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

Watch your back! 'Noir City' fest wraps


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This year's Noir City film festival at the Castro Theatre finishes with some rarely seen examples of the genre. "I Walk Alone" (1947) is what Frankie Madison (virile Burt Lancaster) does when released from jail after serving 14 years for bootlegging. He looks up his old partner Noll Turner (Kirk Douglas), expecting him to honor their agreement to give him half of their illegal earnings. Fat chance. Turner has become a legit owner of a swank nightclub and wants to forget about Frankie. Not a good idea. Torch singer Kay Lawrence (striking Lizabeth Scott) used to be Noll's girl, but now wants to help Frankie. With cold-eyed Wendell Corey. Lancaster and Douglas are electric enemies in their first of seven co-starring movies. Directed by Byron Haskin. Screenplay by Charles Schnee from a play by Theodore Reeves. Not available on DVD. Quintessential thug Lawrence Tierney becomes a "Bodyguard" (1948) after being fired from the police force for insubordination. His new employer owns a meat-packing company. When an inspector is murdered, Tierney investigates and exposes corruption in the industry. With Priscilla Lane and Steve Brodie. Swift direction by Richard Fleishcher. Fred Niblo and Harry Essex wrote the screenplay, based on a story by George W. George and future director Robert Altman. (2/1)

Beautiful psychology professor Loretta Young becomes "The Accused" (1949) after accidentally killing a student who tried to rape her. She eliminates traces of her presence at the crime scene, then flees. Her conscience troubles her, however, as she watches the investigation unfold. Also troubling is her romance with the dead boy's guardian. An unjustly forgotten gem. With Robert Cummings, Wendell Corey, and Sam Jaffe. William Dieterle directed. Ketti Frings' screenplay is based on June Truesdell's novel. Mean, violent Charles McGraw is "The Threat" (1949), a convict who escapes from Folsom Prison and plans to avenge himself on those who sent him there. With Milo O'Shea and Virginia Grey. Crisply directed by Felix Feist. Screenplay by Dick Irving Hyland and Hugh King, from a story by King. (2/2)

Although primarily remembered as the husband and father on TV's long-running "Hazel," Don Defore also made many B-pictures. Playing a US Secret Service agent, he dialed "Southside 1-1000" (1950) to get into San Quentin. He and the agency suspect that a master engraver, in jail for life, is behind a forged currency ring. With sexy Andrea King as the woman who complicates things. Directed by Boris Ingster, from a screenplay by Ingster and Leo Townsend. Baby Boomers recall Gale Storm from two successful 1950s TV series, "My Little Margie" and "Oh, Susanna," but she also toiled in the B-picture fields before stardom hit. In "The Underworld Story" (1950), she's the owner of a small-town newspaper who hires a corrupt reporter (sleazy Dan Duryea). He crusades to save a young woman unjustly accused of murder, but is really interested in her defense fund. This predates Billy Wilder's celebrated take on a similar subject, "Ace in the Hole," by one year. With Herbert Marshall, Alan Hale, Jr., and Howard Da Silva. Smoothly directed by Cyril (Cy) Endfield, from a tight screenplay by Henry Blankfort, based on Endfield's adaptation of a story by Craig Rice. (2/3)

Lee J. Cobb is "The Man Who Cheated Himself" (1950), a veteran San Francisco cop having an affair with a married socialite (Jane Wyatt). He witnesses her killing her husband and covers it up. But his kid brother (gay John Dall), a rookie cop, is assigned to the case. He soon begins to figure out what happened. Tautly directed by Felix Feist from a smart screenplay by Phillip MacDonald and Seton I. Miller, from a story by Miller. Shown in a newly restored 35mm print. Howard Hughes, then owner of RKO Studios, decided that veteran supporting player Charles McGraw, usually cast as tough hood, should be a star of sorts by having him overcome a "Roadblock" (1951). He's an insurance agent who falls for the avaricious Joan Dixon. She wants money. He wants to make her happy. Neither gets their wish. Harold Daniels directed from a screenplay by Steve Fisher and George Bricker, based on a story by Richard Landau and Daniel Mainwaring. (2/3)

Bar waitress Billie Nash (Beverley Michaels) is a "Wicked Woman" (1953). She convinces employer Richard Egan to fleece his well-off alcoholic wife then flee with Billie to Mexico. But Percy Helton has his own lustful plans for the blonde femme fatale. Russell Rouse directed from an original screenplay by Rouse and Clarence Greene. Fritz Lang's masterpiece "The Big Heat" (1953) is a brilliant noir about big-city corruption. Honest cop Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) sets out to avenge the murder of his wife (Joceyln Brando). His investigation worries hood Mike Lagana (a silky Alexander Scourby), who orders Vince Stone (Lee Marvin in his breakthrough role) to take care of Bannion. But Stone's obsessed about girlfriend Debbie Marsh (a memorable Gloria Grahame) cheating on him. He makes sure no man will ever want her again, but she avenges herself in a way he never imagined. With Jeanette Nolan and, in a bit, Carolyn Jones, very different from her Morticia Addams. Ford, Marvin, and Scourby are terrific; Grahame is unforgettable. Crackling screenplay by Sydney Boehm. (2/4)

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