Daily Archives: July 1, 1999

Robinson In Space

Art teacher and former architect Patrick Keiller followed up his debut feature, London, with this 1997 film, and it’s equally worth seeing. Like the earlier film it’s a fictionalized documentary about contemporary England that at times suggests an anglicized Chris Marker. Paul Scofield narrates, playing the fictional hero’s sidekick and researcher. (JR) Read more


Andrew Kotting’s touching, personal 1997 documentary about his 6,000-mile journey along the coasts of England, Wales, and Scotland with his 90-year-old grandmother and his 7-year-old daughter, who suffers from the serious neurological disease Joubert’s syndrome. Far from depressing and often funny, this has as many quirky aspects as the films of Ross McElwee and manages to cover an interesting range of topics as well. (JR) Read more

The Big Steal

Ace action director Don Siegel helmed this 1949 Robert Mitchum thriller, only 72 minutes long, with an almost continuous chase involving four sets of characters in Mexico, and it’s pretty damn good. Mitchum was hauled off to jail on a marijuana charge during the location shooting, but somehow Siegel managed to paper over the continuity problems. With Jane Greer and William Bendix. (JR) Read more

Woman On Pier 13 And Shack Out On 101

Two period pieces of anticommunist noir. Woman on Pier 13 (1950), which started out under the title I Married a Communist, was offered to various directors by RKO studio head Howard Hughes, who theorized that anyone turning down the assignment must be suspect. Unfortunately the movie itself, a standard and fairly unimaginative gangster film directed by Robert Stevenson, doesn’t live up to its legendary reputation, despite the presence of Robert Ryan. I probably haven’t seen Shack out on 101 since it came out in 1955, but judging by its castTerry Moore, Frank Lovejoy, Lee Marvin, and Keenan Wynnand its rock-bottom budget, it’s probably much more interesting. Edward Dein directed. (JR) Read more

Once In A Lifetime

This 1932 film, rarely screened nowadays, was adapted from the 1930 Broadway hit of the same name, the first play cowritten by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman; after purchasing the rights, Universal Studios chief Carl Laemmle was so proud of his largesse that he drafted a personal letter to the public introducing the film. A farce about the lunacy of Hollywood, it epitomizes the revenge of east-coast wits on west-coast illiteracy, and while some of the details have been softened or shaved away (notably, most of the third scene in act one has been deleted), the results are still much closer to the original than Frank Capra’s version of Kaufman and Hart’s You Can’t Take It With You. A trio of vaudevillianslunkhead Jack Oakie and lovers Aline MacMahon and Sidney Foxhead to Hollywood circa 1927, hoping to cash in on the talkies; the couple gets hired as vocal coaches, and Oakie winds up as a high-ranking director at the same studio. Russell Mack’s direction is fairly stagy and clunky, but it hardly matters: the satire is corrosively funny (even when it’s unfair). Zasu Pitts plays a dopey receptionist, and Gregory Ratoff is especially amusing as the central European studio head. Read more

Alexandria, Again And Always

The dazzling 1990 conclusion of Egyptian director Youssef Chahine’s autobiographical Alexandria trilogy can be seen independently of the other two features; its writer-director stars as a famous filmmaker very much like himself, happily married but also smitten first with one of his young actors and then with a young actress he meets (Yousra). Yousra played Chahine’s wife in the second part of the trilogy, An Egyptian Story (1982), and the young actor in this film is based on Mohsen Mohiedine, who played Chahine as a young man in Alexandria, Why? Filmed in sumptuous color, this is not only one of the most passionate celebrations of bisexuality ever filmed, it’s also one of the funniest; Chahine’s tap-dance duet with his lead actor on a movie set is priceless. (JR) Read more

Alexandria, Why?

This 1978 film, the first feature in Egyptian director Youssef Chahine’s fascinating and complex autobiographical trilogy about Alexandria, won the Silver Bear at the Berlin film festival. It’s set during World War II, when Rommel’s army is approaching the city and a youth who serves as a stand-in for Chahine (Mohsen Mohiedine) is undergoing crises of national identity, sexuality, and vocation. A terrific movie in many respects, though perhaps less of a revelation than the trilogy’s 1990 conclusion, Alexandria, Again and Always. (JR) Read more

They Won’t Believe Me

By reputation an exemplary noir (1947) about a philanderer (Robert Young), with touches suggestive of both Hitchcock and James M. Cain. Irving Pichel directed a script by Jonathan Latimer; with Susan Hayward, Rita Johnson, Jane Greer, and Tom Powers. 95 min. (JR) Read more

Eyes Wide Shut

Stanley Kubrick’s last feature (1999) skillfully portrays the dark side of desire in a successful marriage. Since the 60s he’d thought about filming Arthur Schnitzler’s novella Traumnovelle, about a young doctor contemplating various forms of adultery and debauchery after discovering that his wife has entertained comparable fantasies. It has a Kafkaesque ambiguity, wavering between dream and waking fantasy, and all the actors do a fine job of traversing this delicate territory. Yet the story has been altered to make the doctor (Tom Cruise) more of a hypocrite and his wife (Nicole Kidman) feistier; Kubrick’s also added a Zeus-like tycoon (played perfectly by Sydney Pollack) who pretends to explain the plot shortly before the end but in fact only summarizes the various mysteries; his cynicism and chilly access to power reveals that Kubrick was more of a moralist than Schnitzler. This is a gripping, suggestive, and inventive piece of storytelling that, like Kubrick’s other work, grows in mystery over time. R, 154 min. (JR) Read more

The Blair Witch Project

A pretty impressive horror film in the form of a documentary, supposedly made up of footage shot by three film students on a trek through Maryland’s Black Hills Forest to investigate legends about a witch. What gives the film much of its force and its mounting sense of queasy uncertainty is its narrative method, which ensures that we know no more about the proceedings than the characters do and that our imaginations play as active and ambiguous a role as theirs. Written, directed, and edited by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez; with Heather Donohue, Michael Williams, and Joshua Leonard, all of whom do fine jobs. (JR) Read more

Voices Of Cabrini

Terse, informative, and convincing, Ronit Bezalel’s half-hour video documents the eviction of longtime residents from Chicago Read more

The Land

Virtually all the features of Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine are ambitious, but this energetic 1969 saga in color, about farmworkers in a village on the Nile delta during the 30s, is a particular watershed. Based on a novel by Abderrahmane Cherkaoui that’s said to be well-known in Arab countries, it combines social criticism with entertainment and melodrama with lyricism as flamboyantly as Chahine’s later Destiny, though in this case his models of epic filmmaking tend to be Soviet more than Hollywood. Recommended. (JR) Read more

Cairo Station

Reportedly (and understandably) Youssef Chahine’s most popular film among Egyptians, this gritty and relatively early (1958) black-and-white masterpiece also features his most impressive acting turn, as a crippled news vendor working at the title railroad station. The adroit interweaving of various miniplots around the station is matched by a heady mix of moods and genres: at various junctures this movie becomes a musical, a slasher film, a neorealist drama, a comedy, and a horror film — come to think of it, it’s pretty noir as well. (JR) Read more

Deadline At Dawn

Theater director and critic Harold Clurman made his only stab at film directing with this serviceable if disappointingly routine 1946 adaptation of a thriller by William Irish (aka Cornell Woolrich). Scripted by Clifford Odets; with Susan Hayward, Bill Williams, Paul Lukas, and Joseph Calleia. 83 min. (JR) Read more