The Academy (Linwood Dunn Theatre):
- Fri 3 at 7.30 : Yojimbo (1961)
- Sat 4 at 7.30: Dersu Uzala (1975)
The Academy’s three-month tribute to Kurosawa Akira has of course been tremendous, but has hardly delved deep into his filmography (confining itself to those films the academy nominated in some category). Yojimbo was up for best black and white costume design, but the film has yet greater attractions. Kurosawa’s story of a wandering samurai arriving in town and playing the warring factions off against one another was lifted by Leone for A Fistful of Dollars but was itself ripped off Dashell Hammet’s The Glass Key. The set-up is ripe for Kurosawa’s dispassionate dissection of self-serving human behaviour in the almost abstracted village setting, but is served with plenty of humour, black and otherwise. Mifune Toshiro is magnetic as the yojimbo (somewhere between body-guard and hired gun) running lazy rings around the local gangs with a disgruntled shrug of the shoulders, a lightening sword and an existential equanimity.
Dersu Uzala, on the other hand, won the best foreign language film award – for Russia. As with his studio contemporaries in Hollywood, Kurosawa found it increasingly hard to make films in the 1960s (and tried to top himself in 1971) but venturing outside Japan he found funding for this story of friendship between a hunter and an engineer on the remote forests of Siberia. Life is hard and bleak again, but this is Kurosawa in cautiously optimistic mode; the tale is almost simplistic, and the Russian spectacular style of landscape photography is a bit overbearing, but at least it’s gorgeous and masterfully made.
John Huston at The Aero:
- Fri 3 at 7.30: The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) / Fat City (1972)
- Sat 4 at 7.30: The African Queen (1951) / Prizzi’s Honor (1985)
- Sun 5 at 7.30: The Misfits (1961) / Moulin Rouge (1952)
One of the slipperiest of all major directors, Huston’s oeuvre stubbornly resists easy summation – I am sorry the Aero’s season doesn’t extend to his debut, The Maltese Falcon, or to one of the greatest films ever made, his elegiac swansong The Dead (1987). And a double bill of Annie and Escape to Victory would be fun too. The Cinefamily recently had a season of his films entitled “Beautiful Losers” which is as good a heading as any: the losers on Friday are Huston’s dad Walter and Humphrey Bogart looking for gold in the magnificent Treasure of Sierrra Madre and coming undone in almost Chaucerian fashion. Then there’s Fat City, a marvellously unostentatious look at a washed-up boxer, dreams of a second chance and the people who shake to the bottom through the seive of life (starring the excellent Stacy Keach and a young Jeff Bridges).
No-one’s much of a loser except the audience in The African Queen as Bogey and Katherine Hepburn banter and argue their way upriver in rather annoying fashion (it’s quite fun, but Bogart’s undeserved Oscar is partly to blame for its dubious “classic” status); in Prizzi’s Honor Jack Nicholson is a dumb mob gunman taken for a ride by out-of-town hit-lady Kathleen Turner in a mannered by not unappealing black comedy (also starring John’s lovely daughter Angelica).
As written by Arthur Miller, America is the loser in Sunday’s The Misfits (isn’t it always?) tho Marilyn Monroe, Monty Clift and Clark Gable didn’t do so well out of it either, since it was the last completed film for each of them. It’s a modern-day western keyed to the tone of Miller’s self-satisfied myth-busting self-pity and featuring some business to do with being over the hill/wasting one’s life/wrangling wild horses. It’s given real poignancy, however, by the stars, none of whom were very well (Gable physically, Monroe mentally, Clift both) and the black and white photography by Russell Metty is just gorgeous. Moulin Rouge, on the other hand, was an experiment in color, a biopic of Toulouse-Lautrec and modelled on his paintings and drawings. The result is not that striking and overall it’s a bit of a mess, not helped by the fact that the subject was an alcoholic, siphilitic and thoroughly unpleasant individual (a malicious dwarf, some would have it), perfectly incarnated by the always-dislikable José Ferrer (he does shuffle around manfully on his knees, however).
Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theater:
- Sat 4 at 7.30: Cat People (1942)
Val Lewton was one of the great B producers, running RKO’s horror unit on a tiny budget until his untimely death at 47. His stroke of genius here – to keep the deadly cat people unseen – is widely lauded, and at its most effective in an incredible montage of sound and shadow in a night-time swimming pool. Cat-eyed Simone Simon is perfect casting as the beautiful Serb who may just suffer from an ancient curse (fundamentally linked to her sexuality). Suggestion is all, and as in the best work of Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur (Walked with a Zombie, Night of the Demon), the unbelievable becomes horribly believable.
- Sun 5 at 8.00: The Masque of the Red Death (1964) / Premature Burial (1962)
The unbelievable remains enjoyably unbelievable in a pair of Corman Poe adaptations: the former is strikingly colour-designed, beautifully shot by one Nicholas Roeg, and captures more of Poe’s mournful metaphysics than others in the cycle. Vincent Price is on thoughtful form as the Prince imprisoned at a hellishly eternal party in his plague-surrounded Italian castle. Ray Milland in Premature Burial is no match, but it’s another great story on a splendid Gothic setting.
- Wed 8 at 8.00: The Unholy Three (1925)
Silent Wednesday’s at the Silent Movie theatre is a treat this month, with five fantastic Lon Chaney pictures. This week’s is one of several collaborations with director and ex-carny Tod Browning and sees him playing a ex-carnival ventriloquist on the make (against “normal people”!) and disguised in drag, running a successful con with pet parrots aided by the midget and the strongman. It all goes wrong, of course. It’s pretty crazy, but thanks to Chaney’s magnetic presence, and fine support from Victor MacLaglen and Harry Earles, it’s hugely enjoyable.
- Fri 3 at 7.30; Sat 4 at 3.15 & 7.30: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
- Fri 3 at 9.35; Sat 4 at 5.20 & 9.35: Charley Varrick (1973)
This is a great great great Walter Matthau double-bill. In the first, he plays the controller of New York’s subway system, one of whose trains has been hijacked by a bunch of guys in identical raincoat, hat and glasses disguises, toting shotguns and calling each other “Mr Pink”, “Mr Green” etc.. Absolutely gripping from start to finish, and a real treat for fans of 70′s New York movies.
Charley Varrick is a little more laid back, but it’s still a tough thriller. Matthau’s small-time bandit mistakenly robs the secret mob deposit from his small-town bank and has to stay one step ahead of eerie hitman Joe Don Baker. As directed by the great Don Siegel, it’s a paranoid existential noir thriller road movie, but with an ending to make you smile.
- Sun 5 at 5.50 & 9.20; Mon-Tue 6-7 at 9.20: Blast Of Silence (1961)
This is also a paranoid existential noir in fact, but a much weirder one. Independently shot in New York it feels like a Cassavetes film, shares huge amount with Melville’s melancholy underworld pictures, and conjures strong echoes of Pickpocket. Looking oddly like Robert de Niro, TV director Allen Baron scripts, directs and stars as an out-of-town hitman on the job, obsessively interiorised and cruelly undone by the temptations of humanity. Right from the striking opening, much of the film is accompanied by a strange second-person voice-over of street-level poetry that creates an uncomfortable but entirely appropriate tone, echoed in the wintery black and white photography. A remarkable picture.