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LACMA Adds ‘Star Is Born,’ ‘Sweethearts’ to Series

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Cinema Classics from the Algonquin Roundtable this week adds to its Wednesday 1 p.m. screenings a Tuesday 8 p.m. series, which commences with a Dorothy Parker-Alan Campbell double feature, “A Star Is Born” (1937) and “Sweethearts” (1938). Although not as stunning or subtle as the 1954 George Cukor musical remake, the 1937 William Wellman-directed Technicolor version of “Star” is still potent, myth-making entertainment. Janet Gaynor is a sweet Esther Blodgett turned star Vicki Lester, and Fredric March is timelessly splendid as the doomed Norman Maine. By way of contrast, the second film stars Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy as married but bickering stage stars of the Victor Herbert operetta. (213) 857-6010.

The Nuart’s new Friday midnight show keys into the renewed interest in ‘50s pinup queen Betty Page, who appears in Irving Klaw’s “The Best of ‘Teaserama’ and ‘Varietease,’ ” but what makes these otherwise unintentionally hilarious revues of interest are the records of two legendary strippers, the stylish, long-legged Lili St. Cyr and the voluptuous Tempest Storm, who remind us of what was lost in the way of style and class when topless go-go dancing buried burlesque. So potent in stills, Page is awkward before a movie camera, a figure of perky innocence who performs a clumsy Dance of the Seven Veils. “Teaserama” features mainly other lesser-known strippers, but “Varietease” offers a string of laughably awful nightclub acts. (310) 478-6379.

As an elegant, witty titan of the French stage and screen it was only natural that Sacha Guitry (1885-1957) cast himself as the elderly Louis XIV in his glorious historical pageant “Royal Affairs in Versailles” (1954), in which 300 years of life in the world’s greatest palace unroll with gallantry and panache.

As much a member of the theater’s royalty as the Barrymores, Guitry surely had no trouble identifying with the Sun King, yet for all the compassion and respect with which Guitry presents and portrays Louis, he is clear-eyed about his foolish warmongering.

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Indeed, at no time does Guitry, steeped as he may be in unraveling famous palace intrigues, forget about the hard-pressed ordinary Frenchmen, so increasingly neglected and exploited by successive and lesser Bourbons over the centuries. In the absorbing course of this two-part, 165-minute intimate epic, the specter of the French Revolution takes on a sense of increasing inevitability.

If you were lucky enough to have seen this film, shot in gorgeous color, upon its 1957 U.S. release, after which it went out of circulation until now, you are likely to remember how shabby the post-World War II Versailles looked--and how stunning the film’s final sequence is, with Louis XIV leading a procession of French history down the palace’s grand outdoor staircase.

The entire film, however, holds up magnificently, with its series of exquisitely perceptive vignettes and deftly etched cameos: Claudette Colbert’s saucy but ill-fated Mme. de Montespan; Jean Marais’ handsome but indolent Louis XV; Micheline Presle’s beautiful Mme. de Pompadour; Jean-Pierre Aumont’s Cardinal de Rohan, a key victim in the “Queen’s Necklace” scandal that signaled the end of the Bourbons, and Edith Piaf, leading a revolutionary anthem as Versailles is stormed. Among the countless familiar faces, including that of Orson Welles as an oddly bloated Benjamin Franklin, that pop up throughout the film is a very young Brigitte Bardot, who unsurprisingly catches the eye of Louis XV.

“Royal Affairs in Versailles” is one of four Guitry films that will be screening simultaneously at the Monica 4-Plex on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 11 a.m. throughout January. Along with “The Story of a Cheat"(1936) and “Pearls of the Crown” (1937) is “Champs-Elysee” (1938), a more fanciful--and occasionally tedious but nevertheless rewarding--warm-up for “Versailles,” in which the history of Paris’ most famous thoroughfare unfolds through the story of the ancestors of a schoolteacher (Guitry), a wrong-side-of-the-blanket descendant of both Louis XIV and Napoleon. (310) 394-9741.

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