Fire Over England by Dave Kehr
Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh star in a story of romance and intrigue set in Elizabethan England, with the Spanish Armada massing on the horizon line. This 1937 film was one of England's periodic attempts to break Hollywood's stranglehold on the world market. Naturally, an American, William K. Howard, was hired to direct it. It's played rather facetiously, although it doesn't go for laughs--as if the filmmakers had been seized by some 30s version of hipness, and wanted to demonstrate their superiority to the cliched material without jeopardizing their paychecks. Flora Robson, as Elizabeth, mother-hens it over Olivier and Leigh; there's some real wit in her performance. With Leslie Banks, Raymond Massey, and a glimpse of a young James Mason.
[Chicago Reader]

Sidewalks of London (***) by
Incorporating a Warner Brothers backstage musical with a British class melodrama, this touching and lively rags-to-riches tale is a bittersweet look at ambition and romance. The story follows the rise of a street gamine (Leigh) who is at first taken under the wing of a mediocre busker (street musician), marvelously played by Laughton. Under his supervision, her natural talent blossoms. She eventually becomes the toast of the town, while in true A Star Is Born fashion, her former mentor flounders. Leigh, in a pre-Gone with the Wind role, creates a totally sympathetic character who does many unsympathetic things, and in an early role, Harrison gives a nuanced performance as the sophisticated songwriter who spirits her away to fame, fortune, and his penthouse.

Gone With the Wind (****) by Roger Ebert
If you loved "Scarlett," you'll love its prequel! The original "Gone With the Wind" returns today, for people who have somehow missed the classic and fans who can never see it enough. The Music Box is showing the 1939 epic in a new 35mm print. Here's some of what Roger Ebert had to say during the film's 50th-anniversary reissue five years ago:   How does "Gone With the Wind" play after 50 years? It is still a great film, above all, because it tells a great story. Scarlett O'Hara, willful, spoiled, scarred by poverty, remains an unforgettable screen heroine, and I was struck again this time by the strength of Vivien Leigh's performance - by how stubbornly she maintains her petulance in the face of common sense, and by how even her heroism is undermined by her character flaws. The ending still plays like a psychological test for the audience. What do you think we should really conclude? The next-to-last speech in the movie, Rhett Butler's "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," is one many audience members have been waiting for; Scarlett gets her comeuppance at last. Then comes her speech about Tara, about how, after all, tomorrow is another day. Some members of the audience will read this as an affirmation of strength, others as a renewal of self-delusion. (The most cynical will observe that Scarlett, like many another divorcee disappointed in love, has turned to real estate as a career.) As I was watching the restored version, I was struck by the subtlety of the color. I was not sure I altogether approved of it. My memories of "GWTW" are of a movie in bold, bright colors - the flames of the burning of Atlanta were bright red, as were the lips of the heroines. This 50th anniversary version has a more "modern" look to the color, with the brights somewhat muted and the fleshtones more true. The new version has clearer, truer colors, and the print is not banged up, faded or scratched. "GWTW" looks like a new movie again, not a battered veteran of the revival wars. The restoration brings out visual details that have been lost through the generations - the shadowy backgrounds of candle-lit rooms, for example - and makes the film effortlessly watchable by removing all the years of decay. This is a praiseworthy restoration, removing generations of grime and noise from one of the greatest of all Hollywood productions, and presenting it, crisp and clean, in its original aspect ratio. Date of publication: 12/02/1994 [Chicago Sun-Times]

A Streetcar Named Desire by David Pickup
Based on the Tennessee Williams play, this is the film that literally changed the way acting was done. In 1951, a young rising star named Marlon Brando burst upon the scene with an intensity that you could not help but notice. As Stanley Kowalski, Brando spanned the range of human emotion and brought to vivid life one of the most controversial characters ever to appear on the silver screen. While many would have played Stanley as out and out despicable and crude, it is testimony to Brando's skill that he imbues Stanley with sympathy and an odd warmth. The performance was so inspiring that many other actors soon began to take up what was known as "the method". Blanche Dubois (Leigh), a woman in emotional freefall, comes to live with her poor sister Stella (Hunter) and her husband Stanley, in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Blanche, a proud southern belle, has difficulty adjusting to her new surroundings. She cannot let go of the past and exists out of time. Her manners and delicate behavior sharply contrast with the lives of the Kowalskis and their friends. Underneath Blanche’s facade however, lies a seething ocean of raw emotions and anxieties. Stanley, who brims with male libido and sexuality, is the catalyst which brings Blanche’s problems to the surface and touch off her descent into madness. Streetcar has sexual undertones which border on OVERtones. Upon its initial release in 1951, the film was protested by critics who charged that it was lewd and obscene, and even to this day the sexuality is shocking. It is revealed that Blanche, a schoolteacher, has had an affair with a young man. It also seems as if he may have been only one of many. Furthermore, she blames herself for the death of her young husband. It is hinted at that he may have been a homosexual, and that his inability to respond to her advances may have driven him to suicide. Stanley is an aggressive man who takes what he wants and dominates the two women in the apartment. Stella, who at first seems to stay with Stanley out of love, later demonstrates an uncontrollable lust for him when she returns to him after he has beaten her. All three are governed by their longings and slaves to their sex drives. The film more or less takes place in the Kowalskis’ apartment, and the set resembles a stage setup, which is somewhat distracting. You often get the impression that you are watching a filmed play. While it may break some of the realism of the film, it also lends it a hyper-realism which is very effective. A Streetcar Named Desire is a superb film, a landmark in movie history. It possesses some of the best acting you will ever see. It should not be missed.

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (***) by
Vivien Leigh is Karen Stone, a middle-aged widowed actress who retires and settles in Rome to live in peace and solitude. Through a vulgar procuress (Lotte Lenya, in a terrific performance), Mrs. Stone meets a swarthy young stud, Paolo (Warren Beatty). Before long, Mrs. Stone succumbs to the suave gigolo's chicanery, and she soon finds herself losing both her money and her self-respect. Beatty's accent may cause a chuckle or two, but the film, based on a Tennessee Williams novella, does come off, thanks to Leigh's tender portrayal.