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July 19-25, 2006

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This Week's Revivals

By Richard von Busack

Movie Times The Blues Brothers
(1980) The passage of time has made John Landis' excessive car-crash-laden comedy look a little better, if only by contrast with the 8 million Saturday Night Live spinoffs since. One still misses John Belushi's comedy, the insouciant way he threw an automobile cigarette lighter out of the car, as if it were a spent match. And maybe you have to have been stranded on the roadside many times by those lousy Detroit clunkers of the 1970s to truly appreciate the spectacle of their punishment: watching them get blown up, smashed and dropped. There is no forgiveness for the underuse of John Lee Hooker, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway and James Brown, all of whom make Belushi and Dan Aykroyd's silly but unbelievably popular tribute act look as minor as it was. Henry Gibson is memorable playing an Illinois Nazi. (Plays Jul 26 at sundown in San Jose at San Pedro Square; free; please, no outside food or drink.)

Movie Times Double Indemnity
(1944) The deathless film version of James Cain's steel-trap mystery novel in which a hustling insurance salesman outsmarts himself, a heartless blonde loses an unwanted husband and a worn, fatherly little troll almost figures the scam out. It's an unusually graceful tale of murder directed by Billy Wilder with Barbara Stanwyck as the femme fatale Phyllis. Stanwyck—the most versatile of Hollywood studio leading ladies—excels in everything the role requires, from the harsh chemical allure, the salty dialogue and the serious-as-cancer underpinnings. Fred MacMurray is the perfect sucker who narrates the story from the edge of the grave; Edward G. Robinson plays his smart, sad boss, who gives him a light for his last cigarette. (Plays Jul 19 at sundown in San Jose at San Pedro Square; free; please, no outside food or drink.)

Movie Times Love Finds Andy Hardy/Pigskin Parade
(1938/1936) That date-crazed Andy Hardy pursues a pair of babes; someone should have pounded the slogan "Chase two rabbits, catch neither one" into his freckled noggin. Judy Garland (nice) and Lana Turner (naughty) are the two girls in question. BILLED WITH Pigskin Parade. Jack Oakie and Patsy Kelly as married football coaches who discover a hayseed marvel who can throw the ball good enough to defeat Yale on its own field. It's in the trad of the original Million Dollar Legs, no doubt, with Oakie—a Jack Black-oid slob, airing out jokes that even Granddad would have rebelled against. But Judy Garland is in it as a hillbilly gal, and the young Betty Grable is in it somewhere, as are singing sensations the Yacht Club Boys. "It's beyond belief—atrocious and yet funny and enjoyable."—Pauline Kael. (Plays Jul 25-27 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theater.)

Movie Times The Merry Widow
(1925) A different animal from the more easily found MGM remake. Mae Murray plays a rich Viennese widow who has position and fortune enough to revenge herself on the officer (John Gilbert) who dumped her. Having spawned both the eponymous waltz and the corset, it was fine material for Erich von Stroheim to strop his claws upon; he gave it a decadent overlay that includes (legend has it) monogrammed underwear on the extras. Dennis James is at the Stanford's Wurlitzer. (Plays Jul 26 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theater.)

Movie Times Orchestra Wives/The Great Waltz
(1942/1938) Newlywed trumpeter George Montgomery and his wife, Ann Rutherford, are dogged with gossip; the rest of the band thinks the horn player is dallying with a singer (Lynn Bari), but everything gets sorted out with the help of Glenn Miller, seen leading the band through "Chattanooga Choo Choo" and "Moonlight Serenade." Tex Beneke, whom I once waited on when I was bartending (he was a gent), sings his trademarked "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo." Cesar Romero shows off his Latin aplomb, and the show-stopping Nicholas Brothers turn up, too. BILLED WITH The Great Waltz. "I love the waltz, tho' it has its faltz."—San Jose's own Smothers Brothers. Julien Duvivier's version of the story of Johann Strauss (Fernand Gravey), his wife (Luise Rainer) and a pesky third party (Miliza Korjus), a last great cinematic celebration of Germanic culture before the trouble began Over There. (Plays Jul 19-20 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Vertigo/To Catch a Thief
(1958/1955) In Alfred Hitchcock's emotionally powerful story of a man's last love affair before the grave, Jimmy Stewart plays a retired San Francisco police detective hooked by a married woman who is apparently haunted by a dead ancestor. As the deadly imago, Kim Novak leads a vertigo-struck Stewart to more and more dizzying heights. It was a misunderstood film in its time, because the implications were a little too unpleasant for a 1950s audience to face, and the ending is probably the most bleak in all of Code-era American cinema. Stewart, most certainly not a nice guy here, is demanding and duplicitous, but he was never better, never so much at cross purposes with that sometimes tiresomely folksy exterior. Bernard Herrmann's symphonic soundtrack stays with you for life; it's widely considered the best movie ever made in San Francisco, for that matter. BILLED WITH To Catch a Thief. Swelligant caper in the south of France, where a retired (though very fit) ex-jewel thief (Cary Grant) is suspected of revisiting his old career as "The Cat," when local villas are rifled. Grace Kelly, one of those cats that got the canary, shares some roast poultry with Grant, though when watching this, I'm distracted by a different alouette—the ex-acrobat Brigitte Auber. "It wasn't meant to be taken seriously."—Alfred Hitchcock to Francois Truffaut. (Plays Jul 22-24 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theater.)

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