Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Screening Room

Left Unspoken

Each in their own ways, tributes to Boetticher and Swanson demonstrate the power of nonverbal exchanges.

August 24, 2000|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The major event in the UCLA Film and Television Archive's 10th Festival of Preservation is Friday night's Budd Boetticher double feature, beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the James Bridges Theater in Melnitz Hall and composed of the long-out-of-circulation "Seven Men From Now" (1956) and "Bullfighter and the Lady" (1951), both restored. Boetticher will be present, along with director Burt Kennedy, who wrote "Seven Men From Now," and they will be introduced by director Curtis Hanson.

These are classics by one of America's greatest living filmmakers. The terse, laconic "Seven Men From Now" is the first of a fabled series of westerns directed by Boetticher, written by Kennedy and starring Randolph Scott. Scott plays a strong, silent type crossing a desert whose encounter with two men leaves them dead but whose second encounter, with a married couple (Gail Russell, Walter Reed) trying to get to California via covered wagon, finds him lending a helping hand.

We learn about Scott and his mission very gradually, as the film builds tautly and surely to a finish of resounding impact. There's an instant charge between Scott and Russell that is all the more powerful for being suppressed; the film exemplifies the effect of information and emotion held in reserve. Lee Marvin intensifies the story with a leering, insinuating cynicism.

Before he was a director, Boetticher was a bullfighter, and "Bullfighter and the Lady," while not strictly autobiographical, draws from his own sojourn in Mexico, which led to his entry into Hollywood as a technical advisor on Rouben Mamoulian's 1941 remake of "Blood and Sand."

Robert Stack stars as a young American who, while on a Mexican vacation, becomes drawn to bullfighting and persuades a legendary veteran of the bull ring (Gilbert Roland) to coach him. Stack's American becomes caught up in the mystique of bullfighting, so strong a metaphor for Latino culture's potent mix of pride and fatalism.

This spare, detached epic of self-discovery--and a profound expression of love for Mexico--receives a heroic portrayal from Stack, a career high. Produced by John Wayne, as was "Seven Men," the film was trimmed to 87 minutes with an assist by John Ford, no less, but has been restored to its 124-minute original running time, allowing it to emerge as a masterpiece of American cinema alongside the long much-admired Boetticher westerns with Scott.

Screening tonight at 7:30 in the Festival of Preservation is a true discovery: the virtually forgotten 1925 "The Home Maker," directed beautifully by King Baggot from Mary O'Hara's adaptation of a Dorothy Canfield story that strikes a remarkably contemporary note concerning the changing roles of husbands and wives. The usually dashing and commanding Clive Brook plays a milquetoast in a department store's main office whose hard-working wife (Alice Joyce) is invariably praised for running her home so efficiently--but at the expense of neglecting her three children beyond commanding them to obey her, which makes her youngest (Billy Kent Schaefer, a formidable child actor) a miserable youngest infant. Fate intervenes, leaving the husband wheelchair-bound, with his children blossoming under his loving attention. Meanwhile, his wife triumphs as a saleswoman in the very same store's women's clothing department.

There's a surprise, melodramatic to be sure, but very effective in making the point of the need to challenge traditional notions of women's and men's roles. (310) 206-FILM.

*

The Silent Movie's Tribute to Gloria Swanson Wednesday and Thursday begins with a "Hollywood Hist-O-Rama," an early '50s short subject series that in this instance offers a thumbnail sketch of Swanson's career from Mack Sennett comedies to the most glamorous star of the '20s to her dramatic 1950 comeback in Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard."

It will be followed by "The Sultan's Wife," a 1917 Sennett comedy originally called "Caught in a Harem." These two shorts serve as a most effective prologue for the main attraction, Cecil B. DeMille's "Why Change Your Wife?" (1920), the third of the six films Swanson made for DeMille that turned her not only into a '20s superstar but an enduring icon of the silent era. Both the Sennett and the DeMille films are being shown on razor-sharp restored prints, with Rick Friend providing fresh and vital live piano accompaniment.

"The Sultan's Wife" is the last in a series of romantic comedies teaming Swanson with boyish Bobby Vernon and usually also with Keystone Teddy, an amiable Great Dane who was always coming to the rescue of humans, a precursor to Warners' Rin Tin Tin. Swanson is traveling with boyfriend Vernon and his parents when she is kidnapped, intended for a sultan's harem, which turns out to be populated predominantly by Sennett Bathing Beauties in daringly modern one-piece bathing suits. Clarence Badger directed this blithe comedy with a light touch that keeps it timeless, while good sport Swanson radiates star quality.

DeMille today is remembered mainly for his biblical spectacles, but early in his career he made a series of sophisticated romantic comedies that retain their sparkle. With dialogue by his urbane writer-director brother William C. de Mille, a well-established playwright and father of innovative choreographer Agnes de Mille--and who spelled the family name differently--"Why Change Your Wife?" tells of an attractive, wealthy New York couple, Robert and Beth Gordon (Thomas Meighan and Swanson) whose marriage is withering, thanks to Beth's prudery and cultural pretensions, a combination that drives the amorous Robert into the eagerly waiting arms of vampy model Sally Clark (a saucy Bebe Daniels).

This wise and rueful comedy exemplifies beautifully nuanced silent film acting at its most effervescent and expressive. (323) 655-2520.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|