May 202010

Heavy on the Monty and Flash Gordon

By Colleen Glenn

Every spring, starting as early as March, Kentucky Theatre General Manager Fred Mills is asked time and time again, “What films are going to be on the schedule for the Summer Classic Movie Series?”

Well, the anticipation is finally over. The Kentucky Theatre is kicking off its eighth season of its popular summer series on Wednesday, May 26th.

“I think everybody looks forward to the series,” says Mills. Every year, patrons start giving suggestions for movie titles for the next year’s series before the current one has even finished. “People like to have input,” Mills relates. “We send hundreds and hundreds of suggestions to Larry Thomas, our film booker.”

Thomas then begins the process of selecting and securing the films after the first of the year, contacting distribution companies and archives to see what films are available. It’s not until early May that the list is finalized and the prized print copies of the schedules are available at the theatre.

The Summer of Monty

If last summer could be characterized as “crowd favorites,” peppered generously with new prints of popular classic films, the summer of 2010 series could be dubbed, “The Summer of Monty.” Three of the movies—Wild River, Raintree County (which was filmed in Danville), and From Here to Eternity—star Montgomery Clift.

One of the most talented actors of the mid-century, Clift played complex and sensitive characters in an understated way that makes his performances feel quite modern as we watch them fifty years later. Unlike some of his contemporaries whose performances seem dated by their adherence to the Method School style, Clift seems to transcend his era through his captivating and realistic acting style. Did I mention he is damn good-looking to boot?

The Serial is Back

This summer also features the return of a classic serial that will run before each feature film. The chapter plays (including Batman and The Shadow) were a big hit when the theatre ran them in previous years, but last year they had difficulty finding the right one to continue the tradition. This year, Thomas tracked down the original 35 mm print of the 1936 Flash Gordon serial starring Buster Crabbe. The theatre will screen one chapter each Wednesday for the first thirteen weeks of the Classics Series.

Flash Gordon is considered by many to be the apex of the 1930s serials,” explains Bill Widener, movie-guru and host of the Kentucky Theatre Summer Classic Movies Series. According to Widener, unlike many other serials that ran from the 1930s up until the 1970s, Flash Gordon enjoyed the perks of a relatively big budget. Based on a popular comic strip of the ‘30s, “Flash Gordon was the Iron Man or Spiderman of its time,” notes Widener.

Once Again, Dr. Jones…

The series kicks off on May 26th with Steven Spielberg’s 1981 popular adventure film, The Raiders of the Lost Ark. “It’s excellent that we’re starting off with Raiders because the Indiana Jones films are an homage to the action serials of the 1930s,” says Widener. Therefore, Raiders offers a kind of perfect symmetry to kick off the summer in which the Flash Gordon serial is screened.

One of my personal all-time favorite movies, the first of the Indiana Jones trilogy features the dashing archeologist in a race against the Nazis for control of Ark of the Covenant, the holy vessel in which the Jews transported the Ten Commandments. At every turn, his rival, Belloq, who is cooperating with the Nazis to procure holy treasures at Hitler’s command, thwarts Indy’s attempts to rescue the Ark from the Third Reich. Karen Allen shines in the role of Marion Ravenwood, the lively and beautiful woman who wins Indy’s heart. Even if you have seen Raiders before, chances are you’ve never seen it on a big screen–or it’s been years since you have.

Indeed, that is one of most appealing aspects to the series: As Mills remarks, “You really can’t see these films hardly anywhere, especially on a big screen.” Seeing them in an old theatre, a movie palace, as the Kentucky was called when it was built in the 1920s, adds to the thrill of viewing a classic film.

Highlights of the Schedule

This year’s program offers a nice variety of genres from several different eras, and, like last year, offers the opportunity to see several new or restored prints. From popular musicals (Wizard of Oz, The Music Man, Mary Poppins) to romances (Roman Holiday, Raintree County), to silent classics (Sunrise) and campy sci-fi flicks (Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space) the summer 2010 schedule promises something for everyone.

Below are the films I won’t miss, and suggest you don’t either. For a complete summer schedule, visit, or better yet, stop by in person to pick up a print copy of the program.

