Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 7

Two more films last Thursday night, featuring American filmmakers abroad in England (and escaping the Red Scare with-hunts.)

THE HIDDEN ROOM (1949): In the first of the two features about psychologists named Clive, Robert Newton (later to influence many a drunken white boy every September 19th with his iconic "Arrrr!" as Long John Silver in TREASURE ISLAND)  plays Dr. Clive Riordan. His wife Storm (Sally Gray) has been having multiple affairs throughout their marriage. So he plots ahead for the next one, and poor Bill Kronin (Phil Brown, later to be famous as Uncle Owen in STAR WARS) will be his victim. He has planned the perfect murder, keyed around the unorthodox tactic of not actually killing his victim. Or at least, not right away. Instead, hide him away in the titular hidden room. There, when the interest in his disappearance has died away, he'll poison him and dissolve him in a solution of his own design. After all, disposing of the body is the hardest part of a murder. A great story, well played out. And I'd never dare spoil it, whether he actually gets away with it or not.

THE SLEEPING TIGER (1954): Our second Clive is Dr. Clive Esmond (Alexander Knox,) a psychologist who can also take care of himself in a fight. So when a wayward youth tries to rob him at gunpoint, he simply disarms the man and takes him home. There he has a theory to put to the test--that with proper care and treatment this man, Frank Clemmons (Dirk Bogarde) can be rehabilitated. That it's his station in life that drives him to criminal tendencies. Which is a fine theory, but it doesn't take into account either his wife's (Alexis Smith) fear at sharing their home with a desperate man, or the chance that her fear might turn to infatuation at such an exciting young man sharing their home.

Total Running Time: 185 minutes
My Total Minutes: 380,527

Friday, January 23, 2015

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 6

Two more last Wednesday night with the immortal Barbara Stanwyck. And I hate even thinking about typing this, but so far it has been my least favorite night of the festival.

CLASH BY NIGHT (1952): This was the better of the two movies, which is weird because it's also the least "noir." Stanwyck plays Mae Doyle, a cynical woman who has moved back to her hometown of Monterrey, CA. Her brother Joe (Keith Andes) still lives there, and is dating Peggy (Marilyn Monroe, as the least likely fish cannery worker ever.) He also works for Jerry D'Amato (Paul Douglas) who takes a shine to Mae and starts courting her. In fact, he successfully courts her and they get married and have a baby. But Jerry is kind of a simple schlub, not nearly romantic enough to keep Mae. So exciting young Earl (Robert Ryan, excellent as always) suddenly looks much better than her initial disgust at his crude, wise-cracking ways. Like I said, it's not really noir (much closer to soap opera) but it's got a terrific cast and a good character study of Mae Doyle.

CRIME OF PASSION (1957): This one, I can't bring myself to say I disliked it, but it definitely irritated me. And unfortunately, it was Stanwyck's character who was the most irritating. The opening scenes are great. She plays Kathy Ferguson, a smart newspaper columnist whose talents are wasted on an advice column. When she uses her column to contact a fugitive, that brings her into the sphere of Lt. Bill Doyle (Sterling Hayden, who is always fantastic.) And before you know it, she has quit her job in the paper and moved from S.F. to L.A. to be Mrs. Doyle. Well, that already irritated me that this smart, tough career woman settled into suburban domesticity, but fine. Then she's bored by suburban domesticity. Nothing but cocktail parties where the conversations of shallow housewives and poker-playing husbands are equally uninteresting. And with that, a husband who isn't too ambitious--doesn't really want to be promoted up the career ladder, doesn't really want to stop being a cop, doesn't even want a transfer to Beverly Hills. So she starts scheming, which would be great if I (or she) had any idea what she was scheming towards. But it was all so inconsistent I never believed she knew what she wanted. Revenge on a more successful housewife (Virginia Gray)? Career advancement for her husband? An affair with the boss (Raymond Burr, whose wife is played by Fay Wray)? I had no idea, and so in the end I just couldn't bring myself to care.

