If you are one of those old-movie fans — whether or not you are an old fan of movies — that has been taking advantage of the surprising number of vintage classics showing up in local theaters each month, April and May offer a particular barrage of riches.
Would you believe biblical epics, gladiator combat, wartime thrillers, contemplative science fiction, a Down Under cowboy, romantic comedies and classical slapstick?
Charlton Heston, Kirk Douglas, Bogie & Bacall, Russell Crowe, Gregory Peck, Errol Flynn, Tom Selleck, Rock Hudson, Laurel & Hardy and Charlie Chaplin, among others, will be lighting up movie screens throughout northern Utah over the next couple of months.
Here, in chronological order according to play dates, is the rundown.
• “Way Out West” (1937, b/w). Considered by critics to be one of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy’s seminal features (along with “Sons of the Desert”), this hysterical Western farce has the boys trying to deliver a gold-mine deed to the right party. The very funny Laurel & Hardy short “Dirty Work” (1933), in which they are chimney sweeps, will also be shown. (Friday, April 11, 7 p.m., free, Harold B. Lee Library, BYU, Provo, http://lib.byu.edu/sites/artcomm/)
• “Tol’able David” (1921, b/w, silent). Richard Barthelmess stars as the title character in this silent drama that updates the David and Goliath biblical story. After his brother and father fall victim to a family of bullies at a nearby farm, young David wants revenge but instead steps up to care for his family. But when he falls victim to the clan himself, he refuses to knuckle under. It's a sturdy, compelling story directed by Henry King. (Friday, April 11, 7:30 p.m., The Organ Loft, with live organ accompaniment, edisonstreetevents.com/silent-movies)
• “The Guns of Navarone” (1961). Allied commandos team up to go after an “indestructible” German fortress during World War II in this adaptation of the Alistair MacLean best-seller. Gregory Peck, David Niven and Anthony Quinn star and are great in this popular effort (the third biggest hit of 1961, after “101 Dalmatians” and “West Side Story”). (Tuesday, April 15, 10 a.m., SCERA Center, Orem, scera.org/events/view/3
• “And the Oscar Goes To ” (2014). It may seem like an odd choice to kick off Cinemark’s latest classic-movies series, but this documentary on the history of the Oscars does include a lot of vintage clips dating back to the earliest Academy Awards. Produced by Turner Classic Movies. (Sunday, April 13, 2 p.m., and Wednesday, April 16, 2 and 7 p.m., Cinemark Theatres, cinemark.com/cinemark-classic-serie
• “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968, G). This visually stunning, poetic art film by Stanley Kubrick was embraced by the masses in 1968 and remains a singular work. The fragile science-fiction narrative begins with a strange monolith encountered by early man, then shows a similar monolith discovered by astronauts on the moon, then switches to a flight to Jupiter with a threatening computer. (Thursday, April 17, 7 p.m., Peery’s Egyptian Theatre, Ogden, http://egyptiantheaterogden.com/)
• “The Ten Commandments” (1956). Cecil B. DeMille’s classic retelling of the biblical story of Moses, from his birth and adoption as an Egyptian prince through his embracing his Hebrew heritage, delivering his people and bringing the tablets down from the mount. Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner and others are terrific and the film holds up as a genuine, if somewhat old-fashioned, cinematic spectacle. (Sunday, April 20, 2 p.m., and Wednesday, April 23, 2 and 7 p.m., Cinemark Theatres, cinemark.com/cinemark-classic-series)
• “Come September” (1961). The beloved romantic comedy features Rock Hudson as a wealthy businessman unaware that his Italian villa is used as a hotel when he’s not there, which is 11 months of the year. Generation-gap farce co-stars Gina Lollobrigida, as well as Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin. Darin made his film debut here, met Dee on the set and they later married. (Tuesday, April 22, 10 a.m., SCERA Center, Orem, scera.org/events/view/322)
• “King of Kings” (1927, b/w, silent). Cecil B. DeMille directed this silent epic that stands the test of time pretty well, chronicling the weeks leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion on through his resurrection, which is a two-strip Technicolor sequence at the film’s climax. It adheres pretty well to its source with many intertitles quoting scripture. (Thursday-Friday, April 24-25, The Organ Loft, 7:30 p.m., with live organ accompaniment, edisonstreetevents.com/silent-movies)
• “Gladiator” (2000, R for violence). Russell Crowe won his Oscar as the title character here, a Roman general whose emperor chooses him to be his heir, which doesn’t sit well with the emperor’s son, leading to unfortunate consequences. Absorbing, if stylized (and bloody) to a fault. (Sunday, April 27, 2 p.m., and Wednesday, April 30, 2 and 7 p.m., Cinemark Theatres, cinemark.com/cinemark-classic-series)
