National Theatre offers free Burt Lancaster film series

Burt Lancaster series offers movie classics

Jason Fraley | November 14, 2014 4:48 am

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Jason Fraley, WTOP Film Critic

WASHINGTON – “You know we just don’t recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they’re happening,” said Burt Lancaster’s Moonlight Graham in “Field of Dreams” (1989). “Back then I thought, ‘Well, there’ll be other days.’ I didn’t realize that that was the only day.”

If you’ve been waiting for “other days” to catch up on your movie classics, there’s no time like the present. The National Theatre is offering a free series of Burt Lancaster films at 6:30 p.m. every Monday for the next few weeks in the Helen Hayes Gallery at 1321 Pennsylvania Ave., NW.

Why spend $15 for a hit-or-miss chance on a new release, when you’re guaranteed to see a great classic movie for free?

Here’s the schedule, complete with links to the trailers:

If you want to gain as much pop culture knowledge as possible, try making it to as many as you can.

If you can only make a few, here are my three favorites:

“From Here to Eternity” (1953)

Winner of eight Oscars, including Best Picture, the film follows love and loss at Pearl Harbor in the days leading up to the attack. It was directed by Fred Zinnemann a year after he made “High Noon” (1952) and features one of the deepest casts in history: Burt Lancaster; Montgomery Clift (“A Place in the Sun”); Deborah Kerr (“The King and I”); Frank Sinatra (“The Manchurian Candidate”); Donna Reed (“It’s a Wonderful Life”); Ernest Borgnine (“Marty”); Jack Warden (“The Verdict”); and George Reeves (TV’s “Superman”).

The film contains two scenes you just have to see. The first finds Lancaster and Kerr kissing on a beach as a wave crashes over them — a scene you’ve seen featured in countless highlight reels and spoofed in “Airplane!” (1980). The second brings tears to your eye as Clift sounds the bugle to mourn the loss of his friend. The public gives it a 7.9 on IMDB. The critics give it an 88 percent on “Rotten Tomatoes.” Calling it from both sides of The Film Spectrum, I’m giving it 4 out of 4 stars.

“Sweet Smell of Success” (1957)

Arguably one of the most underrated films of all time, Alexander Mackendrick’s “Sweet Smell of Success” pits Lancaster as nasty Broadway columnist J.J. Hunsecker, who forces a press agent (Tony Curtis) into breaking up his sister’s romance with a jazz musician. Lancaster turns Hunsecker into the AFI’s No. 33 Greatest Villain of All Time, rivaling George Sanders’ Addison DeWitt in “All About Eve” (1950) when it comes to powerful, sadistic theater critics.

The script by Ernest Lehman (“North By Northwest”) and Clifford Odets (“The Country Girl”) was voted No. 34 on the WGA’s Top 101 Screenplays of All Time, just ahead of “The Usual Suspects” (1995). It features some of the sharpest one-liners in the history of movies, from “The cat’s in the bag, and the bag’s in the river” to “I’d hate to take a bite outta you. You’re a cookie full of arsenic.” It also features gorgeous black-and-white cinematography by the incomparable James Wong Howe (“Hud”).

The public gives it an 8.2 on IMDB. The critics give it a 98 percent on “Rotten Tomatoes.” Calling it from both sides of The Film Spectrum, I’m giving it 4 out of 4 stars.

“Birdman of Alcatraz” (1962)

Long before “Brooks Was Here” in “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994), Robert Franklin Stroud was in Alcatraz. Based on a true story, Lancaster plays a convict serving a life sentence at the world’s most secure prison. He finds meaning in nursing injured birds back to health, becoming a great ornithologist with just an elementary education.

Directed by John Frankenheimer, the same year he made “The Manchurian Candidate” and two years before directing Lancaster in “Seven Days in May,” the film features Oscar-nominated performances by Lancaster, Telly Savalas (“The Dirty Dozen”) and Thelma Ritter (“Rear Window”), along with memorable roles by Karl Malden (“On the Waterfront”) and Edmund O’Brien (“The Wild Bunch”).

The public gives it an 7.8 on IMDB. The critics give it an 82 percent on “Rotten Tomatoes.” Calling it from both sides of The Film Spectrum, I’m giving it 3 1/2 out of 4 stars.

If you hit all of these screenings and are still craving more Burt Lancaster, check out “The Killers” (1946), “Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961), “The Leopard” (1963), “The Train” (1964), “1900” (1976), “Local Hero” (1983) and “Field of Dreams” (1989).

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