As auction nears, the classics play on

More classic movies will be unspooling at the Senator this weekend, including a pairing of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, a rarely seen animated favorite of Baltimore's own Barry Levinson and one of the liveliest, most inventive concert films of the rock era.

Levinson, busy putting the finishing touches on his latest documentary, confirms that he was an early fan of Dave Fleischer's 1941 Mr. Bug Goes to Town, in which the inhabitants of the Lowlands, a tiny community on a plot of grass just 45 inches from Broadway, are threatened by the construction of a skyscraper. If only the land's owners, songwriters Dick and Mary, would build their own home there, all would be well.


In addition to the vivid and beguiling animation, the movie features a trio of tunes from the songwriting team of Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser.

"It's just absolutely charming and beautifully done," says Senator owner Tom Kiefaber, who continues to mark the coming end of his family's 70-year run as owners and operators of the North Baltimore landmark with screenings of vintage movies, many of which doubtlessly played the theater at one time. "It's from the Fleischer Studios. ... They really rivaled, and some think surpassed, what Disney was doing in the period. It's just classic."


Showtimes for Mr. Bug Goes to Town (also known as Hoppity Goes to Town) are set for noon and 1:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. "This is really something we've done in response to all the parents and grandparents who have come in and asked for something they can bring their kids to," Kiefaber says.

Stanley Donen's 1963 Charade is an elaborate Hitchcockian mystery, in which people aren't who they say they are, trust is a bond not entered into lightly, and innocence is a matter of degree.

Hepburn stars as a woman whose late husband had a hand in stealing some $250,000 in gold bullion. Now that he's gone, his "friends" believe she has the money, and they're determined to get it. Offering to help her sort things out is Grant's character, whose name has a habit of changing - as does, perhaps, his motivation. It's all wonderfully labyrinthine.

Charade is slated to run at the Senator through Thursday, with showtimes at 3 p.m., 5:15 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Also this weekend, the theater will mark the 25th anniversary of its memorable (and high-spirited) run of the Talking Heads' 1984 concert film, Stop Making Sense. Director Jonathan Demme shot the movie over three nights in December 1983 and captured the band at its peak.

Hey, if you've never seen David Byrne wearing his giant suit and bopping to his band's peerless beat, here's your chance to make amends. Showtimes are 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with screenings of 1977's The Grateful Dead Movie following at 11 p.m.

Tickets for each film are $5, although audiences for Stop Making Sense can stay for The Grateful Dead Movie at no additional charge.

Besides the film screenings, the Senator's memorabilia sale and auction continues. Each day, Kiefaber says, he and his staff dig deeper into the theater's storage spaces, coming up with older, quirkier items to put up for sale. Money raised, Kiefaber says, will be used to defray expenses and pay the theater's staff, many of whom have offered to work on a volunteer basis.


A foreclosure auction of the beleaguered theater, called by Baltimore-based 1st Mariner Bank, is set for April 20. Although private benefactors have rescued the theater from financial difficulties before, Kiefaber says he is prepared to pass the theater on to new ownership.

"We're doing our best to deal with the harsh reality that we must let go," he says, "with the hope that this extraordinary jewel of a theater will continue to evolve for another 70-year run under new ownership."

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Baltimore's Senator Theatre, the last of the city's grand movie houses, means a lot to people in these parts. For some, it's one of the last connections to a sadly bygone era. To others, it's simply a great place to see a movie.

We want to hear from you about what makes the Senator so special. Why is it worth preserving? Why would the city be a lesser place without it?

Keep your thoughts to about 150 words or so, and e-mail them to Please include "The Senator" in the subject line. We'll publish some of the best, most thoughtful answers in The Baltimore Sun and on