Poster by Bill Selby, courtesy of the Film Noir Foundation.
The 18th Annual Noir City: Hollywood at the Egyptian Theatre just concluded after another successful run, focusing on the moral quagmires or despicable decisions of many an ethically challenged character. Duplicitous dames and shady shysters throughout the films attempt to manipulate the system for their own selfish ends, taking a walk on the dark side of the street. Most of these films have never been released on DVD, making seeing them on the big screen a rare delight.
Opening night Friday, April 15, 2016 started off with the powerful Argentinian film “The Broken Stems,” (“Los Tallos Amargos,” 1956), featuring outstanding cinematography by Ricardo Younis and an inventive score by the talented Astor Piazzolla. An insecure newspaper reporter joins a somewhat innocent sounding correspondence school scam, gradually giving way to paranoia and suspicion, leading to darkly ironic and tragic results.
‘Los Tallos Amargos’
The second half of the double bill that night, “Riff Raff” (1947) a solid “B” picture, starred Pat O’Brien as an American do anything guide in a South American country who finds himself involved in a scheme involving a mystery map, a missing agent, and international intrigue. A little dopey, it has some snappy, some hilarious dialogue between O’Brien and Anne Jeffreys, along with a wonderful opening sequence straight out of a silent picture, which perfectly and dramatically sets up the story.
Saturday, April 16 featured two Universal films screened with two newly struck 35mm prints. “All My Sons” (1948), a powerful adaptation of Arthur Miller’s play. Sins of the past come back to haunt scheming businessman Edward G. Robinson when his son, played by Burt Lancaster, becomes engaged to his former partner, convicted for the crime. The film features strong performances by Howard Duff, Harry Morgan, and the two main stars, and its duplicitous dealings foreshadow the actions of many stool pigeons during the Black List.
In the second somewhat lighthearted noir film “Take One False Step,” (1949) William Powell plays a married college professor who becomes reacquainted with former wartime fling Shelley Winters, who disappears through mysterious circumstances. Winters plays her usual sensual noir slut, while Powell plays a variation of a somewhat more subdued Nick Charles, with comic performances by Sheldon Leonard and James Gleason as the officers investigating the case. The film shows shots of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, the old Beverly Hills Post Office (now the Wallis Annenberg Theatre), and BH City Hall, along with stock shots of San Francisco.
Films Sunday, April 17, both directed by Julien Duvivier, were originally intended as one anthology film of supernatural atmosphere a la the later “Twilight Zone,” but were instead separated into two. “Flesh and Fantasy” (1943) featured striking performances by such performers as Charles Boyer, Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Cummings, and Thomas Mitchell with exceptional lensing by Paul Ivano and Stanley Cortez, drenching the film in atmosphere.
“Destiny” (1944), originally intended as the opening sequence to “Flesh and Fantasy” was padded with extra scenes directed by Reginald Le Borg about two criminals who hide out in the aptly named Paradise Valley, with the townspeople so nice the crooks decide to rob them blind.
A lobby card for “Side Street,” listed on EBay as Buy It Now at $89.99.
The Monday, April 18 films featured early work by director Anthony Mann and focused on shady dealings on the mean streets of New York. “Side Street” (1949) featured moving acting and incredible cinematography by including some gorgeous geometric overhead shots of a car chase through the cramped Wall Street area. Farley Granger plays a struggling, naive postman who stumbles into a potential financial windfall when he swipes a satchel from the office of a shady mob attorney. When he tries to return it, he finds himself pursued by both the police and crooks. Great New York locations and lighting.
Following it was the easygoing Paramount “B” picture “Dr. Broadway” (1942), with MacDonald Carey as savvy Dr. Timothy Kane, part of the shady world of petty criminals. With the help of his sexy receptionist Connie, he searches through the Great White Way’s dark shadows to return an inheritance to the daughter of a felon he sent up the river. With fun, scene chewing performances by the like of Eduardo Ciannelli, J. Carroll Naish, and Warren Hymer, the film also features the interior of the Lasky-DeMille Barn as a gym in one scene.
Tuesday night’s films saluted Joseph Pevney, both as director and actor. The 1952 Universal “Flesh and Fury” featured a knockout performance by Tony Curtis as a naive, deaf boxer manipulated by the mercenary blonde Jan Sterling, with appearances by Harry Guardino, Wallace Ford, and Mona Freeman. Very stylistic cinematography and realistic boxing choreography enhanced the film.
Richard Basehart starred in former silent film actor turned director Crane Wilbur’s 1950 “Outside the Wall,” shot on location at a forbidding looking historic Philadelphia prison. It shows the difficulties encountered by pardoned convict Basehart after his release from the big house. Taking a job at a secluded sanitarium, he encounters dying crook John Hoyt, opportunistic nurse Marilyn Maxwell, Hoyt’s greedy ex-wife Signe Hasso, and a oily crew of crooks including Harry Morgan.
A still of Shelley Winters and Frank Sinatra in “Meet Danny Wilson,” listed on EBay as Buy It Now for $7.99.
The Wednesday, April 20 films focused on musicians trying to survive in the often slimy music scene. “Meet Danny Wilson” (1952) starred Frank Sinatra as a down-on-his-luck, hot-tempered singer trying to revive his career, aided by slinky Shelley Winters and threatened by heavy Raymond Burr. Not on DVD, the film features an excellent, overlooked performance by Sinatra in a noir-stained musical.
