‘Universal 100’: Better Than the Studio Tour


This is what you get when you retro a major Hollywood studio’s centennial—a Mall of America–size grab bag of indulgences, leaving you with two choices: Bask in a favorite or catch up with a neglected oddball. For the former, nobody should have to tell you that seeing Jaws (1975) in late July is an ace in movie golf, nor should screenings of hothouse staples like American Graffiti (1973), Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), The Birds (1963), or Touch of Evil (1958) be avoided for any reason besides overfamiliarity. I’d hate to see the retro zeitgeist swing away from Brazil (1985) and toward E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), but it might be too late already. (If you must Spielberg, angle toward 1971’s Duel, a film made by a kid for grown-ups, not the reverse.) On the other hand, existential odyssey The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) and the kitsch bomb of Robert Siodmak’s Cobra Woman (1944) never go out of style.

Of course, Universal gained its first burst of fame in the ’30s with its monster cycle, beginning in 1931 with Dracula and Frankenstein (these two crusty, innocent old things, responsible for so much of the world we live in), and though I might prefer the cobwebby trials of Larry Talbot and Co. in the cooler days of fall, a late-July triple bill of The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), and The Wolf Man (1941) is difficult to resist.

Most of the Hitchcocks and the noirs you should also have under your belt already. Amid the lesser-known left curves in the lineup, one shouldn’t overlook a discovery of Jerry Schatzberg’s dour, beautiful, Faye Dunaway–fueled Puzzle of a Downfall Child (1970), George Sherman’s forgotten medical-noir The Sleeping City (1950), and Paul Fejös’s Lonesome (1928), a silent romance triaged with inserted talkie scenes but still pearl-perfect and not revered nearly enough.