Though not directed by an auteurist-approved figure (Mark Robson has never attracted any cult to my knowledge), this is arguably the greatest of producer Val Lewton’s justly celebrated low-budget chillers (rivaled only by his 1942 Cat People)–a beautifully wrought story about the discovery of devil worshipers in Greenwich Village that fully lives up to the morbid John Donne quote that frames the action. Intricately plotted over its 71 minutes by screenwriters Charles O’Neal and De Witt Bodeen, this 1943 tale of a young woman searching for her troubled sister exudes a distilled poetry of doom that extends to all the characters as well as to the noirish bohemian atmosphere. (As a fascinating intertextual detail, the horny psychiatrist clawed to death by an offscreen feline in Cat People–played by Tom Conway, George Sanders’s brother–is resurrected here.) Not to be missed; with Kim Hunter, Evelyn Brent, and Hugh Beaumont. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, September 15, 6:00, 443-3737.
Albert Finney and director Peter Yates, who worked together on The Dresser, team again in this adaptation by Shane Connaughton (My Left Foot) of his own novel, an intelligently nuanced coming-of-age story about an 18-year-old Irish lad (newcomer Matt Keeslar) adjusting to the death of his mother, learning to communicate with his demanding father (Finney), falling in with a disreputable local worker (Anthony Brophy), and impregnating a young woman (Victoria Smurfit) on the other side of the northern Irish border. What keeps this watchable are the performancesFinney and Brophy are especially goodbut the story is a routine one we’ve all seen before. (JR)
Some reviewers euphemistically described this as America’s answer to The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desertwhich only makes sense if you consider that better-than-average Australian movie a question. This horrifically ugly and witless middle-American comedy (1995), seemingly designed for small-town homophobes who want to feel tolerant, is basically just an excuse to show Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, and John Leguizamo in dressesnever mind giving them a plausible reason for wearing themand send them on a cross-country journey to teach stupid straights in Nebraska how to be outrageous and improve their love lives. Douglas Carter Beane is credited with the script and Beeban Kidron with the direction, though whether this is either written or directed is a matter of debate; sadly, the able secondary castStockard Channing, Blythe Danner, Arliss Howard, Jason London, and Chris Pennis disabled, like the leads, by the extenuating circumstances. 108 min. (JR)
Carl Franklin (One False Move) directs his own adaptation of a Walter Mosley mystery novel set in Los Angeles in 1948. What’s most memorable about it is the period flavor, including a detailed and precise account of the jim crow complications blacks had to contend with. Denzel Washington is hired to track down a white woman (Jennifer Beals) who hangs out with blacks and finds himself pulled into a complicated intrigue; with Tom Sizemore and Don Cheadle (1995, 102 min.). (JR)