Sunday, January 25, 2009

Jason goes to Noir City--Saturday, Jan 24th

So I've wanted to go to Noir City for several years, but something came up every time. Finally I've managed to squeeze some time for a little over a weekend at the Castro watching Film Noir. Still sad I'll miss the second half of the fest, but it's been a great time. The weird thing is, it becomes difficult to describe the films without just describing them as "noirish". But, I'll do my best.

First up on Saturday was Blind Spot, a clever mystery story that's also a deconstruction of clever mystery stories. Written by Martin Goldsmith, who was an accomplished crime novelist (and writer of Detour) himself. It's the story of a critically acclaimed but commercially lacking writer. He goes to his publisher--whom he (and everyone) hates--to beg for a loan. While there, he talks to a not so talented but very commercially successful crime novelist. He talks about how crime novels are easy--not real art. You just come up with an odd crime--say a murder in a locked and bolted room. Throw a few red herrings in, then come up with a twist ending. Easy as pie! The crime novelist is oddly not offended. See, he's actually a fan, and knows crime novels are kinda cheesy. So then they go down to the bar (along with the leggy secretary) to have a few drinks. He discusses his crime novel idea more. The next morning, the publisher is found murdered in a locked and bolted room. Guess who's the only suspect. Very clever, and full of the cool, witty dialogue that I love in noir film. Best line--"I'm all out of proportion. That means I don't frame easy!"

Next up was Chicago Deadline, which reminds me to mention the theme of the festival--newspaper noir (stories of reporters and crime). Alan Ladd plays the intrepid reporter. Stumbling across the body of a young woman in a cheap hotel, he steals her diary. Whenever he calls any names in the diary, he gets stonewalled. Everyone claims not to know her, and hints he's in danger for even asking. Going through the names, he pieces together a story of a good girl (Donna Reed) who falls in love too easily, and with the wrong guys. From titans of industry to gangland thugs, the story slowly unfolds. Really cool.

Then there was a long break before the start of Arlene Dahl night, starting with a sold-out showing (which for the Castro means 1400+ seats) for Wicked as they Come. A classic "bad girl" movie, Dahl plays Kathleen Allen. Her gold-digging career begins much as Dahl's acting career did--by winning a beauty contest (although in real life, presumably she won legitimately instead of by flirting with the vote counters). She wins a shopping spree and a trip to Europe, where she attracts the attention of many men before finally settling on an English businessman. While he's out of town, she runs up a huge bill of credit and skips town, getting a job for a major company (after learning to type). She's good at her job, and even better at seducing her boss. She even has him ready to leave his wife for her, until she find out his wife is the company owner's daughter. Simple to remedy, she leaves her boss in London and starts dating the owner in Paris. He's old, so he'll naturally die soon. But when threatening letters appear, you know it's bound to end poorly. Hints of childhood abuse lead to sort of a cop-out ending, but still it was full of cool bad-girl style.

And the, Arlene Dahl was actually in the house for an interview with Noir City host/god Eddie Muller. She was glamorous and funny (particularly the story of the drag queen who was impersonating either her or Rhonda Fleming), and very fond of speaking about all her romances with her co-stars (including, but not limited to Fernando Lamas, with whom she had their son Lorenzo Lamas, who was in attendance. Also including--I'm not kidding--John Fitzgerald Kennedy). Most of her work was actually as the red-headed cutie (a look made for technicolor) rather than noir, but her noir work establishes her acting credentials perfectly.

And finally, the last film of the night was Slightly Scarlet, again starring Arlene Dahl and her fellow red-head Rhonda Fleming. This was noir in technicolor (an odd combination), and Dahl joked that she and Fleming wanted to play sisters so people would see them on screen together and finally see they're different people. Dahl was originally offered the role of the good sister, but insisted on playing the bad one (really her first bad-girl role). It starts with her (as Dorothy Lyons) getting released from prison (she's a klepto- and nympho-maniac). Her good sister June (Fleming) picks her up and takes her home. June works for a reform-minded politician and mayoral candidate Frank Jansen. The real corrupt power of the town is Sol Caspar, but his "brains" guy is Ben Grace. Ben has a plan to get rid of Sol, take over the gang, and while he's at it get Frank elected and take behind-the-scenes control of city hall. All's going to plan until June screws everything up by seducing him. Dahl is brilliant playing a woman who is obviously psychologically ill but still very fun (the girl who it's fun to meet one night but you regret having met the next day), and the story is top notch. Lots of fun.

And that was my introduction to Noir City. It was aweseome, except for running about 45 minutes late. So instead of having a leisurely hour to walk to the BART station, I had to run to catch the last BART home.
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