September – December 2012

Our Classic Film Series screens Wednesday nights at 7:30 pm (unless otherwise noted) at the Portage Theater on 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave. The schedule is also available through Google Calendar.

Admission is always $5

Programmed and Projected by Julian Antos, Becca Hall, and Kyle Westphal
Assistant: Haley Markbreiter • Interns: Lauren Hearter and Sonia Lupher

Wednesday, September 5th @ 7:30pm
Directed by Mitchell Leisen • 1935
Hoping to pull herself out of the working class and into the arms of a millionaire, hotel manicurist Carole Lombard pines after playboy Fred MacMurray only to find out his family lost its fortune in the Crash and he’s trying to land a millionaire, too. A missed ocean liner to Bermuda lands him on her couch for a week, and in the end their fates are left to the toss of a coin. Not to be mistaken for a screwball comedy (though a delightful scene in which MacMurray scares a very young William Demarest into taking a nasty tumble down Lombard’s apartment stairs may as well make it one), this is much more bitter, tender, lovely stuff… everyone involved will break your heart in the funniest sort of way. Delicately and affectionately handled by Leisen, two misguided dumbells looking for love or money at any expense were never so graceful. (JA)
80 min • Paramount Pictures • 35mm from Universal
Cartoon: Bugs Bunny in “Hair-Raising Hare” (Chuck Jones, 1946) • 16mm • 7 min

Wednesday, September 12th @ 7:30pm
Back-to-School Chiller Double Feature!

Directed by Lambert Hillyer • 1936
“Who can define the boundary between the superstition of yesterday and the scientific fact of tomorrow?” Picking up only a few minutes from where Tod Browning’s 1931 Dracula left off, Dracula’s Daughter (sourced very loosely from “Dracula’s Guest,” a chapter from Bram Stoker’s original novel) follows Gloria Holden as she preys on unsuspecting early-twentysomething-year-old girls. The only one who’s wise to her is Professor Von Helsing (Edward Van Sloan), but he’s under investigation for driving a stake through Bela Lugosi’s heart. (Lugosi appeared only as a wax bust, for which he reportedly charged $4,000 for use of his likeness.) Now famous for being the first lesbian vampire movie (what took so long?), it’s also the last film in Universal’s horror cycle made before production head Carl Laemmle, Jr. was forced out of Universal for a string of over-budget projects (including this one). Charles R. Rogers took over in early 1936 and would never oversee anything as weird, wonderful, and erotic as this. (JA)
71 min • Universal Pictures • 35mm from Universal
Short: Dracula (Castle Condensation) – 16mm from the Chicago Film Archives – 8 min


Directed by Stuart Walker • 1935
Those still complaining about Sony and Marvel deciding to ‘reboot’ their Spider-Man franchise so soon after the last effort would do well to look at Werewolf of London, the nearly forgotten template for the lycanthropic horror cycle that Universal brushed aside a mere six years after its release to make way for Lon Chaney, Jr., in The Wolf Man. The set-up in Werewolf of London is exotic, even by Universal horror standards: a werewolf roves the forests of Tibet (here represented by Angeles National Forest) and infects famed botanist Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) with dangerous full-moon impulses. Back in London, Glendon learns from the mysterious Dr. Yogami (Warner Oland, in a welcome respite from Charlie Chan) that a rare flower from the same Tibetan forest is the only check on his animal instincts. Glendon’s efforts to impose self-discipline fail brutally; he must balance his appetite for a cure with the realization that he cannot truly protect those he loves. An atmospheric effort that smartly downplays fantastic makeup schemes (Hull found the full facial regime tedious), Werewolf of London is a worthy late effort in the Universal horror cycle. (KW)
75 min • Universal Pictures • 35mm from Universal

Wednesday, September 19th @ 7:30pm
Directed by Joseph Losey • 1951
Birthday parties can be traumatic experiences for kids, but this celebration boasts a whole new dimension of terror for 17-year-old John Barrymore, Jr., who’s barely had a chance to blow out the candles on his cake when sports columnist and underworld heavy Howard St. John appears out of nowhere and orders his father to strip and take a beating. Barrymore spends the rest of the movie trying to unravel this wholly mysterious act of primal violence, swearing revenge on an adult world he barely understands. The Big Night is a meandering nightmare-testament made by a band of angry talent at the twilight of their Hollywood careers. Blacklisted screenwriters Hugo Butler and Ring Lardner, Jr., already working pseudonymously here, would continue writing through fronts; director Losey would soon flee to Europe; and actress Dorothy Comingore (Citizen Kane) would never work in features again. This addled teen noir is the perfect outlet for their broad-based disenchantment. (KW)
75 min • United Artists • 35mm from Park Circus
Cartoon: Droopy Dog in “Homesteader Droopy” (Tex Avery, 1954) – 16mm – 7 min

Wednesday, September 26th @ 7:30pm
Directed by James Cruze • 1929
“Ladies and gentlemen, I have the privilege to appear before you in what I might call, with all due modesty, the greatest ventril-o-quil exhibition of all times.” So intones Erich von Stroheim and we’re inclined to believe him. It’s certainly kinkier than Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy: Stroheim’s demanding Gabbo pushes away his girlfriend (Betty Compson) but tries to win her back with his seductive dummy Otto. A one-of-a-kind collaboration between two titans of silent cinema, The Great Gabbo shows Cruze and Stroheim groping their way through the wooly world of experimental sound filmmaking. (That the film was released by short-lived Sono Art tells you all you need to know about their respective positions in the industry, which was then using the talkie revolution as a pretext for shunting aside difficult talent.) What with its delirious musical numbers (including “Icky” and the arachnophilic “Web of Love”) and satanic molasses pacing, The Great Gabbo makes a mighty peculiar case for the talkies—but then, how could a wisecracking dummy work in a silent picture? (KW)
96 min • Sono Art-World Wide Pictures • 35mm from Library of Congress
Cartoon: “Ventriloquist Cat” (Tex Avery, 1954) – 16mm – 7 min

Wednesday, October 3rd @ 7:30pm
Directed by Henry King • 1940
After helping a runaway slave escape to Canada, starry-eyed Henry Fonda runs away with Guy Kibbee’s upstate New York circus. Also along for the trip are John Carradine, Dorothy Lamour, Oscar the Lion, and 17-year-old runaway Linda Darnell. Fonda falls for Lamour and then dopily falls for Darnell, eventually proving his worth by getting the circus an elephant. Adapted from Red Wheels Rolling, a Saturday Evening Post serial by Walter Dumaux Edmonds, this is the kind of simple, natural filmmaking that made Henry King 20th Century-Fox’s most subtly valuable director. Bosley Crowther captured the overwhelmingly lush and dreamlike state of Chad Hanna in his New York Times review: “the color and mood of that small town America has been excellently captured in the crickets dinning the night silence at Canastota; the creak of wagon harness as the little caravan journeys to the next town; . . . the roustabouts of rival circuses fighting it out with tent pegs on the bridge; the acrobats in pink tights and gold fringe running into the sawdust ring while Guy Kibbee delivers a stentorian rhetoric on the ‘most daring, the most breath-taking . . .’” (JA)
86 min • 20th Century-Fox • IB Technicolor 16mm from the Radio Cinema Film Archive
Short: Notes on the Circus (Jonas Mekas, 1966) – 16mm from Canyon Cinema – 12 min

Wednesday, October 10th @ 7:30pm
Directed by Luis Buñuel • 1953
El is one of the crown jewels of Buñuel’s prolific Mexican period, which saw the director seeding everyday interactions and unpromising genre exercises with surrealist absurdities. We know where this is going from the opening moments when a priest lovingly caresses a row of bare young feet, no? Devout businessman Don Francisco (Arturo de Córdova) sets out on an impulsive romantic conquest to win such a pair of feet and eventually steals Gloria (Delia Garcés) from her fiancé. Their marriage is instantly marked by irrational jealousy and delirious compensations, mainly involving needles. Equally sympathetic to Gloria’s untenable domestic nightmare and Don Francisco’s unspeakable desires, El is a violent and committed expression of l’amour fou. “The hero of El interests me as a beetle, or a disease-carrying fly does,” wrote Buñuel. “I’ve always found insects exciting.” Originally distributed in the US under the generically Buñuelian title This Strange Passion, El remains a crucial classic despite limited availability over the past two decades. (KW)
92 min • Producciones Tepeyac • 35mm from private collections • In Spanish with English subtitles
Short: Laurel & Hardy in “Helpmates” (James Parrott, 1932) – 35mm – 20 min

