Saturday, December 15, 2007

Remember The Night

Remember the Night
Director: Mitchell Leisen
Screenplay: Preston Sturges
Screening: Sunday December 16, 2007 7:00 pm at the Lynwood Theatre on Bainbridge Island

Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck debate morality and their future.

Mitchell Leisen's Remember the Night is a great alternative to the usual Christmas movie suspects. The film starts out in the usual brash fashion of screen writer Preston Sturges, as the audience is thrown right into the thick of the action: Barbara Stanwyck's Lee steals a bracelet and promptly gets busted when she tries to pawn it. Luckily for her she gets a good lawyer, who comes up with an amusingly potty defense, and it is Christmas time, with the jury in a forgiving mood. Unfortunately, the prosecutor is John, played by Fred MacMurray, who angles for a continuance until after Christmas when presumably the jury will be over their holiday"nduced magnanimity. He gets his continuance, but feelings of guilt prompt him to bail Lee out of jail. The bail bondsman, misconstruing John's motives, deposits the attractive girl on his doorstep. When John finds out that her hometown neighbors his, he offers to drop her there on the way home to his mother's house, where he plans to spend Christmas.

The couple faces a series of comedic misadventures typical of Sturges' madcap style and then the story takes a sudden turn in both plot and genre. When John takes Lee "home" to her mother, he witnesses a devastating confrontation between the pair, which makes him reconsider who Lee is and how she became a thief. Stanwyck's portrayal of her character's emotional pain and vulnerability again proves her brilliance as an actress and her amazing ability to shift from comedy and drama within the same role. Sturges screenplay and Leisen's direction also successfully meet the challenge of this transition from screwball comedy to heartfelt romantic drama. John invites Lee to spend Christmas with his family where she experiences, for the first time, a loving home. The film explores how Lee finds her moral center and provides a thoughtful meditation on the nature of love and redemption without falling into the simplistic sentimentality present in so many Christmas yarns.
Is this film worth the trip to Bainbridge Island? Absolutely! Primarily, you should go because it is an entertaining and well made film with a first rate cast. Plus, it is a holiday movie that the whole family can watch together without the parents slipping into a sugar coma. In addition, this film has never been released on DVD. Universal released it on VHS along with three other Sturges scripted films, If I Were King; Never Say Die, Easy Living, and Imitation of Life (1934). Hopefully Universal will release this set on DVD, but as they have been slow to release their classic films on DVD with the exception of their monster movie classics, I wouldn't hold your breath. The VHS looks ok, provided you can find it for rental. I did get a chance to see this film in a theater several years ago and the print I saw looked great. But most of all, you get to see Barbara Stanwyck make popovers on the big screen; isn't that reason enough?

Friday, December 7, 2007

She's a Femme Fatale

Greta Garbo, Flesh and The Devil

Flesh and the Devil
Director: Clarence Brown
Director of Cinematography William Daniels
Available on DVD from Warner Brothers: TCM Archives - The Garbo Silents Collection
Screened at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, December 1, 2007- Castro Theatre
Accompaniment by Dennis James on the Mighty Wurlitzer

***contains spoilers***

Flesh and the Devil tells the tale of blood brothers Leo and Ulrich whose life long friendship is threatened by the seductively destructive Felicitas. The film, made in 1926, bears striking similarities to the film noirs of the late 40s and early 50s. For example, the basic storyline of army buddies driven apart by a femme fatale, as well as the mise-en-scene that features a preponderance of interior shots, chiaroscuro lighting and expressionistic scenery, and lastly the idea of fate playing cruelly with the protagonist and putting him into an inescapable quandary- all these elements regularly appear in noir and, in fact, help define the genre. The striking difference between film noir and this piece comes with the protagonist, Leo, brilliantly portrayed by silent screen great John Gilbert. His character and the character of his lover Felicitas, Greta Garbo in the role that propelled her to stardom, illustrate the profound differences between the moral universes of melodrama and film noir.

Eddie Muller (founder of The Film Noir Foundation and author of Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir) once defined film noir as a story about "people who know they're doing the wrong thing and do it anyway." Phyllis Dietrichson and Walter Neff in Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity(1944)(available on DVD from Universal) are prime examples of this maxim. While Flesh and the Devil's "heroine" Felicitas certainly falls into the category of those who do wrong knowingly, Leo decidedly does not. From the beginning, their relationship illustrates this point. After two erotically charged meetings, the pair began a love affair. While enjoying a tryst, a man enters their love nest and finds them in a compromising position, it is Felicitas' husband. This revelation profoundly shocks Leo who had no idea his lover was married. The husband then challenges the startled Leo to a duel that results in his death and forces Leo into honor bound exile. Leo not only is faultless in the committing of adultery, since he was ignorant of Felicitas' married state, but he even protects both Felicitas' and her dead husband's reputation by claiming publicly that the duel was over a dispute at cards. With this action, he takes on the moral guilt that belongs to his lover. The acceptance of someone else's quilt, frequently seen in melodramas, contrasts starkly with the rejection of personal guilt seen in film noirs and in Felicitas' actions.
Film noirs generally take place in a moral vacuum, the world surrounding the characters is devoid of any sense of right and wrong and no one seems to act in anything but their own self"nterest. Orson Welles' Lady from Shanghai(1947)(available on DVD from Columbia) perfectly illustrates this corrupt and corrupting universe where everyman is for himself and God is against all (to borrow a phrase from Werner Herzog). In this film, Leo has definite moral guidance from his minister, Pastor Voss. The Pastor passionately denounces sexual trespass from the pulpit for the benefit, albeit rather harshly, of a morally conflicted Leo who longs to restart his affair with Felicitas now married to his best friend Ulrich. While Leo is deeply affected by the pastor's cloaked denouncement of his and Felicitas' desires, she calmly puts on lipstick as the man of God rants. She does for one brief moment swoon but recovers nicely and goes on to make an incredibly blasphemous gesture (which I'll leave as a surprise for the reader- it's my favorite moment in the film.) Again Felicitas' actions and look forward to the film noir universe while Leo's reflect the melodrama universe. The audience sees his moral struggle and feels his inner turmoil; as a result the melodrama's world view is upheld instead of the film noir's as represented by Felicitas. The world of the melodrama is a place where right and wrong matter and the hero or heroine must chose right. Interestingly right is not always represented by society at large, sometimes the melodrama's hero or heroine must chose an alternate and truer morality then the one society upholds.[Douglas Sirk masterfully represents this conflict in his films- All That Heaven Allows(1955) (available on DVD from Criterion) epitomes this struggle.]
The ending of Flesh and the Devil illustrates another difference between noir and melodrama. What happens to a protagonist at the conclusion of a story- is he punished for his sins or does he find redemption? In the noir genre typically he is punished. If he gets away with a crime, as in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)(Available on DVD from Warner), circumstances will turn and he will find himself punished for another one regardless of whether or not he committed it. In the melodrama, the hero or heroine typically finds redemption and absolution in self-sacrificing action as in the heartbreaking ending of Stella Dallas. This also holds true in terms of Leo's and Felicitas' fates. Leo, who struggled with his conscience throughout the film, in the end attempts to sacrifice himself for Ulrich's happiness by not shooting at his friend during their duel. When Ulrich realizes Leo will not fire back, he comes to his senses, realizes the truth about Felicitas and the two embrace. Meanwhile, Felicitas has seen the light and races to stop the duel, but being the more morally culpable of the two lovers and having repeatedly escaped punishment for her sins, her fate is sealed and she drowns when the ice gives way underneath her. Again Leo seems to be in a melodrama narrative while Felicitas occupies a film noir narrative.
So while Flesh and the Devil's narrative certainly seems to be an antecedent to film noir, especially in terms of Felicitas, the film none the less remains solidly entrenched in the moral certainty of the world of melodrama where evil is punished and good, or at least the struggle for good, is rewarded. Perhaps the cinema going world, even after the horrors of World War One, was not quite ready for the bleak existentialism saturating the film noir genre which flourished after World War Two and the invention of the A-Bomb.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

