Saturday, January 21, 2012

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 2

Four more movies on Saturday

First an afternoon of proto-noir rarities from the pre-code era.

First up, a scathing portrayal of government corruption (not at all like today) in AFRAID TO TALK (aka THE MERRY-GO-ROUND) (1932). A bellhop witnesses a gangland murder in his hotel. He's even shot, but survives and can identify the shooter. Problem is, the guy who was murdered--Jake Stranskey (Robert Warwick)--was connected to everyone in city government, and the shooter--rival gang boss Jig Skelli (Edward Arnold)--has the proof. If he's prosecuted, he'll take everyone up to the mayor (Berton Churchill, playing an empty blowhard to the utmost) down with him. So first the prosecution is dropped for lack of evidence, and then when they need a fall guy they look at the one guy they can definitely put in the room--the bellhop. The real brains behind the corruption is Assistant District Attorney John Wade (Louis Calhern, oozing cool, calculating, stylish evil). You really hope he gets his comeuppance, even if no one else does. But don't look for me to spoil it.

Then there was a stylish, funny, and awfully weird film about radio, celebrity gossip, and organized crime--OKAY, AMERICA (1932). The hero is Walter Winchell Larry Wayne (Lew Ayres), a fast-talking newspaper gossip columnist who also has a weekly radio gig. He knows everyone, gets tips from everyone, and can't be talked out of a story--he's got a sign in his office reminding him that stories are brain children, and he can't kill kids. He certainly sells papers, but the "real" newsmen think he's just an egotist and a gossip monger (which, he kind of is). But he gets a break when he gets a tip about a kidnapping that has been dominating the front page (a tip that brings in both Louis Calhern and evenutally Edward Arnold from the previous movie). Rather than take it to the police, he decides to use his investigative skills, and especially his quick-talking skills to secure her release himself. It's a cool story, set in a pretty bizarre world. First you have to decipher the strange language in his gossip pieces. Then you've got the banter between Wayne and his secretary Sheila Barton (Maureen O'Sullivan), who is always complaining that he's not sexually harassing her enough. And as the crowning gem, when the kidnappers send some of the heiress' clothes to prove they have her, you've got a panty-sniffing newspaper editor. Priceless!

By the way, on a side note movies of this time tended to be shorter than films today. These two both came in at under 70 minutes, yet still told complete and gripping stories. It really shows how much filler there is in a lot of movies today. Think about that the next time you check your watch in the multiplex.


Then, although there was a significant time gap between this and the next show, I didn't even go outside (I did go up to the mezzanine for a few drinks), because I didn't want to give up my front row center seat for the Angie Dickinson evening. Actually, it was also a Lee Marvin evening, but he wasn't there on account of being dead and all. Angie was there, but more on that later.

While the afternoon was pre-noir, the evening was neo-noir--after the heyday of film noir--and started with THE KILLERS (1964). I had actually seen this last year at the Roxie, let's see what I said then:
This is the 1964 Don Siegel-directed remake, not the 1946 version, which I've never seen but I hear is a classic. In this version, two hitmen (Lee Marvin and Clu Gallagher) knock off an auto mechanic teaching in a blind school (John Cassavetes). He offers no resistance, and that bothers Lee Marvin's character. He just has to find out why. So he digs, and finds that mechanic was a race car driver brought down by a dame (Angie Dickinson). He was lured into a world of crime, led by ruthless crime boss Jack Browning (Ronald Reagan, in his final movie role). There's something enormously satisfying about watching Ronald Reagan slap Angie Dickinson and then John Cassavetes responding by punching Reagan in the face. Oh yeah, and Reagan's assistant/partner in crime is Mickey Farmer, played by Norman Fell. It took me an embarrassingly long time to recognize him as Mr. Roper from "Three's Company."
Ah, yeah, that's still all true (except for having forgotten that Norman Fell was Mr. Roper). And also, on a second viewing I'll say that Clu Gallagher's performance--always messing with whatever's in the room--might just be my favorite. And, of course, Angie Dickinson was awesome--lovely and deadly. I'm still guessing if she really was in love (at least somewhat) with John Cassavetes' character or if it was all an act.

And then, the woman we were all there to see, Angie Dickinson took the stage to a standing ovation and was interviewed by Eddie Muller. I say interview, but it was really like a 30 minute flirting session on stage. They clearly loved it (although I'm not so sure Angie liked being asked about the rumors of her and John F. Kennedy), and Angie could make Eddie blush a lot more easily than vice-versa. And as a bonus, she's a film fan who keeps up with what's going on today. When asked about what movies she would recommend today, she mentioned MY WEEK WITH MARILYN, THE ARTIST (which she has seen several times), HUGO (which she emphasized wasn't a "kid's movie" as much as it was "a movie about kids") and MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. Can't argue with that. And to cap it all off, Eddie made her reenact her famous line on The Tonight Show when Johnny Carson asked her if she dresses for men or for women. Her response, of course, was, "I dress for women. I undress for men."

And as if that wasn't enough, there was still another movie to watch before I rushed off to BART. That would be POINT BLANK (1967), an odd, somewhat experimental, surreal-ish revenge story directed by John Boorman and again starring Lee Marvin. Lee is Walker, and as the movie opens he wakes up in a jail cell. Turns out he's in Alcatraz, not in an operating jail, and he's there because he was double-crossed. He, his wife, and his best friend were there to steal $93,000 from a criminal organization. His friend took the money and his wife, but didn't kill him all the way. He swims off the rock, and sets out for revenge...and his $93,000. The story jumps around in time a lot, but he teams up with his sister-in-law Chris (Angie Dickinson) to take down the heads of the organization. He always seems one step ahead, in no small part because a mysterious man is leading him around. The whole thing is very strange, and maybe only works because of the taciturn cool of Lee Marvin and the sexiness of Angie Dickinson. And then, the ending is...very strange...with possibly a message about what's really important. Or not, maybe this whole movie is just Walker's fantasy as he's dying.

Total Running Time: 322
My Total Minutes: 261,825
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