Monday, December 15, 2008

What to Get the Woman Who Has Everything

You'll Poke Your Eye Out.

Not sure what to get the femme fatale in your life for Christmas? How about a full series pass to Noir City Seven? San Francisco's loving tribute to dark cinema returns to the historic Castro Theatre January 23 through February 1, 2009. This year's Noir City pays tribute to the mass media of yesteryear, offering a glance into the world of 1940s and '50s newspapers, radio, and magazines. Programmers Eddie Muller and Anita Monga deliver a taste of the 1940s film-going experience by rounding out each evening's double feature with an actual B picture.

A Very Naughty Arlene Dahl in Wicked As They Come.
Once again, Eddie Muller will introduce the films and special guests will also bring their own insights into noir. Film star Arlene Dahl will be on hand the evening of Saturday, January 24, for an onstage interview between screenings of her films, Slightly Scarlet (1956) and Wicked as They Come (1956). Tickets are now available at Noir City's official website for more details. For those Seattleites who wish to have Noir City come to them, it will. February 13th through 19th, in conjunction with SIFF, the Film Noir Foundation will present a slightly shorter version of the series, check it out here.
The full program follows:
Friday, January 23
Saturday, January 24
Evening show with ARLENE DAHL IN PERSON!
Sunday, January 25
CRY OF THE HUNTED 1:00, 5:00, 9:20
ACE IN THE HOLE 2:45, 7:00
Monday, January 26
Tuesday, January 27
Wednesday, January 28
Thursday, January 29
Friday, January 30
Saturday, January 31
Sunday, February 1
THE KILLERS 1:00, 7:00

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Voices of Light

An Oratorio with Silent Film
Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley Campus
Sunday, November 23, 7:30 PM


Bay area residents will get one more chance to see the magnificent pairing of Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc(1928) with a live performance of Richard Einhorn's Voices of Light, an oratorio inspired by the life of Joan of Arc, on Sunday November 23rd. The Castro previously hosted a performance on the 17th. While Criterion has issued a DVD that couples the two, viewing the film on the big screen while listening to the music performed live, elevates the experience of watching The Passion of Joan of Arc to a spiritual one, the experience that Dreyer intended for his audience.

Dreyer based the film on the transcriptions of Joan's trial, condensing the action down to a few days from the actual seventy days. Dreyer shot the film almost entirely in close-ups, while using a brusque editing technique and a non-traditional style of framing in his cinematography, all of which instills an intense uneasiness. The combination of these cinematic elements also accomplishes both an overwhelming identification with the heroine's point of view and a direct emotional understanding of her fear, as she struggles to maintain her integrity under unimaginable psychological, physical and religious pressures. Maria Falconetti, as Joan, perfectly realizes this struggle with her quietly understated but deeply felt performance.
Einhorn's oratorio, performed by the U.C. Men's & Women's Chorales and the Perfect Fifth and Orchestra, conducted by Dr. Mark Sumner, adds tremendously to Dreyer's depiction of Joan's resistance against her judges. Einhorn's libretto draws on the writings of medieval female mystics, including Joan's. In addition to using soloists, chorus, and an orchestra to bring this creation alive, the piece employs a sample of the church bell of Domremy, Joan's birthplace. Einhorn specifically wrote this oratorio to accompany the film, however, the music could stand on its own as an artistic depiction of Joan of Arc's last and most personal battle.
While the film depicts the martyrdom of a saint, it also depicts a timeless theme with which the believer and non-believer can identify, the moral bravery of an individual in the face of political tyranny. Go early as tickets are only available at the door and the Castro event did sell out. Sincere thanks to The University of California Alumni Chorus and the Pacific Film Archive for staging these performances.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Is It Just Me or Have You Become an Emotionless Shell?

Invasion of the Body Snatchers
The Long View: A Celebration of Widescreen
Pacific Film Archive
Berkley, CA
Friday, August 22, 2008
Available on DVD from Republic Pictures


"There's no emotion. None. Just the pretense of it. The words, the gesture, the tone of voice, everything else is the same, but not the feeling." What if your closest loved one suddenly seemed different? He or she looked exactly the same, spoke the same and remembered all those little things that only he or she could possibly know- the secret things you shared with him or her. The motions of affection are there, but the actual feelings are gone. Don Siegel's science fiction classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) explores this frightening concept.

Beautiful divorcee Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter) asks small town doctor, Dr. Miles J. Bennell (Kevin McCarthy), to speak with her cousin Wilma whom she's worried about. Wilma is convinced that her Uncle Ira, who raised her as his own, isn't really her Uncle Ira. She tries desperately to explain to Becky and Miles that while he looks, acts and remembers like Uncle Ira- his emotions, especially his affection for her, have disappeared. Wilma knows in her mind that it must be him, but her heart tells her other wise. Miles hears similar complaints from multiple patients. He seeks the advice of a psychiatrist friend who convinces him it's some kind of mass hysteria.
But then his close friends Jack and Theodora Belicec show him something frightening, a human body laying on their pool table that looks unformed. The body vaguely resembles Jack, the same hair color, the same height and build but no wrinkles, no scars and no fingerprints. Yet. A little later, the body begins to resemble Jack more and more- he's being reproduced, but by whom and why? Miles, Becky and the Belicecs realize that the inhabitants of their town are slowly being replaced one by one by unfeeling aliens in a terrible conspiracy to take over the earth. How can they stop them?
The individuals flee society.
Much has been made of the political undertones of this film. Critics have passionately embraced this film as a prime example of cold war anti-communist paranoia and, on the other hand, as a satire of the same. So which is it? Neither. It addresses much more timeless themes- the individual against society and the question of what makes a human a human. Miles doesn't just fight a conspiracy; he fights to keep his individuality and humanness. Subtext aside, the tight plotted screenplay, based on the excellent novel by Jack Finney, the great acting and well passed action make this film worth viewing. So, sit back, enjoy the thrilling ride and contemplate the undertones later.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Heavy Weather Ahead

Night Wind: The Film Noir Cycle

Things get tense in Storm Warning.

October 2 - December 11, 2008
7:30 p.m., Thursdays
Plestcheeff Auditorium
The Seattle Art Museum

It's time again for Seattleites to buy their tickets for a one way ride to desperation and despair. Series passes for the Seattle Art Museum's annual fall film noir series, this year entitled Night Wind: The Film Noir Cycle, go on sale August 19th. Don't get stranded on the side of the road, going nowhere, pick up your full series pass by either emailing or calling the SAM Box Office at 206.654.3121. Single-film tickets are sold day of show at the auditorium (cash only). Be warned, if you want to try to get in the day of show, go early- this series sells out faster then a double-crossing dame. Tickets are also available through Scarecrow Video: 206.524.8554.