Total Running Time: 189 minutes
My Total Minutes: 380,343

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 5

A Robert Ryan double feature, for richer and poorer

CAUGHT (1949): First, for richer, in this film where he plays...well basically Howard Hughes, although his character is actually named Smith Ohlrig. In any case, he's a wealthy industrialist. But it's really the story of Leonora Eames (Barbara Bel Geddes,) a poor little car-hop/aspiring model from Denver, caught up in the big city of L.A. Her first day of modeling lands her an invitation to a party on a private yacht, and although she doesn't quite make it there she does meet Ohlrig and falls for him before she even knows who he is. They see each other a bit, and then basically because his psychiatrist tells him it's a bad idea he decides to marry her. But shortly after the Cinderella wedding, things turn sour. He's not much of a husband, treating her more as his property. He's power-mad and above all, he hates losing (incidentally, Howard Hughes apparently had a spy in the editing department who sneaked him the dailies, and for some reason--probably admiration for Ryan--he let this film go forward.) Eventually she leaves him and his Long Island mansion to live in a small apartment and work as a secretary for Dr. Larry Quinada (James Mason, in his first Hollywood role.) They fall in love, but again Ohlrig doesn't like to lose. Which leads up to one of the strangest "happy" endings I've ever seen. SPOILER: the happy ending is a miscarriage which frees her from Ohlrig.

THE SET-UP (1949): And then there's Robert Ryan for poorer, in what Eddie Muller described as the best boxing movie ever. In a world where ROCKY exists, that's a pretty bold statement...but one I won't challenge. Ryan is over-the-hill journeyman boxer Stoker Johnson, who is always just one punch away from a big payday. His long-suffering wife Julie is played by Audrey Totter. In a taut, real-time 72 minutes we see him prepare for a fight against a young up-and-comer. The thing is, his manager has arranged for him to take a dive in the third round. He just neglected to tell Stoker (see, then he'd have to cut him in on the action.) But Stoker has just enough heart to go the distance, and maybe even take the kid down. Which would be horrible, since Little Boy (Alan Baxter) set this all up, and he's not the kind of guy you want to cross. The overall story is predictable, but under the direction of Robert Wise, the immersive cinematography and editing that takes you right into the ring and into the audience, and of course the flawless performance by Ryan, this whole thing is a thrilling treat. Allegedly both Wise and Ryan consider this their best film, and I'm not one to argue with either of them.

Total Running Time: 160 minutes
My Total Minutes: 380,154

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 4

A double bill of the greatest comedy team in all of film noir--William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles.

Okay, confession time. Are you sitting down?
...
Good. Here goes...I had never seen any of the THIN MAN movies before last Monday night! Now I wanna see them all. Over and over again.


THE THIN MAN (1934): Nick (Powell) is a former detective, having married rich, playful Nora (Loy) and settled in to a life of luxury and following his one great passion--the perfect cocktail. After moving to California, they're back in New York on holiday, where it seems everyone knows Nick, the world's greatest detective. And he--despite his insistence on retirement--is drawn into a new case. An inventor has gone missing, his ex-wife is found murdered, and he's the suspect. Also, his daughter is an old friend of Nick's. So, mostly for the fun of it, Nick and Nora are on the case. Goofy hijinx, and a wonderfully goofy 'Now that I have you all around the dinner table, one of you is the murderer and I am going to find out who!' set-up for the ending. This was supposed to be a little B-picture, but was so irresistibly charming that it spawned 5 sequels (and a TV show. And apparently a reboot in the works? Or at least it was...and it was supposed to star Johnny Depp. Honestly, he's the only actor I could see pulling this off, and I still would rather watch all the sequels than see a remake.)

Then after the raffle (where I won a couple of gift certificates to Relic Vintage!) the late show started with a bonus Short: THE BIFFLE MURDER CASE (...let's just say the date is unknown. Probably 1930-something?) The great classic comedy pair of Biffle and Shooster are at their zany antics delivering a giant box to a mansion where the bored, listless wealthy residents are shocked to discover the patriarch's son dead with an arrow in his back! So shocked, they almost get up off the couch. Very funny, rapid-fire jokes with period references. Definitely worth multiple viewings.

AFTER THE THIN MAN (1936): THE THIN MAN ended with Nick and Nora on a train back to San Francisco, and this sequel picks it up from there. After celebrating Christmas solving one murder case (well, one case, with multiple murders) they come home for some rest to find a New Year's party going on in their mansion. In this adventure, we get to meet Nora's high society family, who don't care much for Nick's rougher edges. In particular, we find out that cousin Selma's husband Robert has gone missing. So sooner than you can complain that Nick never gets a chance to rest (a complaint I'm happy to share) he's on the case again. And this one features a very, very young (and spoiler alert: evil!) Jimmy Stewart! Wow!

Total Running Time: 233 minutes
My Total Minutes: 379,994

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 3

A double bill of Douglas Sirk noir last Sunday

SHOCKPROOF (1949): Patricia Knight plays Jenny Marsh, a dame who just got out of the joint after 5 years for a self-defense murder. Cornell Wilde plays Griff Marat, her parole officer. He's tough but fair, and always gives his parolees a good chance. In fact, his life seems to be filled with parolee friends whose lives he has helped turn around. He sets her up with a job, but there are some strict rules on her parole. No associating with her former criminal associates, most importantly Harry Wesson (John Baragrey.) And, strangely enough, no getting married. Well, she pretty quickly breaks that first rule, but he gives her a second chance. And it's quickly apparent that he's not doing this just out of his good nature--he's kind of sweet on her. And maybe she's sweet on him, too. Or at least pretends to be, and it's a relationship that Harry encourages for his own schemes. But things go a little awry when she falls for Griff for real. The dramatic build up really pays off with an exciting final act. The screenplay was written by Samuel Fuller, who wanted it to end in a hail of bullets. That was nixed by the studio in favor of a softer ending, but one I really like anyway.

SLEEP, MY LOVE (1948): Alison Courtland (the amazing Claudette Colbert) wakes up on a moving train, panicking because she has no idea how she got there. It seems she's been having these odd episodes just recently. In any case, she is soon helped back to New York and the loving hands of her husband Richard (Don Ameche) but not until meeting the nice friend-of-a-friend Bruce (Robert Cummings.) Well, it quickly unfolds that her husband is behind her episodes, in cahoots with an odd trio of a photographer/con man (George Coulouris,) his daffy wife (Queenie Smith,) and bombshell model Daphne (Hazel Brooks.) Danger and double-crossing ensues. A great little story, and so weird to see Don Ameche being so evil.

Total Running Time: 173 minutes
My Total Minutes: 379,761

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 2

Four more movies last Saturday, continuing with the Joan Fontaine tribute that kinda started opening night.

SUSPICION (1941): Hitchcock directs, and Joan Fontaine stars across Cary Grant in a breakout role as a charming cad. Lina McLaidlaw (Fontaine) meets Johnnie Aysgarth (Grant) on a train, and while he's pretty immediately a jerk (stealing "borrowing" a stamp from her to pay his fare) he's got that charm about him that has the women falling all over him. And surprisingly, even she falls in love with him. But as a high society woman, her family would never approve of them. So they elope, and soon enough she finds just how much of a cad he is. Like, he doesn't have any money of his own, he's lived off of borrowed money that he sometimes pays back (if he's lucky at the horse track.) He always seems to have the perfect excuse, and arrival of his gregarious and generous friend Beaky (Nigel Bruce) highlights his ability to charm and fleece just about anyone. But Beaky puts his foot in it, while dismissing his shenanigans as Johnnie being Johnnie, Lina sees this as a revelation of how evil her new husband is. Possibly even evil enough to...murder her? Well, maybe if the studio didn't balk at the original ending. Still, a lot of fun by masters both in front of and behind the camera.

THE BIGAMIST (1953): Then this oddity, which I guess you could technically call a noir film in as much as it deals with questionable morality. Ida Lupino directs and stars in this story of a happily married couple Harry (Edmond O'brien) and Eve Graham (Fontaine.) They're not just happily married, they're business partners, running a company that sells household appliances. That puts him on the road a lot, but they still want a family. But she can't conceive, so the story opens with them at an adoption agency interviewing with a kindly man (Edmund Gwenn) who will be doing the background checks on them. Harry immediately looks nervous. See, as the title gives away, and as we find out soon enough, he has another family down in L.A. He spends a lot of time away on business, and a while ago (when they found out they couldn't conceive) his marriage wasn't so great and he was feeling lonely so on a tour bus of the homes of the stars (including a little inside joke about Edmund Gwenn's house) he meets Phyllis (Lupino) and they form a friendship. Which is fine as a friendship, but as it gets serious he knows he has to break it off. He just...fails to do so. So he's got a house and a baby with her. While the title promises shocks, it's actually a very sympathetic portrait of the poor man, and an interesting low budget story (it was introduced as possibly the lowest budget movie to ever feature 3 Oscar winners--Fontaine for SUSPICION, O'brien for THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA, and Gwenn for MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET.)

Then Noir City is always so considerate to schedule enough time between the matinee and evening shows to get some dinner and a drink with friends. So that's exactly what I did and then was back for the evening shows, with an Edwardian era theme.

