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Noir City is Back at SIFF, February 24 through March 1

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Noir City is back at SIFF.

Hosted by the Seattle International Film Festival, Noir City, a popular series of, you guessed it, film noir, kicks off at SIFF Cinema at the Uptown on February 24 and runs through March 1. Subtitled The Stuff Bad Dreams are Made Of, the slate of films includes some classics, as well as a handful of lesser seen movies not even available on DVD.

$12 ($7 for SIFF members, $11 for seniors and the youth) gets you a double feature of noir gems. Or you can score a pass to the whole series for $60 ($35 for SIFF members—membership certainly has its privileges). That’s a lot of femme fatales, tough talking gents in fedoras, and dangerous double crosses.

Friday, February 24: San Francisco Noir

7:00pm: Thieves’ Highway

When returned war veteran Nick Garcos learns that his father, a Central Valley farmer, has been crippled in a trucking accident, he suspects that crooked producer broker Mike Figglia is responsible. He pools his loot with another wildcat trucker, Ed Kinney, to bring the season’s first load of Golden Delicious apples to San Francisco—and extract revenge. Figglia tries to distract him with the earthy charms of Rica, a refugee “working girl.” During one long night, Nick learns the value of life in the big city: “Two bits a box.” A masterpiece of proletariat noir, shot on-location in the city’s once-thriving Embarcadero produce district.

1949, 20th Century-Fox. 94 minutes, Screenplay by A. I. Bezzerides, from his novel Thieves’ Market. Produced by Robert Bassler. Directed by Jules Dassin. CAST: Richard Conte, Valentina Cortese, Lee J. Cobb, Millard Mitchell, Barbara Lawrence, Joe Pevney, Jack Oakie, Morris Carnovsky, Tamara Shayne, Hope Emerson

9:30pm: The House on Telegraph Hill

Concentration camp prisoner Victoria Kowelska longs to escape to America with her comrade Karin, but her dreams seem dashed when Karin dies. Despite a guilty conscious, Victoria assumes Karin’s identity and immigrates to San Francisco to start a new life. Upon arrival she meets the guardian of Karin’s son, Alan Spender, and romance blooms. With a fiancé, a “son,” and a luxurious mansion, San Francisco is a dream of comfort and security—that quickly becomes a nightmare. In this frying-pan-to-the-fire story, Valentina Cortesa sympathetically depicts Victoria’s quest to escape from the horrors of war only to encounter more subtle, yet equally perilous predators. Richard Basehart is the perfect balance of charming and sinister in the role of her new “protector.”

1951, 20th Century-Fox. 93 minutes. Screenplay by Elick Moll and Frank Partos, from a novel by Dana Lyon. Produced by Robert Bassler. Directed by Robert Wise. CAST: Richard Basehart , Valentina Cortesa, William Lundigan, Fay Baker, Gordon Gebert

Saturday, February 25: Classic Favorites

2:00pm and 7:00pm: Gilda, new 35mm print

Adrift in Argentina, gambler Johnny Farrell lucks out when he is hired as an aide-de-camp to sinister businessman Ballin Mundson. But his fortunes change when Mundson returns from a trip with a new wife: the spectacularly sexy Gilda—once the love of Johnny’s life. Their tempestuous relationship flares again, against a backdrop of bossa nova, shady spies, and edgy erotic undercurrents. Rita Hayworth created her “Love Goddess” legend in this tailor-made romantic drama, first of several fiery pairings with costar Glenn Ford. The film’s sexual symbolism slipped past censors (and most viewers) at the time; today the film is regarded as a prime example of a director “working around” the Production Code.

1946, Columbia. 110 minutes. Screenplay by Marion Parsonnet, from a story by by E.A. Ellington, as adapted by Jo Eisinger. Produced by Virginia Van Upp. Directed by Charles Vidor. CAST: Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, George Macready, Joseph Calleia, Steven Geray, Joe Sawyer, Gerald Mohr

4:30pm and 9:30pm: Laura, new 35mm print

Laura Hunt is dead, murdered. Detective Mark McPherson has a short list of suspects: her mentor, acerbic columnist Waldo Lydecker; her fiancé Shelby Carpenter, and Laura’s high society aunt, Ann Treadwell. Soon, the cop’s patient probing turns reckless—once he becomes infatuated with the victim. “McPherson, did it ever strike you that you’re acting very strangely?” Lydecker tells the lawman. “I don’t think they’ve ever had a patient who fell in love with a corpse.” Director Preminger and studio chief Daryl Zanuck battled throughout production, with writer Vera Caspary in the wings seething over revisions to the book. The result? A wildly popular hit, an Oscar for best cinematography, nominations for best actor (Clifton Webb), art direction, screenplay, and director—and enshrinement as a classic of American cinema.