In its double feature, with “Young Man With a Horn,” Kirk Douglas plays a troubled trumpeter inspired by the life of jazzman Bix Beiderbecke, torn between the attentions of mighty Lauren Bacall and sympathetic Doris Day. Director Michael Curtiz brings pizazz to the film, with excellent performances by Hoagy Carmichael and Juano Hernandez, and dubbing by Harry James.
Thursday night’s double feature focused on women’s characters for a change, from sensitive love story to a film that throws just about every film noir trope at the screen. In “Deep Valley” (1947), which shot at Big Bear Lake and Palos Verdes, sensitive, shy Ida Lupino falls in love with escaped convict Dane Clark on her unloving parents’ rural farm, with strong performances by Fay Bainter and Henry Hull as the unkind parents.
Virginia Mayo stars in the curiously titled “Flaxy Martin,” the second film of the evening, filled with plot twists and double-crosses. The film shows nightclub chanteuse Mayo framing attorney Zachary Scott for mob head Douglas Kennedy. The film includes the knife wielding Elisha Cook Jr., mousy librarian Dorothy Malone, detectives Douglas Fowley and Monte Blue and a plethora of small bits by Creighton Hale, Fred Kelsey, Leo White, and Philo McCullough.
Friday night’s films examine two men on a quest to solve murders and not get in over their heads. Humphrey Bogart sees his army buddy jump off the train rather than receive a Medal of Honor in “Dead Reckoning,” (1947) leading him to the steamy Gulf City and its sultry cabaret performer Lizabeth Scott. After discovering his friend burnt to a crisp and lying on a morgue slab, Bogie escapes possible death and the clutches of the obsessed Scott with the aid of film noir regulars George Chandler and Wallace Ford. “Dead Reckoning” drips with atmosphere, from the smoky nightclubs to the steamy spring nights.
John Beal stars in “B” to a T “Key Witness” (1947) as an inventor who throws a wild party after winning big at the track, but discovers the next day that a guest has mysteriously died. He assumes one man’s identity in his bid to stay one step ahead of both the law and a motley crew of miscreants. Such character actors as Douglas Fowley, Pat O’Malley, and Charles Trowbridge play bits.
A still of Bette Davis and Claude Rains in “Deception,” listed on EBay as Buy It Now for $9.99.
The penultimate night of the Film Noir Fest, Saturday, April 22 saluted actor Paul Henreid with a double bill of stories built around the theme of being careful what you wish for and starring characters floating in a world of cynicism and duplicity. Saturday’s first film “Deception” (1946) featured the high gloss of Warner Bros. looking at the ugly realities of the back stabbing classical music world. World class cellist and concentration camp survivor Henreid is miraculously reunited with his former love, pianist Bette Davis after a concert in New York. They quickly marry, earning the wrath of celebrity composer Claude Rains, Davis’ usurped lover, as talented manipulating emotions as conducting them. Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s lushly dramatic score sweeps the story along, overcoming great scene-chewing by the renowned trio, particularly a scene stealing Rains. Typical high end Warners gloss with a dash of revenge murder thrown in.
Henreid produced and starred in the cheap Eagle-Lion film “Hollow Triumph,” a clever and gorgeously shot “B” with performances by such performers as John Qualen and a none-too successful photo processor George Chandler. Dramatically shot with elegant compositions, the film shows too smart for his own good fugitive crook Henreid chased by a ruthless casino boss after a stickup. He runs into his near double, a successful psychiatrist, and decides to hide in plain sight with the help of cynical secretary Joan Bennett, who falls in love with him. There are two quick shots of LA, one from what looks like the Shakespeare bridge with a far off look at City Hall and another quick glimpse of it, and a dramatic chase scene filmed on the world’s most famous funicular, Angel’s Flight. Monika Henreid the actor’s daughter, answered Czar of Noir Eddie Muller’s questions before intermission.
Lizabeth Scott and Arthur Kennedy in “Too Late for Tears.”
For the last day of Noir City, what better than a triple bill of Noir? “Too Late For Tears” (1949) kicked off proceedings, with Lizabeth Scott determined to keep an ill-gotten satchel filled with cash, even if it means murder. Cold and manipulative to the core, she even outdoes typical film noir baddie Dan Duryea for nastiness. Arthur Kennedy plays her thoughtful husband, Don Defore is a glad-handing Army buddy. The film features great locations all around Los Angeles, including what is now MacArthur Park (formerly West Lake Park), Mulholland Highway, Hollywood Boulevard, and a drive past Grauman’s Chinese.
“The Captive City” came next, an intriguing docu-noir about organized crime infiltrating average cities, with John Forsythe as a dedicated newspaper editor investigating a devilish organized crime syndicate corrupting his small town with its influence. Sen. Estes Kefauver (leader of the national fight against organized crime) wraps up proceedings with an epilogue about what average citizens can do to stem the march of crime across the country. Lee Garmes shoots some atmospheric night shots, enhanced by a new deep focus lens. A young Martin Milner appears in the film as well.
“Buy Me That Town” (1941) concluded festivities, a pleasing “B” which oddly foreshadows the development of Las Vegas as a resort for retiring racketeers. Gangster Lloyd Nolan gets caught speeding in a peaceful little Connecticut town, leading him to turn it into a mobster paradise. Filled with Runyonesque humor, the film features appearances by such pleasing character actors as Edward Brophy, Albert Dekker, Warren Hymer, Charles Lane, and Sheldon Leonard.
A down and dirty 10 days straight this year, Noir City Hollywood highlighted devilish dames, shady shysters, menacing miscreants, and crime gone wrong with plenty of classic supporting actors along for the ride. Blackhearted fun at its best.