Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Brattle's Centennial Celebrations: The Blue Dahlia; The Glass Key; It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; and Raiders of the Lost Ark

I would have seen one or two more, but White Christmas didn't draw me in for the Danny Kaye double feature quite the way The Court Jester would have. Although, maybe I'm mis-remembering, but hasn't the Brattle had to cancel The Court Jester before because it couldn't get a print (or, now, a DCP)? Maybe I just missed it last time, but if not... C'mon, Paramount, what's wrong with you?

Kaye probably deserved a series of his own, but the others included in the tribute - Blue Dahlia & Glass Key star Alan Ladd, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World director Stanley Kramer, and Raiders cinematographer Douglas Slocombe - could probably say that too. At the very least, we got to see some pretty nice copies of some good movies. The Ladd ones were on crisp black-and-white 35mm, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was a good DCP, and I think Raiders was 35mm - it was advertised as such about half the time, but I never saw any of the telltale signs, like reel changes and the like.

My preferred theory for that is that the guys at the Brattle have show Raiders enough times that they don't actually need any prompting for when to do the changeovers. And, hey, they didn't correct Nick Frost when he tweeted that he'd just seen the movie in 35mm at the Brattle, apparently at the same show I went to.

The Blue Dahlia

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 November 2013 at the Brattle Theatre (Centennial Celebrations, 35mm)

There are a lot of names that can lead a person to check out The Blue Dahlia: while it was recently screened at the Brattle as part of a tribute to Alan Ladd, it's also a highlight for Veronica Lake and character actor William Bendix. Oh, and it's written by Raymond Chandler. That may not quite be a dream team, but director George Marshall certainly gets an enjoyable film noir out of it.

Johnny Morrison (Ladd), Buzz Wanchek (Bendix), and George Copeland (Hugh Beaumont) are returning home to Los Angeles from the war in the Pacific, honorably discharged; while George and the addled Buzz are looking for an apartment, Johnny aims to reunite with his wife Helen (Doris Dowling). Maybe he shouldn't have surprised her; he finds a party in full swing, with the guests including apparent lover Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva). He stomps out and starts hitchhiking to nowhere, coincidentally picked up by Eddie's spurned wife Joyce (Lake). The stink Johnny kicked up on the way out looks awful bad when Helen is found dead the next morning.

Writer Raymond Chandler is best known for his Philip Marlowe stories, most famously adapted to film with Humphrey Bogart playing the detective in The Big Sleep. That story is famously convoluted, and Chandler's plot for this movie is similar to it and his other novels, with sudden zigzags somehow adding up to a mystery story that may not quite be the fair-play puzzle of an Agatha Christie, but which reaches an end all the more satisfying because we like the put-upon hero. Johnny Morrison isn't really the Marlowe type, which is sort of a pity - there are few greater joys than reading the words Chandler puts in Marlowe's mouth - but there's honor to him, and even if the patter isn't as snappy as in Chandler's most famous works, there are still some great exchanges between the characters, Johnny and Joyce especially.

Full review at EFC.

The Glass Key

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 27 November 2013 at the Brattle Theatre (Centennial Celebrations, 35mm)

The Glass Key is the sort of murder mystery where the fact that a man is dead comes across as an inconvenience and romantic attraction is often asserted as much as felt. On the other hand, it's also a movie with as much stuff happening as you can fit into 85 minutes without it feeling like too much, and never being dull counts for a lot.

We open with Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy), who runs the political machine in a medium-sized New Jersey city and is expected to play kingmaker in the upcoming gubernatorial election. Surprisingly, he throws his support behind Ralph Henry (Moroni Olsen), a reform candidate - mostly because his daughter Janet (Veronica Lake) turned his head. While Madvig makes nice with the beautiful people, his right hand man Ed Beaumont (Alan Ladd) deals with the less savory elements, like the gambling debts of Janet's brother Taylor (Richard Denning), whom Opal "Snip" Madvig (Bonita Granville), Paul's sister, has more than a bit of a thing for. When the dead body turns up, Madvig's old and new enemies are looking to pin it on him, and Ed's efforts to get him off the hook aren't helped by how little his boss seems to be bothered by the turn of events.

