One-Night Stands 

Repertory film listings for February 12-18, 2009.

Thu., February 12

Shanghai Express The train, the Chinese countryside, and the "notorious coaster" Shanghai Lily were all dreamt up by Josef von Sternberg to frame Marlene Dietrich in a luxuriant cinematic setting where soft focus and gauzy plotting (they're detained by a warlord) work their wonders. A cast of characters travels from Peking to Shanghai, and nothing happens except that the whole world stops for a woman. With Clive Brook, Warner Oland, and the wonderful Anna May Wong (84 min., 1932). — K.V. (PFA, 6:30)

Blonde Venus Josef von Sternberg, having first created Marlene Dietrich, constructed his own fanciful visions of New York, Paris, and the American South for this story of a woman on the run from her shameful past. Dietrich delivers a real acting job as the nightclub singer who falls in with fickle playboy Cary Grant in order to finance an operation for her husband (Herbert Marshall), then runs away with her son through some of the most artfully lit dives in Hollywood history (97 min., 1932). — K.V. (PFA, 8:15)

Thrillville's Voodoo Valentine's Show A screening of Sugar Hill (91 min., 1974), plus live music from Kitten on the Keys. (EC, 9:15)

Friday, February 13

Crack-Up Pat O'Brien stars as an art critic whose investigation into a forgery puts him into an uncomfortable frame, in Irving Reis' 1946 film noir. Claire Trevor, Herbert Marshall, and Wallace Ford costar (93 min.). (PFA, 6:30)

The Kill-Off Hopelessness and desperation in a run-down New Jersey boardwalk resort town. Directed and adapted by Maggie Greenwalk from a Him Thompson novel. With Loretta Gross, Jackson Sims, Steve Monroe, Cathy Haase (95 min., 1989). (PFA, 8:30)

Sat., February 14

The Adventures of Prince Achmed Producer Lotte Reiniger and director Karl Koch, along with Walther Ruttmann (Berlin: Symphony of a Great City) and other artists, created the first full-length animated feature, an Arabian Nights fantasy with a flying horse, an evil African sorcerer, and a beautiful princess from the isle of Waq Waq — using paper cutouts silhouetted on a screen. The result is like a wayang kulit shadow-puppet show from Bali: languid and fantastic at the same time, and much more conducive to genuine wonderment than any multimillion-dollar special effects you could care to name. It took three years to produce (1923-26), and is enchanting (62 min.). — K.V. (PFA, 3:00)

The Scarlet Empress Josef von Sternberg began his film career as a cinematographer, and this 1934 set-bound epic of Catherine the Great, his sixth vehicle for Marlene Dietrich, represents a culmination of his extravagant visual style. Sternberg, aided by the great Bert Glennon at the camera, created a cluttered and grotesque vision of Czarist Russia and its rulers, complete with an idiot prince (Sam Jaffe), treacherous boyars, and hundreds of leering icons. As for Dietrich, her transformation from a backward teenager into a joyously lusty monarch is a superior acting job. For all the technical brilliance he was proudest of, Sternberg could shine dramatically with the right actor, and Dietrich was always his first choice. John Lodge, Louise Dresser, and a soundstage full of Paramount's finest cossacks costar. Recommended (104 min.). — K.V. (PFA, 6:30)

The Wedding Andrzej Wajda's adaptation of a classic Polish play in which a poet and a peasant wed (106 min., 1973). (PFA, 8:35)

Pal Joey Classic young blue eyes. Frank Sinatra plays a swingin' saloon crooner torn between wealthy widow Rita Hayworth and dancehall doll Kim Novak. The pencil-thin script is kept afloat by a quintessential Rodgers and Hart score crammed with standards like "The Lady Is a Tramp," "My Funny Valentine," "(If They Asked Me) I Could Write a Book," and a sadly sanitized "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered." Novak is hopelessly miscast, and Hayworth — a bit long in the tooth from her Gilda glory days — is too sedate as a self-proclaimed "broad with a broad, broad mind." But, in the end, it really doesn't matter because this is a Frankie vehicle after all, and he pumps his persona for all it's worth, right down to the trademark raincoat tossed carelessly over his shoulder (111 min, 1957). (EC, 6:00)

