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Film Picks

[whitespace] By Richard von Busack

The Lady From Shanghai
Oct. 9-15 at the Lumiere Theater
1572 California St.; 415/352-0810.

Minor Welles, but Welles all the way. In the 1948 film, Welles plays an broke Irish sailor seduced by a wealthy married woman (Rita Hayworth) whose sadistic crippled husband (Everett Sloane, Bernstein in Citizen Kane) is apparently wise to what's going on. The narrative is puzzling, but the film has a stunning, much-imitated finale filmed in the house of mirrors at Playland by the Beach, the San Francisco amusement park.

Universal Horrors
Oct. 9-30 at the Castro Theater
429 Castro St.; 415/621-6120.

A month-long retrospective by the one American movie studio that gave itself over to Expressionism in the 1930s and '40s. (Even Universal's Westerns look German, observed film historian William K. Everson.) Universal's management was deaf to the squawking of moral reformers and psychologists who, then as now, were terrified by the morally polluting qualities of horror films. As a result, the studio can now pride itself on having cornered one strange market. The festival begins with a double bill of James Whale's first two Frankenstein movies. Boris Karloff, "The Uncanny," was actually the gentle, cricket-fancying William Henry Pratt, unforgettably transformed by make-up man Jack Pierce into a monster constructed from dead human bits and pieces. (The famous flat head is a way of suggesting that the monster's skull has been trepanned for his brain transplant.) The first Frankenstein (1931) is straight Gothic horror. The follow-up, The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), is berserk hideo-comedy. Elsa Lanchester is a lovely bridal vision, with her frozen pout, her electrocuted Nefertiti coiffure and her stiff bandaged limbs. Karloff's Monster is bad enough; Karloff's Imhotep in 1932's The Mummy is far worse. After all, the Monster is a fantastic figment of the imagination, but the prune-faced Imhotep is someone whose motives more people can understand. Drew Barrymore look-alike Zita Johann plays the half-Egyptian/half-British woman who is the reincarnation of Imhotep's dead love. Karl Freund, cinematographer on Metropolis and Dracula, directed. Also scheduled is the 1931 Dracula . This may be a classic, but it's not a good movie. Fans feel a lot more comfortable laughing at the corny parts of the far more frightening 1932 White Zombie than they do at Dracula, probably because of the latter's reputation as a masterpiece. The Black Cat is a brilliant Jacobean revenge story set in a house built profanely atop a WWI battleground. It's billed with The Wolf Man (1941), the tragic Lon Chaney Jr.'s nigh-autobiographical tale of a man ruined by lycanthropy. Chaney's father is on view at the festival's closer on Halloween Eve, the silent The Phantom of the Opera with organ accompaniment.

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From the October 5-18, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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