Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Jason goes to Noir City--The End

Well, the end for this year, I'll definitely be back! Heck, I spent last Sunday at Noir City even though I heard something about a huge television event that I shouldn't miss. Something about a Superb Owl, and I am a fan of all things avian*.

To end the festival, we took a whirlwind tour of the Far East, Hollywood style. Movies set in the mysterious Orient...but shot mostly on backlots in Hollywood...with maybe a few second unit shots on location.

SINGAPORE (1947): Fred MacMurray plays Matt Gordon, a decorated GI with a bit of a checkered past. He used to smuggle pearls in Singapore, and now after WWII he's back. Of course, the deputy commissioner Hewitt (Richard Haydn) has his eye on him, but Gordon swears he's there for sentimental reasons. And that's not entirely false. After all, he lost his fiance (Ava Gardner) there in an air raid. And things get really complicated when he finds her again, but with amnesia, and married to a rich plantation owner. Throw in the stash of pearls he hid in his old hotel room (somehow never discovered...or bombed the war years) some bad guys who want the pearls, and you have an absolutely ludicrous plot that still pleases with the energy and grace from its stars and cinematography.

MACAO (1952): I can't believe I almost made it through Noir City without seeing a Robert Mitchum flick. That would've been sacrilege. He plays Nick Cochran, an ex-pat American in Asia. He can't leave do to an outstanding warrant back in the States (some fight over a girl, maybe someone was killed, maybe not.) At least, that's his cover story. The local baddie pegs him for a cop immediately. Something about a jewel robbery and a murdered detective and if the baddie ever leaves a 3 mile radius from Macao he's liable to be picked up by the authorities who aren't on his payroll. Throw in William Bendix as the comical tourist/import/export guy (only the finest contraband!) and Jane Russell as the love interest and you got a movie, no matter what it's about. The program notes actually make fun of the plot (or lack thereof) noting that the movie really exists just to throw all these stars together and have a good time. For what it's worth, I actually enjoyed the story and the bizarre twists, but maybe that says more about me.

THE SHANGHAI GESTURE (1941): And finally I ended my tour of the festival (there were still encore screenings of SINGAPORE and MACAO, but I needed to get home and pack for Switzerland) with Martin Scorsese's personal print of this cult classic. Watching this, it's clear that it's more "cult" than "classic" with a bizarre mish-mash of characters, starting with Mother Gin Sling (Ona Munson in yellow-face.) She runs a gambling den (in the original play, which seemed design to dare the censors every step of the way, it was a brothel) in Shanghai where eccentrics from around the world meet. One of them is Dr. Omar (Victor Mature) a fez-bedecked "Doctor of Nothing" who takes the title because it makes him sound important and doesn't hurt anything--something most real doctors can't claim. Enter young Poppy (21 year old Gene Tierney) who drinks, loses a lot of money gambling, and latches onto Omar and his poetry (after about a minute of wooing her, he seems to spend the rest of the picture visibly regretting it.) Toss in an eviction notice and a rich real estate developer Sir Guy Charteris (Walter Huston) who has a past with Mother Gin Sling and you've got something resembling a picture. More importantly, you have a wild, impossible, incomprehensible adventure in which no one comes out looking good--if they come out of it at all. What a way to end the week. Can't wait to see how Noir City 13 can top it!

Total Running Time: 255 minutes
My Total Minutes: 349,585

*Especially hawks...from the sea. Yeah, I grew up in Bellingham as a Seahawks fan. I hadn't really followed football much for several years, but it was still kind of a tough choice to pass up their first Super Bowl win ever. But I figured if they won and I didn't watch it live, I'd still be happy. If I watched it live and they lost, I'd be bummed I didn't go to Noir City Instead.

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