Paradise Alley (Hugo Haas / U.S., 1962):

"Stars in the backyard" is the plainspoken theme, the old director gazes out the slum window and sees Shakespeare. The quarrelsome big-city tenement is a movie memory, the Dead End Kids are by now middle-aged, "we’re all condemned." In strolls the humble stranger (Hugo Haas), actually a forgotten European auteur recovering from a breakdown and hoping to revivify the surroundings with a communal illusion. The project is the "local experiment" of a wasteland turned theater, "a movie without film" (cf. Flannery O’Connor’s Church of Christ Without Christ in Wise Blood), every mug and tomboy and yenta in the neighborhood lines up to be in it. A parable of Old Hollywood hooey and personal independent filmmaking, Haas’ schwanengesang is awash in ineffably moving oddness. The stranded cinematographer from the silent days is a concept for Leos Carax (Boy Meets Girl), only here there is a legitimate Keystone alumnus (Chester Conklin) showing off the ancient apparatus of a young medium. Billy Gilbert transforms himself as a splenetic butterball reciting a Chekhovian speech, Margaret Hamilton as his nemesis in ragged robes is nearly coquettish. Corinne Griffith briefly out of retirement savors a bit of gracious pantomime, Marie Windsor in her burlesque undies adduces a lush Fellini note, and so forth until the final miracle, the empty camera now full. Godard’s "most beautiful fraud in the world" is Haas’ curtain call, Kurosawa is somewhere down the road with Dodes’ka-den. With Carol Morris, Don Sullivan, Pat Goldin, and William Schallert. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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