Genre: WWII Thriller
Director: John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate)
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Paul Scoffield, Jeanne Moreau, Michel Simon, Albert RémyIn Brief: A solid and old-fashioned war thriller (it was old-fashioned when it was new), The Train (1964), is perhaps a movie the not-dissimilar The Monuments Men ought to have been a little more like. Here, it's all about an art-obsessed — and generally obsessive — Nazi colonel (Paul Scoffield) doing his best to get a trainload of art masterpieces out of France before the Allies arrive. The French resistance (headed by a not entirely willing Burt Lancaster) have other plans. Entertaining and fairly intense.
Director: Ben Stoloff / Wallace Fox
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Wallace Ford, Sally Blane / Bela Lugosi, Luana Walters, Tristram CoffinIn Brief: A double dose of Bela Lugosi in two films that can only be called "personality vehicles" for the actor — Night of Terror (1933) and The Corpse Vanishes (1942). Night of Terror is the better made of the two, and is, in fact, the first true Lugosi vehicle. It trades on his name and features him doing all manner of things for no good reason other than the fact that he is Bela Lugosi. More threadbare, but just as much in the same mode, is The Corpse Vanishes. This is the fourth of Lugosi's infamous "Monogram Nine" films — and is easily the nastiest of the lot.
Director: David Lean
Starring: Charles Laughton, John Mills, Brenda de Banzie, Daphne Anderson, Prunella ScalesIn Brief: Just before David Lean set out on the path of the epic blockbuster, he gave us one final small black-and-white film, Hobson's Choice (1954), and it serves as a reminder of how great a filmmaker Lean was without the benefit of widescreen Technicolor spectacles. From its opening shot to its final fade-out, there's not an ill-chosen moment in this unassuming comedy about a tyrannical — and alcoholic — boot shop owner (Charles Laughton), his willful oldest daughter (Brenda de Banzie) and the timid bootmaker (John Mills) she marries. Charming, funny and just beautifully crafted.
Director: John Patrick Shanley (Joe Versus the Volcano)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola DavisIn Brief: The second film of the monthlong tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt (2008) finds the actor far removed from the supporting role of Almost Famous (2000) and co-starring with Meryl Streep. The film is an adaptation of John Patrick Shanley's play and was made by Shanley. Hoffman plays a priest at a Catholic school, where the school principal, Sister Aloysius (Streep), becomes convinced that he had improper relations with one of the boy students. This may sound pretty pat, but it isn't. In fact, it is startlingly layered and makes for gripping drama — thanks in no small part to Hoffman's ability to make us never quite certain what to believe.
Director: Arthur Lubin (Black Friday)
Starring: Nelson Eddy, Susana Foster, Claude Rains, Edgar Barrier, Leo Carillo, Fritz LeiberIn Brief: Universal's big, splashy Technicolor 1943 remake (made on the same set) of its 1925 hit Phantom of the Opera is often dimissed as "too much opera" and "too little Phantom." There's some truth in that, but it's still a good — and certainly good-looking — thriller with its fair share of jolts. In its own way, this film added to the basics of the narrative by providing the Phantom with a backstory, which has found its way into many subsequent tellings of the tale.
Genre: Comedy-Drama with Music
Director: Cameron Crowe
Starring: Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, Patrick Fugit, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Lee, Zooey DeschanelIn Brief: The Asheville Film Society launches its monthlong tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman with Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous (2000), a movie in which Hoffman had a supporting role as the cynical rock critic, Lester Bangs. It wasn't a big part — he has a handful of scenes throughout the film — but it was a distinctive role that everybody seems to remember, perhaps more than the film itself. The film is Crowe's semiautobiography — and it presents a clearly heartfelt summation of his feelings on rock music. It may not be quite as good as it seemed in 2000, but it's still good, and it's a key film for Hoffman.
Director: Federico Fellini
Starring: Giulietta Masina, François Périer, Franca Marzi, Dorian Gray, Aldo SilvaniIn Brief: The last of Fellini's true neorealist works, Nights of Cabiria (1957) is also one of his most emotional and emotionally devastating. At the same time, the film is strangely life-affirming, thanks to its indomitable main character, Cabiria. Cabiria (played by Fellini's wife, Giulietta Masina) is a low-end prostitue who is one part waif and one part Chaplin's Tramp character. It won Fellini the Best Foreign Language Oscar and was a defining moment for Masina, but for some reason, it's one of the director's least-revived works.
Genre: Red Scare Thriller
Director: Russell Rouse (The Oscar)
Starring: Ray Milland, Martin Gabel, Harry Bronson, Rita Vale, Rex O'Malley, Rita GamIn Brief: The Thief (1952) is your basic McCarthy-era, Red Scare stuff, with traitor-scientist (Ray Milland) selling our atomic secrets to the enemy. There is, however, a gimmick: It has no dialogue. No, it's not a silent movie, but nobody ever says anything. Yes, that's as forced, fake and finally tedious as it sounds, but it does make the film unique, and it keeps it from anti-commie speechifying. More a curio than anything, but blessed with a lot of unintended amusement involving spies who would only draw attention to themselves with their shifty antics.
Director: Federico Fellini
Starring: Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimee, Yvonne FurneauxIn Brief: World Cinema is bringing back Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1960) to give viewers a chance to compare it to its modern counterpart, The Great Beauty (currently playing at the Fine Arts). The Fellini film — which gave the world the term, "paparazzi" — marks the director's shift (but not complete break) from his neorealist roots with its fanciful, almost narrative-free social critique of the modern world and its shallow pleasures. An essential.
Director: John G. Adolfi
Starring: George Arliss, Bette Davis, Theodore Newton, Hardie AlbrightIn Brief: George Arliss stars with Bette Davis in this extremely pleasant comedy about a shoe manufacturer who secretly takes on his late competitor's children and ends up working against his own company. It's purely an enjoyable comedy star vehicle for Arliss and his "discovery" Bette Davis, but it's still fine entertainment in its own right. It is probably the most accessible of all Arliss' films for novices to this unfairly forgotten star.
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