Wednesday, October 17th @ 7:30pm
Directed by Frank Capra • 1931
When her dying minister father is fired from his church and replaced by a much younger man, disillusioned Barbara Stanwyck becomes a new kind of preacher—one with a lion’s cage for a pulpit, a legion of fans out in Radioland, and a con man pulling strings behind the scenes. After sweet, vulnerable ventriloquism hobbyist David Manners tells her she’s saved his life, she begins to reconsider her cynical methods. For scandal-ridden superstarlet evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, the real-life model for Stanwyck’s character, salvation was less clear cut. But this film is as much a melodrama as it is a surprisingly complex depiction of American religion, and Stanwyck’s performance is a moving reminder of the humanity implicated in both corruption and grace. (JA & RH)
90 min • Columbia Pictures • 35mm from Sony Pictures Repertory
Cartoon: “Betty Boop, M.D.” (Fleisher Studios, 1932) – 16mm – 7 min

Wednesday, October 24th @ 7:30pm
Directed by Curtis Harrington • 1961
By the early ‘60s, Curtis Harrington had already studied with Josef von Sternberg, graduated from USC Film School, cofounded (with Kenneth Anger) the first artist’s film co-op, written perceptively about the history of horror cinema for Sight & Sound, and made a quartet of hazy and restless experimental shorts. He brought all this to bear upon his first feature, the independently produced Night Tide, inspired by the closing lines of Poe’s “Annabelle Lee.” Dewey-eyed Method wannabe and peripheral avant-garde mainstay Dennis Hopper stars as a depressed sailor who falls in love with self-professed mermaid Mora (Linda Lawson) who lives in an aquatic hippodrome in the most squalid corner of the Santa Monica Pier. As if normal adolescent sexual anxiety weren’t enough, just imagine irrepressible nightmares with your girlfriend as a killer octopus! The poetic Night Tide was originally dumped as double-bill fodder by American International Pictures after sitting on the shelf for two years. Now fully restored by the Academy Film Archive and the Film Foundation, Night Tide re-emerges as a uniquely resplendent psychodrama that rivals Touch of Evil and Southland Tales as the finest cinematic excavation of the half-conscious countercultural mecca of Venice, California. (KW)
84 min • American International Pictures • Restored 35mm from the Academy Film Archive
PLUS: an episode of “Diver Dan” (1961) – 16mm – 7 min

Wednesday, November 7th @ 7:30pm
Directed by Roy Del Ruth • 1935
Anxious to keep out of the rain on a bus layover in that ubiquitous little village in Pennsylvania, Dick Powell and his troupe of traveling musicians attend a political rally for governor-to-be Raymond Walburn. The candidate is an incompetent drunkard, and his Square Deal Party backers turn to Powell & Co. to liven up the campaign. A victim of circumstance, Powell soon replaces Walburn as candidate for governor with the hope of losing the election and gaining a radio career. Beating Preston Sturges’s Hail the Conquering Hero to the punch by about nine years, this is the rare political satire that’s more transcendent than mean (the New York Times noted it was “pardonable but definitely incorrect of you to assume from this that the new film is an attack on the intelligence of the Pennsylvania electorate”), and Dick Powell is at his pre-noir best. (JA)
87 min • 20th Century-Fox • 35mm from Fox
Cartoon: “Let’s Go” (Arthur Davis, 1937) IB Technicolor 16mm – 7 min