Sun., February 15

No Greater Love In Japanese-occupied Manchuria during World War II, an idealistic mine supervisor (Tatsuya Nakadai) takes pity on the Chinese-prisoner slave laborers working for him, and is punished by being drafted into the army. Part one of the "Human Condition" trilogy by director Masaki Kobayashi (208 min., 1959). (PFA, noon)

The Road to Eternity The second part of Masaki Kobayashi's anti-war "Human Condition" trilogy finds Kaji (Tatsuya Nakadai) slogging through the defeat of the Japanese arm in World War II (183 min., 1959). (PFA, 4:00)

A Soldier's Prayer In the third part of director Masaki Kobayashi's "Human Condition" trilogy, Japanese army conscript Kaji (Tatsuya Nakadai) escapes from a Russian prisoner-of-war camp in an attempt to make it back to see his wife (Michiyo Aratama) again (190 min., 1961). (PFA, 8:00)

Pal Joey See Saturday. (EC, 5:00)

Tuesday, February 17

Trial Amateur filmmaking is popular in a village near Tehran — at least until the government cracks down. This wry Iranian documentary is directed by Moslem Mansouri (45 min., 2002). (PFA, 7:30)

Purple Rain This two-and-a-half hour rock vid tells us more than we needed to know about Prince, the Little Richard of the '80s, who is nevertheless a talented producer-performer. His fans will want to ignore the sexism, slow-witted lines, and slower-witted acting to focus instead on a bevy of tunes by Prince, the Time, and Apollonia 6, whose members look like refugees from Penthouse. Directed in a scattershot, gimmicky style by Albert Magnoli, who also co-scripted (111 min., 1984) — K.V. (PW, 9:15)

Wed., February 18

Shadow of a Doubt A major Hitchcock, thoroughly chilling for all its seeming lightness. Charming Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) visits his namesake niece (Theresa Wright) and her all-American family in the sweet, neat town of Santa Rosa. It seems he needs a place to hide a while, after his most recent murder of another rich widow, and his presence casts a shadow worse than doubt in the cool, crisp California sun. The sharp, witty script is by Thornton Wilder, Sally Benson, and Alma Reville (Mrs. Hitch); the casting excellent (not only are Cotten and Wright an interesting pairing, but Hume Cronyn does a delightful bit as a mystery fan); and the climactic scene is delightfully dread-full (108 min., 1943). — N.W. (PFA, 3:00)

Danton Lech Walesa in a powdered wig: Poland's leading director, Andrzej Wajda (Ashes and Diamonds; Kanal) presents a transparent transposition of his country's current events to France's Reign of Terror, where the icy polemicism of a Left-extremist dictatorship is pitted against the warm humanity of the populist, democratic Left. Wajda seems to see popular hero Danton (Gerard Depardieu) as a charmingly blowsy ham actor, orating himself manipulatively (and symbolically) hoarse at his treason trial, while sickly, purist Robespierre (Poland's Wojciech Pszoniak, too-obviously dubbed into French) suffers twinges of conscience over killing the Revolution by trying too repressively to save it. (Terror afflicts the perpetrators as well as the victims, is the meat of the film's many meaty political discussions.) An interesting revision of history, simultaneously intellectually stimulating and emotionally cornball (perhaps because feelings are finally foreign to a film so coolly ideological at heart), with handsome period décor and several incisive supporting performances (136 min., 1983). — N.W. (PFA, 7:00)

Jerusalem: The East Side Story A documentary on the recent history of Jerusalem featuring interviews with Palestinian and Israeli leaders, human rights activists, and political analysts. (Humanist Hall, Oakland, 7:30)


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