Older films: The Allen should be up and running for 'Hunchback of Notre Dame'
At the Allen the marquee still notes it is closed for its digital projection refit. I wonder if we should stop referring to the movies as films given that 35mm as a delivery and projection system is really most sincerely dead and being used less and less in the creation of, er, films. The Allen may have been the last theater in the central Pennsylvania area to still show movies on film and they have bowed to the inevitable. To those who bemoan the passing of film, I'll just note that scratched prints and out of focus presentations are a thing of the past and good riddance. (And I can't help but ponder if the term film will eventually go the way of "flickers.")
The Allen will presumably be back up and running in time for the scheduled showing of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923, NR) starring Lon Chaney on October 25 at 2:00 p.m. The Man of a Thousand Faces — as he came to be known for his mastery of makeup — was arguably the biggest male dramatic star of the silent era and "Hunchback" is the production that sealed his stardom. The version that has survived is cut-down from the original road show presentation in which Chaney was just one of a large ensemble cast. The result is a choppy film, greatly simplified and altered from Victor Hugo's novel that keeps Chaney front and center as much as possible. It does what may have been a mediocre film to begin with no favors.
Though presented as a Halloween offering, "Hunchback" is not a horror film. It's a historical drama — though admittedly one with a grotesque character at its center. Chaney's ability to transform his face and body are what his stardom was based on — a popular saying during his lifetime was "Don't step on it; it might be Lon Chaney." — and while he became a reasonably good actor, he was still deep in the Delasarte method in 1923 (or what was interpreted as such in the U.S.) and his emoting here looks downright old-fashioned and hammy. Which in fact it is. It should also be noted that only one print of this production is known to exist: a 16mm transfer of the edited version that is pretty battered. While the print may be bad and the film never one of silent cinema's shining examples there is still the marvel of Chaney's makeup to appreciate. And of course the screening will be accompanied by Tom and Laurie Reese, aka Muzette, the Mt. Joy husband and wife jazz duo.
At Lititz's Penn Cinema, the Monday Movies continue on October 5 with Cecil B. DeMille's gargantuan "The Ten Commandments" (1956, NR). It has Charlton Heston, as usual confusing clenched teeth and bellowing with acting, and the goldarnedest supporting cast ever assembled and in many cases miscast — try out Edward G. Robinson, an actor I usually admire, taunting Moses with his Noo Yawk accent. Anne Baxter, Yvonne deCarlo, John Derek, Debra Paget, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson, Cedric Hardwicke, Douglas Dumbrille and John Carradine also take part in what looks suspiciously like DeMille was lurking outside his office and corralling anyone who strolled by. The parting of the Red Sea is still an impressive special effect (achieved without a single computer) and may be the best thing in this very selective adaptation of the Old Testament — you'll find no acknowledgement of Moses and his followers slaughtering every living thing in every city they encounter on their trek to the promised land, for instance. The camp may not be as high as in other DeMille productions but it's up there.
William Wyler's "Roman Holiday" (1953, NR) follows on October 12 and presents Audrey Hepburn as a princess who has escaped her handlers during a goodwill tour of Europe. She falls in love with a reporter (Gregory Peck) who recognizes her and hopes his scoop on her will save his severely imperiled job. Of course he eventually develops deeper feelings. Hepburn was still a fairly unknown actress at this point but audiences fell in love with her and made her a star (and one who was afterward almost exclusively paired with older actors). The film also did more for the sales of Vespa scooters than any advertising. It's agreeable fluff and a surprisingly light film from Wyler who usually tackled much weightier material.
