Winter Film Series 2013
Universal Studios @ 100
Motion pictures were born at the tail end of the 19th century. Amazingly, several of the major movie studios still making blockbusters today were created soon after, in the 1910s and 1920s. The Universal Film and Manufacturing Company was founded in April, 1912, by German immigrant entrepreneur Carl Laemmle. Early moguls like “Uncle Carl,” who had owned a clothing store, loved the idea of selling something over and over (an image on a screen) that you did not actually have to give to your customer. Many of his rivals did not want to bill their actors because they might have to pay them more money if they became well known. But, Laemmle understood that people would buy tickets to see their favorite players, contributing to the creation of the star system, still the grease in the wheels of the Hollywood machine. He also charged visitors for tours of the sets on Universal’s back lot, in essence creating the first theme park. Universal Studios has been celebrating their centennial with new prints of some of their essential classics, and the NCMA Cinema is pleased to present a selection of westerns, comedies, dramas and horror films that showcase the signature style of Hollywood’s oldest studio. Many thanks to Paul Ginsberg at Universal Studios, and Mary Keene and Anne Morra at the Museum of Modern Art.
Destry Rides Again (1939) Directed by George Marshall. James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, Brian Donlevy ( 94 min)
A pacifist sheriff tames the wild frontier town of Bottleneck with brains instead of bullets. This Western spoof contains plenty of clowning, as well as an epic barroom brawl between saloon floozy Dietrich, and her rival, Una Merkel. Marlene sings one of her signature songs, “See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have.” Film Notes for Destry.
Winchester 73 (1950) Directed by Anthony Mann. James Stewart, Shelly Winters, Dan Duryea (92 min)
Film noir on the prairie, as an obsessed sharpshooter hunts down the man who stole the giddyap gold standard; his Winchester 73 repeater rifle. No symbolism, there. Stewart’s hair-trigger performance predicts his near psychotic turn in Vertigo, Winters plays a dance hall gal with a heart of gold, and note two bit players on the cusp of their stellar careers. “It’s just too brilliant for words” (Time Out New York) Introduced by film writer Lewis Beale.
Touch of Evil (1958) Written and Directed by Orson Welles. Charlton Heston, Orson Welles, Janet Leigh (100 min).
Bordertown corruption sabotages the honeymoon of a Mexican narcotics officer in Welles’ last masterpiece. Beginning with a legendary tracking shot of a car rigged with explosives, Touch of Evil is a ticking time bomb of moral ambiguity. “A wild masterpiece, a sleazy, grimy, jittery and ultimately dazzling work of cinematic magic” (Seattle Weekly). Notes for Touch.
Bigger Than Life
Scarface (1932) Directed by Howard Hawks. Paul Muni, Karen Morley, Ann Dvorak, George Raft (90 min).
Cobra Woman (1944) Directed by Robert Siodmak. Maria Montez, Jon Hall, Sabu (70 min).
Can Tollea impersonate her evil twin, High Priestess Naja, and perform the sexy Cobra Dance? What more do you need to know about this Technicolor camp classic? “Among the exotic treats: a rumbling volcano, a pet chimp, ominous gong sounds, forest-glade love scenes, human sacrifices, Naja’s handmaidens in their high heeled pumps, her imperious writhing during what is supposed to be a demonic dance”(Pauline Kael). Film notes for Cobra Woman.
Written on the Wind (1956) Directed by Douglas Sirk. Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone (99 min).
An overheated mid-century soaper, Sirk’s film is both deliciously trashy and intentionally subversive. Two childhood pals reach across the class divide and wrassle with insecurity, alcohol, sex addition and money. Set in the Texas oil fields, it was rumored to be a thinly veiled take on the scandalous death of an RJ Reynolds tobacco heir. “This is a perverse and wickedly funny melodrama” (Roger Ebert). Film notes for Written on the Wind.
My Man Godfrey (1936) Directed by Gregory La Cava. William Powell, Carole Lombard, Gail Patrick, Alice Brady, Eugene Pallette, Mischa Auer (94 min).
A dizzy heiress unearths a “Forgotten Man” from the city dump to win a society scavenger hunt and decides to reform him. Screwball comedies thrived during the Depression era when audiences enjoyed seeing rich folk get their comeuppance. The glamorously witty Powell and Lombard top a splendidly lunatic cast. “A firefly with a sting in its tail” (Illustrated London News). Film notes for My Man Godfrey.
The Bank Dick (1940) Directed by Edward F. Cline. W.C. Fields, Cora Witherspoon and Una Merkel (72 min).
A beleaguered husband, Egbert Sousé “accent grave upon the ‘e’” evades his family by whiling away the hours at The Black Pussy Café. Inadvertently foiling a robbery, he’s rewarded by a security guard job. Fields’ anti-establishment attitude, adoration of intoxicants and disregard for the rules of polite society made him a counter culture icon in the 60s. “The supreme nihilist of sound comedy” (Robert Sklar). Introduced by free-lance film critic Craig Lindsey.
Cat and the Canary (1927) Directed by Paul Leni. Laura La Plante, Creighton Hale, Martha Maddox (80 min)
The Grandpappy of haunted house movies invites pert LaPlante to the old manse for the midnight reading of a will…can she survive the night? Based on a stage play that mixed laughs and thrills, Expressionist Leni, newly arrived from Germany, inaugurates Universal Studio’s brand as the studio of horrors. “It’s the cat’s meow” (Entertainment Weekly). Silent with live music by David Drazin. Preserved by The Museum of Modern Art with support from the National Endowment for the Arts and The Film Foundation. Film notes for The Cat and the Canary.
Frankenstein (1931) Directed by James Whale. Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Mae Clark, Dwight Frye (70 min)
It’s Alive! Whale created the template for all mad scientists and their creations with this still electrifying tale, originally written by a teenaged feminist in 1818. Karloff never completely escaped his masterful monster, a “lost, mewling patchwork corpse…a conception and execution unrivaled in fantastic cinema” (Michael Atkinson Village Voice). “Absolutely unmissable.” (Empire Magazine). Introduced by Science Comedian Brian Malow.
The Invisible Man (1933) Directed by James Whale. Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, Una O’Connor (71 min).
The special effects in H G Wells’ 19th century sci fi classic still thrill and Rains’ debut, using his voice alone, made him famous. Ingénue Gloria Stuart waited until Titanic for her immortality. “Whale's most elegantly inventive movie... a film that always feels both more sinister and more prankish than you remember it as: it’s a startling piece of studio-made surrealism.”– Terrence Rafferty, The New York Times. Film notes for The Invisible Man.
Fridays, 8 pm
Tickets $7 ($5 Students, NCMA members)
NCMA Cinema series pass