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August 29-September 4, 2007

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This Week's Revivals

By Richard von Busack

Movie Times The Best of Everything/The Sweet Smell of Success
(1959/1957) Under director John Negulesco, Joan Crawford had one of her best late-period parts, playing the larger-than-life boss lady of a New York magazine; Hope Lange is her intimidated secretary. A consistently interesting, occasionally campy and highly glossy film for dedicated followers of Douglas Sirk. BILLED WITH The Sweet Smell of Success. Walter Winchell, a now-forgotten journalistic terror of the last century, gets it as thoroughly as William Randolph Hearst did in Citizen Kane. This sleek, stark black-and-white moral tale (the crisper-than-crisp photography is by James Wong Howe) concerns the downfall of columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster). His fatal mistake: leaning too hard on a new jackal, a press agent named Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis). Falco gets a particularly unsavory job to start out his association with Hunsecker: he must end the romance between Hunsecker's sister and an unsuitable jazz musician. The Ernest Lehman/Clifford Odets script is famous for its aggressive pulp poetry: "My experience I can give you in a nutshell, and I didn't dream it in a dream either. Dog eat dog, in brief. From now on, the best of everything is good enough for me." (Plays Sep 8-11 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Niles Essanay Film Museum
Special events this weekend at the silent-film theater, including fundraising dinners (contact the theater for info), and a Friday and Saturday fundraiser screening (admission $10) of Lon Chaney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), with a score by Molly Axtmann. Shorts include Harold Lloyd's 1920 Get Out and Get Under. (Plays Sep 7 and Sep 8 in Fremont at the Edison Theater, 37417 Niles Blvd;

Movie Times Steamboat Bill Jr./The Navigator
(1928/1924) A pilot of the last of the riverboats is disappointed with his college-boy son; he's even angrier when he finds out that the boy (Buster Keaton) becomes involved with the daughter of his wealthy rival. Keaton's exquisite comedy was a flop, despite the climactic cyclone sequence, raided by comedy directors for the next 80 years. Shot in Sacramento. BILLED WITH The Navigator. Keaton's biggest hit at MGM is a story of a dumb but resourceful millionaire, a derelict ocean liner and a woman (Kathryn McGuire) who all drift away to the cannibal islands. One of the ultimate comedies of negative space, this Keaton film is full of that essential loneliness that makes the greatest comedies resound, as in the moment of Keaton making breakfast for two in a ship's galley built for 500. It even has sound, of a sort, when Keaton pantomimes the effect of the depressing popular song "Asleep in the Deep." Chris Elliott at the Stanford's Wurltizer. (Plays Sep 12 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Winchester '73/Destry Rides Again
(1950/1939) "Man gets gun, man loses gun, man gets gun"—Clive Hirschhorn. James Stewart wins a state of the art rifle at a shooting contest in Dodge City. But the weapon has a life of its own, ending up in the possession of robbers (Dan Duryea plays one of the gang), Indians and Stewart's own crooked brother (Stephen McNally). Anthony Mann's Western goes for frontier slices of life: Shelley Winters plays a dance-hall girl; political activist Will "Grandpa Walton" Geer is a sheriff, Rock Hudson is an Indian and Tony Curtis is a soldier. BILLED WITH Destry Rides Again. The unruly town of Bottleneck gets tamed by its new deputy sheriff—a milk-drinking, gun-hating, pet-birdie-fancying son of a famed and feared gunman. Young Destry was one of Stewart's most lovable roles, and played with the kind of gleam in his eye that Frank Capra tended to chase out with tears. The woman's half of the story is also well-upholstered. The most untamed citizen in the town is the venal dance hall gal "Frenchy," Marlene Dietrich, who sings one of her favorites, "See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have," and gets into a spirited cat fight with Una Merkel. Dietrich was later parodied in Blazing Saddles—good as Madeline Kahn was, there it was, another example of Mel Brooks' bad habit of parodying things that were parodies all ready. The talented comedy director George Marshall always saw the funny side of this much-filmed Western tale. (Plays Sep 5-7 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

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