A more recent rom-com — as such efforts have come to be called — follows on October 19 with "Love Actually" (2003, R). Boasting a large cast (Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Chiwetel Ejofor, Andrew Lincoln, Keira Knightley and Hugh Grant for starters) the production follows eight London couples in loosely interrelated stories taking place in the weeks before Christmas. The strands are tied together by the story of a washed up rock star (Nighy) whose comeback cover of "Love is All Around" is something he thinks is crap. That very near the beginning he is found mocking it may give you an idea of the non-sticky sweet tone of things. Situations ranging from newlyweds to a widower left with raising his son on his own are explored. This is not your typical romantic comedy and even those averse to the genre ought to find themselves charmed. Certainly the cast is one to savor.
A week later, the Penn Cinema is offering a double bill that's a true head scratcher. The evening leads off with Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window" (1954, NR), one of the Master of Suspense's better efforts of the decade. It's one of his less lugubrious at any rate and its perverse sexual subtexts aren't as heavy-handed as in, say, "Vertigo." Still one does wonder why James Stewart is all but uninterested in fiancé Grace Kelly and prefers — while laid up with a busted leg — spying voyeuristically on his neighbors. In the process, as you probably know, he begins to suspect one of them (a pre- Perry Mason Raymond Burr) may have done in his wife. Stewart is Stewart but Kelly is luminous and Thelma Ritter is a joy forever. Following the thriller is "Abbott and Costello meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1953, NR) one of the last of the comedy duo's encounters with monsters. Now, I'm somewhat less than a fan of A&C (to put it mildly) so those who find them funny rather than simply loud and obnoxious will enjoy this outing far more than I do. Most of the Robert Louis Stevenson tale is jettisoned and the comics are pretty obviously doubled in the physical humor bits for which they were famous. So too, for that matter, is Boris Karloff any time he transforms from Jekyll into Hyde.
All of the Penn Cinema screening begin at 7:00 p.m. on Monday and have an encore showing on Tuesday morning at 10:00 a.m.
Both the Penn Cinema and the Regal Cinema at the Lebanon Valley Mall host Fathom Events, which can range from Rifftraxx evenings to live presentations from the Metropolitan Opera. We're only interested in the films but you might want to check out their web site for the other stuff.
First up is a reprise of "The Iron Giant" (1999, PG), which was covered here last month. This charming animated feature is about a young boy who finds and befriends a giant robot from outer space. If the concept seems a tad outré, the film is a delight. It plays at 12 noon on October 4.
On October 5 and 13, respectively, the films are "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (2012, PG-13) and "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" (2014, PG-13). While I enjoyed Peter Jackson's film adaptations of "The Lord of the Rings" far more than the books they were derived from, I lost any love I had for the director after his "King Kong" turned out to be overkill of the worst kind. His decision to drag out "The Hobbit" to three films strikes me as more of the same. I can't comment on films I haven't seen but if you're a fan of them, you might want to mark your calendar, particularly as these presentations purport to be the expanded versions, previously only available on home video. Curtain time is 7:30 for both.
Far more intriguing to me is the double feature on October 25 and 28 of the 1931 "Dracula" (NR). Some of you might reasonably be asking how that film can be a double feature. Tod Browning's film with Bela Lugosi was produced before certain technical aspects of sound had been solved — such as dubbing. In the very late 1920's and early 30s, some films were produced in multiple versions for export to foreign countries. "Dracula" was seen as having possible appeal in Latin American countries and so at the end of the shooting day Browning and Lugosi and company departed the soundstages and they were taken over by director George Melford and a Spanish speaking cast led by Carlos Villarias in the title role. That version has in recent years become more lauded that the Browning version by those who consider it more artistic. Others (myself included) think it sacrifices Browning's poetry for some cheesy visuals (such as the vampire count rising from his coffin in a billow of smoke). Browning's more careful approach weaves a spell if you allow it to do so. And of course it has Lugosi; Villarias is no substitute.
Still it is fascinating to contemplate the two versions side-by-side as it were and if it's rare to see Browning's adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel on the big screen it's rarer still to see Melford's. This Fathom Events presentation, in conjunction with Turner Classic Movies may be the perfect Halloween film evening — or matinee because it will show at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. each day.