Monthly Archives: March 2011

“Railroaded!” Distilled

We think Railroaded! is a very good film by a great director (Anthony Mann, who would claim the cinematic West like nobody else in the 1950s, elevating James Stewart to Shakespearean proportions in films like Winchester ’73 while maintaining the stark photography and relentless pulp of the noirs he made in the late 1940s) – but before it was saved by the auteur theory it was – and still is – at heart a Poverty Row flick, a cheap movie made by a broke studio looking to make a profit.

Which doesn’t diminish the film.

Perhaps the most impressive quality of B pictures was their formal and commercial malleability, present both in the infamously cheap way they were produced (as the old saying goes, in a B movie the sets shake when an actor slams a door), and in the ways they were exhibited – and re-exhibited, and re-re-exhibited. These qualities, originally products of commercial necessity, are what make these films worth watching now. Continue reading

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Wednesday 3/30: “Railroaded!” at the Portage Theater

Join us this Wednesday 3/30 for Anthony Mann’s pulpy of film noir.
Obscenely rare print from private collections! You won’t see this film on celluloid anywhere else!
The Portage Theater – 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave – 7:30 – $5.00 per ticket

March 30th, 2011
Anthony Mann • 1947
Even the most dedicated among us sometimes confuses Anthony Mann’s forties output—so many films, so many generic characters and set-ups, so many double-crosses elaborate and elaborately similar. But each is also imbued with a real pugilist desire to bust out of the Poverty Row rat trap (or hornet’s nest?). Whether it’s Eagle-Lion or RKO or Republic (really, it doesn’t matter), a cry rises up from the sawmill floor—“Notice me! Acknowledge my efficiency and reward my small achievements!” And always from this whiny din, a moment of advanced sadism, an innovation to make the foreman howl with tentative, but mostly jealous, disapproval. Though Railroaded! doesn’t have a man carved up by tractor blades (vide Border Incident), it does feature John Ireland as Duke, the misogynistic thug who indiscriminately fires perfumed bullets. He and Jane Randolph frame pretty boy laundry truck driver Ed Kelly in the murder of a cop. But when the innocent man’s plucky sister gets involved—watch out! (KW)
Print from Private Collections.
72 min • PRC • 16mm
Short: Philo Vance, Detective (Screen Gems, 1947) 16mm

Chicago Reader (Dave Kehr)
Cine-File (Ben Sachs, scroll down to “Also Recommended”)

For more on Railroaded! or anything else we’ve shown recently, please visit our blog.

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Movie Crazy

Sitting in the archives at this very moment are hundreds, if not thousands, of one- and two-reel silent comedies. At one time, these slapsticks were presumed the only silents worth excavating—the lone unembarrassing artifacts of a primitive, prepubescent era. The comedies found their praises sung by every film expert from James Agee to Jim Broughton. No less than the head of UCLA’s film school declared the “Obsolescence of the Silent Film” and dared his readers to “[t]ry to see, if you can, any silent film—except a comedy with Charlie Chaplin or Harold Lloyd, Raymond Griffith or Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon or Laurel and Hardy—and you will wonder why people thought it at all bearable, let alone great.”

The scales have shifted since—not least through our perpetual acquaintance with these films on 16mm and 8mm. (Dig through any film collector’s basement and it won’t be long till you find a dupe or two or three of Easy Street or Cops.) It’s the discoveries—the once “presumed lost” titles from studios not usually known for comedies—that really strain. Run two or three of them back-to-back and let the derangement begin. (May I suggest His Baby Doll and The Camera Cure, both Triangles from 1917?) Try to remember where one ends and the next begins. Slap another title on the head and you can barely tell the difference. It all feels vaguely second-hand, if not plagiarized, but from what? Continue reading

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Wednesday 3/23: “Movie Crazy” at the Portage Theater

Join us this Wednesday 3/23 for Harold Lloyd in MOVIE CRAZY
35mm print restored by UCLA for the Harold Lloyd Foundation!
The Portage Theater – 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave – 7:30 – $5.00 per ticket