San Francisco Silent Film Festival Special Winter Event

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is presenting a special one day event on December 1, 2007 at the historic Castro Theatre ( in San Francisco. The day includes a program of Vitaphone shorts, as well as the screening of D. W. Griffiths' epic about man's inhumanity to man, Intolerance and the dizzyingly romantic drama Flesh and the Devil starring Greta Garbo and John Gilbert. Tickets are available on line at (3-show pass available for $38).


The event begins at 11:00 am with Vitaphone Vaudeville (not available on DVD), a program of nine short sound films featuring classic vaudeville acts of the 1920s, including the legendary Burns and Allen in Lamb Chops and The Foy Family in Chips Off the Old Block. Spencer Tray's film debut in the six minute drama, The Hard Guy will also be screened. The Vitaphone system, used to make The Jazz Singer in 1922 which revolutionized the film industry, employed the use of discs to provide synchronized sound for films. Robert Gitt, Preservation Officer at the UCLA Film & Television Archive, instrumental in the campaign to find and safeguard these shorts will host this presentation. (Admission $11).
Next, at 2pm, will be D. W. Griffiths' historical and philosophical epic Intolerance (1916). In this film, Griffith tells four stories, set in four different eras, Christ's Judea, medieval France, ancient Babylon and then contemporary America (1914), which parallel each other highlighting man's intolerance and cruelty towards his fellow man and the attempt of humans to overcome this cruelty through different types of love. Photoplay Productions are providing a 35mm tinted print, making its American debut, and a host, their own Patrick Stanbury. Dennis James, the organist for Seattle's Paramount Theater's silent film series, will accompany the film on the Castro's legendary Wurlitzer. This print runs 180 minutes including a 15 minute intermission. (Admission $13) Note to Buster Keaton fans, the great stone face parodies the film's ground breaking narrative structure and the themes it illustrates in his hilarious Three Ages (available on DVD from Kino Video).
A party at the theatre featuring live music, cocktails and hors d'ouevres will precede the concluding feature, Flesh and the Devil (1926). The Library of Congress loaned a 35mm print for the screening and Christel Schmidt, co-editor of Silent Movies: The Birth of Film and The Triumph of Movie Culture will host. Dennis James will also accompany this film. This classic stars John Gilbert and Greta Garbo who fell infamously and passionately in love with each other during the production of the film. Garbo plays the dangerous and beautiful woman that destroys the friendship between John Gilbert and Lars Hanson. On a personal note, this was the film that made me fall in love with silent film. (Feature admission $13) (Party admission $10, not included in the pass).
Mathew Kennedy, author of Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes and Anthony Slide, author of Now Playing: Hand-Painted Posters Art from the 1910s Through the 1950s and will be appearing at the festival courtesy of The Booksmith who, as they do at the annual Silent Film Festival, will have books about film (silent and otherwise) available for purchase throughout the day at the theater.
For more information on the festival and to purchase tickets for the event go to

Sunday, July 15, 2007

It Must Be Wonderful To Be A King!

Day One, San Francisco Sielnt Film Festival
The Student Prince In Old Heidelberg
Ramon Novarro and Norma Shearer

The opening night of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival featured a screening of The Student Prince of Old Heidelberg (1927) (available on VHS from MGM). The film was introduced by film writer Mick LaSalle, author of Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood. He commented that we would walk out of the theater feeling what the audience felt seventy years ago. Yes and no. I think people now and then experienced the same sadness at the ending, but I think the modern audience had a different expectation. It was interesting to hear the audience reaction to the film at the after party; several people said to me that they thought the prince Karl would go back to the barmaid, Kathi and that there would be a happy ending. I think the original audience probably fully expected him to renounce love for duty. Ultimately this film concentrates not on doomed romantic love but on personal sacrifice.

The love story itself is rather weak; it lacks the transcendent quality of Sunrise (1927) (DVD, Fox) or Seventh Heaven (1927) (VHS, Critic's Choice). However, the director Ernst Lubitsch perfectly captures first love- awkwardness, lustfulness, idealism and hopefulness all rolled together- simultaneously intensely felt and ludicrous. This love is predicated on youthfulness and nativity, it is not the kind of love that can exist in the real world, only in a nostalgic Germany full of beer gardens long before the devastation of The Great War. It can only exist in this time of Karl's life while he is still only a prince and a youth. Kathi when she first meets Karl remarks that "A prince, after all, is a human being." A prince may be just a man, but a king is both more and less than a man. For Karl to fulfill his destiny, the love itself is not the important thing, the renunciation of it is.
Karl's journey as a character in the film from his arrival on the train as a boy to assume his position as the heir apparent to his marital carriage ride at the end reflects his inner journey from child to man. When we first see Karl, he is a child clinging to his nurse, terrified of his uncle, the mustachioed stern-faced King. Lubitsch keeps the King inhuman at all times, he never seems to express any emotion at all. This is Karl's future; the regal outsider. Later, a group of boys admire the young prince's photograph in a shop window and remark that it must be wonderful to be a prince. Lubitsch shows us the reality, a sad faced boy behind a barred gate looking longingly at a group of boys playing rowdily with a ball. He imitates them on his side of the gate but cannot join them.
The King sends Karl's nurse away. The boy runs wildly after her but is stopped short by the presence of The King. The nurse is replaced by a tutor, Jean Hersholt in a wonderfully warm performance. The tutor Juttner mediates between the loving world of early childhood and the adult world of responsibility. He's Karl's teacher and loving friend. He accompanies Karl to Heidelberg where Karl finally gets a chance, as a student, to be one of the groups. He is accepted by the other students, drinks with them and finds love with Kathi. This is temporary. The king grows ill, and we see the painful process of Karl losing all that he loves, his Kathi, his tutor and his friends.
At the end of the film, he rides in a glorious wedding procession, emotionally bereft. An old couple looks at him and remark "It must be wonderful to be a king!" Lubitsch deftly expresses so much in this moment. It echoes two earlier scenes of Karl's photograph being admired with a similar sentiment expressed by the peasants who only see his outer reality, wealth and privilege. His people envy him because they don't see the sacrifice he has made for them. The choice of an old married couple underscores the irony of what they say. This couple has what Karl has sacrificed, someone to love and love in return.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

12th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival, July 13 - 15


The 12th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival runs this weekend, July 13th through July 15th, at the historic Castro Theatre ( This year, as in previous years, the festival features a remarkable array of rarely seen films including intense romantic dramas, comedic shorts, European epics, British silent noir and Hollywood studio fare. For a complete listing of the films go to Once again it is a chance to see films not avaible on home video the way there were designed to be seen in a movie palace, with live musical accompaniment and an audience. If that weren't enough, this years festival boasts several special events as well as a line up of interesting special guests.

