Forever Burt: Added Screening of THE CRIMSON PIRATE on 35mm!

The Crimson Pirate poster

We’re happy to announce that we’ve added an additional 35mm screening of Robert Siodmak’s 1952 swashbuckling classic THE CRIMSON PIRATE to our Sunday, March 30 schedule, and that Burt’s youngest daughter Joanna Lancaster will be in attendance.

The most successful of Lancaster’s many action-packed swashbucklers made for his Hecht-Hill-Lancaster production company, THE CRIMSON PIRATE features Lancaster as Captain Vallo, leader of a ship of pirates intent on disrupting the plans of the British navy, who are sailing through the Caribbean to quash a rebellion on the island of Cobra. Aided by his first mate Ojo (Lancaster’s boyhood friend and circus partner Nick Cravat), Vallo meets with the rebels and promises to help them, but the rebels, wary of outsiders, do not trust him. As Vallo, Ojo, and the rest of the pirates work to prove themselves trustworthy, Vallo’s lust for money threatens to undermine their efforts. “Any viewer with a drop of red blood in his veins and with fond memories of the Douglas Fairbanks Sr. school of derring-do should be happy to go on this last cruise of the crimson pirate.”—The New York Times. (105 mins.)

THE CRIMSON PIRATE screens Sunday, March 30 at 4:30pm as part of our Forever Burt series in our Whitsell Auditorium (located in the Portland Art Museum).

Advanced tickets are available for purchase here.

Joanna Lancaster in Attendance at Forever Burt screenings of THE SWIMMER, ATLANTIC CITY, and THE CRIMSON PIRATE

The Swimmer

The Northwest Film Center is excited to announce that Burt Lancaster’s youngest daughter, Joanna Lancaster, will be attending our final three screenings of our month-long Forever Burt series.  Ms. Lancaster will introduce the Saturday, March 29 showing of THE SWIMMER and the Sunday, March 30 screenings of ATLANTIC CITY and  THE CRIMSON PIRATE with a post-screening Q&A to follow all shows.

Based on the famous John Cheever story of the same name, THE SWIMMER interrogates the American Dream, illuminating the ways that an upper-middle-class lifestyle can look wonderful on the surface but is occasionally built on a very unstable foundation. Lancaster here plays Ned Merrill, a seemingly successful businessman living in suburban Connecticut. He appears one day wandering through the woods in a swimsuit and finds himself in the backyard of some friends. After someone notes that there are swimming pools lining the periphery of the neighborhood, Ned decides to swim through them, traveling through past transgressions along the way, as each pool becomes a symbol for a specific time in his life. (95 mins.)


“As if his 1940s noir hoodlum had lived to see the 1980s, Lancaster’s Lou Pasco in ATLANTIC CITY catches only faint echoes of those glory days between his small numbers-running and petty errand-running for an aging widow of a notorious gangster. As the town disintegrates before him, Lou maintains his dignity and a tender awareness of the station to which age and cultural change have taken him. When a drug deal brings the crime underworld on his heels, money in his pocket, and a charming young woman at his side, he accepts this second youth with a giddy astonishment and chivalrous self-possession tempered by the wisdom of age. Rather than fall into tried-and-true mannerisms, Lancaster embraces Louis Malle’s sweet rendering with the restraint of an actor humbly consenting to yet another reincarnation.”—Harvard Film Archive. (104 mins.)


Screening times:

March 28 – Friday 7pm (THE SWIMMER sans Joanna Lancaster)
March 29 – Saturday 7pm (THE SWIMMER w/ guest Joanna Lancaster)
March 30 – Sunday 7pm (ATLANTIC CITY w/ guest Joanna Lancaster)

THE SWIMMER and ATLANTIC CITY are being presented as part of our Forever Burt series.  Advance tickets available here.


Screen icon Burt Lancaster cut his teeth in the circus and vaudeville but achieved everlasting fame in the motion pictures. Iconic star of such classic films as THE KILLERS (1946), SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957), and BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (1962), he acted with charm and wit, starring alongside some of Hollywood’s most glamorous and respected stars. Lancaster daringly performed his own stunts throughout his career, often making public appearances recreating noteworthy stunts as proof. Finally, with partners Harold Hecht and James Hill, Lancaster cannily produced films under their HHL banner—including many of Lancaster’s films and critical and commercial successes like MARTY (winner of the 1955 Academy Award for Best Picture). Lancaster’s film career spanned countless genres over five decades, during which the popularization of color in film, the Hollywood blacklist, and the move to widescreen all transformed the industry. This 12-film retrospective (on 35mm prints!) features some of Lancaster’s most esteemed roles and reveals that while changes to the industry are visible in the films, one constant remains: Lancaster and his trademark grin.