Here's the full line-up:
October 2: Storm Warning
October 9: Highway 301
October 16: Tomorrow Is Another Day
October 23: Johnny O' Clock
October 30: Pickup on South Street
November 6: The Man Between
November 13: Wicked Woman
November 20: Black Widow
December 4: The Night Holds Terror
December 11: A Kiss Before Dying
Member Price: $58
Nonmember Price: $65
Individual Tickets: $7

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Dangers of Florist Shops

99 River Street
August 12th, 6:30pm
The Pacific Film Archive, Berkley
Unavailable on DVD.

John Payne

"It's dangerous to cross the street or to park your cab in front of a florist shop," opines Ernie Driscoll, the protagonist of the rarely shown, but wonderful film noir, Phil Karlson's 99 River Street (1953) which screens at the PFA as part of its United Artist: 90 Years film series. The film co-stars John Payne and Evelyn Keyes. Keyes gives a multifaceted and sexy performance, but the film belongs to John Payne. Payne gives a surprisingly complex performance as an embittered ex-boxer, Ernie Driscoll, who simmers with barely controlled rage.

Modern film viewers typically only know Payne as Maureen O'Hara's love interest in the Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street. Payne started out his long film career as a contract player at 20th Century Fox in the late 1930s. Studio head Daryl Zanuck, as with most of the male leads at Fox, picked him for his dark good looks. One, because Zanuck always hoped to recreate the success he had with Tyrone Power, and, two, brunette leading men created a striking visual contrast with Fox's blonde leading ladies. Like Warner's Dick Powell, Payne recreated himself from light musical comedy heartthrob to film noir tough guy to survive in post World War II Hollywood.
Eveyln Keyes goes after her man in 99 River Street
In 99 River Street, Payne's Driscoll drives a cab, dreams of owning a gas station and argues constantly with his beautiful, but shrewish, wife, Pauline (Peggie Castle), 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 (Brad Dexter). When Driscoll arrives at the florist shop that she works at, he sees her in the arms of Rollins. He drives off, infuriated, and a short time later, her murdered body turns up. After a series of dizzying plot twists, Driscoll finds himself hunted by the police for Pauline's murder and, in turn, he becomes the hunter. He must find Rollins in order to clear himself before Rollins either leaves the country or Rollins' cohorts in crime gun Driscoll down. His friend, Evelyn Keyes' struggling actress, Linda James, eager to help him puts herself in considerable danger.
Excellent writing, both in terms of plot and dialogue, as well as great performances by the leads, elevates this low budgeted thriller into an entertaining and suspenseful drama. Especially worthy of note are the differing relationships that Driscoll has with wife Pauline and friend Linda. Pauline married him when he verged on greatness but now berates him for his failure. Clearly, she traded her beauty for his potential success and wealth which never materialized. His ever present anger stems from both the fear of losing her and from his own impotent frustration over the turn his life has taken. In contrast, he and Linda have an easy going rapport. He encourages his friend in her struggle for success and helps her, no strings attached, when she needs him. Through these two relationships, the audience sees that life has beaten Driscoll down, but there still seems to be hope that he can somehow turn things around. The suspense of the film comes from both his physical peril- will he be imprisoned or even executed for his wife's murder, and from his emotional/spiritual peril, can he over come his cynicism and despair to find some kind of happiness and meaning in life again?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tribute to a Forgotten Legend

Streets of No Return: The Dark Cinema of David Goodis
August 1st through August 23rd
The Pacific Film Archive
Berkley, CA

Writer David Goodis at Work.

The Pacific Film Archive will screen the film series Streets of No Return: The Dark Cinema of David Goodis August 1st through August 23rd. This series of films features screenplays written by, or adapted from stories by, David Goodis, ranging from classic Hollywood film noirs to French New Wave landmarks. Goodis wrote extensively for a variety of pulp magazines during the 1930s and 1940s. Great opportunity came with the serialization in The Saturday Evening Post of his novel Dark Passage, which Warner Bros. turned into a film starring Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart. Unfortunately, his alcoholism prevented him from parlaying his hit into further success. He died in 1967 from cirrhosis of the liver.

Several of the films will be introduced by guests influenced in different ways by Goodis. Barry Gifford, author of the Sailor and Lulu novels- the base for Wild at Heart, will introduce the films on opening night. Film critic Mike White will introduce Shoot the Piano Player, check out his site for some early ruminations on the film. The Film Noir Foundation's Eddie Muller will host the screenings of Nightfall and The Burglar. Director Nicholas Kazan will be on hand to discuss his version of the Goodis story, The Professional Man. On closing night, musician Elliot Lavine, will introduce Moon in the Gutter.
A complete schedule follows:
Friday, August 1, 2008 - 7:00 pm
Dark Passage
Introduced by Barry Gifford. A prison escapee has plastic surgery and turns out to be Humphrey Bogart: Delmer Daves experiments with a subjective camera in this San Francisco set film noir. With Lauren Bacall.
Friday, August 1, 2008 - 9:15 pm
The Unfaithful
Ann Sheridan is a wartime adulteress who pays the price when the troops come home in this dank drama.
Saturday, August 2, 2008 - 6:30 pm and
Tuesday, August 5, 2008 - 7:30pm
Shoot the Piano Player
Introduced by Mike White. A brand-new print of Truffaut's frolicsome yet faithful genre pastiche, starring a hangdog Charles Aznavour. Repeated on August 5.
Thursday, August 7, 2008 6:30 pm
Introduced by Eddie Muller. Jacques Tourneur's noir unravels fall guy Aldo Ray's paranoid past. With stunning outdoor cinematography by Burnett Guffey.
Thursday, August 7, 2008 - 8:30 pm
The Burglar
Introduced by Eddie Muller. A miasma of incestuous desire hangs over thief Dan Duryea and his sister Jayne Mansfield in Goodis' pulpy plot.
Sunday, August 10, 2008 - 7:00 pm
Descent into Hell
A boozehound author and his chilly wife go to the tropics to revive their marriage, but Haiti becomes a stand"n for hell.
Thursday, August 14, 2008 - 6:30 pm
The Burglars

Starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, this French retooling of The Burglar shifts the action to Greece, with a famed car chase as centerpiece of the high-speed caper.
Thursday, August 21, 2008 6:30 pm
The Professional Man x Two
Nicholas Kazan in Person. Kazan and Steven Soderbergh directed two totally different TV takes on the same Goodis story.
Thursday, August 21, 2008 8:30 pm
And Hope to Die
Jean-Louis Trintignant and Robert Ryan in Rene Clement's study of pent-up rivalries in a claustrophobic gangland hideout.
Saturday, August 23, 2008 6:30 pm
Moon in the Gutter
Introduced by Elliot Lavine. Jean-Jacques Beineix evokes Goodis's murky and haunted world with sinister artifice. Starring Gerard Depardieu and Nastassia Kinski. This promises to be a fascinating look at one man's writing through a wide variety of lenses.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Are You Ready for the Marathon?

The 13th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival
July 11th-13th, 2008
The Castro Theatre
San Francisco

The Baguette Quartette.

San Francisco's historic Castro Theatre will house The 13th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival July 11th-13th. "This is our most ambitious festival yet," announced SFSFF Artistic Director Stephen Salmons. "We'll present twelve programs, all with live music, in the space of thirty hours - it's an all-out silent film marathon, designed to showcase the astonishing breadth and depth of the silent era." The festival's selection of foreign titles reflects their commitment to exposing their audiences to the true diversity of silent cinema. Included in this year's programming are the French farce Les Deux Timides; the German gay themed drama Mikael; the German animated film The Adventures of Prince Achmed; and the Japanese avant-garde tragedy Jujiro.