March 23rd, 2011
Clyde Bruckman • 1932
After two earlier attempts to transition into sound, Harold Lloyd made what would prove to be his best “talkie.” Harold Hall is a small-town boy with silver-screen fantasies, but it is only by an accident that he makes it to a sound stage at Planet Studios. He meets Mary (Constance Cummings), an enigmatic actress with a strange desire to test Harold’s loyalty. The film successfully weaves the silent comedy technique of visual gags into a sound film. Harold’s screen test, a clever use of verbal humor, turns into a parody of the dramatic stars of early talkies. The film’s climax on a movie set, with an eerie lack of background music, is one of the many highlights. Though Clyde Bruckman is credited, Lloyd claims to have directed most of the picture himself. Determined this time to have a strong script, Lloyd secured the services of Broadway playwright Vincent Lawrence to write the screenplay. (MH)
Print from the Harold Lloyd Estate, special thanks to Bonnie Marshall.
81 min • Harold Lloyd Corp. • 35mm
Short: Battle of the Century (Clyde Bruckman, 1927) Rare restored print on 16mm

For more on MOVIE CRAZY, you can check out our blog here.

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Re: I Shot Jesse James

Made for Lippert Pictures, a low rent production company specializing in B-Westerns and crime films for their even lower rent theater chain stretching across America’s Bible Belt, Sam Fuller’s first picture as a director carries all the darkness and doubt of films like McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Anthony Mann’s grubby string of 1950s Western Noirs, or Heaven’s Gate with Park Row and Pre-Code poetics (yeah, we know, 1948 ain’t pre-code by any stretch, but watching this next to I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang, Fuller’s 1948 feature sure feels like it). And if I Shot Jesse James can be considered the first revisionist western – an argument that makes more and more sense when one considers what a dramatic shift in sentiment it is to something like John Ford’s My Darling Clementine – than the Cine-Fist (as Godard would come to call Fuller) catapulted the genre out of its (perhaps) misdirected southern demographic like nothing else in the history of B-pictures. Continue reading

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Wednesday 3/16: “I Shot Jesse James” at the Portage

Join us this Wednesday 3/16 for Samuel Fuller’s I SHOT JESSE JAMES on 16mm
The Cine-Fist’s first film!!
The Portage Theater – 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave – 7:30 – $5.00 per ticket

March 16th, 2011
Samuel Fuller • 1949
The sensational story of a man who lived, loved and died by the gun! Sam Fuller’s first film as a director, and one his three films at Lippert Pictures (The Baron of Arizona and The Steel Helmet followed, gems amongst dozens of quickly produced B pictures made for Robert Lippert’s theater chain) I Shot Jesse James anticipates the darker stylistic elements of Anthony Mann’s westerns, but with sentiment closer to something like I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang (see the film’s last few shots), predicting the surface textures of Mann’s western noirs with a pre-code heart. Fuller – and John Ireland as the coward Robert Ford – make a tragic hero out of the most despised character of Western Lore; Ireland is clean shaven, meek, and when the light hits him right, he’s troublingly beautiful. In many ways Fuller’s sympathies towards Robert Ford shape the language for pretty much every revisionist western that followed. (JA)
Print from the Radio Cinema Film Archive.
81 min • Lippert Pictures • 16mm

Short: The Lone Stranger and Porky (Robert Clampett, 1939) 16mm

For more on I SHOT JESSE JAMES, visit our Blog.

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Wednesday 3/9: “A Bill of Divorcement” at the Portage Theater

Join us this Wednesday 3/9 for George Cukor’s A BILL OF DIVORCEMENT on 16mm
Katharine Hepburn’s first film!!
The Portage Theater – 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave – 7:30 – $5.00 per ticket

March 9th, 2011
George Cukor • 1932
“In those few simple feet of film a new star was born.” So said David O. Selznick after watching an audience react to their first glimpse of Katharine Hepburn, playing a young woman whose shell-shocked father (John Barrymore) escapes from a mental institution and comes home on the day his wife (Billie Burke) is set to marry another man. Clemence Dane’s play had been milking tears from audiences since its 1921 debut, and in this second filming, the tears kept coming as the fresh-faced newcomer and The Great Profile breathed new life into the drawing-room melodrama. The studio was so convinced by the critical and popular approval of their new starlet that they were willing to put up with her offscreen eccentricities and give her a contract. We can only assume it guaranteed that they’d spell her name correctly in the credits for future films. (MP)
Print from the Radio Cinema Film Archive.
70 min • RKO • 16mm
Short: Unaccustomed as We Are (Hal Roach, 1929, 21 min) Rare Sound Version on 16mm

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