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THE ORANGE SCREEN

Favorable Conditions

Newport Beach series ends with Hurricane Huston's stormy 'Key Largo.'

March 19, 1998|JAN HERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

All the films in LACMA's ongoing "Looking at Julie Christie" series are familiar except John Schlesinger's superb 1983 British TV movie version of Terence Rattigan's "Separate Tables." The film screens Friday after the 7:30 p.m. presentation of Schlesinger's "Darling," the memorable 1965 film that won Christie an Oscar as a fashion model caught up in the giddy Mod life of the '60s.

Schlesinger's film version of "Separate Tables" is more faithful to Rattigan than the notable 1958 Delbert Mann version, in that it unfolds as two playlets in which Christie and co-star Alan Bates (first teamed in Schlesinger's "Far from the Madding Crowd") play different roles.

In the first, Christie is a still-glamorous but now desperate and lonely former fashion model who by chance crosses paths with her ex-husband (Bates), whose love for her derailed his promising career in politics. In trying to get his life together, he has entered a stabilizing affair with the hotel's astringent, clear-eyed manager (Claire Bloom), who has fallen deeply in love with him.

In the second part, Christie plays the timid, dowdy daughter of a dominating, possessive grande dame (the esteemed late Irene Worth) who is faced with the decision of whether to stand up to her after her favorite hotel guest, a phony but kindly military type (Bates), has been arrested for having made mild unwelcome advances to women in a local movie theater. (Rattigan's compassion for the Bates character may not be politically correct, but it seems admirably sensible and humane.)

Under Schlesinger's flawlessly judicious direction, "Separate Tables" reminds us of the pleasures of the traditional well-made play that allows for performances as brilliant as those of Christie, Bates, Bloom and Worth and their supporting cast. (213) 857-6010.

*

The American Cinematheque's "Recent Spanish Cinema" series continues at Raleigh Studios' Chaplin Theater Friday at 7:15 p.m. with a repeat screening of the sly and delightful Lope de Vega comedy of romance and manners, "Dog in the Manger." At 9:30 p.m. "Rio Abajo" (1984) screens as part of its ongoing tribute to director Jose Luis Borau.

Unfortunately, "Rio Abajo," also known as "On the Line," is a casebook illustration of the perils of international filmmaking. Set against the rich background of adjacent border towns Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, "Rio Abajo" offers a trite, under-characterized love triangle.

The plight of illegal immigrants, driven to risk their lives with the hope of earning more money in the U.S., takes a back seat to the working out of the fates of three none-too-interesting individuals. Screening Saturday at 8:30 p.m., after a 6:30 program, "Recent Spanish Shorts" is an even less inviting Borau venture with an international cast, "La Sabina" (1979).

Jon Finch, best remembered as the star of Alfred Hitchcock's "Frenzy" and Roman Polanski's "Macbeth" in the early '70s, stars as an English writer investigating the mysterious disappearance of another English writer more than a century earlier in a remote Andalusian village.

Finch works up a decent, even sympathetic characterization, but everyone else is lousy in even lousier parts, and nothing about this increasingly unwatchable movie is inviting, interesting or credible except the scenery.

Borau is in better form with his 1987 "Tata Mia" ("Nanny Dear"), screening after "La Sabina." We're so used to seeing films dealing with the Franco years tragically, or as the subject of dark satire, that this much lighter treatment comes as something of a surprise. It marks a sentimental gathering of three beloved stars of three eras: Imperio Argentina, singing star of the '40s; comedian Alfredo Landa, who came to prominence in the '60s; and the great Pedro Almodovar discovery, Carmen Maura.

"Tata Mia," which recalls the spirit of '30s comedies about the vicissitudes of the rich, is slight, even improbable in its finish, but its cast is beguiling. (213) 466-FILM.

Also contributing to this report was Times staff writer Kevin Thomas.

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