Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Noir City 2018

This flu noir has kept me in the shadows so far this year, but there’s enough strength—not to mention gumption—left to urge you all to attend the 2018 Noir City Festival at San Francisco’s magnificent Castro Theatre. As always, it’s produced by the Film Noir Foundation (Eddie Muller, founder and president), and includes bar service in the upstairs lobby by Stookey’s Club Moderne.

As before, time and distance will also keep me from attending the entire event. But it won’t keep me from pointing you to some films I know are worth seeing and pointing you to others that might be worth our while (if I can get out of bed).

I haven’t seen This Gun for Hire (Saturday afternoon, January 27) for years, but my memory of it is a good one. Adapted (and softened up and Americanized) from Graham Greene’s novel by Albert Maltz and crime fiction pioneer W.R. Burnett (Little Caesar), it tells the story of hitman Philip Raven and how he winds up a target due to sinister double-crossing by, among others, the amazing Laird Cregar, an actor gone much too soon. It also features Veronica Lake as the love interest, which will be of interest to gentlemen who prefer blondes and dig the peekaboo hairstyle.

A genuine classic—one of two this year--is on tap for that same Saturday evening with Shadow of a Doubt, one in the long long line of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpieces. (Can any of you point to a single specific Hitchcock film as “his best?” Not me.) That Hitchcock considered this a personal favorite should be enough. I’ll add, in addition to mesmerizing work by Joseph Cotten as “Uncle Charley” (maybe his best role) and winsome Teresa Wright as his adoring niece (also named Charlie) there’s a bright seam of wit and humor revealed by the supporting cast featuring Hume Cronyn, Henry Travers, and an actress named Edna May Wonacott as Wright’s uproariously pedantic little sister. If you haven’t seen this . . . I mean really….

The following Monday January 29, features Conflict which I recall as a solid entertaining thriller with Bogart wearing the black hat as a wife murderer.

The following night, Tuesday, January 30) features The Blue Dahlia, the only feature penned first to last by Raymond Chandler. Once again, Alan Ladd and Veronica Ladd are teamed, accompanied by an excellent William Bendix and Howard daSilva. Censorship pressures at the time led to a fudged ending, but it’s still a good noir.

I Walk Alone (1948) will be shown Thursday night, February 1. Though declared a “lost” film, I recall it being broadcast on network television sometime during the 1970s and I caught up with during the 1990s, so how lost it was I can’t say. Lost or not, I recall it to be a pretty good noir thriller, with shades of Out of the Past. Burt Lancaster as an ex-con and Kirk Douglas, as his cheating ex-partner, face off over loot and Lizabeth Scott, as a torch singer. Lancaster vs Douglas? That’s two kegs of dynamite slammed together.

From there, there’s a big gap of unknowns until closing night with the other forty-carat classic, The Big Heat. Now, I am of the firm opinion that none of director Fritz Lang’s Hollywood films really hold a candle to his monumental German classics. But The Big Heat does stand among the finest of his later years.  Everything with Gloria Grahame and Lee Marvin is terrific. You may squirm a little at the domestic moments, but once those are blasted out of the way, the film turns cruel and relentless, as does Glenn Ford, a fine actor in an excellent role. It may well be the cruelest and most savage of all noirs.

Among those I haven’t seen, but wish and hope I can is Among the Living, with its shades of Jane Eyre; Flesh and Fantasy and Destiny two films that were once portmanteaud together before being split in two; both are said to contain shades of the supernatural, always a draw for me.

And any movie where Charles McGraw gets to play a lead, which seldom happened, is a must for his fans, as will happen with The Threat, where he plays an escaped con out for revenge. No doubt his enemies will be very sorry by the time he’s done with ‘em—if they live long enough.

The Who Pulled a Knife on Jerry Seinfeld

And, finally, there are three reasons to see Bodyguard: one: it’s a very early screen story co-credited to Robert Altman; two, it’s directed by a most excellent craftsman, Richard Fleischer. And three: will the notorious, most unnerving Lawrence Tierney finally lose it and destroy everything in sight? I can see the klieg lights coming loose as the crew flees in screaming terror.

Have a great time! Maybe I’ll see some of you at Stookey’s upstairs!

[This one is dedicated to the late Carrie Galbraith, a friend when needed long ago.]

Copyright 2017 by Thomas Burchfield

Photo by author

Thomas Burchfield’s Butchertown, a ripping, 1920s gangster shoot-‘em-up  novel is now out! His contemporary Dracula novel Dragon's Ark won the IPPY, NIEA, and Halloween Book Festival awards for horror in 2012. He’s also author of the original screenplays Whackers, The Uglies, Now Speaks the Devil and Dracula: Endless Night (e-book editions only). Published by Ambler House Publishing, all are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  Powell's Books, and other retailers. His reviews have appeared in Bright Lights Film Journal and The Strand and he recently published a two-part look at the life and career of the great film villain (and spaghetti western star) Lee Van Cleef in Filmfax. He lives in Northern California with his wife, Elizabeth.

No comments: