Tucked away on an obscure corner of the Federal Broadcasting Company is a small research department run by Bunny Watson (Katherine Hepburn). Bunny and her colleagues Peg (Joan Blondell), Sylvia (Dina Merrill) and Ruthie (Sue Randall) answer all manner of arcane questions submitted to them from throughout the building, and their encyclopedic knowledge is bolstered by an office jammed with every reference book imaginable.  The busy career women are all single, and Peg, Sylvia and Ruthie dream of finding the perfect man, knowing that they’re unlikely to find romance in their bookish enclave.  Bunny isn’t as desperate for male company, especially since she spends so much time fending off the unwelcome advances of her supervisor Mike (Gig Young).

But the arrival of efficiency expert Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy) turns the women’s world upside down. Sumner brings in a computer to collate information, and the women feel threatened by the encroaching technology.  How long before the computer takes all of their jobs? As Sumner eagerly tries to prove that the computer can do a more efficient job than the humans can, he grudgingly comes around to the notion that the researchers are more capable than he gave them credit for; and after a good deal of verbal fencing the possibility of romance begins to bloom between Sumner and Bunny.

As technological threats go, this isn’t exactly The Terminator.  Desk Set has a quaint midcentury optimism that computers, for all their clanking and buzzing, are just corporate playthings that shouldn’t be taken that seriously. This is the lightest of light-hearted romantic comedies, and the durable team of Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy are quite winning in their eighth 0n-screen pairing. Their ninth and final film together would be Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner a decade later. — Michael Popham


DESK SET screens Friday and Saturday, June 19 and 20, at 7:00 and 9:00, and Sunday, June 21 at 5:00 and 7:00 at the Trylon. Tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.




Women spent much of the 1970s insisting on their right to occupy the workplace on the same terms as men, but by the end of the decade things had stalled. While some career women were able to move beyond the secretarial pool and the switchboard, the barriers were still imposing: the number of women in management — even middle management — was vanishingly small. Screenwriters Patricia Resnick and Colin Higgins tried to capture the constant humiliations and frustrations women faced at the office in Nine To Five, a comedy that plays a bit like a paleolithic Office Space.

Violet Newstead (Lily Tomlin) is a sharp go-getter at Consolidated Industries, one of those movie corporations that doesn’t seem to produce anything in particular.  After 13 years on the job, she has come to rule the roost of the secretaries on the 12th floor, but has been repeatedly passed over for promotion to management.  The most galling snub was losing a management position to Franklin Hart (Dabney Coleman), a “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” whom she trained in at the company years earlier.  Now Hart lords his petty authority over the women around him; he shouts at Violet to bring him coffee (while taking credit for her ideas), sexually harasses his secretary Doralee (Dolly Parton) and eyes as fresh game new secretary Judy (Jane Fonda).

The loutish and incompetent Hart doesn’t realize that his office drones have been pushed to the breaking point.  They dream of doing away with him in a series of colorful fantasy sequences, and then — in a mordant screwball-comedy twist — come to believe that they have fatally poisoned him.

There’s a whiff of old Hollywood in Nine To Five, a deceptively simple crowd-pleaser that makes its points without offending its capitalist overlords; Dabney Coleman’s Hart is so cartoonish that no one could call his comeuppance political. The movie is as peppy and sunny as the Dolly Parton song that kicks it off.  And speaking of Parton, this was her first screen role, and she shows herself a natural on-screen; she is so relaxed and convincing you would think she’d already starred in a dozen films.  Jane Fonda’s Judy is rather bland as the new kid, and in fact Fonda — whose production company helped to bankroll the project — is so low-key she seems to be hiding in plain sight. Lily Tomlin is really the protagonist, and she wins us over with a smart, sardonic performance.

This is one of the most popular film comedies of its era, spawning a TV series that — while pretty much forgotten today — lasted three seasons.  The cast of that series included Dolly Parton’s sister Rachel Dennison as Doralee, and Rita Moreno as Violet. — Michael Popham


NINE TO FIVE screens Friday and Saturday, June 11 and 12 at 7:00 and 9:15, and Sunday, June 13 at 5:00 and 7:15.  Tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.




We like to think of documentaries in terms of their utility: they deal in the real and the quantifiable. Even the ones that tell a story do so in a fairly prosaic way. But Jessica Oreck’s remarkable The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga is an elliptical meditation on myths, dreams and the fears evoked both by the supernatural and by the predations of men.

In beautifully photographed scenes, we watch Ukranian villagers working the land their families have lived on for centuries. These are people who still use scythes to cut hay, and while they now use chainsaws to fell trees in the forest, they hitch horses to the logs to haul them off.  The old traditions, the old habits, hold special importance because of the way they tie the villagers both to the land and to the generations that have come before.

