Netflixable? “The Royal Treatment,” a haircut with dull scissors

Nobody sets out to make cinematic pablum as bland as “The Royal Treatment.” Then again, as there are entire TV channels devoted to edge-free “meet a prince” female wish-fulfillment fare, maybe they do.

Apparently, Netflix is getting into that business as well.

A movie with dull leads, scripted by a veteran of second tier sitcoms and helmed by an even less promising director, it started life flavorless and nobody added even a hint of spice along the way.

Two supporting players, acting as if they’ve got nothing to lose so they might as well have some fun, steal the picture without even trying. Not that there’s much to steal.

“Royal” is a Laura Marano star vehicle, and the onetime child starlet (“Austin & Ally”) dials up the “perky” as Izzy, a very Italian New Yorker who runs the struggling family hair salon and charms everybody in her corner of 183rd St. (The Bronx?) as she does.

One day, a misdial from visiting royalty sees her summoned to give a haircut to the guy the newspapers are calling “The Hot Prince” (Mena Massoud, who starred in the live-action “Aladdin”). Izzy’s feistiness intrigues him. As he’s about to marry, and the little European principality where he lives needs some sassy New York stylists to primp one and all for the wedding, Izzy and her garish pals Lola and Destiny are off to Lavonia to bedazzle every Euro-stiff within reach.

Naturally, Izzy finds herself coming between the prince and his rich, airheaded Texas intended (Phoenix Connolly). But even that potential conflict is smothered in the crib as this Holly Hester script just has no room for conflict — you know, the stuff DRAMA is made of.

I’d quote clever snippets of dialogue, but there aren’t any. I’d plug the performances, but the leads are as colorless as they are pretty. Even the standard-issue “snippy” royal valet (Cameron Rhodes) is rendered less interesting than the vapid character “type” he’s meant to be.

The one corner of “Treatment” where things threaten to spark to life is in the war of wills between the French-accented palace wedding planner (Sonia Gray) and Izzy’s two colorful hair and makeup pals (Grace Bentley-Tsibuah, Chelsie Preston Crayford). They have the voices, the wardrobe and the brass to make even the most exhausted “MAKE-over!” scene pop, just a little.

Everything else in “The Royal Treatment” is as tedious and common as all involved could make it.

Rating: TV-G

Cast: Laura Marano, Mena Massoud, Grace Bentley-Tsibuah, Chelsie Preston Crayford, Sonia Gray and Cameron Rhodes.

Credits: Directed by Rick Jacobson, scripted by Holly Hester. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:36

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Movie Review: Bleeding out and needing a priest for one last “Confession”

So what does the sanctuary-set thriller “Confession” have that makes it stand out other movies with the same setting and similar “Father, I have sinned” messaging? Aside from being the longest 80 minutes of your January, 2022 movie-watching month?

Stephen Moyer plays a man who shows up, armed and bleeding-out, in the sanctuary of a Catholic church where Father Peter (Colm Meaney) “is just about to lock up” for the night.

Not so fast, Padre. This guy gasps out “How many exits?” He forces the priest to lock them all. Then he tells him his story.

The priest keeps interrupting him, offering “pain killers” and to “cauterize” that wound until they can get him to the hospital.

“I’m already dead,” the stranger sputters. Who and what is he? Why is he so intent on confessing in front of this particular priest, a Man of God who seems to know an awful lot about bleeding wounds and doesn’t flinch at the pistol pointed at him?

The possible plot directions make the mind reel with possibilities. The writer-director chooses the worst of them to pursue.

Checking his credits, a fellow who made a couple of quite badly-reviewed/mostly-unseen indie features under the name “Ronnie Thompson” probably wanted to change his name for a fresh start. David Beton it is.

The two men bicker a bit over theology and “not here to judge you” things, but the bleeding man, named Victor, starts to open up. Father Peter eggs him on.

“Do what you say you’ve never done! Face up to your transgressions!” Confess, in other words.

