Sunday, January 28, 2018

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 2

4 great Film Noirs (Films Noir?) on Saturday. And for the first double bill, I did them in reverse order.

For the first trashy B, we went to the library with QUIET PLEASE, MURDER (1942.) In the opening scenes, Jim Fleg (George Sanders) murders a librarian and steals a one of a kind book--Richard Burbage's original copy of Hamlet (Burbage was the first actor to ever play Hamlet.) But Fleg isn't just a thief, he's a master forger. Why sell the original, when he can sell 50 fakes to all the rich rubes, who can't even report him because they'd be confessing to knowingly buying stolen goods. But his associate Myra Blandy (Gail Patrick) sells to one particularly dangerous man, Martin Cleaver (Sidney Blackmer,) who happens to be an antiquity collector for the Germans, and doesn't need to go to the cops when he finds he's been swindled. Throw in the trustworthy investigator Hal McByrne (Richard Denning) a possible romance, a double-cross, a hostage situation, and an timely air raid siren, and it's a recipe for one insane night in a library. And I happened to speak to a couple of current and former library workers afterwards, and one assured me that's exactly what it's like to work in a library, and the other told me that some of it was not that realistic.

And then the classy A, THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942.) Alan Ladd stars as a Raven, a hard-nosed, ice-cold assassin in San Francisco. He completes a job for one Willard Gates (Laird Cregar) who pays him with hot money--it's been reported as stolen from Nitro Chemical in L.A. So there's a cat-and-mouse game, and Raven pulls Miss Ellen Graham (Veronica Lake) into it by pure chance. She's a singing magician, and Mr. Gates side job is running a nightclub. He just hired her to a gig in his club in L.A. Meanwhile her boyfriend Michael Crane is a detective from L.A., who was on vacation in San Francisco until he got a call about hot money being passed in San Francisco so he's on the case. You know, for how hard-nosed this movie is about making a cold-blooded assassin the hero, there's a lot of goofy coincidences and other silliness in it. But at the core it's a tense cat-and-mouse thriller with an international espionage angle. And it's awesome.

Then a nice break, a couple of classy cocktails, and time for the evening double-bill. This time in the proper order.

The first classy A was Alfred Hitchcock's SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943.) A story about Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotton,) a beloved uncle who turns out to be a really evil guy (as someone who loves being an uncle, and being evil, this really spoke to me. Note: I'm nowhere near as evil as Joseph Cotton in this film.) Little Charlie (Teresa Newton) adores her Uncle Charlie. Heck, she's named after him, they're practically twins. In fact, just when she's hoping he'd visit, and goes to the telegraph office to wire him, they get a telegraph from him that he'll be coming to visit them, in Santa Rosa, California (oh yeah, it's another one of Hitchcock's Bay Area films!) This is a rare and wonderful Hitchcock film that is driven by character arc, not by plot. It's all about little Charlie learning...well, not exactly hard evidence, but suspicious things about Uncle Charlie. Especially when a detective Jack Graham (MacDonald Carey) shows up and tells her that he might be a man they're looking for in a nationwide manhunt. But then, there's also a guy out in Boston who might be the man. At first she can't believe it. But then...small bits of circumstantial evidence start piling up. Hitchcock really has fun with his characters in this one. Like the little know-it-all sister who reads two books a week. Or the father and his best friend who entertain themselves with an endless stream of hypothetical murder plots (perhaps a comic stand-in for Hitchcock's own imagination.) The ending is thrilling, but it's the journey that makes this movie a delight.

And then the final film, which I refuse to call trashy. It's a disturbingly timely story of fascism (from the time when we knew fascists were the bad guys,) ADDRESS UNKNOWN (1944.) Max Eisenstein (Morris Carnovsky) and Martin Shulz (Paul Lukas) are best friends and business partners, running an art gallery in San Francisco and dining on traditional German food. And they are close to becoming family, as Shulz's son Heinrich (Peter van Eyck) is going to ask Eisenstein's daughter Griselle (K.T. Stevens) to marry him. But when they arrive, they announce they've decided not to get married. It would be too disruptive to Griselle's ambition to be an actress. So they go with the original plan. Max stays in San Francisco and runs the gallery. Shulz moves back to Germany to procure art for the gallery. And they swap their children. Heinrich stays with Max and helps him in the gallery. Griselle goes with Martin (and his wife an many small children) to Germany, where she has opportunities to start her acting career. All is good...and then that Adolf Hitler guy comes into power. Max asks Martin about him, that gets the attention of one Baron von Friesche (Carl Esmond) who urges him to set Max straight about how he's restoring German pride. The friends become increasingly estranged as Martin joins the party for the sake of his career, and then out of cowardice. Things really go bad when Griselle (who changed her name to Stone for the marquee) is revealed to be Jewish, and there's a murderous riot at her premiere. Then things get really, really dark and deadly serious. It was a low budget B movie, but director William Cameron Menzies proved to be courageous and innovative, in a movie that took Nazis--and cowardice in the face of them--to task, at a time when that was a pretty important.

Total Running Time: 334 minutes
My Total Minutes: 466,530
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