Rene Clair- director of Les Deux Timides
Legendary director Rene Clair's Les Deux Timides (Two Timid Souls) (1928) screens Saturday, July 12th at 2:15PM. Clair's raucous comedy centers on the pathologically shy Pierre's quest to marry the equally shy Cecile. Unfortunately, her father has another suitor in mind, the widowed former wife abuser Garadoux. Can Pierre overcome his timidity and win the girl of his dreams? The live accompaniment for the film marks the debut of the Bay Area's Baguette Quartette, known primarily for their renditions of classic Parisian dance hall music, at the festival. "The combination of Clair's innovative visual comedy and Baguette Quartette's high-energy tangos and fox trots is a match made in heaven," Salmons said. Renown stage magician and director Georges Meli/(R)s' short Les Fromages Automobiles (The Skipping Cheeses, 1907) precedes the feature film.
Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer's Mikael (1924), a landmark in gay cinema, follows Les Deux Timides at 4:15PM. A beautiful young man, Michael, inspires an older man, Zoret, both romantically and artistically. Zoret takes Mikael as his model and lover, but soon the protege betrays his master with tragic results. Dryer, as always, unfolds the story through powerful imagery (Karl Freund and Rudolph Mate served as cinematographers) and with a sympathetic understanding of the characters. Pianist Donald Sosin, a popular favorite from last year's festival, will return this year to accompany the film. Camille de Morlhon's short L'Histore D'une Rose (1911) precedes this feature.
A still from The Adventures of Prince Achmed.
Sunday July 13th's programming opens with Lotte Reiniger's The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926). Reiniger's film employs a pioneering technique, cut-out silhouette animation, to retell the exploits of Prince Achmed from the 1001 Arabian Nights. Indonesian shadow puppet theater inspired the film's unique and delicate style. The film's historical importance stems from it being both the earliest surviving feature-length animated film, and the first such film directed by a woman. Pianist Donald Sosin will also accompany this film. Special guest Simone Nelson of the Bay Area Women in Film and Television will introduce the film. The festival will run a fragment of Vincent Whitman's animated The Bottom of the Sea (1914) prior to the feature screening.
Image from Jujiro.
The final foreign selection in the festival, Teinosuke Kinugasa's Jujiro (Crossways) (1928), plays on July 13th at 6:10pm just prior to the closing night film, King Vidor's The Patsy (1928). Jujiro unfolds, in a surrealistic and visually expressionistic style, the story of Rikiya and his sister Okiku. He comes home to her for nursing after being severely wounded in a fight over a geisha. His deteriorating mental and physical condition forces Okiku to make terrible sacrifices. Pianist Stephen Horne, another favorite from last year's festival, will accompany the film. The film short Kaleidoscope (c.1925) screens before the feature.
This year's festival again promises to be an eye opening experience for first time and long time visitors. Festival audience members receive more than just the chance to see a wide-ranging line up of feature films, many unavailable on DVD. They also have a chance to see these films as they were meant to be seen: on the big screen, in a movie palace, accompanied live by talented musicians and with a large and appreciative audience. Every year, the festival also provides an excellent, and free, souvenir program that contains well thought essays on each film. And, as usual, the festival will also host several book signings. This year's authors include Suzanne Lloyd, author of Harold Lloyd's Hollywood Nudes in 3-D; film critic Leonard Maltin, director and author Guy Maddin and film preservationist David Shepard.
For more on The Adventures of Prince Achmed please read my fellow siffblog writer David Jeffers' review: For more details on the festival schedule and to purchase tickets, please go to:
The full schedule of screenings follows:
Friday July 11
7:00pm THE KID BROTHER Opening Night Film $17 Member/$20 General
9:00pm OPENING NIGHT PARTY $20 Member/$25 General
Saturday July 12
10:00am AMAZING TALES FROM THE ARCHIVES Free Admission- ticket required
11:40am THE SOUL OF YOUTH $12 Member/$14 General
2:15pm LES DEUX TIMIDES $12 Member/$14 General
4:15pm MIKA/aL $12 Member/$14 General
7:45pm THE MAN WHO LAUGHS Centerpiece Film $15 Member/$17 General
10:45pm THE UNKNOWN Director's Pick: Guy Maddin $12/$14
Sunday July 13
10:30am THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED $12 Member/$14 General
1:10pm THE SILENT ENEMY $12 Member/$14 General
3:50pm HER WILD OAT $12 Member/$14 General
6:10pm JUJIRO $12 Member/$14 General
8:45pm THE PATSY Closing Night Film $15 Member/$17 General
FESTIVAL PASS $120 Member/$140 General
May 27-July 10
BY PHONE: 1-800-838-3006 24 hours a day 7 days a week
BY MAIL OR FAX: download order form at
June 13-July 10
IN PERSON: Festival Box Office, 833 Market Street, Suite 811, San Francisco
Hours: Thursday-Friday Noon-6pm
Day of Show
Castro Theatre Box Office
Hours: Friday 5:00-8:00pm; Saturday 9:00am-11:00pm; Sunday 9:30am-9:00pm

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Forgotten Star Worth Remembering

Joan Blondell: The Fizz on the Soda
A career retrospective at the Pacific Film Archives
Friday June 13th-Sunday June 29th
*denotes available on DVD.

Joan Blondell: Naughty but Nice

Joan Blondell's career stretched from the risque Pre-Code films of the 1930s to the radical independent films of the 1970s. Along the way, she worked with legendary directors Bill Wellman, Michael Curtiz, Howard Hawks, Busby Berkley, Roy Del Ruth, Mervyn LeRoy, Victor Fleming, Elia Kazan, Robert Wise and Norman Jewison. She was James Cagney's most frequent co-star, seven times in total, and also costarred with friends Barbara Stanwyck and Bette Davis. She continually chose personal commitments over career advancement, and, so, never achieved superstardom as many of her co-stars did. However, she always kept working and gave a series of sparkling and heartfelt performances. The Pacific Film Archive has programmed a twelve film salute to Blondell's diverse body of work that reflects both Blondell's changing image and the simultaneously changing film industry.

