My Day of Four Noirs

I spent Monday watching Film Noir at the Roxie and the Castro. The Roxie screenings were a press event for their Gallic noir festival, The French Had a Name For It, which runs in early November. The Castro screenings was the first double bill in the series I Wake Up Dreaming. This wasn’t a press event; it was a commercial screening.

I saw four films over the course of the day, and none of them hit it out of the ballpark.

The French had a Name for It

We tend to think of Film Noir as an American art form, but the very name tells you that it started in France. This annual festival (13 feature films over five days) celebrates dark and dangerous films from the country that coined the term film noir.

All of the movies in the series will be projected digitally off of DCPs, but don’t expect any glorious restorations. Many of the DCPs were taken from DVDs and other low-quality digital transfers. Both of the films I saw looked acceptable, but not exceptional.

Here are the two films I saw, in the order I saw them:

C+ This Man Is Dangerous (Cet Homme Est Dangereux)

Eddie Constantine, an American actor working in France, plays a ruthless thug who has to outfight and outsmart other ruthless thugs who are better organized. Constantine’s acting range is small, and it’s hard to like him (early on, he murders an unarmed man pointblank). The plot is almost impossible to follow, but several sequences are fun in their own right. A big surprise changes the whole movie, allowing you to (sort of) root for the hero.

The movie screens at the Roxie Friday, November 3, at 6:00.

Gigolo (Gibier De Potence)

This pretty good melodrama follows a poverty-stricken young man whose only real advantage is his exceptional good looks (Georges Marchal). After losing a job because of the boss’s daughter, he meets up with a much-older woman (Arletty) who basically becomes his pimp, farming him out to several wealthy matrons. Of course, he’s going to meet a beautiful, innocent young girl and fall in love, and there will be problems.

It’s good to see Arletty in something other than Children of Paradise. It was a risk to cast her in any film after the war, as she was convicted of collaboration for sleeping with a German officer during the occupation. Her defense, “My heart belongs to France, but my ass is international,” didn’t help.

One problem with this movie – or perhaps I should say a problem of it running in this festival: Aside from one very brief violent scene near the end, it doesn’t feel like noir.

 I Wake Up Dreaming

This annual series presents a noir double bill every Monday in October. Most of the films screened are from 35mm archival prints. The series opened this Monday.

Phantom Lady

I realized almost immediately that I’ve seen this one before. A little bit of research after the screening told me that I saw it only two years ago, at another I Wake Up Dreaming series – this time in Berkeley. The big difference is that this time they screened it from a 35mm print (the 2015 screening was from a DVD). This was a big improvement.

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. The plot involves a man convicted of murdering his wife, and the loving secretary (Ella Raines) out to prove him innocent. I enjoyed it a bit more this time. I’m bumping its grade up to B.

Blues in the Night

Okay, this Warner Brothers flick has a mean gangster and a no-good moll, but this isn’t really a noir. It’s more like a backstage musical with a little crime on the edges. A group of young musicians try to make a living with their jazz. They spend some time in jail, where they hear real blues and get inspired. They ride the rails, then find a rundown club that they can make hopping. The problem is that the people running the joint are either evil or stupid.

One interesting thing in the film’s favor: It actually acknowledges, in two early scenes, that African Americans invented both jazz and the blues.

This one was projected digitally. I’m not sure if it was a DCP or a Blu-ray, but it looked fine.