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Séance Screenings

Live Piano Accompaniment by Yakov Gubanov
February 5 (Monday) 7 pm
February 7 (Wednesday) 8 pm

The Last Command

Directed by Josef von Sternberg
US 1928, 35mm, b/w, 88 min.
With Emil Jannings, Evelyn Brent, William Powell

The first of von Sternberg’s American masterpieces, The Last Command relates the story of a Czarist general defeated in the Russian revolution who finds himself down and out in Hollywood, where he works as an extra in a film about the very political upheaval that stripped him of power. Perfectly cast, the film features a gripping, Oscar-winning performance by the celebrated German actor Emil Jannings (two years prior to his work with von Sternberg in The Blue Angel). Like all of von Sternberg’s films, this glittering, sophisticated work, as critic Tony Rayns has noted, is "expertly poised between satire and ‘absurd’ melodrama." American director Preston Sturges once referred to it as about the only perfect film he had ever seen.

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Valentine’s Day Special
February 14 (Wednesday) 9 pm

History is Made at Night

Directed by Frank Borzage
US 1937, 35mm, b/w, 97 min.
With Charles Boyer, Jean Arthur, Leo Carrillo

A drama of jealousy, divorce, and true love discovered, History Is Made at Night has been described by critic Andrew Sarris as "not only the most romantic title in the history of the cinema but also a profound expression of Borzage’s commitment to love over probability." Fleeing from a jealous husband she does not love, Jean Arthur becomes enamored of debonair Parisian head waiter Charles Boyer. Complications inevitably ensue. With cinematography by the masterful Gregg Toland (Citizen Kane), Borzage’s film transcends all the clichés of its type and stands as a beautifully modulated romance—sensitive where other films would be sentimental or maudlin—and, above all, as great and engrossing entertainment. Sarris ranks it among the top three films of its year, 1937.

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February 26 (Monday) 7 pm
February 28 (Wednesday) 9 pm

The Talk of the Town

Directed by George Stevens
US 1942, 35mm, b/w, 118 min.
With Jean Arthur, Ronald Colman, Cary Grant

One of the classic romantic comedies of the 1940s, The Talk of the Town utilizes a timely discussion of competing political ideologies as its central plot complication. The story revolves around the plight of a small-town New England free thinker, Leopold Dilg (Grant), who has been framed on arson charges by a local factory owner and wrongly sentenced to death. On a dark and stormy night, Dilg escapes his jailers and finds refuge in a cottage owned by his old high-school classmate Nora (Jean Arthur). The house, however, has been leased by an eminent law professor (a bearded Colman, dubbed by the New York Times film critic as "100 per cent Harvard Law") whose arrival precipitates a hasty retreat to the attic by the fugitive. From these elements, Stevens creates a sophisticated narrative that brilliantly interweaves a romantic triangle with threads of a detective story, courtroom drama, and Keystone Kops antics.

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Harvard Film Archive • Carpenter Center • 24 Quincy Street • Cambridge MA 02138 • 617-495-4700