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October 18-24, 2006

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This Week's Revivals

By Richard von Busack

Movie Times The Brasher Doubloon/Kiss of Death
(Both 1947) The most obscure of all Raymond Chandler adaptations, at long last revived. Philip Marlowe (George Montgomery) takes on a case of a stolen coin, which leads to a string of murders. The 76-minute movie is based on Chandler's The High Window. The change of title couldn't have helped the film's chances, since you can imagine the theater being mobbed with pirate-movie fans. Noir ace John Brahm directs. Original nitrate print. BILLED WITH Kiss of Death. Victor Mature stars as a New York thief facing a 20-year ticket to prison who is persuaded to squeal on his accomplices by a DA (Brian Donlevy); but hit man Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark) tries to persuade Mature that there is a certain wisdom in silence. Ultimately, Widmark is what people remember about this classic noir, shot in real Manhattan locations by director Henry Hathaway; the moment of Udo helping an old lady with her wheelchair is particularly affecting. (Plays Oct 25-26 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Close Encounters of the Third Kind
(1977) Steven Spielberg's reimagining of the science fiction films he doted on as a kid, such as The Day the Earth Stood Still (which plays at the Stanford Theatre later this week). As in that 1951 version, the aliens represent saviors from another planet, but in this case they're embraced, not frightened off. Alienated lineman Richard Dreyfuss sees a UFO, gets estranged from his family and forms a new family with a group of saucer cultists who know the truth is out there. Both groundbreaking and crowd-pleasing, CE3K shows Spielberg's childlike, all-embracing side in its best light. Last free outdoor movie until May! (Plays Oct 19 at sundown in St. James Park; free; bring a blanket or lawn chair.)

Movie Times The Day the Earth Stood Still/Panic in the Streets
(1951/1950) A flying saucer lands in Washington D.C., giving Earth a warning to mend its warlike ways, but the earthlings are resistant. Michael Rennie delivers the ultimatum from the stars. BILLED WITH Panic in the Streets. Richard Widmark plays as a detective-doctor ("Roll up your sleeve, and start talkin'"). He's a public health official informed of the police discovery of a pneumatic plague-riddled corpse, although the deceased's more immediate cause of death was gunfire. Plague-carrying outlaws are run to earth, as Widmark plays for time against slow-witted cops and angry newsmen. It's shot extensively in the streets of New Orleans—don't miss the title sequence, with neon jungle signs reading "Casino Royale" and "Prima's 500 Club" whizzing past, as Alfred Newman performs the most David Raksin-like score of his life. Elia Kazan tries to go down and dirty, but he shows a didacticism that interferes with material that would have been best dripping with film noir fatalism. He has an extreme pair of villains, though: Zero Mostel as a dough-faced fool named Finch, and as the ringleader, one of the nastiest pieces of work available to the directors of the time, a former Stanford student named "Walter Jack Palance." The scalelike scars, from the burning gasoline facial Palance got in the Big War, enhance a skull like a pit-viper's. Physically, Palance towers over the cast, and at this point, he had yet to pick up the heavy-breathing mannerism that made his fame in later films, and he has silky diction. Playing Widmark's wife, Barbara Bel Geddes knows how to make a good woman look strong, as she dawdles over the question of having another kid on a civil servant's salary. (Albert Camus fans note: the plague here supposedly originates in Oran, Algeria.) (Plays Oct 21-22 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Ferris Bueller's Day Off
(1986) Easygoing piece of nothing about playing hooky from high school, written and directed by John Hughes, as a milestone down his path downhill. Matthew Broderick is inoffensive as always in the lead. An actor named Alan Ruck steals the picture with his parody of an old spiritual: "When Cameron was in Egypt's land." Jeffrey Jones and Charlie Sheen co-star. (Plays Oct 20 and 21 at midnight and Oct 21 and 22 at noon in Palo Alto at the Aquarius Theater.)

Movie Times Forever Amber/How Green Was My Valley
(1947/1941) Linda Darnell in Otto Preminger's stab at the supermarket-novel sensation of its day: Kathleen Winsor's opus about the rise of a Puritan girl who becomes one of the most famous courtesans in Restoration England. Leon Shamroy did the Technicolor photography, seen in the original nitrate print; George Sanders drawls through the role of King Charles II. BILLED WITH How Green Was My Valley. As in the above, the novel was rougher; Richard Llewellyn's account of the coal miner's life in Wales got soft-focusing by director John Ford. It's the story of the youngest son (Roddy McDowall) of a family of miners, recalling his family and his lost love. (Plays Oct 20 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times The Nightmare Before Christmas
(1993) Tim Burton's stop-action marvel never gets old. This Halloween return engagement is being shown in 3-D in limited theaters. Adding the 3-D effect seems like overkill to us. Don't mess with a classic, we always say. (Opens Oct 20 at the Century Oakridge 20.)

Movie Times The Pied Piper/A Bell for Adano
(1942/1945) Old duffer (Monty Wooley) ends up in the refugee business in spite of himself, bringing a group of French children to safety. Wooley was in real life the character he played in Night and Day, an Ivy League law professor who ditched academia in favor of performing whiskered curmudgeons on screen. BILLED WITH A Bell for Adano. American Army Major John Hodiak, occupying the town of Adano in Italy, finds the church bell previously stolen by the Germans. (Plays Oct 18-19 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Starship Troopers
(1997) It's another sort of serious, sort of not "parody" by Paul Verhoeven, stimulating the reaction of not really knowing whether to laugh or cry (as when watching Showgirls). By rooting for the computer-generated insects—arachnids from the planet Klendathu—you can have an OK time. Director Verhoeven includes Robert Heinlein's ultramontaine politics seemingly uncritically: the failure of democracy is taught in school, only ex-soldiers can vote, floggings are therapeutic. As a sop to the liberals, the future is sex-equal. Someone had a little in-joke by placing the official-looking initials "FTA" all over the Starship Troopers' boot camp; every ex-soldier knows what "FTA" stands for. As a quick antidote, and exposure to something with the guts to be openly funny, read Harry Harrison's Heinlein parody, Bill, the Galactic Hero. (Plays Oct 20 at midnight in Campbell at Camera 7 and Oct 21 at midnight in San Jose at Camera 12.)

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