The Roxie has announced a film program in May called I Wake Up Dreaming: The Haunted World of the B Film Noir. Double features run from May 15 to 28.
From 1990 until 2003, San Francisco’s Roxie Theater enjoyed a reputation as being the foremost venue in the entire Bay Area for the absolute best in quality, esoteric film noir. The guiding hand behind the film noir programming at the Roxie was Elliot Lavine, who left the theater in early 2003 to pursue other interests, among them teaching courses in film studies at Stanford and San Francisco State University. He has also completed work on a fascinating new book called “TV Noir: I Wake Up Dreaming.” To help celebrate the appearance of his soon to be published book, Lavine has been invited to curate this film noir series at the Roxie. The focus of this series is the shadowy and gritty world of the B noir. These are not the glitzy and glamorous classics most filmgoers are familiar with. Rather, they are the doomed and forgotten, rough and ready step-children of Hollywood’s lower depths; poverty row gems that, in many ways, capture the true, brutal essence of noir far better than many of their upper-crust cousins.
28 films are screening over 14 days at the Big Roxie. I have to check my records but I am only aware of having seen two of the films.
Friday, May 15
The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1940)
An innocent young dupe gives a ride to a vicious criminal and unleashes a nightmare of violence and depravity! One of the most blatantly nasty B films of all time, with a singularly fierce central performance from its legendary dark star, Lawrence Tierney.
The Guilty (1947)
Twin sisters—one good, the other bad—dangerously hold a man’s fate in their hands. But which one is which? This rare poverty row gem is one of the eeriest and most disturbing of the many fine films adapted from the obsessively demented Cornell Woolrich’s provocative pulp fiction.
Saturday, May 16
Raw Deal (1948)
A desperate man breaks out of prison and begins a relentless and bloody pursuit of those who framed him. Beautifully photographed by John Alton, arguably the premier noir cinematographer of the 1940s and 50s. A classic noir on every level. Starring Dennis O’Keefe, Claire Trevor, Marsha Hunt, Raymond Burr, John Ireland.
Directed by Anthony Mann.
A tightly wound, high impact tale of criminal brutality: after a ruthless gangster pins a cop’s murder on an innocent young punk, he sets his sights on the kid’s sister. Erotically charged and loaded with the kind of violence only found at the depths of Hollywood’s poverty row. Starring John Ireland, Sheila Ryan, Hugh Beaumont. Directed by Anthony Mann.
Sunday, May 17
Canon City (1948)
A brutally realistic prison escape film with brilliant cinematography by John Alton. Based on actual events and filmed on location, this fast-paced and thrilling epic is as ruthlessly hard-boiled as anything produced in its time. A rarely seen classic that should not be missed under any circumstances!
A down-on-his-luck drifter falls into the clutches of a scheming woman who has constructed an elaborate frame designed to net her and her bank robber boyfriend a cool quarter million in cash. All they need to do is put the drifter in the frame. Excellent unsung B noir! Starring Glenn Ford, Janis Carter, Barry Sullivan.
Monday, May 18
The Specter of the Rose (1946)
A fascinating foray into the darkly demented world of dancers, in which at least one of whom might (or might not) be a psychotic murderer! Very strange, this is a noir of an entirely different stripe; all on a B budget! Excellent cinematography by Lee Garmes. Written and directed by Ben Hecht.
The Madonna's Secret (1946)
The masterful John Alton provides some astonishing camerawork for this strangely hypnotic noir mystery about a famous painter who can’t seem to get the image of his dead fiancée out of his mind. When his models, one by one, start turning up dead, he becomes Prime Suspect #1.
Tuesday, May 19
The Story of Molly X (1949)
The beautiful widow of a slain gangster takes over control of his mob. Thrown into the state pen, she is given the opportunity to unravel the tragic circumstances that have led her to this strange and sordid life. In many ways this terrific noir film was years ahead of its time. Starring June Havoc, Charles McGraw, John Russell, Dorothy Hart.
The Port of Forty Thieves (1944)
A cunning femme fatale with a penchant for murder has devised a foolproof scheme that could net her a fabulous fortune! Or has she? A sublimely perverse and very rarely seen poverty row noir with a mind-boggling myriad of twists and turns!
Wednesday, May 20
The Last Crooked Mile (1946)
Even though she’ll always be best remembered as the demonic Vera in “Detour,” Ann Savage turns in a great performance as a slinky cabaret singer in this energetic B noir about the frantic chase for $300,000 in stolen loot, culminating in a wild scene at a sleazy carnival.
From the director of the cult fave “Decoy” comes this swiftly paced poverty row noir about a pseudo-patriotic scam organization—in reality an odious Fascist hate group—trying to recruit disillusioned war vets into its fold! A girl reporter and an undercover agent try to bust it up!
Thursday, May 21
Private Hell 36 (1954)
From the director of the mind-blowing “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” comes this sharply drawn crime drama about a pair of cops who abscond with a cache of stolen loot. In typical noir fashion, the gravity of their deed drives them to the edge of panic! Starring Ida Lupino, Steve Cochran, Howard Duff, Dorothy Malone, Dean Jagger. Directed by Don Siegel.
