Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Dark doings continue at the Castro


Noir City Film Festival runs through this weekend

Humphrey Bogart in 1943. Photo: ImageMakers
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In classic film noir, urban centers are menacing, inherently threatening places, where residents may be neighbors but are isolated and have little sense of community. In the second week of Eddie Muller's terrific Noir City Film Festival playing the Castro Theatre, a scary San Francisco is featured, and it's a frightening town indeed. Edmund O'Brien is D.O.A . (50), a superbly plotted and beautifully photographed thriller. After learning he has been given a slow-acting, fatal poison and has only a few hours to live, O'Brien grimly, determinedly searches for his killer, first in Bagdad by the Bay, then tracking him down for a tense confrontation in a cold Los Angeles. Ernest Laszlo's cinematography adds immensely to the suspense. Viewers won't believe the changes in the San Francisco skyline. Superbly directed by Rudolph Mate. June Havoc, Gypsy Rose Lee's kid sister and the original Baby June immortalized in Gypsy, appeared in 20 movies during the 40s, most notably Gentlemen's Agreement (47). She stars in The Story of Molly X (49). After her gangster boyfriend is killed, Molly takes over his San Francisco gang and avenges herself on his murderer. She's convicted and sent to prison. This rare and intense woman-behind-bars drama is not available on DVD. (1/31)

Humphrey Bogart resolves one Conflict (45) when he murders wife Rose Hobart, then faces another when confronting criminologist Sidney Greenstreet. Their cat-and-mouse game is wonderful, a reversal of their Maltese Falcon (41) roles. With striking Alexis Smith, whose movie career failed to reach its potential, but who became a Broadway legend in the original 1971 production of Stephen Sondheim's Follies. The great gay actor Charles Laughton is The Suspect (44), a noir set in Edwardian London. He's an unattractive man trapped in a loveless marriage. Beautiful Ella Raines awakens the romantic in him, shows him just what's he's been missing, and he kills his wife in hopes of finding bliss with her. Poor fool. (2/1)

Edmund O'Brien should have known better than to let pretty secretary Larraine Day tempt him into murdering her boss, then assuming his identity, but he listened to The Third Voice (60). Naturally, things are much more complicated than

Ida Lupino in 1940. Photo: ImageMakers
he believed, and become even more so because of sultry, sexy singer Julie London. Set in a Mexican village. Sensational black-and-white cinemascope cinematography from the great Ernest Haller, whom both Joan Crawford and Bette Davis demanded for their films at Warners. No noir festival would be complete without the great Peter Lorre. He's The Face Behind the Mask (41), a horribly disfigured immigrant drawn into the criminal world. A blind Evelyn Keyes, Scarlett O'Hara's younger sister, offers love and salvation, but her chances of success are slim. Lorre gives a remarkable performance, both sympathetic and repugnant. (2/2)

Richard Widmark was another frequent denizen of the dark city. He became a star in his movie debut Kiss of Death (47), playing a psychotic, sadistic killer of old ladies. He's another dangerous, smiling psychopath who owns a Road House (48). Over business manager Cornell Wilde's objections, he hires tough, whiskey-voiced Ida Lupino to sing at his out-of-the-way establishment. Widmark obsesses over sultry Lupino, and gets crazed when she and Wilde fall for one another, creating an explosive triangle. With the always welcome Celeste Holm. Fine direction from Jean Negulesco. Widmark lives in Night and the City (50), one of the bleakest noirs ever made. He's a London grifter who thinks he's finally found the perfect con, the one to land him on easy street. It involves exploiting a famous Greco-Roman wrestler. His relentless pursuit of this twisted, amoral dream is pathetic, demented, and doomed. Under Jules Dassin's unsparing direction, Widmark gives a stunning, horrifying performance that stays with the viewer for a long time. Dassin also turns London into a creepy, dangerous town. The beautiful Gene Tierney is on hand, as are Hugh Marlowe and Herbert Lom, long before Peter Sellers tormented him in The Pink Panther movies. (2/3)

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