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Giant Black Ants + Godzilla + Fascists: Eclectic Movie Classics

Godzilla 1954 Momoko Kôchi Takashi ShimuraGodzilla 1954 a.k.a. Gojira, with Takashi Shimura and Momoko Kôchi. Somewhat surprisingly, Ishirô Honda’s monster movie tackles the sociocultural upheavals in post-World War II Japan, as the young daughter (Kôchi) of a respected scientist (Shimura) chooses to rebel against convention by refusing to marry the eyepatch-wearing scientist (Akihiko Hirata) the young woman’s father had chosen for her – after all, she is in love with a handsome oceanographer (Akira Takarada). Takashi Shimura (Rashomon, Seven Samurai) is noted for having appeared in more Akira Kurosawa films than any other actor, including Toshiro Mifune.

Godzilla & giant black ants + Fascists & Mickey Rooney: Eclectic Packard movies

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

Godzilla 1954, Mickey Rooney, military fascists, deadly giant black 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.

Gareth Edward’s 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 a.k.a. 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 a.k.a. Godzilla Raids Again (1955).

Like Harry Potter, James Bond, and Andy Hardy, the destructive reptilian creature featured in Ishirô Honda’s Godzilla 1954 (a.k.a. Gojira) has been at the center of numerous big-screen sequels, not to mention a not inconsiderable number of remakes, reboots, and re-edits. Why would that be? One good reason is that Godzilla has become the cinematic symbol of our potentially apocalyptic atomic age.

In Ishirô Honda’s Gojira, oceanographer Akira Takarada is Momoko Kôchi’s love interest, while Akihiko Hirata is the scientist her father, Takashi Shimura, has chosen to become her husband. Rivalries and jealousies aside, they must all work together to defeat the gigantic reptilian creature wreaking havoc in the Tokyo area. Hirata’s Oxygen Destroyer may just turn out to be the solution to both the monster menace and the romantic triangle.

Although “more terrifying than any [tale] ever shown on screen,” Godzilla features sequences reminiscent of those previously seen in King Kong – and even of the trainwreck featured in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth.

For the 1956 U.S. version, Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, veteran Warner Bros. editor Terry Morse (Why Be Good?Old Acquaintance), also a B movie director (WaterfrontFog Island), handled additional scenes featuring American actor Raymond Burr, which were then weaved into the Japanese original. Besides, removed from Godzilla 1954 were a number of sequences featuring the Japanese main characters; as a result, Burr ended up as the American version’s de facto lead.

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 & 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 HawksThe 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.

D.W. Griffith movies at the American Cinematheque

A series of D.W. Griffith movies made at Biograph at the dawn of both the 20th century and the art of moviemaking will be screened at the American Cinematheque next weekend. “Retroformat Presents: D.W. Griffith at Biograph, Part 3 – 1909–1910” will take place on Saturday, April 26, at 7:30 p.m. in the Steven Spielberg auditorium of The Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. The evening will be hosted by Tom Barnes; musical accompaniment will be provided by Cliff Retallick.

Among the D.W. Griffith films to be presented by Retroformat are the following:

  • Lines of White on a Sullen Sea
  • The Gibson Goddess
  • The Mountaineer’s Honor
  • Through the Breakers
  • A Corner in Wheat
  • Her Terrible Ordeal
  • The Last Deal
  • Faithful

D.W. Griffith & his stars

As found in Retroformat’s press release, those early D.W. Griffith efforts feature “innovative cinematography” by frequent Griffith collaborator G.W. Bitzer, in addition to “breakthrough performances” by a group of notable actors at the very beginning of their film careers. Griffith, in fact, probably launched more movie-star careers than any other individual in the last century.

Part 3 of “D.W. Griffith at Biograph” features the likes of future Hollywood superstar and Oscar winner Mary Pickford (Coquette); future Oscar winner Donald Crisp (How Green Was My Valley); and future Hollywood stars James Kirkwood (whose movies included Under Two Flags, opposite Universal star Priscilla Dean, and Circe, the Enchantress, opposite then MGM star Mae Murray), Owen Moore (Pickford’s husband from 1911–1920, and a leading man in movies such as The Road to Mandalay, opposite Lon Chaney, and The Taxi Dancer, with Joan Crawford), and Blanche Sweet (who had the title role in Anna Christie in 1923 and Tess of the D’Urbervilles in 1924 – later remade by Roman Polanski as Tess, with Nastassja Kinski).

Also: future movie comedy producer-director Mack Sennett (Tillie’s Punctured Romance, with Charles Chaplin and Mabel Normand); future screenwriter and Cecil B. DeMille collaborator Jeanie Macpherson (The Ten Commandments in 1923, The King of Kings in 1927); plus long-forgotten names such as Arthur Johnson (a handsome leading man of the early 1910s), Robert Harron (Intolerance), Henry B. Walthall (The Birth of a Nation), Linda Arvidson (D.W. Griffith’s wife from 1906–1936, though the couple separated in the early 1910s), Kate Bruce, Frank Powell, Marion Leonard, Billy Quirk, Dorothy West, and Charles West.

For more information on “Retroformat Presents: D.W. Griffith at Biograph, Part 3 – 1909 – 1910,” visit the American Cinematheque website.

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