A+ List: Goodfellas (and Groundhog Day)

It’s taken me a month, but I’m finally getting back to my A+
, where I cover my all-time favorite films in roughly alphabetical order.

The last two films I looked at were The Godfather
and The Godfather Part II–epic stories of American organized crime. Next alphabetically: Goodfellas–an epic story of American organized crime.

Sort of makes me feel like I’m repeating the same thing over and over again. And that brings me to Groundhog Day. The 1993 comedy also earns one of my rare A+ grades. But rather than writing about it in detail, I’ll just point you to my 2013 appreciation.

With that out of the way, let’s get to the nitty gritty. And with Goodfellas, that nitty is very gritty.


The Godfather was based on a novel; Goodfellas on a true story–and that makes a world of difference. This isn’t an operatic tragedy of a great man’s fate. Instead, it’s an examination of the workaday life of a run-of-the-mill gangster. It follows the career of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) from his enthusiastic, adolescent leap into crime until–25 years later–he rats on long-time friends in order to save his own neck. (Was that a spoiler? I don’t think so. It’s not that kind of movie.)

Liotta narrates most of the film as Hill, who clearly loved his life as a “wise guy.” He had money, the mob was a second family for him, and everyone treated him with respect. Sometimes he had to beat someone up a bit, or help a friend dispose of a dead body, but that was just part of life..

While the narration romanticizes Henry’s life, Scorsese and his collaborators show us the reality. We’re watching Henry and his friends terrorize small businessmen, corrupt the police and other institutions, and wallow in expensive but tasteless consumerism. They’re vicious, cruel, and live a life devoid of grace, love, and any real security.

The main friends are Jim (Robert De Niro) and Tommy (Joe Pesci). Jim comes off as friendly and generous. He loves to give away cash, popping $20 or $100 bills in people’s pockets. When he highjacks a truck and takes its contents, he gives the driver a very generous tip. But he also examines the driver’s license, and warns him of the consequences of talking. Deep down, he’s a cold-blooded killer.

Tommy, on the other hand, is dangerously off his rocker. Sitting around a table with other wise guys, he tells stories that has them all laughing (although I didn’t find many of them very funny). But he can turn on a dime and murder someone for the slightest insult. Every actor’s performance in this film hits its mark, but Pesci’s is the one you remember.

The film takes a surprisingly glamorous turn when Henry courts his future wife, Karen (Lorraine Bracco). When the romance begins, the film’s viewpoint switches from Henry to Karen; Bracco even takes over the narration. That section includes the film’s most celebrated sequence–a long Steadicam shot the follows Henry and Karen as they enter the Copacabana through a backdoor, and are greeted like royalty as they walk through the kitchens and back rooms before getting a ringside table.

With his suave manner and huge wad of bills, Henry seems irresistible to a middle-class, sheltered Jewish girl looking for excitement. The glamour, of course, doesn’t last. Henry proves to be a horrible husband and father in just about every way possible.

The film brilliantly uses popular music . Eric Clapton’s famous Layla instrumental–originally written as the wail of frustrated lover–works on a very different level here, as one dead body after another turns up while Jim is covering his tracks.

Eventually Henry gets involved with the drug trade, and becomes a coke addict himself. That doesn’t help his paranoia; and he has very real reasons to be paranoid. The cops are after him, and his old friends (the ones left alive) want him dead.

In the end, he has two choices. He can start a 30-year prison stretch that would almost certainly end with his murder. Or he could enter the witness protection program. The choice is obvious.

Goodfellas is dazzling filmmaking and incredible story-telling. And the story it tells shows a seductive but inevitably horrible way to live.

Four nights at the movies: The Crowd, Preston Sturges, a Teenage Girl, & 2 Noirs

I managed to see four feature films theatrically in the last four nights–plus another on television.

Sunday: The Crowd

My wife and I, along with another couple, went to the Castro to see one of the greatest silent films ever made, and arguably the most difficult American masterpiece to see, King Vidor’s The Crowd. I’ve already written about the movie, so I’ll stick to the presentation.

This was something of a special event–the last silent film to be accompanied by the Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ that has graced both silent films and before-the-movie concerts at the Castro for over 30 years. The Castro never owned the organ, and the owners are finding it more and more difficult to maintain. The Silent Film Festival hasn’t used it in years because of technical problems. The theater is raising money to replace it with what is being claimed as “the largest hybrid (pipe/digital) organ in the world.”

Unfortunately, this last hurrah for the old organ was disappointing–despite the great cinema up on the screen. Bruce Loeb’s improvised score felt off, often ignoring the actions and emotions on screen. Even obvious music cues, such as a close-up of a phonograph about to be put on the turntable, didn’t affect what Loeb was playing.

