Friday, June 8, 2012

I Wake Up Dreaming 2012 - The French Have a Name For It!

The Roxie ran I Wake Up Dreaming 2012 - The French Have a Name For It! from May 11 to 24.  Programmed by Elliot Lavine (with assistance from Johnny Legend and Paul Meienberg), the series featured 30 films; most of them 65 to 75 minute B films.  Despite having already seen 8 or 9 of the films, I still caught 22 films in the series.

This series was the first since I received my Roxie membership card.  For the cost of $23 per month, I receive admission to most Roxie programs.  Film festivals screenings are excluded.  Since Lavine was programming the series under the auspices of the Roxie, my membership card granted me access to all the I Wake Up Dreaming screenings.

The 22 films I saw were:

The Big Combo starring Cornel Wilde & Richard Conte; with Brian Donlevy, Lee Van Cleef & Earl Holliman; directed by Joseph H. Lewis; (1955)
Hollow Triumph starring Paul Henreid & Joan Bennett; directed by Steve Sekely; (1948)
Edge of Doom starring Dana Andrews & Farley Granger; directed by Mark Robson; (1950)
Such A Pretty Little Beach starring Gerard Phillipe; directed by Yves Allegret; French with subtitles; (1949)
The Strange Mr. Gregory starring Edmond Lowe; directed by Phil Rosen; (1945)
Return of the Whistler starring Michael Duane; directed by D. Ross Lederman; (1948)
Highway 13 starring Robert Lowery; directed by William Berke; (1948)
The Devil's Henchman starring Warner Baxter; with Mary Beth Hughes, Mike Mazurki & Regis Toomey; directed by Seymour Friedman; (1949)
Storm over Lisbon starring Vera Ralston, Erich von Stroheim & Richard Arlen; directed by George Sherman; (1944)
Shadow of Terror starring Richard Fraser; directed by Lew Landers; (1945)
I Wouldn't Be In Your Shoes starring Don Castle; Elyse Knox & Regis Toomey; directed by William Nigh; (1948)
When Strangers Marry starring Kim Hunter, Robert Mitchum & Dean Jagger; directed by William Castle; (1944)
Female Jungle starring  Lawrence Tierney, Jayne Mansfield & John Carradine; directed by Bruno VeSota; (1956)
Killer's Kiss starring Frank Silvera & Jamie Smith; directed by Stanley Kubrick; (1955)
The Scarf starring John Ireland & Mercedes McCambridge; directed by Ewald Andre Dupont; (1951)
Chinatown at Midnight starring Hurd Hatfield; directed by Seymour Friedman; (1949)
Bluebeard starring John Carradine; directed by Edgar G. Ulmer; (1944)
Shoot to Kill; directed by William Berke; (1947)
Deadline for Murder; directed by James Tinling; (1946)
He Walked by Night starring Richard Basehart; directed by Alfred Werker and (uncredited) Anthony Mann; (1948)
Guns, Girls and Gangsters starring Mamie Van Doren; with Gerald Mohr, Lee Van Cleef & Grant Richards; directed by  Edward L. Cahn; (1959)
Inside Detroit starring Dennis O'Keefe & Pat O'Brien; directed by Fred F. Sears; (1956)

The sound quality for Shoot to Kill and Deadline for Murder was very poor.  I unable to make out all the dialog which hampered my ability to follow the considerable twists and turns of the respective plots.  Deadline for Murder looked like a decent whodunit if not for the sound issues.


I think noir genre exhibition has become a little frothy to borrow from Alan Greenspan.  I don't know how many noir themed film festivals are regularly being held.  Elliot Lavine has programmed two per year at the Roxie for a few years.  Eddie Muller hosts his Noir City for two weeks every January at the Castro.  I know that Eddie takes his festivals on the road.  Palm Springs has a well regarded film noir festival as well.  The PFA frequently screens noir themed series. With all these festivals, you would think there is a vast library of noir flims for exhibition.  However, I get the sense Lavine was sacrificing quality to feed the exhibition beast. Several of the films in series left me luke warm...and the ones I enjoyed to most seemed not quite noir.

