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SCREENING ROOM

Tender 'Angel' Manages to Find Love in All the Wrong Places

February 12, 1996|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Philippe Dib's "Welcome Says the Angel," which premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. at the Sunset 5, is far more serious than the usual late-night fare. Indeed, as a love story between two lonely people facing a highly tentative future, it inevitably brings to mind "Leaving Las Vegas." The wonder of this $17,000 feature is that it compares more favorably to the much-praised "Leaving" than you would ever imagine.

Jon Jacobs plays Joshua, a gentle, naive drifter from Liverpool who winds up in L.A., where he gets quietly drunk in a Thai restaurant on the Sunset Strip. There he crosses paths with an attractive blond, Ana (Ayesha Hauer), who expresses concern and takes him home (an old warehouse). The next morning, he wakes up to find himself chained to the shell of a '38 Olds, which serves as her bed. She's out buying heroin with money stolen from him.

It takes a while for Ana, now high on her fix, to admit to the loneliness that caused her to make Joshua a prisoner; by that time a mutual attraction sets in that grows into love. But have they any future together? It is amazing that Dib, in his feature directorial debut (he wrote the script with Jacobs), and his actors make us care as much as we do. There's a vulnerability and honesty to Joshua and Ana, and they are beautifully played by Jacobs and Hauer. Dib's subtle, graceful direction, never makes this essentially two-character drama feel like a filmed play. "Welcome Says the Angel," which will continue indefinitely Fridays and Saturdays at midnight, is a winner about seeming losers. (213) 848-3500.

*

Irish Stew: The Sunset 5's new offering Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m. is not so engaging. Maurice O'Callaghan's "Broken Harvest" is a perfect example of a decent, deeply felt movie that doesn't travel well. It's set in the '50s, in the aftermath of the Irish civil war. Hard feelings from the conflict still fester decades later, especially when two neighbors--one as impoverished as the other is prosperous--have long loved the same woman. The poor man (Colin Lane) got the girl, but now the rich guy's about to grab his land.

O'Callaghan presupposes such total familiarity about the ins and outs of "The Troubles" that it's difficult for the outsider to grasp why feelings between the two men are so bitter. On the plus side, Lane has a lean, virile presence reminiscent of Robert Ryan, and the Irish countryside is, of course, gorgeous. (213) 848-3500.

*

From the Archives: The UCLA Film Archives' "William Wellman: Hollywood Maverick" series begins tonight at 7:30 at the Directors Guild with a new documentary on the esteemed and colorful director created by his son, William Wellman Jr. It continues Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at UCLA's Melnitz Theater with "Wings" (1927), the World War I classic with its fabled aerial dogfights that became the first Oscar winner for best picture.

Wellman, who died in 1975 and whose centenary is Feb. 29, is also remembered for such classics as "The Public Enemy," the first "A Star Is Born," "Nothing Sacred," "The Ox-Bow Incident" and "The High and the Mighty."

But don't overlook Sunday's dynamite 7 p.m. double feature, "Wild Boys of the Road" (1933) and "Heroes for Sale" (1933), a pair of hard-hitting Warner melodramas that tackle the Depression head-on rather than provide escape from it.

"Wild Boys of the Road" is fast, breezy, naive and sentimental, like many other Warner movies of the same vintage, but beyond that it surely must also be one of the most unsparing portraits of the Depression made during its very depths. Frankie Darro, Edwin Phillips and Dorothy Coonan (who was to marry Wellman) play young people riding the rails around the country in search of work.

In "Heroes for Sale," silent star Richard Barthelmess gives his most vital talkie performance as a wounded World War I vet robbed of his rightful glory and hooked on morphine. He straightens himself out and marries Loretta Young, only to have his life undone again by mob violence, the Depression and a resulting Red scare. (He's invented a labor-saving device for a Chicago laundry only to see it throw its employees out of work just as the Depression hits.) With Aline MacMahon, staunch Depression-era icon. (310) 206-FILM.

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