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'Remember' Whale's Comedy

Screening Room

The director's 1930s escapist takeoff on "The Thin Man" will play at UCLA.

January 28, 1999|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UCLA's entertaining retrospective "Beyond Frankenstein: James Whale in Hollywood" continues Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Melnitz Hall's James Bridges Theater with one of the director's favorites, the giddy comedy-mystery "Remember Last Night?" (1935). Designed to cash in on MGM's success with "The Thin Man" and to keep Whale busy until Irene Dunne was free to start "Show Boat," "Remember Last Night?" teams the up-and-coming stars Robert Young and Constance Cummings as a rich, glamorous Long Island couple who do a Nick-and-Nora when corpses start popping up in the wake of an elaborate house party that all involved have a hard time remembering, thanks to formidable hangovers.

The film is typical '30s escapist fare, featuring high jinks among the stylish rich miraculously unaffected by the Great Depression. "Remember Last Night?" opens with plenty of panache, in a sumptuous Streamline Moderne Regency style mansion, the kind favored by Hollywood on-screen and off. Art director Charles D. Hall's piece de resistance is a whimsical Roman galley bar, where Hollywood's definitive butler, Arthur Treacher, mixes sidecars. No, the butler didn't do it--and you're wisely not asked to care very much who did. But the getting to the truth of the matter is still pretty good fun if you're in the mood for a chic, brittle period piece. "Remember Last Night?" is an amusing trifle, tossed off with considerable wit and skill by Whale. (By coincidence, the butler, Paul Lukas, does everything in the second feature, "By Candlelight.")

Sunday brings two of Whale's most important films, "The Kiss Before the Mirror" (1933) at 7 p.m. with "One More River" (1934) to follow. The first is surely one of the most unusual films to come out of Hollywood in 1933. Frank Morgan stars as a Viennese attorney who is defending his best friend (Lukas) for killing his much younger wife (Gloria Stuart), caught in the arms of her lover (a decidedly pre-Mr. Miniver Walter Pidgeon). Morgan then starts suspecting that his own young wife (Nancy Carroll) is cheating on him. The film is highly theatrical but Whale brings to it the same elegance and unsettling emotional intensity as his famous horror pictures, "Frankenstein" in particular.

"One More River," derived from the last novel in John Galsworthy's "Forsyte Saga," sensitively depicts the plight of a forthright, independent-thinking well-born woman (Diana Wynyard) victimized by the lingering mores of the Age of Victoria when she flees her brutal husband (Colin Clive) and accepts the solace--but no more than that--of a nice young man (Frank Lawton) who adores her. Wynyard has a timeless cool elegance and directness, and the very handsome, large-scale "One More River" (called "the most British movie ever made in Hollywood" by film historian William K. Everson) seems strongly feminist today. (310) 206-FILM.

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Jan Ralske's amusingly bleak and spiky comedy "Not a Love Song" concludes the impressive "East Germany Today" series tonight at 7 at the Goethe Institute (5750 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 100). Ralske, who was born in Texas, takes a wry look at a dying rural village near the Polish border. The key figure is Bruno, a scruffy James Dean-ish dreamer. He's is pressed into helping the attractive Luise convert the local train station into a pub, a project underwritten by Karl, a Babbitt-like booster who takes seminars in advertising and public relations and convinces himself that prosperity is just around the corner with the construction of a spa. One misadventure after another builds to a conclusion of unexpected poignancy. (323) 525-3388.

Scott D. Goldstein's "Levitation" (Grande 4-Plex, 345 S. Figueroa St., downtown L.A., through Thursday) is awesomely venturesome, as admirable for attempting so much as it is ultimately uneven. Goldstein and his star, Sarah Paulson (in her screen debut), probe the troubled psyche of a beautiful young woman who intuits that she is adopted and becomes determined to find her birth mother. This involves a larger question of identity, the longing for love and the need for self-acceptance that unfolds within the young woman's visions and her communion with nature. If there are moments that are as arty as all get out, there are others that are achingly real; both Goldstein and Paulson are strongest in the sequences that are straightforward narrative. There are supporting performances of exceptional resonance from Ernie Hudson as kindly DJ with problems of his own; from Ann Magnuson in a striking dual role; and from Antonio Fargas as Hudson's no-nonsense friend. (213) 617-0268.

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A highlight of the Midnight Special Bookstore's "Documental" series this Saturday at 7 p.m. is Kent Hayward's deeply affecting 49-minute "Homestead Artifact." It chronicles his attempt, with his grandmother, to connect with his recently deceased grandfather's experience as the child of New Mexico homesteaders.

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