Sunday, July 26, 2009

Noir City Indeed!

The Roxie is going back to the well again. In May, they presented I Wake Up Dreaming: The Haunted World of the B Film Noir. In September, they are presenting Best of Columbia Noir. Given the crowds at the Roxie for I Wake Up Dreaming, I'm not surprised. I wonder how long until Eddie Muller launches a second Noir City event. Actually, he mentioned in January that Noir City and the San Francisco Film Society were teaming up for an international noir event this summer but I haven't seen anything on that.

Film Noir returns to San Francisco’s Roxie Theater with a vengeance! This past May, audiences were treated to two full weeks of rare B noirs as part of the “I Wake Up Dreaming” festival which only seemed to remind everyone that The Roxie is THE place to be for classic, high quality Film Noir.

Now, in answer to the huge demand from noir enthusiasts all over the Bay Area, Elliot Lavine has programmed a stupendous ten day fest of noir classics and curios from the famed vaults of Columbia Pictures. A total of twenty great films—all presented in beautiful 35mm studio vault prints---and none currently available on DVD.

From Friday, Sept. 11 through Tuesday, Sept. 22, audiences will thrill to the works of such esteemed directors as Nicholas Ray (Knock on Any Door), Jacques Tourneur (Nightfall), Don Siegel (The Line Up), Joseph H. Lewis (My Name is Julia Ross and So Dark the Night), Samuel Fuller (The Crimson Kimono), Robert Rossen (Johnny O’Clock), Irving Lerner (Murder by Contract and City of Fear) and many more!

Many of Columbia’s higher profile noirs have sadly slipped through the cracks due to scant or non-existent home video or DVD versions. Major directors like Fuller, Ray and Siegel are woefully under-represented in this way and odd-ball gems like Richard Quine’s steamy Pushover (1954) with Fred MacMurray and Kim Novak---Paul Wendkos’ The Burglar (1957), the remarkably strange and dark film from the novel by David Goodis starring Dan Duryea and Jayne Mansfield---an early film from William Castle, The Whistler (1944)---and Will Jason’s stylish and disturbing horror-noir hybrid Soul of a Monster (1944) are rarely shown anywhere. This is the perfect end-of-summer tonic for noir addicts who are doomed to another long, dark winter.

One difference I note between the May series and the upcoming one is that the films this September are all 35 mm prints (I may have missed a 16 mm listing). That was a sore point last May as the quality of the prints was lacking.

The full schedule is:

Johnny O’Clock (1947)
This erotically offbeat noir gave Dick Powell his most vividly hard-boiled role since his re-invention as tough guy Philip Marlowe three years earlier in Dmytryk’s Murder My Sweet. As the darkly suave proprietor of an illegal gambling den, Johnny walks a deadly tightrope between doom and redemption. A nearly forgotten gem of sizzling noir brilliance, beautifully photographed by the legendary Burnett Guffey. Also in the top-notch cast: Evelyn Keyes, Lee J. Cobb, Thomas Gomez and Ellen Drew.

Blind Spot (1947)
With a plot resembling an unhatched Cornell Woolrich tale (it isn’t), an alcoholic writer of mystery novels (hmmm...) finds himself unable to provide an alibi for himself when his publisher turns up dead in a locked room—exactly in the way he cooked up for one of his own grisly books! A highly entertaining and ingenious B noir! Starring Chester Morris, Constance Dowling, Steven Geray.

Knock on Any Door (1949)
Within a few short years of making this, his second feature, Nicholas Ray would establish himself as a cinematic master with films like In A Lonely Place, On Dangerous Ground, Johnny Guitar, and Rebel Without A Cause. This one lands him squarely in noir territory: Humphrey Bogart plays a cynical criminal lawyer hired to defend a young punk in a cop killing. As the punk, young John Derek gave birth to the line "Live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse." Also in the cast are George Macready and Allene Roberts.

Convicted (1950)
Glenn Ford stars as a man wrongfully accused of manslaughter after a barroom brawl leaves another man dead. The sympathetic DA who helped send him to prison does all he can to lighten the sentence but to no avail. Life behind bars embitters the young con and when the opportunity to join a violent, bloody break presents itself, he seizes the moment! An exciting noir drama, ripe for rediscovery! Also starring Broderick Crawford, Millard Mitchell, Dorothy Malone.

Pushover (1954)
Fred MacMurray’s other great noir film, it presents the actor a full ten years after Double Indemnity landed him in the pantheon of great noir performances. Here he’s a cop who’s assigned to shadow the mistress (the incredible Kim Novak in her first prominent screen role) of a wanted bank robber. The heat of the moment proves too much for our boy and a deadly obsession looms large on the landscape. Also in the cast: Philip Carey, Dorothy Malone and E. G. Marshall.

Drive a Crooked Road (1954)
Those who insist on thinking of Mickey Rooney only as “Andy Hardy” should take a hard look at the actor’s noir canon. From the late 40s (Killer McCoy) through the late 50s (The Last Mile) he could be equally convincing as a cold-blooded killer or a short-changed chump; psychological bookends in the noir universe. Here he gets to do a little of everything as the hardcase auto mechanic with eyes on the dame AND the prize...and the payoff is—dynamite! Also stars Dianne Foster, Kevin McCarthy and Jack Kelly.

The Whistler (1944)
Columbia produced 8 low-budget noirs for this eerie and popular anthology series between 1944 and 1948. Richard Dix appeared in the lead role in all but one of these films (he died shortly before production began), never playing the same character twice. In this, the first of a uniformly excellent batch, he plays a man hopelessly despondent over the tragic death of his wife. He briefly contemplates suicide then opts to pay a hired assassin to do the job. Fate cruelly intervenes and provides an unexpected and suspenseful climax! With Gloria Stuart and J. Carroll Naish.

