Wuthering Heights (William Wyler, 1939). This adaptation of the classic 1847 Emily Brontë novel of the same name is a signature example of the epic sweep filmmakers could conjure up on soundstages during Hollywood’s golden age, well before it was plausible to truck camera equipment out to remote locales. In depicting the long, doomed plod through romantic misery of Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier, and Rex Downing when the character is a child), director William Wyler gets a lot of mood and heavy drama out of staging, lighting, and tight presses in on actors grandly emoting. Olivier is marvelous in the film, skating right up to the edge of overt theatricality. He sets the benchmark for generations of period pining to follow. There are instances in the film when the narrative turns too abruptly, an understandable infraction given the challenge of condensing a weighty novel into about one hundred minutes of screen time when cinematic storytelling was still finding its footing. Befitting Wyler’s peerless reputation with actors, there are sharp performances across the cast, including nice turns by Merle Oberon and David Niven. Aside from Olivier, the standout is Hugh Williams, who plays fallen scion Hindley Earnshaw with the right tangle of poisonous self-regard and carelessness.
Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street (Marilyn Agrelo, 2021). The nostalgia endorphins catalyzed into being by this documentary are beyond the ability of modern science to measure. Vintage clips of an anthropomorphic typewriter or a kid pretending to be industrial land-moving equipment in a grungy nineteen-seventies sandbox are already enough to send me into states of giddy bliss. The wealth of footage of Muppet performers goofing around behind the scenes is yet another level of joy. Otherwise, Marilyn Agrelo’s documentary is more suitable than inspired, too often flitting between ideas in a way that never really allows a narrative to take shape. The are elements of the long Sesame Street that feel gratingly incomplete, shortchanging the wide-ranging effects of the program.
Logan’s Run (Michael Anderson, 1976). One year before Star Wars demolished the idea that bigscreen science fiction should be anything other than simplified kiddie adventure movies with more zap-zap sounds and rubbery alien masks, Logan’s Run at least tries to introduce trickier ideas to the proceedings. An adaptation of a 1967 novel, the film takes place in a future world where citizens are led to a supposed rejuvenation ceremony when the reach thirty years of age, but a set of rebellious skeptics believe the ritual is simply formalized slaughter. Logan 5 (Michael York) is a sandman, an agent who hunts those who try to flee from their fate. When he is charged with finding the hideout of the escapees, his skepticism over the system he bought into grows, largely because of the threat that his own final day will arrive sooner than expected. Director Michael Anderson prospers in the early world-building portion of the film, largely through skillful framing of the boffo set design and art direction. The more the plot takes over, the more of a grind the film becomes, though its enlivened somewhat by the late appearance of Peter Ustinov, riffing loosely and seemingly just a touch baffled by the film he’s landed in.