Meanwhile, there’s a third party (Clare-Hope Ashitey) in the church, hiding, also armed, also bleeding. And she’s not hear to just bear witness, either.

This isn’t a bad cast, but “Confession” is a bad script. The “twists” barely merit that label, the story leading up to those twists barely holds one’s interest. The entire affair is contrived and melodramatic in the extreme.

Decent lighting means the sanctuary is bathed in blueish late-night night and the estimable Irishman Meaney never gives a bad performance. Moyer, of TV’s “True Blood” once played Captain Von Trapp in a live TV performance of “The Sound of Music.” You’d never know that from this one-note performance.

Whatever finale all this is headed towards, one can’t help but feel writer-director David Beton’s going to ensure that it’s a cheat and a let-down at the same time. Which it is.

Rating: unrated, violence, profanity

Cast: Colm Meaney, Stephen Moyer and Clare-Hope Ashitey

Credits: Scripted and directed by David Beton. An Uncork’d release.

Running time: 1:21

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Marvin Lee Aday, aka Meat Loaf: 1947-2022, Rest in Power Chords, Big Guy

In the ’70s, city kids across America got the jump on the rest of us by falling into “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and discovering Meat Loaf ahead of the curve.

On the screen, Marvin Lee Aday lights up that ultimate cult film, and did so before he exploded on the radio with the blockbuster LP “Bat Out Hell,” which is how the rest of America picked up on the singular talent that was Marvin Lee Aday.

This was power pop at its most melodic, songs by Jim Steinman, singing by the burly big man with the bigger voice.

He didn’t know it at the time, but he was inspiring and setting the stage for young Jack Black, the comic, singer and comic singing star of Tenacious D.

Black repaid his idol for letting him know that you didn’t have to be svelte and to be a star with a role in his 2006 movie, “Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny,” which is when I caught up with him for a little interview, posted below.

One of a kind, who inspired another one of a kind behind him. Yes, he died of complications from COVID, per TMZ. And yes, he was outspoken and anti-Vax, anti-mask mandates. Still, Rest in peace, Loaf.

That belting voice, the bombast, the beef — Meat Loaf and Jack Black,
think of them as two burly peas in a pod. If there’s one guy Jack
Black seems to aspire to be, it’s Meat Loaf. It’s as obvious as his
entire music (side) career, his posing, howling histrionics as
frontman for rock parodists Tenacious D.

And when Black needed a man to play his dad in his dream rock opera,
“Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny,” the call went out to the Loaf.

“He’s been bugging me to do this for five years,” Meat Loaf says of
the film, in which he plays a singing, judgmental preacher-dad to “JB”
(Black). “But then, I’d wanted Jack to play me in the VH-1 movie about

Black says that Meat Loaf “inspired me with his brand of theatrical
genius, and I’m going to look like him when I’m older.”

And yes, the big/big-voiced rocker, famed for theatrical hit singles
and epic stage shows, did see the resemblance.

“We’re both actors. We’re both musicians. All those rock-star posters
that get ripped down in the movie? I’ve got something in common, done
a tour or a show, with just about all of them.

“And Jack and I are both high-energy. We’re both into The Who. That’s
who I modeled myself after, Roger Daltrey and The Who.”

There’s a Who thread that runs through Black’s Tenacious D tunes, and
even his turn as a rock-obsessed substitute teacher in School of Rock.
Who guitarist Pete Townshend’s “power slide” — when a guitar player
takes a running start and slides, on his knees, across the stage, in
concert — plays a part in the training scenes of JB in Tenacious D in
the Pick of Destiny.

Black wrote Meat Loaf a song about rock ‘n’ roll being Satan’s music,
“and I cut that thing in about 15 minutes. Perfect song for me. His
songs tell stories. So do mine,” Meat Loaf says.

“It was a perfect fit. My grandfather was a minister. I mean, I went
to church school when I went to college. I could’ve been a TV
evangelist. I think I would’ve done well at it. But then, you go
straight to the dark place when you do that, don’t you?”