IVY (1947): The last in this year's Joan Fontaine tribute. And bookending the four tribute films with this and BORN TO BE BAD gives me the impression that Fontaine was an infamous femme fatale rather than the good-girl she more often played. Ivy Lexton (Fontaine) is--to put it a little too neatly--pure poison. She seems happy enough with her husband Jervis (Richard Ney) even though he's not wealthy. Perhaps that's because she has a handsome doctor Roger Gretorex (Patric Knowles) on the side. And then there's older but extremely wealthy Miles Rushworth (Herbert Marshall.) Ah, the classic femme fatale problem--too many men, how to get rid of the ones without enough money? Pretty awesome.

THE SUSPECT (1944): And we end the night with a tour-de-force by Charles Laughton as Philip, a kindly tobacconist with the meanest, shrillest shrew of a wife ever (Rosalind Ivan.) As a naturally caring man, he meets and befriends Mary (Ella Raines) and helps her out. Nothing untowards, they're not lovers, but he definitely prefers her company to his wife's. So much so that it inspires jealousy which inspires blackmail and threats. Which, in turn, inspires...an accident? Or so it appears. A broken stair, a trip and fall, and she's dead. But a nosy inspector creates quite a bit of trouble. And the good man who might have done a bad thing is put under no small amount of duress. It's less a whodunit thriller than a morality play with an excellent actor playing a great character. And under the direction of Robert Siodmak, it's simply brilliant. And after having read some rather lurid disgusting stories about Laughton, it's good to remember that for whatever predilections he had in his personal life, he was a brilliant actor.

Total Running Time: 362 minutes
My Total Minutes: 379,588

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Jason goes to Noir City--Opening night

The best party of the year (until the next big film festival party...probably the 25th Cinequest) started last night, and of course I was there. But this time, to make it a little easier for me I got a hotel room in the city at the sponsor hotel, the Prescott. Which is very nice. Clean, comfortable rooms and free wine from 5-6 pm. Hell yeah I got there in time for that. And there I met some very nice people from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association who were in town for Noir City (the HFPA sponsored the restoration of the opening film, WOMAN ON THE RUN.) So I got there in time for the reception on the mezzanine. They were out of punch but still had plenty of straight vodka. So after saying hi to all (or almost all, I'm sure I missed some of you) of my friends, I was definitely in a good mood to watch some movies.

WOMAN ON THE RUN (1950): The festival opened (of course, after a typically stellar introduction by Eddie Muller) with a little Ann Sheridan and Dennis O'Keefe. Frank Johnson (Ross Elliot) is out walking his dog when he witnesses a murder. He's even shot at, but escapes. Detectives interview him, but for some reason he flees from them, too. So the major lead is his wife Eleanor (Sheridan.) But she's surprisingly unhelpful. Seems they didn't talk much in their marriage. Perhaps they were on the outs. Newshound Dan Leggat (O'Keefe) is even more dogged than the cops, following her around certain there's some clue that she's holding back. But he has his own ulterior motives, and the cat and mouse game, all over San Francisco, gets pretty damn intense. A wonderfully restored forgotten masterpiece, a thrilling story, and a great look at 1950 San Francisco (although the Santa Monica pier filled in for Playland at the Beach.) Oh yeah, and CitySleuth provided a post-film slide show comparing locations in the film with what's there today. That was also fun, although filled with groans and hisses from the audience as those beautiful locations in the movie are now empty lots or the Apple Store. Nostalgia can be funny.

BORN TO BE BAD (1950): Then in the late show we got a jump on Saturday's Joan Fontaine celebration, where she plays the ultimate coy, seductive gold-digger. Donna Foster  (Joan Leslie) in engaged to the wealthy Curtis Carey (Zachary Scott.) Her boss's niece Christabel (Fontaine) is visiting just after the engagement party, but shows up a day early, turning everything topsy-turvy. Her beauty catches the eye of humble painter Gobby Broome (Mel Ferrer,) confident writer Nick Bradley (Robert Ryan,) and of course Curtis Carey. Of course, she's manipulating them all, but so subtly that each on thinks that he's seducing her, not vice-versa. Well, except for Nick, whom she really maybe does fall for. Interestingly, he's the meanest one of the bunch, falling into the "nasty guy who chicks fall for" role. Of course, she goes for the one with the money, so Curtis and Donna split up (they again think it's their decision, not realizing innocent little Christabel has been manipulating them into fights.) But that's just the start. Fontaine's performance, and the havoc that ensues, is quite a treat. Why, there were even moments where I thought she had a good side and I could see falling for her a bit. But no, she's all bad news. And as a special bonus treat, after the film we got to see the original ending that was deemed unfit for the public and cut by the censors. It really, really drives home the "born to be bad" element of her character, in a hilariously over-the-top way.

Total Running Time: 171 minutes
My Total Minutes: 379,226