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  1. Top News Stories

    • Gorgo on Blu-ray

    • Ever since King Kong audiences have responded favorably to outlandish fantasies about giant monsters. This curious subgenre came into its own in the early 1950s, with Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen's The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which updated the theme with the dubious notion of a prehistoric monster revived by atomic radiation. The director of this clever Warner Bros. hit was a former designer of famous French films, Eugène Lourié. Design skills perfected on masterpieces like Children of Paradise found curious expression making an epic story on a very low budget.

      The cost of spectacular special effects and scenes of urban panic discouraged films of this kind in the United States. The subgenre was effectively adopted by Japanese producers just a year later, with the big-budgeted, influential Godzilla. Ironically, the only real competition for Toho's "Titan of Terror" were subsequent films from director Lourié. 1958's The Giant Behemoth (Behemoth, Sea Monster) began as an amorphous blob monster, but its cautious producers instead asked the director for another aquatic dinosaur. Lourié rewrote his The Beast for an English locale, giving his new monster the ability to project intense waves of radiation. Kong's Willis O'Brien produced the special effects. A couple of years later the prolific King Brothers, former makers of westerns and films noir, moved to England with the idea of producing a Godzilla-style monster epic on a truly lavish scale. Frank and Maurice King had made a bundle by importing Toho's Rodan, a thriller about a supersonic flying reptile. They hired Eugène Lourié, who found himself making essentially the same movie for the third time. Gorgo was filmed for Technicolor release by Freddie Young, the cinematographer of Lawrence of Arabia. An enormous miniature set of London's Thames River filled an entire soundstage, and film units were dispatched to Ireland for key sequences. Given a symphonic music score by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino, Gorgo received a wide release with saturation advertising that promised it to be, "Like Nothing You've Ever Seen Before." Its wondrous sense of spectacle and its original theme won over audiences and critics alike.

      Not many monster movies have as original or inventive a storyline as Gorgo. Under Lourié's direction, the film's credited writers John Loring and Daniel Hyatt (actually the blacklisted Robert L. Richards and Daniel James) concocted a tale in which a defiant Mother Nature triumphs over human greed and folly. Lourié had noted that his young daughter loved the original Beast, and was unhappy to see it meet the traditional fate indicated for classic movie monsters. Lourié decided that his new monster would not only live, but also prevail. This idea reportedly met with the King Brothers enthusiastic approval. When trying to get the British censor to allow children to see the movie, they claimed it to be a testimony to Mother Love. As finished, the show definitely communicates an emotional proto-ecological message.

      The film's monster Gorgo is a thirty-foot aquatic creature with enormous claws, glowing red eyes and oversized dragon-like ears. Shady salvage experts (Bill Travers of Wee Geordie and William Sylvester of 2001: A Space Odyssey) capture the monster and rush it to London for exhibition in a circus in Battersea Park. Opposing the partners are some Irish scientists that object to the commercial exploitation of "the find of the century". Little Irish stowaway Sean (Vincent Winter) cares nothing about science or money. He believes Gorgo to be the Irish sea fairy Ogra, and wants him to be set free. But then the scientists determine that the monster is not "an adult specimen", but a relative newborn. While the arguments continue, a colossal Mother Gorgo rises from the sea to free its offspring. When attempts to halt it fail, the monster wades up the Thames, destroying half of London en route.

      Advocates of O'Brien-Harryhausen style stop-motion animation are the only detractors of Gorgo, which uses large miniature settings and stuntmen in complex rubber costumes to play the film's monsters. Clever design and a good mime performance mostly overcome the limitations of the technique, which allows for a greater variety of camera angles and more creative lighting than most stop-motion pictures can afford. With director Lourié's design sense and Young's spectacular lighting schemes, Gorgo looks appropriately huge as it rips down bridges and towers. A broad swath of central London is demolished, as impressive scenes of panicked crowds sell the idea of civilization thrown into utter chaos. Naturally, all the ships, guns and jets thrown against the maternal colossus have no effect. Not even the original Godzilla generates as much excitement.

      The movie is unusually brief (77 minutes) for an epic, and it bears traces of a troubled production "saved" in the editing room. Unusually fast-paced editing rushes through the bare minimum of dialogue scenes to get to the action highlights, suggesting that some dramatic material was discarded, or never shot due to budget restraints. The twenty-minute London attack sequence is packed with impressive action -- the monster destroys the Tower Bridge, Big Ben and invades Piccadilly Circus. But too much indifferent stock footage is used to depict the military retaliation, and the editor is so desperate for shots that he repeats some scenes by flopping them left to right. That said, the height of the human stampede before he onrushing Mama Gorgo communicates a feeling of pure panic.

      What really distinguishes this monster romp is its unexpected, nearly subversive theme, which sides with the monsters against the decadent civilization that fails to respect God's natural creatures. The King Brothers gave their English-language version of Rodan a sentimental tone lacking in the Japanese original, via a narration that compared the film's mated bird-monsters to the human lovers. Gorgo's rampage is documented by a roving reporter character (possibly added in post-production) who finishes the film by delivering a stirring defense for the victorious monsters:

      "And yet, as though disdaining the pygmies under her feet, she turns back, turns with her young, leaving the prostrate city, leaving the haunts of man. Leaving man himself to ponder the proud boast that he alone is Lord of all creation."

      The film's sentimental touches won over audiences. Surprised reviewers were moved as well and wrote enthusiastic notices, a rare occurrence indeed for a lowly monster movie. Mama Gorgo's enormous foot smashes through the exhibition pen at the circus, allowing her baby to follow her back to the river. Sean watches, wide-eyed and happy as the baby answers its mother's call with another elephant-like roar. Gorgo thus became a favorite for a generation of young matinee-goers.

      VCI Entertainment's Blu-ray of Gorgo has been remastered from original elements stored in a Kansas salt mine storage facility used by Turner Entertainment (and subsequently Warner Bros.) for many of their holdings from the pre-1986 MGM film library. The HD transfer is somewhat uneven but approximates the look of original Technicolor prints, especially in the spectacular nighttime attack sequences. The IB Tech printing process had a way of smoothing out grainy footage, and viewers may be surprised when some scenes look better than others. But the awesome sight of Gorgo's green head and glowing crimson eyes rising from the ocean is undiminished. VCI has spent a year collecting extras for their special edition. A documentary called Ninth Wonder of the World makes do with the few behind-the-scenes materials that exist for Gorgo, and uses a scattershot editing style to tell the story of dinosaur movies in general.

      Also present is a good transfer of the original trailer, and galleries that surely include every scrap of ad paper and every still photo issued both here and in Europe. We even see copies of issues of old Charlton Gorgo comic books, a French photo-story book along the lines of an Italian fumetto, and a restoration video.

      For more information about Gorgo, visit VCI Entertainment. To order Gorgo, go to TCM Shopping.

      By Glenn Erickson

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  1. New Books

    • The Making of Gone With the Wind

    • By Steve Wilson

      Seventy-five years ago, moviegoers watched a young heroine stand on a hillside in the early morning hours and swear she would never go hungry again. By that point in the movie, Scarlett O'Hara had already encountered love, loss and an invading army. Audiences were swept up in the epic story and the film has become an enduring classic.

      To commemorate the milestone anniversary of this beloved film, author Steve Wilson scoured the archives of the David O. Selznick collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin for this new book chronicling the making of the film.

      This rarely-seen material offers fans and film historians a fascinating behind-the-scenes view of the challenges, trials, and successes related to the production of this timeless classic.

      Before a single frame of film was shot, Gone With The Wind was embroiled in controversy. There were serious concerns about how the film would depict race and violence in the Old South during the Civil War and Reconstruction. And while Clark Gable was almost everyone's choice to play Rhett Butler, there was no clear favorite for Scarlett O'Hara which, stymied the legendary producer Selznick for some time.

      There was also the huge challenge of turning Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize-winning epic into a manageable screenplay and producing it at a reasonable cost. Various screenwriters tried to tame the story and Selznick himself kept the pressure up with his own notoriously detailed memos. George Cukor was hired and then fired before Selznick finally settled on Victor Fleming as the man most able to handle the scale of both the story and the production.

      With a foreword by film historian and TCM Host Robert Osborne, the book includes on-set photographs, storyboards, correspondence, fan mail, production records, costumes and, of course, Selznick's own lengthy memos. The author writes effectively about how creative choices helped produce one of the most loved films of all time and why it remains so influential all these years later.

      Steve Wilson is the curator of the film collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. He has curated several exhibitions at the Ransom Center, including Shooting Stars, a display of Hollywood glamour photography, and Making Movies, a major exhibition on film production.

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    • Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress

    • By Carl Rollyson

      Few actresses evolved in stature from movie actress to cultural icon like Marilyn Monroe has. From pin-up girl to superstar, Monroe had an understanding of her place in the American imagination, while also making the effort to hone her craft as an actress.

      Movies became crucial events in the shaping of Monroe's identity and even small roles in films as diverse as The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve helped establish the context of her career and her persona. And while it is the persona that most remember, of central importance to Monroe was the acting, the quest to bring authenticity to her roles.

      Through extensive interviews with many of Monroe's colleagues, close friends, and other biographers, Rollyson details her use of Method acting and her studies with Michael Chekhov and Lee Strasberg, head of the Actors' Studio in New York. The author also spotlights several of Monroe's own drawings, diary notes and letters that have recently become available. With over thirty black and white photographs (some published here for the first time), a new foreword and a new afterword, this volume brings Rollyson's 1986 book up to date.

      Carl Rollyson is the advisory editor of the Hollywood Legends Series for the University Press of Mississippi, and the author of several biographies, including Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews , American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath, and Amy Lowell Anew: A Biography. He is a professor of journalism at Baruch College, the City University of New York.

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    • The World of Raymond Chandler: In His Own Words

    • Edited by Barry Day

      The fog shrouded streets, the double-dealing hustlers and the hardboiled dames who could break your heart or just as easily plug you with a bullet--the world of Raymond Chandler was not for the faint of heart.

      Chandler never wrote an autobiography or a memoir, but Day, making use of Chandler's novels, short stories and letters, tells the story of the man "with no home"--a man precariously balanced between his classical English education and the fast-evolving American culture between and after the two World Wars.

      Chandler reveals what it was like to be a writer, and in particular what it was to be a writer of "hard-boiled" fiction in what was for him "another language"--a fast-changing American vernacular that didn't make things easy. He also discusses the work of his contemporaries: Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner and Somerset Maugham, among others.

      But Chandler's reflections on place and character--the most often discussed and memorable aspects of his fiction--are among the highlights of Day's selections for this book. Day includes Chandler's reflections on Los Angeles, his adopted city, and the locales he used in his writings, as well as on his time in Hollywood working with Billy Wilder, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock and other towering figures of the studio era. Day also includes a section on Philip Marlowe, Chandler's alter ego, the incorruptible knight with little armor who walks the "mean streets" of a city not made for chivalry. Barry Day is an author and playwright. In addition to his books on Noël Coward, Day has written about Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, Johnny Mercer, and Rodgers and Hart. He has written and produced plays and musical revues showcasing the work of Coward, the Lunts, Oscar Wilde, and others. He lives in New York, London, and Palm Beach.

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    • Ravished Armenia and the Story of Aurora Mardiganian

    • By Anthony Slide

      Aurora Mardiganian was a teenaged Armenian girl who was caught up in the 1915 Armenian genocide. She witnessed the murder of her family and the suffering of her people at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. Forced to march over fourteen hundred miles, she was sold into slavery. When she finally escaped to the United States, she was then exploited by the very people who she believed would help her. Her story was published in book form and became the basis for a 1918 feature film.

      That film, Ravished Armenia, also known as Auction of Souls, was a graphic retelling of Mardiganian's story, with the teenager in the central role, supported by Anna Q. Nilsson and Irving Cummings. Directed by Oscar Apfel, only twenty minutes of the film--the first to deal with the Armenian genocide--are known to survive, but they prove this to be a stunning production, presenting its story in newsreel style.

