Godzilla 1954, Mickey Rooney, military fascists, deadly giant ants, racing car drivers, and The Mishaps of Musty Suffer, a super-rare slapstick comedy series from the 1910s, are a few of the highlights at the Library of Congress’ Packard Campus Theater in May 2014.
Godzilla 1954 and fellow movie monsters
Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla 2014, starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Ken Watanabe, and Bryan Cranston, opens on May 16 in much of the world. On May 8 at the Packard Theater, you’ll get the chance to check out Ishiro Honda’s Godzilla 1954 aka Gojira — in the original, Toho-released, Japanese-language version (i.e., without Raymond Burr). As part of its Godzilla double bill, the Packard Theater will also present Motoyoshi Oda’s Gigantis, the Fire Monster aka Godzilla Raids Again (1955).
Besides Godzilla, the Packard Theater will offer a whole array of movie monsters, from John Barrymore in the title roles in the 1920 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (May 9), making life difficult for both Martha Mansfield and Nita Naldi, to the deadly giant ants in Gordon Douglas’ cool 1954 horror classic Them! (May 3), making life difficult for Los Angeles denizens in our post-Hiroshima world. Them! features Oscar winner Edmund Gwenn (Miracle on 34th Street), James Whitmore, Joan Weldon, and James Arness.
Though a tad overlong, Bong Joon-ho’s The Host (2006, May 2) is an entertaining Monster Movie with a Message: We’re letting our planet go to rot and we’ll be paying dearly for it — even if that means an insatiable human-eating Alien meets Jaws creature terrorizing Seoul. Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, May 17), for its part, is a Fantasy Movie with a Message: Imagination is more powerful than any dictatorial political and/or social system.
In del Toro’s dark — and beautiful — fantasy tale, a young girl (Ivana Baquero) lives in a dream world filled with bizarre creatures no less fantastical and terrifying than those found in Civil War-torn Spain. Had there been any justice, Sergi López’s Fascist monster — scarier than Godzilla, Alien, and all of L.A.’s giant ants put together — would have been that year’s Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner; as it was, López wasn’t even nominated. Adding insult to injury, Pan’s Labyrinth lost the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award to the conventional political drama The Lives of Others.
Mickey Rooney and Oscar winner Spencer Tracy in ‘Boys Town’
Juvenile delinquent Mickey Rooney co-stars with kindly but tough priest Spencer Tracy in Norman Taurog’s 1938 sugary melodrama Boys Town (May 1), a box office hit that earned Tracy his second consecutive (and undeserved) Best Actor Academy Award. (For the record, Tracy’s previously undeserved Best Actor Oscar win was for Victor Fleming’s Captains Courageous, in which Rooney has a supporting role.)
Despite its nauseating good intentions and despair-inducing inspirational story, Boys Town is worth watching as a sociohistorical curiosity: the MGM release is what audiences (and many critics) back in 1938 found both entertaining and uplifting. And really, replace black and white with color film stock, Spencer Tracy with Morgan Freeman, and Mickey Rooney with Zac Efron, while adding four-letter words, a pool of spilled blood, and a hip soundtrack (or what passes for hip in mainstream Hollywood movies), and you’ll realize that Boys Town is really no different than the Triumph of the Human Spirit garbage that American studios continue to crank out to this day — much to the inspirational delight of modern-day moviegoers and critics alike.
Also on the Mickey Rooney program: Mickey’s Musketeers (1930), one of the dozens of Mickey McGuire comedy shorts that launched Rooney’s film career — at the time he was reportedly billed as Mickey McGuire or just "Mickey" — and the television program This is Your Life: Mickey Rooney, which was originally broadcast in 1984. Guests included Red Buttons, Ann Miller, Richard Quine, and Ann Rutherford (Andy Hardy’s sweetheart Polly in the popular MGM series).
Mickey Rooney died at age 93 last April 6.
Rare silent serial ‘The Mishaps of Musty Suffer’
Screening on May 29, The Mishaps of Musty Suffer is described in the Packard Theater’s press release as "a cartoony and surreal series of silent comedy shorts produced from 1915 to 1917. Wildly popular during their release, they have been oddly overlooked and neglected ever since. The films follow the misadventures of put-upon tramp Musty Suffer (Harry Watson Jr.), who lives a slapstick version of the Story of Job in which he bears the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, abetted by an ensemble of zanies as he tries his hand at a variety of jobs, gets subjected to medical treatments, and even marries a lemon from the garden of love."
The Mishaps of Musty Suffer has been preserved by the Library of Congress; four of the comedy shorts will be shown in new HD digital transfers. Film historian Steve Massa will introduce the program, which will feature live musical accompaniment by Ben Model.
Car racing movies featuring James Cagney, Paul Newman
And finally, the Packard Theater will salute the Indianapolis 500, showing Howard Hawks’ The Crowd Roars (1932, May 22) featuring James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak, and Frank McHugh; James Goldstone’s Winning (1969, May 30) with Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Robert Wagner, and Richard Thomas; and Pixar’s Cars (2006, May 31), featuring the voices of Paul Newman (his last film role), Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Bonnie Hunt, Tony Shalhoub, and Cheech Marin.
Screenings are free at the Packard Theater, located at 19053 Mt. Pony Rd. in Culpeper, Virginia. Short subjects will be presented before select programs; titles are subject to change without notice. For more information and for a complete listing of movies screening in May 2014, visit the Packard Theater website.
Godzilla 1954 photo: Toho.