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November 29-December 5, 2006

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This Week's Revivals

By Richard von Busack

Movie Times Captain From Castile/Prince of Foxes
(1947/1949) Cesar Romero as Cortez on his way to the New World; joining the conquistador is a Spanish nobleman (Tyrone Power) who had a rough time at the hands of the Spanish inquisition. BILLED WITH Prince of Foxes: Another Tyrone Power movie with another Cesar(e): Orson Welles as the conniving Cesare Borgia, whom Power serves for a time. Both in swashbuckling Technicolor nitrate prints. (Plays Dec 1 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Molly and Me/Unfaithfully Yours
(1945/1948) Singer Gracie Fields plays a singer who picks up a day job as a domestic in the house of a crabby old man (Monty Woolley); soon their good cheer reconciles the old man to his estranged son (Roddy McDowall). BILLED WITH Unfaithfully Yours. Rex Harrison's character, Sir Alfred de Carter, is based on Sir Thomas Beecham, but many viewers today might not understand why the wounded pride of a symphony conductor would be pricked by his brother-in-law's snobbery. Here's why: Beecham was the scion to a laxative company that pioneered the craft of the ad blitz. At one notorious point, they handed out free carol books with the following verse "Hark, the herald angels sing/ Beecham's Pills are just the thing/ Peace on earth and mercy mild/ Two for man and one for child." As the (relative) parvenu, de Carter, Harrison is easily perplexed (just like the parvenu Othello) into extremes of jealousy, and his wife (Linda Darnell) is too beautiful not to be straying. As he conducts the orchestra, Sir Alfred imagines three different perfect murder schemes set to Rossini, Wagner and Tchaikovsky. It's Preston Sturges in decline—fancier, less grounded with the finest slapstick and romance—but it's still Sturges. (Plays Dec 6-7 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Peyton Place/Ruby Gentry
(1957/1952) In the seemingly quiet New England town of Peyton Place, gossip rules. Innocent teens are accused of the high crime of skinny-dipping, while the upper-crust participates in shameless necking parties. The most respectable woman (Lana Turner) has a secret, and so does Selena, stepdaughter of the high school's drunken janitor: she's played by a young Hope Lange, certainly the best actress in the movie. However antique its methods, the film deserves a spot of respect during this year, the 50th anniversary of the publishing of the book. Grace Metalious insisted that even the most prim small towns concealed sexual abuse, abortions, illegitimacy and adultery. The author, who married "the first boy who ever looked at my mouth while I was talking," had three children but still managed to pen this exposé of small-town vice. As a result the news magazines characterized the author as a scandalmonger—Pandora reborn—and this and many other matters led to her death by cirrhosis at 39. "If I'm a lousy writer, a lot of people have lousy taste," she said. The argument is not as unanswerable as it seems, though this movie was successful enough for a sequel and a TV show. BILLED WITH Ruby Gentry. "Ruby, your love was like a flame ..."—Les Baxter's soundtrack fueled many a make-out session in the 1950s, though it was probably the torridness of King Vidor's flamboyant melodrama that caused outbreaks of hickeyed necks and mononucleosis. Jennifer Jones plays a gator-bait Southern girl who claws her way up to the top. In an effort to spite the man who dropped her (Charlton Heston), she marries a businessman she doesn't love (Karl Malden). (Plays Dec 2-3 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times San Francisco Silent Film Festival
Special event, one day only. First, a matinee of Silly Symphonies, a series of early Disney shorts. See article. Then, at 7:30pm, Chicago (1927). In Chicago, where murder is not a crime, Roxie Hart (the very entertaining Phyllis Haver) ventilates her boyfriend (Eugene Pallette), on the excellent grounds that he was trying to leave her. Her fawning husband (Victor Varconi)—a simp who cuddles his wife's discarded jingle-bell decorated garters—drives himself half-mad trying to raise the money for her defense. It seems the only mouthpiece who can save her from the gallows is the lawyer Billy Flynn (Robert Edeson), and he wants $5,000 up front. The recently restored comedy/drama—a story told in the von Stroheim style—is a little darker than the later versions, what with Haver's Roxie powdering her nose in a mirror that she'd just perforated with a bullet. If one regrets her flaws as a wife, one has to admire Roxie's talent for invention—such as turning one of her discarded stockings into funeral crepe to hang on the door as a way of scaring off the bill collectors. The story was retold in the shorter, speedier and Production Code-censored William Wellman/Ginger Rogers movie Roxie Hart. Edeson creates the role of the spats-wearing lawyer Flynn so indelibly that Adolphe Menjou and Richard Gere just played variations on his theme. Live music by the Baker-Mehling Hot Four. (Plays Dec 2 in San Francisco at Castro Theatre; see for details.)

Movie Times Thank You, Jeeves/Curly Top
(1936/1935) Oddly, Bertie Wooster (David Niven) has to commit himself to an endeavor—tracking down some spies, with the help of his better self, his butler Jeeves (Arthur Treacher). BILLED WITH Curly Top. Shirley Temple as an adorable orphan, performing "Animal Crackers in My Soup." (Plays Nov 29-30 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

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