The Soul of a Monster (1944)
An ultra-strange hybrid of noir and horror makes for a highly rewarding film with deeper, more spiritual messaging than normally required of a sixty-minute B picture. When a beloved physician lies terminally ill at death’s door, a mysterious woman arrives, hastening his miraculous recovery amidst the suspicious aura of satanic skullduggery! A visually thrilling and seriously misunderstood gem of supernatural noir! Starring George Macready, Rose Hobart, Jeanne Bates and Jim Bannon.

So Dark the Night (1946)
In the first half of this double-bill tribute to director Joseph H. Lewis (Gun Crazy, The Big Combo), a noted Parisian detective on vacation becomes involved in the investigation of a string of local murders. Memorable touches on a small scale highlight this twisted tale of passion under darkly sunny French skies. Starring Steven Geray, Micheline Cheirel and Eugene Borden.

My Name is Julia Ross (1945)
After toiling for a number of years on poverty row in a succession of B westerns, East Side Kids comedies and Bela Lugosi horror films, Lewis landed at Columbia and delivered this breakthrough B classic of gothic noir right out of the gate. A young woman takes position in a shuddery seaside mansion only to awaken the following morning to an unspeakable nightmare! Starring Nina Foch, George Macready and Dame May Whitty.

The Line Up (1958)
Don Siegel, the incendiary director of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the Lee Marvin version of The Killers, the first Dirty Harry movie AND Private Hell 36 (one of the big rediscoveries of this past May’s Roxie Noir program) kicks out a tough police noir filmed right here in San Francisco! Loosely based on a popular TV show at the time, the film leaves it in the dust. Starring Eli Wallach, Warner Anderson, Richard Jaeckel, Emile Meyer and Robert Keith.

The Sniper (1952)
With deadly aim, a deranged lone gunman with a sick desire to kill women is stalking the dark streets of San Francisco! An intense investigation leads to a nerve-wracking and fateful conclusion! A gripping, suspenseful tour de force from the director of Murder My Sweet and Crossfire. Starring Adolph Menjou, Arthur Franz, Gerald Mohr and Marie Windsor. Directed by Edward Dmytryk.

Between Midnight and Dawn (1950)
An exciting and realistic depiction of everyday cops doing their jobs. Screen veterans Edmond O’Brien and Mark Stevens share an LAPD patrol car and their nightly routines can sometimes become highly dangerous. One of the earliest and, despite not being well-known today, most influential films of the police procedural type. Also starring Gale Storm, Donald Buka, Gale Robbins, and Roland Winters.

The Killer That Stalked New York (1950)
Amidst the teeming atmosphere of the New York underworld a life and death race is on to locate the carriers of a deadly disease! This stunning docu-noir makes great use of its location photography to create a convincingly menacing world. A much better film than the similarly themed, bigger budgeted Panic In The Streets from around the same time. Starring Charles Korvin, Evelyn Keyes, William Bishop, and Dorothy Malone.

The Crimson Kimono (1959)
While it might seem that this sharply drawn noir crime film is about nothing more than the murder of an LA nightclub stripper, it’s important to remember that this is a Samuel Fuller film and the concerns of the director run somewhat deeper than what appears to be on the surface. In this case it’s the smoldering possibilities of interracial romance in a cold and unforgiving world. A masterpiece of mood and malice. Starring Victoria Shaw, Glenn Corbett, James Shigeta, and Anna Lee.

Screaming Mimi (1958)
Noir doesn’t get much weirder and whacked-out than this baffling psychodrama about a troubled young woman who, after surviving a brutal attack, becomes the prime suspect in a series of bizarre ritual murders. An alcoholic reporter tries to clear the whole mess up. The charged atmosphere in this steamy melodrama makes for unusually provocative entertainment, and how! Based on a novel by Fredric Brown. Starring Philip Carey, Anita Ekberg, Harry Townes, Gypsy Rose Lee, and Red Norvo.

The Burglar (1957)
Back by popular demand! Another sizzling noir adapted from the darkly twisted imagination of David Goodis. An aging thief forms an unholy alliance with a mysterious young woman and a bizarre gang of crooks. Resembling nothing less than the ironically imitative films of the emerging French New Wave around this time, The Burglar is the real McCoy! Starring Dan Duryea, Jayne Mansfield, Martha Vickers, and Mickey Shaughnessy.

Nightfall (1957)
From the director of the classic noir Out of the Past comes this ultra-stylish noir thriller about an innocent man caught between the cops and a pair of sadistic killers in a mad search for stolen money. Starring Aldo Ray, Anne Bancroft, Brian Keith, and James Gregory. Screenplay adapted by Sterling Silliphant from the novel by low-rent paperback specialist David Goodis. Directed by Jacques Tourneur.

Murder By Contract (1958)
Vince Edwards is chillingly real as a pitiless hired assassin who has second thoughts when his latest assignment is revealed to be a woman. An idiosyncratic study of a man without a soul—rendered in a baffling, near-abstract beat style. The director only made two features before drifting into television and finally relative obscurity. Also featuring Herschel Bernardi, Caprice Toriel and Philip Pine. Directed by Irving Lerner.

City of Fear (1959)
Back too is this amazing nuclear noir again starring rough and ready Vince Edwards—this time as a desperate escaped con with a parcel of stolen “radioactive material” thinking its actually heroin! How many junkies will be infected by this bum stash before he’s taken down?! A wild and uninhibited noir curio from the tail end of the cycle. Also starring John Archer, Lyle Talbot and Steven Ritch. Directed by Irving Lerner.


Without checking my records, I can state that of the films presented, I have previously seen The Crimson Kimono, City of Fear, Nightfall and The Burglar.

Blind Spot screened at this year's Noir City but I missed it so it's nice to have a second chance to see it.

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