February 28-March 6, 2007

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This Week's Revivals

By Richard von Busack

Movie Times Clash by Night/The Ghost Ship
(1952/1943) Indescribably savory and smart drama, justly filed under film noir. After some Rossellini-style images of Monterey stirring and awakening as the fishing boats dock at Cannery Row, director Fritz Lang gets down to business. A weary local lady, Mae (Barbara Stanwyck), returns on the morning train, having been chewed up and spit out by the outside world ("Big ideas, small results," she says). She gets involved with two men: Jerry (Paul Douglas), an egoless dullard of a fisherman, and his antsy but studly buddy Earl (Robert Ryan). Early is a movie projectionist: an intelligent symbolic occupation for a man who watches others go through life and treats them as if they were no more important than shadows on a screen. Who else made surliness so interesting? Together Ryan and Stanwyck have explosive physical chemistry. It's a duet you don't get often: an actor who displayed the bitterness of the postwar era in his face, matched with an actress who was at home on ocean liners and tugboats alike. The flamboyant dialogue (Clifford Odets via Alfred Hayes) can almost seem like melodrama. But this is a hard-nosed, urgent movie, firmly on the side of the usual sacrificial victim of this kind of picture, namely the straying wife. BILLED WITH The Ghost Ship. Richard Dix plays a humane and intelligent ship's captain who is slowly starting to snap. It is generally compared to Jack London's The Sea Wolf, but its treatment of megalomania is less thundering, with more pity in it. This one-of-a-kind film has a tragic mood that isn't easily shaken. (Plays Feb 28-Mar 2 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times Dodsworth/Roberta
(1936/1935) Based on Sinclair Lewis' story of a Midwestern tycoon (Walter Huston) from Zenith, Ohio, who goes on the grand tour of Europe; his wife (Ruth Chatterton) becomes enmeshed with a variety of European spongers (including David Niven). The sensitivity of the approach has been praised, just as the intrusive music score has been denounced; Mary Astor also stars, as the consolation of the cheated-on-husband. William Wyler directed. BILLED WITH Roberta. An Astaire-Rogers vehicle in which Randolph Scott inherits a Parisian haute-couture studio and fits in kind of like you'd expect Randolph Scott would fit in at a dress-designing firm. Fortunately, his head assistant (Irene Dunne) both wins his heart and saves the day. Songs include "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," "Lovely to Look At, Delightful to Hold" and "I Won't Dance." (Plays Mar 3-4 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

Movie Times The Thing/Isle of the Dead
(1951/1945) At an Arctic military base, an alien sneaks in just as a snowstorm breaks out. The much-imitated horror film is rich with Communist-terror subtext. Apart from its historical interest, it's still very effective, with James Arness as the vegetable-based critter, and Margaret Sheridan as the typical Howard Hawks tough lady. Christian Nyby directed, but producer Hawks was on-scene frequently; you could get into one of those "Did Spielberg direct Poltergeist or did Tobe Hooper?" donnybrooks with ease. BILLED WITH Isle of the Dead. Although Isle of the Dead is the least of Val Lewton's films, it is as good in sections as anything the producer did. For its oddity, it is a brace, even existential, tale. A Greek general nicknamed "The Watchdog" (Boris Karloff) is mopping up after a bloody campaign in the Balkans war of 1912. At the suggestion of an American reporter named Davis (Al Gore look-alike Marc Cramer), the two go to a nearby cemetery island to visit the grave of the general's wife. The grave has been violated. Now investigating the matter, the general stays over as the guest of a Swiss archaeologist expatriate living on the island. The film shifts into a standard haunted-house motif: the guests are stranded because of a septicemia plague outbreak, and they die one by one. One old woman, Madame Kyra (Helen Thimig), believes that the real culprit is a "vorvolaka"—a vampire/succubus taking the form of a lovely young woman. The guests—and this part is much more like Camus' The Plague—find solace against the possibility of death through their various faiths in medicine, personal will and God. Finally, an evil accident makes a monster out of one of the trapped guests. Karloff rarely had such deep material to work with. He's first made to believe in the uncanny, and then he's broken by it. The film also stars Ellen Drew as the suspected vampire, Ernst Deutsch (the "Baron" in The Third Man) as the cold yet heroic Dr. Drossos and Skelton Knaggs in a cameo as the plague's first victim. (Plays Mar 7-9 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

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