Olivia de Havilland’s 100th birthday

The whole movie internet knows about this and is posting about it, but I really feel I have to follow suit. She’s one of my favorite classic-era actresses, and it’s cool that she’s lived so long. The other day I saw The Adventures of Robin Hood on the big screen at the Paramount. It was the first movie I noticed her in, but since then I’ve sought out several of the films she and Errol Flynn made for Warner Brothers and have seen about half a dozen. I haven’t seen much from the later period of her career, but I look forward to it.

Not a Review: Watched THE SEARCHERS at the Paramount

The Searchers — ★★★★

I think this was my third or fourth viewing of The Searchers, and the first on the big screen. As usual, bigger is better. When John Wayne is up there and you suddenly notice the scale of him — that he’s towering over you at Big Tex proportions instead of on a two-foot-tall TV screen — you’re aware that you’re seeing him the way he was meant to be seen, the way people saw him when he was one of the world’s top stars and icons, and it’s a “wow” moment.

What struck me on this viewing is how funny The Searchers is. The humor doesn’t kick in in a big way until the final third, around the time that Martin Pawley and Charlie McCorry start their fisticuffs, but from then on there are quite a few laugh-out-loud moments, and the audience at the Paramount obliged heartily.

The Searchers is brazenly politically incorrect from start to finish, but never without a reason, and never without undercutting itself with some sly, progressive flip-side. I don’t think The Searchers is a revisionist western; I think it’s a traditional western that is intentionally probing the boundaries of the genre and unknowingly foreshadowing the great revisionist works yet to come. The fact that it represents an in-between stage of evolution, enjoying the strengths but nodding toward the gaps of the great American film genre, and doing so with a light touch, is part of what makes it arguably the best western of all time.

Not a Review: Watched a great WWII film, 36 HOURS

36 Hours — ★★★★

Last week I posted about picking up a DVD copy of The Longest Day just in time for D-Day. I guess I’m still celebrating the anniversary, because today I watched a 1964 James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, and Rod Taylor vehicle about the Normandy invasion that’s as exquisitely and unapologetically detailed as any I’ve seen, and it doesn’t have a single battle scene in it. Based on a book by Roald Dahl, who had been an RAF pilot, 36 Hours tells the story of an American war planner abducted by Germans for the purpose of determining the date and location of the impending invasion. The German doctor (a sympathetic Rod Taylor, who hates the gauche, meddling SS) goes to great lengths to convince the American, James Garner, that he has amnesia and has woken up in an American hospital 6 years after the invasion. The fake 1950 newspapers and radio broadcasts are amusing because of how reasonable they would have been in 1944 but how wrong they clearly were by 1964; “President Wallace gives speach in Iowa,” for example, and “Former President Roosevelt arrives at Warm Springs.” For someone who’s familiar with the Washington of the late 1940s and early 1950s, these are resonant “what ifs.” And for D-Day buffs, there’s trivia to spare: Garner rattles off the list of beach code names, and much is made of the need to withhold the date of the invasion, June 5, from his captors. When the wall calendar shows June 5, a fierce storm is blowing outside, and we WWII students know before Rod Taylor does what that portends. The storm, its accompanying change of date, and plenty of other historical nuances like a Volkssturm militia character and a discussion of post-WWI German inflation made 36 Hours one of my favorite new-to-me films of this half-finished year.

36 Hours works well as a human drama, too. There’s something about Garner’s love scenes, whether in this or in something breezier like Victor Victoria, that feels both old and new — in other words, timeless. He’s a man’s man, no doubt about it, but he’s got a way of cutting through pretenses and connecting with his female costars on a mental, person-to-person level. Eva Marie Saint’s character has a concentration camp background that comes with a specific, at times grueling recounting of horrors, and that’s a dimension that’s always missing from war movies made during the war.

Bought THE LONGEST DAY on DVD just in time for D-Day

Today is June 6, the anniversary of when the western Allies stormed their way into a foothold in occupied Europe. The other day I went to a used game store to look for some NES titles, but I came away with a 2-dollar DVD of The Longest Day, one of my all-time favorite movies, let alone war movies, and undoubtedly the best movie about the invasion of Normandy. I owned the book when I was young and I may have read it, but it’s probably due for a re-read and a longer write-up at some point.