Wednesday, November 14th @ 7:30pm
Directed by Lambert Hillyer • 1920
With live organ accompaniment by Jay Warren!
No silent-era star proved as consistent as William S. Hart, the sober cowboy auteur whose morally delicate frontiers always allowed for the twin possibilities of human depravity and absolute redemption. In Sand Hart plays a railway station agent who must stand aside when a local grandee sets his sights on Hart’s longtime sweetheart Mary Thurman. (It doesn’t help when Thurman overhears Hart gushing about the return of his beloved pinto pony and mistakes the object of his affection for a genuine romantic rival.) The first feature to be made by Hart’s own production company, Sand opened on Broadway as Hart’s profit-recovering lawsuit against his former producer Thomas Ince went to trial. Working with his long-time collaborators—the ever-professional journeyman director Lambert Hillyer, the sensitive cinematographer Joseph August, and his pinto pony Fritz—Hart demonstrated his reliable craftsmanship anew. Among his fans: President Woodrow Wilson, who cited Sand as his favorite Hart picture. (KW)
65 min • Paramount Pictures-Artcraft • 35mm from the Library of Congress
Short: “High on the Range: The Deadly Weed” (Ben Wilson, 1924) – 35mm – 20 min

Wednesday, November 21st @ 7:30pm
Comedy Double Feature!

Directed by Norman Z. McLeod • 1931
Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo wreak havoc on an ocean liner crossing the Atlantic and sing “Sweet Adeline” from empty barrels of kippered herring. (Whether or not the usually-mute Harpo joins the chorus is a point of scholarly contention. . .) To save face, the Brothers split up and work for two opposing thugs, impersonate Maurice Chevalier, and find a girl in a haystack. (It doesn’t hurt that the girl is Thelma Todd, rather than Groucho’s usual squeeze, Margaret Dumont.) Featuring the most gorgeous opening credits sequence Paramount ever produced, this was also the first Marx Brothers vehicle that wasn’t an adaptation of one of their Broadway shows (this is, uh, their first Off Broadway production), and if you can’t beat it, join it. (JA)
78 min • Paramount Pictures • 35mm from Universal
PLUS: Betty Boop in “Stopping the Show” (Fleischer Studios, 1932) – 8 min – 16mm


Directed by Clyde Bruckman • 1935
After lying about the death of his mother-in-law to get the afternoon off of work, Ambrose Wolfinger (W. C. Fields) is fired from his job as a memory expert (where he remembers his boss’s appointments and saves him the embarrassment of forgetting acquaintances’ names). With Fields left to return to an ungrateful wife and brat of a son, Trapeze still gives the feeling that Fields has it together and the rest of the world are the ones losing their minds. An acrobat in the 20th century workplace we’ve all come to know and regret, Fields never had it harder than in The Man on the Flying Trapeze. (For a man who reportedly went into show business to avoid getting up before noon, Fields’s portrayal of a man who hasn’t had a day off in twenty-five years is actually terrifying). Did we mention the Portage has a liquor license? (JA)
66 min • Paramount Pictures • 35mm from Universal

Wednesday, November 28th @ 7:30pm
Directed Don Siegel • 1971
When wounded Yankee soldier John McBurney (Clint Eastwood) wanders out of the woods and into a girl’s seminary, he expects an ample helping of Southern hospitality. (His early question—“Too young for kissing?”—is emblematic.) Literally the cock of the walk, the super-virile Eastwood inspires a plantation-wide gynecological surge, pushing even long-dormant hens to resume laying eggs. Half the plantation plots to sleep with him, including the family-friendly headmistress (Geraldine Page) and her repressed assistant (Elizabeth Hartman). But even a stud’s progress can be undone by a child’s tortoise. One of the rare films to take men seriously as sex objects, The Beguiled brilliantly straddles arthouse psychodrama and drive-in exploitation fest. (Both demographics stayed away anyway.) Master craftsman Siegel never topped the baroque intensity on display here. Programmer Peter Conheim has summed up its essential qualities as well as anyone: “Part plantation melodrama, part gothic horror and part salacious romp, The Beguiled plays like a Technicolor nocturnal emission.” (KW)
105 min • Universal Pictures • 35mm from Universal
Short: The Three Stooges in “Uncivil Warriors” (Del Lord, 1935) – 35mm – 20 min

