Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Palm Beach Story (1942)

WHO: Robert Dudley has a very memorable supporting role in this.

WHAT: John Pym writes quite a bit about Dudley's character The Wienie King, a processed-meat tycoon who encounters a low-on-cash Gerry (played by Claudette Colbert) early in the film. A sample:
Why does the Wienie King give Gerry the rent money? Partly to best his wife, to be sure, but partly because he simply has a mind to. He likes the look of Gerry in her pink wrap. He likes birds, and there just happens to be a bird embroidered on the wrap. He knows what it is like to be poor. He just does it. It's in his nature.
WHERE/WHEN: 4:10 and 7:30 today at the Stanford Theatre, and 7:00 on January 29, 2014 at the Pacific Film Archive.

WHY: I knew I had to post about Robert Dudley this weekend after seeing him for a split second on the Castro Theatre screen last Wednesday during the 4th annual Noir City Xmas screening that has become the traditional way to announce the next ten-day Noir City festival in January (2014's is taking a bold new approach, making it my most-anticipated program yet! But more on that in a future post.) He plays a small role in the 1947 film Christmas Eve a.k.a. Sinner's Holiday which gave a belly-of-Hollywood finish to a double-bill that began with the bleak, New York underground cinema standout Blast of Silence, which somehow feels like the midway point between an Anthony Mann and a John Cassavetes movie.

Christmas Eve, a story of an eccentric spinster trying to reunite with her long-lost wards (George Brent, George Raft and Randolph Scott) is one of those Hollywood oddities that doesn't quite conform to any genre conventions, but rather combines and stirs together elements from several seemingly disparate genres: screball comedy, political thriller, Western. I can't help but think that Robert Altman's involvement, very early in his film career, is in part responsible for this stew. It's an unexpectedly effective mix, especially as the middle segment of the film involving Raft and a Nazi-in-hiding unfolds coldly and powerfully. This is perhaps the only truly noir-ish element of Christmas Eve, and justification enough for it to be programmed at Noir City Xmas, especially one that announces a Noir City line-up that will be kicked off January 25th with a double-bill of Journey Into Fear and the Third Man

 The Stanford shows The Palm Beach Story as the penultimate of its selection of Preston Sturges-directed films to wind down its 2013 programming. Already the venue has begun announcing its 2014 line-up, starting with a quickly-organized four-film tribute to Joan Fontaine, the 96-year-old star who died a week ago. All three of Fontaine's Oscar-nominated performances will be highlighted: Rebecca and Suspicion (for which she won) on a Hitchcock/Fontaine double-bill January 2-5, and The Constant Nymph, paired with her turn for the great Max Ophüls Letter From An Unknown Woman January 9-12.

Then, the PFA will show The Palm Beach Story as part of a series called Funny Ha-Ha: American Comedy, 1930–1959 that kicks off with My Man Godfrey the night that venue reopens after the Winter break, January 16th, and speeds through some of the humorous highlights of Hollywood from Frank Capra, Howard Hawks, Frank Tashlin, and more. It's called "part one of a three-part series" in the now-online program but it's a little unclear what parts two and three will be: more comedies from the same period? (Either more American ones, or else focuses on other countries' comedies?) More comedies from later periods? Perhaps a set apiece devoted to American Drama and American Romance? Or American Tragedy and American Histories? Stay tuned.

Whatever this large-scale series precisely is, it's not alone. 2014 will evidently see at least two other retrospectives that last more than just a couple of months at the PFA. A Satyajit Ray series begins with the Bengali master's first film Pather Panchali January 17, and will continue through August, expecting to include nearly all of his films. From what we've seen of the PFA's schedule for its year-long Jean-Luc Godard retrospective, it appears that it may be even more complete. Every feature film the master made up through 1967's Weekend will screen in chronological order this Spring, starting with 35mm prints of Breathless and Le Petit Soldat January 31st (unfortunately in the midst of Noir City). Programs of early short films and anthology contributions threaten to make this a complete accounting of Godard's pre-1968 work. A Fall series is promised to cover his post-1968 career.

These three big PFA presentations will still be accompanied by smaller series in 2014; the January-February calendar brings us Anthony Mann crime films, the annual African Film Festival, an in-person appearance by Pennsylvania documentarian Tony Buba, and more.

HOW: The Palm Beach Story screens via a 35mm print at both venues; on a double-bill with A Night At the Opera only at the Stanford.

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