The first weekend, June 13th and 14th, focuses on her pre-code Warners' days. On Friday, Blonde Crazy (1931) and Night Nurse (1931)* will be screened. The first co-stars James Cagney and tells the tale of two small time con artists trying to break into the big time with disastrous results. The second film is a pot-boiler about night nurses, bootlegging, bad parenting and kidnapping. This doozie co-stars Barbara Stanwyck and features numerous, and gratuitous, scenes of both ladies undressing. A young and rather virile Clark Gable spices up the film as a shady chauffer. On Saturday, Busby Berkley's Footlight Parade (1933)* screens, a Depression musical featuring Blondell, Cagney and future husband, Dick Powell, and was photographed by her then current husband, George Barnes. The production number Honeymoon Hotel has to be seen to be believed. I've seen it numerous times, and I still can't believe it. No one goes over the top like Busby Berkley.
Joan Blondell with frequent co-star James Cagney in a scene from Blonde Crazy.
On Friday June 20th, the Pre-Code focus continues with screenings of Three on a Match (1932)* and The King and the Chorus Girl (1937). The first co-stars Bette Davis and Ann Dvorak. Three childhood friends encounter each other by chance and disaster follows in the form of divorce, drugs and kidnapping. Blondell plays the tough but golden hearted reform school graduate. The film also features Humphrey Bogart, who like Cagney and Davis started his film career in the Warner's stable, as a particularly nasty type. The second film of the night features Joan in a typical role, a snappy talking chorine, but this time, she gets to display a smarter and more moral side. Her no-nonsense working class character supplies a much needed tonic for a debauched and exiled king by bringing romance and meaning into his life. The first five films in the series reflect the more liberal depression era values that the Production Code later repudiated. Times were hard and audiences were more sympathetic towards the screen characters morally equivocal conduct in the pursuit of money, good times and happiness.
On Sunday June 22nd, the programming jumps forward a decade. Blondell has moved from ingenue to a woman of a certain age. Instead of fighting aging and the accompanying change in roles, she embraced the opportunity to grow as an actress. Director Elia Kazan captures this deepening of her abilities in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)*. She plays the oft married black sheep of the family, Aunt Sissy. Unfortunately, many of her best scenes were cut due to the production code. The quality of her performance still shines through the truncated role, however, and she received some of her best reviews.
Wednesday June 25th brings us back to the late 30s and early 40s for another double feature. First up, There's Always a Woman (1938) features Blondell as the wife to private detective, Melvyn Douglas in a comedy mystery produced to capitalize on the tremendous success of MGM's Thin Man series*. (Interestingly MGM itself produce its own knock-off, The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936) and even want as far as casting Thin Man star William Powell in the lead.). The second feature on the bill is Three Girls about Town (1941). Blondell plays a "hostess" in a madcap comedy set in a hotel during a wild convention weekend. World War Two America's concerns and mores are revealed in the film's combination of character, three liberated and independent sisters making their own way in the world, and plot, a strike threatens the defense industries.
Joan Blondell tries to read Tyrone Power's future in Nightmare Alley
The darkening of post World War Two American cinema and society is clearly mirrored in the film noir master piece, Nightmare Alley (1947)*, screening on June 26th. In this not to be missed classic, Blondell plays Zeena the Miracle Woman, a sideshow carnival psychic. Tyrone Power's Stan seduces the lonely Zeena, who's married to an alcoholic carnie, in hopes of persuading her to teach him the code she and her husband had used, in more prosperous times, for their successful mentalist acts. Blondell's performance is particularly compelling because Zeena is too wise and experienced not to know what Stan is really after but also too alone not to grasp at fleeting happiness. Stan pursues his desire for wealth and glory with soul killing results.
In Lizzie (1957), screening Friday June 27th, Blondell plays a distinctly unglamorous but meaty supporting role typical of this stage of her career. Once again the film reflects the times, the 1950s obsession with psychological disorders, a repeating theme in many films of the period. Blondell plays the alcoholic aunt of the title character, portrayed by Eleanor Parker who suffers from multiple disorder personality. Blondell considered it her best performance since A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The final film of the series screens on Sunday June 29th. Blondell plays an established and aging playwright in John Cassavetes' Opening Night (1978)*, a film shot in Cassavetes' hallmark improvisational and character focused style. Blondell gives an amazing performance, doubly so considering she was thrown into a completely different working method. Her ability to continue to reinvent herself and adapt artistically at the age of seventy-two epitomizes both her professionalism and talent.
The opening weekend programs will be introduced by Matthew Kennedy, author of Joan Blondell: A Life between Takes. This fascinating biography covers Blondell's life from her childhood spent on the road with her Vaudevillian parents through her diverse film and television career: covering both her artistic journey from star to character actor but also her struggle to find personal happiness through three failed marriages and the joys and tribulations of motherhood. Kennedy sums her life up perfectly when he quotes Blondell, "There is nothing in my life I would change if I could. The mistakes I made were made out of love. And who escapes heartaches?"

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Return of Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Director Steven Spielberg and the cast of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

San Francisco- The Castro Theatre:
Seattle- The Cinerama:
Or throw a rock and you'll hit a cinema playing it.

I know that Seattle has currently buried itself in SIFF, but the rest of the cinema going world is in Indiana Jones territory. So, if you need a little break from cutting edge cinema, midnight movies and Sir Ben Kingsley, why not hop over to the Cinerama and indulge in a big old popcorn movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? In my opinion, this Indy film is the best one since the original. I have two words for why that is, Marion Ravenwood.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed both Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but frankly, the female leads in those films sucked. In Temple of Doom, we have scatterbrained Willie Scott, portrayed by Kate Capshaw. She simply has no ability to take care of herself, and you know something, I think an American showgirl living in 1930s Shanghai would be more resourceful and have better survival instincts than Indy or any other man in that period would have or even understand. As for Last Crusade, while Alison Doody's Dr. Elsa Schneider is good to look at, she's laughable as a Nazi femme fatale capable of seducing both Joneses and furthering Hitler's quest to find the Holy Grail. Both of these characters are two dimensional stereo types and contribute little to either film.
In Crystal Skull, Marion, played by the still luminous Karen Allen, asks Indy about the women in his life since their split twenty years prior. He replies, "Yeah, they all had the same problem ... they weren't you." She simply beams and so does the audience, because it rings with emotional and cinematic truth. Marion is very much what is missing from the previous sequels. Marion is smart, resourceful, independent, tough and doesn't let Indy get away with one damn thing. Writer David Koepp, producer George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg made a wise decision to bring Marion back.
They were also wise to avoid trying to reinvent the series. Instead, they provided the audience with what it expects: great non-stop action, film serial style, a supernatural twist to the story and a sense of humor about itself. For variety, it has a new setting, the Fifties, portraying both the decade's exciting future forward outlook and its corresponding political oppressiveness. The filmmakers also apply this mix of traditional and fresh point of view with the character of Indy. It is the same Indy, but a little older, a little grayer but not quite ready to pass the mantle (or the hat) to the younger generation. Bringing Marion back complemented both the approach to the film and to Indy. She is his original love, but they have both changed and matured, and somehow because of that, they seem finally ready for each other.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Experimental Music Meets Expressionistic Film


Saturday April 12th, 2008
3pm: Sherlock Jr (1924)
7pm: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
9pm: Nosferatu (1922)
Live music by the Club Foot Orchestra
The Castro Theatre
San Francisco, CA

Once again, San Francisco's historic Castro Theatre will host a day of silent film screenings. This Saturday's one day festival features Buster Keaton's surreal parody Sherlock Jr (1924), and two German Expressionist classics, Robert Wiene's horrifying fantasy The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and F.W. Murnau's remarkable adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, Nosferatu (1922). On the surface the films seem unrelated, but each film challenges the viewers with an off kilter point of view while engaging them on an emotional level through humor, curiosity or fear. All three films will be accompanied live by The Club Foot Orchestra, an experimental jazz group and San Franciscan icon.

