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Must-see movies at the Stanford Theatre
The Stanford Theatre. (Courtesy of Gabriella Groth/THE STANFORD DAILY)

Must-see movies at the Stanford Theatre

For a night of entertainment and artistry, nothing in the Palo Alto area beats seeing a movie at the Stanford Theatre. The tickets are cheap (7 bucks— good for two movies), the snacks are a steal (a large popcorn is 2.50), and the feature attractions are of top-notch quality. To figure out which movies to prioritize this season, here’s a list of some of the unmissable classics being screened in the next few weeks:

“Singin’ in the Rain” (1952)

An absolute must-see. “Singin’ in the Rain” is one of the sunniest, funniest, most beautiful films ever made. Directors Gene Kelly and Stan Donen take us to an ecstatic state of musical nirvana. Eye-popping color palettes, gorgeous make-believe sets and lively dancing and singing — this movie was made on another planet (they truly don’t make ’em like they used to).

The film follows the rocky transition from silent to sound films in the late 1920s. Gene Kelly stars as silent-film-actor Don Lockwood. He’s lucky to have a best friend (Donald O’Connor) to support him, but he’s got nobody to love — either on-screen or off. He’s stuck with his leading lady Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) who has the charm of a snake and the voice of a shrill cat. As luck would have it, Don finds the perfect soulmate in a humble, unknown actress named Kathy (Debbie Reynolds). When “The Jazz Singer” becomes a huge hit in Hollywood, the studios decide to convert the current Lamont-Lockwood silent into a musical. Hired to dub Lina’s terrible voice, Kathy sees this as her big break. But will Lina let her? And will Don find that special someone?

From the first minute, Donen and Kelly smack a grin on each viewer’s face that doesn’t wear off — even after the movie’s over. It has a unique style all its own. Goofy, perfectly conceived, overflowing with the radiance of a thousand suns, Donen lends the film its mathematically precise form and Kelly its spontaneous grace. Stuffed to the brim with sublime dance numbers (including the title song, where love can’t rain on Gene Kelly’s parade) and stellar performances, “Singin’ in the Rain” is required viewing for any serious movie lover. Whether you’re a casual fan or a level 99 cinephile, this is THE movie to be seen in a theatre.

“Singin’ in the Rain” plays next weekend (Feb. 18-21) at 7:30 p.m. each night, with a 3:55 p.m matinee on Saturday and Sunday. It plays on a double-bill with “Laura.”

It also plays the weekend of Feb. 25 – 28 at 5:35 p.m. and 9.30 p.m. each night.

 

“Laura” (1944)

This Otto Preminger film noir is a ghostly delight. The underrated Dana Andrews (“The Best Years of Our Lives”) delivers a magnificent performance as the private detective investigating a case that would stump Columbo. Hired to solve the mysterious murder of the ravishingly beautiful Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), he soon finds himself falling in love…with her ghostly portrait.

In a breezy 88 minutes, Preminger maps out the complex love quadrangle between the dead Laura, the dick, her Southern rube-beau (Vincent Price) and her rich, spurned lover Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb).

“Laura” is an investigation into the nature of love and obsession. Its never-ending theme song, played during every scene is a solemn dirge, captures the spiritual essence of the physically-fleeting Laura. And Preminger’s schematic plotting ensures he’s always three steps ahead of us. In the world of “Laura,” we can’t trust what we hear or see. Like other twisted noirs, including “The Big Sleep” and “Double Indemnity,” “Laura” draws upon a rich ambiguity that cements its position among the headiest mind-trips of Classic Hollywood.

“Laura” plays Presidents’ Day Weekend (Feb. 11-14) at 7:30 p.m. every night (with a 3:45 p.m. matinee on Saturday and Sunday). It plays on a double-bill with “The Philadelphia Story,” starring Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart and Cary Grant.

It also plays the weekend of Feb. 18-21 at 5:50 p.m. and 9.25 p.m.

 

“Sunset Blvd.” (1950)

If Preminger’s “Laura” is the ultimate in romantic noirs, Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Blvd.” is the exact opposite: as hard-edged as classic movies get. When out-of-work-screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) makes a wrong turn into the driveway of a decrepit mansion, he meets aging silent star Norma Desmond (a haggard Gloria Swanson). She hires him to write a “comeback” picture for her. Though he agrees, her eccentricity, craziness and hammy presence both captivate and frighten him.  

Billy Wilder’s direction is stern, plain faced and Germanic— as clear as crystal, and yet as cold as ice when necessary. But it’s the writing (also by Wilder) where the film really finds its footing. Chock-full of meaty one-liners and lyrical repartee, it’s a delight not only to see, but to hear. That’s no surprise coming from a master of language like Wilder. From the tense double-crossings of “Double Indemnity” to the hilarious gender-bending of “Some Like It Hot,” he’s someone who could pound back a bottle and still have the stamina to write a fully-formed story under the influence. Though I personally prefer the Wilder movies where he flaunts his romanticism (like “The Apartment” or “Avanti!”), he’s an artist who finds room in his worldview for cynicism to seep into romanticism, and vice versa.

The shadows, the chewy narrator, the trenchant lighting which dissolves into a sea of cynical bleakness — these are the great pleasures of a Wilder film noir. To see a master moviemaker at work, come watch “Sunset Blvd.”

“Sunset Blvd.” plays the weekend of Feb. 25-28 at 7:30 p.m. each night, with a 3:35 p.m. matinee on Saturday and Sunday. It plays on a double-bill with “Singin’ in the Rain.”
Contact Carlos Valladares at cvall96 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Carlos Valladares

Carlos Valladares' 18 is double-majoring in Film and American Studies. He loves the Beatles and jazz, dogs and dance. Were he stranded on a desert island, he'd be sure to take some food—and also, copies of "A Hard Day's Night," "The Young Girls of Rochefort," "Nashville," "Killer of Sheep," and anything by Studio Ghibli. You can follow his film writings at http://letterboxd.com/cvall96/. He was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles.