Then Playing — Dementia 13; Emily the Criminal; Goodbye Again

Dementia 13 (Francis Ford Coppola, 1963). The first feature directed by Francis Ford Coppola is miles away from the elegant import of The Godfather and other more esteemed entries on his filmography. Made within the confines of Roger Corman’s scrappy and unofficial shop class for serious cinema creators, Dementia 13 is set at a foreboding Irish estate where the wealthy Haloran clan resides in a castle haunted by family tragedy. Into this environment comes Louise (Luana Anders), an American woman married into the family whose upset enough about the inheritance plans of the matriarch (Eithne Dunne) that is pushes her to duplicitous doings that include covering up the untimely death of her combative husband (Peter Read). Remarkably enough, that’s only the beginning of Coppola’s screenplay; it gets so much more twisty and lurid from there. Dogged by the usual budget limitations and sensationalistic strictures of a Corman production, Coppola can only bring so much art into the proceedings. It’s iffy to declare Dementia 13 as good by any reasonable measure, but it sure is fun. Everyone in the cast is game, with Anders leading the way in fervent commitment.

Emily the Criminal (John Patton Ford, 2022). Aubrey Plaza is unsurprisingly great as Emily Benetto, a young woman whose troubled past (including a felony conviction) prevents her from getting a foothold as she tries to climb back to a reasonable and humane professional existence. Frustrated by her dire prospects, she engages in credit card fraud, first as a flunky for an underground organization and then all on her own. Writer-director John Patton Ford is impressively assured in his feature film debut, particularly when it comes to depicting the mechanics of Emily’s malfeasance. Some of the other narrative turns feel a little forced, as if meant to prolong the narrative and prevent any setback from being too dangerous or disastrous for our antiheroine. Plaza goes a long way towards correcting that flaw with the depth of feeling she brings to key moments, but she can’t quite bring the film all the way back from that bumpy shoulder.

Goodbye Again (Michael Curtiz, 1933). This comedy is from the era before the Hays Code tightened a vice of morality around narrative possibilities for Hollywood filmmakers, so Ben Markson’s screenplay (adapted from a 1932 play by George Haight and Allan Scott) generates all manner of joyful high jinks from brazen infidelity. Kenneth Bixby (Warren William) is a famous novelist whose latest book tour brings him into the eager embrace of Julie (Genevieve Tobin), an unremembered paramour from college, to the consternation of many, including her husband (Hugh Herbert) and his secretary (Joan Blondell, delightful in her brusque, salty charisma). Director Michael Curtiz keeps the action moving without ever consistently locking into the popping farce pace that the material demands.

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