The Northwest Film Center is a regional media arts organization offering a variety of exhibition, education programs, and artist services throughout the region.  The Center presents a program of foreign, classic, experimental, and independent works year-round at the Whitsell Auditorium, located in the Portland Art Museum.  For more information, visit

Program Notes by Pat Holmes: Burt Lancaster in ELMER GANTRY

Elmer Gantry poster 2

Anyone who’s attended our Forever Burt series has been treated to specially written, film specific program notes by local film critic Pat Holmes.  Our opinion?  Pat’s been knocking it out of the park with his entertaining and informative perspectives about these classic films.  As such, we wanted to share what he’s prepared for our Sunday screening of ELMER GANTRY.  Enjoy!

US 1960
Director: Richard Brooks
146 mins.

In 1948, columnist Pete Martin profiled Burt Lancaster for The Saturday Evening Post and came away from the interview/audience (“Are you going to make me look like one of those sickening fan magazine heroes?  If you do, I’ll throw up!”) believing the actor would have made a great “sawdust trail evangelist.”

As it happened, someone else thought so too.  On the set of Brute Force in 1947, the film’s writer, Richard Brooks, suggested Lancaster read Sinclair Lewis’s 1927 novel Elmer Gantry, a tale of tent-revival evangelism and a charismatic charlatan, because Brooks intended to make a movie of it someday.

Lewis had reviewed Brooks’s 1945 novel The Brick Foxhole (filmed as Crossfire in 1947) for Esquire magazine and spoke up when Brooks, then a Marine, was threatened with court martial for neglecting to clear the controversial book with Marine public relations.  When Brooks told Lewis about his desire to make a movie of Gantry, the author encouraged Brooks to not be frightened of the book and to read the reviews it had received (especially the bad ones) to help find a way to approach it as a film.

By 1955, Brooks had optioned the novel, Lewis had become one of Lancaster’s literary heroes, and (after briefly toying with the unlikely choice of Montgomery Clift) Brooks offered the role of Gantry to Lancaster.  Three years later, Brooks had completed a first-draft script that Lancaster found “too long and too detailed….  It followed almost clinically the pattern of the book.”  Over a period of seven months, the difficult pair built the script, as Brooks put it, “brick by brick, like a wall,” to the mutual satisfaction of the ambitious, successful director of Blackboard Jungle (1955), The Brothers Karamazov (1958), and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and the hugely popular, notoriously demanding star.  “He has almost no patience,” said Brooks later.  “But I blow easily too.  So we understood each other.”

The script altered the book’s mercilessly venal Gantry in favor of what Lancaster called “a recognizable, full-blooded human being with common weaknesses and vanities.  Gantry was essentially a ham.  He liked having his voice stir up excitement.”  The actor who despised the idea of becoming a sickening fan magazine hero was clearly aware that he was lampooning the very qualities that had made him what columnist Martin called a “movie comet.”  Lancaster found in the bombastic Gantry “the easiest role I was ever given to play because I was, in essence, playing myself.”  Indeed, here was a man who once said, “Sell yourself first, if you want to sell anything,” playing a man who does just that—so well that even he buys it.

And offering a perfectly ironic comment on the film’s gleefully inflammatory view of moviedom (sawdust trail, yellow brick road—what’s the difference?) was the solution Brooks and a battery of on-set firemen devised for how to create what the director called Hollywood’s first “mass interior fire scene,” the climactic inferno that destroys the tabernacle of Sister Sharon Falconer (Jean Simmons).  The best way to ignite the flash fire caused by a tossed cigarette was to use highly flammable nitrate film purchased from Columbia Pictures—real films decaying deep in the vault—and hidden among the décor.  Burn, Hollywood, burn.

Of course, the movie fired up the Catholic Legion of Decency—which comprised the censors of the by-then weakening Production Code—but in an unexpected way.  They “loved the picture,” said Brooks (partly because they saw it as a condemnation of Protestantism) but had a problem with the final exchange between Brooks’s onscreen mouthpiece, a jaundiced reporter (Arthur Kennedy) based on H. L. Mencken, and the departing Gantry.  “See you around, brother,” says the reporter, to which Gantry replies, “See you in hell, brother.”  The Legion refused to accept what they saw as Gantry’s acknowledgement of his own damnation, and Brooks refused to budge.  But the film’s distributor, United Artists, made the decision for them.  The exchange was cut.  Lancaster kept faith with the line, however, and finally used it as western mythmaker Ned Buntline in Robert Altman’s 1976 Buffalo Bill and the Indians.

The Legion rated the film “objectionable in part for all,” and audiences flocked to it.  Gantry proved a triumph for Lancaster, not only garnering him an Oscar for Best Actor but also serving as vindication of his desire to make important films that inform as well as entertain, in which he could immerse himself with religious devotion.  Every movie should be a Come-to-Jesus moment in itself.  Shirley Jones, championed by Lancaster for the Oscar-winning role of prostitute Lulu Baines, who is ruined by Gantry and eventually returns the favor, called the actor “the hardest working human being I ever saw.”

God, as they say, is in the details.  And Lancaster was nothing if not a details man.

—Pat Holmes

ELMER GANTRY screens Sunday, March 23 at 7pm as part of our Forever Burt series in our Whitsell Auditorium (located in the Portland Art Museum).

Advanced tickets are available for purchase here.

Forever Burt: ELMER GANTRY

Elmer Gantry

“Burt Lancaster won his only Academy Award (out of four nominations) for his devilishly seductive performance as a down-and-out scoundrel turned fiery preacher in Richard Brooks’s adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’s novel. Jean Simmons plays the revival leader who falls for his line and Shirley Jones as the prostitute who undoes him. Lancaster’s spellbinding energy extends Brooks’s assault on religious hypocrisy to critique the very charisma that made him a star.”—UCLA Film & Television Archive. (146 mins.)

ELMER GANTRY screens Sunday, March 23 at 7pm as part of our Forever Burt series in our Whitsell Auditorium (located in the Portland Art Museum).

Advanced tickets are available for purchase here.

Forever Burt: VERA CRUZ on 35mm!

Vera Cruz

A detailed study in contrasts, VERA CRUZ pairs Lancaster’s smarmy, conniving rancher with Gary Cooper’s upstanding, old-guard Southern gentleman in the 19th-century Mexican desert as guns-for-hire. The two meet by chance as Joe Erin (Lancaster) attempts to steal Benjamin Trane’s (Cooper) horse. They both have bigger problems, however, as they are quickly caught up in the Mexican Revolution of 1866. Hired by the reigning French royalty to escort a beautiful countess (Denise Darcel) across Mexico to Vera Cruz, the two men and their reluctantly assembled gang must choose between following through with the mission honestly or following their intuition when they discover that several million dollars in gold is hiding somewhere in the convoy. (94 mins.)

VERA CRUZ screens Sunday, March 16 at 7pm as part of our Forever Burt series in our Whitsell Auditorium (located in the Portland Art Museum).

Advanced tickets are available for purchase here.

Forever Burt: GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL on 35mm!

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

Lancaster takes on a legend of the West in his role as lawman Wyatt Earp opposite Kirk Douglas’s gunslinger Doc Holliday. The story is familiar: Holliday is in Dodge City, having murdered the brother of Texas Ed Bailey (Lee Van Cleef), who seeks revenge; Earp, just arriving in Dodge, seeks to apprehend a group of outlaws led by Ike Clanton (Lyle Bettger). Despite Holliday’s shady past and their troubled relationship, Earp needs the gunslinger’s help to bring down the Clantons—but can they trust each other? In one of the great pairings in screen history, GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL sees Lancaster radiating a quiet, refined power while Douglas simmers with raw energy. (122 mins.)

GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL screens Sunday, March 16 at 4:30pm as part of our Forever Burt series in our Whitsell Auditorium (located in the Portland Art Museum).

Advanced tickets are available for purchase here.

