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Cinema A to Z: Treasures from the Harvard Film Archive 

Film Titles from N to R


July 16 (Sunday) 7 pm

Ninotchka

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
US 1939, 35mm, b/w, 110 min.
With Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, Bela Lugosi

Launched by mgm with the ad campaign "Garbo Laughs!," Ninotchka was not, strictly speaking, the first time actress Greta Garbo had laughed on screen; but it was the first time this queen of the quality melodrama starred in a predominantly comic film. A rigid and dour Russian agent, Comrade Ninotchka comes to France on government business and finds herself risking honor and career when she falls for Paris and for a suave capitalist playboy (Douglas). The film demonstrates the artistry of director Lubitsch’s palette: the smoothest blending of romance, farce, and satire into a fairy-tale screwball comedy. With scintillating dialogue co-written by Billy Wilder, Ninotchka was the basis for the Broadway musical and film Silk Stockings.

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July 16 (Sunday) 9 pm

A New Leaf

Directed by Elaine May
US 1970, 35mm, color, 102 min.
With Walter Matthau, Elaine May, Jack Weston

Combining her already well-established talents as a writer, director, and comedienne, Elaine May made her directorial film debut with this thoroughly delightful satiric comedy. May herself plays a frumpy, eccentric, klutzy, and very wealthy botanist who is pursued with murderous intent by an aging and financially embarrassed rake (Walter Matthau). Despite re-editing by Paramount, which prompted May to disown the film, A New Leaf boasts wonderful performances from both stars.

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July 17 (Monday) 7 pm

The Rose

Directed by Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker
France 1963, 35mm, b/w, 16 min.

A classic work by the master of pin-screen animation, Alexeieff’s The Nose is based on Nikolai Gogol’s story about a Russian major whose nose is discovered by a barber in a loaf of bread.


July 17 (Monday) 7 pm

The Naked Spur

Directed by Anthony Mann
US 1953, 35mm, color, 91 min.
With James Stewart, Robert Ryan, Janet Leigh

Working in a genre that had already developed some of its strongest practitioners (Ford, Hawks, Vidor, Walsh), director Anthony Mann reinvigorated the Western in the 1950s with a series of bristling, psychologically complex dramas that defined a new type of protagonist. Most perfectly embodied in James Stewart, this "hero" was as compelling as John Wayne but possessed of obsessions, self-doubt, and emotional eccentricity. Mann and Stewart made five films together in five years, and The Naked Spur is arguably their finest collaboration. Stewart plays a bounty hunter driven by greed to capture an outlaw (Ryan) who is hiding out in the Rocky Mountains. Justly praised for the ways in which he employs landscape, Mann has been described by Jean-Luc Godard as "the most Virgilian of filmmakers."

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July 17 (Monday) 9 pm

The Night of the Hunter

Directed by Charles Laughton
US 1955, 35mm, b/w, 93 min.
With Robert Mitchum, Lillian Gish, Shelley Winters

The sole directorial effort by actor Charles Laughton, The Night of the Hunter is regarded as one of the most original and strikingly poetic films to have emerged from the Hollywood studio years. Magnificently rendered in atmospheric black-and-white cinema-tography by Stanley Cortez, this dreamlike, near expressionistic fable, set in a small West Virginia community during the Depression, concerns two children who are pursued by a madman-preacher (Mitchum). The film is replete with indelible images, most famously that of the psychotic preacher with L-O-V-E and H-A-T-E tattooed on his knuckles. Based on a novel by Davis Grubb, it was adapted for the screen by James Agee. As the self-styled preacher Harry Powell, Robert Mitchum gives one of his best performances and delivers a hauntingly sinister rendition of "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms."

