Marriage and Murder Marathon: Watching five features Saturday at Noir City

I spent Saturday at the Castro for the penultimate day, and the longest day, of this year’s Noir City festival. Over the course of nearly 12 hours, the festival screened five feature films about crime, attempted crime, sex, attempted sex, and marriages both nurturing and homicidal.

The festival’s theme this year is "Til death do us part," and many of the films dealt with murder as a very consequential form of divorce.

I’m skipping the closing on Sunday. I just can’t take it anymore.

Matinee triple bill with the Stones

These Stones didn’t play rock and roll music, but they sure could build suspense.

I’m talking about Andrew and Virginia Stone, a filmmaking team whose work I was completely unfamiliar with until Saturday. Andrew wrote and directed movies in all sorts of genres from the late silent period to the early 70s. His wife, Virginia, cut the films and sometimes worked as an assistant director.

During the 1950s, they made several noirs. On Saturday I saw three of them.

The Steel Trap
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I think we need to recognize a sub-genre of noir: Truly Idiotic Criminals.

Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright, who played uncle and niece is Shadow of a Doubt, are man and wife this time around. He’s a bank employee who develops a complicated and essentially stupid plan to rob his own bank. To make things worse, he starts the ball rolling before he has all of the pieces in place. Then he tries to get himself and his wife (who doesn’t know what’s going on) to Brazil before anyone figures out that a million has gone missing from the bank. But because of his rush to get going, he has trouble getting passports and making plane connections.

The whole thing is reasonably entertaining and good fun. But I couldn’t really call it exceptional.

The film was projected digitally, probably off of a DCP. It looked fine.

Julie
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What a fun movie! And easily the best performance I’ve ever seen from Doris Day.

As befits my generation, I hit adolescence hating Doris Day. She represented all that was wholesome, virginal, and culturally conservative. The old joke was that, by playing a wife and mother in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, she risked ruining her image as a virgin.

She made Julie the same year, and her acting range is considerable. She’s not a mother this time around, but she’s a divorcee on her second husband.

Julie (Day) has serious marital problems. In fact, it soon becomes clear that she’s married to a psychopath (Louis Jourdan), and that she’s in line to be his next victim. She leaves home, he follows, and the chase is on. She gets very little help from the local cops and considerably more from a platonic male friend (Barry Sullivan). The climax puts her into a dangerous situation that I’ve seen in a handful of other movies. But outside of a comedy that played it for laughs, I’ve never seen done so well.

The 35mm print was a mess, scratched, torn, and jittery. The projectionist did a valiant job keeping it going–even if he had to stop it a couple of times.

Cry Terror!
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No, that title isn’t the new Republican Party campaign slogan. It’s an excellent crime thriller by the Stones.

An extortion plot that threatens to blow up airliners, a guilt-ridden father (James Mason) kidnapped along with his wife and young daughter, a brilliant criminal (Rod Steiger), and a serial rapist addicted to bennies (Neville Brand) all come together in this exciting tale.  Also in the cast: Inger Stevens as the kidnapped wife, and Angie Dickinson and Jack Klugman as members of the criminal plot.

I don’t want to tell you too much about this one. Even a traffic jam is suspenseful here. Edge-of-your-seat entertainment.

The 35mm print was excellent.

The evening show: Classic European Noir.

Last year, the theme was world Noir, highlighting dark and dangerous thrillers from other countries. Saturday night, this year’s festival returned to that theme, while also continuing to focus on marriage.

Both films were quite long compared to American noirs, with a total running time of over four hours. The show didn’t end until midnight.

Ossessione
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Did you know that Luchino Visconti made the first film adaptation of The Postman Always Rings Twice back in 1943. MGM owned the film rights to the novel (their version would come out in ’46), but American copyrights didn’t hold a lot of sway in Italy during World War II.

You probably know the story: A drifter drifts into a small, roadside restaurant run by a mean-spirited, fat, disgusting slob and his beautiful but long-suffering wife. Once the drifter and wife get a good look at each other, looking isn’t good enough for either of them. Soon murder begins to look like the best solution to their predicament. But happiness proves elusive in their post-murder relationship.

