I've seen only a handful of the films that are playing at the UCLA Festival of Preservation, starting next week at the Cinematheque, but the ones I have seen are more than ample cause for a visit to the theatre.
Gun Crazy (1949) frequently appears on top-ten film noir lists, for good reason: it's brilliant. A young man with a fascination for guns is tempted into a crazed spree of stealin', shootin', and drivin' by a dangerous blonde who is herself rather handy with a pistol. The Cinematheque write-up says the film was the inspiration for Godard's Breathless and the progenitor of countless "couple on the run" crime spree films (Bonnie and Clyde, Badlands, etc); this actually does some injustice to Nicholas Ray's 1948 film They Live By Night, which obviously had a strong influence on Gun Crazy, and was probably the real template-setter, but no matter, because Gun Crazy is every bit as good as that film, and maybe even better, especially when it arrives at its brooding, surreal swampland finale. This is a noir that will stay with you; if you have not seen Gun Crazy, amend that error! (It plays March 7th, 8th, and 9th).
The Chase is a slightly less obvious film to praise, but it's a very interesting and unusual noir in is own right. A returned soldier, virtuous but desperate and suffering from mild mental problems as a result of his wartime experiences, goes to work, not realizing what he's getting into, as a chauffer for a gangster, only to fall for and decide to rescue the gangster's suicidal wife. Peter Lorre slithers about as the gangster's greasy henchman, Gino. There is a strange plot twist that didn't work so well for me the first time I attempted the film, that I have, on second viewing, come to admire for its audacity and originality (mild but perhaps necessary spoiler: a section of the film - the "escape to Havana" - plays out as a doomed fantasy or dream, which brings us too early at what seems to be the ending of the film; then we wake up - and the film has a whole other ending in store for us, against which the "it was all a dream" ending continues to resonate!). It's one of those films, like Detour and D.O.A., that has been trapped in public domain hell for some time: there are several different cheapo DVD releases of it, none in great condition, so it's nice to hear that it's getting a proper restoration, since it means maybe an authoritative digital release is on the way. Based on The Black Path of Fear by Cornell Woolrich: it was probably a mistake to change that title into something so generic, especially considering there's not much in the way of chasing, per se, in the film. Though that's a good thing...
That Cold Day In The Park with a DVD rental from the Burnaby Public Library the other week. In all honesty, I would probably not recommend it heartily were it not for the fact that it was shot in Vancouver in 1968 (which, coincidentally, is the year and location of my birth!). That fact alone elevates to the status of must-see (for locals) what would otherwise at best be a second-tier Altman, not on par with masterpieces like The Long Goodbye or the (also-Vancouver-shot) McCabe and Mrs. Miller, but well-above his WTF films (Popeye, and the as-yet-unseen-by-me OC and Stiggs), as an earnest, provocative, recognizably Altmaneseque effort. It's also recognizably, explicitly set in Vancouver: an opening title declares the location, and there are glimpses of Stanley Park, and even a street scene where someone passes in front of the Vogue Theatre on Granville Street. Sandy Dennis - someone I occasionally find grating - is lovely and sympathetic as a lonely, moneyed spinster, unattracted to the dry, wealthy suitors of her class, who condescends to take in a young mute, for whom she develops obvious affection; then we discover that neither the mute nor she are exactly what they seem. The premise is more interesting than the payoff - which, really, is the main quibble I had with the film; it's an idea movie that lacks a really satisfying conclusion - but along the way, there's some interesting stuff about class and sex and about the mutual misunderstanding and mistrust between straights and youths (the kid, played by TV actor Michael Burns, is not in fact down and out, but comes from a counterculture scene, and regards his benefactor with his own variety of condescension). Roger Ebert's 1969 review of the film is here - he describes it as a "torturous (sic) essay on abnormal psychology" sullied
by "improbable" plot devices, while managing to avoid any mention of
the ideas that these improbable plot devices exist in service of. All
the same, were I not from Vancouver, I'd probably kind of agree with
his review. I was still happy to discover that support players Michael Murphy (Phase IV, dozens of Woody Allen films) and Luana Anders (The Trip, Easy Rider) were traipsing around Vancouver back when I was busy being born...!
Supernatural, a 1933 ghost story, involving seances and possessions, starring endearingly kooky, beautiful comedienne Carole Lombard (My Man Godfrey), here apparently playing it straight. Lombard died in a plane crash at age 33, though still managed to have a busy career. Interested to see what she does with a horror film!
I know pretty much nothing about the other films playing, though at another time in my life I would have been excited to see Shirley Clarke's documentary about Robert Frost... Didn't know it even existed until reading about it on the Cinematheque website just now!