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Surveying the Movies With a Knowledgeable Guide

April 23, 1998|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If you live for the movies, you'll definitely want to take "A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies" (Miramax, $60). The acclaimed director of such contemporary classics as "Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull" and "GoodFellas" is also an unabashed film buff and historian. And his enthusiasm and love for the medium is infectious in this three-volume examination of the films that inspired and influenced him.

"A Personal Journey," a companion piece to the lavishly illustrated book (Miramax Books/Hyperion Press) of the same name Scorsese wrote with Michael Henry Wilson, features clips from such films as John Ford's "Stagecoach" and "The Searchers" and John Cassavetes' "Faces," as well as interviews with various directors and performers.

Over the course of three hours, Scorsese examines such American movie genres as westerns, musicals, films noir and gangster films and discusses the many guises of a director: storyteller, illusionist and iconoclast.

"A Personal Journey" is part of the British Film Institute's "A Century of Cinema" series of personal documentaries made by leading international film directors. The documentary was written and directed by Scorsese and Wilson.

Thankfully, the majority of the films Scorsese spotlights are available on home video. Here's a look at a few of his favorites: Scorsese calls 1952's "The Bad and the Beautiful" (MGM, $20) the best drama about Hollywood's "creative battles." Vincente Minnelli directed this terrific film starring Kirk Douglas in an Oscar-nominated performance as a high-powered ruthless producer, Lana Turner as a beautiful but troubled actress and Gloria Grahame, in her Oscar-winning role, as the ill-fated Southern wife of a screenwriter (Dick Powell). David Raksin composed the lush score.

"Duel in the Sun" (Fox, $15), from 1946, is one of the first films Scorsese remembers seeing in the theaters. Gregory Peck--in a rare turn as a baddie--Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten star in producer David O. Selznick's lavish, big-budget Technicolor western extravaganza. Directed by one of Scorsese's faves, King Vidor.

In Raoul Walsh's 1941 melodrama, "High Sierra" (MGM, $20), Scorsese points out, viewers end up rooting for the gangster, not the police or the good guys. Humphrey Bogart gives one of his best performances as Mad Dog Earle, a bad guy with a heart of gold who falls for a gangster's moll (a fine Ida Lupino) and tries to help a young disabled girl (Joan Leslie). The finale is a classic.

"Leave Her to Heaven" (Fox, $20) was a rarity when it was produced in 1945--a film noir shot in Technicolor. Previously, the majority of Technicolor films were either period pieces or musicals. The vibrant Technicolor gave this dark drama a surreal, unnerving quality. Gene Tierney received an Oscar nomination for her frightening performance as a selfish, insane woman who will go to any lengths to keep her husband (Cornel Wilde) to herself.

Scorsese describes Stanley Kubrick's 1975 period epic "Barry Lyndon" (Warner, $30) as a "grim journey of self-destruction. The rise and fall of an opportunist." Though Kubrick's approach to William Thackery's picaresque tale is considered cool and distant, Scorsese finds it "one of the most emotional films I have ever seen." Ryan O'Neal stars as the Irish rogue. Winner of four Oscars, including one for John Alcott's amazing cinematography.

Abraham Polonsky's riveting 1948 film noir "Force of Evil" (Republic, $15) depicts, according to Scorsese, a "landscape of moral conflicts." John Garfield gives an uncompromising performance as a lawyer for the mob in this taut, tough melodrama.

The later epics of Cecil B. De Mille made a big impression on Scorsese, especially his last film, 1956's "The Ten Commandments" (Paramount, $30 and $35). "De Mille presented such a sumptuous fantasy that if you saw his movies as a child, they stuck with you for life," Scorsese explains. "'The marvelous superseded the sacred." Charlton Heston heads the cast.

To order "Personal Journey" call (800) 986-5775.

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