      This revised edition of Slide's book contains an annotated reprint of Mardiganian's original narrative and, for the first time, the full screenplay. In his introduction, Slide recounts the making of the film and Mardiganian's life in the United States, involving a cast of characters including Henry Morgenthau, Mrs. George W. Vanderbilt, Mrs. Oliver Harriman, and film pioneer William Selig. The introduction also includes original comments by Aurora Mardiganian, whom Slide interviewed before her death. Acclaimed Armenian-Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan, who created a video art installation about Mardiganian in 2007, provides a foreword.

      Anthony Slide has published more than seventy books on popular entertainment including Nitrate Won't Wait, and Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine. He lives in Studio City, California.

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  1. DVD Reviews

    • The Train on Blu-ray

    • Is art worth fighting for? Dying for? These are questions posed in The Train (1964), a thrilling WWII action picture, both to the characters in the story and to us, the audience. When the art in question is a treasure trove of French impressionist art ("the heritage of France"), at risk of being hauled out of the country by Nazis to an uncertain fate, the questions become all the more difficult to answer.

      How refreshing it is for a movie filled with eye-popping, visceral, kinetic action to also center around such a thoughtful dilemma. The Train is not only gripping but timeless, because the issues at its core are timeless.

      It's also timeless in the way director John Frankenheimer, working from an Oscar-nominated script by Franklin Coen and Frank Davis (along with three uncredited writers), crafts an efficient, no-nonsense style that grabs audience attention right off the bat. Nazi Colonel Von Waldheim (Paul Scofield) quietly enters a building to look admiringly at scores of great impressionist paintings hanging on the walls. "Degenerate art," he tells a French curator. "I should detest it." But it's clear he doesn't, even as he then oversees the crating up of all this art in preparation for shipment to Germany. These are the last days of the German occupation of France. The Allies are closing in fast, and Waldheim wants to spirit the art away to Germany on a special train. The curator, however, informs the local French resistance of the scheme, and the French train-yard chief, Labiche (Burt Lancaster), is asked to prevent the train from leaving, or to at least to delay it long enough until the Allies to arrive in a few days' time.

      And so begins a cat and mouse game between Waldheim and Labiche, who at first is dead-set against risking any lives for the art. Eventually, however, Labiche becomes as determined to keep the train in France as Waldheim is obsessed with getting it out. Labiche and his men concoct clever, elaborate schemes to delay and reroute the train under the constant noses of brutal Nazis. Scofield is positively brilliant as Waldheim, whose love for the art makes him at best a complex Nazi, and Lancaster, at age 50, delivers one of his most physical performances -- running, jumping, climbing trains, scrambling over walls, and sliding down steep hills. And for the last section of the film he does all that with a limp, caused by a real mishap he had while golfing on a day off. Frankenheimer later called Burt Lancaster "the strongest man physically I've ever known. He was one of the best stuntmen who ever lived. I don't think anybody's ever moved as well on the screen."

      Frankenheimer shoots many of Lancaster's stunts in long, complex takes, often having his star end the shot in close-up, as if to impress us (successfully) that it was in fact Lancaster doing his own stunt work. The long takes also allow the audience to feel the visceral reality of the action. In this film, the trains are real, the locations are real, and the explosions are real: full-scale, with no effects work. This creates genuine impact, and is all the more impressive today, fifty years on, because very few movies with such large-scale action are ever still made in this way.

      The Train impresses in other ways, too. Almost every shot in the film employs razor-sharp deep-focus photography, resulting in one of the most beautiful black-and-white features of the era. (This is said to be the last great action movie done in black and white.) Frankenheimer's handling of crowd scenes is remarkable, with wide shots crammed with action and extras deep in the frame. Here again, the long takes reveal an unbelievable amount of complicated choreography work. Often, Frankenheimer incorporates people and objects into the extreme foreground so as to emphasize the overall depth of the image. Even something as simple as Lancaster's initial walk through the train yard ends up being one of the most memorable shots in the movie, because of the massive amount of activity involving people and machinery going on all around him in the single take. And the sound design is phenomenal, with the screeching, groaning, hissing and metallic sounds of the moving trains adding immensely to the sense of gritty, sooty realism. Long sections of the film are constructed wordlessly, with the dramatic visuals and intense sound telling the story -- the mark of a first-class filmmaker.

      Ultimately, The Train moves toward a thrilling final sequence that culminates with the final standoff we know must come. ("A painting means as much to you as pearls to an ape!" Scofield berates Lancaster.) It's to the film's credit, however, that it does not present the scene as a simplistic western-type showdown. The variation used works ever better, because it feels of a piece with the sense of loss permeating the German side of the things that has been established from the first moment of the movie.

      Twilight Time's Blu-ray is beautiful. The Train surely hasn't looked or sounded this great since its initial theatrical release. On a new audio commentary track, film historians Nick Redman, Julie Kirgo and Paul Seydor offer good insights into the film, though a single commentary track with so many people is inherently a bit unwieldy, as participants tend to cut each other off or jump around erratically with their points. Kirgo also supplies superb liner notes with all sorts of interesting production information and analysis.

      Otherwise, the Blu-ray retains the extra materials first seen on MGM's 1999 DVD release: an isolated score track, and another audio commentary track with director John Frankenheimer, who died in 2002. His comments are sporadic but fascinating, as he talks about the challenges of the production, his use of lighting and depth of field, and how he approaches a film in terms of the emotional stakes for an audience. Of Michel Simon, the famous French actor who plays to perfection the role of the ill-fated train engineer Papa Boule, Frankenheimer says, "That face! I just couldn't take the camera off him." He also talks of introducing the paintings as he would a human character in the opening sequence, which incidentally was the only one to be shot on a soundstage.

      The Train, which Frankenheimer took over from director Arthur Penn after Penn and Lancaster had a falling out, turned Frankenheimer's life around; he spent a year on location in Normandy, then returned four years later to live there for seven years. In the meantime, he turned out a picture that impresses for its balance of large-scale drama and intimate cat-and-mouse conflict between vividly real characters. A great film.

      By Jeremy Arnold

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    • Arch of Triumph on Blu-ray

    • One of several independent film companies attempting to establish a foothold in Hollywood was Enterprise Productions, which generated a string of quality pictures in the late 1940s. Enterprise's directors included Andre De Toth (Ramrod), Abraham Polonsky (Force of Evil) and Max Ophüs (Caught), but its only box office hit was Robert Rosson's Body and Soul with John Garfield.

      Enterprise's biggest production is director Lewis Milestone's Arch of Triumph, from a novel by the noted Erich Maria Remarque, who had earlier written the source novel for Milestone's anti-war classic All Quiet on the Western Front. Producer David Lewis scored a coup by securing the services of stars Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. After only a few years in Hollywood, Bergman had been nominated for Best Actress three times and won once, opposite Boyer in Gaslight. Remarque's story took place in Paris just prior to the Nazi invasion, a place and time that Bergman had made her own in the wildly popular romantic thriller Casablanca. The highly anticipated movie seemed a guaranteed hit.

      But author Remarque wrote few romances with happy endings. Having fled the Nazis, Austrian doctor Ravic (Charles Boyer) is an undocumented, stateless political refugee living in Paris. He earns money by practicing in secret. Helping maintain Ravic's anonymity is his best friend Maurice (Louis Calhern), a former Russian colonel who now works as a doorman at the Scheherazade Café. Ravic prevents a suicide by Joan Madou (Ingrid Bergman), an Italian-Romanian refugee who has taken a succession of lovers to survive. He cannot resist falling in love with her. Living by night and avoiding police, they travel to Antibes on the French Riviera. Joan attracts the attention of various playboys, including the wealthy & possessive Alex (Stephen Bekassy). Ravic becomes unsure of Joan's love. Back in Paris, Ravic catches a glimpse of a portly German on the streets of Paris, a man who may be Ivon Haake (Charles Laughton), the Nazi torturer who murdered Ravic's lover in Austria. Ravic is dead set on killing Haake, if he ever sees him again.

      Arch of Triumph has been out of circulation for so long that fans of Ingrid Bergman will consider it a major discovery. Charles Laughton's following also jumps at the chance to see him in something 'new'. Unfortunately, the beautifully produced and directed film was a major box office flop. Neither an escapist romance nor an audience-friendly thriller, it's a grim drama about disillusioned and desperate people. By 1948 audiences no longer welcomed stories about political misery in Europe. They had embraced the wartime morale booster Casablanca mainly because of Bogie and Bergman. Warner's well made Confidential Agent starred Charles Boyer as a Spanish Republican dodging Franco agents in wartime England. Audiences didn't care about the issues involved, and noticed only that Boyer and co-star Lauren Bacall didn't generate much romantic chemistry. Carol Reed's The Third Man was a notable exception to this trend.

      Audiences liked political complexity even less in the 1940s than they do now. Arch of Triumph was labeled as 'sluggish' and unfocused, which we can now read as, "doesn't follow the accepted pattern for wartime romance stories." The movie is surprisingly adult in its outlook. Ingrid Bergman's Joan Madou has fled to Paris. Unable to work, her only way to live is to find a man to take care of her. Dr. Ravik comes upon her because her lover has died in her bed. Terrified that the French police will nab her, she feels like a common prostitute. He's demoralized as well. It's a decidedly downbeat romance.

      Arch of Triumph is fairly faithful to the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, one of the few authors who wrote passionately about civilians displaced by the upheavals of war. It's in the same vein as Remarque's novel Flotsam, an 'annihilating epic' in which half a dozen characters fleeing Nazi Germany roam across Europe looking for a non-existent haven. It was made into the impressive Sam Wood movie So Ends Our Night. Pushed from one country to another, refugees must live like criminals to avoid being sent back to prison or death in Germany. It's a story of betrayals, murders and noble suicides. So Ends Our Night was released in 1941 just as conditions turned grim for these stateless refugees. Most had fled to the haven of France, and when the Germans invaded, the majority were rounded up and sent to an unknown fate.

      Unlike the desperate nomads of So Ends Our Night, Dr. Ravik hasn't had to walk halfway across Europe. He has some money and earns more practicing medicine on the sly. Close friend Maurice makes him welcome at the nightclub and tips him to potential trouble. Ravik is able to slip away to the South of France for a vacation with Joan. But their happiness could end at any moment. One slip-up would mean arrest and deportation to Germany, where the torturer Ivon Haake would surely finish him off.

      The movie benefits from director Milestone's formalism and attention to character detail. The lighting, sets and costumes are more realistic than we expect. Nervous pre-war Paris is seen mostly by night. The movie offers noir atmosphere, incipient doom and the haunted face of Ingrid Bergman.

      A screenwriting analyst would surely find fault with the movie's structure. Ravik and Joan's trip to Antibes dissipates much of the story's tension. How tough can things be when she's having a fine time in fancy dresses? We can see audiences wondering what's going on, as the rich are happily gambling even on the brink of war. The script also fumbles Ravik's vendetta against Ivon Haake. A flashback to a torture chamber (cue silhouette images) seems to come from a horror movie. At one point Ravik is arrested and spends months in Germany before escaping and returning to Paris. As most of this happens off-camera, we can't fully appreciate the hardships being suffered by thousands of refugees.

      The movie also fails to utilize the talented Charles Laughton. Ivon Haake is only in the movie for a scene or two, and has no scenes with Ingrid Bergman. No longer in uniform, the German is apparently commuting between Berlin and Paris to prepare a secret police network for the coming occupation. Arch of Triumph is true to the novel (and history) but the audience must have felt cheated to be deprived of a 'big' Laughton scene.

      What does work well is the romantic fireworks between Bergman and Boyer. The lovers only slowly reveal their feelings for each other, and are prevented from full commitment by their refugee status. When Ravik comes back from exile he finds Joan living in a swank apartment provided by the wealthy Alex. He forgives Joan and even gives her time to detach from Alex, who isn't happy that Ravik has re-entered the picture. But war is declared before any of this can be resolved. Ravik spots Ivon Haake again and prepares his trap.

      As we expect, Ingrid Bergman comes through with an absorbing performance. She positively glows as a troubled woman whose life is out of control. The contradictions in Joan Madou remind us of films from the 1970s, when screen characters were allowed to be complex or ambiguous. Charles Boyer is also good but Milestone underplays the suicidal streak in Ravic's drive to kill Haake, and instead treats the doctor as more of a righteous avenger. Thus we expect a much bigger comeuppance for Haake.

