Sunday, January 29, 2012

Jason goes to Noir City--Finale

So I skipped last Saturday due to other commitments, but I was there all Sunday for the closing Dashiell Hammett marathon. So let's just jump right in.

ROADHOUSE NIGHTS (1930): According to Eddie Muller's introduction, there's never been a "real" adaptation of Hammett's Red Harvest. It's just too brutal and violent, even for pre-code Hollywood. So this adaptation is mostly comedy, especially courtesy of the great Jimmy Durante. He plays Daffy, an entertainer at a nightclub that is really a front for a bootlegging business run by Sam Horner (Fred Kohler.) The local paper has caught wind of this, but Sam puts some serious pressure on them to kill the story. Enter crack report Willie Bindbugel (Charles Ruggles) to break the story, save the girl (Helen Morgan), and try to save his own neck. And speaking of necks, Daffy is always busting in fearing that they'll all get "the gallows!" I had forgotten how awesome Jimmy Durante was. It's sort of a weird thing to go to noir festival and end up obsessing about a famous comedian/singer. But that's just how I roll.

THE MALTESE FALCON (1931): This is the first version--Ricardo Cortez and Bebe Daniels instead of Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor. The story of the black bird is very much the same, but in this pre-code version they can be quite a bit sexier. The best example of this (other than the bathtub scene and one other nude-but-not-revealing scene) is when Sam Spade berates Ruth Wonderly about how she never tried to win his loyalty with anything other than money. Well, when Bogart says that to Astor she needs it explained to him. When Cortez delivers the same line to Bebe Daniels, she knows exactly what to do. Oh yeah, and speaking of Bebe Daniels, I knew her exclusively as a silent actress, and almost always Harold Lloyd's love interest. It's really cool to see (and hear!) her in a very different role. Bogart will always be the canonical Sam Spade, but for my money I prefer Bebe Daniels as Ruth (oh yeah, in this version they drop the part where she admits her real name is Brigid O'Shaughnessy).

CITY STREETS (1932): This one Hammett wrote specifically for the screen, and it's all about how Gary Cooper is cool as all hell. He plays "The Kid," a sharpshooter working for the local carnival. His girl is Nan (Sylvia Sidney), and they plan to get married just as soon as she saves up enough money. Nan has a plan, The Kid could work for her dad. Only problem is that her dad (Guy Kibbee) is a bootlegger and racketeer--not exactly The Kid's cup of tea. She doesn't see what's so bad about it, but she learns her lesson when she ends up going to jail. Too bad by the time she's out The Kid is working for her dad. It's a nice bit of reversal, and by this time their only hope to get out of the business and on with their life together is for Gary Cooper to be cooler than the entire mob put together.

MR. DYNAMITE (1935): Another odd bit of Hammett being used for a comedy. In fact, very little of this is left from Hammett's original draft of the script. The original idea was something of a sequel to THE MALTESE FALCON, a second "Sam Spade" story. Although, this time explicitly make the private eye a disreputable cheat who is run out of town by the local cops. It was originally conceived to be very serious and dark, but by the time it was made it became a comical Edmund Lowe playing private dick T. N. Thompson (get it? T.N.T. = Mr. Dynamite) He is hired by a casino owner to solve a murder and ends up getting involved in two more. Of course, the cops won't help him out at all, but that's okay because he's smarter than all of them put together. It can be pretty funny--even when it's totally implausible--as long as you go in expecting a detective comedy story, not your typical realistic and hard-bitten Hammett.

THE GLASS KEY (1942): In a perfect piece of showmanship, Eddie Muller accepted a commendation from the city and county of San Francisco just before introducing this movie about corruption in politics. Paul Madvig (Brian Donleavy) is the kingmaker, the power behind the throne. And he has decided to clean up his image and stop backing the mob-backed incumbent Nick Varna (Joseph Calleia) and instead back the reformer Taylor Henry (Richard Denning.) Of course, that has a lot to do with Henry's daughter Janet (Veronica Lake.) But Janet has eyes more for Madvig's loyal right-hand-man Ed Beaumont (Alan Ladd.) Things get really bad really quickly when Henry's ne'er-do-well son turns up dead and Paul is the prime suspect. A cool mystery where no one is good because everyone is in politics. And damn it's fun to watch William Bendix (as Varna's enforcer Jeff) beat the crap out of Alan Ladd.

THE MALTESE FALCON (1941): And finally, we ended the night and Noir City 2012 with the iconic classic. I don't really need to say much. Bogart, Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, first time director John Huston hitting it out of the park...the stuff that dreams are made of. And it was so much fun seeing this version after seeing the 1931 version.

Total Running Time: 483 minutes
My Total Minutes: 263,363

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