Wednesday, July 3, 2013

I Wake Up Dreaming 2013 - 99 44/100% Noir

I saw 17 films at I Wake Up Dreaming 2013 which was held at the Roxie from May 10 to 23.  I Wake Up Dreaming is programmer Elliot Lavine's spring event.  His late summer/autumn event is typically called Not Necessarily Noir.  The 2013 edition of I Wake Up Dreaming had the subtitle of "99 44/100% Noir."  I wonder how many people under the age of 50 picked up the Ivory soap slogan.

Of the 30 films on the program, I had seen 12 before including All Through the Night which I saw again during the 2013 festival.  The two films which I had not previously seen and did not watch during the festival were My Gun is Quick (1957) and The Tattooed Stranger.

The 17 films I saw during the festival were:

Blues in the Night starring Priscilla Lane, Richard Whorf, Betty Field, Jack Carson & Lloyd Nolan; with Elia Kazan & Howard DaSilva; directed by Anatole Litvak; (1941)
I Wake Up Screaming starring Victor Mature, Betty Grable, Carole Landis, Laird Cregar & Elisha Cook, Jr.; directed by H. Bruce Humberstone; (1941)
The Monster and the Girl starring Ellen Drew, Robert Paige, Paul Lukas & Joseph Calleia; directed by Stuart Heisler; (1941)
Fall Guy starring Leo Penn; with Elisha Cook, Jr.; directed by Reginald Le Borg; (1947)
Club Havana starring Tom Neal; directed by Edgar G. Umer; (1945)
Island of Doomed Men starring Peter Lorre, Rochelle Hudson & Robert Wilcox; directed by Charles Barton; (1940)
Nightmare starring Diana Barrymore & Brian Donlevy; directed by Tim Whelan; (1942)
All Through the Night starring Humphrey Bogart; with Kaaren Verne, Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt, William Demarest, Jackie Gleason & Phil Silvers; directed by Vincent Sherman; (1942)
Bewitched starring Phyllis Thaxter; directed by Arch Oboler; (1945)
Five  starring William Phipps, Susan Douglas, James Anderson, Charles Lampkin & Earl Lee; directed by Arch Oboler; (1951)
All Night Long starring Patrick McGoohan, Marti Stevens, Paul Harris & Richard Attenborough; directed by Basil Dearden; (1961)
Autumn Leaves starring Joan Crawford & Cliff Robertson; with Vera Miles & Lorne Greene; directed by Robert Aldrich; (1956)
Killer at Large starring Robert Lowery; directed by William Beaudine; (1947)
Key Witness starring John Beal; directed by D. Ross Lederman; (1947)
Bluebeard's Ten Honeymoons starring George Sanders; directed by W. Lee Wilder; (1960)
Death of a Scoundrel starring George Sanders, Yvonne De Carlo & Zsa Zsa Gabor; directed by Charles Martin; (1956)
The Crooked Way starring John Payne; directed by Robert Florey; (1949)


Although I enjoyed several of the films, overall I was slightly disappointed with the program.  Granted, I missed two films in the program which are among the all-time great noir films - Sweet Smell of Success and Criss Cross.

The best double feature was a George Sanders' pair on the penultimate night.  Bluebeard's Ten Honeymoons was a dark comedy which reminded me of Sweeney Todd with a dash Hitchcock cheekiness.  Sanders plays a used furniture dealer who is in love with a chanteuse.  Unfortunately for him, she has expensive tastes and monogamy is not exactly her strong suit.  One thing leads to another and Sanders ends up a killing series of women whom he is romancing.  Now that sounds very harsh but director W. Lee Wilder handles it with a deft touch.  Sanders is very frugal and keeps track of all his costs in a little ledger.  When he buys train tickets to take his victim to his country cottage, he saves money by only buying her a one-way ticket.  How does he dispose of the bodies?  Fortunately, his cottage has a large stove that custom built to cook large game animals.  A better man would be offended but the film tickled my admittedly perverse funny bone.

