Then Playing — Red-Headed Woman; The Sunshine Boys; Very Annie Mary

Red-Headed Woman (Jack Conway, 1932). Of all the pre-Code movies I’ve seen, Red-Headed Woman might be the pre-Codiest. The film’s protagonist, Lil Andrews (Jean Harlow), operates with a level of ruthless amorality that would give the gruffest nineteen-seventies antihero pause and there are no signs of just desserts being put before her in a gilded dish. Director Jack Conway’s camera is deeply attentive to Harlow’s physical form as she goes in and out of various slips and other slinky outfits, and if the film isn’t quite a celebration of salaciousness, it definitely feels comfy settling in as Lil schemes her way through several affairs. Harlow crackles in the role, which has the side effect of making many of the characteristically stiff performances around her look that more more atrophied. Henry Stephenson gets a little more out of the magnate who’s one of Lil’s many conquests, mostly because he laces in a thread of shame.

The Sunshine Boys (Herbert Ross, 1975). Three years after its stage debut, Neil Simon’s comedy about a vaudevillian comedy team that combatively reunites for a television special is transferred to the screen in a characteristically efficient and nondescript rendering by director Herbert Ross. Walter Matthau plays Willy Clark, the more combustible of the duo, as if he’s charged with reaching hard-of-hearing patrons in the back row of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. As the team’s other half, Al Lewis, Burns counters with practiced understatement and looks all the better for it. He won the Academy Award for the role, a clear expression of sentiment, but it’s totally conceivable that voters were wowed by his unflappability in the face of Hurricane Walter. Simon loads in some decent laugh lines, but The Sunshine Boys is a definitely a lesser work in his towering canon and the film reflect that it. It’s diverting and not much more.

Very Annie Mary (Sara Sugarman, 2001). This genial dramedy of provincial oddballs was released at a time when such fare flooded into arthouse cinemas, a truth writer-director Sara Sugarman seemingly acknowledges with a glancing moment that nicely joshes The Full Monty. Rachel Griffiths plays Annie Mary Pugh, an eccentric who lives in a little Welsh town and endure humiliating belittlement from her baker father (Jonathan Pryce). After he suffers a stroke, Annie Mary finally has an opening to take ownership of her own life, which she does with mixed results. The film is mixed, too, sometimes wavering in tone and focus, an issue that extends to the lead performances as both Griffiths and Pryce don’t always walk steadily on the line between colorful and overacting. This much is certain: For discerning cineastes who long to see Matthew Rhys and Ioan Gruffudd perform a flouncy duet of the Annie Get Your Gun number “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun” in their native accents, Very Annie Mary delivers.

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