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BORZAGE RETROSPECTIVE CONTINUES

Times Staff Writer

Of the three Frank Borzage films screening Thursday at Melnitz Theater in the UCLA “Film Archives” retrospective of the director’s work, the best known is his 1932 film of Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms,” which memorably starred Gary Cooper as the American ambulance driver in World War I who falls in love with an English nurse (Helen Hayes, in perhaps her best screen performance). This fine work, far more successful than the 1957 remake with Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones, will be shown with Borzage’s ending rather than the one forced on him by Paramount.

The revelations of the program, however, are the rarely seen “Bad Girl” (7:30 p.m., preceding “A Farewell to Arms”) and “Secrets” (at 5:30 p.m.). The first won Borzage an Oscar for direction, the second proved to be Mary Pickford’s final film. Both are prime examples of a director so deftly engaging his audience in his people that, for all their considerable dialogue, neither film ever seems merely talky.

“Bad Girl” (1931)--the title is misleading--is one of the best of the many urban dramas about young couples struggling to make marriage work in the depths of the Depression. James Dunn and Sally Eilers (a terrific duo) are newlyweds, a couple of brash, working-class Manhattanites who pretend to each other that they don’t want the baby that’s on its way because they’re so afraid they can’t afford a child.

“Bad Girl” is a study of a couple thrashing through ignorance and pride that block communication between them, affording a more telling commentary on the state of marriage in that era than was probably intended.

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Pickford was the movies’ first great female star, and her tragedy was that her public didn’t want her to grow up. But “Secrets” shows how willing and able she was in extending her range. In this adaptation of the Rudolph Besier-May Eddington play, Pickford, then 40, gracefully spans some five decades as a well-born New England teen-ager who elopes with a dashing but impoverished Leslie Howard. The heart of the film is at its midway point, as a dignified, middle-aged Pickford faces up to her now-wealthy husband’s philandering. It’s no wonder that this sequence reverberates with authenticity, for Pickford at the time was confronting the disintegration of her marriage to Douglas Fairbanks--and the very-much-married Howard was beginning to gain his reputation as one of Hollywood’s legendary off-screen Lotharios. Phone: (213) 825-2581.

Olivia de Havilland, one of Hollywood’s most cherished star actresses, will be honored with a monthlong, 18-film retrospective at the County Museum of Art. It opens Friday in Bing Theater with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (1935), to screen at 1 p.m. and again at 8, when it will be followed by “Captain Blood” (1935), the first of De Havilland’s many teamings with Errol Flynn.

The actress was a college freshman, appearing in a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” when she was chosen by Max Reinhardt, Germany’s most important man of the theater, to play Hermia both at his Hollywood Bowl production and in his film, which launched her career at Warners.

Co-directed by William Dieterle, the film remains one of Hollywood’s more successful treatments of the Bard. Somehow screenwriters Charles Kenyon and Mary McCall Jr. managed to keep clear one of Shakespeare’s most complicated plots, and the film’s shimmering, gossamer quality is saved from the precious by the earthy antics of James Cagney’s Bottom and Mickey Rooney’s Puck. As for the youthful De Havilland, she is not merely lovely; the sheer volcanic wrath with which her exquisite Hermia reacts to the puzzling rejection of her by Dick Powell’s Lysander remains an amusing glory to behold.

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The intelligent, reflective concern that has characterized so much of her work surfaces strongly in that definitive swashbuckler “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938), Saturday at 8 p.m., followed by “It’s Love I’m After” (1937). Her patrician, serious Lady Marian is the perfect foil for Errol Flynn’s daring, impossibly handsome Robin Hood.

Phone: (213) 857-6201.


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