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May 9-15, 2007

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This Week's Revivals

By Richard von Busack

Movie Times Adam's Rib/It Should Happen to You
(1949/1954) What makes men and women put up with each other? In Adam's Rib, the scriptwriters Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon discard the usual explanations: the physical pleasure the sexes take in one another's company, the contentment of property shared. This movie argues that men and women are drawn together because of an intoxicating mix of resentment and admiration. In an invigorating, touching opening without dialogue on the streets of New York, Judy Holliday (debuting) shoots her straying husband. The aftermath of her crime is the rest of the story: the would-be murderer is contended for by a husband and wife: a prosecutor (Spencer Tracy) and a public defender (Katharine Hepburn). On one level, the film is a debate between male justice and female mercy, with Tracy arguing for equal punishment under the law, and Hepburn making some ringing arguments against male privilege. George Cukor directs with the wit of a courtier and the curiosity of a scientist. He uses novel techniques—such as a long scene of an empty room, with the voices of the stars on opposite sides out of camera range—to help the audience imagine the tender feelings between the husband and wife. Other moments suggest the still simmering passion between them as they become excited by their duels in the courtroom. Like industrial spies, filmmakers have been trying to copy the Cukor/Kanin/Gordon formula ever since. It seems to have died with its inventors. BILLED WITH It Should Happen to You. Ordinary shop girl Gladys Glover (Holiday) rents a billboard at Columbus Circle to promote herself, and the trick works—much to the discomfiture of her honest documentary-maker boyfriend (Jack Lemmon). In the meantime, a soap company covets her choice advertising location and sends representative Peter Lawford to finesse the billboard out of her hands. While the mid-'50s NYC locations are time-capsule delights, and while Holliday's wise-foolishness is beguiling, my favorite moment is a speech in which she holds off the lecherous Lawford. To get him talking (and to stop him nibbling her ear), she asks him if he's lonely, living there in that bachelor apartment all by himself. Yes, he admits, lowering his eyes. "You could get a parrot," she suggests. "You could be talking to it, and it could be talking to you. I mean, you wouldn't be talking to each other, but it would be talk." (Plays May 18-20 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Alice Adams/Holiday
(1935/1938) Booth Tarkington's novel, a hurting comedy of Midwestern snobbery, is the direct template for Pretty in Pink; the film stars Katharine Hepburn as the poor, small-town girl trying to rise above. More about this anon. George Stevens directs, and Fred Stone co-stars as the shiftless father: "Played with a good rough edge but an eye tending to slide off to the camera crew to see how they're taking it," wrote critic Otis Ferguson. BILLED WITH Holiday, George Cukor's drama about a wealthy, boyish heiress (played by Hepburn) who travels to broaden herself. Cary Grant co-stars, with the high-principled Lew Ayres and Edward Everett Horton. (Plays May 16-17 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Killer of Sheep
(1977) Charles Burnett's famous and rarely seen drama about African American life in Watts finally gets a restored print and a theatrical release (although, alas, not yet in the South Bay). See the full-length review. (Opens May 18 at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco.)

Movie Times Morning Glory/Quality Street
(1933/1937) Katharine Hepburn as a climbing actress who dubs herself "Eva Lovelace"; on her way up she finds herself diverted by an intellectual (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) and a mature theatrical producer (Adolphe Menjou). The odd title is theatrical slang for a star who rises fast but is over with at a young age. Hepburn won the best actress Oscar but didn't attend the ceremony. BILLED WITH Quality Street. Speaking of titles, if the title sounds as high-pitched as a dog whistle, note that here Hepburn plays "Phoebe Throssel"—two separate birds!—a role that followed her "Pamela Thistlewaite" in A Woman Rebels. Hard times for this actress, and this hard-to-find comedy from her box-office poison days was her fourth failure in a row. It's a romance of an English woman in Napoleonic times who tries to land a man (Franchot Tone) by disguising herself as her niece. James M. Barrie did the play, George Stevens did the direction. (Plays May 23-24 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

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