Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Long before “Saltburn,” British director Robert Hamer took aim at the aristocracy with “Kind Hearts and Coronets,” the deliciously sordid comedy classic that screens Saturday and again Monday at The Brattle Theatre. Dennis Price plays Louis Mazzini, the impoverished scion to a disowned branch of the noble D’Ascoyne family. Upon his mother’s death, he vows revenge by murdering all eight D’Ascoynes ahead of him in the line of succession and reclaiming the title of Duke of Chalfont. The plot of “Kind Hearts” is ingenious enough that it would make for a perfectly gripping drama, but its brilliance lies in its outrageous black humor. Key to its success is the great Alec Guinness. It’s easy to forget that, before he picked up the light saber, Guinness was a keen comic actor and inspiration for Peter Sellers. Here, Guinness plays all eight of the daffy D’Ascoynes in Mazzini’s crosshairs: the drunken Rev. Lord Henry, the blustery Admiral Lord Horatio, even the suffragette Lady Agatha.Seventy-five years after its release, “Kind Hearts and Coronets” is as savage as any eat-the-rich comedy that’s come in its wake. The D’Ascoyne family walked so that Oliver Quick could dance naked through Saltburn Manor.

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The late ’90s may have been a fallow period for American horror movies, but Japan saw a  renaissance of bone-chilling ghost stories and squirm-inducing body horror. This weekend sees the opportunity to catch two landmarks of the decade’s J-horror boom. On Saturday, the Somerville Theatre brings Hideo Nakata’s original 1998 version of “Ringu” to its Midnight Specials series. Anyone who’s seen the hit 2002 American remake “The Ring” knows the story – a cursed videotape of a ghostly girl dooms anyone who spools it through their VCR to die in seven days – but there is an extra level of dread to Nakata’s sparse original. The following night, The Brattle holds a 25th-anniversary screening of Takashi Miike’s grisly classic “Audition.” A lonely TV producer holds tryouts for a fictional reality show as a ploy to find his perfect wife. I won’t spoil the twist that comes at the halfway point (if you have the stomach for it, it’s a great film to experience blind), but suffice to say that pretty young Asami isn’t quite the manic pixie dream girl he takes her for. Both films make clear why the horror mavens of Hollywood spent much of the following decade trying to catch up with their Japanese counterparts.

Films don’t come much more New Yawk than “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” (1974), which screens at The Brattle on Sunday. Walter Matthau plays a gruff New York transit cop who picks an inopportune day to stop by the office on his day off. A band of mercenaries (led by Robert Shaw, later Quint from “Jaws”) unhitch a subway car in the middle of a midtown tunnel and threaten to start shooting hostages if they don’t get a million dollars. The ticking-clock suspense is complemented by the film’s cockeyed sense of humor: With the exception of Shaw, every character just wants to get the whole ordeal over with, and the cast is loaded with great character actors (including Martin Balsam, Doris Roberts and a sprightly young Jerry Stiller). It’s a film about a daring rescue, but it’s also a film in which the mayor gets booed wherever he shows his face, and that’s what I love about it.

Humphrey Bogart is one of cinema’s most timeless icons of cool, but he was also adept at playing the pain and rage that roiled under the surface of his smart-talking cads. Nowhere is that truer than in Nicholas Ray’s 1950 noir classic “In a Lonely Place,” which screens on 35 mm Monday as part of the Somerville Theatre’s continuing Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid series. Bogart plays Dixon Steele, a down-on-his-luck screenwriter who becomes embroiled in a murder investigation and involved with the beautiful widow next door (perennial femme fatale Gloria Grahame). But “In a Lonely Place” isn’t your typical gumshoe procedural. The murder mystery fades into the background, and the relationship between Bogart and Grahame takes center stage. Bogart plays the same sort of lovable scoundrel as in such films as “Casablanca” or “The Big Sleep,” but the more we get to know him the less endearing his drinking and bursts of violence become: This guy has a problem. By the end, it feels like a conscious subversion of Bogart’s entire image. It’s no wonder Ray would become a hero to the filmmakers of the French New Wave. He was interrogating Hollywood conventions before some of them were even born.

Also on Monday, The Brattle presents a double feature from two titans of queer cinema. John Waters’ “Female Trouble,” which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, is arguably the apogee of the Baltimore director’s early underground cycle: Drag legend Divine plays teenage delinquent Dawn Davenport, whose Christmas wish for “cha-cha heels” leads to a spiral of murder, depravity and all-around bad taste. The film is here paired with a film from Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar, whom Waters has often called his “international counterpart.” In “All About My Mother,” Almodóvar adds a layer of depth to the kitschy melodrama of his earlier films, dealing with grief, motherhood, gender identity and AIDS. The film marked a major breakthrough for star Penélope Cruz and earned Almodóvar the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Though very different in tone, it’s safe to say both directors would thoroughly enjoy the study in contrasts.


Oscar Goff is a writer and film critic based in Somerville. He is film editor and senior critic for the Boston Hassle and his work has appeared in the monthly Boston Compass newspaper and publications such as WBUR’s The ARTery and iHeartNoise. He is a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Online Film Critics Society.