Humphrey Bogart double feature

humphrey bogart


When I first came to Providence in 1978, there was a little repertory theater on Thayer Street called the Avon Cinema. It showed a double feature every evening, and changed shows three times a week: foreign films, classics, cult films. You could buy a discount card which gave you five shows (ten movies!) for ten dollars.

Ah, children, those were the days.

The Avon still stands, and Partner and I still go there once in a while. It’s eight dollars per show now, and no more double features. But it’s the same cute little theater, with a tiny lobby and an old-fashioned stage inside, and still owned by Kenny Dulgarian (who, in the 1970s and 1980s, used to greet people in person).

I was also reminded of this because, the other night, on Turner Classic Movies, I saw “The Maltese Falcon” and “Casablanca” together, one right after the other.

That was one of the classic Avon double features: at least once every month or two, Kenny would show those two movies together. And, for a couple of bucks, wouldn’t you go see them? (Remember, these were the days before VHS or DVD or cable or Netflix or streaming video. If you wanted to see a movie, you had to go see it in a theater.)

Both are beautiful black-and-white masterpieces. Humphrey Bogart is at his best in both (he really did twitch his lips that way). And the supporting casts! Mary Astor as the scheming / seductive Bridget O’Shaughnessy in “Falcon,” and Ingrid Bergman as the luminous Ilse Lund in “Casablanca.” Sydney Greenstreet, evil and somehow sympathetic and funny in both. Peter Lorre, slimy and odd in both. Noah Beery, young and nasty, in “Falcon.” Claude Rains, elegant and funny, in “Casablanca.”

I think that these two movies themselves are an education in film studies. If you learn them – learn them well – you’ll figure out what movies are all about.

They are the stuff that dreams are made of.


Movie review: “Caesar and Cleopatra”

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The other night I watched a British production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Caesar and Cleopatra,” starring Claude Rains and Vivien Leigh. The Romans were, I swear, wearing designer bedsheets, and the armor looked like something you’d buy at iParty. The Egyptians were drab for the most part, surprisingly, although some of them had things looking like kitchen utensils sticking out of their heads. It was Shaw, so I expected the dialogue to be brisk and clever; sadly, apart from an occasional epigram, it was pretty limp.

In a word: costume drama at its most languid.

There were, however, two bits of entertainment, buried away like raisins in a dry scone:

There was Flora Robson, who played Cleopatra’s nurse Ftatateeta. Yes, I spelled that correctly. Caesar / Claude Rains can’t pronounce her name, and calls her “Teeter-Totter” and “Titty-Totty” and such. Flora Robson was a very distinguished-looking actress, but they gave her (to use Wallace Beery’s expression) “a hell of a make-up”: they dyed her skin a rich dark mahogany and gave her a hairstyle like a mangled throw pillow. She is ridiculous and superb.

And there was also Stewart Granger, as Apollodorus the rug merchant. He had a pretty good body, and he gets to flaunt it here. His bedsheet toga is a little more colorful than everyone else’s, and it keeps falling away to show off his big strong arms and chest. He generally enters every scene with one arm held high in the air, like the little man on top of a swimming trophy, shouting “Ha ha!” He is supposed to be a wit, and gets to call Flora Robson a “venerable grotesque,” right to her face.

But the best line in the movie is one of his.

Scene: our protagonists are trapped on top of the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Enemy soldiers are coming up the stairs. The Roman galleys are a quarter mile away. What to do? “Ha ha!” Farley trumpets, leaping to the parapet. “I will reach the ships!”

“How?” says Grumpy Roman Soldier #1. “Do you have wings?”

“Ha ha!” laughs Farley triumphantly, yet again. “I have water wings!”

And he raises his bronzed arms above his head and performs a swan dive into the Mediterranean.

Water wings?

And that’s why I love old movies.


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