Sunday, January 30, 2011

Jason goes to the penultimate day of Noir City

A four movie day. That might seem like a lot for some people, but it's my first of the year, near the end of January. I'm getting off to kind of a slow start. That'll pick up once Indiefest starts next Thursday.

We start with a Freudian double feature, starting with Fritz Lang's SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR (1948). Celia Barrett (Joan Bennett) takes a little trip to Mexico to clear her head after her brother passes away. She has an old friend Bob (James Seay) waiting back home with a marriage proposal, but it was actually his idea for her to take this trip, wanting her to be sure she isn't accepting while still grieving. Too bad for him that she meets and falls for Mark Lamphere (Michael Redgrave), and ends up marrying him. He's an odd man who excites her--an architect who keeps a collection of "felicitous" rooms (he just has a different definition of felicitous). The story sort of defies easy comprehension, it's almost surrealism at times. It's full of Lang's ostentatious set design and cinematography (courtesy of Stanley Cortez), and it's full of over-the-top Freudianism--domineering women, a scarf pullet taut that suddenly goes limp, a woman talking how she'll "fix" her husband while casually waving a knife And without giving too much away, I'll also say it's actually an old-fashioned romance, in that the, marriage is never really real until he carries her over the threshold properly. I know, I'm so old fashioned.

Then I saw BLIND ALLEY (1939), a movie where the Freudian bits were window dressing on a story that's really a simple (and very well done) story of an intellectual battling a psychopathic killer with nothing but his mind. Dr. Shelby (Ralph Bellamy) is hosting a dinner part with a few friends when they are rudely interrupted by escaped killer Hal Wilson (Chester Morris, doing something of a James Cagney impression, see!). To modern audiences, Dr. Shelby's Freudian analysis of Wilson's mannerisms and dreams inspires mostly eye rolls and an "Oh, brother!" (seriously, that's exactly what my friend said at the end). It's a shame that part doesn't date well, since the rest of it is a good, tight, suspenseful story and the 'brains vs. guns' angle works very well. This has been remade many times, and the program notes say this version is the best. I'm just thinking it might stand up to one more remake, with a more modern take on psychoanalysis.

Then after a break for a little wine tasting and a little dinner, I was back for two more, this time tales of love gone wrong.

First up, THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY (1945). How can I describe this oddity? Uncle Harry no one's uncle, really. He's Harry Quincey (George Sanders), an ultimate mild mannered bachelor, making pretty patterns for a textile mill and living with his two sisters Lettie (Geraldine Fitzgerald) and Hester (Moyna McGill). The "Uncle" in his name comes from how non-threatening he is--the women in town call him uncle because he seems more avuncular than an eligible bachelor. But things change when he meets Deborah Brown from the corporate HQ in New York. He shows her around town, and they get along very well. Perhaps too well for his own good thinks Lettie. And there's where it gets weird. Harry has always lived alone with his sisters, and while the film couldn't say it explicitly (what with the Hays Code), it's pretty clear that Harry and Lettie have/had an incestuous relationship. And Lettie isn't ready to let Harry go. Allegedly there were 5 different endings written for the film (3 actually shot). I liked the ending we saw, but I can see many possible variations. Without explaining anything, there's a perfect crime and a bit of pleasant insanity.

And finally, the prize for the best title goes to SO EVIL MY LOVE (1948). It's also a fine film, though at 112 minutes it's kind of slow and tiring for the last film of the day. Widowed missionary Olivia Harwood (Ann Todd) returns to London. On the ship she meets Mark Bellis (Ray Milland), a painter and criminal (though she doesn't know it right away). He moves into her boarding house, and slowly they fall in love. But they need money, and he convinces her to join him in a plot against her best friend Susan Courtney (Geraldine Fitzgerald). An atmospheric gothic noir, it doesn't quite fit the traditional mold of noir, but Eddie Muller gave a great definition of noir--it has to do with suspect motives and people knowing they're doing the wrong thing but deciding to do it anyway. Well, that's certainly true of SO EVIL MY LOVE, and I certainly appreciate a movie where everyone who dies at the end--and deserves it.

Oh yeah, and it's supposedly based on a true unsolved murder.

Total Running Time: 360 minutes
My Total Minutes: 220,498

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