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The Organizer (1963)
A near masterpiece from Monicelli features Mastroianni at his best in this period labor drama.
26 February 1999
Mario Monicelli's wonderfully full portrait of an early workers' strike at a Turino textile factory (circa 1890) is not only a great period drama, but a warm, if ultimately tragic human comedy in the great Italian tradition. Great performances all around (Mastroianni, Giradot, and a young River Phoenix look-a-like named Franco Ciolli, whatever became of him?) help make this labor drama the movie MATEWAN, MOLLY MAGUIRES and GERMINAL all tried to be.
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Paracelsus (1943)
16th Century German doctor upsets the status quo with new "German" methods of treating illness.
30 October 1998
G. W. (PANDORA'S BOX) Pabst's celebratory film about the "revolutionary" 16th century German philosopher/doctor (known as Paracelsus and actually born in Switzerland) holds more than just historical interest as a Nazi approved subject. Though Pabst's sound films never achieved the prominence of his silent work, this is a well produced biopic with real surprises, especially when Paracelsus gives credit to Gypsy (!) folk remedies or when an Expressionist dance number symbolizes the entry of the plague (St. Vitus' Dance) into the closed town. Suddenly we're in Powell/Pressburger territory. Often obvious and slow, but certainly worth investigation, and not all that different from similar Hollywood produced biopics on ZOLA and LOUIS PASTEUR by director William (Wilhelm) Dieterle, a former colleague from Pabst's early UFA days. In fact, Dieterle's 1939 HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME has many visual and thematic similarities. The romantic subplot, straight out of Die Meistersinger, only adds to the usual discomfort of watching a Goebbels approved Nazi era production.
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Classic "wronged woman" melodrama with strong feminist attitudes.
5 September 1998
Florence Vidor stars as the daughter of a strict bible toting father who throws her out of the house when gossip taints her name. In the big city, she finds the dying wife of her own brother (the two had secretly married) and raises their child on her own. Years later, she goes back home to confront her family.

This old melodrama is heavily larded with fascinating feminist themes (circa 1921, but sounding remarkably modern). Some of it is laid on with a trowel (as the father, Theodore Roberts gives his eyebrows a real workout), but it's well put together dramatically and lovingly composed and shot by cinematographer Henry Sharp.
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The Big Trail (1930)
Large scale early talkie attempt to top silent epic THE COVERED WAGON is impressive with the young John Wayne looking very much the star to be.
4 September 1998
Raoul Walsh's mega-epic, stunning filmed in an early widescreen process by the great Arthur Edeson, can be slow and static in the early talkie manner, but this classic wagon train journey across America to the NorthWest is thrilling as a sheer physical production when seen on the big screen. On t.v., the lack of close-ups and distant sound reproduction may prove daunting. Young John Wayne scores easily in his first starring role with a natural delivery the rest of the cast can't command. Amazingly, the film flopped and Wayne spent most of the following decade in Grade B Western fodder.
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Lewis Carroll tells Alice about her adventures in Wonderland
3 August 1998
Better known for being suppressed by Disney to protect their 1951 production, this co-French/British production is surprisingly successful at capturing Carroll's logical nonsense. A prologue with author Dodson/Carroll, Alice and her sisters, and a visit by Queen Victoria (splendidly played by Pamela Brown) sets up amusing "clues," a la the Kansas scenes in THE WIZARD OF OZ.

The main story is told with a live Alice moving through painted sets and wonderful pixilated puppets. There's real eccentric charm and fun in many of the sequences, the fish-footmen are particularly funny with a Gilbert & Sullivan style number to match. Sadly, the "Ansco" color has apparently gone to rack and ruin, but the intentions can at least still be seen. Still, it comes closer to an acceptable Carroll then most adaptations.
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Sparrows (1926)
Mary and a band of orphans escape from wicked "baby farm" owner
30 July 1998
Like an Americanized Grimm Fairy Tale with exceptional set designs and atmospheric photography from the team that would make SUNRISE the following year, this late Mary Pickford near-classic features her last outing as an adolescent and holds up almost to the end. The climatic flight through the alligator infested swamps with Mary leading the way for her charges is a real cinematic tour-de-force. Touching, funny, scary, the whole works.
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