Kenneth Branagh’s second attempt (after Henry V) to popularize Shakespeare for the screen yields his best movie to date–not especially interesting as art perhaps, but a smashing piece of entertainment. The comedy has been cut and deprived of its urban setting so that the whole thing could be shot in and around a 14th-century Tuscan villa, but the trade-off seems worth it, and most of the cast shines: I especially enjoyed Michael Keaton’s outrageous mugging as Constable Dogberry. Denzel Washington is sufficiently elegant as Don Pedro to enable one to forget his American accent most of the time. If Branagh himself as Benedick is the price we have to pay to get the resourceful Emma Thompson (his wife and regular costar) as Beatrice, they’re both more at home here than Keanu Reeves as Don John. Their separate soliloquies are effectively staged like recitatives in a musical, and their sparring dialogues are somewhat evocative of Kiss Me Kate. If you appreciate the effort to make Shakespeare comprehensible, the high spirits, sensual trappings, and juicy language of this buoyant, handsome production are pretty contagious. Fine Arts.
Contrary to what’s suggested in the Film Center’s Gazette, the version of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1929 masterpiece being shown is not his first sound picture, but the film that immediately preceded it, his last silent. (Both versions follow the plight of a murderer caught between her blackmailer and her boyfriend, an investigating detective.) For all the experimental interest of the sound version (the first full-length talkie released in England), this recently uncovered silent version, which hasn’t been seen anywhere in more than 60 years, is the more fluid and accomplished of the two. Apart from two suspenseful set pieces–an attempted date rape in an artist’s studio that ends with the murder of the artist-rapist, and a chase through the British Museum, Hitchcock’s first giddy desecration of a national monument–what most impresses here is the masterful movement back and forth between subjective and objective modes of story telling, as well as the pungent uses of diverse London settings. As someone who’s always preferred Lang’s treatment of serial killers to Hitchcock’s, I would opt for this thriller over the much better known The Lodger as Hitchcock’s best silent picture, rivaled only by his less characteristic but formally inventive The Ring. A new 35-millimeter print will be shown; David Drazin will provide piano accompaniment. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, May 21, 6:00, 443-3737.
A likable minor-key effort about a Czech baron (Armin Mueller-Stahl) who collects porcelain figures, adapted by Hugh Whitemore from a novel by Bruce Chatwin and directed by George Sluizer (the Dutch filmmaker best known for The Vanishing and its U.S. remake). This British-German production, with effective secondary performances by Paul Scofield, Brenda Fricker, and Local Hero’s Peter Riegert, is partially a wry satiric look at Eastern Euopean communism and partially an exercise in fragmented story telling. It shows a fair amount of wit and restraint in both departments and qualifies as civilized entertainment, if not much more. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, May 14 through 20.
A peculiar and neglected early Hitchcock stage adaptation (1932), notable because it was intended partly as an absurdist send-up and none of the contemporary reviewers got the point. (The opening sequence suggests a kind of delirium of continuity that the picture periodically returns to.) Most of the film is set in an abandoned house, where enjoyably murky intrigues abound, and the last ten minutes feature a chase sequence with miniatures that is almost as much fun. A new 35-millimeter print will be shown. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, May 14, 7:45, 443-3737.