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Classic Films (And Some Promise) Return To The Portage

By Staff in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 4, 2014 4:40PM

John Huston's 'Beat The Devil' is one of the films on the new Portage Theater screening schedule

Few historic Chicago movie theaters have gone through as many ups and downs as the Portage Theater, nor has any seen quite as much recent controversy. The latest news, that the venue will reopen on June 14, has been greeted with a mixture of extreme skepticism and cautious optimism by those following the developments.

The skepticism is due to the fact that new operator Charlie Burns is a former associate of owner Eddie Carranza, whose actions since buying the theater—including shutting it down without notice—have antagonized local officials and loyal patrons. The optimism comes from the fact that Burns is making some welcome gestures to the community and mainly from the fact that the theater is opening at all. Its events calendar includes some very enticing vintage movie programming (along with cover bands, comedians and other live entertainment).

The film programming begins with two days of silent movies, with Jay Warren (a.k.a. Dennis Wolkowicz of The Silent Film Society of Chicago) providing live organ accompaniment. Saturday, June 14 at 6 p.m., three short films with comic legends will be featured: Charlie Chaplin in The Fireman (1916), Harold Lloyd in Haunted Spooks (1920), and Laurel and Hardy in Big Business (1929). Then on Sunday, June 15 at 4 p.m., Warren accompanies the Douglas Fairbanks’ swashbuckler, The Iron Mask (1929). Both screenings are free to the public.

Sunday, June 22 at 3 p.m., the film programming moves into the sound era with a double feature of mystery thrillers. It begins with Ray Milland in Alias Nick Beal (1949), followed by Loretta Young in Cause for Alarm (1951).

Another double feature plays Saturday, July 19 at 5 p.m.. It starts with the witty caper spoof, Beat the Devil (1953), directed by John Huston, partially scripted by Truman Capote, and starring Humphrey Bogart and a grand cast of character actors mining depths of deadpan humor. The second feature is Otto Preminger’s classic romantic mystery, Laura (1944), with Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney and a young Vincent Price.

Sunday August 10 brings a twin bill of film noir, with Edward G. Robinson in Fritz Lang’s Scarlett Street (1945), followed by Charlton Heston in Dark City (1951).

Mr. Burns responded to an e-mail query about the format the films will be shown in, replying they would be DCP projections—the current system most modern theaters use. The acquisition of a DCP system at the Portage suggests the theater is making a long-term commitment to continuing as a movie house. While it’s not clear that all the movies scheduled are available as DCP files, Blu-ray discs and even standard DVDs look considerably better when shown via a DCP projection than by DVD projectors.

With free admission for the silent screenings and tickets for the later double bills only $6, it’s certainly worth a trip to see what the presentation quality at the theater will be like under new management.

By: Joel Wicklund