Local screenings: 'Ride the High Country,' 'The Graduate' and more

May 14, 2010|By Michael Sragow, The Baltimore Sun

Peckinpah at Pratt

Sam Peckinpah topped all the great "personal" directors of the 1960s and 1970s. In a Peckinpah classic like "Ride the High Country" (1962), he finds a way to tell a story that lays his own soul across the screen. This movie celebrates a hero of self-control: ex-lawman Steve Judd ( Joel McCrea), who's trying to regain his professional pride after years of work in pickup jobs like bartender or bouncer. Peckinpah energizes each frame with a sense of what self-control has cost the man in love, friendship and glory.

Peckinpah's passion for directing extends to the farthest corner of the frame. He continuously enlarges the impact of the action with magical improvisations: before the climactic shoot-out, the most feral bad guy (Warren Oates) vents his anger at Judd by shooting at some chickens. Peckinpah gave McCrea the beautiful, oft-quoted line, "All I want is to enter my house justified." By the end, you feel close enough to him to hear his heart stop.

"Ride the High Country" is this week's Film Talk entry at the Wheeler Auditorium of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, 10:15 a.m. Saturday.

Nichols' 'Graduate,' Kazan's 'Splendor' at AFI-Silver

This weekend the AFI-Silver continues to pay tribute to Mike Nichols and Elia Kazan, the rare American directors who sustained equally spectacular success on stage and soundstage.

Nichols' "The Graduate" roused controversy in 1967 with a scenario that today would seem tame on prime-time TV: a neglected wife having an affair with the son of her husband's law partner. Luckily, Nichols' skill with actors makes the movie half a comedy classic. The running joke is that young Benjamin Braddock ( Dustin Hoffman) wants to talk and have a "relationship," while Mrs. Robinson ( Anne Bancroft) just wants sex. But Bancroft at least shows that Mrs. Robinson likes the sex. And if Ben could be characterized as a schlep, he's comic dynamite as played by Hoffman.

Kazan's 1961 "Splendor in the Grass" is another triumph for an "actor's director." Kazan's occasional stage collaborator, playwright William Inge, wrote this tale of high-school lovers Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood foundering on sexual prohibition in small-town Kansas in 1928. It's so emotionally supercharged that its fans are often embarrassed to acknowledge how much they treasure it.

"The Graduate" plays Friday, Saturday, Monday, Tuesday,and Thursday; "Splendor in the Grass" plays Saturday and Tuesday. Call the AFI Silver (8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring) at 301-495-6700 or go to afi.com/silver for showtimes.

Michael Sragow

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