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April 4-10, 2007

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This Week's Revivals

By Richard von Busack

Movie Times Blonde Crazy/Footlight Parade
(1931/1933) "I played a red-hot bellhop loaded for larceny, and sharing it all as ever with Joan Blondell."—James Cagney. When not fleecing customers, the Irish sparkplug and the cuddly Blondell perform four songs. BILLED WITH Footlight Parade. San Jose-born Lloyd Bacon directed this ridiculously entertaining, tantalizingly bizarre Warner Bros. musical. James Cagney plays Chester Kent, a besieged creator of musical prologues staged as curtain-raisers at movie theaters. If you've ever wondered what it must have been like to be choreographer Busby Berkeley, churning out about a dozen enormous production numbers a year during the Depression, Footlight Parade gives a clue. Kent is cheated by his partners, blackmailed by his ex-wife and pressed up against impossible deadlines while trying to create larger and larger extravaganzas. It's the production numbers we don't see that sound the most hallucinatory; some of his touring companies are doing pieces themed on the Russian Revolution, ghosts, bullfighters and the Swiss Navy. Meanwhile, Kent is gnawed by a defeatist dance instructor (whiny Frank McHugh) and an idiotic censor (Hugh Herbert). Cagney shows off his considerable talents as a song-and-dance man, and Joan Blondell is attractive and tough as a loyal partner who loves him. As for the Berkeley numbers: "By a Waterfall" is staged in a 20,000-gallon tank and capped with a 70-foot-high wedding cake of fountains and chorus girls; "Sittin' on a Backyard Fence" is kind of how you'd hope the musical Cats would be, featuring the enthusiastic if labored tap dancing of Ruby Keeler, additionally hampered by a pussycat suit. Keeler is powdered up in Chinese makeup in the finale, "Shanghai Lil," a number that morphs from sailor-bargirl melancholy into a folk-art salute to FDR and the New Deal. Incidentally, seeing this movie is essential to understanding Guy Maddin's The Saddest Music in the World. (Plays Apr 7-8 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Gun Crazy/This Gun for Hire
(1950/1942) See story about Gun Crazy. BILLED WITH This Gun for Hire. The perfect model for a movie actor is a short person with a big head. Alan Ladd fit these specs as if he were designed by special order. In this entertainment sort of based on Graham Greene, the small but fierce Ladd plays a cat-loving hit man who goes up against Nazi collaborators, who are under the nervous protection of ace villain Laird Cregar. A little amoral blonde singer at Cregar's club (the equally wee Veronica Lake) confuses matters. (Plays Apr 11-13 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

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