Tenacious D is about stocky, rock-obsessed acoustic guitarists Kyle
Gass and Jack Black, the myth of how they came together as a band
named Tenacious D, and a satanic guitar pick they need to reach the
heights of rock stardom. It assumes a sort of shared rock knowledge,
its legends, its excesses and its cliches, in its audience.

“The people who go see this are not your Aida fans,” Meat Loaf jokes.
“Is he making fun of me? I don’t think so. I don’t think of myself as
‘arena rock.’ I saw Def Leppard. Saw Bon Jovi once. I think I’m on the
rock side of the equation, but not that hair-band, arena-rock thing
that Jack’s going after here. I’ve done Monsters of Rock shows with
guys like Dio [who’s in the movie].”

Philip Dodd’s The Book of Rock describes Meat Loaf, born Marvin Lee
Aday, as “Pavarotti-and-then-some,” and that pretty much sums him up.
A singer and actor since the stage version of Hair, a scene-stealer in
1975’s cult hit, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, he was famous for his
acting before the music thing took off.

And it did. He’s on tour right this minute with the third installment
in his Bat Out of Hell albums. Now 59, he’s pushing his new CD,
“playing arenas again.”

Which he’s more than happy to do.

“It’s not about waving to the girls in the front row, blowing kisses.
It’s about delivering the message. That’s what rock is. As long as the
movie does that, too, I’m happy with it.”

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Movie Review: A Classic Cold War Comedy — “The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!” (1966)

Anyone who grew up during the first Cold War remembers “Duck and Cover” drills, the “Domino Theory,” the proven-accurate warnings of communist enslavement and the Red Baiting by a political party that would later come to embrace minoritarian rule and Russian strongarm fascism as its creed.

The stress of living in the shadow of that produced some of the most enduring cinema of that age — the Bond films and all manner of more serious espionage thrillers, the grim warnings of “Failsafe” and its satiric flipside, “Doctor Strangelove, of How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.”

And there were classic comedies that came out of the Cold War as well. Billy Wilder’s Coca-Cola Cold War lampoon “One, Two Three” (1961) might be the greatest, for my money one of the funniest films ever made. And Norman Jewison’s “The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!” gives it a run for its money.

A fish-out-of-water farce about a Russian sub that runs aground Down East, just off a fictional Massachusetts island, it is cultures clashing at their most comical and a grand Make Work Project for every character actor in Hollywood in the style of that “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World” era.

A jaunty Russo-American score by Johnny Mandel, elbow-jabbing cameos left and right, grand slapstick spinning around Carl Reiner, in his finest Everyman big screen performance, with an antic turn by legendary comic Jonathan Winters and seething slow-burn by Brian Keith, it was the also the big screen debut of one the greatest character actors of our age — Alan Arkin.

This trailer from the time sold it, then and now, and lets Reiner trot out his “roving TV reporter” shtick from the early TV and “The 2,000 Year Old Man” routines with Mel Brooks. Did Reiner write it? It sure plays like that.

This movie was a beloved piece of my childhood (I only ever saw it on TV). And when I grew into my big boy pants and could start collecting movie posters, it was the first I bought, a “Mad Magazine” style illustration by the great cartoonist Jack Davis.

When the Florida Film Festival lined up the Oscar-winning Arkin for “An Evening With” tribute some years back, this was the movie Arkin chose to show and talk about afterwards. He ended up calling in sick for that appearance, but not before I got him on the phone to talk about it, a thrill-of-a-lifetime interview with one of my heroes.

Watching “Russians” last night what hit me the hardest was how brilliantly-acted the thing is, top to bottom.

The most hilarious scenes are the Keystone Comrades ones among the Russian crew. Jewison, a seven-time Oscar nominee who went on to make “Moonstruck” and “The Thomas Crown Affair,” was best known for his socially relevant dramas — “In the Heat of the Night,” “The Hurricane,” “A Soldier’s Story.” He instantly creates friction, paranoia and disconnection in scenes that on some prints of the film have no translated subtitles, which heightens their alienation.

