March 21-27, 2007

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This Week's Revivals

By Richard von Busack

Movie Times The Big Clock/Bedlam
(1948/1946) A monstrous publisher (Charles Laughton) disposes of his girlfriend, but fails to realize the witness to the killing is his pushed-around underling (Ray Milland). BILLED WITH Bedlam. A remarkable horror story of the first and most infamous of mental hospitals. Reputedly based on Hogarth's engravings, it stars the perfect actor to lead you through the tale: Boris Karloff, the embodiment of obsequious evil. In London, a courageous Quaker (the dull Richard Fraser) investigates conditions in the London insane asylum; while there, he becomes enamored of a woman he can't approve of, a courtesan (Anna Lee) who has come to pay her money and be amused by the mad people's antics. Nominally a B-picture, yet it's one of the most well-researched looks at Georgian times ever seen in a Hollywood movie of its era; director Mark Robson and his producer Val Lewton make the madhouse a distorted picture of a society straitjacketed by its class system. And as evidence of one old-time atrocity, note the bit here about the "human statuary" that turns up later in films as diverse as Goldfinger and The Draughtsman's Contract. The denouement—Thanks, Mr. Poe!—gives horror fans what they were looking for, as well as some briefly but incisively sketched figures: the real-life libertine John Wilkes (Leyland Hodgson) as well as a not completely unsympathetic old lord (Billy House). Incidentally, the hospital still stands in Lambeth, though the building has been taken over by the Imperial War Museum. One kind of insanity giving way to another. (Plays Mar 28-30 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theater.)

Movie Times Dinner at Eight/One Hour With You
(1933/1932) Various characters tie on the feedbag at a dinner party. The production is loaded with talent: script by Frances Marion and Herman Mankiewicz; cinematography by William Daniels; and a cast that included the heavier horses in MGM's stable—Marie Dressler, Wallace Beery and the Barrymore brothers. John plays an alcoholic actor at the end of his tether—must have been a real stretch for him. Yet what everyone remembers most is Dressler's expert verbal slapdown of the movie's real star, Jean Harlow. BILLED WITH One Hour With You. Sore temptation for Maurice Chevalier when his wife's best friend arrives. MacDonald and Genevieve Tobin co-star in a film based on the same play co-director Ernst Lubitsch had filmed as The Marriage Circle. Seven songs, too, of which the title tune (a favorite of Daffy Duck's) was the only noted one. (Plays Mar 25-25 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theater.)

Movie Times Hollow Triumph/The Seventh Victim
(1948/1943) In Hollow Triumph (a.k.a. The Scar), Paul Henreid plays John Muller, a gangster who has a double—Dr. Victor Bartok, a psychiatrist with a scar. While trying to get rid of Bartok and take his place (including giving himself a home scarification job) in order to hide from the crooks who are hunting him down after a botched casino robbery, Muller becomes involved with the doctor's undiscriminating secretary (film noir mainstay Joan Bennett). Photographed by John Alton and featuring very stunning deep-focus shots. BILLED WITH The Seventh Victim After a title card with an epigraph by John Donne's first Holy Sonnet—"I runne to death, and death meets me as fast / And all my pleasures are like yesterday"—this fatalist horror film commences; it follows a lady (Kim Hunter) trying to find her sister who has been put under sentence of death by a devil-worshipping cult in the depths of Greenwich Village. More about this next week. Produced by Val Lewton. (Plays Mar 21-23 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Theatre.)

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