The Club Foot Orchestra
The Club Foot Orchestra started life in 1983 as the "Orquestra FOOT a dentra la Boca", an alternative musical aggregation that incorporated musicians from beginners to virtuosos, to play at the Club Foot Music Festival. Founder Richard Mariott reformed and rechristened the orchestra for the Horn Reborn Festival later the same year. For the next four years, the CFO played clubs and recorded two albums. Then, a synchronous turn of events inspired Richard Mariott to focus the group's efforts on scoring a silent film. The combination of a friend suggesting to him that CFO score outtakes from 1950s sitcoms, followed later that night by his viewing a Lily Tomlin sketch about the Dow Jones performance of varying art movements and then randomly flipping channels to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, stimulated him to write a new score for that silent film classic. The CFO performed the score for Caligari live in October of 1987 at the Mill Valley Film Festival. They performed it again for a seven show engagement in 1989 at the Roxie Theatre.
The success of this first score led to a new direction for the orchestra. The CFO went on in 1989 to perform a score, written by Marriot with contributions from Gino Robair, for Nosferatu first at the BAVAC Award Ceremony at SFSU then for a two performance run of the film at The Castro Theatre. The CFO has subsequently created and performed original scores for Metropolis, Sherlock Jr., Pandora's Box , The Hands of Orlac , Legong: Dance of the Virgins , Battleship Potemkin and Phantom of the Opera for various events including the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, the Berlin and Beyond Film Festival and .the Smithsonian Institute's "Exhibit of Degenerate Art". Kino International used their score for its DVD release of Sherlock Jr and Image Entertainment's Milestone Collection used their score for its DVD release of Legong: Dance of the Virgins.
The joining of three visually stunning films with aurally stimulating soundtracks should make for a unique film going experience. Sherlock Jr tickets are $10; Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari tickets are $20 each or $30 for the double feature. Tickets for the screenings are available at or at 866-920-JAZZ. These three films are available on DVD from Kino Home Video and their DVD release of Sherlock Jr includes The Club Foot Orchestra soundtrack. CDs and DVDS featuring The Club Foot Orchestra are available at

Monday, February 11, 2008

Noir City takes on the Emerald City

Stephen McNally roughs up Ida Lupino in
Woman in Hiding

Noir City at SIFF
SIFF Cinema, Seattle, WA

Once again, the Film Noir Foundation ( ) is bringing a week of crime, mad love, death and despair to the citizens of Seattle, this time as part of the SIFF Winter 2008 program. Scarecrow Video is co-sponsoring Noir City with the FNF. The proceeds will benefit the FNF and their mission to preserve and restore film noirs for theatrical presentation. Tickets and program information are available at Eddie Muller, author of Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir, and the president and founder of the FNF, will host the films, seven double features playing on consecutive nights. The FNF slightly scaled down this version of Noir City from the San Francisco event which was ten days and twenty films. Full program notes from the San Francisco festival are available at ) Films available on DVD have their distributor noted next to their production dates.

The opening night of the festival honors screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who wrote the legendary anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun, as well as the screenplays of A Guy Named Joe (1943), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)(Warner Home Video) and Tender Comrades (1943). The third film brought him personal disaster several years after its release. The House Committee on Un-American Activities cited it as an example of the communist propaganda allegedly being interjected into Hollywood films by left wingers. After being blacklisted in Hollywood, Trumbo moved to Mexico. He continued to write screenplays for which he was paid but did not receive screen credit. Both films in his tribute, The Prowler (1951) and Gun Crazy (1950) (WHV), date from this period. The FNF funded the restoration of The Prowler.
Ida Lupino and Humphrey Bogart clinch in High Sierra
The next double feature consists of High Sierra (1941) (Warner Home Video), and The Hard Way (1943). High Sierra replaced Repeat Performance (1947), which screened in San Francisco, changing the programming focus from actress Joan Leslie to Ida Lupino. In addition, two more Lupino films are playing during the week, Woman in Hiding (1950) and Road House (1948) resulting in a rather nice tribute to this highly talented Hollywood icon. These four films showcase Lupino's diversity; she plays tough but good girls, obsessive ruthless women and women in jeopardy with equal conviction. Hell, she even sings and plays the piano in Roadhouse. This quartet of films allows her to be vulnerable, tough, wise-cracking and smart, sometimes all at the same time. Even when she plays the unsympathetic role in The Hard Way, she manages to connect emotionally with the audience. Although, I like the emphasis on Lupino that results, I was saddened that Seattle audiences will miss the excellent, and rare, Repeat Performance (1947), one of the best films screened at Noir City 6.
Tuesday evening commemorates actress Gail Russell with a screening of an archival print of Frank Borzage's Moonrise (1948) courtesy of the UCLA Film and Television Archive, as well as a new 35 mm print of Night Has 1000 Eyes (1948) which was struck by Universal Pictures exclusively for Noir City. Neither film is available on DVD. Gail Russell is probably best known for her role as John Wayne's love interest in Angel and the Badman (1947) (Delta). Her career was cut short due to a tragic, and ultimately unwinnable, battle with alcoholism.
The next evening includes a screening of another Ida Lupino film that is unavailable on DVD, Woman in Hiding (1950). It is paired up with the terse, edge of your seat thriller Jeopardy (1953) (WHV) on Monday February 18th, forming an excellent woman in jeopardy double feature. Women in jeopardy films feature a woman in a perilous situation with the dramatic tension lying in whether or not she will survive. Of course, when the women are Barbara Stanwyck and Ida Lupino, it's a little tough to believe that they are in all that much jeopardy; especially, when Miss Stanwyck picks up a tire iron and hides it behind her back.
Another out-of-print Lupino film plays on Wednesday the 20th, Roadhouse (1948). Who can resist a film noir that takes place in a bowling alley with a piano bar? This rarity doubles with Jules Dassin's brilliant ode to desperation and failure, Night and the City (1950) (Criterion Collection) in honor of the actor Richard Widmark. The rarity of the first film and the beauty of the print of the second film more then justify a trip to the theatre. This double feature demonstrates the range of Widmark's acting and proves that there is more to him then his iconic turn as the giggling psychopath who ties an old lady to her wheelchair and proceeds to shove her and the chair down a staircase in Kiss of Death (1947) (20th Century Fox)
Charles McGraw, Robert Cummings and Arlene Dahl
in Reign of Terror
On Tuesday the 19th, Noir City pays tribute to actor and perpetual heavy Charles McGraw by screening two Anthony Mann films that feature him, Reign of Terror (1949) (Reel Classic Films) and Border Incident (1949) (WHV) Both films stretch the boundaries of the festival, since they bend the traditional definition of film noir to include a period piece and a film with an agricultural setting. Although these films are available on DVD, Reign of Terror alone should be incentive enough to attend the theatrical screening, since the film print is far superior to the one available on DVD.
Humphrey Bogart in Conflict
Closing night features two films, unavailable on DVD, in a murderous husband double feature, Conflict (1945) and The Suspect (1944). Conflict stars Humphrey Bogart as the deadly husband and fellow Maltese Falcon alum, Sydney Greenstreet as his suspicious friend. The Suspect stars an amazingly sympathetic Charles Laughton in a touching performance as a reluctant murderer. Frankly every double this year is worth a trip to the theatre. However, if you only can get to a few, I would recommend the doubles of The Prowler and Gun Crazy; Night and the City and Roadhouse, and Conflict and The Suspect.
For more on the San Francisco Noir City event please see my other articles:

Friday, February 1, 2008

Noir and a Whole Lot More.