In the same way, handed down through generations, the myths and stories of the forest endure. The forest is deep and foreboding; and the history of eastern Europe is exceptionally bloody.  Intercut with the scenes of village life is an animated version of the tale of Baba Yaga, a loathsome witch who lives deep in the forest and eats small children. Young Ivan and Alyota are forced to flee into the woods at night when soldiers attack their home. Like the German tale of Hansel and Gretel, the two stumble upon a witch’s house, but this one is not made of gingerbread; instead it is a house with no windows, that stands on two enormous chicken legs. The witch hopes to devour the children, but creatures of the forest whisper advice to them and help them to stay alive.

The idea of the forest as both sheltering and threatening is deeply rooted in Slavic culture, and Oreck really makes this concept come alive on the screen. The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga is a lovely, lyrical film, carefully crafted with vivid images and underscored with a haunting audio landscape. Don’t miss it. — Michael Popham

THE VANQUISHING OF THE WITCH BABA YAGA screens Monday and Tuesday, June 8 and 9 at 7:00 and 8:30. Tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.



Review by Trylon hall of mirrors designer Thorn Chen

Or how about we try “When you give a picnic, it’s a picnic”? The Lady from Shanghai is as surreal as one-liners like these make it sound. Welles is at his strangest and his most brilliant when spins this hallucinatory noir tale about a straight-shooting Irish sailor who gets himself into an indecipherable web of seduction, murder, and deceit. Rita Hayworth plays the femme fatale, Elsa Bannister, who Michael O’Hara (Orson Welles) spots riding a carriage in Central Park. He is hooked immediately and offers her his last cigarette, but she wraps it up and puts it in her bag saying that she doesn’t smoke. After he improbably fights off a band of ruffians bent on kidnapping her, he picks up her bag and smokes his own cigarette. There’s a gun in her bag. He asks her why she didn’t use it. She replies, “I meant for you to find it.” Already, nothing is making any sense. There’s a plot in the air, but O’Hara can’t stop himself. Roped into working on a yacht with Elsa and her husband Arthur (Everett Sloane), a criminal lawyer he detests, Michael meets George Grisby (Glenn Anders), an even more detestable character who offers him five thousand dollars to murder himself, George Grisby. Something is fishy, but the plot keeps unraveling, leading to a furtive meeting in an aquarium and a hall of mirrors shootout in a Chinatown amusement park. Oh, did I mention that the film has a shootout in a hall of mirrors?

Apparently, Welles was not given final cut privileges over The Lady from Shanghai, a possible explanation for the film’s many incongruences. The movie doesn’t lose very much from this, however, since its entire narrative system is built on incongruities. Aside from Michael O’Hara, all the characters seem as if they’ve been cut out from another movie and plopped in this one, their severe outlines cutting sharply against the background. The effect is helped along by the abundant use of process shots that make the characters look like they were pasted on top of stock footage from exotic locales. Then there are the characters themselves. Elsa is a noir heroine with a checkered past, who masterfully gushes with emotion, or tears, when she needs to, but calculates every drop (“I’m not who you think I am, I just try to be”). Arthur is the archetype of an unscrupulous lawyer, who hires dozens of servants to throw a picnic for his wife on the Western coast of Mexico (“when you give a picnic, it’s a picnic,” says Grisby). Welles takes special glee in depicting Grisby as a loathsome wretch, who we catch many times peeping at Elsa with a spyglass, and whose face is always shown glistening in sweat. Overall, it is a film that wants us to feel how strange cinema, and as extension the world, can really be, especially when it is the world of rich scheming lawyers and their unhappy wives. Or maybe, as another interpretation might have it, it’s just the interior world of Michael’s infatuation with Elsa, as Welles relays in his Beckett-esque imitation of a noir voiceover at the film’s start: “If I’d known where it would end, I would’ve never let anything start… If I had been in my right mind, that is… Once I’d seen her, I was not in my right mind for quite some time.” – Thorn Chen

THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI screens Friday and Saturday, May 29 and 30, at 7:00 and 9:00, and Sunday, June 1 at 5:00 and 7:00.  Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.


The shortest and bloodiest of Shakespeare’s plays got the Hollywood treatment a number of times over the years, but Macbeth never so closely resembled a horror film as it does in this 1948 production. Welles, wild-eyed and brooding, is brilliant as the nobleman told by three witches that he is destined — or perhaps doomed — to become king.

The film’s low budget is obvious but Welles works around his financial limitations cleverly; the expressionist sets and arch camera angles are unsettling (it’s never entirely clear at any point whether we’re indoors or outdoors), and all the walls we see are of barren stone that might be within an ancient castle or out against a looming cliff wall. The eerie sound design and nightmarish visuals evoke the barren, empty world that Macbeth has created for himself.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that an arty, surreal experiment like this would crash and burn at the box offices of 1948. But the film’s reputation has grown over the years, and it’s regarded today as one of the best screen versions of any Shakespeare play.

Jeanette Nolan had played Lady Macbeth on the stage countless times, and Welles has some of his old Mercury players on hand for this one, including Erskine Sanford and William Alland. — Michael Popham

MACBETH screens at the Trylon on Monday and Tuesday, May 25 and 26 at 7:00 and 9:00. Advance tickets are available, and you can purchase them here.