amid the hasty baptisms of children and the desperate hiding of neighbors is the curiously amusing subplot about Fr. Morin having all the women of the village spellbound. It’s a light touch in an otherwise heavy film.

With Irène Tunc, Gisèle Grimm, Marco Behar, Monique Bertho, Marc Heyraud, Nina Grégoire, Monique Hennessy, Edith Loria, Micheline Schererre, Renée Liques, Simone Vannier, Lucienne Marchand

Production: Georges de Beauregard, Concordia Compagnia Cinematografica, Carlo Ponti

Distribution: Lux Compagnie Cinématographique de France, Ciné Vog Films (Belgium), Cineriz (Italy), Eurooppalainen Filmi (Finland), Rialto Pictures (USA)

130 minutes (restored version)
Not rated

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B-

Maurice

(UK 1987)

“England has always been disinclined to accept human nature.”

— Lasker-Jones

I’m not usually a fan of period pieces, especially those set in Victorian or Edwardian England. Somehow, they tend to be stuffy, grandiloquent affairs that warrant a great big yawn — and they turn me off. James Ivory’s adaptation of E.M. Forster’s novel Maurice, however, is an exception.

I caught a 30th anniversary screening, and something crucial struck me: Ivory and cowriter Kit Hesketh-Harvey’s screenplay is downright daring even for the time when Maurice came out (no pun intended). A sort of forbidden romance that one character sees as the love of his life while the other tosses it aside as the folly of youth, I was moved by the frank depiction of gay love as a tender yet treacherous battlefield, no different than any other love — measured by intensity, law, or social construct. For this, Maurice stands way ahead of its time, even today.

Maurice Hall (James Wilby) is essentially Oscar Wilde at Cambridge circa 1910. He makes a move on social climbing classmate Clive Durham (Hugh Grant), who surprisingly welcomes his advances. They can only go so far, though: Clive doesn’t want to jeopradize his social standing, so the two maintain a platonic relationship. This is the key to Maurice, and the thing that makes it monumental: this is a film that attacks appearances.

Time goes by, shit happens, and Maurice ends up with Clive’s gutter cleaner, Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves, who looks like a plebeian Paul Young). This upsets Clive and sends Maurice to therapy. In the end, Maurice makes a choice that so many of us gays have: to be gay, or not to be.

Maurice operates on a strange platitude, one that isn’t clear at first. Maurice is vulnerable, almost stupid. Clive is chilly, reserved, and completely repressed. Both skirt around their issue. I found myself rooting for and actually admiring Maurice, who stays true to himself — class, law, and sexuality be damned. That last look on Clive’s face in the final scene is devastating…for him.

With Denholm Elliott, Simon Callow, Billie Whitelaw, Barry Foster, Judy Parfitt, Phoebe Nicholls, Ben Kingsley, Patrick Godfrey, Mark Tandy, Kitty Aldridge, Helena Michell, Catherine Rabett, Peter Eyre, Helena Bonham Carter

Production: Merchant Ivory Productions, Film Four International

Distribution: Cinecom Pictures (USA), Enterprise Pictures Limited (UK), Concorde Film (Netherlands), Cohen Media Group (USA)

140 minutes
Rated R

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B

http://www.merchantivory.com/film/maurice

The Wizard of Oz

(USA 1939)

“For twenty-three years, I’ve been dying to tell you what I thought of you! And now… well, being a Christian woman, I can’t say it!”

—Auntie Em

 

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more.”

—Dorothy

 

“I’ll get you, my pretty. And your little dog, too!”

—The Wicked With of the West

 

“Only bad witches are ugly.”

—Glenda

 

“Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain.”

“Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable.”

“You are under the unfortunate impression that just because you run away you have no courage; you’re confusing courage with wisdom.”

—The Wizard of Oz

Growing up when I did, The Wizard of Oz aired on TV every year, and only once a year. It was a special event. I distinctly remember it being on Thanksgiving, but digging around online contradicts me—while some sources back me up, others say Easter, February, and even Christmas. Whatever. I’ve seen it so many times, I know it by heart. So do many people. Like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (https://moviebloke.com/2016/03/26/willy-wonka-and-the-chocolate-factory/ ), The Wizard of Oz is a celluloid relic from my childhood that still stirs something in me.

This annual tradition stopped sometime in the ’90s, probably because home video and cable allowed one to see it anytime. So, I was downright thrilled to see a screening near me over a different holiday weekend this year: Memorial Day. I’ve only seen this film on the big screen once or maybe twice before, so I couldn’t resist.

