One of the joys of reviewing movies is the chance, every so often, to see a restored classic on the big screen. In 2006, I had the opportunity to see the restored cut of Alfred E. Green's nasty pre-code classic Baby Face (1933), with Barbara Stanwyck in all her glory. Better still, I saw Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist (1970) for the first time (both films screened at San Francisco's Balboa Theater). The Balboa also showed a recently uncovered war film, Stuart Cooper's Overlord (1975), a film with a simplicity and power lacking in most of the year's new pictures.
The great Rialto Pictures, the leading distributor of restored classics, gave us Jean-Pierre Melville's masterpiece Army of Shadows (1969); since it had never before opened in the United States, it has turned up on several critics' ten best lists for 2006. Also from Rialto we got Carol Reed and Graham Greene's The Fallen Idol (1948) and Christian-Jaque's silly swashbuckler Fanfan la Tulipe (1952). And to far greater publicity, Sony Pictures Classics re-released a bundle of Pedro Almodovar films, including Matador (1986), Law of Desire (1987), Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), The Flower of My Secret (1995), Live Flesh (1997), All About My Mother (1999), Talk to Her (2002) and Bad Education (2004); I took advantage of the chance to see a few of these on the big screen. And each of them played on 400 screens or less.
Not always, but often, a re-release comes timed for a film's anniversary, and so I've made up a fantasy list of re-releases I'd like to see in 2007.
For a 75th anniversary re-release, there are several likely candidates. Though I would welcome the chance to see on film Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise, Tod Browning's Freaks, James Whale's The Old Dark House, Carl Theodor Dreyer's Vampyr or Jean Renoir's Boudu Saved from Drowning, they are all available on DVD. Much harder to see is Josef von Sternberg's Marlene Dietrich double-bill Shanghai Express and Blonde Venus (the latter co-starring a young Cary Grant). But if I had to pick just two, I'd start with Yasujiro Ozu's classic silent comedy I Was Born, But..., which has become nearly impossible to see (except on an out-of-print VHS tape) and then move on to Scarface.
If I could pick just one, it would be Howard Hawks' Scarface. Currently, viewers can see Scarface, but only if they buy the ultra-expensive box set of Brian De Palma's 1983 remake; it's not available on its own. Moreover, nervous 1930s censors mercilessly tweaked it (the subtitle "Shame of the Nation" was added, as well as one or two stupid scenes all about the gangster's punishment and/or redemption) and it would be marvelous to have it restored to Hawks' original vision.
For a 60th Anniversary re-release, It would be great to see John Ford's underrated The Fugitive get a little love, or perhaps Raoul Walsh's Pursued or Jacques Tourneur's Out of the Past. But there's only one real choice, and that's Charles Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux. Most people have seen at least one of Chaplin's "Little Tramp" movies, but this masterpiece is still relatively unknown, despite the large volumes of ink spilled by some of the world's greatest writers on its behalf. Chaplin plays Henri Verdoux, a serial killer who marries and murders rich widows in order to support his own family; this decidedly unsavory character earned the film many enemies in its day.
Fifty years ago, movie theaters saw the release of several imported classics, like Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries, Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood and Federico Fellini's Nights of Cabiria. There was another underrated Chaplin film, A King in New York, and an underrated Hitchcock, The Wrong Man. There were a couple of superb "B" pictures, Tourneur's Night of the Demon and Sam Fuller's Forty Guns. And of course, we have the brilliantly acid, jazz-rhythmic Sweet Smell of Success. But the best choice from 1957 has to be Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory, surely one of the half-dozen greatest war movies ever made, simply because it had the audacity to question those in command, the ones who sit at their desks and issue orders.
Twenty-five years ago, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner opened to little notice, but it has gone on to become a huge cult classic and one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made. 2007 will be a perfect time to release that three-disc DVD box set with all the various versions. (Scott is reportedly doing a new director's cut to supplant the one he did back in 1992.)
Twenty years ago, Sam Raimi's Evil Dead II stormed its way across screens, but as much as I love that film, I think John Huston's The Dead needs a second chance a little more desperately.
Finally, for a tenth anniversary, I'd guess the most likely suspect will be Titanic, from greedy studios hoping to milk some more money from that monster. But I'd rather see a slightly less appreciated film from that year, namely Martin Scorsese's Kundun, one of the loveliest, most spiritual and most devastating of recent films. That's more than I can say for anything made in 2006.