Sunday, January 2, 2011

2011 Noir City Kickoff

On December 15, Noir City had a kickoff event at the Castro Theater for their 2011 Festival. Noir City 9 will be held at the Castro from January 21 to 30.

Looking over the program, I am excited to see films which I've not previously seen. I only see three films that I've definitely watched before. I saw The Dark Mirror (1946) at the Stanford Theater in September. I saw My Name is Julia Ross at the Roxie in September 2009 as part of their Best of Columbia Noir series (programmed by Elliot Lavine).

I've seen the 1944 classic Gaslight (with Ingrid Bergman) on television before. I don't believe I've seen it on the big screen.

I've already purchased my Noir City Passport.


The Czar of Noir and Noir City founder Eddie Muller, got on microphone onstage at the Castro. He got the festivities started with The Bloody Olive (1996), a twelve minute, Dutch language noir about a love triangle with more plot twists than you can shake a stick at.

Then he introduced Miss Noir City 2011 who graces the Noir City 9 posters. I don't recall her name but her day job is Leslie The Bone Rock Girl at 107.7 FM The Bone.

Noir City 9 Poster


Then Eddie screened two great films which weren't quite noir but entertainng nonetheless.

Remember the Night starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck; written by Preston Sturges; (1940)
Mr. Soft Touch starring Glenn Ford and Evelyn Keyes; (1949)

I think Muller called them Christmas Noir but that's a bit of stretch. Mr. Soft Touch had some noir elements but it felt like a Pat O'Brien/Boy's Town film. Remember the Night reminded me of every other Preston Sturges film where the scamp sees the error in his/her ways and confesses his sins.

Remember the Night was the first on-screen pairing of Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck who would go on to make the seminal noir Double Indemnity in 1945. It was also the last Sturges screenplay which he would not also direct.

In Remember the Night, Stanwyck plays Lee Leander, a sassy shoplifter who gets pinched for stealing a diamond bracelet in NYC. Her case is assigned to Assistant District Attorney John Sargeant who specializes in prosecuting women. At trial, Leander's attorney (scene stealing performance by Willard Robertson) spins a fantastic yarn about how Stanwyck was hypnotized by the diamonds and a victim rampant commercialism. Seeing that the jury is sympathizing with Leander, Sargeants asks for a continuance so he can ostensibly consult with a hypnotist to verify the defense's claims. Also, since is close to Christmas, Sargeant asks the trial resume in two weeks time after the New Years. The judge grants the continuance.

Sargeant is about to start his Christmas vacation but realizes sad it is to spend Xmas in jail so he posts Leander's bail. The bondsman misinterprets Sargeant's charity and drops Leander at Sargeant's apartment. With no where to stay, Leander is left with few options. Over dinner with Sargeant, the two discover they are both from Indiana and Sargeant offers to drive Leander back to Indiana so she can visit her relatives.

After some madcap misadventures involving dairy cows, a gun toting farmer, a hanging justice of the peace and cold reception by Leander's mother, Sargeant invites Leander to spend Xmas with his family which consists of his mother, his aunt and his cousin.

Predictably, they fall in love and after some guilt induced by Sargeant's mother, Leander agrees to return to New York, break it off with Sargeant, plead guilty and accept her punishment. However, Sargeant has decided to sabotage his case by antagonizing the jury and painting Leander in the most sympathetic light.

The film ends as only a Hays Code film can end. The judge accepts Leander's guilty plea, Sargeant proposes to Leander and Leander refuses the proposal, countering with a promise that if he still wants to marry her after she gets out of prison, she'll marry him then.

The film is buoyed by Stanwyck's and, to a lesser extent, MacMurray's performances. I've seen Stanwyck plays this wise-cracking, tough girl with a soft heart before. She played a similar character opposite Gary Cooper in 1941's Balls of Fire (directed by Howard Hawks). It was like watching a master at work as Stanwyck smart-talked her way in New York City but showed vulnerability in Indiana or how her frustration at unrequited love manifested itself. Like a comedy team, MacMurray played the straight man for Stanwyck to play against. It was a key performance but less flashy than Stanwyck.


Whereas Remember the Night was a romantic comedy with few noir elements, Mr. Soft Touch hewed closer to what most would consider noir.

Glenn Ford plays Joe Mirakowski or something like that (aka Joe Miracle), a recently discharged GI who returns to San Francisco. He discovers his nightclub has been taken over by the Mob and his partner is dead. He knocks over the club and steals $100,000. The cops and more dangerously, the Mob is looking for him after the robbery. He needs to hide out for a day and a half to catch a ship bound for Japan.

He pretends to be a wife-beater(!) so he can be assigned to the Borden Street Settlement House under the supervision of Miss Jenny Jones (Evelyn Keyes), a neighborhood social worker.

While at the halfway house, Miracle falls in love with Jones and starts to admire her work. Unfortunately, an enterprising and amoral reporter (John Ireland) discovers that Miracle is at the settlement house and tips off the Mob. The Mob burns down the building and take the money from Miracle.

By now, Miracle has had his come-to-Jesus change of heart. He returns to his former nightclub, robs it again, dresses as and hires some men to also dress as Santa Claus and finally donates the stolen cash at a fundraiser to rebuild the settlement house. The Mob guessed as much and shoot him in the street. His final words (of the film at least) are to ask Jones to literally pull him out of the gutter which is what he has figuratively been trying to do all his life.

The film featured a solid performance by Ford who I think is hit or miss in these tough guy roles. Evelyn Keyes didn't have much to do as Jones except be played for a sucker and fall in love with Miracle. John Ireland nailed his character, a slimy Walter Winchell type. Percy Kilbride (best known for playing Pa Kettle in the Ma & Pa Kettle series) provided some laughs as a garrulous tennant in the house.

It was nice to see some exterior shots of San Francisco from 60 years ago. Apparently, in 1949 the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza was in a commercial district in San Francisco. Other than that glaring inaccuracy, the film didn't make much of the San Francisco cityscape. There were a few car chase scenes on the Embarcadero and Russian Hill, I think.

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