June – August 2011


For your viewing pleasure!

These films will screen Wednesday nights at the Portage Theater on 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave. Doors open at 7 PM and shows start at 7:30 Admission is $5

Programmed and Projected by Julian Antos, Becca Hall, and Kyle Westphal

***Please note that there are no screenings on June 1st or June 15th***

Before each feature this summer we’ll be screening a chapter of the 1939 Republic serial Daredevils of the Red Circle, in which an escaped convict sets out to ruin a millionaire philanthropist by destroying everything he owns. In the process, he kills the little brother of the Daredevils of the Red Circle (carnival acrobats Gene, Bert, and Tiny), and they risk their lives week after week seeking vengeance. The legendary William Witney and John English (favorites of Dave Kehr and Quentin Tarantino) directed.


June 8th, 2011
Budd Boetticher • 1960
Randolph Scott sets out to rescue Nancy Gates after she’s kidnapped by Comanches and then sold to a pair of outlaws for all of five dollars. This is the last time Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott would make a picture together, and in many ways it’s both of their best work (afterwords Boetticher went south of the border to work on his epic bullfighting documentary Arruza but suffered bankruptcy and confinement in prison and asylum over eleven years to complete it – a tough life for a man whose films knew more about dignity than any in the latter half of the twentieth century). Comanche Station is made up of mostly of long shots that make it seem like some beautiful older-than-dirt fable for the west, but every time there is a closeup, especially of Scott, the expanse of Boetticher’s western landscapes feels all the more immediate, as if he’s put it all under Randolph Scott’s hat. (JA)
74 min • Ranown Pictures Corp. • 35mm CinemaScope
Print from Sony Pictures Repertory, special thanks to Katie Fry and Christopher Lane
Serial: Daredevils of Red Circle: The Monstrous Plot (William Witney and John English, 1939) 16mm

June 22nd, 2011
Gregory La Cava •1939
Abandoned by his degenerate, polo-playing children and unfaithful wife on his birthday, pudgy Walter Connolly picks up Ginger Rogers in central park where she’s about to “throw herself into the pool and see if the seals might throw her a fish.” Hoping his family will pay a little more attention to him, Connolly adopts Rodgers as his mistress. When it opened at The Music Hall, Frank Nugent of the New York Times wrote the film off as something cheerful and cheerfully unimportant, but in retrospect the film takes quite a few admirable jabs at our country’s bumbling aristocratic upper class, even if it’s only in cute-as-a-button exchanges between Rogers and Tim Holt, and the inclusion of a communist chauffeur named Mike (James Ellison), who spends much of the film mumbling something-or-other about capitalist pigs. (JA)
83 min • RKO Radio Pictures • 16mm
Print from the Radio Cinema Film Archive, Permission Warner Brothers
Serial: Daredevils of Red Circle: The Mysterious Friend (William Witney and John English, 1939) 16mm
Cartoon: The Cat’s Canary (Mannie Davis, John Foster, 1932) 16mm from the Chicago Film Archives, special thanks to Anne Wells

June 29th, 2011
Otto Preminger • 1947
A love triangle between a fragile fashion designer (Joan Crawford), a sweet-but cynical ex-soldier (Henry Fonda), and a smarmy-but-sincere (and married) lawyer (Dana Andrews) threatens to explode the complacency of all involved. Nowadays misleadingly (and ineffectually) sold as a film noir, Daisy Kenyon is really a low key women’s picture with intimations of emotional depravity darker and deeper than we’ve come to expect from 1947 studio product. Probably the least hysterical film in the largely exasperating Crawford canon and definitely the apex of Preminger’s Fox efforts, though the director claimed to have forgotten it. No matter—as a genre defying romance that questions the possibility of selflessness and the value of sacrifice, Daisy Kenyon practically defines the much-vaunted ‘objective’ Preminger style. (KW)
99 min • 20th Century-Fox • 35mm
Print from Criterion Pictures USA, special thanks to Brian Block
Serial: Daredevils of Red Circle: The Executioner (William Witney and John English, 1939) 16mm

July 6th, 2011
Pierre Chenal • 1951
Some films simply exist and demand to be seen. This is one such thing. An independently produced adaptation of Richard Wright’s landmark novel, Native Son has the distinction of a screenplay co-concocted by Wright and the mind-blowing possible-distinction of Wright himself playing Bigger Thomas. Though the novel had been well-received and already mounted as a Broadway show by no less than Orson Welles, the inflammatory story—Bigger works as a chauffeur for a rich white family and inadvertently kills the privileged daughter on his first night of service, later pinning the murder on a radical labor activist—faced obvious obstacles on the way to the screen. A Chicago story that had no chance of being shot in our city aside from some insert footage, it was instead produced on the cheap in Argentina, in English, with French director Pierre Chenal (best known for his 1935 version of Crime and Punishment and lately self-exiled from Occupied France) at the helm. The rest of the cast is amateur and local talent and the film as a whole was intended as demonstration of the country’s fitness as a production center. Suffice it to say, Native Son encountered censorship trouble during its brief release and American filmmakers did not flock to Buenos Aires. (KW)
90 min • Argentina Sono Films S.A.C.I. • 35mm
Preserved by the Library of Congress, special thanks to Rob Stone
Serial: Daredevils of Red Circle: The Executioner (William Witney and John English, 1939) 16mm