The opening night screening of Ernst Lubitsch's The Student Prince In Old Heidelberg, accompanied by organist, and Seattle favorite, Dennis James, will be followed by an opening night party featuring German food and live music by Big Lou's Polka Casserole (Tickets $40). It gives the film goers a chance to socialize with the guests of the festival. For those wanting to splurge, for an extra twenty bucks, they get admission to the pre-show champagne soiree.
On Saturday morning, special guests, Robert Stone of the UCLA Film & Televison Archive and film critc Leonard Maltin will be in attendence for the screenings of four of legendary comedy producer, Hal Roach's shorts. Maltin, who has a truly remarkable knowledge of classic films, will also take part in, along with TCM's Robert Osborne and other film book authors, a series of book signings through out the festival. San Francisco indpendent bookstore, The Booksmith, sponsor of the signings, will have a table in the mezanine offering a variety of books on silent film throughout the festival. Maltin will be signing books directly after the Roach screening. Check out the complete list of author appearances here,
Later on Saturday, actor and silent film enthusiast, Frank Buxton, famous for voicing Batfink!, and his daughter, Oliva Sears, Founder and President of The Center for the Art of Translation, will perform the live English translation of the Italian intertitles for the Italian Strongman meoldorama, Maciste. Following Maciste, there will be a speical triubte to Turner Classic Movies, who have done some wonderful work in promoting silent film through airings of classic films and distribution of some beautiful DVD sets. TCM host and film critc Robert Osborne and TCM head of programing, Charles Tabesh will be in attendence for the screening of Camille featuring Alla Nazimova and Rudolph Valentino. Osborne will be signing books after the screening.
Actor and writer William Wellman, Jr and Parick Loughney of Geroge Eastman House will be the special guests for the screening of William Wellman's Beggars of Life that follows Camille on Saturday night. Wellman, Jr. will be signing his book, The Man and His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture, preceding the screening of his father's classic flm.
Sunday kicks off with an free-admission event unique to the festival. Patrick Loughney of George Eastman House, Mike Mashon of the Library of Congress, and Rob Stone of the UCLA Film and Television Archive will present More Amazing Tales From The Archive. This year's Tales will demonstrate, through clps and slide presentations, the tough work film preservationsts face trying to save classic movies for future generations. Later in the afternoon, Mike Mashon will introduce, William DeMille's (brother of Cecil B Demille) domestic drama, Miss Lulu Bett.
Sunday night begins with a screening of A Cottage of Dartmoor a sort of silent Britsh Film Noir, introduced by Eddie Muller president of founder of The Film Noir Foundation. Muller, author of the witty and informative, Dark City:The Lost World of Film Noir, will attend a booksigning following the screening. The festival end with The Godless Girl which will be introduced by Scott Simmon of the National Film Preservation Foundation.
For information on tickets to the festival go to
For more on the Silent Film Festival as well as silent film events in the Seattle are ,check out David Jeffers aritcle, A Silent Feast,

Monday, May 14, 2007

Noir City Meets Rain City


"If you want to study noir's existential deconstruction of the Judeo-Christian patriarchy- good for you. If you're coming to dig the vintage rides and vinegary repartee, to soak up the shadows and wallow in the wanton behavior- take a seat front and center."
Eddie Muller

The rumors are true. SIFF's new senior programmer Anita Monga and Film Noir Foundation founder and president Eddie Muller are bringing San Francisco's film noir festival, Noir City, to Seattle. SIFF and the Film Noir Foundation are going to be presenting Noir City as an annual event. The inaugural series will be July 6-12, 2007 and be held in the newly constructed SIFF Cinema at the Seattle Center. Ticket prices are $10 per double feature. Eddie Muller will be in attendance to introduce many of the programs. To get a taste of the programming, you can see Mr. Muller present two noir classics during SIFF, The Big Combo, June 11th at 7:00 p.m. and The Damned Don't Cry also on June 11th at 9:15 p.m. For more information go to:

The line up for Seattle's Noir City looks fantastic and provides the opportunity to see several rare noirs that are not available on VHS or DVD, Desert Fury, 99 River Street (my favorite film from Noir City 5), Framed, I Love Trouble (brand new 35mm print struck for Noir City), Pushover and Wicked Woman as well as studio 35mm prints of great, and better known, noirs like Thieves' Highway, Nightmare Alley and Scarlet Street. Best of all, the festival will benefit the Film Noir Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public about the uniquely American art form of film noir. The foundation's mission is to locate, restore and preserve films in danger of being permanently damaged or lost completely and to have high quality prints of these films available for theatrical screenings. Screenings of the recently restored prints of Pitfall and Leave Her To Heaven at Noir City, should illustrate why the foundation's work is so vital. For more information on the Film Noir Foundation go to:

