Sunday, December 23, 2012

2012 Noir City Xmas

Yesterday broke a streak of 34 consecutive days with a post on this blog.

On Wednesday, I went to the Castro to see Noir City Xmas.  I believe 2012 is the third year in which Noir City has held a December event to announce its upcoming schedule.  One year was a Deanna Durbin double feature and another year had Glenn Ford dressed as Santa Claus.

This year's double feature was:

Holiday Affair starring Robert Mitchum & Janet Leigh; directed by Don Hartman; (1949)
Lady in the Lake starring Robert Montgomery & Audrey Totter; directed by Montgomery; (1947)

The program also included a short film.

This is Christmas starring Colin R. Campbell & Maggie Saunders; directed by Alex Norris; (2009)

This is Christmas was an amusing film about a couple having a Christmas meal.  The wife is very adamant that her husband try the glazed parsnips.  For his part, the husband is a little insensitive towards his wife's efforts in preparing the meal.  The meal ends with a knife and a least, that's one potential ending.

As Czar of Noir Eddie Muller mentioned before the film, Holiday Affair is not noir at all.  It's a romantic comedy.  Janet Leigh (approximately age 22 and looking unrecognizable to me) is a widowed mother who makes her living as a comparison shopper.  Not familiar with the occupation, I did a little research and found that in the pre-internet days, retailers & market research firms would hire people to conduct research on prices, customer service and return policies.  If the film is to be believed, comparison shoppers could "outed" by department stores and subsequently be banned from all stores which would effectively end their career as a comparison shopper.  It's kind of like Las Vegas where casinos share information on suspected cheaters and card counters (not that I'm equating the two categories).

Any Janet Leigh's Connie buys a model train set from Bob Mitchum's Steve, a department store salesman.  Mitchum isn't very convincing as salesman but he puts on a game performance.  When Connie comes back to return the train set, Steve pegs her as a comparison shopper.  Rather than report her, he gives her a free pass...which results in him being fired from his job.

This leads to a series of encounters between Connie & Steve which doesn't sit well with Connie's lawyer boyfriend (Wendell Corey in a nice performance).  Although there is chemistry between Connie and Steve and Connie's young son Timmy (Gordon Gebert) openly favors Steve over Carl (Corey), Connie resists any notion of relationship.  Still recovering from the death of her husband, Connie as resisted Carl's marriage proposals for two years.  Only when her emotions are stirred to life by Steve does Connie accept Carl's marriage offer.

Full of contrived but amusing situations where the trio have to confront the awkwardness of their situation, Holiday Affair is a decent comedy.  Corey & Mitchum are noir stalwarts so the films seems miscast and off kilter but the lead actors do an adequate job with light comedy.

Lady in the Lake is memorable for its point-of-view camera angles.  With the exception of bookend shots of Robert Montgomery as Philip Marlowe, the entire film is told from Marlowe's point of view.  The actors face the camera as if the audience is Marlowe.  Occasionally, we see Montgomery in a mirror but otherwise, we only hear his voice.

Based on a Raymond Chandler story, the film is convoluted like many of his novels.  The ending left me scratching my head but Lady in the Lake is kept afloat by Audrey Totter's remarkable performance.  Looking more beautiful than I recall from previous films, Totter's Adrienne Fromsett runs the gamut from cold bitch to gold digger to femme fatale to adoring girlfriend.  She must have had a lot of fun with the character.

I won't even bother to recount the plot in detail - false identity, double murder and Marlowe gets beat up a lot.  If not for the POV camera angles, the film would be marginally memorable for Totter's performance.

Muller did mention there was a connection between the two films.  Lila Leeds who played the receptionist (giving Marlowe come hither looks throughout the film) was arrested with Bob Mitchum in 1948 for marijuana possession.  The arrest is infamous among Hollywood scandals.  The convictions were later overturned with the implication being the raid was a set up by LAPD.  Mitchum's career rebounded from the scandal but Leeds receded into obscurity.  Leeds would later make She Shoulda Said No!, a semi-biographical film based on Leeds' life including the marijuana bust.

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