Forever Burt: BRUTE FORCE

Brute Force

“Soon-to-be-blacklisted director Jules Dassin’s excoriating and angry prison drama uses the ‘big cage’ as a metaphor for the lost innocence and spiritual malignancy of post-WWII America. One in a series of ’40s films haunted by talismanic portraits of women, BRUTE FORCE uses a dreamy calendar model as the inspiration for a series of flashbacks that reveal Lancaster and his fellow cellmates to be united by bad luck, bad timing, and impossible love. Lancaster’s mournful yearning turns to embittered rage when a carefully planned breakout pits him against the messianic and warped ego of the Napoleonic prison warden, made viciously real by the brilliant Hume Cronyn. During the film’s furious, fiery climax of man against machine, Lancaster’s expressive use of his body is harrowing and perhaps unsurpassed in his entire career.”—Harvard Film Archive. (98 mins.)

BRUTE FORCE screens Friday, March 14 at 7pm and Saturday, March 15 at 7:30pm as part of our Forever Burt series in our Whitsell Auditorium (located in the Portland Art Museum).

Advanced tickets are available for purchase here.

Forever Burt: Carol Reed’s TRAPEZE on 35mm!


Directed by the legendary Carol Reed (THE THIRD MAN, OUR MAN IN HAVANA, THE FALLEN IDOL), TRAPEZE is a “picture that soars high, high, high above them all.” Lancaster returns to his first love, the circus, as Mike Ribble, a legendary high-wire trapeze artist who was injured during a show. Ribble still performs, but in a supporting role; Tino Orsini (Tony Curtis), an up-and-coming young American, now handles the big stunts in the company under Ribble’s tutelage. Lola (Gina Lollobrigida), a newcomer to the troupe, has big dreams like Orsini, but as a love triangle forms between the three and Orsini’s aspirations grow, Ribble’s support of his protégés begins to wane and the troupe’s future is left in serious doubt. Shot in both CinemaScope and color and featuring several thrilling action scenes, TRAPEZE is a film bristling with tension from an unexpected source. (105 mins.)

TRAPEZE screens Saturday, March 8 at 4:30pm as part of our Forever Burt series in our Whitsell Auditorium (located in the Portland Art Museum).

Advanced tickets are available for purchase here.

Forever Burt: THE KILLERS on 35mm!

The Killers

A critical and commercial smash featuring Lancaster’s screen debut as Swede, a man running from his past who’s too tired to run anymore, THE KILLERS is one of the key film noirs of the 1940s and one of the most atmospheric and tense films of the classical Hollywood period. In an unnamed rural town, Swede lives an unassuming life working at a service station and keeping to himself. Through a series of flashbacks, however, we get extended glimpses into his prior life as a professional boxer mixed up with several shady characters, including crime boss “Big Jim” Colfax (Albert Dekker) and enchanting vixen Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner). Swede and Big Jim go in on a robbery, but in a world where double-crossing is expected at every juncture, plans go awry, and Swede, Kitty, and Big Jim are all forced to reconcile their desires with their immediate reality. Based on the short story by Ernest Hemingway. (103 mins.)

THE KILLERS screens Sunday, March 8 at 7pm and Sunday, March 9 at 4:30pm as part of our Forever Burt series in our Whitsell Auditorium (located in the Portland Art Museum).

Advanced tickets are available for purchase here.

Forever Burt: CRISS CROSS on 35mm!

criss cross

Arguably the prototypical Los Angeles noir and featuring extensive location photography in the Bunker Hill neighborhood shortly before it was razed to the ground, CRISS CROSS sees Lancaster donning the role of Steve Thompson, an armored truck driver who returns to Los Angeles in an attempt to rekindle a relationship with his estranged wife Anna (Yvonne De Carlo). However, Anna has fallen for mobster Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea). Despite Anna’s new marriage to Slim, she and Steve carry on an affair, but when Slim catches them, Steve is desperate for an explanation: a risky heist involving all of them, the target being Steve’s own armored truck. “An archly noir story replete with triple and quadruple crosses, leading up to one of the most shockingly cynical endings in the whole genre.”—Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader. (88 mins.)

CRISS CROSS screens Sunday, March 2 at 7pm as part of our Forever Burt series in our Whitsell Auditorium (located in the Portland Art Museum).

Advanced tickets are available for purchase here.