      Postwar audiences enjoyed dark stories, but the unsentimental Arch of Triumph asks them to be concerned about problems from a past they'd like to forget, and associated with uncomfortable politics. By 1948 America had aligned itself with occupied West Germany against new foreign enemies. We gave huge sums of money to charities helping displaced European orphans (see The Search) but mostly preferred to forget the ugly wartime situations chronicled by Erich Maria Remarque.

      The film's political complexity now seems much more attractive. We're accustomed to movies about people trapped in grim political binds -- the new A Most Wanted Man is a spy movie that sympathizes with a stateless asylum seeker navigating a dangerous path. Audiences in 1948 may have rejected Bergman and Boyer's characters because they weren't noble idealists and selfless lovers, as in Casablanca. That's probably what attracted Bergman to the role, and it's why the movie is so interesting now.

      Olive Films' Blu-ray of Arch of Triumph is a very good HD transfer of this hard-to-see picture. The show suffered a number of cuts either in reissue or when distributed to television, but UCLA has restored it to its full 133-minute running time. The images show some wear but Russell Metty's B&W cinematography looks terrific. The audio is also strong.

      Enterprise Productions put everything it had into Arch of Triumph, with production values the equal of any big studio film. But audiences didn't "discover" the film and it earned back less than a third of its budget. It was the beginning of dramatic career changes for Ingrid Bergman. Just a couple of years later her Hollywood career was destroyed by the scandal of her affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini. The American press turned on Bergman with the kind of venom reserved for The Hollywood Ten, Charles Chaplin and the Rosenbergs. When she returned to American screens six years later, Arch of Triumph had been long forgotten. But fans of the actress will be happy to see her in such an interesting and demanding role.

      Let's hope that Erich Maria Remarque's So Ends Our Night can also be rescued from obscurity -- at the moment the only video copies available are in very poor condition.

      By Glenn Erickson

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    • Testament (1983) on DVD

    • The early 1980s saw an uptick in international pressures. When Ronald Reagan declared the Soviet Union an "evil empire" the possibility of nuclear war felt more real than ever. The earlier Three Mile Island nuclear accident had already raised the public's awareness of the hazards of radioactive poisoning, and PBS television specials reported on the insanity of Mutual Assured Destruction as a defense/deterrent strategy. In terms of nuclear consciousness, it was a return to the Eisenhower years. President Reagan joked about bombing Russia.

      Most movies about nuclear peril date from the 1950s science fiction boom, often expressing doomsday fears in fantastic terms. But that decade ended with Stanley Kubrick's powerful On the Beach, a realistic post-apocalyptic drama based on the idea that the radioactivity loosed by a nuclear exchange could exterminate all of humanity. After Stanley Kubrick's excellent horror-comedy Dr. Strangelove, the theme of "pushing the button" became an overused cliché.

      Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher's aggressive rhetoric against the Soviet Union once again brought the subject to the forefront, and nuclear war-themed movies suddenly came back into vogue. College audiences laughed and gasped at 1982's The Atomic Cafe, an advocacy documentary made from old government films and newsreels. It re-popularized the bizarre "Duck and Cover" cartoon once shown in schools. But 1983 saw a batch of liberal-minded pictures commenting on the precarious nuclear standoff. In March NBC broadcast Special Bulletin, in which terrorists detonate a nuclear bomb in the port of Charleston, South Carolina. Using a "faux reality" format, the show was made to look like normal broadcast coverage. The juvenile thriller WarGames was released to theaters in May. It concluded peacefully, with a computer lecturing teenager Matthew Broderick and a hawkish general that nuclear war is, "A strange game. The only winning move is not to play."

      Later in the year, ABC broadcast the two-part miniseries The Day After, a doomsday tale following the fates of a number of Kansans during an all-out war. Graphic special effects depicted an entire city's population vaporized by a hydrogen blast. It is estimated that 100 million Americans tuned in.

      But arguably the most artistic and emotionally effective anti-nuke movie of the Reagan years is Lynne Littman's Testament. The low-budget production was filmed for broadcast on Public TV's American Playhouse, but Paramount was so impressed that they picked it up for theatrical distribution. It opened to critical accolades but modest business, as word of mouth spread that it was an almost intolerably sad and depressing viewing experience. Like On the Beach, Littman's film shows no atomic bombings and concentrates on the effect of atomic war on ordinary people. But unlike Stanley Kramer's movie the ordinary people in Testament are not played by glamorous movie stars. The citizens of a small Northern California town find themselves suddenly isolated, with little or no news from the outside world, and facing lonely, hopeless deathwatch.

      Screenwriter John Sacret Young concentrates most of the drama within a single household. The Wetherly family lives in Hamelin, a wooded bedroom community inland of San Francisco. Carol (Jane Alexander) is a housewife. Tom (William Devane) works in the city and likes to stay active with his older son Brad (Ross Harris). Young Scottie (Lukas Haas of Mars Attacks!) hasn't started school yet. Daughter Mary Liz (Roxana Zal) is just getting to the age that she's thinking about boys. Carol and Tom have their differences but manage to get along with a degree of harmony.

      In one afternoon everything changes. A news announcement about atomic strikes on the Eastern seaboard is cut off when the TV and all normal communications are knocked out. Carol nervously waits for Tom to return; he often works late but this day left a phone message saying that he was already on his way home. The initial fear turns into a gnawing uncertainty as days and then weeks go by. Tom doesn't appear. After some initial looting the small community draws together. The school tries to keep things as normal as possible for the kids. Brad helps round up batteries for use in radios and flashlights. Carol and her three children grow closer to their neighbors. Service station owner Mike (Mako) rations out what gas remains and comforts his developmentally challenged son Hiroshi (Gerry Murillo). Elderly Rosemary and Henry Abhart (Lurene Tuttle & Leon Ames) become the neighborhood's only link to the outside world, for Henry picks up bits of outside news on his generator-powered ham radio.

      Depression sets in as all realize that the worst is occurring: animals, babies and the infirm are the first to be affected by higher levels of airborne radiation, presumably from blasts in the cities and military targets. Young marrieds Phil and Cathy Pitkin (Kevin Costner & Rebecca De Mornay) panic when their newborn baby falls sick. Some people leave, although the news is that the same thing is happening everywhere. As homes go dark, the business of dealing with the dead begins. All Carol can do is gather her children closer and do her best to keep hope alive.

      Our society makes mock-cynical jokes about death, but most of us sing a different tune when the subject becomes unavoidable. With some emotional reserves and the support of loved ones, most of us can face mortality. We may also gain comfort if we have children that will live on after us. But the unnatural nuclear threat negates normal human values. Testament offers a convincing scenario for utter doom, as experienced by a fairly stable American family. The end doesn't arrive as a Bang but neither does it come as a Whimper. Our selected family instead dies by stages. At first Carol joins in the community effort to maintain morale. Now the man of the family, poor Brad takes to his bicycle to carry messages and show his mother that he can be a good trouper.

      The movie becomes more claustrophobic as Hamelin shuts down. Director Littman occasionally cuts to home movies of the Wetherly family, laughing and playing outdoors. One day Brad finds Hiroshi left all alone, and brings him home. Carol's burden is appalling. Raising children shouldn't be about helping them to die, and worrying if one is going to die first. A child is all about plans for the future. Mary Liz withdraws, Brad tries to support his mother and little Scottie tires to understand what's going on. He asks his mother, "Make it go away".

      The movie avoids truly intolerable events but doesn't flinch from suggesting them. At one point we see a young father in shock, carrying a dresser drawer to use as a coffin for his dead infant. No editorial speeches are delivered about the causes of the war, as in On the Beach. We're instead given a little school play, the kind that parents attend to see their kids perform on stage. The play is "The Pied Piper of Hamelin", about the irresponsibility of parents toward their children. The teachers give the play a hopeful ending -- the thoughtless people of Hamelin will get their children back "when they deserve them".

      Why put the audience through this ordeal? Testament pulls the discussion of nuclear war back down to reality. It isn't a fantasy about violence on the highways and it isn't some vague allegory with zombies. There is no special effects destruction spectacle to admire, only a very possible scenario that society cannot afford to ignore. Lynne Littman's film reached a much wider audience when it was shown on PBS in 1984. Its personal, family-oriented horrors hit us where we live.

      The Warner Archive Collection DVD-R of Testament is a re-issue of a much older Paramount disc and appears to be the exact same pressing. The enhanced image is detailed and accurate, and James Horner's sensitive music score comes across well on the clear soundtrack. English subs are encoded as well. Although the setting looks like Northern California, the film was shot in Sierra Madre, a suburb of Los Angeles. Steven Poster's cinematography makes the most of the rainy streets, and the set dressers create the illusion of trash piling up and lawns dying out.

      The extras from the original release have been included. In 2003 Lynne Littman directed Testament at 20, a making-of remembrance reunion. Several of the film's actors became stars in the interim. Now adults, the three child actors still feel like a family. Littman's second featurette Nuclear Thoughts combines more interviews with news film and talks with school children to talk about nuclear sanity in the post- September 11 world. And a text scroll offers a number of key dates for a Timeline of The Nuclear Age.

      By Glenn Erickson

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    • Pickpocket on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD

    • French filmmaker Robert Bresson was a bona fide artistic iconoclast. His ideas about cinema go directly against established narrative conventions. His most frequent theme investigates the notion of spiritual transformation, and his most successful films generate a sense of spiritual mystery. Critic Paul Schrader asserts that for him this transcendent emotional rush was a consciousness-raising, inspirational event. Most films accost us, asking for our involvement. Schrader says that Pickpocket instead recedes from the viewer into its own mystery. If we're intrigued, we move toward it. Many critics consider Bresson's 1959 film Pickpocket to be his best.

      Pickpocket's melancholy loner Michel (Martin LaSalle) is a close cousin to the director's soulful, suffering Diary of a Country Priest. Vaguely referencing a philosophy about privileged 'supermen', Michel considers himself too special to work like others. He cultivates an interest in public sneak-thievery. His friend Jacques (Pierre Leymarie) tries to understand Michel's odd behavior, as does Jeanne (Marika Green), a neighbor of his mother. Michel falls into league with two accomplices led by a particularly talented pickpocket (Kassagi). He is perversely intent on pursuing his criminal life, which can only end in one way.

      We tend to champion mainstream film directors that profess a strong personal vision. Robert Bresson takes his ideas about cinema theory to an extreme. He has no use for movie stars, or even professional actors. As has been repeated in almost every review of a Bresson film, the director refers to his on-screen talent as 'models' and insists that they be non-actors. He asks his cast to behave without expression or theatrics, and employs special techniques to prevent them from performing in an expressive manner. If a 'model' says his line with too much emphasis or meaning, the shot is re-taken as many times as Bresson feels are necessary to 'deaden' the performance into a rote, neutral delivery.

      Bresson does not want his actors to project their personalities, but to serve only as a conduit for his thesis. Alfred Hitchcock sometimes talked about using actors as posed 'objects' for his visual schemes, but for the most part he depended on star personalities to bring his films to life, to establish an emotional contact with his audience. Bresson's aims are far less commercially oriented. He controls his actors as a writer chooses words, to connect with the audience only on his terms. No psychological explanation is offered for Michel's behavior. Michel mumbles a few unconvincing words about Nietzschean supermen existing above the common morality, but Pickpocket doesn't fit human behavior into a cause-and-effect dramatic pattern. Michel is essentially as unknowable as strangers we see on the street.

      Pickpocket presents realistic people in naturalistic locations -- drab rooms, metro platforms, a racetrack. Sitting in his tiny room, Michel seems absorbed by a vague discontent. When in public he's unable to commit to a few minutes of civility with his friends. He behaves as if he wants someone else to take responsibility for his existence, to change his life. Jeanne looks at him in a maddening way: interested? Neutral? To get a reaction Michel must feed her suspicions about himself. "How do you think I live without a job?" About the only thing we really know about Michel is that he's an egotist, unaware that people around him also feel trapped in their own skins.

