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February 7-13, 2007

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This Week's Revivals

By Richard von Busack

Movie Times Becket
(1964) The showdown between two men, dear friends and perhaps lovers: one is a childish king of England, Henry II (Peter O'Toole); the other is his far wiser friend Thomas a Becket (Richard Burton), later Archbishop of Canterbury and saint. The attachment between the two men is neither gilded with pity nor given the aura of a sickness; they're the only two men in the world for each other. And the script, derived from Jean Anouihl's hit play, gives weight to both sides in the war between the honor of God and the love of this world. It's a brainy approach to depicting a crime of such outlandish medieval arrogance that it would not be repeated until El Salvador in the 1980s. (Too bad the biopic of Romero wasn't in Becket's league.) Here are two grand, ringing theatrical voices, given enough room in widescreen to echo, and the fine cathedral and palace sets give you a little room to back off and appreciate the resonance. Burton may never have been better than playing this man surprised by awe (possibly this awe is due to the fact that Burton was taking over a role originated by Olivier on Broadway). As the self-described boor, O'Toole gets to be both raging king and happy thug (appropriating a wench from a peasant he crows: "Wash your daughter, dog, and kill her fleas. She's coming to the palace.") Satin clad, and satiny of tongue, John Gielgud plays the king of France, dawdling over his chessboard. While this revival seems to be coming in on the train of O'Toole's splendid late period performance in Venus, it's also significantly like The Last King of Scotland, reminding us that the worst tyrant is the gregarious, capricious kind. For that matter it also anticipates The Queen in a story of the remoteness of a ruler's life. The effort to repeat this film's themes in A Man For All Seasons was stodgy and self-satisfied. O'Toole later reprised the role of the Plantagenet king in The Lion in Winter to less effect, but he roared so loud it did everyone's heart good to hear him. (Opens Feb 9 in San Jose at Camera 12).

Movie Times Crossfire/Cat People
(1947/1942) A Jewish soldier is murdered, and a civilian cop (Robert Young) and an army sergeant (Robert Mitchum) collaborate to find the killer. Robert Ryan co-stars as an anti-Semitic vet; Gloria Grahame assays one of her many embittered dance-hall girls. BILLED WITH Cat People. "One day," said director Jacques Tourneur, "Val Lewton called and asked me over to his office. He said he'd that [head of RKO] Charlie Koerner had been at a party the night before and that someone suggested he make a picture called Cat People. The next morning, Charlie asked Val to come up with a script to suit the title." (John Brosnan, Horror People.) The result was producer Val Lewton's best-remembered psychological horror film, a story of an ancient Serbian legend reoccurring in New York as the delusions—or are they?—of a lady (Simone Simon). The skin-tightener is the indoor swimming pool scene; Tourneur claims the significant shadows on the wall are caused by his fist over a light, but many people have seen a panther there, stalking and ready to strike. (Plays Feb 7-9 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Love Me Tonight/Shanghai Express
(both 1932) A bouquet from the early sound days, with director Rouben Mamoulian demonstrating how the new and unwieldy technique could be used to smoothly link scenes, faces and moods. An ingratiating tailor (Maurice Chevalier) wangles his way into the ducal palace where a bored princess (Jeanette MacDonald) languishes. Frittering their time around her are bloodless royals (C. Aubrey Smith, Charlie Ruggles, Charles Butterworth). The musical has sublime numbers like "Mimi" and "Isn't it Romantic?" but it also has anarchic humor. It's the intersection where the charm of Lubitsch meets the chaos of the Marx Brothers. BILLED WITH Shanghai Express. As haloed by Lee Garmes' peerless photography, Marlene Dietrich plays "Shanghai Lily," an adventuress in warlord-era China; she rides the train called Desire to the station called Renunciation. Norway's Warner Oland plays the warlord with a thing for her ("The white woman stays with me!") (Plays Feb 10-11 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Act of Violence/The Leopard Man
(1948/1943) See story. (Plays Feb 14-16 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

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