We get comical, irritable shouting matches in Russian between Arkin, who grew up speaking Russian thanks to his immigrant parents, and the great multi-lingual character player Theodore Bikel, who plays the reckless “just wanted to see America” (through the periscope) captain to Arkin’s sub “political officer,” the only English speaker in the crew.

Bikel makes the captain’s CYA lashing-out panic palpable, and Arkin launches his screen acting career with the forced-patience of seething, exasperated dismay at idiots-all-around-me that became something of a trademark. He was still trotting it out as the Old Man of Hollywood in his Oscar-nominated turn in “Argo.”

And establishing the cast’s Russian language bonafides (a Russian speaker supporting player also served as dialect coach) makes the Russian-accented fractured English trotted out by Arkin and his comrades that much more authentic, and hilarious, when they must interact with the Gloucester Island Yankees.

“Plizz to remain absolutely good behaved so zat zis man, marksman of prize-winning caliber, will not have the necessity of shutting you to small pisses!”

Emehrgancy! Everybody to get from STRIT!”

There are nuances to Keith’s performance as the increasingly frustrated “let’s everybody calm down” police chief. The part, as written (by “Ladykillers” screenwriter William Rose, adapting the Nathaniel Benchley novel) and played by Keith, begins as sleepy and indulgent, a character who makes the journey to exasperated and furious thanks to the rising level of chaos around him, the literal sabre rattling by the foolish old vet who appoints himself “leader” (Paul Ford, more hilarious than usual) and the shenanigans of Russian sub crewmen, sneaking about town, wrecking the phone system, taking locals hostage and trying to “borrow” a motorboat to pull their (replica) sub off the sandbar that Kapitan Klumsikov has run them onto.

The young Russian sailor (John Phillip Law of “Barbarella”) who holds the playwright (Reiner) and his family (Eva Marie Saint is criminally under-used as the put-upon wife) hostage, and falls for the blonde American babysitter (Andrea Dromm) is a pleasant-enough distraction from the island-wide panic and convoys of locals either fleeing or hunting for Russians.

Winters is in fine form as the dizzy top cop under the chief. Veteran players Dora Murunde, Tessie O’Shea and Parker Fennelly make cute/crank impressions as dotty locals. Everywhere you look on this coastal California shoot, there are funny and familiar faces from the films and TV of the era.

And Keith’s future “Family Affair” TV co-star Johnny Whitaker plays the child who is the focus of the film’s still-touching climax.

Jewison uses crane shots to capture the growing chaos of a village of delusional descendants of “Minutemen” swarming hither and yon, often running past or over Reiner’s Walt Whitaker, the “reasonable” man of the city who knows what this is all about and how to couch it in the least harmful terms, if only he can get the rubes to listen to him.

The title and the whole Paul Revere angle to it gives the film one hilarious recurring gag, the tipsy yokel (silent cinema vet Ben Blue) chasing his recalcitrant horse all over the island so that he can mount it to cry out the alarm. The horse’s teasing, just-beyond-my-owner’s-reach game is maybe the subtlest pratfall in the film.

The whole West Coast subbing for the East coast thing, and the choice of film stock, gives “Russians” the look of a film whose every exterior looks as if it was shot at about 7 am. Given its real-time/reel-time, that isn’t out of order. The idea is that all of this happens before everybody is wholly awake, although of course the bar can open early, “CASH only,” for Winters’ cop to preach “We’ve got to get ORGANIZED” in.

Perhaps Saint wouldn’t have been up to anything more comic in her high-billed/little-used supporting role. She’s not remembered for her comic chops. The only genuine time-wasting bit is stopping to give then-unknown character player Michael J. Pollard close-ups for his mannered, fussy bit role as mechanic who runs the airport.

But this picture still plays, amusingly anchored by Reiner, playing the fish MOST out of water, exasperated at every turn at his family, his TV-violence-addicted son (Sheldon Collins, gloriously obnoxious), the menacing Russians and almost-as-menacing locals.

