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Arts & Culture

Classics Return To Ken Cinema

Poster art for the Nicholas Ray directed Western "Johnny Guitar" starring Joan Crawford.
Republic Pictures
Poster art for the Nicholas Ray directed Western "Johnny Guitar" starring Joan Crawford.

Eight films screen over seven days

Classics Return To Ken Cinema
Landmark’s Ken Cinema kicks off another week of cinema classics.

Landmark’s Ken Cinema kicks off another week of cinema classics.

Back in the day, the Ken Cinema used to run a different movie every night. Now film lovers have to wait in eager anticipation for classic film weeks to get that same sense of abundance and choice. Fortunately, a week of film classics kicks off Friday, showcasing eight films. Here's a rundown of what's playing and why you need to see it.

Robert Mitchum stars as a menacing preacher in "The Night of the Hunter."
United Artists
Robert Mitchum stars as a menacing preacher in "The Night of the Hunter."

'The Night of the Hunter' (1955)

Key players: Director Charles Laughton and star Robert Mitchum

Classic factor: Only film directed by actor Charles Laughton; cited as Mitchum’s favorite role; opened to unenthusiastic reviews but now included on lists of classic films by Roger Ebert and American Film Institute.

Why you need to see it: This highly stylized film noir with genuinely haunting imagery features one of Mitchum’s finest and most twisted performances. The image of his preacher with “LOVE” tattooed on one hand and “HATE” on the other has become iconic. Laughton often cited the film’s poor critical reception as the reason he never directed another film but it is a stunningly shot work that creates a disturbing atmosphere dripping with Southern Gothic elements. In addition, it marked the return to the screen of Lillian Gish.

According to IMDB: “Robert Mitchum was very eager for the part of the preacher. When he auditioned, a moment that particularly impressed Charles Laughton was when Laughton described the character as ‘a diabolical shit.’ Mitchum promptly answered, ‘Present!’”


'Stop Making Sense' (1984)

Key players: Director Jonathan Demme and band The Talking Heads

Classic factor: Rare documentary of a live music event that transcends being a mere concert film

Why you need to see it: “Stop Making Sense” came out while MTV, with its plethora of fast cut music videos, was in vogue. The film is noteworthy for being helmed by Jonathan Demme, a respected filmmaker not known for doing documentaries or concert films. He eschewed the flashy fast cutting popular at the time for steady, long takes that captured the power of a live music event. This documentary captures a band at the peak of its abilities and showcases a director in top form. Less is definitely more in this film.

'Top Gun' (1986)

Key players: Director Tony Scott and star Tom Cruise

Classic factor: I’m at a loss

Why you need to see it: Hot guys playing volleyball and pretending it’s not homoerotic. OK, I guess “Top Gun” is a classic of sorts, but more like a pop entertainment classic. It feels completely out of place next to works by the likes of Kurosawa and Chaplin. It probably snuck in because of the San Diego connection and because of the buzz created by Cruise’s announcement of interest in a sequel. I’m sure if you grew up in the 1980s the soundtrack might be an attraction, too.

Charlie Chaplin launched a comic assault against Hitler in his 1940 film "The Great Dictator."
United Artists
Charlie Chaplin launched a comic assault against Hitler in his 1940 film "The Great Dictator."

'The Great Dictator' (1940)

Key players: Actor/director Charlie Chaplin and actress Paulette Goddard

Classic factor: Chaplin’s first feature length talkie showcases him at the peak of his craft and fearless in tackling a satire on Hitler

Why you need to see it: “The Great Dictator” proves to have a strange new resonance today with its commentary on a tyrannical leader. Chaplin’s feature ranks as the best, most potent, and sublime attack on a real political figure. Chaplin plays Hitler alter ego Adenoid Hynkel, a megalomaniacal dictator as well as a Jewish barber trying desperately to avoid persecution from Hynkel’s repressive regime. Although Hitler and Germany are not mentioned by name, there is absolutely no ambiguity that Chaplin was being highly critical of the Fuhrer. There’s a brilliant, wordless sequence in which the Hitler-esque Hynkel tosses a balloon-globe around until it pops in his face. But a final speech, delivered with the utmost sincerity and passion by Chaplin, delivers a message of hope that proves most memorable, provocative, and deeply moving. The sad irony, though, was that just over a decade later, Chaplin would fall victim to the McCarthy witch hunts and his “left wing” politics would prompt the U.S. to banish the Little Tramp from its shores.


Key players: Director Akira Kurosawa and star Toshiro Mifune

Classic factor: It brought Japanese cinema and Kurosawa to the international stage, it’s a great adaptation of a book, and it’s an early example of the collaboration between the director and his star.

Why you need to see it: Kurosawa’s mastery of film and cinematic storytelling is on brilliant display in this story about a horrific crime recalled from different perspectives. This is a film that needs to be seen on the big screen to appreciate Kurosawa’s use of mise-en-scène, natural light and editing. Mifune’s performance is also riveting and established him as an international star.

'The African Queen' (1951)

Key players: Director John Huston and stars Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn

Classic factor: Huston, Bogie and Hepburn, 'nuff said.

Why you need to see it: “The African Queen” dates a bit but the chemistry of Bogart and Hepburn is still fun to watch. Bogart won a Best Actor Oscar as riverboat captain Charlie Allnutt coerced by Rose Sayer’s strait-laced missionary to use his boat to attack an enemy warship. The film has old school Hollywood craftsmanship that still proves engaging.

'Murder on the Orient Express' (1974)

Key players: Agatha Christie

Classic factor: All-star cast (Ingrid Bergman won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar) and classy, elegant production

Why you need to see it: Fun but maybe not a true classic, “Murder on the Orient Express” is a well-crafted whodunit with a stellar cast. Albert Finney is Inspector Hercule Poirot who must solve a murder onboard the Orient Express. The passengers include Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Jacqueline Bisset, Anthony Perkins, John Gielgud, Michael York and Vanessa Redgrave. It looks ravishing and recalls old school studio filmmaking. Sidney Lumet, best known for such New York dramas as “12 Angry Men” and “Dog Day Afternoon,” was the odd choice to helm this Agatha Christie adaptation.

You also want to see this before the remake directed by Kenneth Branagh comes out in November. It tries to rival the star power of the original with its cast of Branagh (as Inspector Poirot), Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe and Judi Dench.

'Johnny Guitar' (1954)

Key players: Director Nicholas Ray and stars Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge

Classic factor: A color (not Technicolor but Trucolor) Western with Joan Crawford as a gun-toting, pants-wearing saloon owner who squares off against Mercedes McCambridge’s cattle baron

Why you need to see it: This is the most deliciously twisted Western you’ll ever see. It combines elements of film noir, romance, gender bending, psychosexual melodrama and an anti-McCarthy attack on mob mentality. Crawford and McCambridge, who reportedly had a toxic relationship on the set, make their hate for each other palatable on screen and laced with lesbian undertones. The women and their rivalry take center stage, which is rare for the male dominated western genre. The colors are as ripe as the melodrama and you simply can’t take your eyes off the screen. Ray, who directed such iconic films as “Rebel Without A Cause” and “In A Lonely Place,” supposedly was not happy on the set but his unique mark is still on the film. He endows it with a highly stylized visual look and disturbing undercurrents.