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Vintage yet relevant

Times Staff Writer

The Annual Festival of Film Noir, which is arguably the American Cinematheque’s most enjoyable offering year in and year out, opens its seventh edition tonight at the Egyptian with the rapid-paced and romantic “A Lady Without Passport” (1950), directed by a genre master, Joseph H. Lewis.

In the title role, Hedy Lamarr plays a Buchenwald survivor who has managed to land in postwar, pre-Castro Cuba with only an elegant New Look wardrobe and a determination to be reunited with her father, an illegal immigrant in the U.S.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. April 2, 2005 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday April 02, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
Agnes De Mille -- The Screening Room column in Thursday’s Calendar Weekend section referred to Agnes De Mille as a cinematographer. She was a choreographer.

She is preparing to “make whatever arrangements necessary” with a suave smuggler (George Macready) when a U.S. agent (John Hodiak), working undercover, arrives on the scene. He knows a lady in distress when he sees one, and Lamarr’s character in turn raises his awareness about the plight of illegal immigrants, which makes this nifty MGM production timelier than most vintage noirs. On the same bill: “Singapore” (1947), starring Fred MacMurray and Ava Gardner and directed by John Brahm.

A family’s influence

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The 7th annual Method Fest (see accompanying story) opens with a screening of Melissa Painter’s “Steal Me,” a fine example of independent regional filmmaking.

Danny Alexander makes a notable film debut as an itinerant teenage thief who is given shelter by a warm, loving farm family. The effect of the family upon the young stranger and vice versa is deep, unpredictable, refreshingly realistic and lacking in melodrama. Painter has an evocative style and draws masterful portrayals from Alexander, Cara Seymour and John Terry as the family’s parents, and Hunter Parrish as their son.

The other De Mille

William C. de Mille, the older brother of Cecil B. DeMille and the father of innovative cinematographer Agnes De Mille, is best remembered today for founding USC’s cinema school in 1930 and writing many scripts for his more famous brother and other directors.

An established playwright, he also became a respected film director whose films are rarely shown. Consequently, the Silent Movie’s presentation of De Mille’s “Miss Lulu Bett” (1921) is a special treat that confirms his reputation as a fine filmmaker of a less showy stripe than his brother.

Based on the Zona Gale novel, which had become a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, it stars Lois Wilson, in a remarkably nuanced performance, in the title role as a young woman trapped into virtual slavery in the household of her pompous, overbearing brother-in-law (Theodore Roberts) and her ineffectual, hypocritical sister (Mabel Van Buren).

The film’s key setting is an inviting Victorian with vintage furnishings, but its inhabitants become an indictment of a small-minded, small-town family, with Lulu its victim. Roberts’ long-absent, blowhard brother (Clarence Burton) is a dubious way out for Lulu; however, a handsome and sympathetic teacher (Milton Sills) is surely a better prospect. The film is a gem in every way and is immeasurably enhanced by Rick Friend’s live piano accompaniment.

Clips of America

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Rick Prelinger’s “Panorama Ephemera,” which will be shown at REDCAT, is a 90-minute compilation of 64 sequences drawn from industrial, advertising, educational and amateur films shot between the ‘20s and the late ‘60s, a decidedly pre-ironic era. The way in which the clips have been arranged allows Prelinger to create what has been aptly described as “a journey through American landscape and history.”

There is a lot of material on the settling of the colonies and westward expansion and much emphasis on communities coming together for a common good that strikes a note of wistful nostalgia.

The painfully didactic nature of much of the dialogue is stiff and unintentionally funny, but Prelinger’s larger purpose of preserving the American experience and our changing attitudes comes through in myriad ways. Sections on industry and labor are especially strong, and it’s not surprising to discover that an especially haunting scene of a group of workers watching their factory being dismantled was shot by Willard Van Dyke.

Similarly, a touchingly patriotic description of the presidential election process was the work of John Houseman, John Berry and Nicholas Ray, with a score by Virgil Thomson; one of the featured actors is the late Ann Doran, who would play James Dean’s mother in Ray’s “Rebel Without a Cause.”

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By the time this enchanting work has concluded, Prelinger, who will be present, has taken American social life from the campfire to the dawn of the shopping mall.

He did protest

The New Beverly Cinema will present Richard Rush’s “Psych-Out” (1968), followed by a discussion with Rush (on Wednesday and possibly next Thursday) and “The Savage Seven” (1968).

Though it’s not without unintended humor and some roughness around the edges, “Psych-Out” actually dealt with issues concerning young people at the time when major studios rarely if ever acknowledged that the Vietnam War was raging and that young people were increasingly protesting it and becoming drawn to the hippie lifestyle. Rush doesn’t shrink from the downside of Haight-Ashbury as well as its freewheeling allure. Susan Strasberg, Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Dean Stockwell and Adam Roarke star.

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“The Savage Seven” has the action that audiences expect from outlaw motorcycle gang movies, but it is also perhaps the first mainstream picture protesting the plight of contemporary Native Americans.

An unwashed, leather-jacketed horde of bikers, led by Roarke’s character, descends upon a tiny Native American shantytown, whose inhabitants are held in thrall by a vicious white man and his henchman, who are exploiting them in the fields and in the company store. But the bikers are not at all sure they want to play Robin Hood. Both films were shot by the dynamic Laszlo Kovacs. Larry Bishop, one of the film’s stars, will also appear.

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Screenings

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Method Fest

* “Steal Me”: 7 p.m. Friday

Where: Grand Palace Stadium 6 Theaters, 4799 Commons Way, Calabasas

Info: (800) 965-4827

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7th Annual Festival of Film Noir

* “A Lady Without Passport” and “Singapore”: 7:30 tonight

Where: Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

Info: (323) 466-FILM

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Silent Movie Mondays

* “Miss Lulu Bett”: 8 p.m. Monday

Where: Silent Movie Theatre, 611 N. Fairfax Ave., Hollywood

Info: (323) 655-2520

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REDCAT

* “Panorama Ephemera”: 8 p.m. Monday

Where: 2nd and Hope streets, L.A.

Info: (213) 237-2800

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New Beverly Cinema

* “Psych-Out” and “The Savage Seven”: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and next Thursday

Where: 7165 Beverly Blvd., L.A.

Info: (323) 938-4038

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