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March 28-April 3, 2007

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This Week's Revivals

By Richard von Busack

Movie Times The Big Clock/Bedlam
(1948/1946) A monstrous publisher (Charles Laughton) disposes of his girlfriend, but fails to realize the witness to the killing is his pushed-around underling (Ray Milland). BILLED WITH Bedlam. A remarkable horror story of the first and most infamous of mental hospitals. Reputedly based on Hogarth's engravings, it stars the perfect actor to lead you through the tale: Boris Karloff, the embodiment of obsequious evil. In London, a courageous Quaker (the dull Richard Fraser) investigates conditions in the London insane asylum; while there, he becomes enamored of a woman he can't approve of, a courtesan (Anna Lee) who has come to pay her money and be amused by the mad people's antics. Nominally a B-picture, yet it's one of the most well-researched looks at Georgian times ever seen in a Hollywood movie of its era; director Mark Robson and his producer Val Lewton make the madhouse a distorted picture of a society straitjacketed by its class system. And as evidence of one old-time atrocity, note the bit here about the "human statuary" that turns up later in films as diverse as Goldfinger and The Draughtsman's Contract. The denouement—Thanks, Mr. Poe!—gives horror fans what they were looking for, as well as some briefly but incisively sketched figures: the real-life libertine John Wilkes (Leyland Hodgson) as well as a not completely unsympathetic old lord (Billy House). Incidentally, the hospital still stands in Lambeth, though the building has been taken over by the Imperial War Museum. One kind of insanity giving way to another. (Plays Mar 28-30 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theater.)

Movie Times Cleopatra/The Gay Divorcee
(Both 1934) Claudette Colbert is very hot stuff indeed as the lounge-pajama-clad Queen of the Nile, posed amid much gold leaf and plaster of Paris. The film is preposterous but sporadically historically accurate: "Her costume is by no means the Hollywoodean fantasy it appears to be," wrote Jon Solomon in The Ancient World in the Cinema. Director Cecil B. DeMille hired a curious cast for the Sphinx to sharpen her claws upon, including the famous Yiddish tragedian Joseph Schildkraut as Herod and Henry Wilcoxon as a neurotic Marc Antony. BILLED WITH The Gay Divorcee. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers star in an excellent introduction to the voodoo that they did so well. Aboard an ocean liner, Fred is mistaken by Ginger for a professional divorce "co-respondent" (see Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust for a detailed description of that occupation). Later come the immortal dances, particularly the acme of elegant romanticism onscreen, "Night and Day." For comedy relief from the romantic tension: Erik Rhodes' pre-Roberto Benigni performance as the original tasseled Italian loafer; also Alice Brady, Eric Blore, Edward Everett Horton and Betty Grable (in silk pajamas) doing "Let's K-nock K-nees." (Plays Mar 31-April 1 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times The Woman in the Window/Curse of the Cat People
(Both 1944) After his wife goes to Maine for the summer, a mild little professor (Edward G. Robinson) ends up as a hunted murderer. Despite the very unfortunate ending, it's one of Fritz Lang's best noirs, and a lineup for the characters in Lang's next and better movie, Scarlet Street. And here they are: Robinson, the embodiment of Jewish guilt, Joan Bennett as a dubious siren and Dan Duryea as a snazzy snake. Robert Blake, who later spent his own time in court, co-stars. BILLED WITH The Curse of the Cat People. Ann Carter plays the daughter of the Simone Simon character in Cat People, here bewitched—or perhaps bedeviled—by an imaginary lady, as well as two sinister, fanciful ladies next door. It's inadvisable to see this without seeing the predecessor. More about this next week. (Plays Apr 4-6 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

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