This is where I usually launch into the story, where I might get into some of the details of Dorothy (Judy Garland) and her weird Technicolor odyssey to the Emerald City after a tornado lifts her, Toto (Terry), and her farmhouse out of Kansas and drops her somewhere over the rainbow in Munchkinland—right on top of the unseen Wicked Witch of the East, whose crazy striped socks and shriveled feet are permanently etched in my memory—provoking the ire of the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) thanks to a pair of ruby slippers.

Let’s be honest, though: we all know the story. Does anything more need to be said about The Wizard of Oz, which is probably the best known and most seen film, ever? Classic and iconic, it set a cinematic benchmark that hasn’t been surpassed nearly a century on, and probably never will be. Loaded with character, song, color, and cool props, it’s a one of a kind spectacle. Its magic continues to inspire.

Harold Rosson’s cinematography is top notch. Seeing it today, I was wowed by the sepiatone Kansas scenes, which were plain old black and white on TV. I always feel a rush when Dorothy opens the door after she crashes, but seeing Munchkinland on the big screen is so much more awesome. So is that scene in the poppy field, and so is the Emerald City with its otherworldy green glow—like paranormal depression glass. Marvelous!

Based on L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the film’s history behind the camera is every bit as colorful as…well, Munchkinland. Victor Fleming is credited as director, but The Wizard of Oz actually had five: Norman Taurog, Richard Thorpe, George Cukor, Fleming, and King Vidor (https://www.shmoop.com/wizard-of-oz/director.html ). Over a dozen writers contributed to the screenplay (http://oz.wikia.com/wiki/Wizard_of_Oz_Screenwriters ). Although the munchkin suicide is by all accounts nothing more than a rumor, Hamilton was burned badly (https://www.thevintagenews.com/2016/09/06/priority-margaret-hamilton-wicked-witch-west-wizard-oz-suffered-3rd-degree-burns-face-hands-scene-munchkinland-exits-ball-flame/ ). Buddy Ebsen was initially cast as the Tin Man, but he dropped out of the film when he suffered a severe allergic reaction to the aluminum makeup used on his face (http://oz.wikia.com/wiki/Buddy_Ebsen ). However, his voice remains in the scene where Garland, Ray Bolger as the scarecrow, and Jack Haley, Ebsen’s replacement, sing “We’re Off to See the Wizard” after the Tin Man is reanimated with oil.

Legend has it (though it’s probably exaggerated) that the actors who played the munchkins were worse than drunk sailors, holding sex parties and trashing the hotel where they stayed in Culver City (http://www.seeing-stars.com/Hotels/CulverHotel.shtml ) (http://www.mirror.co.uk/tv/tv-news/wizard-oz-mucnhkins-didnt-just-9782402 ) (http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/dogged-by-rumour-the-riddles-of-oz-1766264.html ). Garland allegedly claimed that she was repeatedly accosted by a number of them (http://people.com/celebrity/teenage-judy-garland-was-repeatedly-molested-by-munchkins-on-set-of-wizard-of-oz-says-her-ex-husband/ ). What a world, what a world!

In 1989, the United States Library of Congress deemed The Wizard of Oz “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).

With Frank Morgan, Bert Lahr, Billie Burke, Charley Grapewin, Clara Blandick, Pat Walshe, Charles Becker, Buster Brodie

Production: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/MGM

Distribution: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/MGM, Warner Brothers

102 minutes
Not rated

(ArcLight) A+

http://www.thewizardofoz.warnerbros.com

Spellbound

(USA 1945)

“The Fault…is Not in Our Stars,
But in Ourselves…”

—William Shakespeare

I’ve read enough online rankings of Alfred Hitchcock’s films to know that Spellbound often ends up in his top 20 or 30—sometimes higher than that—thank you. While certainly impressive considering the number of films he directed (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Hitchcock_filmography), I found Spellbound lackluster, comparatively speaking.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it. In the grand scheme of all things cinema, Spellbound is a solid work—it’s just not a great Hitchcock film. Ingrid Bergman is psychoanalyst Constance Petersen, the only female doctor at Green Manors, a mental hospital in Vermont. Her male colleagues see her as detached and cold, which doesn’t bode well for her career—particularly for a woman in the 1940s.

The hospital’s director, Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll), is “retiring.” His replacement is young and handsome Dr. Anthony Edwardes (a young Gregory Peck), who catches Dr. Petersen off guard. Truth be told, she’s smitten—and who can blame her? Gregory Peck is gorgeous here. Anyway, Dr. Edwardes has a secret that becomes apparent: he’s not who he says he is. He’s actually John Ballantyne, a.k.a. John Brown, a dude with amnesia who says he killed the real Dr. Edwardes and assumed his identity. Dr. Petersen doesn’t believe him, and she sets out to find the real murderer—through psychoanalysis. It all leads to a fateful ski trip that comes full circle to Green Manors. Gasp!

