Last Day at Noir City

The Castro was nearly empty for the last double bill of this year’s Noir City – a stark contrast to Saturday night’s packed house. I think there was some sort of ball game going on.

Sunday had only one double bill, but the show went all day. You could start watching the whole double bill at 1:00, 3:00, 4:40 (my choice), and 7:00. Both films were dark, gloomy, and thoroughly entertaining.

They represented the year 1961.

Underworld USA
Now this is noir! And prime Sam Fuller. The bad guys are as bad as they can be. And the hero isn’t much better, even though he slowly grows a conscience.

Cliff Robertson plays a safe cracker on a 20-year quest to avenge his father’s death. Not that his father was such a great man; a criminal himself, he had started his son on a career path that would inevitably lead to time in prison. Three of the father’s killers end up as top crime bosses, so successful that they’ve gain respectability. Our thuggish antihero joins up with the syndicate, makes himself liked, and starts working to destroy it from within.

Told in that sleek and unforgiving Fuller style, Underworld USA presents a world where crime can become respectable, but where a thug is always a thug, especially if he was destined for that role from birth.

I give this one an A-.

The movie was projected digitally off a very good DCP.

Blast of Silence
The big question is: Why didn’t Allen Baron become a major cinematic auteur? I can only imagine what this guy could have done with real money.

The very fact that Blast of Silence exists feels like a major miracle. Baron made this tight little thriller for $20,000. The star (a not-yet-famous Peter Falk) dropped out at the last minute and Baron had to take over the lead role, himself. And yet it came out good enough for Universal Pictures to buy this independent film.

It’s not only good. It’s great! Baron plays a professional hitman who goes to New York City to take out a crime boss. This is all happening around Christmas and New Year. We follow him as he trails his victim, gets a gun, and runs into innocent old friends (not a good thing on this sort of business trip).

The film has a very strange and effective narration unlike any other I’ve ever heard. It’s not a voice-of-God third person, or a conventional first-person voice, either. It’s in the second person, as if one part of his brain is talking to the other. “Calm down. You know what you’re doing.”

For such a cheap movie, it’s surprising stylish. A scene in a nightclub cuts to close-ups of grotesque patrons to the beat of the bongo.

Baron had a long career directing television, but he never had a chance to make another feature film. That’s a shame. I give this one an A.

The 35mm print had some bad scratches early on, but mostly, it’s excellent.

More than the movies

There’s more to look at than movies a Noir City. There’s live music, books on sale in the mezzanine, and audience members dressed for the occasion.

Some choice photos: