Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Madonna of the Seven Moons (1945)

WHO: Jack Cox, who shot for Maurice Elvey before making eleven films with Alfred Hitchcock (more than any other cinematographer other than the great Robert Burks) was director of photography on this.

WHAT: Saying too much, or even anything, about the plot of this film does it a great disservice. So I'll keep mum, other than to say that although it's usually tagged with the term "melodrama" it's likely to appeal strongly to fans of Hollywood film noir, or at least to those for whom the word noir doesn't just summon up images of Bogie or Mitchum in a trenchcoat, but also of Stanwyck or Crawford fighting personal demons.

Though it doesn't feel like a heavy-handed "message picture" Made near the very end of World War II, the film contains content that may have been reassuring to men and (perhaps particularly) women awaiting reunification with their sweethearts after a long separation, which helped make it become a hit. A gypsy woman in the film has remarkable advice about the double standard, which might have been taken as permission for war wives to forgive their husbands - and forgive themselves- for any wrongs inflicted during a period away from each other.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight through Friday, July 26th at the Stanford Theatre

WHY: As the last holdout among major Frisco Bay repertory venues in refusing to supplement its regular 35mm screenings with digital presentations, the Stanford's uniqueness becomes ever more evident. But even it has begun to prepare its loyal audiences for some kind of transformation. The introductory text on its current summer calendar (reproduced here) says it all, in the venue's typically succinct house style:
Whatever happens in the future, history will surely recognize that a major new art form was created in the twentieth century and that the traditional movie theatre was an essential part of it. At the Stanford Theatre you can still experience this in its original form. Our theatre has been here since 1925. It has nearly 1200 seats, with a balcony. We still show beautiful 35 mm prints. We still use carbon arc projectors. We even have an organ that plays before and after the 7:30 show. 
This too will pass. But in the meantime you have something in Palo Alto that is almost extinct everywhere else. Come often. Let your friends know about it. They'll probably thank you.
It's not the Stanford's way to say much more than "This too will pass." Which is why it sounds so ominous- I've never seen an acknowledgment from the theatre that its model might not be sustained forever into the future (though it's no great secret that the Silicon Valley wealth of its owner David Packard has more to do with its continued operation than ticket sales do). No hint of when (this year? next? twenty years from now?) change might come, much less how (the purchase of DCP projectors? closure?), but sometime, somehow, it's coming.

Let's enjoy the venue while it lasts.

Madonna of the Seven Moons is one of four British-made films on the current calendar, and not the only one shot by cinematographer Jack Cox. The Wicked Lady is also one of his, and it screens August 7-9 with the early Carol Reed picture Bank Holiday. Five other Jack Cox-shot films will also screen at Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive in August, albeit via DCP. Of course I speak of the five Gainsborough Pictures titles among the Hitchcock 9 silent series, including The Ring (Cox's first collaboration with Hitchcock), Blackmail, and the three made between those two in 1928 & 1929.

HOW: Madonna of the Seven Moons screens via 35mm print, on a double-bill with another film featuring the lovely Patricia Roc, called The Brothers.

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