June 2—Rebecca (1940)

Adapted from the Daphne du Maurier novel, this classic mystery directed by Alfred Hitchcock film stars the excellent Laurence Olivier and gorgeous Joan Fontaine. Bring someone to hold your hand. The film will make you think twice before marrying a widower, even if he is as handsome as Olivier.

June 9—The Graduate (1967)

Sure, you’ve probably seen it. But don’t miss this chance to see Dustin Hoffman squirm awkwardly in a new 35 CinemaScope mm print. Co-starring Anne Bancroft and Katherine Ross, and featuring a soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel, The Graduate captures the end of an era and the end of innocence in a sublime way.

June 23—Laura (1944)

Before the 1950s came along, women enjoyed some of the most powerful and complex roles onscreen. This “women’s noir” by edgy director Otto Preminger is full of eerie and sexual undercurrents. The picture stars Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews in a dark romance. Vincent Price co-stars. This is a “don’t miss” if you like film noir.

June 30—Wild River (1960)

This is the film I am most excited about. Considered to be one of Elia Kazan’s top three films, this tale of the beginnings of the Tennessee Valley Authority during the Depression is both visually and dramatically stunning. Montgomery Clift, Lee Remick, Jo Van Fleet, and a young, uncredited Bruce Dern star. This is a new, restored 35mm CinemaScope print.

July 14—Roman Holiday (1953)

William Wyler’s lovely romantic comedy starring the charming Audrey Hepburn as a European princess who falls for an American writer, played by Gregory Peck. Hepburn’s only Oscar is for this role. Fall in love with Rome and two beauties in less than two hours.

July 21—Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) & It Came From Outer Space (1958)

3D. It’s the buzz of Hollywood, with directors like James Cameron lauding it as the wave of the future, and traditionalists, like Francis Ford Coppola and Roger Ebert, arguing it detracts from the visual art of cinema. No matter where you stand on the issue, these two sci-fi features are relics from the early days of 3D technology and are sure to please with their campy sensibility. (Word is that the glasses are a fashion must-have this summer.)

August 11—In a Lonely Place (1950)

Bogey is at his best in this Nicholas Ray movie about a screenwriter accused of murder. This classic noir film co-stars the intoxicating blonde Gloria Grahame, and promises a surprise ending that will keep you glued to your seats until the credits roll.

August 25—From Here to Eternity (1953)

Set in Hawaii on the brink of America’s decision to enter WWII, this adaptation of James Jones’ novel captures the unrest, strife, love and lust in the barracks just before the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. Fred Zinneman directs the heavyweight, talented cast, including Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed, and Frank Sinatra. Both Reed and Sinatra won Oscars for their performances. If you thought Lancaster and Kerr were hot before, see the new digitally re-mastered print.

September 8—Five Easy Pieces (1970)

An exciting aberration for the summer series, Five Easy Pieces is a rather edgy road film from an era when films were just beginning to truly drop the restrictions of the antiquated and draconian Production Code. Jack Nicholson, restless, selfish and angry, tries to come to terms with his blue-blood past. This is one of the films that put Nicholson on the map and defined his screen persona. One of Karen Black’s best performances. New, digitally re-mastered print.

September 15—Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

Howard Hawks’ delivers up a hilarious musical comedy starring the brunette and blonde bombshells of the fifties, Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe. The two lounge singers work their way to Paris on a trans-Atlantic cruise and enjoy the men they meet along the way. Another digitally restored print, this flick offers easy laughs and healthy-sized eye candy.

When, Where, How Much?

As in previous years, the series runs on Wednesdays, with a 1:30 p.m. matinee option in addition to the primary 7:15 p.m. screening. Still only $4.00 a ticket, the Kentucky Theatre Summer Classic Movies Series continues to offer the lowest prices in town, both at the box office and at the concession stand. The summer series will run a few weeks longer than usual this year, going all the way until September 22, offering you even more opportunities to take in a classic film at Lexington’s oldest theatre.

My advice: get to the theatre early: the theatre fills very quickly on the Summer Classic Movie nights.

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