No Man’s Woman (1955)
The mighty Marie Windsor stars in this quirky B classic as a conniving femme fatale who everyone else in the movie would love to see dead. When she finally turns up that way, the line of suspects winds around the block. Cheap, tawdry and very, very noir!
Friday, May 22
New York Confidential (1955)
Organized crime gets the film noir treatment in this sensational expose of the murderous racketeers who once held a mighty metropolis in its evil iron-clad grip! B noir seldom got as heady as this rarely seen exciting opus! Starring Broderick Crawford, Richard Conte, Anne Bancroft, Marilyn Maxwell, J. Carroll Naish.
The Hoodlum (1951)
Lawrence Tierney returns as the eponymous title character of this unheralded poverty row noir about an unrepentant sociopath, bent on bringing doom and destruction to everyone in his path! Rarely have an actor and his role meshed so perfectly. Also starring Allene Roberts, Marjorie Riordan, Edward Tierney (the star’s real-life brother).
Saturday, May 23
The Burglar (1957)
From the psychologically dark imagination of pulp paperback novelist David Goodis comes this peculiarly twisted tale of love between thieves. Resembling nothing less than the French New Wave films it would soon inspire, this is a film that once seen is never forgotten! Starring Dan Duryea, Jayne Mansfield, Martha Vickers, Mickey O’Shaughnessy.
Witness to Murder (1954)
A woman awakens in the middle of the night and witnesses a grisly murder through her bedroom window. Somehow the only person who believes her is the killer himself! A tension-filled noir thriller photographed by John Alton with an eye for incredible detail. Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Garry Merrill, George Sanders.
Sunday, May 24
Repeat Performance (1947)
On New Year’s Eve a woman murders her husband then suddenly wishes she hadn’t. Inexplicably, she’s given her wish and now finds she has the entire year to live over again. But will anything change? This provocative and scintillating noir gem will linger in your dreams. Starring Joan Leslie, Louis Hayward, Richard Basehart, Virginia Field.
Hollow Triumph aka: The Scar (1948)
After a carefully planned heist goes haywire, a gangster goes on the lam. When he encounters a prominent psychologist who is his exact double, an insidious plan is hatched. A top-notch B noir, sizzling with unexpected plot twists and the sumptuous cinematography of John Alton! Starring Paul Henreid, Joan Bennett, Edward Franz.
Monday, May 25
Women In The Night (l948)
One of the rarest of 40s B noirs, this lurid exploitation shocker tells the grim story of women captured by the Nazis and forced to serve as “hostesses” at the Shanghai Officer’s Club! Photographed by the celebrated Eugene Shufftan, the film has a look not often associated with obscurity. Starring Tara Birell, Virginia Christine, Philip Ahn, Iris Flores.
Under Age (1941)
An astonishingly frank B oddity about young wayward girls who are lured into the dangerous world of prostitution by sinister pimps and racketeers! The Hollywood censors were clearly asleep at the wheel when this steamy little noir slipped into unsuspecting neighborhood theaters! Directed by Edward Dmytryk.
Tuesday, May 26
One of the classiest of all poverty row films, a nightclub noir about a deadly romantic quadrangle that threatens to destroy the lives of everyone involved. A thoroughly unusual and visually rich thriller that is all but forgotten today. Starring Barry Sullivan, Belita, Albert Dekker, Bonita Granville, Eugene Pallette.
The Pretender (1947)
This remarkably timely noir oddity about a financier who has been plundering the assets of a wealthy client mixes equal measures of suspense with “Twilight Zone”-style elements of the supernatural. One of the first Hollywood films to feature a theramin-dominated score. Brilliantly shot by John Alton!
Wednesday, May 27
Allotment Wives (1945)
Former Hollywood superstar Kay Francis made a final stop at poverty row to star in (and produce) this sadly neglected B noir! She plays a socialite who secretly heads a nasty gang of women who prey on returning WWII servicemen. Violence, blackmail and murder highlight this sordid tale of shame!
Wife Wanted (1946)
Kay Francis returns to poverty row as a faded former movie star who unwittingly becomes involved with nefarious conmen who operate a sleazy “lonely hearts” racket! Things go from bad to worse when murder steps in! Co-starring in this unusual noir melodrama are Paul Cavanaugh, Robert Shayne, Veda Ann Borg. Directed by Phil Karlson.
Thursday, May 28
City of Fear (1959)
Upon escaping from prison, a desperate criminal mistakes a container of radioactive material for heroin! Will the cops be able to bring him down before an entire city becomes infected with radioactive poisoning!?! A seldom seen noir thriller from the director of the incredible “Murder By Contract.”
Shack Out On 101 (1955)
At a lonely seaside beanery north of San Diego, assorted oddballs mingle with atomic spies! Time his not diminished the utter strangeness of this bizarre cold war psychodrama. The absolute zenith in cult trash noir, the stellar cast of stalwart superstars includes Keenan Wynn, Lee Marvin, Terry Moore, Frank Lovejoy and Whit Bissell.
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