Monday, May 31, 2010

I Still Wake Up Dreaming

The Roxie recently concluded their two week noir series, I Still Wake Up Dreaming. Of the 28 films screened, I watched 25. The three I missed were: 99 River Street, Jealousy and Power of the Whistler. 99 River Street, a Phil Karlson film, has been screened extensively the past few years. I caught it at the 2007 Noir City. I recall enjoying Evelyn Keyes' performance. It also screened at a Karlson retrospective at the PFA last year. I missed Jealousy due to a dinner engagement. I skipped Power of the Whistler to watch The Red Machine at the Red Vic.


I Still Wake Up Dreaming
Mysterious Intruder starring Richard Dix; directed by William Castle; (1946)
High Tide starring Don Castle; (1947)
Shield for Murder starring and directed by Edmond O’Brien; (1954)
Nightmare starring Edward G. Robinson; (1956)
The Mark of the Whistler starring Richard Dix and Janis Carter; directed by William Castle; (1944)
The Lady Confessesstarring Hugh Beaumont; (1945)
Treasure of Monte Cristo; (1949)
The Invisible Wall starring Don Castle; (1947)
The Red House starring Edward G. Robinson; (1947)
Sideshow; (1950)
Voice of the Whistler starring Richard Dix; directed by William Castle; (1945)
Lighthouse starring Don Castle; (1947)
Secret of the Whistler starring Richard Dix; (1946)
Roses are Red starring Don Castle; (1947)
Johnny Cool starring Henry Silva and Elizabeth Montgomery; directed by William Asher; (1963)
Cop Hater starring Robert Loggia; (1958)
The Fearmakers starring Dana Andrews; directed by Jacques Tourneur; (1958)
Stolen Identity; (1953)
Dark Waters starring Merle Oberon and Franchot Tome; directed by Andre De Toth; (1944)
The Lady and the Monster starring Erich von Stroheim; (1944)
Secrets of Monte Carlo; (1951)
The Glass Alibi; directed by W. Lee Wilder; (1946)
The Thirteenth Hour starring Richard Dix; (1947)
Below the Deadline; (1946)
Behind Locked Doors; directed by Budd Boetticher; (1948)


Like last year’s festival, several of the 16 mm prints were in poor condition. In particular, the dialogue in High Tide was rendered indecipherable by the poor sound quality.

The Roxie has announced encore screenings of several of the films in a four day program called I Still Wake Up Dreaming: Noir Redux from June 4 to 7. Two of the films I missed are screening - 99 River Street and Jealousy.

Johnny Cool screens June 4.

Nightmare and The Fearmakers are presented on June 5.

The best double feature of the redux is 99 River Street and Cop Hater on June 6

Three 16 mm films with improved sound quality will be screened on June 7 - High Tide, Jealousy and The Lady Confesses.


The most surprising aspect of the series was that I thoroughly enjoyed The Whistler films. I don’t recall enjoying The Whistler (1944) at last year’s Columbia Noir series. The Mark of the Whistler, Voice of the Whistler and Secret of the Whistler were three of my favorites from this year’s festival.

In addition to the three aforementioned Whistler films, I particularly enjoyed Cop Hater, Lighthouse, The Glass Alibi and Shield for Murder.

A grab bag of synopses and thoughts:

Shield for Murder star Edmond O’Brien as a dirty cop who kills a bag man and steals his money. The interesting part of this film is that everyone knows O’Brien’s character is dirty and probably committed the crime – the other cops in the squad, the precinct captain, the newspaper reporter on the crime beat and the gangster whose money he stole. However, it’s only the gangsters who are willing to do something about it…that is until O’Brien’s partner (a young man who idolizes him because he helped pull him out of the streets as a boy) is forced to confront the issue. Claude Akins is particularly memorable in the role of a nasty gangster.

Nightmare was filmed in New Orleans and has a nightmare sequence that seems to have inspired Alfred Hitchcock and Bruce Lee.

The Mark of the Whistler is about a drifter (Richard Dix) who sees a notice in the newspaper about unclaimed bank accounts. By coincident, one of the account holders has the same name as him. Dix plans meticulously to fraudulently claim the money. He forgets to plan for the possibility that the man he is impersonating has enemies.

