Tuesday, December 12, 2017

"Beat the Devil" (1953) at Charles Revival Series

A note for Baltimore-area film enthusiasts: John Huston's 1953 cult favorite Beat the Devil, starring Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones and Gina Lollobrigida, will be screening at the Charles Revival Series, at the Charles Theatre in Baltimore for three shows only:

As always, please check the theater's website for details.

It's a tongue-in-cheek crime caper with suspense, exotic settings, and a terrific cast of character actors including Peter Lorre and Robert Morley.

This is one of those films that attained cult status during the heyday of the interest in Bogart's films beginning in the late '50s. Huston's tongue-in-cheek handling of the genre material, taking a comic approach to it, also contributed to its reputation as a film appreciated by a small but loyal audience, who saw it as a riff on the usual crime capers.

This was also one of the later Bogart films, made at a time when his on-screen persona had been fully cemented, and he could play characters that were very much self-reflexive of the "Bogart" type.

I last saw this one in a 35mm print at Loew's Jersey, in Jersey City, probably about four or five years ago. I'd seen it on DVD, in a poor quality public domain edition, and I have to admit that I didn't really get into it then, but seeing it on the big screen really brought it to life for me. The subtlety of the humor, especially, is much more apparent when viewed on a big screen with a receptive audience. It's one of those films that frequently floats around in low-quality PD editions, so if you haven't seen it properly presented, you owe it to yourself to check it out on the big screen.

For further reading on the Bogart cult, and this film's importance within it, I recommend reading the following articles from Greenbriar Picture Shows:
Birth of the Bogart Cult
Where Bogart Become a Cult Figure
Would Off-Campus Bogart Sell?


Monday, December 11, 2017


While going through some items that I've had in storage in my personal archive over the years, I came across this toy Zoetrope, which I had been given for Christmas or a birthday as a child. It still had the original animated strips of paper, as well as a few that I had drawn myself on the blank strips, that came with it. This simple little illusion of movement was a precursor to the cinema.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

"Babe" (1995) at Senator Revival Series

The 1995 family favorite BABE will be screening at the Senator Theatre revival series in Baltimore on 12/10 (10am), 12/11 & 12/12 (1pm). Check their website for full details.

Friday, December 08, 2017

"Design for Living" (1933) at Charles Revival Series

Coming right off of the success of Trouble in Paradise, which must surely rank as one of his very finest films, Ernst Lubitsch adapted this Noel Coward comedy to the screen -- supposedly without using a single line of Coward's original play! Design for Living stars Miriam Hopkins as an American in Paris who becomes simultaneously romantically involved with a painter (Gary Cooper) and a playwright (Fredric March). The film is filled with risque pre-Code dialogue and situations, making it one of the last Lubitsch pictures to feature the full effect of his signature adult-themed humor before the Production Code took effect

The film will be screening in Baltimore at the Charles Revival Series on the following days:

"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (1967) at Fathom Events

Stanley Kramer's GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER (1967), starring Spencer Tracy (in his final screen role), Sidney Poitier, and Katharine Hepburn, will be returning to select theaters on December 10 and 13 for a special 50th anniversary engagement.

Visit the Fathom Events website to find where the film will be playing at a theater near you.

This is probably one of Stanley Kramer's best-remembered films, greatly enhanced by the charismatic leads. The premise finds a liberal couple (Tracy and Hepburn) confronting their own prejudices when their daughter (Katharine Houghton) announces that she is planning to marry a black doctor (Poitier, in one of his finest performances). The film has perhaps lost some of its power since its initial release, but it has lost none of its relevance, remaining a moving testament to the endurance of true love.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

"The Godfather" (1972) at Senator Revival Series

Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather will be screening for one night only, December 6, at 8pm, at the Senator Theater in Baltimore, MD. Check their website for full details.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

George Figgs on "King Kong" (1933)

This is a new video interview I shot with film historian George Figgs, discussing the cultural legacy of KING KONG (1933):

"The Simpsons Movie" at the Senator Revival Series

THE SIMPSONS MOVIE will be screening at the Senator Revival Series, at the Senator Theatre in Baltimore, MD on 12/3 (10am), 12/4 (1pm) & 12/5 (9:30pm). Check their website for details.

It is hard to believe that ten years has passed since this one was released. As a long-time fan of the early seasons of The Simpsons, I had long since tuned out of the show by the time the movie was released in 2007, but went to see it out of curiosity more than anything else. It's a fun way to spend 90 minutes, seeing all of the favorite characters we've come to know from the show over the years, but I also recall it being filled with the kind of labored, broad jokes that caused me to turn away from the series over the years (the early seasons were often a model of subtlety and wit -- something you don't often see in a TV cartoon). Still, the movie is worth seeing once if you've ever been a fan of the TV show.

Cabaret (1972)

Given his background in theater, it is remarkable just how cinematic Bob Fosse's directorial efforts in film were. Indeed, he began directing films at a time when the musical genre had largely become passe, ossified by over-produced, stiff and lifeless works that were a far cry from the glory days of the genre a couple decades prior.

Enter Fosse and Cabaret (1972), which re-defined the genre and breathed real vitality and verve into the musical film. What is remarkable about Fosse's direction is how he uses the camera and editing as another part of his choreography -- not through cute or clever gimmicks but rather by integrating them so completely that they are all really of a piece. His style is at once electric and explosive, and yet, somehow, never calls attention to itself in a way that makes anything seem out of place. The performance of Liza Minnelli is central to the film's style, her physicality so perfectly in-tune with Fosse's visual approach that their collaboration achieves a kind of synergy.

Cabaret follows the relationship between Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli), an American cabaret singer in Weimar-era Berlin, and British student Brian Roberts (Michael York), who is in Berlin as part of his doctoral research. The cabaret itself, the Kit Kat Klub, serves as a kind of communal spot in a city that is beginning to become overrun with Nazis, whose rise to power parallels the events in the lives of Sally and Brian over the course of the film.

Although based on the hit Broadway show of the same name, for his film Fosse returned to the original source material (The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood) for inspiration, and songwriters John Kander and Fred Ebb jettisoned all but one of the tunes from their Broadway score, and wrote new songs for the film. The result is a remarkably rich, poignant, and stylish film that has lost none of its power.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Iron Man (1931)

Tod Browning is so closely associated today with the macabre and often gruesome thrillers for which he achieved his greatest fame (Dracula, Freaks, The Unknown) that it is easy to forget that he worked in a number of different genres. One example is Iron Man (1931), a pre-Code boxing melodrama that was one of three films he made for Universal in the early '30s, sandwiched in between his loose 1930 remake of his 1921 crime drama Outside the Law, and his iconic horror film Dracula.

Iron Man stars Lew Ayres (one year after his star-making performance in All Quiet on the Western Front) as a young prizefighter who bounces back after losing his first fight, but once he achieves some success, his gold-digging wife (Jean Harlow) re-appears in his life, and after convincing him to dump his long-time manager (Robert Armstrong), the boxer's career begins to fall apart.

Browning had a knack for this kind of hard-hitting, gritty, urban material, as evidenced here and in Fast Workers (1933), which makes one curious to see what he would have done had he been able to explore it more frequently in the pre-Code sound film period.