Program notes follow, courtesy of Noir City and SIFF:
Friday, July 6
Thieves' Highway
Most of the action in this vastly underrated film takes place in the dead of night, when San Francisco's old Produce Market (think Pike Place, now the high-rise Embarcadero Center) was at its busiest. A vengeful trucker arrives to settle a family score with a crooked produce broker. This rarely screened gem, recently restored by Fox, is every bit as good as director Jules Dassin's classics Naked City and Night and the City. Script by A.I. Bezzerides. With Richard Conte, Valentina Cortese, Lee J. Cobb. (1949, 20th Century Fox) 94 min. 35mm print courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
Deadline at Dawn
Snarling, sexy Susan Hayward plays a taxi dancer who has until sunrise to help a sad-sack sailor clear himself of an impending murder charge. A classic Cornell Woolrich premise is given a liberal spin by writer Clifford Odets and Group Theatre founder Harold Clurman, directing the only film of his career. With Bill Williams, Paul Lukas. (1946, RKO) 73 min. 35mm print courtesy of Warner Bros.
Saturday, July 7
2:00, 5:20, 9:00
From the urban grit of Woman on the Run, we spiral into the suburban angst of sunny Southern California, where insurance agent Dick Powell indulges in an extra-marital dalliance with hard-luck model Liz Scott. Who will make him pay the price for his indiscretion? The thuggish private eye (Raymond Burr) who already has designs on Liz? Her jealous boyfriend, about to be sprung from prison? Or Dick's steel-spined wife? Who'll survive this guilt-sodden affair? Directed by Andre de Toth. (United Artists, 1948) 86 min. Presented in a beautiful, restored print from the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
Woman on the Run
3:45, 7:10
Part thriller, part poignant love story, this rare film had long been thought lost. When, with a bit of detective work, a pristine print was found languishing in the vault at Universal Studios, the idea for the Film Noir Foundation was born! Ann Sheridan is a fearful wife who teams with crusading reporter Dennis O'Keefe to locate her missing husband-the lone witness to a murder-before the killer finds him. Director Norman Foster, an Orson Welles collaborator, concocts his own exciting climax at once-thriving Playland at the Beach in San Francisco. (1950, Universal"nternational) 77 min. 35mm print courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Sunday, July 8
Desert Fury
1:00, 5:05, 9:10
RARITY!!! Never on VHS or DVD!
We're not sure how to classify this movie, except that it's outrageously gay. Will luscious Lizabeth Scott tear apart the special bond shared by gangsters John Hodiak and Wendell Corey? Is Mary Astor really her Mom? Just how clueless is beefcake Burt Lancaster? Must be seen to be disbelieved! Directed by Lewis Allen with script by A.I. Bezzerides and Robert Rossen. (1947, Paramount) 96 min. 35mm print courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Leave Her to Heaven
3:00, 7:00
Don't let the lush Technicolor gloss fool you-this big-budged melodrama is black at the core, as perverse and malignant as it got in the 1940s. Novelist Cornell Wilde falls for gorgeous Gene Tierney, but has no idea what horrors lurk behind those gleaming emerald eyes. (1946, 20th Century Fox) 111 min. Presented in a glorious new restoration by 20th Century Fox and the Academy Film Archive together with Martin Scorsese's The Film Foundation, print courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
Monday, July 9
99 River Street
RARITY!!! Never on VHS or DVD!
John Payne is a washed-up boxer framed for the murder of his wife. Evelyn Keyes is his sexy gal-pal, using all her wiles to bust the set-up. A damn near perfect 1950s crime saga, perhaps the signature film of director Phil Karlson. Script by Robert Smith. (1953, United Artists) 83 min. 35mm print courtesy MGM/UA.
RARITY!!! Never on VHS or DVD!
Glenn Ford plays the pugnacious patsy in a whip-crack tale of infidelity and murder set in Northern California. Janis Carter is one long, tall sexy drink of arsenic. Directed by Richard Wallace. Script by Ben Maddow (The Asphalt Jungle). With Barry Sullivan, Karen Morley. (1947, Columbia) 82 min. 35mm print courtesy Sony Pictures Repertory.
Tuesday, July 10
I Love Trouble
RARITY!!! Never on VHS or DVD!
Franchot Tone plays a wisecracking private eye sleuthing his way through a bevy of treacherous dames in this playful homage to Raymond Chandler, written by future TV legend Roy Huggins (77 Sunset Strip, Maverick, The Fugitive) Dir. Sylvan Simon. With Janet Blair, Janis Carter, Adele Jergens, Glenda Farrell, John Ireland, Raymond Burr. (1948, Columbia) 93 min. Brand new 35mm print struck expressly for Noir City, courtesy Sony Pictures Repertory.
RARITY!!! Never on VHS or DVD!
In this dark thriller, veteran screenwriter Roy Huggins spins the tale of cop (Fred MacMurray) who risks everything when he falls for a gangster's moll-gorgeous Kim Novak in her movie debut. Directed by Richard Quine. From the novel by Bill Ballinger. With Philip Carey. (1954, Columbia) 88 min. 35mm print courtesy of Sony Pictures Repertory.
Wednesday, July 11
The Spiritualist
John Alton's finest B&W cinematography elevates to exhilarating heights this entertaining story of a phony psychic (Terhan Bey) preying on a wealthy widow (Lynn Bari) and her impressionable daughter (Cathy O'Donnell). One of the most satisfying "B" films of the era. Directed by Bernard Vorhaus. Script by Muriel Bolton & Ian Hunter based on a story by Crane Wilbur. (1948, Eagle-Lion) 78 min. New 35mm print courtesy of Sony Pictures Repertory.
Nightmare Alley
One of the bleakest and most audacious "A" pictures ever to emerge from Hollywood. Tyrone Power has his finest role as a carny roustabout who connives his way to the big-time as a "mentalist." But when he drops his gullible wife and partner (Coleen Gray) for a sinister, scheming shrink (Helen Walker) there's hell to pay. Edmund Goulding directed. (1947, 20th Century Fox) 110 min. 35mm print courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
Thursday, July 12
Scarlet Street
This definitive noir is one of the greatest films Fritz Lang ever made. Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea all excel in this tale of a mid-life crisis that goes tragically wrong. Script by Dudley Nichols. (1945, Universal) 103 min. Presented in an absolutely stunning 35mm archival print courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Wicked Woman
RARITY!!! Never on VHS or DVD!
When a stick of female dynamite (cult favorite Beverly Michaels) steps off the bus in a small town, all hell breaks loose. Richard Egan and Percy Helton are only two of the saps in her thrall. Must be seen to be believed! (1953, United Artists) 77 min. Written and directed by Russell Rouse. 35mm print courtesy of MGM/UA.
Check out my articles on Noir City 5 (San Francisco, February 2007):
For more information on San Francisco's 2007 Noir City programming go to:

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Greatest Film Noirs?

Dan Duryea in an unusually tender embrace with Black Angel co-star June Vincent.

A friend recently asked me to compile my list of ten to twenty of the greatest film noirs for a project he is working on. I came up with thirteen. I thought it would be fun to share it with the siffblog readers. I would love to hear back from you about titles that you felt should or should not have been included. I want to remind you that SIFF once again this year is programming a film noir double feature. The Big Combo and The Damned Don't Cry play on Monday June 11th at 7:00 and 9:15 at the SIFF cinema. Both screened at this year's Noir City in San Francisco and the prints looked great. If you're interested in my views on The Damned Don't Cry go to my article:

I have a very definite sense of what film noir is- so no color films on this list or sub-genres like noir western, gangster films, heist films or police procedurals, and nothing past the 50s. For me, noir must have an actual crime, deep-seated emotional conflicts, dangerous desire and take place in a morally ambiguous universe typically located in a rain soaked city where it always seems to be night. Witty sarcastic dialog preferred. Notable absences on the list: The Third Man, Touch of Evil, The Lady From Shanghai, Sunset Blvd, Night of The Hunter, The Big Sleep-great films but somehow too expensive, or too formal or too indicative of their director's style to belong to a tough gritty little genre like noir. Out of The Past, The Big Heat and The Killers are great film noirs, but somehow not personal favorites of mine, but are highly recommended viewing.