For now, though, I’m off to make some much-needed space on my DVR.

Saw LABYRINTH on the big screen, and it was better that way

The Paramount Theater showed Labyrinth tonight in honor of the late David Bowie, and we went to see it. It was one of my wife’s favorite childhood movies, so we’ve watched it together a lot of times, but all my viewings have been as an adult. I’ve never really loved it. The puppetry isn’t that impressive to my eye, director Jim Henson fails to bring much out of the teenaged Jennifer Connelly, and Bowie’s soundtrack is only intermittently catchy. It’s never a painful watch, but it’s the kind of movie I’m sometimes at risk of falling asleep during.

But not on the big screen, on film, the way the Paramount showed it tonight. The screening was marred by this summer’s recurring projector-outage bogeyman, but they got it back on track in fairly short order without switching to digital. I was genuinely impressed with Labyrinth. I certainly believe that all movies are better on the big screen, and many that were shot on film are better on film, but I would not have expected Labyrinth to provide such a clear illustration of those truisms. One of my major criticisms of the film, that the sets look like sets, is totally disarmed when high-definition isn’t an issue. Through the grain of film, the sets look pretty dang good! Classical and fantasy-like. I’m sure our DVD is in the original widescreen format, but seeing it at full scale showed me little Easter eggs I hadn’t noticed before, mostly in Connelly’s bedroom: she has an album or book cover with a drawing of the tunnel-cleaning machine that’s an early obstacle in the movie’s titular maze.

So, projection issues aside, the Paramount has given me yet another favorite viewing of an old familiar film.

Slow-turning ceiling fans

While I was watching Casablanca the other day, I noticed something I’ve always noticed and envied: the slow-turning ceiling fans in the Blue Parrot. I also notice the slow-turning fan in that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where the monkey eats the bad dates. I’ve always wanted my ceiling fans to turn as slowly as the ones in these movies. It looks good, it wouldn’t be too cold, but it would keep the air moving a bit. Here in turn-of-the millennium Texas, our ceiling fans are always too high-powered even on the lowest setting. Nobody here can ever use a ceiling fan’s highest setting because it will shake itself loose from the ceiling and ricochet around the room, breaking windows and causing serious injury.

Someday I may hire an electrician to make the super-slow fan thing happen for me.

Saw CASABLANCA and THE MALTESE FALCON on the big screen

Random thoughts, because after a double feature this good, that’s all I can muster:

  1. During the opening credits of Casablanca, the music briefly becomes La Marseillaise, and someone in the crowd yelled out “Viva la France!” That was my favorite audience reaction, though of course everyone in the theater was highly appreciative of Claude Rains’ moments.
  2. The 35mm film print of Casablanca was gorgeous, in great condition, though the projector lightbulb went out during the third or fourth scene (something, anyway, went wrong and caused the screen to go dark). They fixed it in about a minute, though.
  3. I enjoyed Casablanca more than ever before, and that’s saying something, since it’s always been among my ten favorite movies. I could watch it again tomorrow, it’s that good and that enjoyable. I think I’ve noticed just about everything there is to notice at this point (including the fact that if Ilsa would have explained her situation to Rick in Paris, the whole movie would have been needless), but this time I more closely observed the running gag in the opening scenes with the French officer lecturing the Italian officer.
  4. The Maltese Falcon, well-cast and well-paced as it is, really is a silly little movie. It probably suffers from being watched immediately after the endlessly rich Casablanca, but on the other hand, it’s interesting to think about how its DNA found its way into later films. Other John Huston movies, Chinatown, and many of the Coen brothers’ movies all owe a lot to it. And Sydney Greenstreet’s comedic chops are all the more apparent when projected at a theatrical scale.
  5. The Paramount showed a digital restoration of Maltese Falcon, and for most or all of the double features during this year’s Summer Classic Film Series they’ll be pairing a film print with a digital restoration to show off their new digital projector. I always prefer film when possible, but the fact is that not all movies are readily available in that format, so I’m happy to expand the pool.