Closing This Year’s Noir City

Noir City closed Sunday with a masterpiece…and a pretty good B picture. I finally saw The Big Heat, and I saw it under about the best conditions possible.

Following the theme of this year’s festival, each double feature included a relatively expensive A picture (noirs were never hugely expensive) and a very cheap B picture. This time both movies were from 1953, the year which, according to Film Noir Foundation founder and president Eddie Muller, ended the golden age of noir.

Arriving at the Castro in the late afternoon, I started with the B picture.

Wicked Woman

The title character, Billie (Beverly Michaels), isn’t really all that wicked. She’s gorgeous, not always honest, and she uses her looks to get what she wants. Mostly, she’s the victim of men’s reaction to her beauty.

Billie comes to town and moves into a rundown flophouse, where she gets a lot of unwanted attention from the creepy guy across the hall (Percy Helton). She gets a job at a working-class bar, where she flirts with the customers, fights off the more aggressive drunks, and makes a lot of money on tips. But a married couple owns the bar; the wife is alcoholic (Evelyn Scott), and the husband is a hunk (Richard Egan).

You know that’s a formula for disaster, especially in noir.

I give Wicked Woman a B.

The 35mm print was inconsistent, going from acceptable to pretty bad. Mostly it was acceptable.

The Big Heat

Wow! I finally got to see this classic directed by Fritz Lang, whose 1931’s M helped create film noir. It was even better than I expected.

A cop commits suicide, and the first person the new widow calls is a mob boss. The mob runs the unnamed city and the police do what they’re told – except for one honest detective (Glenn Ford in a strong performance) assigned to the case. Soon he’s sticking his nose where everyone thinks it doesn’t belong. He’s fired, of course, but that doesn’t stop him.

And getting fired isn’t the worst that will happen to him and other good people in this tale of thorough corruption.

Gloria Grahame gives a great performance as the rebellious girlfriend of a violent thug. She’s sarcastic, flirty, frightened, and in the end, heroic. Her thug boyfriend, by the way, is played by a not-yet famous Lee Marvin.

I easily give The Big Heat an A.

The Noir City website states that “All but one of the films will be presented in glorious 35mm,” the exception being I Walk Alone. But The Big Heat was also projected digitally. But that’s nothing to complain about. It’s a gorgeous digital transfer.