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

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Jason goes to Noir City--Opening Night

My favorite city in the world, and it only exists for 10 days a year. Actually, come to think about it, you could also say that about my other favorite city in the world. But that's not important right now. What's important is Noir City is my happy place right least until next weekend, when it conflicts with Indiefest and I have to make some hard choices.

Eddie was looking dapper, bourbon was flowing, Miss Noir City was in fine form--and fine voice, as one third of the pre-show musical entertainment, The Century Sisters. And for that matter, so was Victoria Mature, Victor Mature's...surprisingly young daughter (not granddaughter) helping Eddie introduce the first film.

I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941) kicks off the "Classy A" half of the program. Victor Mature stars as Frankie Christopher, a promoter who is wanted for murder. Seems that a girl he groomed for stardom was found murdered, with him standing over the body. He swears he just found her there, but top cop Ed Cornell (Laird Cregar, looking creepy and menacing) knows he's guilty. He just needs the time to prove it. And Frankie just needs time and a few breaks to prove he's innocent. This is early in the Noir movement (the next 10 days will take us from 1941 up to 1953) but it's got all the elements right from the beginning. Twists, fear, deception, hot dames who might be bad news or might be the best thing ever. And the great cinematography that plays with the shadows. Plus...a lot of creepy scenes where one character breaks into another's bedroom and wakes them up. That's just wrong, man!

AMONG THE LIVING (1941) and the other half of the program is the "Trashy B." (by the way, the two titles together--"I WAKE UP SCREAMING AMONG THE LIVING"--would make a movie that I already want to see.) B pictures are shorter, cheaper, and always a lot cheesier than the As. And this one borders on the ludicrous.... Check that, it's on the other side of the border with ludicrous. Mr. Raden, a grand industrialist who built the town of Radentown, has passed away. His son, John Raden (Albert Dekker,) has returned to town for the funeral, and also to open up the old mill and get people back to work. But there's a little family secret not even he knows of. His twin brother Paul (also Albert Dekker) is still alive. The family doctor Ben Saunders (Harry Carey) faked the death certificate when he was 10, buried an unknown child's body in his grave, and kept Paul locked in a secret room of the old family home for 20 some years, because...reasons, I guess? Anyway, Paul is a little mentally unstable, ever since he tried to break up an incident when dad was beating mom. Screams set him off, and he covers his ears and goes nuts. And when he finds out that dad was buried next to mom, not far away as his negro servant Pompey (Ernest Whitman) said, he goes on a bit of a rampage. News spreads that there's a murderer on the loose. Meanwhile Paul goes into town with a wad of money and absolutely no wits. He meets a nice girl Millie (Susan Hayward) and tries to be nice. But...bad things happen. Let's just leave it at that. I know this is kind of an abrupt end to this post...but not nearly as abrupt as the end of the movie.

Total Running Time: 149 minutes
My Total Minutes: 466,196

Jason comes back from hiatus

I know I said I'd be back in 2018, and here it is nearly a month in. I don't think I explicitly said I'd be back at the beginning of 2018, but that was the intention. I didn't account for how busy the beginning of each quarter is for me.

Anyway, I've seen a small handful of movies since I went on hiatus. Of course, I finished of Another Hole in the Head and the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival (both fun festivals, and frustrating that they're at the same time. But I think the entire crossover audience of Jewish films and horror fans

I caught THOR: RAGNAROK, which was hilarious is excellent the Taika Waititi way I hoped it would be.

COCO made me cry. OLAF'S FROZEN ADVENTURE made me wretch.

I spent a lot of time with silent films, mostly at my beloved Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, but also at the glorious Castro for SF Silent Film Fest's Day of Silents.

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI deserves all the praise it's getting, and none of the baffling backlash.

Of course I saw STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI--twice. It also deserves all the praise and...very little of the backlash. But then, I didn't feel that way until after the second screening. I didn't get all of what Rian Johnson was going for the first time. Also, I have to say that scene--you know the one I'm talking about--is just about the greatest thing ever put on cinema. I'll always call it the "Oh, SHIT!" scene, because the first time I saw it, on opening night (thanks to a good friend who scored some tickets) when that scene came up, the movie was silent and the audience was silent save for one guy who yelled out, "Oh, SHIT!"

And the night before taking off to see my family in Anchorage, AK, I celebrated a Noir City Xmas with Eddie Mueller, MANHANDLED, and ALIAS BOSTON BLACKIE.

And then earlier in 2018, I kicked it off with a little Midnites for Maniacs tribute to Gus Van Sant. TO DIE FOR is hilarious and provocative, a great satire on celebrity culture, with a faux-documentary format that it seems every sitcom is copying now (no, it didn't start with THE OFFICE, it at least goes back to 1995. And then Van Sant's controversial shot-for-shot remake of PSYCHO (1998.) I'll admit I was one of the snobs who didn't care to see it back then because, heck, the original is already perfect (I am a big fan of remaking shitty, forgotten movies, though.) But I do remember my sister and cousin seeing it, and saying they liked it better than "the black and white version." I chalked it up to them being young and stupid, but.... Okay, it might still be unnecessary, since the original is still perfect. But it's also a good movie, and good movies are totally necessary. I'm happy I finally saw it.

Oh, I saw THE SHAPE OF WATER. Yeah, that chick totally has sex with a fish-dude. And it's an exciting story about love, acceptance, and the Cold War. But what really excited me about it was...she lives upstairs from a theater! Oh my God! I wanna live upstairs from a theater! Especially a grand movie palace! Why aren't there apartments above the Castro?

THE POST is...pretty good. I can't say there's anything particularly wrong about it. But here's a sampling of what I was thinking when I watched it:
Man, Meryl Streep is a great actress. Yup, that's totally Meryl Streep being a great actress playing...what's her name, the owner of the paper. Yup, in this movie The Washington Post is owned by Meryl Streep.
Man, Tom Hanks is a great actor. Yup, that's totally Tom Hanks being a great actor playing...what's his name, the editor of the paper. Yup, in this movie The Washington Post is edited by Tome Hanks.
Hey, that's Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, from MR. SHOW WITH BOB AND DAVID. They're both playing serious roles. They've both played serious roles before. I don't know if I've seen them do that together, though. They probable have. But still, it's weird that Bob and David are doing scenes together but it's not a Mr. Show sketch.
Hey, remember when Tom Hanks was a comic actor, and then he made the leap into serious drama with PHILADELPHIA? Tom Hanks is in this movie, too. Maybe Bob and David are hoping some of that magic rubs off on them.
Boy, they're really, really hammering the point that it's bad for the President to attack the press. They seriously hope Trump will watch it...but even if he does there's no chance he changes his tune.
A whole lot of other thoughts....
And somewhere near the bottom...
The Pentagon Papers.

I had more fun at Niles, included the long-awaited DVD release of our brand new (a couple of years old) silent film, BRONCHO BILLY AND THE BANDIT'S SECRET. Stop by the museum and pick yourself up a copy.

And finally, I'm currently in Noir City. But that deserves it's own post.

My Total Minutes:466,047