Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Til death do them part


Joan Fontaine in director Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion (1941).
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Same-sex marriage is legal in most states, which is cause for celebration. But as this year's 13th Noir City film festival at the Castro Theatre, Til Death Do Us Part (Jan. 16-25) shows, matrimony isn't always blissful – it can be deadly. The program honors actors Joan Fontaine (1917-2013), Robert Ryan (1909-73), and Barbara Stanwyck (1907-90), all of whom suffered onscreen marital tribulations.

Ann Sheridan stars in director Norman Foster's Woman on the Run (1950): unjustly forgotten.

The festival begins with the world premiere of a restored print of Woman on the Run (1950), starring the unjustly forgotten Ann Sheridan. When her husband disappears after witnessing a murder, the police think she'll lead them to him – but he's history to her. Reporter Dennis O'Keefe charms her, however, and suddenly she's at risk. Superb San Francisco locations. Norman Foster directed. Screenplay by Alan Campbell (Dorothy Parker's husband). Fontaine became a star as the shy, insecure second Mrs. De Winter in Rebecca (1940), but she chafed at being typecast. As Christabel Caine in Nicholas Ray's Born to Be Bad (1950), she arrives in San Francisco posing as a lost lamb. Cousin Joan Leslie helps her, but soon regrets her generosity. Christabel snares her benefactress' very rich husband (Zachary Scott), has a torrid affair with a novelist (Ryan) and leaves emotional devastation in her wake. Screenplay by Edith Summer. Presented with its original ending, deleted for the initial release. (Fri. evening, Jan. 16)

Fontaine was the only performer to win an Oscar in an Alfred Hitchcock film, earning the Best Actress award for 1941's Suspicion . She's a trusting heiress who, against all advice, marries a penniless charmer (bisexual Cary Grant), then wonders if he's trying to kill her. With Cedric Hardwicke, Nigel Bruce, and Dame May Whitty. Samuel Raphelson, Joan Harrison, and Alma Reville (Mrs. Hitchcock) adapted Frances Iles' novel Before the Fact. Preview audiences demanded a revised ending, alas. Whiskey-voiced Ida Lupino was a leading actress and director during the 1940s and 50s, and The Bigamist (1953) shows how adept she was in both capacities. A childless San Francisco couple (Fontaine and Edmond O'Brien) want to adopt a baby. Social worker Edmund Gwenn discovers that O'Brien has another wife (Lupino) living in Los Angeles. Lupino brings a sharp feminist perspective to the risks of marriage in an era when most women were financially dependent on men. Screenplay by Collier Young (previously married to Lupino and wed to Fontaine at the time). Newly restored print. (Sat., Jan. 17, matinee)

As Ivy (1947), Fontaine relished playing her first unsympathetic part. She's a beautiful, proper Edwardian lady who's also ambitious and manipulative. Herbert Marshall, Richard Ney, and Patric Knowles are her victims. With Hardwicke and Lilian Fontaine (mother of Joan and her older sister, Olivia de Havilland). Sam Wood directed from Charles Bennett's screenplay. The Suspect (1944) is Charles Laughton, one of the era's finest actors and, sadly, a guilt-ridden homosexual. In this Edwardian noir, he's a mousey, henpecked tobacconist whose infatuation with beautiful Ella Raines has unexpected consequences. Laughton is very touching. Directed by Robert Siodmark. Screenplay by Bertram Millhouser. (Jan. 17, evening)

A parole officer (the superbly buffed Cornel Wilde) thinks he's Shockproof (1949), but Patricia Knight, released from jail after serving five years for killing her husband in "self-defense," has news for him – especially after they marry. Douglas Sirk directed from a screenplay by Robert Fuller and Helen Deutsch that, despite censorship-mandated cuts, remains potent. In Sleep My Love (1948), Claudette Colbert awakens on a train but cannot recall how the ride began. Husband Don Ameche helps her regain her memory with hypnosis – but does he have something else in mind? With Robert Cummings and, in a bit, gay Raymond Burr, years before television's Perry Mason . Smooth, taut direction by Sirk. Screenplay by St. Clair McKelway and Leo Rosten. (Sun., Jan. 18, matinee and evening)

Marriage, murder, and martinis mix merrily in The Thin Man (1934) and After the Thin Man (1936). William Powell's celebrated portrayal of Dashiell Hammett's Nick Charles was matched by Myrna Loy's Nora (reportedly based on Lillian Hellman), and the hard-drinking pair became classic Hollywood's ideal screen husband and wife. The second film is set in San Francisco. Among the supporting players are soon-to-be-a-star James Stewart, Maureen O'Sullivan, gay Cesar Romero, and Asta, the beloved terrier. Woody "One-Take" Van Dyke directed both pictures from scripts by husband-and-wife team Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich. (Mon., Jan. 19, matinee and evening)

A pre-Dallas Barbara Bel Geddes is Caught (1949) in the great Max Ophuls' film based on a script by gay Arthur Laurents. She marries the man of her dreams, the fabulously wealthy Ryan, who turns out to be a nightmare. She finds refuge working for a doctor (James Mason in his American film debut), but reconciles with her husband and becomes pregnant, before once more escaping his maniacal control. Can the doctor save her? Ophuls' camera technique remains unmatched, and he elicits fine performances, especially from Ryan. In The Set-Up (1949), Ryan plays a boxer who, against wife Audrey Totter's pleas, agrees to one more match, which his unscrupulous manager has guaranteed he ll lose. His unexpected victory results in life-threatening danger. Ryan had been a pugilist, and it shows. Robert Wise directed. Screenplay by Art Cohn. (Tues., Jan. 20, evening)

"Home is where you go when you've seen all the other places," says a weary Stanwyck in Fritz Lang's Clash by Night (1952). She marries a simple fisherman (Paul Douglas), but has a torrid affair with Ryan. Lang gives this melodrama a noir feel, and Stanwyck is superb. Marilyn Monroe is surprisingly believable as a cannery worker engaged to Apollo-like Keith Andes. Alfred Hayes adapted Clifford Odets' play. Stanwyck commits a Crime of Passion (1957) after giving up her journalism career in San Francisco to marry Sterling Hayden and move to Los Angeles. Her restlessness results in serious trouble. Burr plays a police inspector. With Fay Wray. Gerd Oswald directed from an original screenplay by Jo Eisenger.


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