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December 6-12, 2006

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This Week's Revivals

By Richard von Busack

Movie Times The Big Lebowski
(1998) A holy fool (the Dude, played by Jeff Bridges) of an L.A. layabout, mistaken for a detective, is set on a Philip Marlowesque task to find the straying wife (Tara Reid) of a wheelchair-bound Pasadena millionaire. This defective detective story parodies how film noir went from ripeness to rot decades ago. While the Coen brothers send up the private-eye movie as effectively as Bob Hope's My Favorite Brunette, The Big Lebowski has a core of poignancy. No man or woman is so lazy that he or she doesn't think they have a code, just like Marlowe did. Down these mean streets a man must go who is so drunk he doesn't know where he's going. In the role of the human tumbleweed, Lebowski, known as "Dude," Jeff Bridges brought a new level of vulnerable warmth. The llama-eyed Steve Buscemi is unusually touching, and Sam Elliott is uproarious as his Cowboy Bard, who sometimes has to stretch a little to find the right words. (Plays Dec 8 at midnight at Camera 7 in Campbell and Dec 9 at midnight in at Camera 12 in San Jose.)

Movie Times Lancer Spy/Lifeboat
(1937/1944) George Sanders plays an Englishman who is the exact double of a German officer; while undercover in the Kaiser's Reich, he's hunted by a German spy (Dolores Del Rio). BILLED WITH Lifeboat. Hitchcock's experimental drama, talking place in a lifeboat full of survivors of a torpedoed freighter. As they try to survive, they begin to realize that one of their number is a Nazi. This is Tallulah Bankhead's most significant movie role. Here, one sees, half-drowned (by booze, not seawater), the beauty that made Bankhead swarmed by admirers of both sexes during her heyday in the 1920s. Walter Slezak co-stars. (Plays Dec 13-14 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 Psychotronix Film Festival
Lots of TBA cinematic and television oddities from the pre-computer era, as a benefit for the one and only KFJC. Stuff you shouldn't see, stuff you couldn't see: stuff, in short. (Plays Dec 9 at 7pm in Room 5015 at Foothill College. $5 at the door, and bring $2 in quarters for the parking meters because there isn't any change to be found, and the regents or satraps or doges or whoever it is that runs California's community college system thought it would be a good idea to make up their budget deficits by soaking their students. Then they all trooped off to a seafood restaurant to have a lobster-eating contest. Afterward, they lit their cigars with $100 bills, chortling and patting their distended bellies, which threatened to burst their dollar-sign-patterned waistcoats. A good time was had by all.)

Movie Times The Robe/Anastasia
(1953/1956) Ancient Roman Richard Burton gambles for the robe of Jesus and finds the sacred relic starts to turn him Christian—a social embarrassment in those days. Fortunately, Burton has the respect of his manservant Demetrius (Victor Mature). The first film in CinemaScope, it was a classic example of how the 1950s made a full-throated biblical epic, with sky-high budgets and proud pointings-out of gilded historical detail. With Richard "Paladin" Boone as Pilate, Michael Rennie as St. Peter and a very funny Jay Robinson as Caligula. BILLED WITH Anastasia. Based on the life of Anna Anderson (or Andersen), the half-sane impostor who claimed to be the tsar's daughter. Peter Kurth's credulous book Anastasia: The Riddle of Anna Anderson tells the story. Though "Anastasia" was certainly snobbish and anti-Semitic enough to have been a genuine member of the Russian royal family, she flunked the DNA test posthumously. In this, the most famous filmed version, Ingrid Bergman plays an amnesiac woman groomed by White Russian swindlers; the chief of them is played by Yul Brynner, whose graceful strides belie a monochromatic acting style. (Plays Dec 9-10 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times That Night in Rio/On the Riviera
(1941/1951) In which a nightclub singer (Don Ameche) turns out to be a dead ringer for a supercilious baron. A downcast Alice Faye sings, but her light is stolen by Carmen Miranda, served with a delicious fruit topping and singing, "I-Yi-Yi-Yi Like You Very Much." BILLED WITH On the Riviera. Refurbished for Danny Kaye (by Nora Ephron's parents), this time the singer is a ringer for a French aviator. (Plays Dec 8 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

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