Angus MacPhail and Ben Hecht based their screenplay on the 1928 novel The House of Dr. Edwardes by John Palmer and Hilary A. Saunders (as Francis Beeding). Clearly obsessed with Sigmund Freud, the story is clunky but cute and oddly entertaining even if it’s kind of stupid. Two things stick out in my mind about this film: one is Salvador Dalí’s cool dream sequence complete with random objects like big bleary eyes, scissors, a faceless figure, and wings; and that final scene where a gun is fired into the camera—I won’t ruin it, but it literally ends Spellbound with a bloody bang. Fucking awesome!

The nitrate print used for this screening was gorgeous, shimmering with rich blacks and luminescent whites. It impressed me. Miklòs Ròzsa’s grand, sweeping score is fierce—no wonder he won an Oscar for it (https://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/1946).

One extremely personal but annoying detail: the Siouxsie and the Banshees song “Spellbound” played in the back of my mind the entire time I watched this film. Yeah, I’m hearing voices, I guess…but it could be much worse (I’m talking to you, Paula Abdul).

With Michael Chekhov, Rhonda Fleming, John Emery, Steven Geray, Paul Harvey, Donald Curtis, Norman Lloyd, Bill Goodwin, Wallace Ford, Art Baker, Regis Toomey

Production: Selznick International Pictures, Vanguard Films

Distribution: United Artists

111 minutes
Not rated

(Dryden Theatre) B-

Nitrate Picture Show

Night and the City

(UK/USA 1950)

“Harry is an artist without an art.”

—Adam Dunne

Jules Dassin’s Night and the City is a fine example of classic film noir. Filmed in smoky black and white mostly at nighttime on location in London, Dassin takes us slumming through the seedy underworld of nightlife, wrestling, and organized crime.

Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) is a hard-bitten, ambitious, streetwise American con artist living in London. Always on the lookout for a quick buck, he can’t seem to catch a break. Ever. Literally running for his life in the opening scene, his latest career endeavor has failed, and his girl, Mary (Gene Tierney), is losing faith in him—stealing from her will do that.

Things brighten one night after a failed hustle at a wrestling match: Harry crosses paths with famous retired Greek wrestler Gregorius the Great (real life professional wrestler Stanislaus Zbyszko) and his prodigy, Nikolas of Athens (Ken Richmond), who both walk out of the arena in a huff. Gregorius is furious with his son, Kristo (Herbert Lom), who organized the fight, a low-end sort of WWE-like affair that he finds tacky.

Harry schmoozes Gregorius and learns that Kristo is a mobster who controls wrestling in all of London. He devises a plan to create a promotion startup, aligning himself with Gregorius to get around Kristo. He secures funding by double dealing with Phil Nosseross (Francis L. Sullivan), the owner of the Silver Fox Club where Mary works, and Phil’s wife, Helen (Googie Withers). She has plans of her own she doesn’t want Phil to know about.

The whole thing looks like it’s actually going to work despite Kristo’s threats, a plot to murder Harry, and Phil pulling his backing from the project. Harry gets so far as setting up a real fight between Nikolas and the Strangler (Mike Mazurki, also a real life professional wrestler). A miscalculation unravels everything—not just for him but everyone involved.

Jo Eisinger’s screenplay, based on Gerald Kersh’s novel Night and the City with contributions from Austin Dempster and William E. Watts, involves morally bankrupt lowlife characters who lack any redeeming qualities. All of them are scamming for one thing or another, and none of them—except maybe Mary—evokes any sympathy. This plays out nicely with the motifs of money, masculinity, and blind ambition that give this story its dark and bitter hue. It’s suspenseful. Ultimately, evil prevails in this dirty little story, which had to be revolutionary if jarring when this came out.

The backstory here is as interesting as the plot: during the production of Night and the City, Dassin was blacklisted for being a Communist. Pushed into exile, he infuses a strong sense of betrayal and fear into this film (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jules_Dassin).

Night and the City is desperate, chilly, and magnificently bleak—and it looks it thanks to Mutz Greenbaum’s shadowy and dramatic cinematography. Of the nitrate prints that screened this year, this was a standout. According to the festival program, this pre-release print is ten minutes longer than the UK version and 15 minutes longer than the US version.

With Hugh Marlowe, Ada Reeve, Charles Farrell, Edward Chapman, Betty Shale

Production: 20th Century Fox

Distribution: 20th Century Fox, Criterion

111 minutes (pre-release print)
Not rated

(Dryden Theatre) B

Nitrate Picture Show

https://www.criterion.com/films/933-night-and-the-city