Celebrating with blast from the past


October 12, 2001|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

The Senator Theatre marks its 62nd anniversary with a weeklong salute to the movies of 1939, the Senator's first year of operation.

At 1939 admission prices - 25 cents - the series is a bargain, a delight, and it's timely, too: The eight attractions bring home the wildly different ways international filmmakers responded to war-clouds breaking over Asia and Europe. Jean Renoir reacted more dazzlingly than anyone else with his masterpiece, Rules of the Game (Monday at 1 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.), a coruscating French farce that's also a devastating satire of the haut monde on the point of collapse.

But the Hollywood moviemakers who simply continued to turn out masterful entertainment like today's feature, His Girl Friday (at 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m., 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.), and tomorrow's, Destry Rides Again (at 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m., 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.), did their bit for democracy, too, epitomizing American vitality in figures like Cary Grant's hard-driving editor Walter Burns in Friday (which actually premiered Jan. 11, 1940) and James Stewart's deceptively mild frontier sheriff, Destry.

Destry Rides Again lacks the textbook reputation of His Girl Friday - a solid studio director, George Marshall, was the man behind the camera, not a legend like Howard Hawks - but it's one of the most enjoyable movies ever made. That's largely because Stewart brought a drawling ease and sociability to the role of a strong, loquacious Western hero. Stewart's Destry - a lean, gentle lawman who won't use a gun until he's pushed to extremes - is also an amusing tale-spinner who doesn't trip over his own yarns. His rationality and backbone drive hard guys crazy.

Set in a tough spot named Bottleneck, this superb, bareknuckled comedy mixes brawling action and moral fables with slapstick, verbal wit and sex appeal. Marlene Dietrich supplies exotic allure. As a saloon singer named Frenchy, the right-hand gal to Bottleneck's Mr. Big (Brian Donlevy), she envelops the movie in a hard-boiled je ne sais quoi. Although she's more down-to-earth than in, say, Shanghai Express (1932), she doesn't lose her signature blend of erotic frankness and haughtiness.

Frenchy shares in the corruption of Bottleneck, but Destry is nonetheless captivated when she huskily croons "You've Got That Look" (one of three jaunty Frederick Hollander-Frank Loesser songs). Even if Frenchy and Destry never get amorous (she gives him one farewell kiss), Stewart and Dietrich play off each other with such grace that this movie boasts the flirty delights of the best romantic comedies. It's vastly more entertaining than most "serious" Westerns, and even far more adult.

`Mulholland Drive' premieres

Week three of Cinema Sundays at the Charles boasts the local theatrical premiere of David Lynch's latest dazzling head-scratcher, Mulholland Drive, which puts together characters from inside-Hollywood movies - an actress on the rise, rapacious money men, a "personal" director - in ways that make accomplished entertainment like The Player seem timid and conventional.

Doors (and coffee and bagel buffet) open at 9:45 a.m., the show starts at 10:30, and 146 minutes later, Professor Loren Glass of Towson University will open the discussion.

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