Alexander Coleman Reports from the Castro in SF at Noir Festival
January 27, 2009 by wondersinthedark
by Alexander Coleman
Friday night at the San Francisco Castro Theatre was a great deal of fun, as it opened up the ten-day schedule of festivities. After entering the building, I conversed with the “czar of noir,” Eddie Muller, and pointed out that he commented on my August 24, 2008 review of The Big Heat when it was posted at http://www.moviezeal.com/. (The review can also be found here, for those who wish to brave eye strain.)
Dark City Dame, I promise I’ll tell “EM” you said hello sometime tonight or in the very near future; I’ll be sure to run into him some more over the course of the next seven evenings.
Moments later, my dad and I found terrific seats–the center of the front row of the balcony–though those balcony seats are not as comfortable as the downstairs seats. The seats in the balcony seem to have remained the same seats for a long time. Eddie Muller came out on-stage and introduced the evening’s two films, Deadline–USA and Scandal Sheet, both “newspaper noirs” from 1952. (Though the former is not, strictly speaking, a noir. It is fun, however.) Broderick Crawford is excellent in the latter film, as an amoral managing editor of a newspaper-turned-scandal sheet. The film is based on Samuel Fuller’s novel, The Dark Page, and is very well-directed by Phil Karlson, whose visual keenness is quite exciting. (I recently reviewed his 1959 The Scarface Mob, which kicked off television’s crime series, The Untouchables.) One I may review in the near future.
Saturday was a marathon day, as the matinee double feature was comprised of Blind Spot (1947), a fairly “light” mystery about a drunken writer (Chester Morris), mulling a plot for a mystery novel, the details of which seem crucial in a real murder investigation–of which he’s the prime suspect. The Castro program notes, “Martin (Detour) Goldsmith’s script is particularly amusing for its backhanded take on crime writing.” After that, the Alan Ladd-starring 1949 newspaper noir, Chicago Deadline, was up. I’m strongly considering reviewing this whenever I have an opportunity–underneath the surface of the plot, Chicago Deadline has many thematic similarities to Laura (1944).
Saturday evening, after having dinner at Orphan Andy’s restaurant, my father and I returned to the Castro. I met Arlene Dahl upstairs at the mezzanine. I was in line to sit down with her on a comfortable red couch and have a picture I printed out from the Internet autographed. Just as I handed her the picture, some crazy person lost control of their alcoholic drink and splattered poor Arlene Dahl and yours truly–and my picture–with liquor. Unfazed by the occurrence, Arlene Dahl happily signed the picture–which is the one at the top of this post.
Wicked as They Come (1956), starring Dahl as a social-climbing gold-digger, was screened. Sitting in what I consider the best row of the theatre, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Ms. Dahl and five others–including her son, Loranzo Lamas, the offspring of her four-year marriage with actor and two-time costar, Fernando Lamas–sitting to my left, taking up the far-left three seats of my row and the one ahead of it. As the Castro program notes, “Arlene Dahl is a sizzling sensation as Kathleen Allen, a woman who learns early that sex is how she’ll get ahead in the world. Her high heels leave puncture wounds in a trail of saps stretching from America to England. British writer-director Ken Hughes adapts Bill Ballinger’s novel Portrait in Smoke, and the result lives up to its re-titling.”
After this film was screened, a tribute reel of some of Ms. Dahl’s career highlights, and moments of great passion–often violently kissing men or violently throwing objects at them–and Ms. Dahl took the stage with Mr. Muller. The interview was quite good, and moved along at a brisk pace. Ms. Dahl opened up about how she reached Hollywood, and it sounds like something out of a movie. She had joined a theatre’s musical production in New York City and on opening night found herself visited backstage by Jack Warner himself, who asked her to come out to Hollywood for a screen testing. Ms. Dahl said that she believed this was all an enormous practical joke, committed by friends she knew who enjoyed pulling off stunts (though this would have been an awfully elaborate practical joke, she rightly figured). After her screen test, which she believed to be “terrible,” she was signed to a seven-year contract with Warner Brothers. She recounted her stories, such as replacing Ann Sheridan in My Wild Irish Rose opposite Dennis Morgan, whose compassion and helpfulness were, she believed, indispensable in aiding her before the camera. As she and Mr. Muller downed glasses of champagne, Ms. Dahl discussed seeing Gary Cooper, her relationship with John F. Kennedy and many other interesting stories. She said she had seen Slightly Scarlet screened in France, where it is revered, and Mr. Muller gave the French credit for “getting” film noir.
After the interview, there was another break and I was amused by the terribly long line at the concession stand for popcorn and candy; as a “passport” holder, I moved my way up to the mezzenine again, and found an assortment of goodies to munch on. My favorite was easily the red potato wedges with the sour cream-horseradish sauce for dipping.
Slightly Scarlet (also 1956) followed. To be reviewed soon here at Coleman’s Corner.
Sunday it was a return to the matinee, with the obscure “swamp noir,” as it was billed, Cry of the Hunted (1953), shown. Formed by a strange screenplay from Jack Leonard, and helmed by Joseph H. Lewis, director of Gun Crazy and The Big Combo, this film, not surprisingly, also features some strong sexual undercurrents. I may return to this film as well, if I ever have an opportunity! It’s a wild, fascinating picture, with a memorable dream sequence by the protagonist, played by William Conrad.
After an intermission, Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole (1951) was screened. Possibly Wilder’s most viciously cynical film, starring Kirk Douglas as a manipulative reporter who uses a cave-in to put him back to the top of his profession. As the Castro program boldly states, “On its release, critics called this the most bitter, cynical, mean-spirited movie ever made. It still might hold the honor.”
Thus far, it has been a fine festival of film noir. Stay tuned here for more developments, reviews and whatever else strikes my fancy.