Wednesday, December 5th @ 7:30pm
Directed by John Ford • 1927
With live organ accompaniment from Jay Warren!
Presumed lost for over eighty years, Upstream never garnered much of a reputation. Even avowed Ford partisan Peter Bogdanovich once declared that ‘the least of [Ford’s] Harry Carey westerns would have more interest today than such higher budgeted Fox specials as. . . Upstream.’ But there’s nothing high-flown or high-budget about this lovable mutt of a picture. (Ford’s name isn’t even listed in the credits.) It sketches the daily routine of a scruffy boarding house occupied by knife-throwers, tap-dancing brothers, and aspiring actors. One in particular, Eric Brashingham (Earle Fox), has plenty to aspire to: with his family name, he should be playing Hamlet on the West End, not returning the idle flirtations of housemate Gertie Ryan (Nancy Nash). When a desperate producer gives him a chance, Brashingham drops all thespian façade and reveals his true colors. Salvaged by New Zealand projectionist and collector Jack Murtagh, Upstream has been beautifully restored through the joint efforts of the New Zealand Film Archive, the National Film Preservation Foundation, Park Road Post Production, 20th Century Fox, and the Academy Film Archive. (KW)
60 min • Fox Film Corporation • Restored, tinted 35mm print from 20th Century Fox
Short: “New Zealand Now #3: Cattle Trail” (1955) – New Zealand National Film Unit – 35mm – 18 min

Wednesday, December 12th @ 7:30pm
Directed by Josef von Sternberg • 1953
Discharged from Macao by Howard Hughes, Josef von Sternberg’s Hollywood career had come undone. The director embarked on a dream project that brought the exacting affection of his Marlene Dietrich vehicles to its logical and impossible conclusion. Anatahan follows a group of stranded Japanese soldiers as they decline into savagery, fighting for guns, power, and the island’s only girl, entirely unaware that war has ceased. The artificial society meets its match: Anatahan’s cast is wholly Japanese, but Sternberg’s brisk, fussy English voiceover narration supersedes all.  Filmed entirely in a Kyoto studio, Anatahan is some sort of monstrous apex of synthetic cinema, representing near-total control for the obsessive filmmaker, who intercedes not only with the sets and montage, but with the thoughts and actions of every human in the film. (Sternberg would subsequently lament his sole compromise: photographing real waves rather than fabricating the ocean. He also maintained that the film’s essence would survive even if projected upside-down and backwards.) Anatahan never found a non-cultist audience, prompting Sternberg to tinker—deleting dialogue and adding nude shots. At least Anatahan could boast a theatrical release several years before Jet Pilot, another fateful Sternberg-Hughes collaboration begun in 1950! (HM)
92 min • A Daiwa Production released thru Arias Quality Pictures • Restored 35mm from the Library of Congress
Cartoon: “Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips” (Friz Freleng, 1945) – 16mm – 7 min

Wednesday, December 19th @ 7:30pm
Directed by Charles Laughton • 1955
Like some Grimm Brothers edition of the Saturday Evening Post, The Night of the Hunter is the elemental gee-whiz wonder picture of the ‘50s—it really demands to be seen in a revival tent rather than a movie theater. Robert Mitchum delivers his career performance as Harry Powell, the wolf in preacher’s clothing who sets off to seduce a hanged man’s widow (Shelley Winters) and abscond with the money hidden somewhere in her homestead. Winters’s children (Billy Chapin and Sally Jane Bruce) try to love their new pop, but his unrelenting severity and violent temper force the kids to flee for the countryside. Ostensibly set in the Depression, but unfolding at a perpetually present-tense intersection of American rhetoric and homespun myth, The Night of the Hunter bridges Sunday school lesson and psychological horror show. Between the shimmering photography of Stanley Cortez and the presence of Lillian Gish as a gun-toting granny, The Night of the Hunter reaches back into something genuinely primordial and automatically affecting. It’s also an underrated and oddly heart-warming Christmas movie that makes a singular case for persistence of love over wickedness. (KW)
93 min • United Artists • 35mm from Park Circus
Cartoon: Scrappy in “Holiday Land” (Columbia, 1934) – 35mm Technicolor – 7 min