I don’t know what the film has to say to people today (the Canadian Jewison could certainly have made that case), with the country at its most divided and a full third of it admiring Russia, Russian influence-money and envying its single-party rule. Maybe it’s the escape to a simpler time, when we all had a notion of who we were and where the real threat lay, that has value in this 56 year-old classic.

What matters is it is aging beautifully, that Arkin may have won his Oscar decades later, but he was never better than in this epic comedy, slow-burning in Russian and English with the funniest people in Hollywood surrounding him.

Wish I hadn’t lost the poster.

Rating: unrated, some violence, lots of threats

Cast: Carl Reiner, Alan Arkin, Eva Marie Saint, Brian Keith, Jonathan Winters, John Phillip Law, Andrea Dromm, Paul Ford and Theodore Bikel — with Ben Blue, Dora Murande, Parker Fennelly, Guy Raymond, Cliff Norton, Tessie O’Shea, Richard Schaal, Oscar Maxwell and little Johnny Whitaker

Credits: Directed by Norman Jewison, scripted by William Rose, based on the novel by Nathaniel Benchley. A United Artists release on Tubi, Roku, Amazon and elsewhere.

Running time: 2:06

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Movie Review: An officer deals with blowback of an accident, “A Shot Through the Wall”

It happens so fast, so abruptly, that we’re almost as rattled and surprised as the character it happens to.

Officer Mike Tan’s department-issued pistol goes off as he draws it out of its holster. He wasn’t pointing it, wasn’t in sight of the suspect he and his partner were chasing on a hunch. It was an accident, but in “A Shot Through the Wall,” we learn of the ramifications and consequences of this in-the-moment blunder.

The debut feature of writer-director Aimee Long is a somber, thought-provoking essay on policing, race, firearms and family. We see the a young man die from that random, careless shot, the defensive circling of the police department wagons that accompanies any “officer involved shooting” and the aching guilt of the man in blue who had no reason to have his hand on the trigger in the first place.

Kenny Leu of TV’s “The Long Walk Home” and “Kat Loves LA” is Officer Tan, a decent sort who dotes on his Chinese immigrant parents (Fiona Fu, Tzi Ma), counts himself lucky in his choice of fiancée (Ciara Renée) but probably wishes his partner hadn’t profiled those Black Brooklyn teens whom they’d expected to be in school. He really wishes one kid hadn’t fled, and Tan rues the day he chased the kid — because he fled a police stop-and-frisk — into an apartment building where the seemingly simple act of unholstering his firearm, under duress, ends one life and threatens to unravel his.

The story is told in flashback, the three months leading up to an introductory mother/son “cooking” opening scene — from the impromptu rookie-cop team’s chase and shooting, to the police union rep (Dan Lauria) who assures him “Everything’s gonna be fine,” to the blowback that turns that reassurance on its ear.

Suffice it to say there was cell phone video, the victim was Black and public tolerance for this sort of “mistake” by armed, aggressive police is at an all-time low.

Long tells this story entirely from the clumsy cop’s point of view, fleshing out the doting but nagging parents, the Black, mixed-race social worker he plans to marry and her resistance to being used in any “He CAN’T be a racist” media campaign thanks to the way her precinct chief dad (Clifton Davis, quite good) was showcased as the face of departmental tolerance for years.

Leu and Long play up the guilt Tan feels and the guarded way any human gesture — showing up at a vigil, trying to speak to the grieving mother — is impossible in any situation like this. The union and the lawyers won’t have it, the grieving families resist it and the media pokes a finger into any open wound it recognizes in media-mad New York.

Relationships suffer all up and down the line, knowing the “right thing” to say or do in the face of legal action, the fraught nature of race both within the NYPD and how it is viewed by the public

That said, “A Shot Through the Wall” pulls its punches, here and there, and doesn’t land a clean blow in the convoluted way Long tries to address institutional racism in this story. The ending is as abrupt as the shooting at the beginning, and entirely too pat to be believed. And layering in cooking in any Chinese-American tale is simply a cliche, at this point.

