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

Dark arts continue at the Castro


Anita Eckberg played Virginia Wilson/Yolanda Lange in Screaming Mimi (1958).
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The 14th annual Noir City film festival concludes at the Castro Theatre this week with excellent, rarely seen movies set in several worlds, including nightclubs, which provide classic noir venues. Two years before Federico Fellini immortalized her in La Dolce Vita (1960), Anita Eckberg played Virginia Wilson/Yolanda Lange in Screaming Mimi (1958). Released from a sanatorium where she recovered from a psycho's attempt to kill her, she goes to work as an "exotic dancer" at a nightclub run by lesbian Joann "Gypsy" Masters (Gypsy Rose Lee). Alas, Virginia/Yolanda is suspected of a series of murders. She's also being stalked, but by whom? Her Great Dane isn't sufficient protection, so reporter Bill Sweeney (Phil Carey) steps in. Gypsy sings "Put the Blame on Mame" and has her own ideas about how to safeguard her voluptuous "dancer." Directed by Gerd Oswald, from a feverish screenplay by Robert Blees, based on a novel by Frederic Brown. A young, pretty Warren Beatty is Mickey One (1965), Arthur Penn's hypnotic study of a stand-up comic forced to go underground to hide from murderous creditors determined to collect what he owes them. Highly stylized and ambiguous, it's also fascinating. With Franchot Tone and Hurd Hatfield. Screenplay by Alan Surgal. (1/28)

Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner star in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952).

Hollywood provides the backdrop for two splendid variations on noir themes. Vincente Minnelli's hugely enjoyable The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) stars Kirk Douglas as megalomaniac producer Jonathan Shields; first-billed Lana Turner as his most famous discovery, Georgia Lorrison; Walter Pidgeon as his reliable director; and Dick Powell as his frequent writer. Hunky Gilbert Roland is "Gaucho," a top Latin Lover star. Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Gloria Grahame is Powell's unfaithful wife, who meets a tragic end. "James Lee, you have a naughty mind, I'm happy to say," she coos. In addition to Grahame's prize, the film collected Academy Awards for Best Screenplay (Charles Schnee), Cinematography (Robert Surtees), Art Direction (Cedric Gibbons and Edward Cargagno), Set Decoration (Edwin B. Willis, Keogh Gleason), and Costume Design (Helen Rose). Based on a story by George Bradshaw. Playwright Clifford Odets knew about the classic studio system – he was married to MGM's Luise Rainier, the first actress to win two Oscars. Robert Aldrich directed the film version of his The Big Knife (1955), with Jack Palance as tortured Charles Castle, a major movie star who won't renew his contract. But he's hiding a dark secret, which the moguls will use to control him. Ida Lupino is his loyal wife. Shelley Winters is memorable as a dumb-blonde starlet who knows too much. Rod Steiger is riveting as a studio chief modeled on Louis B. Mayer. Wendell Corey is his loyal henchman. With Jean Hagen. Screenplay by James Poe. (1/29)

Victorian London, with its notorious fog, was a great noir setting, never more so than in The Lodger (1944). Beautiful Merle Oberon is Kitty Langley, an actress who lives with her financially strapped uncle and aunt (Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Sara Allgood). They take in lodger Laird Cregar, whom they soon fear may be Jack the Ripper. They're wrong, but he is indeed stalking someone. Is it Kitty? With the urbane George Sanders as a detective. Very atmospheric. Directed by John Brahm. Screenplay by Barre Lyndon, from the novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes. Puppeteer John Carridine (father of Keith and David) is Bluebeard (1944), Edgar G. Ulmer's version of the fatally attractive Lothario. With Jean Parker and gay 1930s leading man Nils Asther. Screenplay by Philip Gendron, based on a story by Arnold Lipp and Werner H. Furst. The great Edward G. Robinson saves sexy Joan Bennett from an attacker (Dan Duryea) on Scarlet Street (1945). No good deed was ever so harshly punished. Fritz Lang's noir masterpiece features a heartbreaking performance by Robinson. Bennett's chilling femme fatale is unforgettable. Dudley Nichols adapted the novel and play by Andre Mouezy-Eon. (1/30, matinee)

Although filmed in vivid Technicolor, Michael Powell's The Red Shoes (1948) is a dark study of a ballerina (Moira Shearer) torn between two men and her own artistic compulsion. Anton Walbrook is her demanding teacher, Marius Goring the man she loves. This lavish, lush but frightening study of obsession is based on Hans Christian Anderson's story. Screenplay by Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Among the legendary dancers appearing on screen are Leonide Massine, who succeeded Nijinksy in Serge Diaghilev's bed and on stage in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, and Robert Helpmann. Madame La Sylph (Judith Anderson) is determined to stage a production of The Specter of the Rose (1946), even if the lead dancer (Ivan Kirov) may be a wife-murderer. Is the lovely ballerina Heidi (Viola Essen) at risk? Directed by Ben Hecht and Lee Garmes, from a screenplay by Hecht. (1/30, evening)

Shearer and Powell reunited for Peeping Tom (1960), his first film without Emeric Pressburger. Critics and audiences were shocked by this creepy tale of a serial killer of young women who records their deaths using a movie camera. With Anna Massey. Original screenplay by Leo Marks. Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up is ostensibly about a murder, but also explores the nature of art. Thomas (David Hemmings) is a Mod photographer in swinging London. He takes some shots of a languid beauty (Vanessa Redgrave), then wonders if she's a killer. With Sarah Miles. Evocative of the easy sex and outre fashions of the era. Screenplay by Antonioni, from a short story by Julio Cortazar, with English dialogue by Edward Bond. Oscar nominations for Best Director, Best Story and Screenplay. (1/31, matinee & evening)


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