Although it lacks the beautiful spender of, say, The Leopard, Ossessione still feels in many ways like a Visconte film. It’s slow, stately, and prefers people’s daily life to violence and suspense. It’s also very sexy, with two gorgeous stars (Massimo Girotti and Clara Calamai) who can’t keep their hands off each other. This was before even the Italian cinema didn’t allow nudity, but the film doesn’t need it to feel hot.

The 35mm print was in good condition, but looked washed out, as if it came from a source quite far from the original negative. That’s hardly surprising. When a film was banned by Mussolini’s censors, the Catholic Church, and (after the war) MGM, you can’t expect it to be in mint condition.

Les Diabolique
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For the second film on the bill, we get something a little more fun from Henri-Georges Clouzot, best known for The Wages of Fear. Les Diabolique isn’t quite as suspenseful as that masterpiece, and lacks Wages’ political themes, but it is far creepier.

The wife and mistress of a truly despicable man plot together to murder him, and dispose of the body in a way that should make it look like an accident. Of course things don’t go as planned. But the real problems pop up when the body isn’t found where they left it. Then odd occurances suggest that the husband is still alive. But how could that be? They killed him!

The movie has one hell of twist ending–even though I guessed it a few minutes before the big reveal. But only a few minutes.

I had no complaints about the 35mm print.

Godard and Wilder: Friday Night at the Pacific Film Archive

What do Jean-Luc Godard and Billy Wilder have in common–aside from the obvious? The Pacific Film Archive is currently running series on both of them: Jean-Luc Godard: Expect Everything from Cinema and Ready for His Close-Up: The Films of Billy Wilder. Friday night, the PFA screened one film from each series. This was not a double bill; each movie required a separate ticket, and the films didn’t really go together. As far as I know, I may have been the only audience member to attend both screenings.

The night started with Godard, and ended with Wilder.

Germany Year 90 Nine Zero

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To be honest, I wouldn’t have bothered to see this film if I wasn’t also going to the Wilder one. I rarely enjoy–or get anything out of–a Godard film. But the last time I saw a Godard film at the PFA, I was pleasantly surprised. I thought maybe I’d be surprised again.

No surprise this time. Made for French television in 1991 (he was asked to make a film about solitude), Germany Year 90 Nine Zero is a dull meditation on all things German, made just after the wall was torn down. As Eddie Constantine wanders around the former East Germany, playing an out-of-work spy, multiple narrators talk about German artists, Communism, Nazis, the Holocaust, and whatever. News clips and shots of monuments fill the visuals. Much of what the narrators say, at least judging from the subtitles, sounds like an adolescent’s idea of profundity. A few juxtaposing images were clever, but that was about it.

The 35mm print was okay, but had seen better days.

Ace in the Hole

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Billy Wilder at his most misanthropic.

A once-great, now washed-up newspaper reporter–a man with a lot of talent and no scruples  –stumbles upon a big story: A man is trapped deep inside a cave, his legs pinned beneath rocks. The reporter (Kirk Douglas) makes the personal possible tragedy a national sensation. Huge crowds gather to camp out and watch the rescue. Politicians turn up. The whole thing becomes a county fair (the film was alternately titled The Big Carnival). The reporter, hoping to milk the story for as long as possible, pulls strings to delay the rescue.

I first saw Ace in the Hole on broadcast TV. That would have been in the late 1960s. It was broken up by commercials, and I was about 12. Friday night was my second experience.

It’s a pretty good melodrama, heavy its message–which feels very timely these days–and extremely bleak. The characters are all types, not people. The last act stretched my credibility. I enjoyed it, but it’s not one of Wilder’s best.

But it is one of his biggest. I don’t think I’ve seen a Billy Wilder film with so many crowd scenes. Of course, since it was set in the present (1951), Paramount didn’t have to spend much on costumes.

The PFA projected Ace in the Hole off a DCP. But it was a poor transfer that often looked more like video than film. Oddly, the opening credits were windowboxed (black bars on all four sides). This is common for transfers intended for TV, but I’d never seen it before for a theater-bound DCP.