• “Quigley Down Under” (1990, PG-13). Formula Western, only with kangaroos. Tom Selleck is terrific as a gunslinger lured to Australia for a job, but when he learns he’s expected to kill local aborigines, he’s soon at odds with his evil boss (Alan Rickman). Enjoyable cowboy picture with an Aussie twist. (Tuesday, April 29, 10 a.m., SCERA Center, Orem, scera.org/events/view/322)
• “Ben-Hur” (1959). Winner of 11 Oscars, including best picture, director and actor, this biblical-era classic holds up wonderfully as one of the best epic films of the 1950s and ’60s, with many memorable moments, capped by the still thrilling chariot race. Deserves to be seen on the big screen. (Sunday, May 4, 2 p.m., and Wednesday, May 7, 2 and 7 p.m., Cinemark Theatres, cinemark.com/cinemark-classic-series)
• “American Dreamer” (1984, PG). Amusing screwball adventure-comedy that bears startling similarities to “Romancing the Stone,” although both came out the same year. Jobeth Williams is a browbeaten housewife who wins a trip to Paris, then has an accident that causes a personality change causing her to believe she’s a romance-novel heroine. Tom Conti co-stars. (Tuesday, May 6, 10 a.m., SCERA Center, Orem, scera.org/events/view/322)
• “Titanic” (1997, PG-13). My complaints from 1997 are pretty much the same — silly dialogue, over-the-top soap-opera histrionics, the infamously gratuitous nude scene — but Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are first-rate, and, as with all of Cameron’s work, it moves fast and is so spectacular that its weaknesses are easily forgiven. Spoiler alert: The ship still sinks, and watching it do so in the third hour is riveting cinema. (Sunday, May 11, 2 p.m., and Wednesday, May 14, 2 and 7 p.m., Cinemark Theatres, cinemark.com/cinemark-classic-series)
• “The Big Sleep” (1946, b/w). One of the great film noirs of the 1940s has Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe investigating a murder (or two) and becoming involved with the femme fatale’s big sister (Lauren Bacall). The plot is convoluted, but the chemistry between Bogie and Bacall, the snappy dialogue and the excellent performances more than make up for any story problems. (Tuesday, May 13, 10 a.m., SCERA Center, Orem, scera.org/events/view/322)
• “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1928, b/w, silent). Based on the actual record of the trial of Joan of Arc, this French film directed by Theodor Dreyer stars Renee Jeanne Falconetti, who is brilliant in the title role, refusing to denounce her belief that God has commissioned her to drive the English from France. Top-notch filmmaking; a remarkable achievement. (Thursday-Friday, May 15-16, The Organ Loft, 7:30 p.m., with live organ accompaniment, edisonstreetevents.com/silent-movies)
• “Keep Your Powder Dry” (1945, b/w). Bouncy Lana Turner vehicle (and typical World War II propaganda) has the star joining the Women’s Army Corps to prove she’s mature enough to dip into the family fortune. Assigned as a motor-pool mechanic, she butts heads with Laraine Day, a by-the-book Army brat. Susan Peters, wife of an officer who’s overseas, attempts to mediate. (Friday, May 16, 7 p.m., free, Harold B. Lee Library, BYU, Provo, lib.byu.edu/sites/artcomm/)
• “Spartacus” (1960). Stanley Kubrick’s first major, large-scale film is actually a very personal production for Kirk Douglas, who produced and stars in the title role as the titular real-life historical figure, a rebel slave-turned-gladiator who leads an army in open rebellion against Rome. A great film, filled with excellent performances led by Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton and Peter Ustinov. (Sunday, May 18, 2 p.m., and Wednesday, May 21, 2 and 7 p.m., Cinemark Theatres, cinemark.com/cinemark-classic-series)
• “Kismet” (1955). Howard Keel and Ann Blyth star in this film of the Broadway musical about an itinerant poet whose fortunes change several times in the course of a single day in ancient Baghdad. Gorgeous color, clever widescreen photography and a fabulous score with such familiar songs as “Stranger in Paradise,” “Baubles, Bangles and Beads,” etc. (Tuesday, May 20, 10 a.m., SCERA Center, Orem, scera.org/events/view/322)Comment on this story
• “The Chaplin Mutual Comedies, Part 4” (1917, b/w, silent). Chaplin’s final three comedy shorts for the Mutual Film Corp. comprise this program, each filled with hilarious slapstick: “The Immigrant,” with the Little Tramp on a voyage to America, then having problems in a restaurant; “The Cure,” in which he’s a drunk in a spa trying to dry out; and “The Adventurer,” as an escaped convict on the run. (Thursday-Friday, May 29-30, The Organ Loft, 7:30 p.m., with live organ accompaniment, edisonstreetevents.com/silent-movies)
• “The Dawn Patrol” (1938, b/w). World War I saga stars Errol Flynn and David Niven as pilots in a squadron in France where the commander (Basil Rathbone) is overtaxed, forced to use inexperienced fliers for what quickly becomes a string of suicide missions. Excellent wartime melodrama examines the singular effect of war on friendship and leadership. (Friday, May 30, 7 p.m., free, Harold B. Lee Library, BYU, Provo, http://lib.byu.edu/sites/artcomm/)
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." Website: www.hicksflicks.com