Sunday, January 31, 2016

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 9

The last weekend kicks off with a 5 film Saturday. So with little introduction, here they are.

The early triple-bill was about painters.

THE LODGER (1944): Jack the Ripper story with Laird Cregar as the creepy gentleman pathologist who rents rooms in a house. Instead of prostitutes (production code, those don't exist,) he kills actresses. Instead of a maniac he's portrayed as a tortured soul, avenging his artistic brother (the "painter" element of the film) who was done in by his love for an actress. The story, production, cinematography are great. But it's Laird Cregar's perfect balance of menace, pathos, and erudition that makes this movie.

BLUEBEARD (1944): This is almost the same Jack the Ripper story, just moved to France (Jacques the Ripper?) But Bluebeard is a French folk tale, and here Edgar G. Ulmer gives it the low-budget, B-movie treatment. John Carradine stars Gaston Morrell, a charming puppeteer whose business is slow because nobody wants to be outside, what with the murderous Bluebeard out there. Lucille (Jean Parker) takes a liking to them, and they become friends...and maybe more. She volunteers to help him make costumes for his next show. Meanwhile her sister Francine (Teala Loring) comes to town. Her boyfriend (Nils Asther) is the inspector searching for Bluebeard. Clues are pointing to art dealer Jean Lamarte (Ludwig Stossel)--not as the killer but as someone who knows the killer. The killer might just be a mysterious painter whose work Lamarte has sold before. So a trap is set, and...well, everything ends in a very noir manner. A nice little low-budget flick.

SCARLET STREET (1945): And then Fritz Lang's brilliant adaptation of the French novel "The Bitch" (translated into English as "The Poor Sap.") Joan Bennett plays the bitch of the French title, Kitty March. And Edward G. Robinson is really the poor sap, Christopher Cross. He works as a cashier in a bank, and the film opens with him being honored for 25 years of service. On his way home, he sees a girl being roughed up by a guy. Turns out that's Kitty March, and the guy is her boyfriend pimp (okay, kinda both) Johnny Prince (Dan Duryea, at his oiliest best.) Chris "saves" her, and becomes infatuated with her, despite being old enough to be her father. Oh, and also being married, to Adele (Rosalind Ivan) who, come to think of it, might be the real bitch in the story. Kitty leads Chris on, just to get his money. See, he paints on the side, just for fun, and sort of let her believe he's a famous artist whose paintings sell for thousands of dollars in Europe (never appreciated in your own country, of course.) And so begins a long affair of Kitty taking advantage of him, and me silently screaming "Dammit! Why are you such a sap!" Oh, it's a great movie, it just made me very uncomfortable and I kept waiting for him to finally grow a spine, see what's going on, and take his revenge. And when he does, I was the first of many in the audience who burst into applause. But that's not the end, that's not noir enough. The ending is even more brilliantly dark than that.

Then there was a break before the evening shows, long enough for me to grab a little dinner and a beer, and still be back to the mezzanine in time for a cocktail. 

And then the evening show was all about Ballet Noir.

THE RED SHOES (1948): Okay, many times this festival we've stretched the definition of noir. In conversations with other patrons, there's kind of a mixed reaction to that. The "art" theme has taken precedence over the genre, and some people have a problem with that. For the record, I don't. Especially when the outside-the-genre selections are this freakin' great. In the opening scenes, a group of students barge into the balcony as soon as the opera doors open. They're excited to see the opera their professor wrote. But shortly in, one student Julian Craster (Marius Goring) quickly recognizes the score as something he wrote himself. Meanwhile the opera owner Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) is cajoled into attending a party where he is supposed to meet the hostess' talented dancer daughter Victoria Page (Moira Shearer, who really is a dancer, not an actress playing one.) While Lermontov doesn't like being bothered like this, he does give both Page and Craster a chance for small parts with the opera. Craster coaches the orchestra, Page...well, hangs around with other young, inexperienced dancers waiting to be noticed. And eventually she is, and eventually Craster's musical genius is recognized, and Lermontov assigns him to write the score to the Hans Andersen story of The Red Shoes--magical shoes that keep on dancing even after the wearer is too tired to go on. And the centerpiece performance of the ballet's opening night is sheer brilliance. Not just a great ballet, but one of the most sublime sequences of cinema ever, as movie magic transforms the stagy ballet into the dream world of the performers (and maybe even the audience.) Seriously, I've spent most of the last night just thinking about that ballet scene. Well, from there Craster and Page are rising stars. And, to the displeasure of Lermontov--lovers. And that's when it turns from a glorious story of the rise of great artists into a tragedy. And dare I say...a little noir-ish. I don't care if you categorize this as noir or not. Arguments over definitions are the purview of small, pointless minds. This is a great movie, and that's all that matters.

SPECTER OF THE ROSE (1946): And then for those who want real noir, and real weirdness, this was a pallet cleanser to the Technicolor brilliance of THE RED SHOES. Good ol' black-and-white is back, and Ben Hecht wrote and directed. But the struggle to make (and finance) great art is still there. Michael Chekhov is Max Polikoff, an opera producer who owes money all over town. Along with Madame La Sylph (Judith Anderson) they will put on the titular opera. A story of a woman who falls asleep with a rose, and dreams that it turns into her lover. All they need is a great dancer, Andre Sanine (Ivan Kirov.) Too bad he's suspected of murdering his wife. Sure, she died of a heart attack...on stage...while performing with him. But in his psychotic delusions he believes he's responsible, and when you can't stop yelling about how you killed her, the police get curious. Eh, it's all just in his head, and young dancer Haidi (Viola Essen) helps him snap out of it...kinda. He's still psychotic, but more often than not he's fine. So the opera will be an artistic triumph...or it might lead to a little bit of death. But one things for certain, Lionel Gans (Lionel Stander) will look like a tough guy but wax floridly poetic through the whole thing. He's awesome. This film is awesome. 

Total Running Time: 482 minutes
My Total Minutes: 416,368
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