Films are not ranked but in order of production year.
* Denotes available on home video.
Original production and distribution companies noted.
The Maltese Falcon 1941 Warner Bros. Pictures*
A seminal film noir that set the visual style of noir- deep focus camera work, chiaroscuro lighting, high contrast black and white, urban setting of streets and small rooms ands marked the key story and character elements of noir- the femme fatale, a hard boiled detective/hero, a Byzantine plot that barely makes sense but provides a dark and potentially fatal quest for the protagonist, overriding moral ambiguity, and sexually questionable villains. Incredibly faithful adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's book, one of the most perfect crime novels ever written.
This Gun For Hire 1942 Paramount Pictures*
Reversal of the sexes makes this film stand out. The heroine, Veronica Lake, is the one on the dark journey who encounters a homme fatale. Being a woman she realizes he's a psychopath and is smart enough not to sleep with him and marries the good man who adores her, but she does give the homme fatale part of her heart. Ladd gives his finest performance as the frightening but compelling assassin. Ladd and Lake's chemistry burns up the screen. Definitely a softer story then the original Graham Greene novel.
Ossessione 1943 Industrie Cinematografiche Italiane (ICI)*
It's the only foreign film on this list. I see noir as a strictly American genre, but it's the best adaptation of Cain's classic novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice and is true to the noir conventions. Like Bunuel's 1954 Mexican version of Wuthering Heights; the transference of the story to another culture makes it work better then the versions produced in their native language. Director Visconti captures the wild sexual energy between the two characters much better then the American directors who tried it.
Double Indemnity 1944 Paramount Pictures*
Barbara Stanwyck plays the greatest femme fatale of all time, Phyllis Dietrichson. I always wondered if author James M. Cain named her after Marlene Dietrich. Barbara seems to be just another heartless femme fatale looking for a chump, but then you realize she's mad as a bag of ferrets. Fred MacMurray plays the chump and is surprisingly sexy. Billy Wilder directs. M y favorite dialog from it:
Phyllis: Mr. Neff, why don't you drop by tomorrow evening about eight-thirty. He'll be in then.
Walter Neff: Who?
Phyllis: My husband. You were anxious to talk to him weren't you?
Walter Neff: Yeah, I was, but I'm sort of getting over the idea, if you know what I mean.
Phyllis: There's a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff. Forty-five miles an hour.
Walter Neff: How fast was I going, officer?
Phyllis: I'd say around ninety.
Walter Neff: Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket.
Phyllis: Suppose I let you off with a warning this time.
Walter Neff: Suppose it doesn't take.
Phyllis: Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles.
Walter Neff: Suppose I bust out crying and put my head on your shoulder.
Phyllis: Suppose you try putting it on my husband's shoulder.
Walter Neff: That tears it.
Laura 1944 Twentieth-Century Fox Film Corporation*
This film is so good that if I am flipping channels and it's on, I will watch it, despite the fact that I own a copy. Great script. Great direction. Great cast. Especially fun to see Vincent Price as the charming Southern gentleman who lives off the kindness of women. Clifton Webb's performance as the acid tongued columnist Waldo Lydecker is unbelievably great. Favorite line: "I must say, for a charming, intelligent girl, you certainly surrounded yourself with a remarkable collection of dopes."
Mildred Pierce 1945 Warner Bros. Pictures*
Joan Crawford totally deserved her Oscar for her performance as Mildred, a divorcee with two kids who goes from baking pies in her kitchen to owning her own chain of restaurants (what is it with James M. Cain and restaurant owners?) Unfortunately, the daughter that survives childhood is the biggest ingrate in film history. Murder ensues.
Scarlet Street 1945 Diana Pictures Inc. Dist. by Universal Pictures*
Wowszer. This one gets better with every viewing. Edward G Robinson sympathetically plays the hero who finds out first hand that you never really get away with murder. Joan Bennett is wonderfully crude as the cheap little vixen who destroys his life. But the standouts are Fritz Lang's direction, the cinematography and Dan Duryea as the sleazy boyfriend/pimp who uses his sexual prowess to keep Bennett in line and when that doesn't work gives her the greatest backhand in cinema.
Black Angel 1946 Universal Pictures*
This is a good adaptation of one of Cornell Woolrich's "black" novels. It features a great atypical role for the usually bad guy actor Dan Duryea. He plays beautiful loser Martin Blair an alcoholic songwriter still obsessively in love with his recently murdered ex-wife. The wife of the man convicted of the murder enlists his help in finding the real killer. Duryea falls for her and complications ensue. Duryea was so well known for slapping his female co-stars at this point, that Universal, in it's publicity campaign for the film, attributed Duryea's not hitting co-star June Vincent to her recent pregnancy!
Nightmare Alley 1947 Twentieth-Century Fox Film Corporation*
DARK. DARK. DARK. It's called film noir for a reason. Tyrone Power fought for this part to show he was more then a pretty face and, boy, did he. He gives one of the greatest portrayal in film noir as the ambitious and amoral Stanton Carlisle who goes from carnival roustabout, to a society darling as a medium/spiritualist then falls into alcoholism and degradation. Adapted from an even darker book by William Lindsay Gresham- as with most adaptations of noir classics- they had to tone down the sexuality and the ending.
Night and the City 1950 Twentieth-Century Fox Film Corporation*
London has never looked as damp, depressing and hopeless as in this Jules Dassin gem. Richard Widmark gives a remarkably unnerving performance as Harry Fabian. He's a conniving little hustler who screws over everyone in his desperate bid for success. He deserves to fail; he deserves everything he gets; yet you still somehow feel sorry for him.
On Dangerous Ground 1952 RKO Radio Pictures*
Robert Ryan gives an emotionally charged performance as a city cop on the verge of a breakdown. After nearly killing a suspect, he's sent out to the country to find the murderer of a young woman. There he encounters Ida Lupino, the blind sister of the main suspect. Can he overcome his personal demons and connect with her? Bonus: John Ford Players Ward Bond and Olive Cary portray the murdered girls parents. Oddly this film reminds me of Japanese director Ozu- I think for its emphasis on character and the overall bittersweet mood.
In A Lonely Place 1955 Santana Pictures Corporation, Dist. by Columbia Pictures*
One of Humphrey Bogart's finest performances, and one of the characters closet to his real self, he plays an alcoholic writer with a serious anger management problem. Gloria Grahame plays the woman who falls for him but ultimately wonders if he's capable of murder. Director Nicholas Ray puts together a great film noir with an unusual amount of emotional truth- incredibly melancholy.
Sweet Smell of Success 1957 Hill-Hecht-Lancaster Productions Dist: United Artist*
"The next time you want information, don't scratch for it like a dog, ask for it like a man!" says Burt Lancaster, as all powerful newspaper columnist J.J. Hunsecker to Tony Curtis, ambitious press agent Sidney Falco. I think both actors give the best performances of their careers in this film. This taught thriller keeps twisting and turning through a New York full of morally bankrupt characters. Lancaster terrified me, as Hunsecker- his relationship with his sister is deeply disturbing and threatening. When I watched this film, I kept covering my eyes, not because of on screen physical violence, but a feeling of moral revulsion.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Joan Crawford: Actress or Movie Star?