But Leu makes a solid lead, Renée a properly conflicted love interest and in Fu and Ma, Long gives Chinese-American parents who transcend the Hollywood stereotypes of such characters — at least somewhat.

Rating: unrated, violence

Cast: Kenny Leu, Ciara Renée, Fiona Fu, Tzi Ma, Dan Lauria and Clifton Davis

Credits: Scripted and directed by Aimee Long. A Vertical release.

Running time: 1:29

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Movie Preview: Josephine Decker’s “The Sky is Everywhere” comes to Apple TV

A dramatic romance with twists, the picture has the A24 seal of approval.

This Feb. 11 release gives us an Apple option for our Valentine’s Day viewing.

Looks complicated.

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Movie Review: “Clean,” a Trashman who “wasn’t always a Trashman”

There’s something to be said for a B-movie that doesn’t deviate from formula, that pulls you in to its simple “revenge” plot and doesn’t let go until the credits roll.

Oscar-winner Adrien Brody knows what I’m talking about. Sure, he takes Wes Anderson’s calls, and never turns down a showy TV role in a high profile series — “Peaky Blinders” and “Succession” among them.

But one gets the impression he’d chuck anything with “prestige” attached to it just to play another brooding loner, just for another shot at being the mysterious man of violence who lives through his (voice over) interior monologues, just for another chance to bump fists and share a “My MAN” with RZA.

Nic Cage works constantly to distract himself from whatever troubles haunt him. Cusack loves black baseball cap riffs that suggest he’s a big screen bad guy, and maybe a bit of a scary. Brody? He immerses himself in genre grit, panning for “cool” and not gold in B movie after B movie.

“Clean” is the character’s name and his profession. He’s a solitary sanitation worker who covers his urban New York route in silence, save for the voice narrating inside his dead.

“I’m still looking for answers. I just don’t know the question.” Garbage and junk are his life. He’s cleaning up a “filthy world.” But that trash, “Where does it all go?”

Clean picks up junk that can be salvaged or fixed — bikes to vacuums. Even his after-hours ride, an ’80s Buick Grand National Regal, is junk kept running by other junk.

He feeds a scrapyard dog, paints over graffiti in the sea of abandoned housing (Utica, New York is the primary location). And when he sees her waiting for the bus, he gives a tween (Chandler DuPont) a bag lunch, a kind word or a ride. Her granny’s “She’s not your daughter” and “We don’t need anyone to save us'” earns a “Just trying to save myself,” which is implicit.

Yes, he’s in a 12 step program. Mykelti Williamson is his righteous sponsor and barber who keeps Clean on the straight and narrow. RZA is the pawn shop operator who buys antiques that Clean fixes.

But there’s a mob in town, and the boss (Glenn Fleshler, gloriously vile) has noticed what the guy nobody notices notices. And that’s sure to spell trouble when the boss and the corrupt cops in his orbit spills some blood seemingly to celebrate the dissolute son who gets out of prison.

You could number the surprises in this formulaic “the trashman wasn’t always a trashman” thriller somewhere between “few” and “none.” We can read everything we need to know about the character in Brody’s choice of hoodie and hair style. The reason the little girl is there is for rescuing. The whole point of putting him in a Grand National is for a muscle car/police chase in which the anti-hero can pretend to shift gears.

I didn’t care. Brody is riveting in this part, which he co-wrote with director Paul Solet.

It’s fascinating to read the actor’s self-image into every “good bad man” trope he trots out. And in his umpteenth slumming on that side of the cinema tracks, he’s made a good bad movie, with every scripted shortcoming, every too-obvious “take out the trash” analogy, every vain “I’m not some coddled movie star, I’m a badass” pose just as much an asset as it is a failing.

Rating: unrated, graphic violence

Cast: Adrien Brody, Glenn Fleshler, Chandler DuPont, Mykelti Williamson, Michelle Wilson and RZA

Credits: Directed by Paul Solet, scripted by Adrien Brody and Paul Solet. An IFC release.