      Bresson breaks standard narrative conventions, so that we will take nothing for granted. Music is not scored to enhance the drama. Editing rhythms are slower than normal, and cuts don't happen when we expect them to. Shots are naturalistic but actions are not. Michel and his friends move as if employing a conscious act of will to do simple things like turn around, or look in a certain direction. They tend to stare without blinking, as if they were Pod people not quite comfortable in human bodies.

      Bresson aim is to get beyond the 'movie experience' so as to involve the viewer more deeply. We're accustomed in films to casually identify with wrongdoers. We project our own thoughts and judgments onto Michel. He's not that different from us. Do Bresson's 'blank' characterizations function as a mirror for the viewer?

      The film presents the actions of the pickpockets as strange ritualized behavior, performed like magic. Bresson uses precise, clear camera angles to show Michel first practicing sneak-thief work in his room and then performing it in public. Using the sleight-of-hand skills of professional magician and sleight-of-hand expert Kassagi, we see pickpocket 'touches' carried off both singly and in coordinated attacks. When Kassagi works in concert with Michel and a third man, they're like invisible angels, lifting wallets and rifling purses with magical skill. Is this what Michel wants, to be a phantom presence, moving among ordinary people but existing on a higher level? If so, Michel fails badly. When he prowls on his own in a racetrack crowd, Michel makes eye contact with his victims, seemingly telegraphing his intentions. We feel sure that the victim must be aware of him. Is Michel trying to be caught?

      Michel's thievery provides him with the illusion of an identity free of outside control. Yet his struggle to exist independent of other people brings him more fear and doubt. Michel seems capable of appreciating another person only after losing his liberty. Much is made of the climactic scene, with its sudden reversion to conventional directorial tactics: the camera moves sharply forward to heighten an embrace. The final voice-over line is an emotional release for the audience. Yet Bresson holds back here as well -- Michel speaks the final lines as if he were narrating his life in the past tense.

      Pickpocket isn't as pessimistic as Bresson's later Au hazard Balthazar and L'argent. For some it elicits strong religious feelings, as does the director's Diary of a Country Priest. The void at the center of Michel's life seems to call out for the guidance of faith, and some aspects of the final shot validate this interpretation. It is said that Robert Bresson's characters want to transcend the limits of reality, to attain some greater truth. Does Michel experience transcendence? Or does he succeed simply by making a meaningful contact with Marika?

      Criterion's Dual-Format Blu-ray + DVD of Pickpocket improves on a very good DVD from 2003, with a sharper and more stable image. The soundtrack seems even more subtle and intimate. Bresson uses lesser-known classical music to strong effect behind his titles and sometimes during pickpocket sequences. The emotion-laden music cue the finish would seem to break with the director's avowed rules of engagement.

      Repeated from the earlier edition, disc producer Kate Elmore's extras offer is a variety of viewpoints on Bresson's methods and theories. James Quandt's commentary is a formal analysis that holds the film in proper reverence while pointing out its endless parade of oddities. Quandt notes the apparent disconnect between Michel and his voiceover. He also notes that everything in the movie seems organized in symmetrical pairs -- trips to the racetrack, talks to the policeman, etc. The articulate Robert Bresson speaks on an old French television show; our own Paul Schrader provides a video interview explaining how Bresson inspired him to become a filmmaker. All of these witnesses (even Bresson, to some extent) seem privy to a miracle, the essence of which cannot be communicated through speech.

      A pleasant TV docu tracks down all three of Pickpocket's 'model' actors, proving that human beings did indeed make the movie. Leading actor Martin La Salle is found living and working in 'obscure fame' in Mexico City. Actress Marika Green also appears in a Q&A session from a 2000 screening. Not to be missed is a French television show excerpt, in which the illusionist Kassagi performs marvelous magic tricks like eating razor blades. He also shows off his pickpocket skills, which are genuinely incredible.

      By Glenn Erickson

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    • The Essential Jacques Demy: The Criterion Collection on Blu-ray

    • The Criterion Collection's prime function is making great filmmakers accessible to the home video audience. Their new dual-format disc set The Essential Jacques Demy contains excellent restorations of the marvelous French director's best films. Always a loner exploring new avenues of music and romance, Demy's work will delight fans of his international success The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

      Jacques Demy is not categorized as a French New Wave filmmaker, but his Lola (1961) has the look of a Nouvelle Vague feature. It was filmed mostly with available light on location in the seaport of Nantes, with all audio dubbed in post-production. The B&W Franscope images slowly build a dizzying tangle of romantic relationships that center on the handsome but aimless Roland Cassard (Marc Michel) and a singer and bar hostess, Lola (Anouk Aimée). Roland meets an attractive widow (Elina Labourdette) in a bookstore, and offers advice to her daughter Cécile (Annie Duperoux). Roland encounters Lola and soon falls in love, but the timing isn't right. Lola spends the night with an American sailor friend, yet is saving her heart for a long-lost love that abandoned her with child seven years ago.

      In Lola fate takes the form of accidental meetings, which happen easily in an ornate courtyard shopping arcade frequented by most of the characters. All of the lovers have histories of mistakes and broken hearts, but none of them realize that their personal stories are part of a larger, repeating pattern. Lola would rather wait for her dream lover to return than commit to Roland. When young Cécile is taken to a fun fair by Lola's sailor friend and falls madly in love with him, she's unaware that the exact same thing happened to her mother, and Lola as well. Jacques Demy is reminding us that our romantic experiences are private, yet shared by all.

      Despite the gray realism of the cinematography, fantasy elements slip in. Sailors dance and drink at Lola's nightclub, where every working girl has a heart of gold. Cécile is barely in her teens, but we see her enraptured by love and ready to make a life-changing decision. 'Magical' timing brings people together and keeps them apart. Roland just misses an appointment for a job with a diamond smuggler, an accident that saves his skin. Appearing periodically through the picture is a tall man in a white Cadillac, who may hold the solution to several relationships.

      Demy references other romantic movies as well. Elina Labourdette starred in the classic Les dames du Bois de Boulogne as a woman trapped in a sordid compromise; her character in Lola is determined to save her daughter from the same fate. Roland Cassard attends a matinee of Return to Paradise, in which Gary Cooper's sailor abandons his own daughter on the South Seas island of Matareva. When another character seeks to explain his long absence, he talks about being marooned on an isle called Matareva. Demy converts these previous movies into quasi-prequels.

      Because its original negative was destroyed in a fire, the fine-quality restoration of Lola seen here is a genuine rescue job. Demy and his cameraman Raoul Coutard don't frequently film Anouk Aimée in extreme backlight, and she persists in looking ravishing even when the image is purposely overexposed. Criterion's extras include a 2012 interview with Ms. Aimée, another with Agnés Varda and four complete early films by Jacques Demy. One early student film points directly to what would later become the director's main theme: a young man wallows in self-pity after a romantic breakup.

      Judging by the success of Lola director Demy had his pick of actresses for his next film. Bay of Angels (La baie des anges) features a remarkable performance by Jeanne Moreau as Jackie Demaistre, a serious gambling addict. Demy once again gravitates to the seaside, this time to the casinos of Southern France. Bored bank clerk Jean (Claude Mann) catches the gambling bug after winning half a year's pay in just a couple of hours. He meets and beds Jackie, an utterly charming but hopelessly corrupted devotee of the Roulette Wheel. Having left her ruined marriage behind, Jackie bounces erratically from city to city and also from man to man. Both she and Jean have excellent luck. Jean finds out what it is like to buy expensive clothes and dine at the most exclusive eateries.

      But the troubled Jackie doesn't know when to quit, and loses money almost as fast as she wins it. When he first sees her, in fact, she's being ejected from a casino for attempting to steal chips. The practical Jean averts disaster more than once by announcing that he's held some cash in reserve. Jackie soon loses track of whose money is whose, and simply assumes that he'll give her everything he's got.

      Other directors' movies about gambling addicts almost always end in tragedy. At first Bay of Angels makes winning a lot of money seem a possible way to make a living. But the emptiness of the lifestyle comes through as well. When he meets her, Jackie has nothing left except the clothes on her back. She talks about redeeming the jewelry she's pawned but keeps returning to the tables instead. The longer Jean stays with her, the more she revises her backstory to align with the truth, rather than the face-saving lies she told him on meeting.

      Demy's direction of one of France's top stars is flawless. Just as notable is his refusal to criticize or condemn the unpredictable Jackie, no matter how reckless or abusive she becomes. Jean accepts her for what she is, and sticks with her. They're a remarkable couple; even if their lifestyle seems wholly unsustainable. The movie is a fascinating peek at a curiously detached existence.

      Criterion's extras emphasize Jacques Demy's appeal to potential actresses, as the usually calm Jeanne Moreau enthusiastically endorses him in an old television interview. Instead of choosing mainstream work, Demy concentrated on expressing his romantic themes. His main collaborator would be the composer of the music for his first two films, Michel Legrand.

      1964's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Les parapluies de Cherbourg) is the movie that put Demy on the map. In America it has been rediscovered by succeeding generations of French language students, in the same way that The Red Shoes inspires budding ballerinas. French directors admire American musicals but only Demy has found success adapting the highly artificial genre to his own temperament. A fully sung jazz operetta, the movie's soundtrack had to be finessed and recorded before filming took place, so that Demy's non-singing actors could lip-synch to the lyrics. Michel Legrand's music is nothing less than enchanting, and his main romantic tune is still an instantly recognized standard. Adding to the film's legend is its 'discovery' of Catherine Deneuve, one of the most enduring of French stars.

      For his first film in color Demy adopts an extravagant visual style, even though most of the film was made in a realistic setting, the port of Cherbourg. Just as in an MGM musical, bright primary colors are everywhere and costumes and props are carefully matched to the sets. Yet the story Demy tells is not an escapist fantasy. Umbrella shop girl Geneviève and mechanic Guy (Catherine Deneuve & Nino Castelnuovo) fall madly in love but are forced to separate when he's called up for military duty in Algeria. When she becomes pregnant and Guy's letters stop coming, Geneviève's practical mother (Anne Vernon) insists that she accept a marriage proposal from a wealthy diamond merchant. An undefeatable Great Love seems doomed to tragedy, as Geneviève realizes that she's just another victim in the world's oldest story.

      The film surprised audiences everywhere. The format takes just a few seconds to win us over. Because the entire movie is sung to music, there are no awkward transitions between normal dialogue scenes and musical numbers. As in West Side Story we don't mind hearing people sing instead of talk in completely realistic backgrounds, such as an auto repair garage. Unlike West Side Story, the romantic fantasy flows, without stylistic breaks for ordinary scenes.

      The Umbrellas of Cherbourg puts some audiences through an emotional wringer. The lovers' farewell at a rainy train depot fully conveys the desire to die rather than be separated, when two years seems an eternity. But Geneviève and Guy have already succumbed to their passion in a scene that of powerful visual symbolism. The inevitability of it all is expressed when they drift in the direction of Guy's house, without walking. The lovers know where they'll end up, and the film simply cuts to static images of the path to Guy's bedroom.

      The bright colors seem to depart for the later chapters, when reality forces Geneviève to betray her love. It's at this point that Umbrellas takes the leap into Jacques Demy's world of 'romantic relativity'. The cool diamond merchant sees and wants Geneviève, and maneuvers himself into a proposal as if conducting a smooth business negotiation. He's none other than Roland Cassard from Lola, played again by Marc Michel. Roland's music cue returns as well. Having lost the love of his life, Roland found his calling in the diamond trade and is more or less shopping for a wife and family on his own terms. He's sincere but cool, and by no means the same broken-hearted man who moped around Nantes. As Roland tells Geneviève's mother about Lola, we suddenly see that ornate shopping arcade again, this time in color.

      We spend the rest of the movie dreading what will happen when Geneviève and Guy meet again, for each has betrayed the other. Demy and Legrand have such control over the film's emotional flow that the snowy climax of Umbrellas achieves an impact equal to that of a classic opera.

      The extras grant us a full appreciation of how difficult it must have been for Demy and his designers to build a stylized reality from scratch. Demy and Legrand timed out the entire movie soundtrack in advance, leaving room for stage business and transitions. It's amazing that the final action and performances never seem locked into a rigid pattern. Several interviews cover the making of the show. Ms. Deneuve underwent a full makeover to become the film's blonde, virginal Geneviève, a change that she initially resisted. Only a director like Demy could inspire such trust.

