Charles Crichton, the septuagenarian British director who made his biggest mark with The Lavender Hill Mob in 1951, teams up with actor, cowriter, and executive producer John Cleese to make a madcap caper comedy about another large-scale robbery that is every bit as funny as its predecessor. Like many of the best English comedies, much of the humor here is based on character, good-natured high spirits, and fairly uninhibited vulgarity (a speech impediment and dead dogs supply the basis for some of the gags). The superlative cast includes Americans Kevin Kline and Jamie Lee Curtis, the latter at her sexiest, as well as Michael Palin and Cleese; and Crichton keeps the laughs coming with infectious energy. (Commons, Water Tower, Harlem-Cermak, Yorktown, Hillside Square, Webster Place, Norridge, Old Orchard, Deerbrook)
Sergei Eisenstein’s controversial, unfinished trilogy, with a Prokofiev score and a histrionic, campy (albeit compositionally very controlled) performance in the title role by Nikolai Cherkassov (1945). The ceremonial high style of the proceedings has been interpreted by critics as everything from the ultimate denial of a cinema based on montage (under Stalinist pressure) to the greatest Flash Gordon serial ever made. Thematically fascinating both as submerged autobiography and as a daring portrait of Stalin’s paranoia, quite apart from its interest as the historical pageant it professes to be, this is one of the most distinctive great films in the history of cinema–freakishly mannerist, yet so vivid in its obsessions and expressionist angularity that it virtually invents its own genre. 184 min. In Russian with subtitles.
Possibly the most radical of the “black exploitation” films of the 70s, this movie was an overnight success when it was released in 1973, and then was abruptly taken out of distribution for reasons that are still not entirely clear. A mild-mannered social worker (Lawrence Cook) is recruited by the CIA as a token black, and then proceeds to learn (and later apply) the techniques of urban guerrilla warfare in Chicago (although most of the filming was done in Gary, Indiana). Corrosively ironic and often exciting, this adaptation by Sam Greenlee of his own novel, directed by Ivan Dixon, remains one of the great missing (or at least unwritten) chapters in black political filmmaking. Chicagoan Greenlee will be present at this rare screening to discuss the making of the film, its subsequent repression, and its effect on his career. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, July 22, 8:15, 443-3737)