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.

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2 thoughts on “Marriage and Murder Marathon: Watching five features Saturday at Noir City

  1. Hi Lincoln: The first film adaptation of The Postman Always Rings Twice was actually Le Dernier Tournant (1939) by Pierre Chenal. I think it’s actually the best.
    The Steel Trap looked like a 35mm to me.

  2. It looked very much like 35mm, but I’ve been in the Castro projection booth and I know what portal has a digital projector behind it.

    Thanks for the heads up on Le Dernier Tournant. I’ll have to check that one out.

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