      1967's The Young Girls of Rochefort (Les Demoiselles de Rochefort) spreads the musical-cinematic ideas of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg across a larger canvas and adds the dimension of dance. Its multiple romances play out similarly to Lola: when a music & dance company comes to Rochefort for a big boat and recreation show, a dozen potential lovers criss-cross in the streets, almost making the right romantic connections. Every line of dialogue is sung to Michel Legrand's music score and all the stage business is choreographed. Demy's newest collaborator is Hollywood's own Gene Kelly.

      This time the tone is light and breezy. Show dancers Etienne (George Chakiris) and Bill (Grover Dale) must find replacements when their female counterparts decide to run off with sailors. Enter the Garnier twins, ballet teacher Delphine (Catherine Deneuve) and piano teacher Solange (Françoise Dorléac). Delphine is breaking up with the owner of an art gallery who displays a painting by young soldier Maxence (Jacques Perrin) that looks just like Delphine. Maxence has never met Delphine but he does know her mother Yvonne (Danielle Darrieux), and tells her that he's searching the world for the feminine ideal represented in his painting. Yvonne pines for the lover she spurned ten years before for frivolous reasons. He's Simon Dame (Michel Piccoli), who's just returned to Rochefort thinking that Yvonne's long gone to Mexico. Simon is soft on Solange, but she wants to go to Paris to meet successful composer Andy Miller (Gene Kelly). Add to that several other characters whose random destinies hinge on chance encounters in Rochefort's charming streets, and it's hard to tell who will end up with whom.

      The film's ambition seems to be to revive and develop Hollywood's abandoned tradition of MGM musicals. Every scene has at least one song, and even more combine singing with dancing -- lots of dancing. The leading characters dance on the street, in hallways, just about everywhere. The twenty or so squeaky-clean show dancers do large-scale numbers in every open space in town.

      The lengthy Rochefort eventually wears us out. Michel Legrand's music has energy and style but is short on truly memorable melodies. There are also talent issues, in that the non-singing actors can be dubbed but they can't become real dancers overnight. Thus pros like George Chakiris, Grover Dale and Gene Kelly rein in their skills, while the gorgeous sisters Deneuve and Dorléac seem stretched beyond their abilities. They move well and have grace to spare, but are no match for the pro dancers around them. Yet they're a knockout in shimmering crimson dresses, in a dance modeled after Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe's big number in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

      Demy's charming screenplay is more than a little quirky. For several characters romantic Nirvana is just a chance meeting away. All subsist on their romantic dreams. Most of the older generation must live with bad decisions in their past. Yvonne told Simon she was pregnant with his child but left with another man to live in Mexico -- because she didn't like his name. In contrast to the mix 'n' match sweetness of most of the proceedings, a bizarre tangent surfaces about an axe-murderer. The weird subplot is treated as no big deal, yet has two songs associated with it.

      Criterion has located vintage interviews with Demy and his collaborators, as well a TV show about the making of the film. Also included is Agnés Varda's retrospective documentary The Young Girls Turn 25. Sadly, co-star Françoise Dorléac was killed in a car accident not long after the premiere.

      1971's Donkey Skin (Peau d'âne) takes Jacques Demy in a new direction. It's again a musical, a faithful adaptation of a classic Perrault fairy tale with a conclusion very much like Cinderella. Told in simple terms yet given an eccentric spin, Demy and composer Michel Legrand's show is often hilarious but never disrespectful. It was intended for all ages, although today's PC-minded parents might object to the story's main conflict as unsuitable for children. Part of the charm of Donkey Skin is Demy's refusal to soften elements of the original fairy tale. It stars the perfect fairy tale princess Catherine Deneuve.

      A happy kingdom despairs when its Blue Queen falls ill: she makes her husband The Blue King (Jean Marais of Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast) promise to remarry only when he finds someone more beautiful than she. Pressured to produce a male heir, the King discovers that his own daughter, the Princess (Deneuve) is the only woman more beautiful than her mother. Confused, the Princess is willing to marry her father because she indeed loves him. But the opinionated Fairy of the Lilacs (Delphine Seyrig) counsels that one mustn't confuse two different kinds of loves. She has the Princess stall her father with demands for the making of three fabulous dresses. When the King still insists on marriage, the Princess asks a price that the Fairy is convinced he won't pay -- the skin of the King's magic donkey, which produces not manure but gold and jewels. But to the Princess's horror, her father makes the sacrifice and delivers the donkey skin. Now the Princess has no choice but to run away.

      To our surprise, the incest theme in Donkey Skin turns out not to be a problem. As Demy and a collection of psychologists explain in the disc's interview extras, when young girls are asked who they want to marry, many will say, "Daddy". The story also includes a wealth of amusing details unlikely to surface in a Disney-fied fairy-tale adaptation. The sight off the 'Royal Donkey' defecating gold coins and rubies is hilarious, as is an obnoxious crone character that literally spits toads. Told that anyone whose finger fits into a tiny ring can become the bride of the handsome Prince Charming (Jacques Perrin), ladies and maids boil the fat off their fingers or whittle them down with knives.

      Demy's fairy tale land is designed and constructed with remarkable taste, making the movie highly enjoyable just on the visual level. The servants in the Blue Kingdom are literally blue, as are their horses. The hairstyles are ornate and the three magic dresses are impressively designed. The 'dress like the weather' appears to have clouds flowing across its folds. Michel Legrand's songs carry playful lyrics that criticize the characters. When the Princess disguises herself as a ragged peasant in the forest, the villagers sing lyrics about how filthy she is. Te lovers' duet has words almost as silly as their instant affection. The story works its way to a logical conclusion without hyping the Perrault original. It turns out that the Lilac Fairy had a secondary motive in not allowing the King to marry his own daughter. His arrival on a 'magical' transport never fails to get a laugh.

      Demy planned for years to make 1982's Une chambre en ville, an original opera for the screen that takes a much darker direction than his earlier work. This time his musical collaborator is Michel Colombier, who provides duets much more like traditional opera than Michel Legrand's more playful jazz themes.

      A terrific B&W opening scene sees striking shipyard workers in Nantes of 1955 squaring off with riot police, and exchanging chanted lyrics in a call & response pattern. When the police charge the film suddenly cuts to color. The strike then becomes a background for the problems of François Guilbaud (Richard Berry), who argues with his wealthy landlady 'Baroness' Margot's Langlois (Danielle Darrieux). Guilbaud has decided that his faithful and adoring girlfriend Violette (Fabienne Guyon) bores him, but he goes crazy for Edith Leroyer (Dominique Sanda), a runaway wife. To spite her impotent husband Edmond (Michel Piccoli), Edith has taken to prowling the streets for lovers, wearing only a long mink coat. Guilbaud discovers that Edith is actually Margot's estranged daughter. Violette is expecting a marriage proposal, not knowing that Guilbaud has instantly committed himself to Edith; while the insanely jealous Edmond threatens to kill Edith with a straight razor.

      Une chambre returns us to the city (and shopping arcade) of Lola, adding story elements from Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Just like Genevìeve and Guy, Guilbaud meets Violette after work, but their relationship is one of discord. The strike situation seems to throw everything off-kilter, as Guilbaud chooses this time to argue with Margot and dump poor Violette, and the unbalanced Edith walks the streets looking for a way to escape a husband she's grown to loathe. It's no wonder that audiences didn't respond, as the film's mood is cheerless and there's nobody to root for. The movie is a highly personal effort by Demy, yet its meaning is elusive -- the impressively executed 'musical riot' scenes fail to connect with the overheated personal tragedy. The troubles don't let up until one person is beaten to death and two others have committed suicide.

      In the extras we learn that a group of French critics took out ad space in newspapers to ask the public to give Une chambre en ville a chance. But the film didn't find an audience. Looking at it now, restored to visual perfection, in stereo sound, we admire Demy's clear storytelling. The strike-oriented material comes off very well, with the violent standoff in the streets playing like Les misérables in miniature.

      The extras let us know that Demy wanted to film Une chambre en ville right after Donkey Skin, but he couldn't secure his dream cast of Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu and Simone Signoret. Richard Berry does well as the confused Guilbaud, but Dominique Sanda only seems freakish as the sexually deranged Edith.

      The extras finish off with two impressive documentaries. James Quandt analyzes Demy's style and themes with a multitude of visual observations in Jacques Demy, A to Z. Agnés Varda's feature-length ode to her husband, The World of Jacques Demy illustrates Demy's life and work with many stills and movie clips.

      The Criterion Collection's delightful Dual-Format Edition Blu-ray + DVD set The Essential Jacques Demy is a treasure of impressive filmmaking and entertainment. The director's work has held up better than that of many of his contemporaries.

      The boxed set also celebrates Agnés Varda's decades-long mission to restore Demy's pictures to their original color and sound. The delicate colors make Umbrellas, Young Girls and Donkey Skin pop off the screen, and new stereo mixes are in place. Each title except Donkey Skin comes with a trailer and four of the titles have restoration demonstrations.

      Criterion producer Kate Elmore's 68-page insert booklet contains essays on the films by Terrence Rafferty, Ginette Vincendeau, Anne E. Duggan, Jim Ridley, Jonathan Rosenbaum, and Geoff Andrew, and Berthomé.

      By Glenn Erickson

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  1. Press Release

    • Movie-Themed Nights at the Hollywood Bowl

    • Don't miss the Hollywood Bowl's special movie-themed nights sponsored by Turner Classic Movies. Pollstar magazine's Best Major Outdoor Venue (ten years in a row!), the Hollywood Bowl is the largest natural outdoor amphitheater in the United States. Throughout the summer the LA Phil presents the best in jazz, classical, Broadway, and world music, featuring artists that range from Yo-Yo Ma to Janelle Monae, John Williams to Steve Martin, and Gladys Knight to The Pixies. This summer's special movie-themed nights include many crowd favorites:

      Sunday, July 13, 7:30pm
      Grease Sing-A-Long
      Bring the family to the fun-filled Grease Sing-A-Long, which returns with a pre-show performance and the much-loved movie musical on the Bowl's giant screen. Grease is the word! Come early for a 7:30pm pre-show with Sha Na Na.

      Didi Conn ("Frenchy"), host
      Sha Na Na musical guest

      Sunday, August 31, 7:30pm
      The Big Picture: Hitchcock
      Suspense! Sinister plots! Mistaken identities! This year's Big Picture is a thrilling tribute to the classic films of Alfred Hitchcock. Mesmerizing, haunting and psychologically gripping scores by Bernard Herrmann (Vertigo, North by Northwest), Dimitri Tiomkin (Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder) and more will be played live while spellbinding scenes are projected on the Bowl's big screen.

      Hollywood Bowl Orchestra
      David Newman, conductor
      Eva Marie Saint, host

      Saturday, September 20, 6:00pm
      Sound of Music Sing-A-Long
      The Hollywood hills are alive with The Sound of Music! Everyone's favorite sing-along returns to the giant screen at the Bowl. Bring your costume for the pre-show parade, and warm up your vocal cords for this beloved and always sold-out event.

      Make the most of your Hollywood Bowl experience with a picnic dinner. You can bring your own food or buy on site. For tickets and information, visit

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    • TCM to Remember Lauren Bacall with Marathon on Sept. 15-16

    • Turner Classic Movies will celebrate the life and career of legendary actress Lauren Bacall with a 24-hour marathon of memorable performances, including all four films in which she co-starred with husband Humphrey Bogart. TCM's tribute to Bacall, who passed away Tuesday at the age of 89, will air Monday, Sept. 15, beginning at 8 p.m. (ET), and will conclude Tuesday, Sept. 16, her 90th birthday. "Lauren Bacall was a wonderful and generous friend of ours at TCM, and a great connection to the 'golden age of cinema,'" said TCM host Robert Osborne. "Personally, I have to admit that she never failed to make my heart beat faster and my voice to stammer when we spoke. Talk about true star quality - that was Bacall. We are truly blessed to have had her as an integral part of our TCM family."

