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‘Cowboys and Samurai’ Double Features at Aero Theatre

SANTA MONICA — The Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave. in Santa Monica, will present a series of “Cowboys and Samurai” double features from April 25 to 28, all starting at 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, April 25

Rashomon” (1950, 88 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles) introduced not only classic Japanese cinema but an exceptional new talent, director Akira Kurosawa, to a widespread international audience. Based on the short story “In a Grove” by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, a tragic event involving a husband (Masayuki Mori), his wife (Machiko Kyo) and a local bandit (Toshiro Mifune) is recounted by participants and witnesses yielding conflicting accounts.

Kurosawa explores the nature of truth, human fallibility and hope in a story that examines each version of what happened one hot, fateful day in a thick and lonely forest. With exceptional cinematography from the great Kazuo Miyagawa and a phenomenally eclectic score from Fumio Hayasaka, and that’s just a start. From the wonderfully theatrical acting to the smooth-like-butter cuts-on-action to the astonishingly visceral orchestration of sound and images, “Rashomon” clearly demonstrates Kurosawa’s brilliance.

In “High Noon” (1952, 85 minutes), directed by Fred Zinnemann, no movie hero ever walked taller than Gary Cooper. As Marshal Will Kane, he’s ready to turn in his badge and settle down with his new wife (Grace Kelly) until he learns a criminal is arriving on the noon train bent on revenge. When the locals turn a deaf ear to Kane’s pleas for help (even deputy Lloyd Bridges refuses), the lawman must face a gang of killers alone.

This iconic western, named by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 greatest films of all time, won four Oscars, including a Best Actor award for Cooper and Best Song for “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’.” With Katy Jurado. Favorite film of former president Bill Clinton, who screened it a record 17 times at the White House.

Friday, April 26

In “The Searchers” (1956, 119 minutes), John Wayne gives the performance of his career as Ethan Edwards, a deeply troubled Civil War veteran who heads off in search of his kidnapped niece (Natalie Wood) and becomes more obsessive and irrational as his journey progresses. Through Wayne’s character, director John Ford explores the contradictions and dark side of the American frontier.

“The Hidden Fortress” (1958, 139 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles), Kurosawa’s first widescreen film, is a matchless mix of drama, action and humor that helped inspire “Star Wars.” Mifune stars as a warrior shepherding a princess-in-disguise through war-torn feudal Japan with a pair of bumbling peasants in tow. “One of the greatest action-adventure films ever made.” — David Ehrenstein

Saturday, April 27

“Seven Samurai” (1954, 207 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles), Kurosawa’s first attempt at a samurai film, yielded this character-driven masterpiece about an aging swordsman (Takashi Shimura) who enlists six other warriors-for-hire (among them Mifune) to safeguard a remote village plagued by bandits. After viewing “Seven Samurai,” filmmaker Federico Fellini called Kurosawa “the greatest living example of all that an author of the cinema should be.”

“The Wild Bunch” (1969, 145 minutes), director Sam Peckinpah’s magnificent, ultra-violent western, stars William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates and Jaime Sanchez as a band of doomed outlaws trying to outrun history. A film that forever changed the way violence was depicted and perceived in the movies. Co-starring Robert Ryan, Edmond O’Brien, L.Q. Jones, Bo Hopkins and Strother Martin.

“The movie was photographed by Lucien Ballard, in dusty reds and golds and browns and shadows. The editing, by Lou Lombardo, uses slow motion to draw the violent scenes out into meditations on themselves. Every actor was perfectly cast to play exactly what he could play; even the small roles need no explanation. Peckinpah possibly identified with the wild bunch. Like them, he was an obsolete, violent, hard-drinking misfit with his own code, and did not fit easily into the new world of automobiles, and Hollywood studios.” — Roger Ebert

Sunday, April 28

In “Unforgiven” (1992, 131 minutes), Clint Eastwood once again directs himself, this time as reformed killer William Munney, a widowed single father trying to keep his farm. When a young loudmouth who idolizes Munney tells him about a reward for killing some sadistic cowboys who have cut up a prostitute, Munney finds himself being dragged back into the old life. Enlisting reluctant old comrade Ned (Morgan Freeman), the trio heads for town, unaware of its brutally self-righteous sheriff, Little Bill (Gene Hackman).

This harrowingly dark and beautiful film is one of the most complex, uncompromising westerns ever made, and it won four Oscars in 1993, including Best Picture and Best Director. “A classic western for the ages…a tense, hard-edged, superbly dramatic yarn that is also an exceedingly intelligent meditation on the West, its myths and its heroes…” — Todd McCarthy, Variety

“Harakiri” (1962, 134 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles) is an intense, intricately composed meditation by master director Masaki Kobayashi (“Kwaidan”) on the war between the feudal ethos and humanity in the Japanese psyche. Recently impoverished samurai Tatsuya Nakadai attempts to take vengeance on the clan who forced his son-in-law (Akira Ishihama) to commit seppuku. Using the clan’s own code of honor against it, Nakadai slowly, ruthlessly forces the film to its shattering climax. Toru Takemitsu provides the scarily dissonant score. With Tetsuro Tanba and Rentaro Mikuni.

Tickets are $12 general, $8 for American Cinematheque members. For more information, call (310) 260-1528 or visit

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