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:

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