      Turner Classic Movies will open its remembrance of Bacall's extraordinary life and career with the TCM original Private Screenings: Lauren Bacall (2005), a fascinating, in-depth conversation with the star hosted by Robert Osborne. It will be followed by Bacall's film debut, the Howard Hawks classic To Have and Have Not (1944), which also introduced her to the man who would become her husband, Humphrey Bogart. Their subsequent films - The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948) - are also included in the marathon.

      TCM's tribute to Bacall includes Young Man with a Horn (1950), with Kirk Douglas and Doris Day, in which she delivers a powerful dramatic performance frequently cited as her best. Bacall demonstrates her comic abilities in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), starring Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe; Designing Woman (1957), with Gregory Peck; and Sex and the Single Girl (1964), starring Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood and Henry Fonda. Rounding out the marathon, Bacall stars opposite Gary Cooper in Bright Leaf (1950), John Wayne in Blood Alley (1955) and Paul Newman in Harper (1966).

      The following is the complete schedule for TCM's tribute to Lauren Bacall.

      Monday, Sept. 15
      8 p.m. - Private Screenings: Lauren Bacall (2005)
      9 p.m. - To Have and Have Not (1944)
      11 p.m. - The Big Sleep (1946)
      1 a.m. - How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)
      2:45 a.m. - Private Screenings: Lauren Bacall (2005)
      3:45 a.m. - Harper (1966)

      Tuesday, Sept. 16
      6 a.m. - Bright Leaf (1950)
      8 a.m. - Young Man with a Horn (1950)
      10 a.m. - Dark Passage (1947)
      Noon - Key Largo (1948)
      2 p.m. - Blood Alley (1955)
      4 p.m. - Sex and the Single Girl (1964)
      6 p.m. - Designing Woman (1953)

      Lauren Bacall was one of those movie stars who were so original and iconic that the molecular structure of the audience seemed to shift when she was on screen. Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, Greta Garbo - they too possessed an ineffable power to dominate the screen by their physical presence alone. But what made Bacall unique was that she demonstrated this authority at such a young age. She was only 19 years old when she stood toe-to-toe with the formidable Humphrey Bogart in "To Have and Have Not" (1944), director Howard Hawks' film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's novel. Her husky voice and sultry eyes were more than a match for Bogie, both on screen and off. He would go on to marry his much younger co-star and together they began one of Hollywood's most famed personal and professional partnerships. But Bacall was not dependent upon Bogart for her later success. She continued to be a movie star and Broadway diva long after Bogart died in 1957, establishing herself as one of the greatest female entertainers of her generation - not to mention, one tough broad.

      Lauren Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske on Sept. 16, 1924, in New York City, NY. Unlike Bogart, who came from a wealthy Manhattan family, Bacall's upbringing was strictly middle-class; her father was a salesman and her mother was a secretary. Her parents divorced when she was five, leaving Bacall to live with her mother, to whom she was extremely close. She had no contact with her father after her parents split, but strong father figures like Hawks and Bogart would play key roles in her early success. After studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and working as a model to pay the bills, Bacall appeared on the cover of Harper's Bazaar magazine. Slim Keith, Hawks' socialite wife, saw the cover and was so taken with Bacall's beauty that she convinced her husband to give the young model a screen test for his next film, "To Have and Have Not" - the film which would make Bacall an overnight sensation and spawn one of the most famous lines in film history, voiced by the husky-voiced actress to her future husband: "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and... blow." One look at the Bazaar cover, and Hawk's acquiesced to auditioning the unknown.It was a test in more ways than one. Bacall, who was Jewish, had heard that Hawks was anti-Semitic. Intimidated and inexperienced, she allowed her agent to conceal her religious background from Hawks and offered no resistance when Hawks suggested she change her name from "Betty" to "Lauren." Additionally, what became known as Bacall's alluring "look" -chin down; smoldering eyes looking up - was created by the actress out of necessity. She literally was so nervous that keeping her chin closer to her chest was the only way to prevent her head from shaking once the camera started rolling.

      Things did not get easier for Bacall when the actual "To Have and Have Not" production began, as apart from being totally green, she began to fall in love with her seasoned, gruff leading man. Bogart's third and often violent marriage to actress Mayo Methot was breaking up and he was miserable. An admirable man not prone to cheating on wives, he nonetheless grew more smitten each day with his young co-star, setting his sights on her despite their 25-year age difference. They started a clandestine affair after several weeks of shooting - mainly to prevent the unhinged Methot from wreaking havoc on either one of them. However, soon after the film was released, not only did Bacall become an overnight movie star with her first film role, she became - more importantly to her - Mrs. Humphrey Bogart. On May 21, 1945, the couple tied the knot during a modest Ohio ceremony, with the supposed tough guy crying unashamedly at the sight of his "Baby" (as he called her) walking up the aisle.

      Coming off such heady stuff, Warner Bros. was anxious to showcase their new vixen quickly, unfortunately choosing the spy drama "Confidential Agent" (1945) and miscasting her opposite refined French actor, Charles Boyer. The film garnered her the worst reviews of her career. She wisely decided to recreate the magic of her debut by appearing in three movies with Bogart back-to-back-to-back. "The Big Sleep" (1946), based on the Raymond Chandler novel with a screenplay by the legendary writer William Faulkner, earned critical raves and box office success, despite everyone involved professing that they did not understand the convoluted plot. Directed by Hawks, the film showcased Bacall's smoldering sexuality and Bogart's genuine infatuation with his wife and co-star. Despite the incomprehensible storyline, Bacall's and Bogart's chemistry was electric and the film was a smash for post-war audiences looking for grit and reality.

      Thee couple followed it up with the thriller "Dark Passage" - the least memorable of their four flicks - with Bogart playing a man who escapes from prison to prove his innocence and Bacall essaying the beautiful, young artist sympathetic to his cause. A complex film noir like "The Big Sleep," the sizzling heat generated between its two stars more than compensated for the movie's shortcomings. "Key Largo" (1948), their fourth and final film, again featured the familiar formula of Bogart as the vulnerable anti-hero and Bacall as the tough but tender woman who helps him uncover the courage beneath his hard shell - all set against the backdrop of a Florida hotel under siege by both a hurricane and the notorious gangster, Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson). Directed by John Huston, "Key Largo" was a worldwide success and cemented Bacall and Bogart as one of the greatest film partnerships ever.

      At the peak of her popularity, Bacall turned her attention beyond movies to more personal interests. She and Bogart started a family - which would include son Stephen and daughter Leslie - and with her husband's influence, she became an outspoken proponent of progressive politics, with the couple criticizing the anti-Communist attacks of the House Un-American Activities Committee and befriending President Harry Truman. The Life magazine image of Bacall draped seductively on top of Truman's piano while he played became an instant sensation and one of the most indelible photo-ops of the post-war era. Despite being a full-time mother and passionate politico, she continued to work, but very selectively. She was superb as a femme fatale in "Young Man with a Horn" (1950) opposite Kirk Douglas, proving that she did not need her husband's star power to ignite sparks on screen. The romantic romp "How to Marry a Millionaire" (1953) showcased Bacall's comedic talents and contrasted her sharp-witted sultriness against the baby-doll sexuality of Marilyn Monroe. She provided a shot of vinegar to the sugary Douglas Sirk melodrama "Written on the Wind" (1956), proving more than a match for her co-stars Rock Hudson and Robert Stack. She also showed her mettle by taking on some of Hollywood's biggest power players, engaging in a long-running feud with Jack Warner, the head of Warner Brothers, over the quality of scripts sent to her. Since Bogart was Warner's biggest star and, even then, an American institution, Warner backed down before the increasingly ballsy Bacall did.

      But the actress could not win every battle. After little over a decade of married bliss, the epic love story took a decidingly tragic turn. During the 1950s, Bogart's health started a long, slow decline - due, it turned out, to his massive cigarette habit. Diagnosed with throat cancer, he became increasingly weak and unable to work. To make matters worse, his cancer was not discussed in polite company - as was the etiquette of the time. Bacall - only 30 odd years old - made the decision to put career aside so she could nurse her ailing husband and spend time with their children. This gave her an unfair reputation for being difficult, but Bacall could have cared less when it came to her beloved Bogie - the one man who had shaped her entire life up until that point. It was a tribute to her professionalism that she shot one of her best comedies, "Designing Women" (1957), during Bogart's last, sad days.

      When Bogart died on Jan. 14, 1957, Bacall was on her own for the first time in her adult life. She had more than a few personal and professional missteps in the wake of her loss. An affair with Frank Sinatra, Bogart's good friend and a member of the Bogie-founded Holmby Hills Rat Pack, ended badly, as it was more a fling of two people united in grief. However, Bacall was ill- prepared to deal with womanizing men like Sinatra, so was traumatized when Sinatra coldly dumped her. Without her husband's clout in her corner, she struggled to find good roles, as well. The tepid drama "The Gift of Love" (1958) was beneath her and the British War film "North West Frontier" (1959) was better, but did nothing to erase the power of her early work.

      Approaching age 40, Bacall married again; this time to the distinguished actor Jason Robards, whom many thought resembled Bogie in both looks and temperament. In 1961, Bacall had a child with Robards, Sam, and once again seemed more focused on family than films. She worked sparingly throughout the 1960s, dabbling in TV and appearing in just three films: "Shock Treatment" (1964); "Sex and the Single Girl" (1964); and "Harper" (1966). By 1969, her marriage to Robards was over, done in by his alcoholism. Bacall was now middle-aged and on her own again. Amazingly, it marked the beginning of one of the most triumphant periods of her career.

      Bacall shifted focus, training to be a stage actress and had found success in the play "Cactus Flower" during the mid-60s. But in 1970, she threw caution to the wind and took on the role of aging stage diva, Margo Channing, in the Broadway musical, "Applause" (1970). The play was a musical version of the classic film "All About Eve" (1950), in which Bette Davis - Bacall's idol - had created the Channing role. Although she was not much of a singer, Bacall threw herself into the play and it became a fantastic success. Bacall won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical and powered the play through a national tour and a London staging. Adapted for TV, "Applause" (CBS, 1973) earned Bacall more rave reviews and an Emmy nomination.

      Rejuvenated by her Broadway success, the comeback kid returned to movies after an eight-year hiatus, lending class and elegance to the all-star ensemble cast in "Murder on the Orient Express" (1974). She backed up John Wayne in his last movie, the western "The Shootist" (1976). She and Wayne lived on opposite sides of the political spectrum but they were good friends; both exemplifying tough-talking but fair-minded individualism. Those traits certainly enlivened any film she appeared in, whether it was Robert Altman's sickly comedy "H.E.A.L.T.H." (1980) or the psychodrama misfire "The Fan" (1981). Bacall had more success and better material to work with when she returned to the stage. In 1981, she re-invented the role made famous by old pal Katherine Hepburn in the stage version of the movie "Woman of the Year" (1942). As with "Applause," the play was a smash and garnered Bacall more lavish reviews.

      The actress took most of the 1980s off, but picked up again at the end of the decade. Now in her sixties, she found good parts as hard to come by as ever, but she soldiered on in roles that seemed interesting to her. She appeared in "Mr. North" (1988), a comedy notable primarily because it was directed by Danny Huston, the son of her late friend and director John Huston. She did a nice, quick turn in the horror thriller "Misery" (1990) and re-teamed with director Robert Altman for "Ready to Wear" (1994). Barbra Streisand - another smart, tough and talented Jewish girl from New York - directed Bacall in "The Mirror Has Two Faces" (1996), guiding her to her only Oscar nomination and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role.

      As Bacall entered her eighties, her appetite for the avant-garde seemed to increase. She made two unusual movies in supporting roles to Nicole Kidman. The experimental drama "Dogville" (2003) and the intriguing but unsatisfying thriller "Birth" (2004) were not box office hits, but were at least ambitious. Lars Van Trier, the Danish director of "Dogville," then cast her in his next film "Manderlay" (2005). An unconventional story of racism in the American South, "Manderlay" also failed to reach a wide audience, but allowed Bacall to work with some top-notch actors like Danny Glover and Willem Dafoe. She lent her acerbically witty charm to Paul Schrader's "The Walker" (2007), another fascinating failure featuring Lily Tomlin, Ned Beatty and Kristin Scott Thomas. Unconcerned about box office projections or production budgets - including her own salary - Bacall embraced the experience of working with interesting actors and directors.