Whereas Bluebeard's Ten Honeymoons was a fun little film, Sanders strives for the epic in Death of a Scoundrel.  Oddly, Sanders with his RP accent plays Sabourin, a Czech refugee in New York by way of South America.  Having survived a Nazi concentration camp, Sabourin calls on his brother only discover he has married his true love.  Undeterred, he sells his brother out to the police in exchange for passage to New York.  Once in NYC, he spots Yvonne DeCarlo pulling a scam.  Seeing a chance to scam the scammer, he steals her stolen loot.  For his trouble, he gets shot but that leads to better things. The back alley doctor tips him off to penicillin which he promptly buys on the stock market.  With his insider tip, he makes friends with the wealthy Mrs. Ryan (Zsa Zsa Gabor).  Eventually, Sabourin sets up a company and parlays unscrupulous and fraudulent deals to great wealth.  Juggling amorous intentions towards Mrs. Ryan, her secretary cum actress, his sister-in-law, Sabourin is a scoundrel in every sense of the word.  Only DeCarlo understands and even appreciates his flaws and strengths.  Sanders is magnificent in the role.  His performance is even more incredible given that Sanders and Zsa Zsa Gabor were less than 2 years divorced in real life at the time of the filming.

About 15 years after making Death of a Scoundrel, Sanders married (and divorced) a second Gabor sister (Magda).  If he hadn't committed suicide in 1972, Sanders might have been able to pull off the Hungarian Hat Trick given his apparent partiality towards the Gabor sisters and their collective propensity for marriage.  Magda, Zsa Zsa and Eva had something on the order of 20 marriages between them.


I Wake Up Screaming features one of the iconic images in film noir:  Victor Mature standing with the shadow of an elevator cage partially obscuring his face (see program below).  The film was quite good but not in the pantheon of noir.  Victor Mature is a Broadway producer who "helps" young actresses.  Together with newspaper columnist Allyn Joslyn and Broadway actor Alan Mowbray, the three seem to make sport of building up the next big thing.  Carole Landis is a waitress who is the latest object of the trio's attention.  However, she ends up dead and creepy cop Laird Cregar thinks Mature is the prime suspect.  Betty Grable shows up as Landis' sister who develops an unusual attraction to Mature, who was in love with her sister and is the prime suspect in her murder.  Elisha Cook, Jr. is the front desk worker at the apartment building where Landis & Grable live.  Most memorable for Cregar's menacing performance, I Wake Up Screaming is a solid film.

Autumn Leaves was paired with Female on the Beach which I saw at the 2011 edition of Not Necessarily Noir.  Both films feature Joan Crawford as vulnerable woman.  In Autumn Leaves, she is a lonely spinster who is won over by Cliff Robertson.  At least they acknowledge the age difference in the film.  Crawford was 20 years older than Robertson.  Interestingly, Lorne Greene played Robertson father despite only being 8 years older than Robertson.  In true noir fashion, Robertson's Burt turns out to have serious psychological issues and Vera Miles shows up claiming to be his ex-wife.  Crawford's Millie has a strong nurturing streak due to childhood trauma.  Desperate to personally care for her husband, Millie rejects all entreaties that she commit Burt to a mental sanatorium.  As you see, Autumn Leaves is fairly melodramtic.  In addition, Crawford is vulnerable and I think she is at her best when she has a bitchy role.  We do get to watch Robertson chew up the scenery when he is in one of his fugue states.

Peter Lorre seems to be one of those actors whose presence elevates a film.  Such was the case with Island of Doomed Men.  Lorre plays the warden of an off-the-books private island prison which is kind of cross between Devil's Island and a slave plantation.  Lorre takes sadistic pleasure in lording over the prisoners and his beautiful but captive wife.  A G-man goes undercover to break up the racket but needs the help of the wife.  Lorre is the best thing about the film and makes it worthwhile.

The final film of the festival was The Crooked Way, another amnesia film.  John Payne is a soldier convalescing (at Letterman Hospital in the Presidio) after WWII.  Permanently unable to regain his memory, his doctor decides to send him back home to Los Angeles where familiar surrounding may help him adjust.  What doctor & patient are unaware of is that he is a former gangster who joined the army under an alias and his return stirs up old feuds with the cops, other gangsters and his ex-wife.  It's a run-of-the-mill plot with above average performances.  Sonny Tufts as the gang boss and Rhys Williams as the hard-nosed cop stand out among the cast.


I had never heard of Arch Oboler before this festival.  Lavine programmed a Oboler double bill one night.  Bewitched was about a young woman who "hears voices in her head" and whose fiancé ends up murdered.  Technically, she only hears once voice but that's enough to lead to multiple homicides.  It was a nice try but ultimately the film fell flat.  Phyllis Thaxter gives it her all as the lead character.