Possessed (1947, dir. Curtis Bernhardt)
The Damned Don't Cry (1950, dir. Vincent Sherman

Joan Crawford Breaks Down

The San Francisco Film Noir Festival
Friday, January 26th-Sunday, February 4th, 2007
The Castro Theatre
San Francisco, CA
For a complete listing of the screenings go to:

Noir City 5 wrapped up last night with the best double feature of the festival, Joan Crawford in Possessed (1947) and The Damned Don't Cry (both available from Warner Home Video). Even the titles epitomize film noir. Special guest, Foster Hirsch, author of The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir and Detours and Lost Highways: A Map of Neo-Noir, aptly remarked that Crawford was "too big for your home TV." -that I agree with. I disagreed immensely with two other comments he made about Crawford. One that she was a great movie star but not a particularly good actress; and, two, that she was the best leading man in film noir. I think that both of these films prove him wrong.

Is Joan over the top? Yes. Does she have a tremendous range as an actress? No, she does tend to play variations on a theme, but that is true of about ninety-five percent of film actors, especially ones that become stars. If you want to see the actors who disappear into their parts then you have to turn to the character actors, like Kent Smith who co-starred in The Damned Don't Cry. Movie stars typically always play themselves. However, I would argue that Crawford is a great actress precisely because of that. Don't forget Joan Crawford is a character not a real person, she's a role created and portrayed by Lucille Fay LeSueur.
Lucille Fay LeSueur was born in San Antonio, Texas and like the character she played years later in the Damned Don't Cry, Ethel Whitehead who transformers herself into Lorna Hansen Forbes, she was determined to escape her grim working class life. She started out as a dancer then moved onto Hollywood. Stardom in silent films and a new name, chosen by a contest in Photoplay magazine, followed. Joan survived the traumatic transition to talkies that killed many a star's career. She had a tremendous ability to reinvent herself as eras and popular tastes changed which kept her a star for decades.
Also like Ethel, she learned early on how to use men to aid her in her journey to the top. When she married for the second time, it was into Hollywood royalty. She wed Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. son of Douglas Fairbanks and stepson to Mary Pickford, two of the biggest stars of film, the cream of Hollywood society and the two of the founders of United Artist. At this time, also like Ethel, she put herself through a rigorous course of self"mprovement eliminating her rough edges. So, is part of the reason she gave such a great performance in the film because it paralleled her own life? Yes, of course, but that's not enough to give a great performance, the greatness comes with making the audience belive the reality of the character and to feel empathy for the character. Even when she behaves badly, we still like her.
She even manages to make the audience identify with her character, Louise in Possessed despite the fact her character suffers a schizophrenic breakdown. The two times she acts out violently towards people- the entire audience bursts into applause. Not a lot of actors can get an audience to cheer acts of violence committed against people, who while immensely irritating, aren't really wronging the protagonist. The film also provides Crawford with a chance to show her range. The film's opening shows us a very different Joan Crawford; she wanders the deserted streets of Los Angeles with a startling bare face devoid of make up and with frighteningly vacant eyes. She is taken to the hospital in a catatonic stupor where he story is told in flashback. During the course of the film we witness her bouncing back and forth between seeming normality and dementia until she finally breaks down completely. All the while, no matter how unstable she becomes, she stays the emotional center of the film and the audience's sympathies remain with her.
As for Joan being the best leading man in film noir, there's no man who could match her toughness. But it's a woman's toughness. I don't find Joan masculine. I never have. She is direct, her characters get what they want but who says those are exclusively male traits? Is she a softly feminine beauty? No, but that doesn't mean she's mannish. Mannish is Mercedes McCambridge in Johnny Guitar. Crawford, like long term friend and actress, Barbara Stanwyck, could take roles that were traditionally male in genres that were traditionally the provenance of male movie stars, and bring a whole new dimension to them. They didn't act like men; they were their equals, if not their superiors.
If you'd like to decide for yourself how good of an actress Crawford was I recommend the following films, in addition to the two discussed above, to give you an idea of the range of characters she played in a career that moved her from put upon ingenue to horror maven: The Unknown, Grand Hotel, The Women, Mildred Pierce, Johnny Guitar, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Strait-Jacket. All these films are available on DVD.
Want to read more about the festival? Click below:

Thursday, February 1, 2007

If You Don't Have Anything NIce to Say, Say It With Style

Noir City 5
Days 4,5 and 6


The San Francisco Film Noir Festival
Friday, January 26th-Sunday, February 4th, 2007
The Castro Theatre
San Francisco, CA
For a complete listing of the screenings go to:

Days four, five and six of the noir festival brought three more double features, The Threat (1949, dir. Felix Feist) and Roadblock (1951, dir. Harold Daniels), a tribute to Charles McGraw, a RKO contract player who could play good guys or bad guys, just as long as they were tough guys. The next night featured a double bill honoring the late actor Glenn Ford, Framed (1947, dir. Harold Daniels) and Affair in Trinidad (1952, dir. Vincent Sherman). The following night honored writer, Roy Huggins with screenings of I Love Trouble (1948, Dir. Sylvan Simon) and Pushover (1954, dir. Richard Quine). Unfortunately, the only one of the six films available for home viewing is Affair in Trinidad (VHS, Columbia Home Video). In fact, prior to the festival there was no print available of I Love Trouble. Film programmer, Anita Monga, persuaded Sony Classic Pictures to strike a print from the original film elements they possessed especially for the festival.

As well as attending the festival, I've also been reading some interesting books on film noir. Dark City, written by Eddie Muller and the Film Noir Reader, edited by Alain Silver and James Ursini have been particularly enlightening. Most film noir commentary seems to focus on the genre's cinematic style (darkness, enclosed spaces, streets glimmering with recent rain), character types (corrupt cops, wisecracking private eyes, femme fatales), and themes (existential doom and, well, existential doom), but I think one of the biggest identifiers of the genre is dialog. It seems like every character, good or bad, minor or major, always has a witty and cynical remark on the ready. Here's a few of my favorites from this year's festival.

