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

Scary perspectives at the Castro Theatre


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Eddie Muller's annual Noir City film festival plays the Castro Theatre Jan. 20-29. The genre's dark worldview seems especially appropriate now.

Robert Siodmak, who helmed Burt Lancaster's star-making debut in 1946's The Killers, directed him in Criss Cross (1949), a story of romantic obsession. Steve Thompson (Lancaster) still loves ex-wife Anna Dundee (Yvonne De Carlo, years before The Munsters). She's re-married, to a criminal (Dan Duryea). Steve arranges an armored car robbery that he hopes will let him take her away. But things go wrong. Lancaster's terrific – his virility smolders. De Carlo is splendid. Duryea is appropriately sleazy. With Stephen McNally and Richard Long, well before The Big Valley. Screenplay by Daniel Fuchs, from the novel by Don Tracy. John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle (1950) is a classic heist movie. When Sam Jaffe is released from prison, he plans the perfect jewelry robbery, using a perfect group of crooks. He soon learns that perfection is an ideal, never realized. Memorable performances from Jaffe (a decade before TV's Ben Casey ), Louis Calhern, Sterling Hayden, Jean Hagen, and James Whitmore. An 11th-billed Marilyn Monroe shows a cynical side of herself as Calhern's mistress. Huston and Ben Maddow pungently adapted W.R. Burnett's novel. (Fri., 1/20)

In Kansas City Confidential (1952), John Payne hopes to make a new life after leaving prison. But he's unjustly accused of a million-dollar robbery. He hunts down the scary culprits (Neville Brand and Lee Van Cleef) in Mexico, and falls for sweet Colleen Gray. Phil Karlson directed, from a screenplay by George Bruce and Harry Essex, based on a story by Harold Greene and Rowland Brown. Lee Marvin, Stephen McNally and J. Carroll Nash plan a bank robbery in an Arizona mining town, causing a Violent Saturday (1955). Victor Mature, Sylvia Sidney and Ernest Borgnine are among those whose lives are disrupted in this delirious mix of soap opera and crime. Richard Fleischer directed, from Sydney Boehm's screenplay, based on William L. Heath's novel. In lush Cinemascope. (Sat., 1/21, matinee)

Federico Fellini co-authored Four Ways Out (La citta se defende) (1951). Four amateurs who rob a stadium during a soccer match must separate to avoid capture. Then the trouble begins. Pietro Germi directed this unusual blend of noir and neo-realism. With a young Gina Lollobrigida. Mario Monicelli's celebrated spoof of caper films The Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958) is set in Rome. Inept amateurs plan to rob a government pawnshop, with hilarious results. Marcello Mastrioanni, sexy Vittorio Gassman, Claudia Cardinale, and Renato Salvatori star. Monicelli had a hand in the screenplay, which is based on a story by Italo Calvino. Both films in Italian with English subtitles. (Sat., 1/21, evening)

Blacklisted American director Jules Dassin went to France and made Rififi (1955), a brilliant heist drama that became an international success. The celebrated 30-minute break-in sequence is a model of hold-your-breath suspense. With Jean Servais. Dassin and Rene Wheeler adapted the novel by Andre Le Breton. Claude Sautet's 1960 Classe Tous Risques (Consider All Risks), an insightful look at dishonor among thieves, is unjustly forgotten. Lino Venturi is eager to end his criminal exile in Italy by returning to France with his wife and two small children. When they arrive in Nice, he calls his gangster pals, who aren't happy to hear from him. They reluctantly send young, sexy Jean Paul Belmondo to bring him to Paris, but it's clear he's on his own. What will he do? With Marcel Dalio. Sautet co-wrote the screenplay, based on a novel by Jose Giovanni. Both pictures in French with English subtitles. (Sun., 1/22)

In Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (1955), Sterling Hayden plots a precise racetrack heist but soon discovers how many things can go wrong. Vince Edwards (a few years before Ben Casey) and Jay C. Flippen are the co-conspirators. With Colleen Gray and noir queen Marie Windsor. Kubrick's direction is taut and suspenseful. He and Jim Thompson adapted Lionel White's novel. Cruel Gun Story (1964) stars Japan's King of Noir, Jo Shishido, who's behind bars for having avenged himself on a man who paralyzed his sister. He gets sprung by a mobster who wants him to rob an armored truck loaded with loot from the Japanese Derby. He learns too late that there's more to the assignment. Directed by Takumi Furakawa. Written by Hisataka Kai and Haruhiko Oyabu. In Japanese with English subtitles. (Mon., 1/23)

Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, Herbert Lom, Cecil Parker, and Danny Green are The Lady Killers (1955), Alexander's MacKendrick's witty noir about bank robbers who pretend to be members of a string quartet. They rent rooms from a lovable elderly lady (Katie Johnson) while they plan their heist. She innocently foils them at every turn. Story and screenplay by William Rose. A delight. The League of Gentlemen (1960) stars Jack Hawkins as a discarded veteran who convinces cronies to help him rob a bank, using a pulp novel as a guide. Very funny. With Richard Attenborough. Directed by Basil Dearden, screenplay by Bryan Forbes from the novel by John Boland. (Tues., 1/24)

Once a Thief (1960) marked French superstar Alain Delon's Hollywood debut. He's an ex-con going straight, married to Ann-Margaret, when cop Van Heflin charges him with a crime he didn't commit. Delon responds by planning a robbery with his brother (homely, virile Jack Palance). The gifted Delon, probably the era's most beautiful actor, easily commands the screen. Shot on location in San Francisco. Directed by Ralph Nelson. Screenplay by Zekial Marko, from his novel. Gorgeous fugitive Delon joins The Sicilian Clan (1969), headed by Mafioso Jean Gabin. Delon tells him how they can commit a diamond heist. Lino Venturi is the determined cop hunting him down. Things get more complicated when the boss's daughter-in-law falls for Delon. Directed by Henri Verneuil, who helped adapt Auguste Le Breton's novel. Great Enno Morricone score. (Wed., 1/24)

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