Five was more interesting for me.  The premise is that a nuclear holocaust has killed everyone in the world except for five people.  Interestingly, the buildings are still standing and the nuclear fallout doesn't seem to be particularly fatal.  Even more amazing is that these five people find each other but contrived situations and incredible coincidences are part and parcel of cinema.

Anyway, the five consist of Roseanne (Susan Douglas), a woman who turns out to be pregnant.  She goes to take refuge at her aunt's remote home only to discover her aunt is missing and man is living there.  His name is Michael (William Phipps) and  I believe he was an architect.  Later, two men drive down the deserted road near the house.  The younger man is Charles (Charles Lampkin), an African American who worked at a bank.  The older man is Oliver (Earl Lee) and also worked at the same bank.  The four of them survived due to chance - Roseanne was in lead lined X-ray room, Oliver & Charles were accidentally locked in the bank vault and Michael was in an elevator in Empire State Building.  Wouldn't the EMP knock out the elevator?  As Oliver shows signs of radiation poisoning, they take him to the beach to recuperate where they meet the fifth survivor.  Eric (James Anderson) is a mountain climber was trapped at the top of Mt. Everest at the time of the nuclear detonation.  After the blizzard passed, Eric flew back to the US (despite having a French accent) where his plane ran out of fuel just off the coast.

With the quintet set, we see societal ills played out in a microcosm.  Eric brings discord to the group.  He and Michael both have romantic intentions towards Roseanne.  He is also a racist which causes tension between him & Charles.  His greed and selfishness causes problems for the small group (by this point, Oliver has died of his illness).  From a rational perspective, Eric's behavior is counterproductive.  Everyone knows that all three of the men should impregnate Roseanne to created the large gene pool but I guess that would be a little risque for 1951.  Eric's desire to go to the city and "steal" jewelry and money is ridiculous in a post-apocalyptic world as is his destruction of the crops Michael & Charles have cultivated.  Human foolishness knows no bounds.  The film was a little predictable and pedantic but interesting nonetheless.


Lavine appears to have an affinity for the obscure and B-films.  Sometimes this results in unearthing hidden gems.  Other times, I feel as though these films were obscure for a reason.  I wouldn't say the films were "bad" but they were largely forgettable.

As I scan the list of films I saw, I cannot recall the full plot for many of them.  A scene or two is as much as I can remember per film.

Blues in the Night - a jaxx band gets mixed up gangsters at a roadhouse.  Jack Carson played the trumpeter, Elia Kazan played some instrument.

The Monster and the Girl - a human brain in a gorilla; enough said.

Fall Guy - a guy has no memory of the previous night but he is covered in blood and a woman is dead.

Club Havana - a large cast and multiple subplots set in a nightclub.  There was a shootout in the parking at the end.

Nightmare - Brian Donlevy breaks into a house and makes himself some fried eggs.  A woman in the house confronts him and the next thing you know, they rooting out Nazi spies in wartime England.  There were explosives in marked bottles of wine or some liquor.

Key Witness - a guy has no memory of the previous night but he is covered in blood and a woman is dead.  Sounds like Fall Guy, eh?  I liked this one more because the guy goes on the lam and eventually switches identities with a dead man whose face is disfigured.  It turns out the dead man is the estranged son of a wealthy industrialist.  The older man has not seen his son since he was boy so he doesn't recognize the man claiming to be his son.  Actually, now that I started writing I think I liked Key Witness more than the other films in this section.  The man's achieves success as the rich man's son which brings him to the attention of his wife who has assumed he was dead.  The ending was pure hokum but it was fun ride until that point.

Killer at Large - two newspaper reporters (one male & one female) investigate the murder (suspicious suicide) of a city leader.  Eventually, the trail leads back to the female reporter's father.

All Night Long - I forgot I saw this at the 2009 I Wake Up Dreaming.   A retelling of Shakespeare's Othello set in a London jazz club in the early 1960s.  An impressive array of jazz musicians appear as themselves over a long night at the club. Patrick McGoohan's performance stood out.  He always seems to stand out from the cast.


All that is left is All Through the Night.  About as noirish as a Bowery Boys film, the film is essentially a screwball comedy.  It was embarrassing to see Humphrey Bogart ham it up and sprout gibberish.  I guess I've typecast Bogie but he seemed to want to have it both way - part tough guy, part comedian.  Growing bored with the film about halfway, I wondered how Bogie & Gleason got along.  Gleason was infamous for his all night parties and the prodigious amounts of money & alcohol he consumed.

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