Madvig has a lot of enemies, to the point where it's difficult to keep track of them - there's a businessman who likely expected Madvig's support, a gangster, and a reporter, with the district attorney's involvement inevitable as well. It's a murder mystery that has no shortage of suspects so long as the term is described as "characters who are not the detective" (with Ed taking that role), especially if you take it as a given that framing Madvig may be all the motive someone needs. The trouble is, not many of them are really interesting enough for the audience to really invest in that story, even when it does connect to the good stuff.

Full review at EFC.

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 November 2013 at the Brattle Theatre (Centennial Celebrations, 2K DCP)

Depending on which cut you see, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World can run from two and a half hours to over three; the digital restoration that recently played the Brattle Theatre was the 154 minutes of its original 35mm release. That's a downright extravagant length for a film whose ambitions really don't go much farther than making the audience laugh a bit, but it is committed to that single, modest goal, and it never stops trying to make it happen, even when other films would have called it a day.

It starts tragically, as a car driven by elderly crook Smiler Grogan (Jimmy Durante) goes sailing off a winding California mountain road. The men in four other vehicles stop to see if there's anything to be done, but there isn't; before he goes, though, Smiler tells his would-be rescuers about $350,000 buried under a "big W" in Santa Rosita. They initially plan to go together, but arguing over how to split the windfall and basic greed soon make it a race. Buddies Ding Bell (Mickey Rooney) & Benjy Benjamin (Buddy Hackett) and married couple Mellville & Monica Crump (Sid Caesar & Edie Adams) take to the air, while a fender-bender has truck driver Lennie Pike (Jonathan Winters) and nervous J. Russell Finch (Milton Berle) - traveling with his wife Emeline (Dorothy Provine) and her pushy mother (Ethel Merman) searching for new ground transport. The former hooks up with Otto Meyer (Phil Silvers), who quickly ditches him to go after the money himself; the latter meet English horticulture enthusiast J. Algernon Hawthorne (Terry-Thomas), with the plan of having Emeline's brother Sylvester (Dick Shawn), a lifeguard in Santa Rosita, stake the place out first. In the meantime, the detective who has been working the Grogan case for years, Captain T. G. Culpepper (Spencer Tracy), is discretely keeping an eye on the lot of them.

That's a lot of names for a story that is not exactly complex, and there are many more passing through, from "Rochester" Anderson to The Three Stooges. Keeping them all occupied is one of the most impressive juggling acts in movie history, as writers William & Tania Rose come up with enough scenarios and obstacles to keep every member of the large ensemble busy while director Stanley Kramer allows them to play out at a natural pace, never cutting away from one group before its bit hits a punchline just to check in on someone else but also not ever letting it feel like characters are gone for too long or losing track of what each is doing. Editors Gene Fowler Jr., Robert C. Jones, and Frederic Knudtson are likely a big help as well; while the end result isn't perfectly smooth sailing - there are moments, when the movie jumps back to the police station and someone brings their neighbor up to date on what's going on, including the scene just prior, when I wonder if Kramer didn't necessarily trust his ability to keep things clear.

Full review at EFC.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 1 December 2013 at the Brattle Theatre (Centennial Celebrations, 35mm)

Look, I'm not saying I can't find new ways to say I love Raiders of the Lost Ark each time it plays in Boston and I go get a ticket, I just don't have time right now. So here's a link to the last time I saw it in 35mm (or just the eFilmCritic review).

The noon show wasn't the most packed, and the clear print wasn't quite the greatest I've seen, but still... When I got out of the theater, there were little kids excited about what they'd just watched. So, yes, it still holds up. Like there was any doubt.

No comments: