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Noir City fest concludes at the Castro

by Tavo Amador

Noir City fest concludes at the Castro

Eddie Muller's Noir City film festival concludes at the Castro Theatre on Sun., Feb. 3. Movies revealing the widespread anxieties gurgling beneath the surface of what would be inaccurately called "The Fabulous Fifties" in America will be screened.

Innocent artist James Vanning (Aldo Ray) is threatened at "Nightfall" (1956), after a pair of vicious crooks misplaces their bank heist money, then think he has it. While on the run, Vanning meets sexy model Mary Gardner (the young Anne Bancroft), which complicates things. Very suspenseful. With Brian Keith, James Gregory, Frank Albertson, and Rudy Bond. Directed by Jacques Tourneur (1947's "Out of the Past"). Screenplay by Sterling Silliphant from a novel by David Goodis. Jean Louis designed Bancroft's ensembles. Nat Harbin (sleazy Dan Duryea) is "The Burglar" (1957) who, with his cronies, robs a fraudulent spiritualist. They're now hiding in Atlantic City. Not only does Nat have to keep the guys away from the cash, he has to shield his seductive "ward," Gladden (the super-buxom Jayne Mansfield) from their lascivious desires. But what about his own lust and guilt? The psychosexual dynamics are luridly fascinating. With Mickey O'Shaugnessy and Martha Vickers. Directed by Paul Wendkos. Screenplay by David Goodis, from his novel. (1/31)

Orson Welles' Sheriff Hank Quinlan displays more than a "Touch of Evil" (1958) when investigating murder, drug smuggling, and other sordid doings in an American town on the Mexican border. Mexican cop Mike Vargas (animated Charlton Heston) and his new Anglo bride Susan (Janet Leigh) inadvertently run afoul of Quinlan. Mike is determined to end the rampant corruption, while Quinlan is equally bent on preserving his reputation for always capturing the guilty parties. With Dennis Weaver as a shifty motel clerk; Joseph Calleia as Quinlan's loyal assistant suffering from unrequited love; Akim Tamiroff as a drug lord; Ray Collins as a DA; an unbilled Mercedes McCaimbridge as a butch gang leader thrilled to watch her "boys" sexually torment Susan; and, unforgettably, Marlene Dietrich as Tania, a raven-haired, cigar-smoking madam who reads Quinlan's fate in the Tarot cards. "Your future's all used up," she warns. Directed and written by Welles, from Whit Masterson's novel. A masterpiece. Icy Claude, an alienated youth (TV's future "Ben Casey," Vince Edwards), commits "Murder By Contract" (1958). Unexpectedly, while on assignment in California, he discovers his conscience, which leads to complications. Directed by Irving Lerner from a screenplay by Ben Simcoe and an uncredited Ben Maddow. Martin Scorcese is among the film's admirers. (2/1)

Samuel Fuller pulls back "The Crimson Kimono" (1958) to reveal what it was like to be a Nisei 13 years after Japan surrendered to end WWII. Handsome James Shigeta and Glen Corbett investigate the killing of a stripper in the Japanese section of Los Angeles. Victoria Shaw is a key witness, and both men fall for her. Racism, among other things, flares up. Excellent performances, especially by Shigeta. Rapid-fire direction from Fuller, who also wrote the original screenplay. Desperate Dave Burke (Ed Begley) faces the "Odds Against Tomorrow" (1959) when he hires bigoted ex-con Robert Ryan and black Harry Belafonte (top-billed) to rob an Upstate New York bank. Racism may ruin everything. Sadly, that issue remains timely. With Shelley Winters as Ryan's girlfriend. But he's expertly seduced by an especially kinky Gloria Grahame, whose eyes light up when she disrobes while asking what he felt while killing a man. Brilliantly acted. Taut direction by Robert Wise. Screenplay by blacklisted Abraham Polonsky (writing as John O. Killens) and Nelson Gidding from the novel by William R. McGivern. (Matinee, 2/2)

Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Paul Belmondo left the world "Breathless" in 1960. Belmondo is Michel Poiccard, a petty, delusional crook who reeks of sex appeal. He meets pretty Susan (Jean Seberg), an American in Paris, a girl who can't say "Non." Michel steals a car, and things take a very ugly turn. Godard and Jean Pierre Melville have cameos. Original screenplay by Francois Truffault. Wonderful Paris locations. One of the most influential movies of the era. Equally influential but very different was Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" (1960). Marion Crane (terrific Janet Leigh) steals money from her employer's client, then hides at the Bates Motel, run by boyish Norman Bates (brilliant Anthony Perkins), who's devoted to his mother. With impossibly hunky John Gavin as Marion's lover, Vera Miles as her sister, and Martin Balsam as a smart cop. Watch for Ted Knight and Robert Osborne in uncredited bits. Joseph Stefan adapted Robert Bloch's novel. Hitchcock's suspenseful direction was aided immeasurably by Bernard Herrmann's unforgettable score. (2/2)

Samuel Fuller sends ex-con Toily Devlin (Cliff Robertson) on a nightmare journey into "Underworld, U.S.A. (1961). As a teenager, he witnessed four hoods murder his dad. Now he's determined to get revenge. He begins by rescuing Cuddles (Dolores Dorn), a drug courier who leads him to the killers. The F.B.I. offers Devlin a deal if he takes them to the criminals, but he wants to administer justice himself. With the memorably villainous Robert Emhardt, creepy Larry Gates, Richard Rust, and as the young Toily, David Kent. Original screenplay by Fuller. Allen Baron directed, wrote, and stars in "A Blast of Silence" (1961). He plays a hired killer from Cleveland who comes to New York to rub out a second-rate gangster. His plans are complicated by a former girlfriend whom he's never forgotten (Molly McCarthy), an obese gun-dealer with a penchant for rats, and other unnerving Gotham denizens. Shot on location in a scary Manhattan. The narration was penned by blacklisted Waldo Salt using the name Mel Davenport. This early example of neo-noir was made as the studio system was ending. (2/3)

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