The Invisible Wall was interesting to me for its exterior shots of Las Vegas in 1947. Otherwise, its plot has an unusually high number of plot twists that keep the audience interested.

The Red House was full of moody atmosphere helped immeasurably by a musical score by Miklos Rosza and Bert Glennon. It dragged on a little too long and Edward G. Robinson started to wear thin but it did have the luscious Julie London.

Voice of the Whistler has a great setup. A wealthy industrialist (Dix) is dying. Alone and lonely, he falls in with the denizens of a poor Chicago neighborhood. Given only months to live, he asks the nurse at the local clinic to marry him. It’s strictly a business proposition. He knows that she grew up impoverished and yearns for the security of wealth. She also has a boyfriend whom she has been engaged to for four years. The proposition is that she marries him, keeps him company for his remaining time and inherits his fortune upon his death. Nothing goes as planned though – the man’s health improves, the boyfriend shows up at the lighthouse they are convalescing at and a murder is planned.

Lighthouse was the second half of the lighthouse noir double feature. In this film, Don Castle plays a lighthouse assistant and lothario. He goes into town to romance various women. When the woman he been stringing along pays a surprise visit at the lighthouse, a love triangle is formed. Spurned by Castle, the woman (June Lang) decides to marry the lighthouse keeper and move into the living quarters on the lighthouse island. Her husband is unaware of her previous relationship with his assistant. Castle who was a “love ‘em and leave ‘em” type before becomes obsessed with his boss’ wife when they begin to live in such close quarters.

Secret of the Whistler is similar to Voice of the Whistler. Dix plays an artist who was selling caricatures in the park before marrying a wealthy woman. The woman is deathly ill but that doesn’t stop Dix from hosting cocktail parties at his art studio/apartment. Dix meets a gold digging model whom he wants to marry. He is patient enough to wait for his wife demise until she makes a miraculous recovery…and discovers his affair.

Johnny Cool stars Henry Silva in a convoluted revenge tale. Johnny Cool (Silva), a Sicilian, is sent to America by the original Johnny Cool, an exiled mobster living in Rome. Silva goes around killing mobsters and corrupt politicians but he also picks up a girlfriend, a bored divorcee (nice performance by Elizabeth Montgomery who is better known as Samantha on the television series Bewitched). Things are going well for Silva and Montgomery until she feels some guilt about her involvement in his crimes. Sammy Davis Jr. has a small role and sings on the soundtrack.

Cop Hater was the grittiest film in the festival. Based on the first 87th Precinct novel by Ed McBain, the film stars Robert Loggia as the detective tasked with finding a cop killer. The late Jerry Orbach has a small role as the leader of a street gang called the Grovers. I know they were the Grovers because they conveniently had T-shirts with “Grovers” written on the back like a jersey. This film was so low budget that I think Loggia only wore one shirt during the entire film. Shirley Ballard stands out as the tranny-ish but still slutty-looking wife of Loggia’s partner.

The Lady and the Monster was the worst film of the festival in my opinion. I was quite certain I saw this film on Elvira’s Movie Macabre show in the 1980’s but a brief conversation with programmer Elliot Lavine convinced me I was thinking about a remake called Donovan’s Brain with Lew Ayres. Levine called this film his all-time favorite which makes me wonder about his taste in films. A brain is kept alive in a laboratory and, through means I cannot recall, exerts a malevolent influence on the two doctors (one of whom is Erich von Stroheim!) who removed it from its body.

Secrets of Monte Carlo was an above average B film about a fireworks importer who gets tricked into muling fake stolen gems out of Monte Carlo. After that is cleared up, he tags along with the insurance investigator and his beautiful sister to Hong Kong. Once there, they tangle with the gang that stole the real gems. The film was a predictable potboiler but was historically interesting for its casual racism towards the Chinese exemplified by the dialogue and performance of Philip Ahn as the “inscrutable Chinaman.”

The Glass Alibi which was paired with Secrets of Monte Carlo also exceeded expectations. Once again, a man (this time a ne’er do well author/reporter) marries a wealthy but ill woman with the certitude of her impending demise and his subsequent inheritance. So certain is he that he will soon be a widower, he doesn’t even break it off with his not-so-secret paramour (stunningly beautiful Anne Gwynne). When Gwynne’s jealous mobster boyfriend breaks out of jail, the timetable for the wife’s death has to be accelerated.

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