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.