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?