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July 18 (Tuesday) 7 pm

One Fine Day (Un certo giorno)

Directed by Ermanno Olmi
Italy 1969, 35mm, color, 105 min.
With Brunetto del Vita, Maria Crosignani, Vitaliano Damioli
Italian with English subtitles

Not to be confused with the recent Michelle Pfeiffer-George Clooney comedy of the same title, this One Fine Day is a rarely seen work by Italian director Ermanno Olmi (best known for his Il Posto and The Tree of Wooden Clogs). An advertising executive runs down a laborer on the day he is offered the directorship of the company. On trial for reckless driving, he reexamines his life, especially his failing marriage and career goals. The story and dialogue are based on conversations Olmi had with non-professional cast member del Vita, an advertising executive in real life. A beautiful, humanistic look at people caught up in tragic and complex situations, this was the first of Olmi’s films to focus on the middle classes.

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July 18 (Tuesday) 9 pm

O Lucky Man!

Directed by Lindsay Anderson
England 1973, 35mm, color, 174 min.

With Malcolm McDowell, Ralph Richardson, Helen Mirren

In this modern Candide, actor Malcolm McDowell (reprising the name if not the character of the hero of Anderson’s If . . .) portrays a young man in search of fame and the better things in life. O Lucky Man! was developed from an original treatment by McDowell, based on his experiences as a coffee salesman before he became an actor. Buoyed by optimism in a sea of sham and corruption, McDowell’s salesman pushes his way to the top, only to fall and rise and fall yet again. The film is a brilliant allegorical version of a neo-fascist, modern England, where individuals, institutions, businesses, and governments are rife with corruption. Underlining and counterpointing the action of the film is a wonderful score by Alan Price.

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July 19 (Wednesday) 7 pm

Pas de Deux

Directed by Norman McLaren
Canada 1969, 35mm, b/w, 14 min.

As much an innovator of live-action films as of animation, McLaren created a sublime work of choreography for the camera in this uncanny rendering of a simple pas de deux.

 

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July 19 (Wednesday) 7 pm

Pickpocket

Directed by Robert Bresson
France 1959, 35mm, b/w, 75 min.
With Martin Lassalle, Marika Green, Pierre Leymarie
French with English subtitles

The first film for which director Robert Bresson composed an entirely original script, this tale of a lonely young man who embarks on a career as a petty thief was to some extent inspired by Crime and Punishment. In Pickpocket, however, Bresson deals more directly with themes of submission and salvation. "With theft I entered by the back door into the kingdom of morality," the director stated. After being arrested, Bresson’s novice thief reflects on the morality of a life of crime but, although temporarily deterred, returns to his "vocation" after lessons from a master pickpocket. Voted by Cahiers du Cinéma as the greatest French film of the postwar era, Bresson’s masterpiece has been praised by generations of fellow directors, including Louis Malle, who described its continuing impact: "On its first viewing, it risks burning your eyes. . . . The appearance of Pickpocket is one of the four or five major events in the history of cinema."

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July 19 (Wednesday) 9 pm

Psychomontage

Directed by Eberhard and Phyllis Kronhausen
US 1962, 16mm, b/w, 10 min.

The Kronhausens, a Paris-based team of psychotherapists, produced a series of books as well as several films to present the findings of their exploration of human sexuality. Their Psychomontage offers a provocative and funny look at the erotic in everyday life.

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July 19 (Wednesday) 9 pm

Pickup on South Street

Directed by Samuel Fuller
US 1953, 35mm, b/w, 80 min.
With Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, Thelma Ritter

The iconoclastic American writer and director Sam Fuller specialized in low-budget genre pictures that aspired to topicality, but always with a visceral appeal. This controversial thriller was dismissed by many critics at the time as an anti-Communist, McCarthyist tract but is now admired for its gritty style, ironic subversiveness, and vivid portrait of New York’s underside in the 1950s. Pickup on South Street recounts the story of a pickpocket (Widmark) who inadvertently obtains a top-secret microfilm when he lifts a wallet from a pretty girl (Peters). Ultimately, the two fall in love and expose the spy ring. Thelma Ritter is superb in the role of a Bowery denizen whose rejoinder "What do I know about Commies? Nothing. I just don’t like them" captures the irrepressible moxie of this "desperate kind of masterpiece."

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July 20 (Thursday) 7 pm

Que Viva Mexico!

