Thursday, January 3, 2013

This winter at Doc Films: Mitchum, Wong, Coens, and more

Posted By on 01.03.13 at 12:47 PM

Robert Mitchum in The Story of G.I. Joe
  • Robert Mitchum in The Story of G.I. Joe
On Monday Doc Films at University of Chicago begins its winter calendar with The Story of G.I. Joe, the first in a series devoted to actor Robert Mitchum (the subject of a recent Bleader post by Drew Hunt, incidentally). It's one of those "deep cuts" of American film history that Doc programmers are so good at rooting out, a risk-taking studio film by an underappreciated auteur. Ever the eccentric, director William Wellman took pains to make this WWII drama one of his most naturalistic films—even though he shot it entirely at Selznick International Studios. Adapting a series of articles about the North African front by famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle, Wellman employed a stripped-down crew and cast mostly unfamiliar actors, including actual army veterans playing themselves. Consistent across Wellman's uneven career is a strong instinct for charismatic performers; he helped make stars of Gary Cooper (in Wings) James Cagney (in The Public Enemy), Barbara Stanwyck (in Night Nurse), and of course Mitchum, who got one of his first leading roles in G.I. Joe.

Other rare screenings in the Mitchum series include a new print of Walter Hill's Melvillian crime film The Driver (screening on January 28); Howard Hawks's late-period western El Dorado, a reworking of his classic Rio Bravo (February 25); and Joseph Losey's odd psychodrama Secret Ceremony (March 4). The Sunday-night series, comprising features from the transitional year of 1928, has some good Hollywood deep cuts too, among them The Wind, one of only a few American films by noted Swedish director Victor Sjostrom; King Vidor's Marion Davies comedy The Patsy (February 10; his better-known film of the year, The Crowd, screens on March 10); and Paul Leni's expressionistic Victor Hugo adaptation The Man Who Laughs (February 24).

The calendar contains three director retrospectives, with series devoted to the versatile Louis Malle (the Steven Soderbergh of his generation, pace critic Amy Taubin), Wong Kar-Wai (who shares the spotlight with his longtime cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, who's represented by non-Wong titles like Zhang Yimou's Hero and Gus Van Sant's misbegotten Psycho remake), and Joel and Ethan Coen. With all due respect to Malle and the Coens, the Wong series seems like the must-see retrospective. The Film Center's recent revivals of Happy Together (screening at Doc on February 27) and In the Mood for Love (February 20) were reminders of how immersive this great director's films feel in a theater. It'll be a treat to revisit more of them that way.

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