1944, 20th Century-Fox. 88 minutes. Screenplay by Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, and Betty Reinhardt, from the novel by Vera Caspary. Produced and directed by Otto Preminger. CAST: Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson

Sunday, February 26: Rare Classics

2:00pm and 7:00pm: The Great Gatsby, new 35mm print, not on DVD

In this 1949 version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age classic, Jay Gatsby is front and center from the start (unlike the book, where at the outset he looms enigmatically); it’s not surprising considering Gatsby is played by Alan Ladd, Paramount’s biggest male star of the 1940s. Although the script hews to the novel: a romantic quadrangle between former lovers Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, Daisy’s husband Tom, and Tom’s mistress Myrtle (with Nick Carraway and Jordon Baker looking on), this noir-era adaptation delves into Gatsby’s gangster roots, mere hinted at in the book. The result is’40s postwar noir style crossed with the sentimental romance, material excess, and rising disillusionment of Fitzgerald’s Jazz Era elegy.

1949, Paramount Pictures. 91 minutes. Screenplay by Cyril Hume and Richard Maibaum from the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald and the play by Owen Davis. Produced by Richard Maibaum. Directed by Elliott Nugent. CAST: Alan Ladd, Betty Field, Macdonald Carey, Ruth Hussey, Barry Sullivan, Howard Da Silva, Shelley Winters, Henry Hull, Carole Mathews, Ed Begley, Elisha Cook, Jr., Nicholas Joy, Walter Greaza, Tito Vuolo

4:30pm and 9:30 pm: Three Strangers, newly preserved 35mm print, not on DVD

On the eve of Chinese New Year, Crystal Shackelford finds two strangers, Jerome K. Arbutny and Johnny West, to complete the trio she needs to make a wish to the mysterious Chinese idol, Kwan Yin. All three are desperate, so in Shackelford’s apartment, amidst eerie candlelight and the menacing presence of Kwan Yin, they wish for the money to solve their problems. Of course, in the world of noir … granted wishes have a way of going sour. The Maltese Falcon collaborators John Huston (co-screenwriter), Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre return to the theme of desperation and greed revolving around a cherished idol. Three Strangers was director Jean Negulesco’s third film costarring Greenstreet and Lorre, following The Mask of Dimitrios (1944) and The Conspirators (1944).

1946, Warner Bros. 92 minutes. Screenplay by John Huston and Howard Koch from a story by John Huston. Produced by Wolfgang Reinhardt. Directed by Jean Negulesco. CAST: Geraldine Fitzgerald, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Peter Whitney, Rosalind Ivan, Alan Napier, Joan Lorring, Robert Shayne, Clifford Brooke, John Alvin, Arthur Shields, Marjorie Riordon, Stanley Logan, Lumsden Hare

Monday, February 27: Proto-Noir Rarities

7:00pm: Okay America, not on DVD

Radio reporter Larry Wayne has built a huge audience for his nightly program “Okay, America” by dishing the dirt on everyone in Manhattan’s high- and low-life. It’s also left him detested by everyone, except his loyal, lovelorn secretary Shiela. When Larry is tipped about the kidnapping of an heiress whose father is best pals with the President, he decides he’s got sufficient juice to handle the whole investigation himself, pitting himself against gangsters Mileaway Russell and Duke Morgan as he manipulates both sides of the law in a caper that leads all the way to the White House. Clearly based on the legend of radio broadcaster Walter Winchell, this is a wildly entertaining Pre-Code exposé on the greasy relationship between politicians, organized crime, and the burgeoning American media.

