More dark doings in the city
Noir City Film Fest 2007 concludes at the Castro Theatre
by Tavo Amador
This year's Noir City Film Festival continues at the Castro Theatre with some sensational examples of the genre showcased by founder and critic Eddie Muller and programmer extraordinaire Anita Monga.
Edward G. Robinson is best remembered for his gangster roles, but he had an exceptionally broad range as an actor, and in Fritz Lang's Scarlet Street (1945) gives a compelling, sympathetic performance as a man whose obsession for a beautiful woman (Joan Bennett) destroys his life. Watching Robinson sink from petit bourgeois respectability to desperate criminal is heartbreaking and frightening. Bennett is supremely indifferent to his feelings and deserves her creepy, dangerous boyfriend, played with frightening precision by Dan Duryea. This is one of Lang's greatest movies. The crackerjack screenplay is by Dudley Nichols. Beverly Michaels is the Wicked Woman (53) whose arrival by bus at a small town leads to chaos. Richard Egan and Percy Kilbride, best known as Pa Kettle, are among her victims. (2/1)
In The Big Combo (55), buffed Cornell Wilde is a cop battling crook Richard Conte for blonde Jean Wallace, who doesn't want either of them. With Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman. Directed by Joseph L. Lewis. With memorable cinematography by John Alton. "B"-picture regular Turhan Bey is The Spiritualist (48), out to fleece wealthy widow Lynn Bari of her money, and hoping for something more from her naive daughter (Cathy O'Donnell). Alton's black-and-white camerawork dazzles. (2/2)
Handsome, magnificently buffed Burt Lancaster was not someone to cross. In I Walk Alone (48), he spends time in prison for a crime he committed, and upon release discovers partner Kirk Douglas living a fine, respectable life financed by their ill-gotten gains. Lancaster plans a fearsome revenge. Douglas is a smooth, worthy opponent. Their danse macabre is gripping. Sultry Lizabeth Scott, a regular Dark City denizen, alternated between sympathetic and treacherous dames. Here, she's good, but managing Lancaster isn't easy. The striking Scott, whom producer Hal Wallis signed and promoted as another Lauren Bacall, saw her career decline in the 50s after disreputable Confidential magazine suggested she was a lesbian. With Wendell Corey. Crisply directed by Byron Haskin. This classic was thought lost but was recently rediscovered and is presented in an arc
No Noir Festival would be complete without vehicles starring the Dark City's Queen Bee, Joan Crawford. In The Damned Don't Cry (50), she reprises Mildred Pierce. This time, however, she climbs to success as a fashion model/hooker after her only child gets killed in a car accident and hubby Richard Egan doesn't realize she can't stay trapped in their dull factory town life. Gangster David Brian falls for her and hires a disreputable socialite (Selena Royale) to turn Joan into a lady. A quick learner, Crawford is swiftly transformed from Ethel Whitehead to Lorna Hanson Forbes, a stylish, gracious Texas heiress. Brian wants his Galatea to help him eliminate handsome rival Steve Cochran, but alas, Ethel/Lorna discovers she loves him. What's a girl to do? This is operatic noir at its most intense, and is taken very seriously by the star, whose fans made it a box-office hit. In Possessed (47), Crawford is a nurse inexplicably obsessed by homely architect Van Heflin, who dumps her. In the meantime, she cares for Raymond Massey's invalid wife. When she dies, Crawford, on the rebound, marries the widower and becomes a kind stepmother to his daughter (Geraldine Brooks). But her heart still belongs to Heflin. When he begins courting her stepdaughter, Crawford becomes unhinged, shoots him, and has a nervous breakdown that nearly causes a tsunami. This well-intentioned look at mental illness was cutting edge at the time and a huge success, earning Crawford a Best Actress Oscar nomination. It also confirmed that the former MGM glamour girl had dethroned Bette Davis as Queen of the Warners lot. (2/4)
Please check www.noircity.com or call the Castro Theatre for program details.