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

Dangerous denizens


Noir City 9 plays the Castro Theatre

MGM's prettiest leading man, Robert Taylor.
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This year's Noir City film festival at the Castro Theatre, running Jan. 21-30, includes many rarely seen, dark takes on human nature. Viewers will be looking over their shoulders on their way home from the screenings.

Robert Taylor, MGM's prettiest leading man of the 1930s, must climb a High Wall (1947) after combat-induced brain damage has him institutionalized for admitting he murdered his wife. Sexy, slightly cheap psychiatrist Audrey Totter wonders if he really is a killer, and, if not, who is. Directed by Curtis Bernardt. Lots of dark, rainy cinematography. Stranger on the Third Floor (1940) is considered the first noir film. Appropriately, it stars the great, creepy Peter Lorre. An innocent man (noir veteran Elisha Cook, Jr.) is convicted of murder, based on reporter John McGuire's mistaken testimony. In an amazing scene, the journalist dreams he's the actual killer. His girlfriend (Margaret Tallichet) is determined to learn the truth. Directed in a wildly expressionistic style by Boris Ingster. (1/21)

Strangers in the Night (1944) finds World War II vet William Terry hoping to meet his pen-pal sweetheart. Her mother, however, says she's away. With Virginia Grey. Directed by Anthony Mann. Ingrid Bergman won her first Best Actress Oscar for being tormented by husband Charles Boyer in Gaslight (1944). This Victorian thriller is expertly directed by gay George Cukor, and marked Angela Lansbury's film debut as a tarty housemaid. The suave Boyer is truly scary, determined to drive Bergman out of her mind. Bergman, normally likeable, relishes her revenge, revealing a sadistic streak. With Joseph Cotton and Dame Mae Whitty. (1/22 )

Robert Young – nothing like he would be on television's Father Knows Best or Marcus Welby, M.D. – is unnerving as an adulterer/sex addict in They Won't Believe Me (1947). Susan Hayward and Jane Greer are terrific as two of his victims. Very upsetting. Directed by Irving Pichel. In Don't Bother To Knock (1952), Marilyn Monroe, on the brink of stardom, plays an unbalanced babysitter in Manhattan who invites airline pilot Richard Widmark to spend the night. With a young Anne Bancroft and Elisha Cook, Jr. Directed by Roy Ward Baker. This disturbing movie shows a side of Monroe rarely captured on screen. (1/22)

Cukor directed classic Hollywood matinee idol Ronald Coleman to a Best Actor Oscar for living A Double Life (1947). Coleman is a famous actor playing Othello. He finds himself living the part. With Signe Hasso, Edmund O'Brien, and Shelley Winters, as a friendly, available waitress in her bre

Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight.
akthrough role. From a dazzling script by Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon. Real-life gay actor Albert Dekker plays identical twins, one of whom is a psychopath, in Among the Living (41). With a pre-breakdown Frances Farmer and a young Susan Hayward. Directed by Stuart Heisler. Very atmospheric. Not on DVD. (1/23)

The Lady Gambles (1949) stars the great Barbara Stanwyck as a woman whose addiction to craps and other games of chance destroys her marriage, and may end her life. With Robert Preston, years before The Music Man. Wonderful Las Vegas locations show how that city once looked. Directed by Michael Gordon. Stanwyck earned her fourth Best Actress Oscar nomination for Sorry, Wrong Number (48). She's a manipulative, bedridden heiress alone in her mansion who, thanks to a mix-up on her telephone line, realizes husband Burt Lancaster is planning to kill her. With Ed Begley. Anatole Litvak directed. Gripping. (1/24)

Olivia de Havilland plays identical twins facing The Dark Mirror (1946). One is good, the other evil. Which one was at the scene of a murder? That's what psychiatrist Lew Ayres has to determine. He falls in love with one, upsetting the other. De Havilland gives two superb performances, characteristically making the nice sister as interesting as the sinister one. Splendid direction by Robert Siodmark. In Crack-up (46), museum curator Pat O'Brien lives through a huge train wreck, but awakens with amnesia. Did it ever happen? Is Herbert Marshall trying to drive him crazy? With the always welcome Claire Trevor and Ray Collins, more than a decade before television's Perry Mason. Directed by Irving Reis. (1/25)

Joan Bennett is The Woman on the Beach (1947). She's married to painter Charles Bickford – whom she blinded – then meets Robert Ryan. RKO badly cut Jean Renoir's melodrama about madness and passion. Consequently, it's flawed but fascinating. Not on DVD. In Beware My Lovely (52), whisky-voiced noir queen Ida Lupino is a widow who needs a man around the house. She hires drifter Robert Ryan, then soon discovers why he has no references. Will the widow outwit the menacing handyman? Suspenseful direction by Harry Horner. Not on DVD. (1/26)

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