      Biographical data courtesy of TCMDb

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    • Noir in the Desert: A Review of the 2014 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs

    • For the second year in a row this May, I journeyed from Los Angeles to Palm Springs for four days of gritty film noir -- courtesy of the annual Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival. This year's edition, the fifteenth, was even better than last year's, as festival producer and host Alan K. Rode offered up a solid assortment of the familiar and not-so-familiar, with genuine classics like Sunset Blvd. and The Killers mixedwith intriguing obscurities like Southside 1-1000 and Storm Warning. The recipe worked, as Rode reported afterwards that the festival broke attendance records and sold out several shows. Twelve films were screened in a 72-hour period that began Thursday evening, May 8, and ended late Sunday afternoon, May 11. The movies themselves (almost all in 35mm), the fascinating guest speakers, the attentive audiences, the comfy theater, the big screen, the host hotel, even the quality popcorn -- all made for a sparkling and hugely enjoyable four days. What follows is a first-person account of those days designed to give a sense of what the overall experience was like, since this festival makes for a perfect little getaway and I can highly recommend making plans to attend in 2015.

      The festival was founded in 2000 by Palm Springs resident and writer Arthur Lyons. Since Lyons' death in 2008, the festival has continued strongly thanks to the aforementioned Alan K. Rode as well as Palm Springs residents and Cultural Center Founders Ric and Rozene Supple, and the San Francisco-based Film Noir Foundation, which has rescued and preserved many noir films and puts on annual Noir City festivals in Hollywood, San Francisco and other cities. FNF founder and president Eddie Muller -- also an occasional TCM host -- was on hand with Rode and film historian Foster Hirsch to introduce the weekend's screenings and interview the special guests.

      I pulled into the driveway of the Palm Springs Renaissance Hotel at about 5pm on Thursday afternoon. After a two-plus-hour drive into the desert, the hotel's sleek lobby felt like an oasis. This was the festival's host hotel, and it was an ideal choice -- only five minutes away from the Camelot Theatre, and nice enough to feel like a comfy retreat without being too over-the-top or expensive. I had no complaints. And there was just enough time to grab a burger and salad in the Renaissance bar area before heading off to the Camelot Theatre for the opening night movie: The Window (1949). An hour before showtime, a considerable crowd was already gathering for what would be a capacity screening. Why The Window -- an outstanding suspense picture that was a sleeper hit for RKO back in the day -- isn't better known or more often revived is beyond me. Perhaps it's because it does not feature A-list stars. In any case, the cast that it does have -- Barbara Hale, Arthur Kennedy, Paul Stewart, Ruth Roman, Bobby Driscoll -- are all superb. Based on a Cornell Woolrich story entitled The Boy Who Cried Murder, the brisk 73-minute film centers on a New York boy (Driscoll) who is prone to telling lies and embarrassing his parents (Hale and Kennedy). Sleeping on the upstairs fire escape one night, he witnesses, through a window, his neighbors Stewart and Roman murdering a man. When he tells his parents, they don't believe him. When he tells the police, they investigate but end up not believing him either. Then, in a scene that Alfred Hitchcock would have loved, Hale marches Driscoll upstairs to apologize to Stewart and Roman, not realizing that this will place her terrified kid in genuine danger. The suspense only ratchets up from there in what is ultimately an ingeniously written, atmospherically directed little thriller -- a perfect film of its type. And there actually is a slight Hitchcock connection -- Window director Ted Tetzlaff 's last film as a cinematographer had been Notorious (1946), after which he moved full time into directing.

      The Window is also notable for making the most of a limited budget with evocative sets and décor--hallmarks of the noir style. The New York tenement where the action is set is extremely convincing, aided by fine location work shot in Harlem. Tetzlaff gives the setting an appropriately claustrophobic feel, with the tenement, the surrounding run-down streets, and a condemned building next door all coming off as prison-like. In the marvelous climax, with Bobby Driscoll in mortal peril, you get the feeling there's nowhere to run.

      Following the screening of this beautiful 35mm print funded by the Film Noir Foundation, Rode welcomed leading lady Barbara Hale to the stage for a very rare public appearance. The 92-year-old actress was in fantastic shape and instantly won over the crowd with entertaining tales from The Window and her overall career, which includes a long television stint as Della Street opposite Raymond Burr's Perry Mason. Hale recalled that while on location in New York for The Window -- which she saw this night for the first time in 65 years -- it was so cold that the entire cast was wearing long underwear beneath their costumes. This was remarkable to hear, for the film does a great job in convincing us that the action is really taking place during a hot, sweaty summer.

      She continued that Arthur Kennedy "was so true to life that actually he seemed more like an actor when we weren't shooting," and that Ruth Roman became a dear friend as a result of this picture. Of little Bobby Driscoll, who was borrowed from Disney and won a special Oscar for his performance, Hale said that he became like her real child at the time and that she felt very protective of him. Her devastation over his later drug problems and untimely 1968 death was still apparent: "I just adored that child," she said in a shaky voice. "It's very hard for me to talk about it. He became my baby." Hale also spoke sweetly of meeting her future husband, actor Bill Williams, on the set of West of the Pecos (1945): "What a lovely fella he was... just the sweetest smile and the best daddy. I miss him terribly. It was a wonderful marriage." But her funniest story concerned her friend (and West of the Pecos co-star) Robert Mitchum, who saw her one day across the crowded RKO commissary, and shouted: "Hey, Hale! Ya gettin' any?!" "He was the biggest tease," Hale recalled with a twinkle. "Just full of the devil!"

      After Hale's talk, there was a lovely, catered reception outside the theater in the mild Palm Springs night. This was followed, for me anyway, by a quick drive back to the Renaissance and straight to bed for some peaceful slumber.

      Friday started off with a 10am screening of another 73-minute RKO gem: Roadblock (1951), with Charles McGraw in a rare leading role not as a villain but as a more sensitive, if still hard-edged, insurance investigator. Alan K. Rode, author of a strong 2007 biography of McGraw, said in his introduction, "This is the kinder, gentler McGraw, the conflicted McGraw who plays what I would call the noir chump." Indeed, McGraw's screen persona makes him entirely convincing both as a virtuous cop figure and as a contemptible villain, which is a key reason why his transformation here from one to the other is so credible. Shot in eighteen days in and around downtown Los Angeles, Roadblock moves like lightning and is entirely satisfying. It screened in Palm Springs in a new -- and the only known -- 35mm print, which exists thanks to the funding of the Film Noir Foundation and lab work by Warner Bros. and the UCLA Film and Television Archive. It played great to the morning audience. It was preceded by a short film by director Greg King entitled Glass Sun (2013), an imaginative, wordless throwback to classic noir.

      After a nice lunch with friends at the Renaissance, Friday's second picture was Too Late For Tears (1949), continuing its triumphant tour of film noir festivals in San Francisco, Hollywood, and now Palm Springs, after a five-year restoration project spearheaded by the Film Noir Foundation. As Eddie Muller told the crowd, "It's a miracle that there's a show this afternoon." A decade ago, Muller explained, he had wanted to show the film but found there were no complete, undamaged prints known to exist. Eventually, a dupe negative of the French release version (entitled La Tigresse) showed up at the UCLA Film and Television Archive, and UCLA's Scott MacQueen was able to cherry-pick the best shots from that negative and two other print sources to end up with the superb print available now.

      Too Late For Tears, starring Lizabeth Scott, Arthur Kennedy, Dan Duryea, Don DeFore, and a suitcase containing $60,000, was an independent film produced by Hunt Stromberg and released by United Artists, which is why, without the protection of a major studio owner, the prints fell into disrepair over the years. The movie plays as a fine noir thriller with Lizabeth Scott at her villainous best, in full-fledged femme fatale mode. Muller said that virtually the entire budget was spent on its two main stars, Scott and Duryea, with the production cutting corners everywhere else.

      The 4pm movie, Billy Wilder's masterful Sunset Blvd. (1950), was one I have seen many, many times, so I decided to play hooky and camp out for a couple of blissful hours by the Renaissance Hotel's large, beautiful pool. It was buzzing with guests and their families, creating a very agreeable vibe. But I made sure to return to the Camelot for the post-film discussion between Rode and actress Nancy Olson, who plays the young writer Betty Schaefer in the film. I was glad I did, for Olson gave a fascinating interview that touched on details of the film's making, the cast, director Billy Wilder, and that overall era of Hollywood. A mere 20 years old during filming (not, she pointed out, 22 -- as is mentioned of her character on screen!), she still sounded incredulous that as a UCLA student who was nicknamed "Wholesome Olson" and who didn't even know who Gloria Swanson was, she had the good fortune to begin her screen career with a movie like this one. "You wonder about destiny, about how your life takes turns," she said. "The door opened and I became a leading character in one of the greatest films ever made. That is amazing!"

      Olson recalled that Swanson was incredibly dedicated to her role of Norma Desmond, often "begging" Billy Wilder to stay late after filming to work on the next day's scenes. Olson also said it was usual studio practice for all the dozen or so films being shot at Paramount at any given time to have their dailies shown at 6pm in a little theater. Typically, directors and technicians would come to watch their own work and then leave before the other films' dailies began. But "then Sunset Blvd. started to show its dailies, and nobody left. It was very unusual. They had to bring in extra seats!" Of Sunset Blvd.'s timeless appeal, Olson said "this film told the truth about not only the film business but the world. It's a story that has a kind of resonance about people selling their souls, as Bill Holden did, to survive. And about falling in love with the wrong person at the wrong time, and the consequences of all that."

      Following Sunset Blvd., a quick, tasty dinner with friends was in order at the Camelot Theatre's upstairs cafe. Then it was back down for the evening movie, Sorry, Wrong Number (1948). Film historian, noir scholar and author, and college professor Foster Hirsch introduced the film as "pure, hardcore noir -- straight up, no chaser, all the way. If you came here for fun and uplift, you've come to the wrong place!" Director Anatole Litvak's movie was based on a famous 22-minute radio play starring Agnes Moorhead that was expanded by author Lucille Fletcher into a complicated screenplay full of flashbacks, and flashbacks within flashbacks. Barbara Stanwyck stars as the bedridden heiress who overhears a murder plot on the telephone but is unable to convince husband Burt Lancaster or anyone else of this. The movie stands as an interesting experiment in bringing the techniques and qualities of radio drama to the screen, with pronounced, heightened visual and aural effects that are akin to purely aural, old-fashioned radio plays. To me, it came off as overdone and sometimes shrill, but the movie does stay true to the storytelling mode it creates, features a great cast, and certainly it played well on this evening.

      Speaking afterwards with Foster Hirsch was Victoria Wilson, author of the recent biography A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940, the first of two volumes about the actress. Wilson has a fulltime day job as an editor for Knopf (Hirsch himself is one of her writers), so she worked nights and weekends for fifteen years to complete this volume. She said that Stanwyck's acting is timeless because "there was only one thing that really interested her, and that was the truth of whatever the situation was. Her acting doesn't age, it doesn't date, because she always went for the truth." Hirsch asked about the ramifications of Stanwyck's early years, when she was essentially an abandoned child, since her mother died when she was four and her father deserted the family soon thereafter. Wilson replied, "I don't think she ever got over it. If you think about the things that haunt you, at a certain point in your life you're able to put them aside, and they don't stand in your way. But if you really don't cope with them, they come back to haunt you. And that's what happened to her and that's what I'm going to be writing about in volume two."

      It was still so warm after this screening that a walk down festive Palm Canyon Drive with some ice cream and friends seemed like a good idea, before heading back to the Renaissance for some drinks in the bar lounge.

      Day 3, Saturday, kicked off at 10am with yet another 73-minute gem, Southside 1-1000 (1950), screening in a beautiful 35mm print again made possible by the Film Noir Foundation. This Allied Artists release, an obvious knockoff of the similar T-Men (1947), is nonetheless a nifty little low-budget suspenser in its own right, fast-moving and efficiently done, with some memorable set pieces. With documentary-style narration that was in vogue at the time, the film follows a Secret Service agent (Don DeFore) on the trail of counterfeiters. Produced by the King brothers (Frank and Maurice King) as a follow-up to their masterful, Joseph Lewis-directed Gun Crazy (1950), this was originally to have been directed by Lewis as well. But Lewis left for MGM and bigger movies, and the King brothers replaced him with Boris Ingster, whose Stranger on the Third Floor (1940) is considered by some to be the first true film noir ever made.This would be Ingster's third and final film as director, but as Eddie Muller pointed out in his intro, Ingster had a long, prominent screen career in various capacities going back to the 1920s, and remains a fascinating figure to study. "The King brothers," Muller said, "had a special knack for finding people that were on the way up or on the way down."

      Southside 1-1000 makes excellent and imaginative use of L.A. locations, including a sequence on Angels' Flight railway filmed right inside the actual car, and Union Station. It features a solid cast of heavies like George Tobias and Barry Kelley (who memorably tells his son to "beat it" when the kid asks for some cake), as well as a fetching and strong leading lady, Andrea King. And the film contains what Muller labeled "the weirdest opening sequence ever" -- a flag-waving piece of Red-Scare-era patriotism about the Korean War and the necessity for Americans to spend money to fight Communism. It's possible the sequence was tacked on simply to pad the film's short running time. Muller said it "makes me laugh because [the King brothers] were kind of petty crooks in their early days, bootleggers, and their dad was a racketeer, and they got in the movie business through pinball machines -- and for these guys to be giving us a lesson in patriotism is a beautiful thing indeed."

      The next movie was for me the biggest discovery of the festival: Storm Warning (1951). While not a particularly rare title -- it's been issued on DVD more than once -- I had never seen it or even been aware of it. It's certainly an oddball movie, with Ginger Rogers and Doris Day prominent in the cast even though the film is nowhere close to being a musical. One could argue whether Storm Warning, dark as it is, is actually a film noir, but it does create an anxious, tense atmosphere of mob violence and contains a powerful sequence in particular that is undeniably, strongly noir: Ginger Rogers walks down a dark street one night as all the shop owners turn off their lights, one after the next, making her (and us) feel very alone and ever more nervous. The scene pays off with Rogers witnessing a highly unsettling act of violence carried out by the Ku Klux Klan. It turns out that everyone in town is either part of the Klan or too scared to speak against them. Local prosecutor Ronald Reagan (quite good here in his last film for Warner Bros.) hopes that Rogers' outsider status will give her the impetus to speak up, but complicating matters is her younger sister's (Doris Day's) marriage to one of the Klan members (Steve Cochran).

      Rogers and Day wanted nothing to do with Storm Warning, which is certainly among the most unusual films on both their resumes. But they are very convincing as sisters, and their against-type casting works to heighten our interest. They are both very appealing, even though Day in particular is completely deglamorized. Cochran is also terrific in a part originally meant for Marlon Brando (who turned it down), even donning a white t-shirt à la Brando in scene after scene. There is no racial violence in this film. Producer Jerry Wald, director Stuart Heisler and writers Richard Brooks and Daniel Fuchs instead use the Klan as a way of telling a metaphorical story with a subtext of McCarthy-era America and the HUAC anti-Communist witch hunts. Foster Hirsch explained this very well in his fascinating introduction, pointing out that the pressures of that time -- conformity, thought control, intimidation, fear, bearing witness -- are what Wald was interested in capturing here. "There's not a single laugh in the entire movie," said Hirsch, which was a strong endorsement of the serious issues at stake.

      Next up was The Killers (1946), one of the all-time great noirs and Burt Lancaster's screen debut. This is a picture I could quote verbally or visually from every scene, so I availed myself once again of the Renaissance Hotel's sparkling pool area and the Palm Springs sunshine before returning for the intriguing post-screening discussion between Alan K. Rode, Lancaster's widow Susie Lancaster, and Kate Buford, author of the fine 2000 biography Burt Lancaster: An American Life. Their conversation delved into Lancaster's entire career, including his run as a very successful independent producer (with Harold Hecht) in the 1950s, a decade that began in the era of studio domination and ended in the brave new world of independent production. Lancaster's extraordinary discipline and filmmaking intelligence carried him through. As Buford said, quoting film historian Neal Gabler: "[when] you track the course of Lancaster's career in '50s Hollywood, you track '50s Hollywood."

      Susie Lancaster related an evocative little anecdote from The Professionals (1966) that spoke to Lancaster's sense of professionalism. One day early on, Lee Marvin was not on set when he was supposed to be, so Lancaster rode his horse into the nearby town, found Marvin, grabbed him by the shoulders and shook some sense into him. And Marvin was never a problem again on the shoot. Susie also spoke sweetly of Lancaster the man, especially their final years together, with Lancaster working to stay in great physical shape and maintaining a positive attitude right to the end. And the talk touched on other great Lancaster performances like Ulzana's Raid (1972) and Go Tell the Spartans (1978), with Buford offering some fascinating food for thought regarding Lancaster's performance in Atlantic City (1981). She said, "Atlantic City is The Killers brought to its conclusion. If the Swede had not died, he'd be running numbers in Atlantic City. There's a beautiful integrity balancing those two movies."

      Before the Saturday evening film got underway, Eddie Muller polled the audience to ask how many had seen the film before. Only a few hands went up, prompting Muller to laugh, "OK, this is not many. This is gonna blow people's minds. You people are really not at all prepared for what you're about to see! It's a treat." Indeed! Shack Out on 101 (1955), while not technically a film noir, was in keeping with the day's Red Scare theme, as seen in Southside 1-1000 and Storm Warning. But here, the subject is very overt and highly comedic. This is one of the oddest, most absurd comedies to come out of the 1950s -- a true guilty pleasure. It's terrible yet deliriously wonderful. It makes no sense but you just don't care while watching it. Lee Marvin, as a diner cook named Slob, and Keenan Wynn, as the diner owner, are hilarious as they trade barbs, shoot harpoons, lift dumbbells, prance around in scuba gear, and lust after sultry waitress Terry Moore. Moore is involved with nuclear physicist Frank Lovejoy, who is scheming with Marvin in a plot that seems to involve the passing of nuclear secrets. Eventually the balance of the Cold War seems to rest in these individuals in this oceanside diner. Meanwhile, the movie finds time for moments like a love scene between Moore and Lovejoy that's played as a conversation about the Bill of Rights; the more they quote the Constitution, the more hot and bothered they get. Muller called this film "inexplicable. It's as if William Inge had fallen in his studio, knocked himself unconscious, yet his fingers kept typing."

      Terry Moore, now 85, was there afterwards to speak, and she was as crowd-pleasing as the film. The audience just loved her as she playfully challenged Muller ("Tell me why this movie's weird, Eddie!"), and reminisced over Marvin and Wynn, "the two funniest men I've ever known. I never enjoyed working with any two people as much as I did with Lee and Keenan. [It was] the first time anyone ever talked to me like I was one of the guys. It was an experience I will never, never forget." Moore's screen career goes back to 1940, when she had bit parts in Maryland and The Howards of Virginia, and she is still working, with a recent role in the HBO series True Detective and a new movie coming out later in 2014, Aimy in a Cage, which she said contains the best performance she has ever given. "I want to give Betty White a run for her money!" she joked about her longevity.

      Moore confessed to not remembering too much about working with Frank Lovejoy, prompting Muller to say, "Well, you kissed him more than anybody in the movie. You must have some memory of that." Terry replied, "I -- I kissed so many guys!" and drew a big laugh. She added that the one man she kissed onscreen she will never forget was Tyrone Power, her co-star in King of the Kyber Rifles (1953) and "the greatest person I ever knew." Later she spoke of her secret marriage to Howard Hughes, "the first love of my life," who still shows up in her dreams, and also of her famous decision to pose for Playboy at the age of 55: "I was sick and tired of Hollywood only thinking women were worthwhile between the age of 15 and 25. I wanted to prove them wrong."

      Back at the Renaissance Hotel outdoor bar area, drinks were in order as friends talked over the day's films and events. Rode, his wife, and Lancaster and Buford even stopped by for a chat. But then it was off to bed, for in just a few hours, the final day of the festival would kick off with some major star wattage in the form of Humphrey Bogart in Deadline U.S.A. (1952) -- one of the great newspaper movies. As Eddie Muller said, quoting film critic Dave Kehr, "This is a movie about newspaper people told the way newspaper people feel about themselves when they've had a few too many." The screenplay by Richard Brooks, who also directed, was inspired by the real-life 1931 folding of The New York World, once published by Joseph Pulitzer. In the film, which is first-rate, editor Humphrey Bogart launches a print crusade against a local gangster (Martin Gabel) and fights to keep his newspaper alive as the owner's heirs consider selling, which would mean the paper's end. Brooks, Muller explained, had been a newspaperman before coming to Hollywood to work as a screenwriter and novelist. "He was a passionate believer that movies needed to have messages, that they needed to say something important about the culture." The issues in Deadline U.S.A. are still timely, Muller said, issues "of who's in charge of the business, and why it exists, and what is the fate of the paper and the public that it serves if the paper isn't there."

      Next was Laura (1944), Otto Preminger's all-time classic that was screened as a tribute to the late Marvin Paige, a veteran casting director and a driving force of this festival from its inception until his death late last year. This was his favorite film. Screened this day in a flawless DCP, Laura was of course as spellbinding as ever, from Clifton Webb's magnetic opening narration to David Raksin's timeless score and everything in between. Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb are all so perfect in their roles that it's head-scratching to realize that the original choices were John Hodiak, Jennifer Jones and Laird Cregar. But just as with Casablanca (1942), the pieces eventually fell into place to create the perfect cast for a great movie. Alan K. Rode noted that Andrews remains an underrated, letter-perfect actor who, like Spencer Tracy, you can never catch "acting."

      After the show, Susan Andrews took the stage with Rode to share some loving memories of her famous father. Eventually the talk turned to his struggle with alcoholism, and Susan wondered if his career might have had a more upward trajectory had he turned sober before 1969. For ten years after that date, however, Andrews had some of the happiest years of his life as he toured in stock with his wife.

      One of Andrews' closest Hollywood friends was Jacques Tourneur, director of the final film, Out of the Past (1947). This, of course, is another all-time classic starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas. It's also a perfect movie with which to close out a film noir festival, as it is arguably the picture that most epitomizes the noir style, with one of the greatest alluring and deadly femme fatales, an iconic noir hero in Robert Mitchum, beautiful, shadowy, expressionistic lighting, and a story structure that emphasizes fatalism and doom above all else. To see it in 35mm is always a treat.

      As I drove back to L.A., I marveled over how the weekend had managed to showcase so many films, guests and activities, yet still overall felt relaxing and unhurried. Surely the proximity of the Renaissance Hotel to the Camelot Theatre had a lot to do with it, as did the strategic scheduling of films with an eye to their running times, so as to allow enough time between shows to leave, actually do something like have a meal or relax by the pool, and then come back for the next screening.. And the festivalgoers were a nice group of people, passionate about the movies and respectful during screenings. I really don't have a bad word to say about the entire experience -- it was a perfect combination of moviegoing, intellectual stimulation, and plain old vacationing. Rode and the other organizers deserve a tip of the fedora and all the best for continuing the good work next year and beyond.

      For more information about the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival, go to arthurlyonsfilmnoir.ning

      For more information about the Renaissance Hotel, go to

      Videotaped interviews of the special guests will eventually be posted on the Film Noir Foundation website and can be seen here:

      By Jeremy Arnold

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  • Wednesday, March 20, 2011

  • Removed: 10:00pm Springfield Rifle
    12:00pm Casablanca
    Added: 1:00pm Virginia City
    12:15pm Casablanca
  • Wednesday, March 20, 2011

  • Removed: 10:00pm Springfield Rifle
    12:00pm Casablanca
    Added: 1:00pm Virginia City
    12:15pm Casablanca
  • Wednesday, March 20, 2011

  • Removed: 10:00pm Springfield Rifle
    12:00pm Casablanca
    Added: 1:00pm Virginia City
    12:15pm Casablanca