[Noir City 2012: The Stuff Bad Dreams Are Made Of]

At the 2006 film festival I saw a gorgeous new 35mm print of The Window, introduced by Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation. One could draw a straight line from that screening to last week, where I spent every day at SIFF at the Uptown, watching 13 of the 14 films in the 2012 Noir City lineup. noir foundation mug

The best night was Sunday, and not just because we all got to feel superior for coming out to noir instead of watching the Oscars. It kicked off with The Great Gatsby, an adaptation I didn’t even know existed until the Noir City schedule came out. It’s quite a treat, starring Alan Ladd as Gatsby. Is it noir? Well, it does include the perfect casting of Shelley Winters as Myrtle. And any film with Elisha Cook Jr has at least a little noir going on.

I’m looking forward to the Baz Luhrmann Gatsby later this year, mostly because I think Carey Mulligan as Daisy will be worth the price of admission & Joel Edgerton as Tom sounds interesting, but Ladd was a fantastic Gatsby. Leo has a lot to live up to.

It was followed by Three Strangers, which was the biggest surprise of the series for me. I can’t say it enough: Peter Lorre as a romantic lead! Amazing!

Geraldine Fitzgerald, rocking some seriously crazy eyes, has obtained the statue of a Chinese goddess which will, if you follow the rules, grant a wish to the three strangers of the title. Fitzgerald recruits Lorre & Sydney Greenstreet to make the wish with her, and of course nothing goes according to plan. It’s quite a character study & a commentary on fate. It’s not available on VHS or DVD, but if you have TCM it pops up there from time to time. Recommended!

Perhaps the most unlikely evening was the double feature of so-called “comedy noir”. The first pick was Unfaithfully Yours, which about five minutes in I realized I had seen before, but never in the theater.

It’s a Preston Sturges film, starring Rex Harrison as a symphony conductor who believes his wife has been stepping out on him. Structurally it’s pretty interesting; a large portion of the film is made up of fantasy sequences. More importantly: it’s hilarious. Also, it’s available on DVD, so you can check it out!

The second film that night was The Good Humor Man, which was basically film noir by way of Looney Tunes. It has the bones of a straight-up noir picture: an everyman encounters the femme fatale who poses as a damsel in distress and lures him into the underworld. However, this is the first noir I’ve seen where the final shoot-out includes cream pies. It was a tad too golly-gee slapstick for my personal taste, but I can definitely appreciate it as an exercise in stretching the definition of noir.

Other highlights included Thieves’ Highway (available on Criterion), Laura (a classic, and definitely fun to see again), Naked Alibi (for Gloria Grahame), & Pickup (a solid B picture with Beverly Michaels as a helluva dame & writer/director/producer Hugo Haas as the utterly sympathetic Czech immigrant she’s trying to scam).

What were your favorites? I’m already looking forward to next year!

[DVD through March]

* First off, did I forget to post about For the Bible Tells Me So? I am thinking I did! Fail. Every year at the film festival there are movies I hear about in line, but never manage to see. For the Bible Tells Me So was 07’s, and now I understand why. I’ve seen a lot of queer-themed documentaries, and even a few others on gays-and-religion, but this one was easily the best. American-focused, of course.

* On a recommendation from a friend, I queued Shackleton, the story of the 1914 trip of the Endurance to the South Pole. Beautifully filmed & acted. It is long, yes, but I thought it was well-paced. I have to admit I was particularly taken with all the scenes including the men singing, showing how they passed the time at sea. Also, I have to give a shout-out to Matt Day who played the photographer Frank Hurley. He’s in one of my favorite comfort movies, the criminally underrated Love and Other Catastrophes (which seriously needs to come out on DVD soon, before my VHS wears out.) Oh! It was also neat to see it after going to the Maritime Museum in Greenwich this summer — they have the replica of the James Caird used in the film.

* The Lion in Winter was utterly delicious. I’m just sorry that there wasn’t a revival of it to pair with last winter’s big screen adventure with Becket.

* Kiss of Death was in my queue already after Noir City, but I bumped it to the top after the death of Richard Widmark in late March. It’s a solid enough noir on its own, but (as everyone knows) it’s Widmark’s portrayal of the villain Tommy Udo that makes it particularly worth seeing.

* The week after Widmark passed, his Night and the City director Jules Dassin died, so Rififi moved on up the queue. I wrote a bit about Dassin on the ephemeral blog already, but in between the two films, he was blacklisted, which is why Rififi was filmed in France. It’s *the* classic heist film, worth seeing for lots of things, but in particular for the heist itself, something like a half hour with no dialogue but an excellent score. Um. No pun intended. This is not a hijinks sort of heist movie. It’s very dark.

* The Best of Youth was a six hour Italian film, originally aired on television in four parts, and then as an edited version in the theater. I am a total sucker for any sort of epic family history piece, and this was beautiful and satisfying. Also, I might now have a bit of a crush on Luigi Lo Cascio.

* Toy Story, I realize, is sort of a random selection, but I’m in a group on Ravelry that’s working through the AFI Top 100. I actually hadn’t seen it in years, possibly not since shortly after it came out on video, and I was surprised to see how well it stands up. The animation is still strong (my favorite bits being the details like scuff marks at the bottom of doors), the story has a lot of great stuff going on, and probably the use of classic toys helps it feel all the more timeless. But the thing I noticed most about it this time around is that Andy’s is a single parent household. His mom cares for him & his sister, maintains a gorgeous home, plans his birthday and the family move, and there’s never a mention of a father. So cool!

[In theater part two: paid & old]

Being in Seattle, I also get to see Old Stuff on the Big Screen. It RULES.

The Prowler was part of this season’s Noir City festival. I enjoyed it a lot. It’s a corrupt cop story, and I particularly liked that I never knew where it was going, right up to the end. That happens less than you’d think.

It was a double feature with Gun Crazy (with a young Russ Tamblyn in the prologue!) A forerunner to Bonnie & Clyde, with two fantastic leads, and some really great camerawork for the time, particularly with the getaway scenes.

Another night of noir featured Richard Widmark in Night and the City and Road House, the first of which is pretty much the ultimate noir role, and the second of which was a rather strange movie but totally engaging.

Finally, Cinerama ran Lawrence of Arabia again, and how could I resist? The first time I saw it for the whole package, this time I saw it for the visuals. Maybe next time I’ll watch it for the dialogue. It was best not to do that this time, as the sound dropped out for a bit near the intermission. Fail, Cinerama, fail.