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August 2-8, 2006

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This Week's Revivals

By Richard von Busack

Movie Times Babes in Arms/Andy Hardy Meets Debutante
(1939/1940) When an older generation of vaudevillians bombs out, their children—"They call us babes in arm, but we're babes in armor"—assemble to put on a show that'll benefit their impoverished parents. Andy Rooney and Judy Garland lead the cast; it's based on a hit-laden Rodgers and Hart show of which only the songs "The Lady Is a Tramp" and "Where or When" were retained. The Busby Berkeley direction is loaded with ultrapatriotic wowserism, drawing heavily upon Berkeley's time in military school; the blackface number is evidence that it's good that they don't make them like they used to. BILLED WITH Andy Hardy Meets Debutante. Diana Lewis as the deb in question; meanwhile, lovelorn as always Judy Garland sings "I'm Nobody's Baby." (Plays Aug 1-3 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Broadway Melody of 1938/Babes on Broadway
(1937/1942) Memorable for Judy Garland singing "Dear Mr. Gable"—a musical love letter. Not nearly enough remembered for Eleanor Powell and George Murphy's dance in the flooded grass of a city park (it doesn't have the solitary grace of the title number in "Singin' in the Rain," but it certainly looks a lot more difficult). White blues shouter Sophie Tucker is aboard, as is Buddy Ebsen in his gusty hayseed days and Robert Benchley saying something suave about it all. BILLED WITH Babes on Broadway. The one where Mickey Rooney imitates Carmen Miranda singing "Mama Yo Quiero." Directed by Busby Berkeley, it concerns young and out-of-work actors banding together to put on a show; Judy Garland sings "How About You"; there's a yokel number and yet another tragic blackface sequence. (That's Blackface! is not an MGM anthology we'll be seeing on KQED, but there's at least 90 minutes' worth of material for such a film.) In a haunted theater sequence, Rooney and Garland do their impression of now-forgotten stage greats of the past like George M. Cohan and the Scottish dialect singer Sir Harry Lauder; the Irish number is Cohan's "Mary Is a Grand Old Name" sung by Garland. (Plays Aug 8-10 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Diary of a Lost Girl
(1929) Louise Brooks stars as a waif who goes from riches to rags and back again; Weimar-era social critique by G.W. Pabst, who was just about to do the first film version of The Threepenny Opera; the sleek, cryptic and phenomenally attractive Brooks is the film's deathless appeal. Dennis James is at the Stanford's Wurlitzer. (Plays Aug 4 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Galaxy Quest
(1999) Trusting Thermians, sort of humanoid meerkats (one, a frightfully beaming Missi Pyle, is a standout), monitor Earth's TV broadcasts, see a Star Trek-like show and believe its stars to be galactic champions. The aliens teleport the cast out of the sci-fi convention morass they're in and take them to deep space to help them fight a genocidal nemesis: a dinosaur/scorpion-fish cross called Gen. Sarris. (And here's to the noble custom of naming villains after film critics: Gen. Kael in Willow, Bob Balaban's Farber in Lady in the Water). Currently being plagiarized on the "Got milk?" ads, this appealing satire counts as the kind of movie that can be watched a dozen times. The top-drawer cast must have loved the show-must-go-on message. Tim Allen is the captain, an easygoing slouch; Sigourney Weaver is Galaxy Quest's eye-candy; she plays Gwen DeMarco with the genuine 1,000-yard stare of the aging actress (who hasn't seen that look on the faces of the celebs at a Comics Convention?); Alan Rickman is genuinely stirring as the British thespian, soul-dead from playing Spock, though he rediscovers the Shakespearean in himself during battle. A delight. (Plays Aug 9 at sunset in San Jose; free; please, no outside food or drink.)

Movie Times The Poseidon Adventure
(1972) "They had to remove the word 'adventure' from the title of the remake, because it violated truth in advertising laws"—Mike Monahan. Capt. Leslie Nielsen, in his pre-ZAZ brothers days as a serious actor, sees an enormous wall of water heading for the ship and comments, "I don't believe it—an enormous wall of water heading for the ship." Believe it, or don't—soon the SS Poseidon is ass over teakettle, and the passengers are seeking daylight and God, in that order, and meeting the kind of grisly fates they don't warn you about in the travel brochures. Stars Stella Stevens—always a pleasure, regardless of the waterlogged circumstances; Ernest "the Oscar's Lodestar" Borgnine; Gene Hackman as a mod priest with mod doubts, Shelley Winters as the former swim champion turned orca, etc. It's not a chalky-looking computerized cheat like the remake, and the grisly stunt work kicked off a genre of its own. Killing off subprime celebrities by the dozen was a great sport of 1970s cinema, and we bad bastards lined up to see them die horribly again and again in The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, The Swarm and others. (Plays Aug 2 in San Jose at sundown in San Pedro Square; free; please, no outside food or drink.)

Movie Times Rebecca/Strangers on a Train
(1940/1951) Joan Fontaine plays the new wife of British nobleman Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier). She finds a chilly welcome at de Winter's English manor, Manderley. Her husband seems distracted, bitter; her housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), is in open revolt against her. Gradually, she begins to fear that the first Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca, was such a paragon that she will never be able to match her. Alfred Hitchcock was lured to Hollywood by producer David O. Selznick to make a film about the Titanic and ended up working on this instead. It was the only Hitchcock movie to win a Best Picture Oscar. It must have been the women's vote; I suspect that Rebecca means more to women than any of Hitchcock's other films, especially in the way it plays upon senses of inferiority and the worst fears about the silences of men. BILLED WITH Strangers on a Train. A blissful collaboration between Patricia Highsmith, Alfred Hitchcock and Raymond Chandler. The gimmick is a luscious one: Two strangers have drinks together on the New York-to-D.C. train. One, Guy (San Jose's own Farley Granger), is a celebrated tennis player who has climbed out of the ghetto. The other is the well-to-do senator's son, Bruno (Robert Walker). When Bruno suggests the idea of killing a troublesome woman in Guy's life, the tennis player thinks it's a joke. But Bruno is all too serious. What repays the rewatching is Walker's Bruno, one of cinema's most memorable villains—the aesthetic kind, a combo of one of Bill Murray's silky scroungers and Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter. (Plays Aug 5-7 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
(1990) Four almost completely identical shellbacks, named after Renaissance artists, fight crime of some sort. What we will soon (as of March 2007) call "the first movie version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." Michael Weldon (Psychotronic Encyclopedia) claims it was a record holder for most popular independent film, for a while. Strictly for aging children in need of a blast of nostalgia. (Plays Aug 3 at midnight in Los Gatos at Los Gatos Theater, plays Aug 4 in Campbell at Camera 7, plays Aug 5 in San Jose at Camera 12.)

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