Four movies on Saturday, so let's jump right in.
KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (1952): We start with the perfect crime. 3 thugs (Neville Brand, Jack Elam, and a very tan young Lee Van Cleef,) none of whom know each other. In fact, they've never seen each other without masks. Only the boss knows them, they don't know the boss or each other. Their caper--rob an armored car disguised in a flower delivery truck, framing the actual, innocent delivery man (John Payne.) And they get away with it, but then have to lay low until the heat is off and split the loot much later. So they all go their separate ways while the patsy takes the fall. And he's roughed up by the cops, but won't confess (because, of course, he's innocent.) Eventually the second delivery truck is found and he's released, but as an ex-con and former soldier, he's determined to find the guys who framed him. A great story, with a cool twist at the end.
VIOLENT SATURDAY (1955): Then we opened up the screen for a little Cinemascope.
Now I have to pause for a moment and comment on the format of the festival this year. Because purists will want their noir to be from in or near the 50's, and in black and white, and American, etc. Eddie Muller has put together a program that starts there, but progresses on so that by the end of the festival we'll be watching modern films, still in the heist genre. And I love it! When I work at my local silent fim museum and have to defend the importance of silent film, I tell people there's a more-than-century old conversation that's been happening around the world on film, and if you don't go back to the beginning you're like a child who wanders into the middle of a conversation and demands to know what's going on. Well, the reverse is true if you don't watch newer films--you've checked out of the conversation and pretended it's over, when there's still more to be said. And Eddie has given us all a rare opportunity to follow one thread of that grand conversation over more than 6 decades. I hope you all appreciate that.
Okay, back to the film. It's set in a small town where everyone knows each other. Victor Mature will become the hero, but at the start he's a simple family man and copper mine operator. In fact, the fact that he didn't fight in the war--because mining copper was also important to the war effort--is a bit of a sore spot with his son and his friends. Well, as a lazy Friday goes by, and we meet the citizens of the town and their interweaving lives--the banker with a wandering eye, the alcoholic mine owner and his cheating wife, the three crooks from out of town planning a bank robbery...wait, what?! Well that's not even the strange part, that would be Ernest Borgnine as an Amish farmer. And if you push him too far, and hurt his family, he might just let that Amish part slip a bit and go totally Borgnine on your ass. Best mis-casting ever! Boy that was fun.
Then a leisurely break for dinner, and we were back at it, this time somehow in Italy, a country that knows a little something about heists.
FOUR WAYS OUT (1951): The story opens with a soccer game. And while the fans are enjoying the game, 4 hoodlums are robbing the box office. They get away and split up, but the cops start methodically setting out their web to catch them. We follow each hoodlum on his own journey trying to make his getaway, and each in turn either ending up dead or in jail. In that way it's a rather methodical movie, but quite expertly done, and with care taken to let each character shine, from the ex-soccer star to the starving artist to the young boy barely out of school. Also features a small role by a young Gina Lollobrigida, and one of Federico Fellini's first co-writing credits.
BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET (1958): And finally, after so many heists have gone wrong we finally get one where...well, it still goes wrong, but hilariously. Finally time to break up the bleakness with a comedy. A man is caught trying to steal a car. While in jail, he hears of the perfect caper--a pawn shop next to an abandoned apartment and the wall in between is weak--very easy to knock down. He just needs to get out in time, so he needs a scapegoat to confess to his crime. Well, that sets of an increasingly hilarious series of setbacks, leading to the unlikeliest of criminal morons (including Marcello Mastroianni) in a screwball, slapstick caper that of course all goes completely wrong. And that's completely all right. It's freakin' hilarious.
Total Running Time: 369 minutes
My Total Minutes: 440,607
My Total Minutes: 440,607