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

Fearful times: Noir plays the Castro


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Eddie Muller's 16th Noir City Film Festival, running Jan. 26-Feb. 4 at the Castro Theatre, features many frightening, rarely seen films. Audiences will leave chilled and edgy.

"I Wake Up Screaming" (1941) laments Jill Lynn (Betty Grable) after her sister Vicki (Carole Landis) is murdered. Broadway producer Frankie Christopher (Victor Mature) had discovered Vicki, but she was leaving him for Hollywood. Malevolent cop Ed Cornell (Laird Cregar) thinks Christopher is the killer. Is he right? Grable, a few years away from succeeding Alice Faye's as 20th Century Fox's queen of musicals, is top-billed and effective, but creepy Cregar steals the picture. Directed by Bruce Humberstone from a screenplay by Dwight Taylor, based on Steve Fisher's novel. Paul Raydon (gay Albert Dekker) discovers that his twin brother, John (Dekker again) whom he thought dead, is "Among the Living" (1941), having been locked up in the ancestral home's attic for decades. John escapes. Young Susan Hayward is the woman both brothers want. Swift direction by Stuart Heisler from a taut script by Lester Cole and Garrett Fort. Superb cinematography. (1/26)

Cold, blonde, pretty Alan Ladd offers "This Gun for Hire" (1942), which made him a star and teamed him for the first time with blonde, pretty Veronica Lake. Philip Raven (Ladd) is engaged by foreign agent Willard Gates (sleazy Laird Cregar) to kill a man. Raven does, but is paid in marked bills, making him a target for cop Michael Crane (Robert Preston, decades before "The Music Man.") Government officials ask Ellen Graham (Lake) to investigate Gates and Raven. Adapted by Albert Maltz and W.R. Burnett from Graham Greene's novel. Suspenseful direction by Frank Tuttle. Edith Head designed Lake's memorable costumes. A classic of the genre. Jim Fleg (peerless George Sanders) and Myra Blandy (stunning Gail Patrick, long before she produced TV's "Perry Mason") steal a priceless Shakespeare folio from a public library, accidentally killing a guard. They sell fake copies of it to greedy collectors, but cop Hal McByrne (handsome Richard Denning) traces those forgeries back to Fleg. The mad finale takes place among the bookshelves as a buyer demands his money back. Sanders is terrific. With Sidney Blackmer. Written and directed by John Larkin. (1/27)

Santa Rosa is the setting for Alfred Hitchcock's suspenseful "Shadow of a Doubt" (1943), which plagues Theresa Wright as she wonders if her adored uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) is really a serial killer. She will soon find out. With MacDonald Carey, Henry Travers, and Hume Cronyn. Closeted gay Thornton Wilder, Sally Benson, and Alma Reville (Mrs. Hitchcock) wrote the screenplay. Splendid location photography shows how the town has changed. In "Address Unknown" (1944), Paul Lukas, fresh from winning the Best Actor Oscar for 1943's "Watch on the Rhine," plays a San Francisco art dealer who returns to his native Germany and becomes enthralled by the Nazis. Not a true noir, but a dark, fascinating rarity. (1/27)

Thieves Alan Curtis and Frank Craven meet their "Destiny" (1944) in the form of a small-town blind young woman (Gloria Jean) who foils their vile plans. Screenplay by Roy Chanslor and Ernest Pascal, from a story by Jean Levy-Strauss. This 65-minute film was initially the opening segment of director Julian Duvivier's ambitious "Flesh and Fantasy," (1943), three loosely linked stories of the occult. Its glittery cast includes Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Charles Boyer, Thomas Mitchell, and Dame May Whitty. Screenplay by Pascal, Samuel Hoffenstein, and Ellis St. Joseph, from stories by Oscar Wilde ("Lord Arthur Saville's Crime"), Laszlo Vadnay, and St. Joseph. (1/28)

Humphrey Bogart solves the "Conflict" (1945) with wife Rose Hobart by killing her, making it look accidental. But psychiatrist Sidney Greenstreet, a specialist in murder, isn't fooled. With gorgeous Alexis Smith. A Bogart rarity, directed by Curtis Bernhardt from a screenplay by Dwight Taylor and Arthur T. Horman, based on a story by Robert Siodmark and Alfred Neumann. "Jealousy" (1945) is what the cops think caused a murder involving a female cabbie (Jane Randolph), an alcoholic emigre writer (gay Nils Asther), and a charming doctor (John Loder.) Directed by Gustav Machaty, who had helmed Hedy Lamarr in 1933's scandalous "Ecstacy," from a story by Arnold Philips, Dalton Trumbo, and Machaty. Loder and Lamarr were married at the time. (1/29)

Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake re-teamed for 1946's "The Blue Dahlia," directed by George Marshall from an original screenplay by Raymond Chandler. Ladd, returning from wartime military service, is suspected of murdering his unfaithful wife. With brutish William Bendix, very different from his later television persona in "The Life of Riley." A landmark film. In "Night Editor" (1946), married cop William Gargan is cheating on wife Jeff Donnell with society dame Janis Carter. They witness a Lover's Lane killing, but can't get involved. His conscience torments him, but she's aroused by the violence. A kinky gem. Henry Levin directed, from a screenplay by Scott Littleton, Hal Smith, and Hal Burdick. (1/30)

Radio star Claude Rains' secretary commits suicide, but he claims it's murder, which results in trouble for the previously "The Unsuspected," (1947). With wholesome Joan Caulfield and femme fatale Audrey Totter. Rains gives a typically mesmerizing performance. Directed by Michael Curtiz, from a screenplay by Ranald MacDougall and Bess Meredyth, based on Charlotte Armstrong's novel. Fast-talking, crusading reporter Lee Tracy is threatened by gangsters whose criminal activities he's been chronicling. He hires private eye Don Castle to protect him. When their car swerves off the road into the ocean, they're trapped and face a "High Tide" (1947). Who will rescue them? An innovative B picture, well-directed by John Reinhardt, from a screenplay by Robert Presnell, Sr. and Raoul Whitfield. Additional dialogue by Peter Milne. (1/31)



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