[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!

[Noir City 5]

We learned a number of lessons at Noir City 5. We learned that it really is best for doctors not to get involved with patients, we learned that one twin is always evil, we learned about caffeine intake and anger management, and we learned what happens when felons don’t learn about Stop, Drop, and Roll. See? Film can be very educational.

I love the series for the films, of course, but also for Eddie Muller’s introductions. The world of classic noir intersects with the creative challenges of the Hays Code, the personal and professional tragedies of the Hollywood blacklist, and the current race against time that is film preservation, and Muller does a fantastic job of bringing that all to us.

The series brings me back to the good bits of junior high: watching commercial-free black-and-whites on AMC in the early 90s, with introductions by Nick Clooney & Bob Dorian. Looking at my life now, they have a lot to answer for!

I made it to thirteen of the fourteen features, which is a new record for me. My favorite feature this year, unsurprisingly enough, was Don’t Bother to Knock, starring Marilyn Monroe as a babysitter with a tenuous grasp on reality, and classic noir lead Richard Widmark as a pilot looking for a little distraction. Bonus: a gorgeous young Anne Bancroft (in her first film role!) as the lounge singer who’s just dumped Widmark.

All of the action takes place within a hotel, and more-or-less in real time, both of which add to the terrifically claustrophobic noir feel. It’s available on DVD, and is one of the better introductions to noir from this year’s series.

Other notable features:

* Angel Face, with Robert Mitchum as the ambulance driver-turned-chauffeur who gets caught in Jean Simmons’ web.

* High Wall, where Audrey Totter is a doctor convinced of Robert Taylor’s innocence and commits several ethical violations to prove it.

* Loophole, your classic story of an average-Joe getting caught up in the underworld; in this case, being framed for a bank robbery. Other viewers seemed frustrated by a lot of bad decisions he made, but it made sense to me. When you don’t have a devious mind yourself, it’s hard to anticipate what folks with devious minds will do.

* The Dark Mirror, featuring brilliant performances from Olivia de Havilland as the sisters, some unfortunate pop psychology, and a few more ethical violations; and Among the Living, which is an entertaining (granted, ridiculous) flick featuring bloodthirsty villager-types in what might easily be Brooklyn or Queens, and a barely legal Susan Hayward setting her cap for the murderous twin. Of course.

I already can’t wait for next year, fourth row center with my Americano from Caffe Zingaro. Bring it on.