And now, I’d like to discuss what bothered me about the final act. If you haven’t seen the movie, and object to spoilers, please stop reading now.

I mean it.

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Okay, everyone here willing to read about the ending?

As the story nears its end, the reporter grows a conscience, and tries to force the trapped man’s cold and bitter wife to wear a fur her husband bought her. The argument turns into a fight, and she stabs the reporter with scissors. As he bleeds to death, he drives to a church, picks up a priest, drives back, takes the priest down into the cave to give the trapped man last rites, returns from the cave, hops a makeshift elevator (a moderately impressive stunt done by Douglas himself)  to the top of the mountain, gives a speech, lets his sidekick drive him to town (which we’ve been told is a three-hour drive), goes back into the newspaper office, and manages to deliver a clever line before dropping dead.

As I said, the last act stretched my credibility.

Intense Empathy: My review of Two Days, One Night

A- Drama

  • Written and directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Roger Ebert once described cinema as “a machine that generates empathy.” Few films show off that important capability better than the Dardenne brother’s latest achievement, Two Days, One Night. I can’t imagine anyone watching this film without worrying about, rooting for, and identifying with the main character. But the Dardennes also make you care about almost every person you meet in the picture, including those ruining the protagonist’s life.

Right from the start, Sandra (the almost always remarkable Marion Cotillard) discovers that she’s lost her job at a small solar power company. The owner gave the other 16 employees a choice: Either Sandra could keep her job, or everyone else would receive a €1,000 bonus. Overwhelmingly, they chose the bonus.

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But there’s hope. She and a co-worker complain to their boss, who agrees to allow another vote. Now Sandra has two days to visit each of her co-workers and try to convince them to forfeit a significant chunk of cash to keep her employed.

This couldn’t have come at a worse time. Sandra is recovering from severe depression. She reacts to the setback by trying to withdraw into herself and taking pills. Her patient and loving husband (Fabrizio Rongione) worries that she’s becoming an addict. What’s more, if she loses the job, they lose their home. They have two kids.

Most of the co-workers she visits feel guilty over what they did to her. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll vote differently this time. Many of them need that extra €1,000 (these are all working-class folk, most with families to support). And Sandra feels like a beggar, going from one home to another hoping they’ll pity her.

The film manages to avoid most of the deadly repetition inherent in the story. Yes, she goes to one person after another, begs them to give up a lot of money so she can remain gainfully employed, and listens to her reasons why they can’t. But each of these co-workers is a unique individual, and they all react to the predicament in different ways. The Dardennes don’t entirely escape the repetition problem (which is why I’m giving it an A- instead of a straight A), but they get very close.

Another problem: There’s also a hospital scene that struck me as very unrealistic.

Despite these minor flaws, Two Days, One Night gives us modern capitalism in a nutshell. Workers, who would naturally be allies, are forced to fight over the limited resources available to pay non-management employees. We all know what that’s like. We’ve all worked at a company that had layoffs, experienced that moment of relief when you discover that your job is safe, and then felt guilty because someone else wasn’t so lucky.

And yet, this picture never feels like a political tract. It feels like a very real situation, where everyone must make a difficult decision that will inevitably result in moral compromise.

Much of the realism comes from the Dardennes’ technique. The picture is shot with a handheld camera, and the only music you hear is music that the characters hear–most of it through a car radio. Even the closing credits come with no sound except street noise.

As I watched Two Days, One Night, I began to wonder how they could satisfactorily end it. If she wins the election, it’s Hollywood. If she loses it, the whole thing would be pointless. If the film ended before the vote is counted, the audience would feel cheated. I won’t tell you how it ends, but I will say that the ending is absolutely perfect.

Despite a couple of flaws, this is an excellent film. If you work for a living, you need to see it.

Error correction: I failed to note that this film, which I saw at a press screening months ago, was opening this week. Had I caught it, I would have posted this review last Wednesday, and mentioned it in this week’s newsletter.

What’s Screening: January 23 – 29

We’ve got film festivals:

And we’ve got movies:

A- Two Days, One Night, opens Friday at the Shattuck and other theaters. The boss gives his employees a choice: Either Sandra (Marion Cotillard) keeps her job, or everyone else receives a large bonus. Over the weekend, Sandra must visit 16 workers and convince a majority to sacrifice €1,000 for her sake. To make matters worse, Sandra is recovering from severe depression and has become dependent on pills. This latest film from the Dardenne brothers gives us modern capitalism in a nutshell. Workers, who would naturally be allies, are forced to fight over the limited resources available to pay non-management employees. Rather than becoming a political tract, this film feels like a very real situation, where everyone must make a difficult decision that will inevitably result in moral compromise. Read my full review. Error correction: This capsule was left out of the original version of this newsletter.

Excelsior Moveable Movie Palace, Comedy Cookie Jar #1, Art House Gallery in Berkeley, Sunday, 7:30. Excelsior does more than just present silent films. It also attempts to take you back to the days when these moves were new. In their first public presentation, they’ll screen six short comedies that might have been shown in 1929 (although the earliest was actually released in 1923). The stars of the movies include Laurel & Hardy, Charlie Chase, Harry Langdon, and Rudolph Valentino. Yes, I said Rudolph Valentino. Ellen Hoffman will accompany everything on piano. See my article.

Shouting at the Screen with Wyatt Cenac and Donwill with "That Man Bolt", Roxie, imageFriday, 11:00pm. This sounds like something fun for Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans. Rapper Donwill and Daily Show veteran Wyatt Cenac with crack wise at a screening of a largely-forgotten 1973 blaxploitation flick called That Man Bolt. If it wasn’t so late in the evening, I’d probably be there. Part of SF Sketchfest.

B How the West Was Won, various CineMark Theaters, Sunday (matinee only) and Wednesday. Cinerama, a three-lens, three-strip process that projected a huge image onto a deeply-curved screen, was the Imax of the 1950s. Although deeply flawed, its imageimmersive effect was greater than Imax’s. The last and best three-strip Cinerama film tells a multigenerational story that’s simple, hokey fun (and even simpler history). But the real pleasure is in the spectacle, whether it’s a buffalo stampede, a train wreck, or a tracking shot through an old river town. I don’t know if the movie will be screened locally on one of CineMark’s XD screens, but if it is, it will be well worth catching. Otherwise, not so much. I discussed the film in this PC World slideshow.

A Fort Apache, Alameda, Tuesday and Wednesday. Even though it’s told entirely from the white man’s point of view, the first and best film in John Ford’s cavalry trilogy leaves no doubt who the victims were in the western conquest. Very loosely inspired by the Battle of Little Bighorn, it tells the story of a regiment doomed by an incompetent and bigoted commanding officer (Henry Fonda In one of his few unsympathetic parts). This arrogant, by-the-book colonel’s contempt for the Apaches leads to war, and then to disaster. (He doesn’t like the Irish–Ford’s own ethnic group–much, either)., John Wayne plays the open-minded man of reason. Co-starring Monument Valley.

A Alfred Hitchcock double bill: Shadow of a Doubt & Under Capricorn, Stanford, Thursday through next Sunday. The A goes to Hitchcock’s first great American film, Shadow of a Doubt. A serial killer (Joseph Cotton at his most charming) returns to his small-town roots. When his favorite niece (Teresa Wright) begins to suspect that all is not right with her beloved Uncle Charlie, her own life is in danger. Under Capricorn is a reasonably entertaining but unexceptional romantic melodrama set in 19th century Australia. Hitchcock didn’t make many period pieces, and this one shows you why. On its own, I’d give it a B-.

B+ The Imitation Game, Balboa, opens Friday. This very British biopic takes considerable liberties in dramatizing the life of Alan Turing. For instance, he appears to have severe Asperger, when the real Turning had nothing of the sort. But the result imageis an effective, entertaining, and sympathetic tragedy about a man who played important roles in both winning World War II and laying the groundwork for computers, but was hounded to suicide by an intolerant society. Like so many English period pieces, The Imitation Game works primarily as a showcase for actors. Cumberbatch does a variation on his Sherlock Holmes, but he digs deeper here. His emotional struggles are more real. Keira Knightley plays the only woman on his team. See my longer article.

A- Battleship Potemkin, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday, 3:10. Make no mistake; this ground-breaking movie is brilliant but simplistic Communist propaganda. The workers and sailors are all good comrades working together for a better world. The officers, aristocrats, and Cossacks are vile filth who deserve to die. A couple of them are so evil they actually twirl their mustaches. And yet, the story of mutiny, celebration, attack, and escape stirs your blood. And it does this primarily through editing techniques that were revolutionary in 1925 and still impressive today. More than 85 years after it was shot, the Odessa Steps massacre is still one of the greatest, if not the greatest, action sequence ever edited. Read my essay. Accompanied by Judith Rosenberg on piano. Part of the series and college class, Film 50: History of Cinema.

B+ This is Spinal Tap, New Parkway, Friday, 10:30. The mockumentary to end all rockumentaries. Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, imageand Harry Shearer play the subject of this fake documentary–an English heavy metal band of questionable talent on a disastrous American tour. Director Rob Reiner plays, appropriately enough, the documentary’s director. Uneven, but often brilliantly hilarious, although you need a good grounding in rock music and concert movies to get most of the jokes. On a scale of one to ten, the best scenes rate an eleven.

C+ Interstellar, New Parkway, opens Friday. Christopher Nolan’s space epic tries hard to be another 2001: A Space Odyssey–plot points, individual shots, and at least one character imagecomes straight from Kubrick’s work. But whereas Kubrick explained very little, Nolan fills his picture with badly-written expository dialog. And yet, the movie still confuses audiences. And when it’s not confusing, it’s often dumb. On the other hand, it’s visually stunning, and deserves to be seen on the biggest screen available. It’s often exciting and suspenseful. And for most of its runtime, it carries a strong sense of doom for both the main characters and the human race as a whole.

C But I’m A Cheerleader, Castro, Tuesday, 7:30. This very broad satire of homophobia and gayimage conversion therapy has its heart in the right place, but heavy-handed direction ensures that more jokes miss than hit the funny bone. Even the usually hilarious Cathy Moriarty can seldom provoke laughter here. And when the heroine finally gets a chance to use her cheerleading skills, it’s obvious that star Natasha Lyonne didn’t train enough for the part. Lyonne will be in attendance for the screening, which SF Sketchfest is presenting as a Peaches Christ Experience.

C- Gone with the Wind, Balboa, Thursday, 7:30. I love big historical epics, but the biggest of them all just leaves me flat. First, there’s that blatant white supremacy. I’m used to racism in old movies, and generally just wince. But Gone with the Wind goes beyond that, basing its entire story on the assumption that white masters and black slaves are just the natural order (you can read my in-depth comments). Leaving racial issues aside, the first part is pretty good, but boredom sets in after the intermission. The picture has one thing going for it: It used color far more creatively and effectively than any previous movie. Even if you like GWTW, it’s a very long movie to start at 7:30 on a weeknight.

B+ Alfred Hitchcock double bill: Dial M for Murder & Young and Innocent,Stanford, through Sunday. The B+ goes to Dial M for Murder. Despite the gimmick of 3D, this imageadaptation of a Broadway play feels stagy. But it was a good play, and Hitchcock handled it well.  For more on the film, see Rethinking Dial M for Murder. The Stanford will not be screening the movie in 3D. Alfred Hitchcock made Young and Innocent just before The Lady Vanishes, but aside from one great tracking shot, it feels like the new Master of Suspense was just going through the motions.

There’s a new silent movie venue in town

"The 21st century is no place to watch early 20th-century movies."

That’s the claim of the Excelsior Moveable Movie Palace, which will have its first public screening in Berkeley this coming Sunday night. The idea is to recreate the experience of watching these films when they were new. "When you see the world through the eyes of say, 1913 (great year for a lot of things), you’re watching a new 1913 movie, hearing new 1913 songs, inhabiting the 1913 world as a familiar place, as your own time. At our shows it’s not D.W. Griffith WAS, or Mary Pickford WAS, or Rudolph Valentino WAS; Griffith IS, Pickford IS, Valentino IS."

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Of course, in 1913, Valentine IS a struggling unknown, but you get the point.

How will they recreate the time? Everything will be projected from film. The people working there will be appropriately dressed and, I assume, will be acting the parts. The creative force behind the project, Annie Lore, is a veteran of the Dickens and Renaissance Faires, and she understands that sort of living history immersive theater.

Which brings me to a disclaimer: I’m also a veteran of those fairs (or faires; it’s complicated). I’ve known Annie for a very long time. I also know accompanist Ellen Hoffman from those crazy days. Ellen is an excellent pianist, who recently accompanied Rita Moreno at a local concert.

This Sunday, they’ll be playing at the Art House Gallery in Berkeley. The year will be 1929, and they’ll show a selection of comedy shorts–mostly from the the Hal Roach studio. The stars include Laurel & Hardy, Charlie Chase, and Harry Langdon.

Actually, several of the shorts would have been pretty old in ’29; the only one I’ve seen, It’s a Gift, was six years old by then. But it’s a very funny Snub Pollard vehicle and worth seeing.

Perhaps the strangest entry is The Sheik’s Physique from 1925, described as "Rudolph Valentino’s only comedy short."

Although the Art House Gallery will be their more-or-less permanent home, Excelsior is designed as a traveling show. "Excelsior comes to you, with your own film festival
for a few friends– or a few hundred, at your home or school, or library or church or museum or community center or rented hall or club, or you name it. This doesn’t mean that there are no public showings; we can be booked at events or performance venues like any act."

Kind of like vaudeville. And remember, the movies started in vaudeville.

IndieFest Preview

I’ve managed to preview four films that will screen at next month’s IndieFest. Here’s what I thought of them, from "must see" to "must miss."

A Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla
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Imagine Milton from Office Space slowly turning into Travis Bickle. That’s pretty much what you get in this very black comedy from Australia. The main character has his own business–an ice cream truck–that brings him into contact with a lot of people. But he’s a very shy, lonely, and awkward man. He lives alone. He doesn’t have any real friends. He worships Clint Eastwood. He’s obsessed with a soap opera star. He spends most of his workday parked in a horrible location where he’s bullied by a very thuggish pimp. His cat just died, but he still puts food in the bowl every morning. He’s nearing a very dangerous boiling point. The humor drains away appropriately as darkness and violence takes over the movie. A remarkable, brutal, funny, and heartfelt little gem.

  • Roxie, Saturday, February 7, 7:15
  • Roxie, Tuesday, February 10, 9:30

B+ Beyond Clueless
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Charlie Lyne’s documentary examines the teenage thrills, terrors, and transitions through the looking glass of high school movies. Just about every feature film focusing on adolescents from the last 20 years makes at least a cameo appearance, from American Pie,  Election, Spider Man, Mean Girls, Pleasantville, Donnie Darko, and, of course, Clueless. The uncredited narrator goes into detail with a few movies–including Bubble Boy, Disturbing Behavior, and The Faculty–to examine issues like peer pressure, sexuality, and moving on with your life. Not particularly deep, but useful if you are, recently were, or parent a teenager. And certainly entertaining.

D- Jacky and the Kingdom of Women
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This French satire imagines a society of reverse sexism. The women are leaders and warriors. The men are sex objects and obedient husbands. It’s an effective way to highlight flaws in our culture, if not an original one (eight years ago I wrote and performed in a one-act play with the same theme). But two problems sink this attempt. First, the society in which it’s set–a combination of North Korea, the Islamic State, and horse worship–is too bizarre to make a satirical point about western society. There’s nothing to recognize. Second, it’s just not funny. My favorite moment was a chase; not because it made me laugh–it didn’t–but because it held the promise that the movie would soon be over. It didn’t even keep that promise.

D- For the Plasma
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Talk about a movie that doesn’t go anywhere. Two young women live in a house in rural, coastal Maine, where they’re supposed to check various cameras and sensors in the woods for early forest fires warnings. One of them has figured out a foolproof way to turn all this data into profitable stock market predictions. She’s getting checks for it, but she doesn’t seem to care. Neither does her companion. Neither did I. Both actresses are flat and dull. Almost nothing happens to them, and the few things that do don’t amount to anything. Even basic continuity is lacking; one scene ends with one woman locked in her bedroom and the other apparently unconscious in a ditch. In the next scene it’s as if nothing happened. I kept hoping it would turn into a slasher movie–and I don’t care much for slasher movies.

Disclaimer: When I viewed the movie, I noticed a mildly irritating visual stutter–as if one frame every second was repeated. I don’t know if this was a problem with the screener DVD or the movie itself. I decided to give the film the benefit of a doubt, which is why I gave it a D+ rather than an F.

  • Roxie, Sunday, February 8, 7:15
  • Roxie, Thursday, February 12, 7:15

Douglas Sirk Day at Noir City

On Sunday, the Noir City festival screened two potboilers from the late 40s, both directed by Douglas Sirk. Best remembered for his lush, Technicolor melodramas of the 1950’s, Sirk made a number of noirs before he broke into the big leagues.

Sleep, My Love
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Claudette Colbert wakes up on a train with no idea how she got there. She obviously has some serious mental problems. As the story unfolds, we discover a conspiracy devoted to creating and augmenting those problems. But who is in the conspiracy, and who really wants to help her? Can she trust Don Ameche, the husband who cares very deeply about her health, but possibly not in the way one would expect? Or Robert Cummings, the friend of a friend who just happens to fall into her life at a very convenient time.

Hint: The theme of this year’s Noir City festival is "’Til death do us part," with the emphasis on death.

Anyway, the plot is outrageous and ridiculous, but that didn’t block my enjoyment of the movie a bit. Sleep, My Love is funny, clever, intriguing, and suspenseful enough to let you ignore the many improbabilities.

There’s an interesting Chinese-American wedding sequence that balances on a thin line between being ahead of its time and embracing the usual stereotypes. This results in a nice running gag where the new bride and groom get stuck in the back of a car when they want to get to their hotel room. The groom, by the way, is played by Keye Luke, who played Charlie Chan‘s Number One Son in the 1930s.

The film was produced by Mary Pickford (yes, that Mary Pickford), some 15 years after she gave up acting. Of course it was released by United Artists, a company that Pickford co-founded in 1919 when she was a star, and of which she still was a major stock holder.

The festival screened yet another fantastic 35mm print from the UCLA archive. Although Noir City is calling this a 35mm restoration, the credits on print itself uses the less impressive word preservation. Considering how good it looks, I’m guessing that the source materials didn’t need a full restoration.

Shockproof
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What’s the longest sentence you can create with the  fewest words? "I do." With that joke, Eddie Mueller started his introduction to Shockproof, and reminded us that this year’s festival is about the darker side of marriage.

I was looking forward to this one. Samuel Fuller co-wrote the screenplay with Helen Deutsch. Until Sunday, I had never seen a movie written by Fuller but not directed by him.

I was disappointed. This potboiler about a parole officer who falls in love, and then marries one of his parolees, just wasn’t that interesting. The story was obvious, and the characters were clichés. As with Hitchcock’s Suspicion, the studio insisted on a more commercial ending, and as with Suspicion, that ending lets all the air out of the movie.

The bad ending doesn’t hurt as much as it did in Suspicion, but that’s only because this film didn’t have as far to fall. The first part of the film, where she moves into his house to take care of his saintly, blind mother, and he falls in love, is utterly ridiculous. His behavior is so unprofessional it’s illegal. In the third act, when they’re on the run, it’s just the same old same old–although I did like the gag where they stole a car with tin cans and a "Just Married" sign tied to the bumper.

The best thing about this movie: It’s only 79 minutes long.

Sony provided Noir City with a mostly excellent 35mm print. A few scenes looked like they came from warn-out sources.

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