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October 4-10, 2006

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This Week's Revivals

By Richard von Busack

Movie Times All About Eve/A Letter to Three Wives
(1950/1949) Bette Davis plays veteran theater actress Margo Channing, stalked by a disingenuous ingénue (Anne Baxter). George Sanders plays vinegar-blooded critic Addison De Witt, who introduces himself with the first of a series of impieties, paraphrasing Matthew 6:28: "I toil not, nor do I spin." Marilyn Monroe has a small part as a naif ready for the picture business, and four-time Oscar nominee, always-a-bridesmaid Thelma Ritter co-stars as the moral center of the film, a maid who sees through the false lovey-doveyness of the theatrical crowd. (After Baxter tells her sad, sad life story, Ritter snaps, "What a performance. Everything but the bloodhounds snapping at her rear end.") BILLED WITH A Letter to Three Wives. On the day three women (Jeanne Craine, Ann Sothern, Linda Darnell) are about to take a day's vacation, they each receive correspondence from a local prowling divorcee (the unseen voice of Celeste Holm) who claims she is about to run away with one of their husbands. The three search their memories and find circumstantial evidence that their man might be the one who will flee. Co-starring Kirk Douglas as a bitter husband who hates soap operas. Ritter plays a maid who has been trained to say "Dinner is served" instead of "Soup's on." (Plays Oct 7-8 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Born Into Brothels
(2004) The photojournalist Zana Briski decided to infiltrate a Calcutta brothel. So she bought a pair of video cameras on her credit cards and went to India with her then-boyfriend Ross Kauffman. Kauffman and Briski's Born Into Brothels profiles eight children of prostitutes. Briski taught them to use 35 mm cameras in hopes of documenting their world. All the children prove themselves loaded with talent. The film has scenes that are close to humor: the humor of the unbearable. What lesson can be learned from Born Into Brothels? In the richer countries, the pose of the artist is the easiest to strike—and the easiest to defend. The narcissistic novelist, the self-deluded transgressive photographer and the boutique filmmaker—all love to forget that they operate in a background of great privilege, poor as they might feel themselves to be. A little guilt would only be becoming. Better still would be a sense of duty to those who will never be able to hold a pen, a paintbrush or a camera. (Plays Oct 9 at 8:15pm in San Jose at Martin Luther King Jr. Library; part of the First International Humanitarian Film Festival;

Movie Times Hang 'Em High
(1968) 1889: Our scowling hero Clint Eastwood plays Marshall Cooper, who is saved from a lynching and rides through Oklahoma Territory trying to use the law to get his revenge. Now that films are so portable, do viewers ever consider their surroundings? Saying "I saw this movie in Fiji" or "It was playing in a theater in Oslo" should change everything. Well, running Hang 'Em High at St. James Park is a classic sick joke if it was intentional, and it's even funnier if it's just some bizarre coincidence. For purposes of site-specificity it probably would have been better to show Fury, directly based on St. James Park's claim to lynching infamy—but this'll do. Be warned; despite Dominic Frontiere's nigh-Morricone score, Hang 'Em High isn't as majestic as Leone's Westerns. TV vet Don Post, later to hit surreal heights with Beneath the Planet of the Apes, makes this a routine backlot opus with familiar boob tube faces, such as James MacArthur and Alan "The Skipper" Hale. It has some adult touches: the ill-fated actress Inger Stevens is quite touching describing a sexual assault, and Dennis Hopper runs barking mad for about 60 seconds before he gets gunned down; at least they didn't string him up. Clearly, the message of this anti-death penalty movie, with its sick dread of the noose, didn't touch Eastwood's conscience or heart. (Plays Oct 5 in San Jose at St. James Square, at sundown; free; bring lawn chairs or blankets.)