Monday: Christmas in July

My wife and I stayed home Monday night, and we watched the one movie I always wanted to screen on a double bill with The Crowd: Preston Sturges’ Christmas in July.

What does a talk-heavy comedy have to do with a silent drama? A lot. They’re both set in New York. Both protagonists have lower-level white-collar jobs adding numbers in a large office filled with similar employees. And each dreams of breakthrough success via advertising slogan contests.

Of course the big difference is that Christmas in July is funny. The hapless hero of a loser (Dick Powell) thinks he’s won a slogan contest with a “funny” catchphrase that other people just find bewildering. So he goes on a generous spending spree that’s headed to disaster. The ending is utterly and completely absurd–and hilarious. I give it a B+.

Just remember: If you can’t sleep at night, it isn’t the coffee. It’s the bunk.

Tuesday: Diary of a Teenage Girl

The next night, we went to the Shattuck to catch Diary of a Teenage Girl–the only new film we’ve seen this week. In fact, it’s the only film we saw this week that was made before after 1950.

We both loved it.

Minnie (Bel Powley in an amazing breakthrough performance) isn’t just any teenage girl. She’s the daughter of a irresponsible hippie mother in 1977 San Francisco–and when we first meet her, she’s just lost her virginity to her mother’s boyfriend. She’s also an inspiring cartoonist (the film is based on a graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, and the images often burst into underground-comic-style animation). The movie follows her early sexual experimentations, mostly with the morally weak, age-inappropriate man who should be loyal to her mother. The film captures San Francisco in the late 70s flawlessly (I was there). But even better, it captures the rocky emotions of a young woman bursting with hormones and not sure what to do with them.

I give it an A.

At least when we saw it, the Shattuck was running Diary of a Teenage Girl in one of their tiny, hole-in-the-wall auditoriums. I hate these. The tiny screens are bad enough, but the very wide aisle down the middle of the theater makes it worse. There’s nowhere you can sit that isn’t very far off to the side.

Wednesday: I Wake Up Dreaming

The I Wake Up Dreaming film noir series moves to Berkeley this month. Every Wednesday in September, The California Theater will screen two classic or obscure noirs–mostly obscure.

That’s the good news. The bad: The $15 ticket price is high, and there are no discount prices. The other bad news: The films are being screened digitally, and I don’t think any of them will be off DCP. Some of the films will be projected off of Blu-ray, which is reasonably acceptable. Most, I suspect–including the two I saw Wednesday night–will be off of DVDs.

If you’re curious, there’s an easy way to tell if a film will be screened off a Blu-ray. Google the title, the year or star, and the word blu-ray. You’ll soon find out if a Blu-ray is available. If it is, chances are very high that California will screen it in the better format.

I attended the first double bill last night (my wife wasn’t able to join me that night). It was in the California’s large and lovely downstairs auditorium. Okay. Now onto the movies:

Phantom Lady: Enjoyable and fun, this 1944 murder mystery is awful light for a noir. The good guys are just too good. And thus, dull. But the bad guys are a lot of fun–especially Franchot Tone as a totally psychotic killer (don’t worry; I’m not giving anything away) and Elisha Cook Jr. as a horny drummer. But then, any noir with Elisha Cook Jr. is better than the same movie without him. By the way, the plot involves a man convicted of murdering his wife, and the loving secretary (Ella Raines) out to prove him innocent. Enjoyable but unexceptional. I give it a B-.

Criss Cross: This one is considered a minor classic. I wouldn’t go that far, but I liked it enough to give it a B+. Burt Lancaster plays an armored car driver who finds himself in a love triangle with his ex-wife and a gangster. And not just a love triangle. They also join forces to pull off the heist of the century. But as the name suggests, everyone is planning to double cross everyone else. Director Robert Siodmak keeps the story moving fast and tight. Look fast, and you’ll catch a not-yet-famous Tony Curtis in a non-speaking role that’s little more than an extra.

[[Thanks to my wife, Madeline, for catching that before/after error.]]

The A+ List: The Godfather

The Godfather tricks you into rooting for some very bad people. You accept the Corleones because they love each other as family, and because they are ruled over by a seemingly fair, loving, generous, and successful patriarch.

That patriarch, Don Vito Corleone, helps the community, plays with kittens and his grandchildren, and reminds his reckless and impulsive eldest son that “a man who doesn’t spend time with his family isn’t much of a man.” But this warm and sweet old man made his fortune, and continues to enlarge it, in crime. Vice, violence, and even murder are part of his successful business strategy.

I first saw The Godfather in the spring of 1972, during its first run engagement. I loved it from the start, although it took a few years for me to realize just what a breathtaking masterpiece it is. It easily makes my A+ list of films that I have loved for decades. To make the grade, it must be the perfect embodiment of its genre or stand beyond genre. It must be at least 20 years old, so I know that it’s stood the test of time.

For the few reading this who haven’ seen The Godfather, this sweeping crime epic tells the story of a high-level but aging mafia boss (Marlon Brando) who passes his crown to his youngest and smartest son, Michael (Al Pacino in the role that made him a star). At the beginning, Michael is a warm, sweet guy who loves his family but wants nothing to do with the business. His WASP girlfriend Kay (Diane Keaton) signifies his movement away from Sicilian values. But incidents beyond his control (well, maybe) drive him into the family business. And as he proves to be extremely capable at that business, his blood turns to ice water. The warmth that made you like Michael, and made you forgive Vito despite his sins, disappear entirely in the new Michael.

godfather pass torch_resized

The screenplay by Mario Puzo (based on his novel) and Francis Ford Coppola (who also directed) gives us time to meet the family and drink in the atmosphere. A long wedding scene early in the movie introduces most of the main characters, with Kay playing the outsider who becomes the audience’s surrogate as she’s introduced to her boyfriend’s family. Then the action moves from the East Coast to Hollywood for a self-enclosed subplot that doesn’t push the story forward but gives us an idea of how the family operates. The main story–involving the new drug trade (the film is set just after World War II)–begins more than 30 minutes into the story. And that is absolutely the right pacing for this story.

Coppola and cinematographer Gordon Willis (known in the business as “The Prince of Darkness”) create an atmosphere that’s both noir and epic, with powerful contrasts of dark and light. In the first scene, the Don meets with various people on business in his dark and shadowy office, while his daughter’s wedding outside gleams with joy and sunlight. These contrasts continue throughout the movie, especially when a crime war runs darkly through the streets of New York while Michael hides in the beautiful, sun-swept mountains of Sicily.

The Godfather is filled with remarkable set pieces. There’s the opening scene where a local undertaker begs the Don for justice he could not get from the courts. There’s the hospital sequence, when Michael has to think fast and bluff armed gunmen to save his father’s life–and then realizes with surprise that his hands aren’t shaking. There’s the climatic baptism scene, where Michael at the church alter repeatedly renounces Satan while his henchmen rub out his real or imagined enemies.

But my favorite is a very subtle one. Michael and Kay come out of a movie theater and flirtatiously joke with each other. Then they disappear behind a newsstand. When they reappear, Kay’s face reflects some very bad news that Michael hasn’t seen.

The title The Godfather could refer to either the Don or Michael, and their fate are clearly intertwined. Vito became a criminal so that Michael and his three siblings could lead a better life. But his decision eventually destroys all of them, either literally or spiritually.

I’ll discuss more of that in my next A+ article, on The Godfather, Part II.

The A+ List: The Third Man and its new restoration

I missed the new restoration of the greatest film noir of them all, The Third Man, when it played in my local theaters. But last week I visited family in New York City, and I caught it at the Film Forum.

What a great film! It easily belongs on my A+ list of films that I’ve loved dearly for decades, and continue to love.

American film noir came out of the moral desolation of the Second World War–we had saved the world from fascism, but only by killing tens of millions of people. The Third Man, set and shot in Vienna, showed real desolation of the bombed-out city. The destruction of our humanity gets a powerful visual metaphor–always a benefit in cinema.

The Vienna of The Third Man suffers other indignities. The victorious powers have divided the city into sections, and it’s controlled by a not-always-collaborating group of Russians, French, American, and British soldiers.

The original screenplay by Graham Greene brings us deeper and deeper into this world of moral compromise. American pulp novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) arrives in Vienna, strapped for cash, but with a promise of a job by an old friend named Harry Lime. But Martins soon discovers that Lime has just died in a car accident. Then a British officer (Trevor Howard) tells him that Lime was a horrible criminal. Naturally, Martins sets out to clear his friend’s name.

I won’t go into the story beyond that. If you’ve seen it, you already know it. If you haven’t, just see it.

The film has a lot of fun with Martins’ apparently dreadful western novels, which have titles like The Lone Rider of Santa Fe and Death at Double-X Ranch (although none of the names are as garish as Blazing Guns on the Chisholm Trail). We meet one ardent fan of his work; needless-to-say a comic relief character.

Greene and director Carol Reed fill the picture with other entertaining and sometimes fascinating characters. Lime’s lover (Alida Valli) mourns him more than anyone, but her devotion will cost her considerably. And Orson Welles shows up at the end of the second act in a pivotal role. His charm, wit, and wonderful voice steal the picture.

Producers Alexander Korda and Davis O. Selznick provided enough money to realize Greene’s and Reed’s joint vision. Robert Krasker’s camerawork casts deep noir shadows, yet also shows the expanse of the ancient and ruined city. And Anton Karas’ music, performed entirely on a zither, is one of the most memorable and effective scores in cinema.

Indeed, the score was so important that the opening credits are super-imposed over an extreme close-up of the zither strings. The main theme was a hit record in 1950.

The final chase, in the ancient sewers below the city, is spectacular, exciting, and unlike any other chase. In the end, Martins gets a chance to be the western hero he writes about. Not that that does him any good. (And no, that’s not much of a spoiler.)

About the restoration: At this point, I’ve seen so many excellent 4K restorations that they rarely surprise me. This is just another one. But I noticed details I had never caught before, such as a small but very racist poster on a café wall .

I saw a beautiful 35mm print of The Third Man early last year. I think this digital version is better, but it’s impossible to accurately compare the image quality from two screenings more than 18 months apart. But I’m glad that we have both good 35mm prints and an excellent DCP.

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
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.

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!

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.


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

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.

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
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.

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.

Joan Fontaine, Poison, Marriage, and Murder: Saturday at Noir City

I spent Saturday at the Castro, where I caught two double bills in the Noir City festival. The theme this year is "’Til death do us part," examining the thin line between marriage and murder.

It was a lot of fun. 

All of the films were in 35mm, and for the most part were excellent prints. Ivy, the best of the four, also had the best print. In fact, it was one of the best 35mm prints of a 40’s movie I’ve seen in years.

The Matinee

The matinee double bill was a tribute to the actress Joan Fontaine. It started with her Oscar-winning performance in Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion, where she marries Cary Grant. In the second film, The Bigamist, she’s married Edmond O’Brien. As film historian Alan K. Rode pointed out in his introduction, that shows a major decline in star power over the 12 year’s between the films.

Alfred Hitchcock’s third American film, and his first with a major studio (RKO) could have been one of his best. Fontaine plays a naive young woman who falls in love with a charming but untrustworthy gambling addict (Cary Grant). After their marriage, his petty thefts, his lies, and his manipulations get worse. And worse. Eventually, she begins to suspect that he murdered a friend, and is planning to murder her for the insurance.

In Hitchcock’s original ending (which was never filmed), she writes a letter to her mother, detailing her suspicions. After he murders her, he mails the letter. RKO objected. The company-approved ending is so lame, and so much of a letdown, that it sinks what could have been one of Hitchcock’s best.

The movie, released in 1941, is set in England. There’s no mention of war, and a supporting character actually goes to Paris on business. Not likely after September 1939. Perhaps the movie is set before the war, but it never explicitly says so.

 The Bigamist

Of the four movies I saw Saturday, this was the only one not set in England (they were all shot in California). It’s also the only one where murder by poison–or any other form of murder–doesn’t play a part.

Edmond O’Brien plays the title character in this 1953 tale, although he only receives fourth billing. In San Francisco, he’s married to Fontaine. They run a business together, and are hoping to adopt a child.

In Los Angeles, he’s married to Ida Lupino (who also directed), and they have a baby. Most of the movie uses that classic noir device, the narrated flashback, to tell us how this came to be.

It’s a fun little pot-boiler. Odd for a noir, everyone here is trying to do the right thing. But that proves impossible, and the morality gets complicated and murky–as it should in noir.

The Evening Show

The second double feature centered on Edwardian London–noir with top hats instead of fedoras. And in each movie, the central character murders their spouse, with unpredictable results.

And the first film starred Joan Fontaine, linking this double bill to the matinee.

This was easily the best of the four movies I saw Saturday. After watching Fontaine as the naïve new bride and the happily-married businesswomen, it’s nice to know that she could do a great femme fatale.

As this 1947 story begins, Ivy (think poison) is married to a decent guy without much money. She has a lover on the side, but she wants to drop him. In fact, she wants to drop both of them; she’s looking for a richer husband.

She’s greedy and evil, but she’s also smart, quick thinking, and knockout gorgeous. She’s a genius at manipulating men. That makes murder, and framing an innocent bystander, relatively easy.

I won’t go into detail. Why spoil the fun?

The Suspect

In the last movie of the day, a good man (Charles Laughton) is driven to murdering his dreadful wife–and every member of the audience sympathizes with him. His wife (Rosalind Ivan) is as despicable as a character can be without kicking a puppy. She’s hateful not only to her husband but to their grown son. He finds companionship with a much younger, much nicer, and much more intelligent woman (Ella Raines). Eventually, he’s pushed into a corner and he has no choice.

Of course, murder never goes smoothly in the world of classic noir.

But, from a good seat in a movie theater, it can sure be fun.


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