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April 18-24, 2007

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This Week's Revivals

By Richard von Busack

Movie Times Bad Day at Black Rock/The Blue Dahlia
(1954/1946) In a dusty Arizona town, a stranger (Spencer Tracy) is opposed when he tries to bring a medal to the father of a dead vet—a Japanese-American. Robert Ryan does the stalling but fails to hide the ugly truth. It has a B-movie's frankness in an A-movie package; despite the then-dangerous subject matter, it's in CinemaScope and boasts an impressive roster of Western riff-raff, including Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine and Walter Brennan. BILLED WITH The Blue Dahlia. Two Army buddies return from World War II. Alan Ladd's wife (Doris Dowling) is sleeping around, and his child is dead thanks to her negligence; his buddy Buzz (William Bendix, never better) has a plate in his head that gives him potentially murderous spells. The script is by Raymond Chandler, but the cop-out ending is strictly from Hollywood. (Plays Apr 18-20 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times The Devil and Daniel Webster/Yankee Doodle Dandy
(Both 1942) An unfortunate New England farmer sells his soul to the devil (Walter Huston) ... and the greatest statesman of his time, Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold) offers to win it back in the courtroom. Probably the best American fairy tale after The Wizard of Oz; it's a film far too little known, despite director William Dieterle's expert transplanting of UFA aesthetics to RKO and Bernard Herrmann's stirring soundtrack (including a diabolical four-handed fiddle version of Satan's favorite song, "Pop Goes the Weasel"). Simone Simon is one delectable Marguerite, but the Howard Zinn-style summing-up of American history is even more tangy. BILLED WITH Yankee Doodle Dandy. In his autobiography, James Cagney noted that no one, not even Peter Bogdanovich, could understand why this was his favorite film. "The answer is simple, and it derives from George M. Cohan's comment about himself: once a song-and-dance man, always a song-and-dance man." And this is all about song and dance, and not quite all about patriotism. Cohan (veteran hoofer and singer Cagney) was the Irish vaudeville artist who wrote 40 plays and composed many songs that haven't been forgotten yet, including "Over There," "Give My Regards to Broadway" and "You're a Grand Old Flag." Cagney is aware of what a shrewd performer Cohan had to be—how he was born with an eye for the effect patriotic music has on a crowd. At times, Cagney's singing demonstrates of the old methods of selling a song, of confiding in the audience from the stage. (Plays Apr 21-22 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times D.O.A./The Glass Key
(1950/1942) Poisoned by a mysterious someone, Edmond O'Brien has 24 hours to bring his murderer to justice. More about this next week. BILLED WITH The Glass Key. Dashiell Hammett's political noir is the story of a bent city boss (Brian "The Great McGinty" Donlevy) helped out of a jam by his assistant (Alan Ladd). Veronica Lake co-stars as a senator's daughter. (Plays Apr 25-27 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

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