July 13th, 2011
Harry Lachman • 1935
Don’t let the title fool you. This crackling 1930s gem touches on Dante but is mostly a thoroughly American examination of capitalism, carnivals, religion, spectacle, love, and luxury—a preachment yarn in the richest and most literal terms imaginable. Spencer Tracy stars as an unemployed schlub who quickly insinuates himself with Henry B. Walthall’s downtrodden concessionaire. Walthall has his own ramshackle Hades exhibit, but Tracy has a born barker’s panache for selling the sizzle. But soon Tracy’s business shrewdness collides with Walthall’s devout intent, especially when the market calls for a bigger, spiffier inferno. Can a man rule the fairground and save his soul at the same time? Claire Trevor co-stars as Walthall’s daughter and Tracy’s squeeze, but no star shines brighter than the ten-minute tour of hell’s depths, carried off with real post-Code nudity and staggering art direction that seemingly marshaled every resource (and then some) at Fox’s disposal. Director Harry Lachman (who entered the industry through the sidelong avenue of post-Impressionist painting!) is largely an unknown entity, but if Dante’s Inferno is not his masterpiece, then the rest must be excavated immediately. Unseen in any theater anywhere in America since LaSalle Bank Cinema’s 2001 screening! (KW)
89 min • Fox Film Corporation • 16mm
Print from Criterion Pictures USA, special thanks to Brian Block
Serial: Daredevils of Red Circle: The Ray of Death (William Witney and John English, 1939) 16mm
Cartoon: Red Hot Mama (Dave Fleischer, 1934) 16mm

July 20th, 2011
Jean Vigo • 1934
Cinephiles have long bemoaned the early death—at 29, of tuberculosis— of Jean Vigo, but why mourn the infinite possibility of films not made when his only feature, the inexhaustible L’Atalante, suggests infinity itself ? From a slender premise—newlyweds Dita Parlo and Jean Dasté adapt to life on a barge, which they must share with salty sailor Michel Simon and his legion of cats—Vigo fashions a tremendously affecting account of what it means to live with another person. Between the siren call of the radio, the lovely Maurice Jaubert score, the highly eccentric and unaccountable editorial rhythm, and, above all, Simon’s unintelligible grumble of a performance, L’Atalante is a sorry, disreputable excuse for a talkie and the film that most bracingly consolidates the noisy promise of the sound cinema, single-handedly justifying the death of the silents. (Its only competition in that respect, the Fleischer Brothers’ Popeye the Sailor, is also a fitting cousin.) Mutilated by its distributor (while Vigo was dying!) to impossibly evince a more commercial movie, L’Atalante has since been restored and elevated to an uneasy perch in film history, saddled with the responsibility of representing something more than its anarchic and casual self. (KW)
85 min • Gaumont • 35mm
From the collection of the University of Chicago Film Studies Center, Permission Janus
Special thanks to Julia Gibbs and Brian Belovarac
Serial: Daredevils of Red Circle: Thirty Seconds to Live (William Witney and John English, 1939) 16mm
Cartoon: Mutiny Ain’t Nice (Dave Fleischer, 1938) 16mm

July 27th, 2011
Lewis Milestone • 1932
The second of two Joan Crawford pictures on our calender, here she plays Sadie Thompson, a prostitute boarding on an unspecified South Sea island. Walter Huston is a temporarily-marooned preacher who aspires to save her. A loud (there literally isn’t a moment in Rain that doesn’t have water bashing against the windows of the film’s interiors), messy, and frightening piece of quasi-evangelical quasi-propaganda by the great Lewis Milestone (All Quiet on the Western Front, The Front Page), Rain anticipates some of the eerie poetry of the work of Edgar Ulmer and Val Lewton, but its bizarre heavy handedness and sense of utter chaos probably brings it closer to ninety minutes in one of the lowermost levels of Hell than any comparable piece of cinema. It’s hard to tell whether Rain is an overly earnest piece of propaganda or a mindless exploitation film, but either way it has some of the most intense sequences in pre-Code cinema. (JA)
94 min • United Artists • 16mm
Print from the Radio Cinema Film Archive
Cartoon: Alona on the Sarong Seas (Izzy Sparber, 1942) 16mm
Serial: Daredevils of Red Circle: The Flooded Mine (William Witney and John English, 1939) 16mm

