Critic's Picks: An April To-Do List for Film Buffs in L.A.

On Dangerous Ground Still - Photofest - H 2018

Options for SoCal cinephiles this month include L.A.'s best annual classic film fest, screenings of first-rate noirs and horror flicks and a retrospective devoted to Ida Lupino's work in front of and behind the camera.


There’s no single greater confluence of classic cinema in Los Angeles than the annual TCM Classic Film Festival, this year running from April 26-29 at a variety of venues centered around the TCL Chinese multiplex in Hollywood. Although, like many events of its nature, the festival has transitioned largely to digital presentations (albeit digital restorations), there are still a dozen-plus film prints on offer at this year’s edition. Of those, titles range from Hollywood studio classics (John M. Stahl’s Leave Her to Heaven, Howard Hawks’ To Have and Have Not, Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound, William Wellman’s A Star Is Born) to less recognized works by such noted directors as George Cukor (Girls About Town), Robert Wise (The Set-Up), Gregory La Cava (Stage Door) and King Vidor (Show People). And then there are those obscurities that only TCM could dig up. Two that look particularly enticing: the pre-code women’s picture Finishing School, co-directed by George Nichols Jr. and Wanda Tuchock (one of the few women of the era to receive a directing credit on a studio film), and the romantic dramedy I Take This Woman, starring Carole Lombard and Gary Cooper in two of their first screen roles. Full schedule to be announced in the coming weeks. Please consult the TCM Classic Film Festival website for more information.


In celebration of the recently reissued edition of Stan Brakhage’s seminal work of film theory, Metaphors on Vision, the UCLA Film and Television Archive is hosting two evenings of the avant-garde master’s 16mm films from the era in which the book was originally written. On April 13, Brakhage’s first foray into wholly abstracted fiction, Anticipation of the Night (1958), will screen alongside a trio of personal-poetic triumphs (Sirius Remembered, The Dead and Thigh Line Lyre Triangular) and the groundbreaking experiment in film form, Mothlight, in which a variety of plant and insect life were pressed directly onto the celluloid frame, opening in the process an entirely new dimension for the medium. The following night, April 14, is dedicated to a selection of works from the artist’s mid-1960s “Songs” cycle, in which Brakhage moved from 16mm to 8mm and produced a collection of silent films to rival anything he had done to that point. Highlighting the evening is the two-part feature-length war lament Song 23: 23rd Psalm Branch, a mythopoetic response to the conflict in Vietnam that casually entwines beauty and grotesquerie in the very same frame. Note: These shows are co-presented by Acropolis Cinema (a film series I organize) and Los Angeles Filmforum, which together are hosting an additional night of Brakhage films April 15 at Echo Park Film Center, which will include a recently restored print of one of Brakhage’s final works, Panels for the Walls of Heaven.

NOIR CITY AT THE EGYPTIAN | 6712 Hollywood Blvd.

The American Cinematheque’s annual Noir City festival, this year celebrating its 20th anniversary, returns to the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood this month with an array of dark cinema delights from across the genre’s storied past. Opening on April 13 with a late-1940s, Los Angeles-set double feature of George Marshall’s The Blue Dahlia and S. Sylvan Simon’s I Love Trouble — and continuing the following night with an archival print of the 1997 neo-noir L.A. Confidential — this entirely 35mm series covers an impressive amount of stylistic ground. Other notable double bills include the April 16 pairing of the Golden Age classic Dark City, by William Dieterle, and Richard Fleischer’s B-thriller Armored Car Robbery; two forward-looking genre hybrids April 15, Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly and Irving Lerner’s City of Fear; and an April 18 program that pairs the 1954 curiosities Dragnet, a film version of the beloved television series, with the little seen white-collar crime caper Loophole. Meanwhile, the talents of one of the genre’s most gifted practitioners, Joseph Losey, will be on full display April 21 in a special triple feature that brings together the director’s outstanding trio of 1951 productions —The Prowler, M and The Big Night — a trifecta that effectively ushered noir into the second half of the 20th century.


Latin American and Soviet history collide in the latest from Andy Rector’s Kino Slang series at the Echo Park Film Center, dedicated to exploring the more esoteric expanses of the auteurist canon. Bookended by the 1926 silent social comedy Love’s Berry, by Ukrainian director Aleksandr Dovzhenko, and a 1966 docu-portrait of Cuban athletes traveling by boat to the 10th Central American and Caribbean Games, this April 7 program is centered around a rare 16mm version of Soviet master Sergei Eisenstein’s notoriously unfinished Que Viva Mexico!, a production funded and thwarted by none other than Upton Sinclair. This 1940 version of the film, assembled by Eisenstein biographer Mary Seton and retitled Time in the Sun, was for many year’s the most complete version of this lost masterpiece. Based on an outline by Einsteinstein himself, Seton’s version echoes the structure of the director’s original vision, which was to trace the nation’s history from its Mesoamerican roots all the way to the present day. What remains is one of the greatest what-ifs of early cinema, a tantalizing glimpse of an artist simultaneously out of his element and at the height of his powers.


Though recognized as one of the studio era’s greatest actresses, Ida Lupino applied her talents to many facets of the film industry over her illustrious career. Only recently receiving the attention they deserve, Lupino directed a series of six remarkable independently produced films beginning in 1949. Four of those titles will be showcased this month at the Billy Wilder theater in the series "Hard, Fast, and Beautiful: The Films of Ida Lupino," presented by the UCLA Film and Television Archive. The first of three double bills, the April 6 opening pairs a new 35mm print of Vincent Sherman’s The Hard Way, featuring Lupino as a manipulative sibling who purposefully pushes her sister into personal and professional hardships, with the eponymous Hard, Fast, and Beautiful, a dark tennis drama directed by Lupino with consummate skill and a stylistic brio that quickly became her signature. Two of Lupino’s best films follow April 7 when Outrage and The Bigamist share a bill, while the final program, April 27, pits Lupino’s best known work, The Hitch-Hiker, against one of the only films from the era that can match its furious, intoxicating aura, Nicholas Ray’s On Dangerous Ground, starring Lupino as a blind woman caught between a violent cop (played by Robert Ryan) and her mentally ill brother, the prime suspect of a murder investigation that will seal the fate of all involved.

HORROR CLASSICS AT LACMA | 5905 Wilshire Blvd.

Spring doesn’t exactly scream horror, but this month the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in collaboration with the Overlook Film Festival, will nonetheless dedicate its Tuesday matinees to a quartet of classic genre riffs. A 35mm print of Paul Leni’s expressionist chamber romance The Man Who Laughs kicks things off April 3, followed in successive weeks by Charles Barton’s comedy-horror classic Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (April 10, 35mm), the underrated auteur Andre De Toth’s revenge thriller House of Wax (April 17, DCP) and, finally, Robert Wise’s haunted house psycho-drama The Haunting (April 24, 35mm).