Pacific Film Archive’s ongoing salute to Otto Preminger continues this week with a selection of the director’s best features from the 1950s and 1960s. On Friday December 11, at 8:20pm, the Archive offers a screening of Otto’s taboo-breaking 1953 comedy-drama The Moon is Blue, long infamous for being the first Hollywood film in which the word ‘virgin’ is uttered.
The prickly Preminger managed to get the film released without the Production Code’s Seal of Approval, thus assuring that his film (in which the words ‘seduce’ and ‘mistress’ are also spoken) would remain, at the very least, a significant historical footnote. And such it is, but it stands on its own as a quality picture (three Oscar nominations!) and is worth seeing for more than notoriety’s sake.
As for the Code, it was downhill for bluenoses and censors across the land from here until 1968, when the Motion Picture Association of America developed the current ratings system — which moviegoers have been complaining about ever since. Just think: without The Moon is Blue leading the way, sex comedies such as Porky’s, American Pie, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall would never have been possible. Thanks a lot, Otto.
Showing at PFA on Saturday December 12 at 8:40pm is Preminger’s equally frank dissertation on narcotics addiction, The Man with the Golden Arm, in which Frank Sinatra plays Johnny Machine, a jazz musician with a syringe-shaped monkey on his back. Sinatra’s great, as is Elmer Bernstein’s terrific score, but for me the highlight of the film remains the amazing Arnold Stang, a chinless, high-voiced actor with coke bottle spectacles who plays Johnny’s drinking buddy Sparrow.
Stang, who’s still with us today, rarely got in front of the camera but got his start on Broadway in 1937 and made a decent living for decades as a voice actor, most recently on Cartoon Network’s series Courage the Cowardly Dog. I guarantee this much: if you’ve never seen him before, you’ll never forget him after scoping out his performance in The Man with the Golden Arm.
For those intrepid Berkeleyans willing to travel across city limits, there are a couple of interesting new movie releases. The Albany Twin has the highly touted Woody Harrelson (the man is everywhere these days) drama The Messenger. The film deals with an Army officer assigned the task of informing relatives of the deaths of their loved ones in Iraq. The Albany frequently seems to get first dibs on quality pics, and I’d love to know how they manage to schedule films like this one well in advance of Berkeley cinemas.
For those willing to travel even further afield, Oakland’s Grand Lake has hosted midnight-only showings of the hilarious blaxploitation spoof Black Dynamite on each of the last three Saturday nights (or Sunday mornings, to be precise). No guarantee they’ll continue these early-morning extravaganzas, but judging from the crowd last weekend there’s clearly an audience hankering for big -screen entertainment in the wee hours. If you think you’re ready to handle Black Dynamite (or some Anaconda Malt Liquor), check out the Grand Lake this coming Saturday — but be sure to call first.
John Seal is a regular Berkeleyside contributor. He writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movie’s Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly.