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
image
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
image
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.

Advertisements