Cops confront Laird Cregar in Hangover Square

Noir City 6
The Castro Theatre
San Francisco
January 25th - February 3rd, 2008

Hangover Square (Fox Home Entertainment)
Dangerous Crossing (Fox Home Entertainment)
Reign of Terror (Alpha Video)
Border Incident (Warner Home Video)

Once again the question comes up, what exactly is film noir? It defies easy categorization, unlike other genres, for instance, westerns or horror films. Those genres are readily definable and have existed since the beginning of the film history and continue to be made today. Instead, noir resembles an art movement, a series of artist (writers, directors, cinematographers etc) all working in a similar style and on similar subject matters, sometimes independently, sometimes in collaboration, produce a remarkably uniform end product. Like many art movements, the artist themselves don't come up with the name and parameters of their style, but rather critics identify the movements and their key elements later. In this case, the French authors Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton, in their seminal book A Panorama of American Film Noir, 1941-1953, identified, named and cataloged the common denominators of film noir. Ever since then, the arguments have raged about what is and what isn't a true film noir.

Most critics and academics agree that the noir period began in 1941 with The Maltese Falcon and ended in 1958 with Touch of Evil. Most agree that the visual style is marked by high contrast black and white photography, an above average amount of unusual camera angles; chiaroscuro lighting; urban locations; enclosed claustrophobic settings; and a preponderance of night shots. Most would agree that the script typically involves a fast moving and complicated plot, first person narration and use of extended flashbacks. Often the storyline features a hero who decides to follow a dangerous course of action to get money and a dame and winds up with neither. The dame is usually a femme fatale, a woman of dangerous sexuality who betrays the man (and several others) for her own purposes. Now, this is where things get tricky, some critics consider the excellent Leave Her to Heaven (1945) film noir, but many would automatically disqualify it, because it was shot in color. What about Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole (1951)? Does the desert setting automatically disqualify it?
When I wrote an article detailing my favorite all time noirs ( I stated, "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." I still feel that way. However, I don't necessarily want to spend 10 days watching 20 films with the same setting and storyline. So, I greatly appreciate the Noir City 6 programmers for opening up the festival to some films that clearly challenge the traditional definition of noir. Plus, it's fun to hear the audience argue over whether or not the film was noir enough to be screened. It's heartening to hear the passion they all have for the genre, or is it a style?
Linda Darnell in Hangover Square
Hangover Square (1953) and Dangerous Crossing (1953) played together in celebration of Fox Home Entertainment's DVD Film Noir Collection on Tuesday night. Tellingly, in terms of the controversy over what constitutes noir, Fox themselves did not release Hangover Square as part of their noir collection but rather as part of their Fox Horror Classics Collection. The film is based on an exceedingly noir novel by Patrick Hamilton set in contemporary World War Two London. Fox bought the property, and after the success of star Laird Cregar in The Lodger (1944) (Fox), a Jack the Ripper story, they decided to transpose the novel to the Victorian period and make the protagonist a concert pianist. The setting maybe Victorian, but the story remains pure noir.
Cregar portrays the sympathetic George Harvey Bone, an emotionally high strung composer who suffers from periodic blackouts. He fears, correctly, that he has committed acts of violence during these blank periods. Amnesia is a common motif in film noir, as is the cheap gold digger who uses the protagonist for her own ends and then dumps him. In this case, Linda Darnell, who played an almost identical role the same year in the Otto Preminger's most definitely noir Fallen Angel (Fox), renders the tramp Netta to vixenish perfection. Of course, per usual film noir, the sucker/hero abandons the good girl who loves him and destroys himself in his reckless pursuit of the femme fatale. Murder and a truly spectacularly fiery ending ensue. Clearly the storyline and the characters are typically noir; only the Victorian setting makes the noir label debatable in this case.
Dangerous-Crossing_photo.jpgJeanne Crain and Michael Rennie talk things over
in Dangerous Crossing
The inclusion of the second film of the evening, Dangerous Crossing (1953), in Fox's Film Noir Collection raised more than a few eyebrows. Sometimes, it seems as if it's a crime thriller and it's in black and white, Fox is pretty much game to include it in their series. Dangerous Crossing, while not noir, is a good thriller with a clever twist ending. The film features a couple of noir traits. For one, a relentless sense of paranoia and danger engulfs the heroine constantly, making her world both hostile and dreamlike. Secondly, the setting of the enclosed space of the ship gives the story an intense feeling of claustrophobia.
Director Anthony Mann Enjoying a Stogie
The next night, in a tribute to noir stalwart Charles McGraw, the programmers included two more borderline noirs, Reign of Terror aka The Black Book (1949) and Border Incident (1949). Both were directed by Anthony Mann and photographed by John Alton who had previously collaborated on three noir classics, T-Men (1947) , Raw Deal (1948) , and He Walked by Night (1948). The noir style clearly influences Reign of Terror. In fact, I would qualify this film as noir despite its historical setting and relatively happy, but still violent, ending. Visually this film displays the noir style- high contrast black and white photography, many high and low angled shots as well as extreme close ups, and the chiaroscuro lighting. At one point Venetian blinds cast their familiar shadow on the wall- in Revolutionary France!
The narrative of the film also displays most of the major noir traits. The opening sequence features a narrator who introduces the political situation, and its major players, to the audience in the newsreel style reminiscent of noirs like The Naked City (1948). The hero functions as a detective and his storyline belongs to the noir detective film. He goes undercover to undermine a group of ruthless killers (the Revolutionary government) and topple a king pin (Robespierre). The king pin is ruthless, slightly neurotic and powerful. Our hero only has twenty four hours to recover an object, the black book, which will bring about the destruction of the group. While trying to recover the book, he encounters a beautiful old flame that he's not sure he can trust. The dialog rings with the cynicism endemic to noir. When his ex-lover invites him to meet her at a tavern later, he replies, "Seems I remember an appointment we had four years ago. Only one of us showed up. The stupid one. Your Charles has grown up to be a smart boy, now." She counters with "I'll be waiting.' He responds with, "I wouldn't count the minutes." This exchange, as well as the style, plot and characters of the film, belong to a noir, not an eighteenth century adventure story.
Characters actors up to no good in Border Incident
Border Incident, if you consider the crime documentary as part of the noir cycle, would also qualify as noir, despite its rural setting. The crime documentary or police procedural, usurped noir's dominance of the crime genre in the fifties. Many film writers consider the crime documentary as a sub-genre of noir. Others argue they are two distinct genres. Both types of stories center on crime but with a major difference- traditional noir tells the story from the point of view of the criminals, whereas the crime documentary tells the story from the point of view of the investigators. In traditional noir, if the story centers on a police officer, he is usually in the middle of a moral crisis, as in Nicholas Ray's On Dangerous Ground (1952). This narrative shift is indicative of a deeper shift, from a cynical world view where everyone is of questionable morality to a simpler one where the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad.
Border Incident tells the story of two undercover immigration agents, one Mexican, Pablo and one American, Jack. The film details their investigation of an illegal immigrant smuggling ring. Pablo pretends to be a bracero, an agricultural worker, and Jack pretends to be a dealer in stolen immigration papers. Together they infiltrate the racket from both the criminal and the victim sides. The film's narrative structure belongs to the criminal documentary, but the tone is decidedly noirish. Alton's cinematography, the preponderance of night shots and the way in which each member of the racket constantly tries to double cross the other members contribute to create the unstable and dangerous universe typical of noir. Most importantly, the intense and brutal violence visited upon the innocent braceros, and even onto the undercover agents, nullifies the opening and closing narrations attempt to reassure the audience that good has triumphed over evil.
With the screenings of Hangover Square, Dangerous Crossing, Reign of Terror and Border Incident, Noir City 6 has pushed its programming borders beyond traditional noir creating a more varied and exciting festival. These boundaries will be pushed even further in the future. Graham Leggat, executive director of the San Francisco Film Society, presenters of the San Francisco International Film Festival announced that SFFS would be joining forces with the Film Noir Foundation to present an International Film Noir event. This event promises to open up even more discussion on what noir is and isn't and especially what noir means beyond the world of American cinema.
For more discussion of Noir City 6 go to:

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"California is wonderful; if you're a grapefruit."