1932, Universal. 78 minutes. Screenplay by William Anthony McGuire. Produced by Carl Laemmle, Jr. and Felix Young. Directed by Tay Garnett. CAST: Lew Ayres, Maureen O’Sullivan, Louis Calhern, Edward Arnold, Walter Catlett, Margaret Lindsey, Alan Dinehart, Henry Armetta, Emerson Treacy, Gilbert Emery, Virginia Howell, Frederick Burton

9:30pm: Afraid to Talk (aka Merry-Go-Round), not on DVD

When mobster Jig Skelli bumps off a hated rival in a hotel suite, the killing is witnessed by bellboy Eddie Martin. After being almost rubbed out himself, Eddie decides to report the murder to the authorities, only to discover that the district attorney, the assistant DA, and even the mayor are sewed up tight in Skelli’s vest pocket. Looking to tie a tailor-made bow of the murder, and protect their own interests, the authorities set up Eddie Martin himself as the perfect fall guy. A scathing, uncompromising, and still timely look at the corruption inherent in American big city politics, featuring startlingly good direction from Edward L. Cahn, exceptional camerawork from Karl Freund, and indelible performances from a vast and colorful cast headed by Eric Linden, Louis Calhern and Edward Arnold.

1932, Universal, 69 minutes. Screenplay by Albert Maltz and George Sklar, based on their stage play. Produced by Carl Laemmle Jr. Directed by Edward L. Cahn. CAST: Eric Linden, Sidney Fox, Louis Calhern, Edward Arnold, Tully Marshall, George Meeker, Robert Warwick, Berton Churchill, Mayo Methot

Tuesday, February 28: A Night of Comedy Noir

7:00pm: Unfaithfully Yours

As noir swept over late ’40s Hollywood, Preston Sturges created the first full-length parody of the style with this mordantly hilarious tale. Maestro Alfred De Carter suspects his wife of infidelity. While conducting a symphony, he imagines different deadly ways of dealing with the situation. Once the concert is over, he tries acting out his fantasies, only to learn that jealous rage can make a fool of anyone. Turning The Postman Always Rings Twice into an uproarious comedy takes but a few tweaks and twists for a genuine auteur as brilliant as Preston Sturges, who’d originally developed the idea in 1932, calling it Symphony Story. It was roundly rejected by the studios, but with the noir explosion of the late ’40s, the time was finally right.

1948, 20th Century-Fox. 105 minutes. Written, produced, and directed by Preston Sturges. CAST: Rex Harrison, Linda Darnell, Rudy Vallee, Barbara Lawrence, Kurt Kreuger, Lionel Stander, Edgar Kennedy, Julius Tannen, Torben Meyer

9:30pm: The Good Humor Man, not on DVD

Biff Jones, a driver for the Good Humor ice-cream company, is a simple guy who wants to marry his sweetheart Margie and support her little brother, Johnny. But things go awry when he tries to protect gorgeous Bonnie Conroy from gangsters. When she is found murdered, Biff becomes the prime suspect. It’s a race against time as he and Johnny—and the members of the Captain Marvel Fan Club—try to nab the real culprit. It’s a typical “wrong man” thriller scenario from ace crime scribe Roy (The Fugitive) Huggins—except the final screenplay is by comedy genius Frank Tashlin, whose hilariously inspired high-jinks play havoc with film noir conventions.

1950, Columbia. 80 minutes. Screenplay by Frank Tashlin, from the story “Appointment with Fear” by Roy Huggins. Produced by S. Sylvan Simon. Directed by Lloyd Bacon. CAST: Jack Carson, Lola Albright, Jean Wallace, George Reeves, Peter Miles, Frank Ferguson, David Sharpe, Chick Collins, Eddie Parker

Wednesday, February 29: Double-Barreled Tribute to Samuel Fuller

7:00pm: House of Bamboo, new 35mm print

A cutthroat gang of American ex-GIs is robbing munitions trains in Japan, led by the ruthlessly efficient Sandy Dawson, who’d rather kill a wounded henchman than leave behind a “squealer.” Military investigator Eddie Spanier arrives undercover in Tokyo and with the help of Mariko, the secret Japanese wife of a murdered American gangster, infiltrates Dawson’s gang and earns the big man’s trust—until the truth starts seeping out. Fuller’s shot-on-location re-do of 1948’s The Street With No Name is a visual spectacle, with stunning Deluxe Color and Cinemascope giving extra dimension to the director’s singular, no-holds-barred style.

1955, 20th Century–Fox. 104 minutes. Screenplay by Harry Kleiner, with additional dialogue by Samuel Fuller. Produced by Buddy Adler. Directed by Samuel Fuller. CAST: Robert Ryan, Robert Stack, Shirley Yamaguchi, Cameron Mitchell, Brad Dexter, Sessue Hayakawa, Biff Elliott

9:30pm: Underworld USA

Young Tolly Devlin is the lone witness when a trio of hoodlums kill his father. As an adult ex-con, Devlin dedicates himself to avenging the murder. After saving the life of a female drug courier he uses her to gain access to the crime syndicate. When the FBI offers Devlin a deal as an informant, he strings the law along while hatching a scheme to hunt down his father’s killers and eliminate them. Revenge proves so sweet, however, that Devlin doesn’t know when to stop. … One of Fuller’s punchiest smash-mouth crime dramas, Underworld USA presents the endless war between the law and organized crime as a backdrop for an all-consuming personal vendetta.

1961, Columbia [Sony]. 99 minutes. Written, produced and directed by Samuel Fuller. CAST: Cliff Robertson, Dolores Dorn, Beatrice Kay, Paul Dubov, Gerald Milton, Allan Gruener, Roger Emhardt, Richard Rust, Larry Gates

Thursday, March 1: Make Way for the Bad Girls

7:00pm: Naked Alibi, not on DVD

Police Chief Joe Conroy is kicked off the force for his over-zealous persecution of Al Willis, a solid (if soused) citizen, whom Conroy believes is guilty of being a cop killer. Hounded ceaselessly by the ferocious flatfoot, Willis splits from his wife to “clear his head”—but zips straight to Border City, where he lives a second life as a reprobate crook and lover of cantina chanteuse Marianna (played to the hilt by noir favorite Gloria Grahame). Conroy is hot on Willis’s heels, however, and in short order he too gets tangled up with Marianna, who finds herself torn between the cop and the crook—neither of whom is any good for her. Justice, and tragedy, prevails. This little-seen rarity is presented in a brand new 35mm print, made expressly for NOIR CITY by Universal Pictures.

1954, Universal–International. 86 minutes. Screenplay by Lawrence Roman, from the story “Cry Copper” by J. Robert Bren and Gladys Atwater. Produced by Ross Hunter. Directed by Jerry Hopper. CAST: Sterling Hayden, Gloria Grahame, Gene Barry, Marcia Henderson, Casey Adams, Billy Chapin, Chuck Connors, Don Haggerty, Stuart Randall, Don Garrett, Richard Beach, Tol Avery, Paul Leavitt, Fay Roope, Joseph Mell

9:30pm: Pickup, not on DVD

Jan Horak lives a lonely life operating the whistle-stop train station in a small rural town. Everything changes one night when he picks up Betty, a towering taste of teasing female terror. Sensing an easy mark, she consents to marriage—with one eye on Jan’s life savings. When an accident renders Jan deaf, Betty is free to openly plot his demise with her lover, Steve Kowalski, Jan’s new dispatcher. But the tables turn after another fateful accident makes Jan privy to Betty’s murderous scheme. Czech émigré and Jack-of-all-trades (writer, director, producer, actor) Hugo Haas specialized in lurid, sexually provocative tales of masochistic love, independently producing over a dozen such films on shoestring budgets in the 1950s and 60s, mostly starring bountiful blonde bombshells Cleo Moore and Beverly Michaels. Among Haas connoisseurs, Pickup in the pearl of his oeuvre.

1951, Columbia Pictures. 78 minutes. Screenplay by Hugo Haas and Arnold Phillips, from the novel Watchman 47 by Josef Kopta. Produced by Hugo Haas and Edgar E. Walden. Directed Hugo Haas. CAST: Hugo Haas, Beverly Michaels, Allan Nixon, Howland Chamberlin, Jo Carroll Dennison, Mark Lowell, Art Lewis, Jack Daly, Bernard Gorcey