Movie Times In Old Chicago/Ladies in Love
(1937/1936) How Chicago burned, with Alice Brady as Mrs. O'Leary, and Tyrone Power as her wayward son (one can presume Power's sins were as much cause for the fire as the cow kicking over the lantern). Don Ameche is the mayor; Alice Faye belts a few songs as an opening act for the big blaze. Rondo Hatton is in it somewhere. A $2 million production when $2 million bought you something; Henry King directs. Original nitrate print. BILLED WITH Ladies in Love. Not with each other, mind. In Budapest, three working girls (Loretta Young, Janet Gaynor and Constance Benning) splurge to rent a fancy place in hopes of attracting high-class men. Tyrone Power is one such, a blueblood; Don Ameche is a warm-hearted doctor with eyes for Benning. (Plays Oct 11-12 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Lost Boys of Sudan
(2003) Megan Mylan and Jon Shenk's documentary about a year in the life of Santino Major Chuor and his friend Peter Nyarol Dut. On a barefoot trail-of-tears walk to Kenya, Santino and Peter and about 20,000 others came to the U.N.'s refugee camp in Kakuma. After several years there, handfuls of these so-called "lost boys of Sudan' were recruited to come to the United States to work and study. More precisely, they were dropped with very little preparation into the middle of Houston. Peter heads to Kansas City, where he wrangles shopping carts at the Wal-Mart parking lot in between classes at Olathe East High School. But his fellow students don't understand him, either. These Sudanese—so open and so sincere—weird people out. Maybe the bitterest moment is when a very inexperienced student reporter from the high school paper tries to ask the right questions from Peter for an interview. Peter—baffled, not certain what she wants to hear about his ordeal—searches for an answer. What could he possibly say to connect the fading memory of his home village with the minimansions, freeways and hard plastic surfaces of suburban Olathe? (Plays Oct 9 at 6:15pm in San Jose at Martin Luther King Jr. Library; part of the First International Humanitarian Film Festival;

Movie Times Love Is News/The Magnificent Dope
(1937/1942) Tyrone Power plays a newspaper man who puffs up the life of a newspaper heiress; to get even, she (Loretta Young) announces to the world that the journalist is her fiance. Original nitrate print. BILLED WITH The Magnificent Dope. Don Ameche leads the search for the least successful man in America and finds him in the form of lolling country boy Henry Fonda—and pretty soon Ameche's girl (Lynn Bari) is more interested in the hick than the go-getter. (Plays Oct 4-5 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Plan Nine From Outer Space
(1959) Popularly but incorrectly called the worst movie of all time, this deathless piece of folk art is Ed Wood's unauthorized tribute to The Day the Earth Stood Still. Your host is TV psychic Criswell, who emerges from a casket to tell a tragic story of effete, satin-clad aliens trying to save the earth from destruction by scaring it with zombies. A nice try, but mankind's killer instinct is not to be overcome for long. Guest stars Bela Lugosi and Nita "Vampira" Naldi aren't bad at all, but huge wrestler Tor Johnson may have been better cast a physical type than the brains of the operation. The bombastic library music strikes a tragic contrast with the unfortunate stock footage and the tendency for night to turn to day in the blink of an eye. Still, tell me this is more inept than Independence Day. The recent colorization is, strangely, an aesthetic success, making this one of the few (previously) black-and-white movies many younger members of the audience will have ever seen. "God help us all, in the future!" (Plays Oct 6 and 7 at midnight and Oct 7 and 8 at noon in Palo Alto at Aquarius Theater.)

Movie Times Pulp Fiction
(1994) Quentin Tarantino's trend-setting and hugely comic omnibus film, much imitated by filmmakers lacking his concentration, his intelligence in casting and his first-hand knowledge of trash talk and old movies. Samuel L. Jackson is unforgettable as the hit man who has a Road to Damascus conversion; a dapper Harvey Keitel shows how to conduct yourself as an illegal businessman; a drawling John Travolta shares a tender $5 milkshake with a coked-up moll (Uma Thurman, at her best); Roseanne Arquette and Eric Stoltz demonstrate how to cure a heroin overdose; and the one and only Christopher Walken tells a heartwarming patriotic story, as an episode of the paralytic cartoon Clutch Cargo plays behind him. (Plays Oct 6 in Campbell at midnight at Camera 7 and Oct 7 at midnight in San Jose at midnight at Camera 12.)

Movie Times State Fair/Carousel
(1946/1956) As Napoleon said, men will face danger for a scrap of ribbon. At the Iowa State Fair, Dad (Charles Winniger) seeks a blue ribbon for his hog Blue Boy; his wife, Fay Bainter, angles for a cooking prize; and their offspring (Dick Haymes and Jeanne Crain) get into the usual mischief that a fair offers. Original Technicolor nitrate print. BILLED WITH Carousel. In New England, Julie (Shirley Jones) falls for a carney named Billy Bigelow (Gordon MacRae). He lets her down; fate offers him a chance to redeem himself from beyond the grave. Carousel wasn't a hit, and here's a suggestion why: even softened from the original Molnar play (where the Bigelow figure went to Hell for his sins), it's still a bit sadder than the mass public likes for a musical entertainment. And the hit from it "You'll Never Walk Alone" is more heart-breaking than simple-minded inspirational. Still, Jones is delectable, Cameron Mitchell is an intimidating heavy, and the score includes some of the best of Rodgers-Hammerstein: "If I Loved You" and the "Carousel Waltz." Restored print. (Plays Oct 6 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

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