Directed by Sergei M. Eisenstein; adapted by Grigori Aleksandrov
US 1932, 35mm, b/w, 85 min.
With Felix Balderas, Martin Hernandez, David Liceaga

In 1930, Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein signed a contract with the novelist Upton Sinclair and various other investors (including the Gillette Razor Company) to shoot a film in Mexico. By the end of 1931, with some 50 hours of film shot, Sinclair became restive at the apparently unending flow of footage and suspended the project. Eisenstein left for the Soviet Union, expecting the rushes to be sent to him for completion. They never arrived, however, and the project languished for more than forty years until Grigori Aleksandrov, Eisenstein’s former editor, obtained the material and constructed the most well-known of the many versions that imagine what Eisenstein might have done. The result is a glorious and compelling vision of a mystical Mexico, ravishingly photographed by Eduard Tisse. Told in five segments, with the ultimate ambition of creating "a poem of love, death, and immortality," Eisenstein explores different aspects of indigenous life as well as the plight of the Indians after the Spanish conquest and Catholic indoctrination.

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July 20 (Thursday) 8:45 pm

The Queen of Spades

Directed by Thorold Dickinson
England 1948, 35mm, b/w, 95 min.
With Anton Walbrook, Edith Evans, Yvonne Mitchel

One of the finer directors in British film, whose work remains too little known (the negative of his 1940 version of Gaslight was purportedly destroyed to avoid comparison with the Hollywood remake), Thorold Dickinson was a director of documentaries, shorts, and the occasional dramatic film. Dickinson’s expansion of Aleksandr Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades, set in imperial Russia in 1806, is the tale of a young officer consumed by an obsession to learn the secret of winning at cards from a diabolical old countess. Dickinson infuses the film with an atmosphere of the macabre, brilliantly enhanced by the set designs of Oliver Messel, which evoke the suffocating decadence of the milieu. The director’s elegantly prowling, darting camera and his marvelously eerie sound effects (like the rustling silk and tapping stick that herald the ghostly presence of the countess) pull all the film’s elements together in an impressive crescendo.

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July 21 (Friday) 7 pm

The Rules of the Game (La Règle du jeu)

Directed by Jean Renoir
France 1939, 35mm, b/w, 113 min.
With Marcel Dalio, Nora Grégor, Jean Renoir
French with English subtitles

In his stinging appraisal of the erotic charades of the French leisure class before World War I, Jean Renoir satirizes the manners and mores of a society near collapse. Banned on its initial release as "too demoralizing" and made available again in its original form only in 1956, The Rules of the Game has come to be regarded by many as one of the greatest films ever made. Centering on a lavish country-house party given by the Marquis de la Chesnaye (Dalio) and his wife (Grégor), the film follows the complicated intrigues of the upper-class guests, which are mirrored by the activities of the servants. Alternating between farce and melodrama, realism and tragedy, Renoir’s masterpiece was described by director Alain Resnais as "the single most overwhelming experience I have ever had in the cinema."

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July 21 (Friday) 9 pm

The Running, Jumping, Standing Still Film

Directed by Richard Lester
England 1959, 35mm, color, 10 min.

Before his successful entry into feature production, Richard Lester (A Hard Day’s Night, Petulia) directed this very British, very crazy comedy starring Peter Sellers and the inimitable Spike Milligan.

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July 21 (Friday) 9 pm

La Ronde

Directed by Max Ophüls
France 1950, 35mm, b/w, 97 min.
With Anton Walbrook, Simone Signoret, Gérard Philipe
French with English subtitles

Based on Arthur Schnitzler’s play, which depicts love as a bitterly comic merry-go-round (recently remade as the hit play The Blue Room), La Ronde was deemed "immoral" by American censors and was forbidden to enter the country for many years. Told in ten sketches in which an interconnecting group of lovers changes partners until the liaisons come full circle, La Ronde is a perfect example of Ophül’s wit and elegant amorality, as well as the unmatched mastery of his fluid mise-en-scène. Despite its censorship problems the film was a great box-office success in France, Britain, and North America—not the least, perhaps, because of its all-star cast, which in addition to Walbrook, Signoret, and Philipe includes Serge Reggiani, Simone Simon, Danielle Darrieux, and Jean-Louis Barrault.

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