August 3rd, 2011
Robert Wise • 1951
Klaatu, an extraterrestrial played by Michael Rennie, and a robot named Gort land in Washington D.C. to warn mankind that if it doesn’t become a peaceful race it will destroy itself. In usual fashion, the US military locks Klaatu up while Gort stays home and makes sure DC tourists keep off their saucer. While The Day the Earth Stood Still is among the first science fiction films to be taken seriously be the movie-going press, it also has the unique honor (according to Colin Powell) of inspiring Ronald Reagan to discuss uniting against an alien invasion when meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985. There’s also a religious subtext (Gort as Jesus), model trains, a wonderful performance by Patricia Neal as the straight lady, and one of Bernard Herrmann’s best scores. (JA)
92 min • Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation • 35mm
Print from Criterion Pictures USA, special thanks to Brian Block.
Serial: Daredevils of Red Circle S.O.S. (William Witney and John English, 1939) 16mm

August 10th, 2011
Mervyn LeRoy • 1930
At first glance, this little musical comedy seems the beneficiary of outsized luck. The plot is staunchly standard: Alice White stars, basically as herself—Dixie Dugan, the latest ingénue to hit the movie colony, with dance numbers and ample backstage intrigue. And yet Show Girl in Hollywood records not only the abortive but honorable career of White but also the very process of producing a talking Vitaphone film in 1930; had the same script been filmed months later, the intricacies of shooting a picture while recording live sound on disc would not have provided incidental coloring and our appreciation for the process would be poorer. But that’s not all—Blanche Sweet turns in a totally touching performance as an ex-starlet, washed-up, elderly, and sage at 32! A touch young for such despair, Sweet nevertheless convinces; as a link to the utterly unrecognizable world of Griffith, her primordial credentials are well in order. One of four Mervyn LeRoy films released by Warner Bros.- First National in 1930 (his pace would pick up to seven the next year), it’s hard to identify any interest or commitment to the material on the part of this efficient and thoroughly factory man, though LeRoy’s snappy style is certainly evident. The final reel was originally in two-color Technicolor, but you can’t have everything. (KW)
80 min • First National Pictures • 35mm
Preserved by the Library of Congress, special thanks to Rob Stone
Serial: Daredevils of Red Circle: Ladder of Peril (William Witney and John English, 1939) 16mm


August 17th
Samuel Fuller • 1951
The first film about the Korean War features a group of dog-eared, mixed race soldiers struggling to stay alive pitted against Communist troops and hiding out in an abandoned Buddhist temple. Made for $104,000 (roughly the same production cost as Daredevils of the Red Circle) with a plywood tank and twenty-five UCLA students as extras, this is also one of the most dynamic, personal war films ever made. The Steel Helmet’s barebones production did for the Korean War what Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front did for World War I, and though Steel Helmet is much more compressed, it’s just as visceral and just as touching. The problem with most war films is that they’re overblown; films like this are simply blown up. (JA)
85 min • Deputy Corporation/Lippert Pictures • 16mm
Serial: Daredevils of Red Circle: The Infernal Machine (William Witney and John English, 1939) 16mm


August 24th, 2011
Douglas Sirk • 1953
A sublime piece of turn-of-the century Americana shot through a mid twentieth century Technicolor lens, this Douglas Sirk musical stars Ann Sheridan as a saloon entertainer who escapes a train ride to prison and hides out in a logging town. Sheridan is taken in by three sons of Sterling Hayden in hopes that she’ll marry their widowed father. Sirk’s 1950s melodramas have never been in danger of being thrown by the wayside of the American film canon, but the fact that Take Me To Town, Meet Me at the Fair, and Has Anybody Seen My Gal? have been so rarely revived (neither of those films are available anywhere outside of Universal’s vaults and a few private collections) is staggering. (JA)
81 min • Universal International Pictures • 35mm
Print from Universal, special thanks to Paul Ginsburg and Dennis Chong
Serial: Daredevils of the Red Circle: The Red Circle Speaks (William Witney and John English, 1939) 16mm

August 31st, 2011
Don Siegel • 1973
Walter Matthau plays the eponymous Charley, “The Last of the Independents,” a destitute crop-duster living out of a mobile home in rural Nevada. He and his wife slip into a life of small-time crime, quietly skimming and stealing from those just an inch higher on the economic ladder. After a no-frills bank robbery turns fatal, Matthau finds himself with a suspiciously large take and nitwit mafia hit man Joe Don Baker (fresh from Walking Tall) on his tail in a chase across a forlorn American countryside. Alternatively solemn and fox-clever, this unassuming thriller finds Siegel working at his 1970s peak, dispensing violence with steely professionalism. It’s a beautiful and ridiculously underrated film from a detail-minded industry veteran who did everything from heading the Warner Bros. Montage Department and directing episodes of The Twilight Zone and Convoy to creating the most overachieving drive-in fodder ever (The Beguiled) and introducing America to Dirty Harry. By Charley Varrick, he had more than earned his preferred credit, “A Siegel Film.” (KW)
111 min • Universal • 35mm
Print from Universal, special thanks to Paul Ginsburg and Dennis Chong
Serial: Daredevils of Red Circle: Flight to Doom (William Witney and John English, 1939) 16mm
Short: The 45 (Margaret Conneely, 1961) 16mm from the Chicago Film Archives, special thanks to Anne Wells.