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A Dirty Dozen: The Films of Robert Aldrich

November 21, 2008 - December 20, 2008

The Big Knife, December 4

Robert Aldrich is a director you know without knowing it. His crafty intellect can be found in nearly thirty feature films, some, unsettling milestones like Kiss Me Deadly, The Killing of Sister George, and Ulzana’s Raid; others, boisterous brews begging for reappraisal like The Last Sunset, Vera Cruz, and Twilight’s Last Gleaming. Aldrich found a challenging refuge in genre, directing westerns, noirs, war dramas, shockers, and buddy films. But he always tampered with the conventions, overrunning our expectations with startling themes: Attack! finds corruption on the battlefields of World War II; The Last Sunset grapples with regressive desire in the Old West; and even . . . All the Marbles unfolds as a send-up of the feel-good film by emphasizing unanticipated ill will. A disciple of Abraham Polonsky, Aldrich also valued a kind of meaty performance and coaxed wonders from regulars Kirk Douglas, Jack Palance, Lee Marvin, and Burt Lancaster, though he gained the trust of grande dames Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, as well. Central to Aldrich’s films is an abiding interest in the individual’s struggle to uphold some shred of integrity in a world that rewards the cowardly and crooked. Jack Palance’s aching portrayal of a failed actor in The Big Knife is key to this preoccupation: he “sold out his dreams but he can’t forget them.” This same struggle marked Aldrich himself as a troublesome maverick in Hollywood who went so far as to found an independent studio. To paraphrase one of his own titles, forget Baby Jane, whatever happened to Robert Aldrich? Let’s find out.

Steve Seid
Video Curator

Friday, November 21, 2008
6:30 p.m. Vera Cruz
Introduced by Adell Aldrich. A beautiful, cynical, color, widescreen adventure set in Mexico. “This is the movie that immortalized for me Burt Lancaster’s smile.”—Barry Gifford

Friday, November 21, 2008
8:45 p.m. The Last Sunset
Introduced by Adell Aldrich. Rock Hudson and Kirk Douglas in a Western that “quivers with psychosexual tension.”—Film Comment

Friday, November 28, 2008
6:30 p.m. Autumn Leaves
Does a spinster-typist deserve happiness? Fifties psychiatry fare, alternately overwrought and genuinely moving in the expressionist manner of both Joan Crawford and Aldrich.

Thursday, December 4, 2008
8:30 p.m. The Big Knife
Hollywood didn’t have to look far to find images of entrapment and despair. With Lupino, Palance, and Steiger.

Saturday, December 6, 2008
6:00 p.m. Attack!
Introduction and Booksigning by David Thomson. “A brilliant predecessor to Kubrick’s Paths of Glory. . . . Where Kubrick analyzes, Aldrich attacks.”—Time Out

Saturday, December 6, 2008
8:45 p.m. Kiss Me Deadly
Introduced by David Thomson. Aldrich melts down the B detective thriller into a vision of Armageddon in L.A. Ralph Meeker is Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer.

Thursday, December 11, 2008
6:30 p.m. The Garment Jungle
A garment-district noir with political underpinnings: “On the Fashion Front, a radical retort.”—Time Out

Thursday, December 11, 2008
8:20 p.m. The Killing of Sister George
A grotesque parody of the disparity between real life and television “realism.” With Beryl Reid, Susannah York.

Saturday, December 13, 2008
8:40 p.m. Ulzana’s Raid
Introduced by Adell Aldrich. Burt Lancaster tracks an apache insurgent in this disillusioned Vietnam-era Western.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008
7:30 p.m. Twilight’s Last Gleaming
“Aldrich pulls out all the stops in this pulpy, subversive political thriller about a band of rogue American soldiers who seize a missile base and threaten to start World War III if the White House and the Pentagon don’t tell the full truth about Vietnam.”—Village Voice. With Burt Lancaster.

Friday, December 19, 2008
6:30 p.m. . . . All the Marbles
“The subject of female team-tag wrestling could have been treated in terms of its sordidness and squalor. Instead, the characterizations emerge as warmly witty and sweet.”—Village Voice

Saturday, December 20, 2008
8:45 p.m. Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte
“Though (Bette) Davis gives her standard spectacular performance . . . it’s (Olivia) de Havilland who gets the chance to show some unexpected range.”—N.Y. Times

Special thanks to Lucy Laird; Adell Aldrich; Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan; Todd Wiener, UCLA Film and Television Archive; and to Buena Vista, MGM, Sony, 20th Century–Fox, and Universal for providing vault prints.