When questioned about how she felt being kept on money from robberies in Pushover, Kim Novak's moll replied, "Money isn't dirty, just people." During a stakeout when one cop comments on Kim Novak's allure, the other responds, "To me she's still just a babe like thirty million others."
Roy Huggins, future creator of The Fugitive, Maverick and The Rockford Files wrote Pushover as well as I Love Trouble. Here are a few lines from the former film that stood out. When caught by the detective, a thug snarls "You're not really smart. You're lucky." When the fifth gorgeous woman encountered by private dick, Franchot Tone, shows up at his apartment at the end of the film and finds three other women in the room-one in a clinch with Tone, she quips, "I didn't think there'd be a line."
Roadblock, screen play by Steve Fisher, also had some great comebacks. When a gold-digger is told "Money can't buy happiness, she responds "Can happiness buy money?" An insurance investigator, after busting a thief tells him, "If you ever need insurance, look us up." Then there's an exchange between two investigators about a former straight arrow that they just watch rough up a crook during an interrogation, "I thought he was an easy going guy." The response, "He was till he got married."
In Hell's Half Acre when asked by a denizen of the eponymous neighborhood, Honolulu's notorious tenement district, "What are you doing in this neighborhood?" The terse reply is, "Slumming."
The snappy noir dialog serves multiple purposes; it provides comic relief while reinforcing the cynical world view inherent in the genre, but most of all, its part of the vicarious thrill the audience gets from watching a film noir. On opening night, Marsha Hunt opined that the audience loved watching film noir, because after the film was over they could go home look at their lives and say to themselves, things aren't so bad. I think the opposite is true, we go to film noir to live vicariously. There is something thrilling and powerful about watching these characters disregard all social constraint and act out on their most basic desires, lust, avarice, fear et cetera. The dialog fills that function too. Noir characters say whatever the hell they want to whoever they want. Who doesn't long to do that?
More Noir City 5 Articles:

Monday, January 29, 2007

Why Is Everyone So Sarcastic?

Noir City 5: Days Two and Three
Cry Danger (1951, Dir. Robert Parish
Special Guest: Richard Earlman
Abandoned (1949, Dir. Joseph M. Newman)
Hell's Half Acre (1954, Dir. John Auer)
99 River Street (1953, Dir. Phil Karlson)

Hell's Half Acre

The San Francisco Film Noir Festival
Friday, January 26th-Sunday, February 4th, 2007
The Castro Theatre
San Francisco, CA
For a complete listing of the screenings go to:

More Noir City 5 Articles:

Day Two of the San Francisco Film Noir Festival featured a double bill of films written by Bill Bowers. Bowers' plots may have been run of the mill, but his dialog was some of the best in noir. In the first film, Cry Danger (available on VHS from Republic) the terminally sarcastic Dick Powell stars as Rocky. A phony alibi has recently sprung him form the pen where he was serving a life sentence for a murder and robbery. When he gets out he immediately sets out to expose Castro, a ruthless thug who he thinks actually committed the robbery. He also wants the $50, 0000 he feels Castro owes him for time he did in jail for Castro's crime.

Supposedly Rocky wound up in jail because he was framed; I think it was his complete inability to answer any question without making a smart ass rejoinder, regardless of the gravitas of the situation, that actually landed him in jail. When Castro asks him, after an initial payoff of $4,000, "What do you plan to do with all the dough?" Rocky responds "I plan to get an operation, so I can play the violin again." His semi-alcoholic sidekick, portrayed by the great character actor Richard Erdman who attended the noir festival, is equally as witty. When cutie blonde trailer trash, Darlene sees him take a morning shot of bourbon she asks, "You drinkin' that stuff so early?" He replies, "Listen, doll girl, when you drink as much as I do, you gotta start early."
The second half of the double feature was Abandoned (not available on VHS or DVD) which Bowman script doctored adding much need wit to a fairly turgid story of a woman, Paula, who comes to the big city to find her missing sister. She finds out her sister was killed by some very nasty racketeers running an illegal adoption ring. Along with a charming local reporter, an unwed mother and the D.A. she busts up the racket. The real standout in the film was Raymond Burr as the corrupt private investigator who plays both sides against the middle. The scene where the racketeers torture him with a pack of matches is discreetly shot but incredibly brutal.
On day three, the festival screened two Evelyn Keys films, neither on VHS or DVD, Hell's Half Acre and 99 River Street. Keyes left me unimpressed as an actress, but the two films were great. In Hell's Half Acre, Keyes plays Donna Williams. Donna travels to Honolulu and searches the sleazy tenement district, Hell's Half Acre, for Chet Chester an ex-racketeer hunting down the killer of his girlfriend. Donna believes Chet may be her husband reported missing in action twelve years earlier during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
What makes this film great is not the leads or the plot but a triumvirate of character actors giving completely unrestrained performances as the heavies. First, there's Phillip Ahn, a great actor, whose career followed the path of most Asian American actors of the classic period: Charlie Chan film, Japanese baddie, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, Korean soldier, servants/small shop owners, tong leader and finally one of David Carradine's mentors on Kung Fu. In Hell's Half Acre, he portrays the lead bad guy with great gusto. In this pot boiler, he betrays the lead, murders two people with his bare hands and carries on a torrid affair with a married white woman played by Marie Windsor. Marie steals the show as Ahn's mistress. She's delightfully trashy and has a great drunk scene. Jessie White plays her slovenly husband. Better known for comedy, he strikes just the right balance between pathetic loser and menacing sleaze ball. He's quite effective in a scene where he drunkenly attempts to assault Keyes.
By the way, if you think I'm kidding about Love is A Many-Splendored Thing, then check out the scene where the heroine introduces William Holden to her Chinese family- it's a who's who of 1950s Asian American actors.
In 99 River Street, other more compelling characters overwhelm Keyes. It's really John Payne's film. Like Dick Powell, he transitioned from light musical comedy to film noir after the war. He gives a surprisingly complex performance as an embittered ex-boxer who simmers with barely controlled rage. He drives a cab, dreams of owning a gas station and argues a lot with his beautiful but shrewish wife, Pauline who married him when he was poised to become the champ. Unbeknownst to him, she has plans to move on. She's tied up in a jewel theft and with the handsome thief, Victor Rollins. When Payne goes to pick her up at the florist shop he sees her in the arms of Rollins. After a series of dizzying plot twists, Payne finds himself hunted by the police for Pauline's murder and in turn playing the hunter. He has to find Rollins so he can clear himself before Rollins leaves the country or his cohorts in crime gun him down. Keyes' plays the struggling actress eager to help him and fearful for his precarious situation. When she points out the danger he's in he replies, "It's dangerous to cross the street. Or to park your cab in front of a florist shop." Words to live by.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Descent into Darkness

Noir City 5: Day One
Raw Deal (1948, Dir. Anthony Mann)
Kid Glove Killer (1942, Dir. Fred Zinneman)
Special Guest: Marsha Hunt

Marsha Hunt torn between naughty Lee Bowman and nice Van Heflin

The San Francisco Film Noir Festival
Friday, January 26th-Sunday, February 4th, 2007
The Castro Theatre
San Francisco, CA
For a complete listing of the screenings go to:

More Noir City 5 Articles:

Noir City 5 opened with two films, Anthony Mann's Raw Deal (1948) (available on DVD from Roan Archival Group) and Fred Zinneman's Kid Glove Killer (1942) (never available on home video). The two films were probably doubled up because of their star, Marsh Hunt who appeared at the festival and commented on both films and her career. However, the pairing of these two films served another purpose; they illuminate the deepening and darkening of film noir over the course of its cycle, the shifting of the emphasis in film noir from the external to the internal.

Kid Glove Killer opens with the election of a new mayor who promises to clean up the city and smash the protection rackets bleeding the small business owners. What he doesn't know is that his right hand man, Gerald I. Ladimer, is in bed with the racketeers using his position with the mayor to shield the head of the racket in return for money and a promising political career. Ladimer arranges for the murder of the D.A. to prevent the exposure of the big boss, Matty. Later Ladimer kills the mayor with a homemade bomb. The film follows two forensics experts, Gordon McKay and his beautiful assistant Jane Mitchell (Marsha Hunt) as they investigate both murders. Here the audience is asked to identify with the investigators on their quest for justice. The audience identifies with the good guys and waits for the forces of right and reason to expose the criminal for the benefit of the little guy, represented by restaurant owner, Eddie Wright.
Six years later, audience identification shifts radically in Raw Deal from the investigators to the criminal and his accomplices. Here the film focuses on Joe who escapes from the penitentiary aided by the willing Pat and the seemingly unwilling Ann. The man hunting him down, Police Captain Fields has only a few scenes and absolutely no character development. The characters who concern us are not the protectors of law and order but the ones who threaten it. Both films feature a love triangle; in Kid Glove Killer Jane is torn between the secretly criminal Ladimer and the upright McKay and in Raw Deal Joe is torn between "bad girl" Pat and "good girl" Ann.
These two love triangles illustrate profoundly the shift in film noir from external concerns to internal concerns and in doing so the how the genre moved from light tales of the forces of good triumphing over evil to complex stories dealing with people who struggle with the good and evil within themselves and even the question of what is right and what is wrong. In Kid Glove Killer, the triangle remains strictly surface, there's no real suspense in the question of who Jane will wind up with, once Ladimer is exposed, the audience knows she'll wind up in the arms of McKay. The focus here is on his exposure as the bad guy. On the other hand, in Raw Deal, Ann knows that Joe is a criminal but she sees the good in him, the heart of gold. Here the suspense centers around who will Joe pick the good girl or the bad girl and more importantly what way of life will he choose?
This is where things get complicated. In Kid Glove Killer Jane secretly wants to marry her boss, but agrees to marry Ladimer since he is ambitious and actually expresses interest in her. Later when she comes back to the lab after Ladimer's exposure as the criminal and the racket's been busted up; McKay breaks down and proposes to her. Her mission is accomplished; she is married and can give up the career she hates for the career she wants: Wife. In Raw Deal the criminal Joe actually starts to buy into the same suburban dream. Oddly when he chooses "bad girl" Pat he is choosing to be a husband and father (granted as an escaped criminal living in Panama). Pat is at first overjoyed by his decision, but guilt and more importantly, an understanding that she wins him only by default, drives her to tell him the truth that Ann is being held by his psychotic boss in an effort to force Joe out of hiding and be killed.
So here the externally "bad girl", Pat a gangsters moll from the wrong side of the tracks, is actually the "good girl". She is lovingly devoted to Joe and if he chooses to go with her to Panama, Joe can live out life as a husband and father leaving behind his life of crime. She is a fresh start, hope and ultimately more of a Madonna figure than Ann. Ann, externally the "good girl", a woman who struggled along, playing by the rules, to build a humble but morally upright life for herself, ultimately becomes the "bad girl". Her love for Joe and his for her is sexually charged in a way that it isn't with Pat. When he chooses to act on his love for her he ultimately chooses self destruction. He dies in her arms. His decision is an immediate impulse as opposed to the lengthy rationalization he employees to talk himself into staying with Pat. His passionate love for the "good girl" has destroyed him as surely as if he's fallen for a femme fatale. Both women are left heartbroken. Pat must face both the death of her loved one and the realization that he preferred to die in another woman's arms then to live in hers. Ann loses her lover, has to live with being the one who drove him to his destruction and has to live knowing that she was not the girl she thought she was. This is a far cry from Jane's game of musical fiancees.
Ultimately, the pairing of Kid Glove Killer and Raw Deal illustrates clearly how film noir moved away from a simple world view to a highly complex one. The move from the American Dream of a stable society, where the bad guy is exposed, the hero wins the heroine and they live happily ever after to a shadowy underworld, where the whole notion of good and bad is questioned and there is no happily ever after, just existential angst or death.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Welcome to Noir City

Noir City 5


The San Francisco Film Noir Festival
Friday January 26th-Sunday February 4th, 2007
The Castro Theatre
San Francisco, CA
For a complete listing of the screenings go to:
More Noir City 5 Articles:

So what if you have to double cross your war buddy and take all the dough from the heist you've planned with him for months? Or embezzle a small fortune from your boss? Or maybe knock off your unwanted spouse and collect the insurance money? Won't it be worth it to sit at the historic Castro Theatre for ten glorious days and watch twenty films about people like you, people that had the guts to grab for what they want? Of course, you might want to remind yourself that most of them wound up dead. But won't it be worth it? After all she might be there waiting for you.

Yeah, she will be there, Marsha Hunt, star of RAW DEAL and KID GLOVE KILLER. Wouldn't you like to meet her at the reception? Watch those two classic films with her? Hear all those great stories about the making of the films, about her career and about those days in Hollywood? A dame who had to struggle against black listing in the fifties could probably teach a punk like you a thing or two about life. Richard Erdman will be at the festival too. He'll be grilled on stage about his role in CRY DANGER.
We're not talking about any twenty film noirs. Go ahead watch the same old movies in your cramped little apartment while the rain beats monotonously against the windows till you snap. Miss more then twelve films that have never been released on VHS or DVD. No one thought I WALK ALONE would see the light of day again. But there it will be on the big screen. A 35mm archival print of it surfaced sort of like that body you thought you buried so long ago. Then there's the new 35mm print of I LOVE TROUBLE struck especially for Noir City Five. Do you have any idea what programmer Anita Monga had to go through to get that print? To get restored 35mm prints of THE BIG COMBO and THE SPIRTUALIST? All so you could see them in their full black and white glory on the big screen. Don't you think you owe her something?
If all this won't convince you then there's just this. Wouldn't it be great to watch these films, even the ones you've seen before, on the big screen with a bunch of other movie lovers and listen to Eddie Muller, founder and president of The Film Noir Foundation and author of DARK CITY, tell you a thing or two about them. You may have caught him at SIFF last year when he brought us Seattleites two great and rare film noirs, THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF and THE WINDOW. He also taught us a lesson. Film noir boils down to this, "people who know they're doing the wrong thing and do it anyway." So do what it takes, and get your self down to San Francisco and spend ten days watching other people destroy their lives.