Running time: 1:34

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Movie Preview: A comedy about a Coven — “King Knight”

This Feb. 17 release produced a trailer that gave me a chuckle or three. Prom King “evolves” into a leader of witches, plainly under false pretenses.

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Movie Preview: Is “Therapy Dogs” “the last high school movie?”

Check out the DIY energy in this fly-on-the-wall take on misspent youth, high school recklessness and aimlessness.

“Fight Club” “Sk8rboi” garage band white kids misbehaving as only they can (and get away with it).

“Therapy Dogs” has its premiere at Slamdance, because it’s way too cool looking for Sundance.

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Classic Film Review: “Street Scene” (1931), a snapshot of city life and theatrical realism

I avoid checking out early sound films as a rule. The bulky cameras and sound gear make for static productions. The acting is of a more theatrical “classical” pre-“Method” era and seems as stagebound as the blocking and camera work.

The film of Elmer Rice’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Street Scene” might be a case in point. But King Vidor’s film of this single (almost) set movie leans into those handicaps and makes a fascinating time capsule for Depression Era America, the state of American drama, pre-Production Code cinema and the motion picture just as it was evolving into the talking motion picture.

It’s a chatty character study parked firmly on the stoop of a New York Hell’s Kitchen brownstone, a “Hot enough for you?” summer tale of infidelity, gossip and a melting pot that more or less melted together so long as nobody got their backs up about xenophobia, Italian flattery of Mussolini and the one Jewish family could turn a deaf ear to anti-Semitic slurs and a bullying goon.

The acting varies from subtle to ham on the hoof. Legendary stage and screen character actress Beulah Bondi stands up for acting’s old school, milking her tone-deaf, judgmental and hypocritical busybody Mrs. Jones for all that she’s worth.

“What them foreigners don’t know about bringin’ up a baby would fill a book.”

Characters can seem like caricatures — such as Mrs. Jones’ mob goon son (T.H. Manning) and bottle blonde floozie of a daughter (Greta Granstedt).

But what stands out is the subtle turn by Sylvia Sidney as Rose, a sexually-harassed office worker fending off her boss’s advances, enjoying the company of the sensitive Jewish neighbor Sam (William Collier Jr.), but struggling to keep the peace between her lonely and possibly-straying mother (Estelle Taylor) and her bluff and abusive stage hand husband (David Landau).

Rice’s snapshot of tenement life is straight-up melodrama, with the various “types” behaving mostly according to type, and an ending preordained based on the what we learn about the characters in the opening act. His single-set show has characters calling out of windows, climbing through windows, harassing and sticking up for each other, passing around ice cream cones one moment, judging the next.

Vidor, with director of photography George Barnes (and uncredited assistant from future “Citizen Kane” wizard Gregg Toland), only manages a few visual flourishes in an opening sequence (crane shots) that might have been filmed silently and looped later, insofar as that process was developed at the time.

“Street Scene” is famously “pre-Code” although the only surviving print of it is apparently “approved,” as in tidied up according to Production Code standards. It’s still jarring to hear long-abandoned slurs dropped with the casual ease of regular use.

As dated as it obviously is, there’s a timeless quality to the work that makes it a cultural touchstone, the movie anyone making a New York City period piece today consults and references when recreating the “street scenes” of a “Godfather,” “Do the Right Thing” or what have you. What everybody observes about neighborhood life, Rice observed and recorded first almost 100 years ago.

The fact that the play was later made into an opera by Kurt Weill seems almost redundant. Rice’s dialogue, performed in solos or duets, is the music of the ’20s (the play premiered in 1929), so imitated its like every New York Depression movie since has been a sing-along.

Rating: unrated

Cast: Sylvia Sidney, Estelle Taylor, Beulah Bondi, David Landau, William Collier Jr., Russell Hopton, George Humbert, Greta Granstedt, Max Montor and John Qualen

Credits: Directed by King Vidor, scripted by Elmer Rice, adapted from his play. A Samuel Goldwyn release.

Running time: 1:28

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