Joan Leslie in Repeat Performance

Noir City 6
The Castro Theatre
San Francisco
January 25th - February 3rd, 2008
Opening Weekend Review

Despite torrential rain, Noir City 6's opening weekend boasted record attendance. Actually watching film noirs in a movie palace like the Castro Theatre in a rain soaked city was quite fitting especially when surrounded by an audience full of guys in raincoats and fedoras and dolls dressed to the nines. Not to mention the stinging taste of the free bourbon served before the show, at the reception for full series pass holders, attended by actress Joan Leslie. The first night's programming was an homage to the actress and featured a live on stage interview with her.

The festival opened with a screening of a 16mm print of Repeat Performance (1947) (unavailable on DVD) since no 35mm is in existence. The print owned by the rights holder was so damaged that it couldn't be run through a projector. Luckily, not one but two Bay area residents had offered the Noir City organizers their own prints as back up. The rarity of the film was not the only thing recommending its inclusion in Noir City 6. This well made film lives up to its intriguing premise. A young actress shots her husband on New Years Eve and gets her desperate wish granted- a chance to relive the year over again in hopes of avoiding the same fate. Excellent acting, writing and direction elevate this thriller to a meditation on the nature of destiny. Try as she may, the heroine cannot alter fate significantly. As Richard Basehart (in his astoundingly good film debut as the mad poet William Williams) comments about destiny at the end of the film, "I don't think she cares about the pattern as long as the result is the same."
In all honesty, by the end of the first day of her relived year, I wanted her to shoot her god awful husband right then and spare herself another year with him. Louis Heyward portrays said husband perfectly. He is not an over the top villain but rather a realistically self-centered alcoholic unfaithful playwright who blames his wife for his own failures. The writer Walter Bullock, the director Alfred L. Werker, and Heyward all work together to imbue Barney, as with all the characters and their actions in the film, with a realism that serves to counterbalance the implausibility of the premise and so makes the film believable and emotionally honest. For example, the scenes between the husband and the wife are quite painful in their depiction of marital strife. All this reshapes the piece from a clever fantasy into a heartfelt drama.
In between the two pictures, Film Noir Foundation president and author Eddie Muller interviewed Joan Leslie on stage. She gave a captivating summary of her life in and out of film. Joan, along with her two sisters, helped support her family during the Great Depression by going on stage with a variety act . She went to Hollywood, at the tender age of nine, under contract with MGM and made one film, Camille (1936)(Warner Home Video) starring Greta Garbo whom the young girl was thrilled to meet. After being dropped by MGM, she went back to New York to rejoin her family. Then her sister Nancy received a contract with Universal and brought Joan back out to Hollywood. Joan tested for Warner Brothers and was put under contract with them. At Warners, she costarred with Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino in High Sierra(1941), with Gary Cooper in Sergeant York(1941)(WHV) and with James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)(WHV). The parts she was offered, as well as the films that they were in, began to decline in quality and Joan fought with Warner Brothers to break her contract. Eventually, she was dropped by the studio and made several films as an independent. After she met and married Doctor William Caldwell, she retired from the screen to devote herself to her marriage, raise her twin girls and start a second career in fashion design. She did return to acting later taking a few roles in the 80s and 90s on television.
Ida Lupino and Joan Leslie in The Hard Way
The second feature in Joan Leslie's tribute was another rarity not available on DVD, The Hard Way (1943). The great Ida Lupino co-stars as Leslie's older sister who is determined to make her little sister a star at any price. This film is more of melodrama then a traditional noir and belongs to The Mildred Pierce (1945)(WHV) school- films that are curious hybrids of two different genres, the women's picture and the crime thriller. The film does a great job depicting Lupino's character Helen's monomaniacal obsession with her sister Katie's career and with Katie's growing disillusionment with both the actor's life and with her older sister. Dennis Morgan's fairly wooden performance as both sisters' love interest detracted from the film. However, Jack Carson's heartfelt performance, as Katie's sweet natured and ultimately victimized husband, added greatly to the film's representation of Katie's conflicting drives for material success and loyalty to her sister on one hand and personal happiness on the other.
On Saturday night, the festival sold out the Castro Theatre which has 1300 seats making it the most successful night in Noir City's history. Good news for noir fans everywhere as festival revenues make up the bulk of the money that supports the Film Noir Foundation and their mission to preserve and restore film noirs. Saturday night's program featured a double feature of The Prowler and Gun Crazy in tribute to blacklisted writer Donald Trumbo and was hosted by crime writer, and all around noir guy, James Ellroy who gave a profane and cynical introduction to the first film. He described the basic theme of film noir in two words, "You're f#$%ed." Nestled in between the two features was the world premier of the Czar of Noir, Eddie Muller's (author and the president of the FNF), short film The Grand Inquisitor (2008)based on his own short story.
Van Heflin and Evelyn Keyes in The Prowler
The Prowler (1951) (unavailable on DVD) starred Van Heflin as a disgruntled policeman who starts an affair with the married and lonely Evelyn Keyes. Complications ensue as unbeknownst to her; he hatches a plan to eliminate her husband. In an interesting reversal of film noir conventions, this film features a homme fatale who lures a bourgeois married woman into his web of intrigue. The film also distinguishes itself with its performances. Heflin strikes just the right balance of bravado and desperation as a man dissatisfied with his life but unable to accept that his actions brought him there. Keyes plays to perfection a conflicted character who tries to fool herself into thinking Heflin is a better man than he is. The print was newly restored by the FNF and the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
The Grand Inquisitor
Next in the evening's line up was the world premier of The Grand Inquisitor (2008)(unavailable on DVD) which hailed Eddie Muller's directorial debut and the return of ninety year old actress Marsha Hunt to the big screen. Hunt gives a terrific performance as a woman, who may or may not be the widow of the notorious and uncaught Zodiac killer, who is confronted by a young woman obsessed with knowing the truth and somehow personally connected to a Zodiac victim. The story, while giving the audience some good twists and turns, also maintains an emotional honesty that gives the short thriller some real depth. The film was based on Muller's own short story available in the noir inspired short story collection, A Hell of a Woman: An Anthology of Female Noir(2007)(Busted Flush Press), edited by writer Megan Abbott who introduced the film at the festival.
Peggy Cummins proves that she's as mad as a bag of ferrets in Gun Crazy
Gun Crazy (1950) (WHV) finished off the night in spectacular style. The film successfully combines two distinct film styles- a documentary realism and an intensely romantic lyricism- to spin the tale of two gun obsessed soul mates and their inevitable violence strewn path to self-destruction. This combination of opposite styles has had a lasting impact on filmmakers from Truffaut to Tarantino. The realistic depiction of the crimes, for instance the use of hand held cameras and long takes instead of quickly edited shots, puts the audience directly into the action. The director, Joseph H Lewis, makes the audience feel like they are right in the middle of the robbery. Besides stimulating the audience emotionally, this technique also makes the audience empathize with the robbers.
Lewis and the un-credited screen-writer Trumbo, at the same time, depict a passionate and over the top relationship between the two leads You just know when they meet for the first time, and challenge each other to light matches off each others heads by shooting at them with handguns, that they're right for each other and irrevocably doomed. The film successfully walks a fine line between high emotional drama and black comedy that borders on campiness. Somehow screen writer Donald Trumbo and director Joseph H Lewis made lines like; "We go together like guns and ammunition." and "Two people had to die so we could live without working." come off seriously. This balance between reality and lyricism continues to the end of the film. The ending sequence is one of the most gorgeously eerie I've seen, but even as they are shrouded in ghostly fog the criminals on the run are dirty and disheveled- no beautiful neat death for this pair.
So, the opening weekend of Noir City 6 was successful for both the organizers and the audience. The organizers benefited from all time record sales. The audience benefited from the thoughtful programming of films which were both rare and of high quality; interviews and introductions by fascinating and entertaining guests and best of all the opportunity to see these great little gems in the right setting- in a movie place, projected on a big screen, in the company of fellow film lovers. If the rest of the programming is as good as the first two days then noir lovers are in for a hell of a week.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

