Directorial giants Welles and Kazan at AFI

Tributes to Elia Kazan and Orson Welles go on at AFI Silver, while “Incredible Shrinking Man” thrills at Charles

April 09, 2010|By Michael Sragow, The Baltimore Sun

The AFI-Silver's simultaneous tributes to Orson Welles and Elia Kazan celebrate the sizzling theatrical instincts of two creative marvels of the stage who transformed the face — let's make that faces — of American films.

Kazan and Marlon Brando forged one of the most influential director-actor partnerships in American movies, but James Dean, too, made his name with Kazan, in the 1955 film version of John Steinbeck's "East of Eden" (Saturday at 4:30 p.m and Sunday at 7:20 p.m.), playing a supposed bad seed with a huge core of feeling. Unlike Brando, Dean put an emphasis on feral youthfulness. And Dean had the perfect wild-child instrument to express it.

"His face is a piece of sculpture," Kazan said later; "so is his body." What Dean's character wants is the love of a father who doesn't know how to love his son. "The moment Dean appeared on the screen, they went crazy," Kazan recalled. "Then I realized that even though the picture was set during World War I, Jimmy had caught something very precise about that very moment in the Eisenhower era. It was the way kids felt toward their fathers at that time."

Welles showed his understanding of Rita Hayworth's star power in the 1948 film noir, "The Lady From Shanghai" (today at 9 p.m., Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 9:40 p.m.), which he wrote as well as directed, and undermines with his own pouty performance as an idealized tough Irishman. (Even those tolerant of bad movie accents might snicker at his brogue.) Happily, the film contains several bold, flashy set pieces in San Francisco, including a chase through a Chinatown theater, a love scene at the aquarium in Golden Gate Park and a famous fun-house shootout. Hayworth, her hair colored platinum, reveals an exciting, sadistic streak underneath her bathing-beauty allure. It's as if there's a stilettoo hidden in the cheesecake. And Everett Sloane is an entertainingly outre villain — a two-legged tarantula on crutches.

The AFI Silver is at 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. Call 301-495-6700 or go to afi.com/silver.

"The Incredible Shrinking Man" at the Charles: A real tarantula, or some other furry breed of spider, figures in the thrilling climax of the low-budget classic "The Incredible Shrinking Man" appearing in a new 35mm print at the Charles this weekend (Saturday at noon, Monday at 7 p.m, Thursday at 9 p.m.). Mild-mannered 6-foot-1 Scott Carey ( Grant Williams), the victim of a radioactive mist, gradually gets reduced to tyke-size and then pin-size; his spotless suburban house reveals unsuspected terrors. The set designs are ingenious. And Jack Arnold's straight-ahead direction of Richard Matheson's adaptation of his own novel lets you see the simple story as many things, including a twist on patriarchal marital relations or a revelation of the cracks in a home that's like a model of cozy middle-class American materialism.

The Charles is at 1711 N. Charles St. Call 410-727-3456 or go to thecharles.com.

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