My favorite film of the series was He Walked by Night which was more of a procedural than film noir.  Richard Basehart plays a murderer whose underlying motives or sociopathy is never explained.  He steals electronic equipment for the parts which he reassembles into new pieces of his own design.  Rather than take a legitimate job designing electronics, he sells his own pieces which is comprised of stolen components.  Confronted by a police officer while robbing an electronics store, Basehart shoots and kills the cop which sets off a citywide manhunt.

Cinematographer John Alton gives the film his signature look with several scenes where he plays with light and shadow.  The film also reminded of The Third Man as the final chase takes places in the storm drains beneath Los Angeles.  Throughout the film, I kept expecting a scene with expository dialogue to explain Basehart's character's behavior but none was forthcoming.  The directors (Anthony Mann was uncredited) did a nice job escalating the tension as the police investigation close in on its pray.  A scene where the police position themselves for a raid on Basehart's bungalow was notable for its extended silence.  Told with the dispassion of a documentary (the plot was based on a true story), He Walked by Night dispensed with some of the more showy elements of film noir.  Jack Webb plays a police lab technician.  Apparently, it was on this film which Webb developed contacts with LAPD personnel which he would later use in developing Dragnet.

In a similar vein was Chinatown at Midnight.  Not as detached as He Walked by Night, this film told the story of a murderer who steals rare Asian art.  During one such robbery, he kills a young Chinese couple which unleashes the full investigative might of the SFPD.  Again, Chinatown does not shed much light on the reasons why the villain (Hurd Hatfield) murders but Hatfield does so with more evil flourish than Basehart in He Walked by Night.  Chinatown focuses more on the police investigation and more obvious in ratcheting up the tension.  Whereas He Walked by Night had a distinct look and feel, Chinatown feels like an overachieving B-film.

The Big Combo was also quite good although I saw it at Noir City a few years ago.  Richard Conte delivers a flashy performance while Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman play a pair of gay hit men.  In fact, there is a remarkable scene where Holliman says, in response to being offered a sandwich, "I couldn't swallow any more salami."  Then he later talks about living in a closet or something.  Beyond the scenes hinting at the sexuality of Messrs. Mingo and Fante,  The Big Combo is buoyed by the prolific John Alton's cinematography.  Standout sequences include a scene in total silence where the deaf McClure (Brian Donlevy) meets his demise and the finale set in dark airplane hangar featuring a spotlight on Conte.

I also saw Edge of Doom at Noir City a few years ago. The film features an outstanding performance by Farley Granger as a troubled youth who kills a priest.  Dana Andrews gives an understated performance as the patient priest who ministers to his impoverished congregation.  The film is as much a social commentary as a film noir.

Killer's Kiss was an early Stanley Kubrick film about a glass jawed prize fighter, a world weary taxi dancer and their difficult romance.  The climax featured an extended fight sequence in a mannequin warehouse which reminded of another film that I can't quite identify.  The film also has some great shots of old Penn Station in New York.  One of Kubrick's lesser works, Killer's Kiss is more valuable for what it portends for Kubrick later films.

Such A Pretty Little Beach was a French film that felt like an Albert Camus novel.  Bleak and elliptical, this existential noir was quintessentially French.

Guns, Girls and Gangsters is a caper film featuring Mamie Van Doren.  I had never seen her in a film.  She was a passable singer (perhaps her singing voice was dubbed).  Her voice and physique reminded of Jane Russell.  Most of the film follows the meticulous planning of an armored car robbery which is jeopardized by the appearance of Van Doren's psychotic husband, Lee Van Cleef.  Mainly a vehicle to showcase Van Doren's various talents, Guns, Girls and Gangsters was a mediocre film which more or less formed the cut line of films I enjoyed at the series.

The Devil's Henchman, Hollow Triumph, Storm over Lisbon, When Strangers Marry and Inside Detroit held some of my interest but I could easily have skipped them in hindsight.  I had seen Hollow Triumph before and remembered enjoying it more.  I guess it's one of those films which doesn't hold up well to a multiple viewings.

My favorite noir films usually feature normal guys who are placed in difficult positions due to their own greed and a beautiful woman.  None of the films in the series really met that criteria.

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