No Happy Endings

Noir City 6 Preview
January 25th- February 3rd, 2008
Castro Theatre, San Francisco

SIFF Cinema, Seattle
February 15- 21st, 2008

San Francisco's historic Castro Theatre once again morphs into Noir City from January 25th to February 3rd. Noir City, now in its sixth year, is an annual film festival devoted to showcasing film noirs- the taut, existential and usually low budget crime thrillers of the 40s and 50s. (For a further discussion of the film noir genre please see Wikipedia's extensive article, or my highly opinionated article The Film Noir Foundation produces the festival which serves to highlight their mission not just to preserve and restore film noir prints but also to make them available for theatrical screenings. This year's event boasts an eclectic variety of films many of which are not available on DVD, an array of special guests and even a world premiere. (The films that are available on DVD have their releasing company noted next to their titles.)

Joan Leslie and Ida Lupino in The Hard Way
The opening night of the festival features a tribute to actress Joan Leslie who will be interviewed live on stage in between screenings of Repeat Performance (1947) and The Hard Way (1943). Joan Leslie started her career as a child actress and went on to have a long career as a studio player at Warner Brothers. She is probably most famous for her turn as Velma the maddeningly ungrateful "good girl" in High Sierra (1941). Neither of the films being screened at her tribute is available on DVD. There are no existing 35mm prints of Repeat Performance; Films Around the World will be providing the festival with a 16mm print for the screening. Similarly Wade Williams will provide a 16mm print of D.O.A (1950)(Image Entertainment) on Thursday night. This film will be doubled with a brand new 35mm print of The Story of Molly X (1949) another rarely seen film noir.
Original Movie Poster for The Prowler
The second night of the festival honors screenwriter Dalton Trumbo who wrote the legendary anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun as well as the screenplays of A Guy Named Joe (1943), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)(Warner Home Video) and Tender Comrades (1943). The third film brought him personal disaster several years after the film was made. The House Committee on Un-American Activities cited it as an example of the communist propaganda allegedly being interjected into Hollywood films by left wingers. After being blacklisted in Hollywood, Trumbo moved to Mexico and continued to write screenplays for which he was paid but did not receive screen credit. Both films in his tribute The Prowler (1951) and Gun Crazy (1950)(WHV) are from this period. The print for the The Prowler is is a newly restored 35mm print. The 7:00 pm screening will be introduced by prominent crime writer James Ellroy. The world premier of The Grand Inquisitor (2008) a new short film written and directed by Film Noir Foundation founder Eddie Muller, and starring 90 year old formerly blacklisted actress Marsha Hunt, precedes the evening screening of Gun Crazy.
Gail Russell and Dane Clark in Moonrise
The next evening commemorates actress Gail Russell with a screening of an archival print of Frank Borzage's Moonrise (1948) courtesy of the UCLA Film and Television Archive as well as a new 35 mm print of Night Has 1000 Eyes (1948) which was struck by Universal Pictures exclusively for Noir City. Neither film is available on DVD. Gail Russell is probably best known for her role as John Wayne's love interest in Angel and the Badman(1947)(Delta). Her career was cut short due to a tragic and ultimately unwon battle with alcoholism. Other films screening at the festival which are not available on DVD are Woman In Hiding (1950) doubled with Jeopardy (1953)(WHV) on Monday the 28th; Conflict (1945) paired with fellow rarity The Suspect (1944) on Friday the 1st, The 3rd Voice (1960) partnered with the equally unavailable The Face Behind the Mask (1941) on Saturday, and finally, on the closing night of the festival, Roadhouse (1948). This last rarity is teamed up with Jules Dassin's Night and the City (1950)(Criterion Collection) in honor of the actor Richard Widmark. The festival's program notes described the print as "stunning". This double feature demonstrates the range of Widmark's acting and proves that there is more to him then his iconic turn as the giggling psychopath who ties an old lady to her wheelchair and proceeds to shove her and the chair down a staircase in Kiss of Death (1947)(20th Century Fox)
A Fed about to meet a nasty end in Borderline
Two nights of the festival are devoted to films available on DVD but still well worth seeing in the theater. On Wednesday the 30th there will be a tribute to actor and perpetual heavy Charles McGraw. Alan Rode the author of Charles McGraw: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy will be signing his book prior to the screening of two Anthony Mann films that feature McGraw, Reign of Terror (1949)(Reel Classic Films) and Border Incident (1949)(WHV). The screening the prior night, Tuesday the 29th, salutes 20th Century Fox's commitment to releasing film noirs for the home market. Both Hangover Square (1945) and Dangerous Crossing (1953) have been released on DVD as part of Fox's film noir collection. This evening also illustrates the FNF's stated mission to serve "as a conduit between film companies and repertory cinemas still eager to screen these films in 35mm. Revenues generated by ticket sales encourage studios film archives to strike new prints of films that are at risk of disappearing from public view, either through neglect or scarcity." (
Bogie admires Ida Lupino's grit in High Sierra
For a complete list of screenings, guests, and book signings at the festival, as well as ticket information, go to A more compact version of Noir City will invade Rain City's SIFFCinema February 15th-21st and will be co-presented by Scarecrow Video and the FNF. Eddie Muller will be on hand to host the event which will benefit FNF. For program and ticket information go to Most of the films are one's playing at the San Francisco event, however, you lucky dogs in Seattle get a screening of the Raoul Walsh classic High Sierra (1941)(Warner Home Video) which helped propel Humphrey Bogart into stardom.