Fall Film Series
Night. Rain slicked city streets, claustrophobic apartments, high contrast lighting, oddly angled camera shots, femmes fatales pitted against morally weak men, crimes of greed or passion; the film noir look is easy to recognize. Visual poetry heaped with cynical attitude marks a cinema genre scarred with what you might call Greatest Generation PTSD. The tough guys and gals who made it through WWII brought a newly fatalistic world view to the screen, and while the movies may be in black and white, the emotions of lust and corruption are in living color. We focus our fall series on a selection of these films, shown, as always, in the best 35mm prints available. We’ll begin with Laura, a haunting mystery with an unforgettable theme song, and the reason so many women my age are named Laura. We’ll showcase noirs from England, France and Japan (the US doesn’t own postwar malaise) and salute noir stalwart Richard Widmark who recently passed away. We’ll visit the heirs of noir with Mulholland Dr, and end with Steve Martin’s affectionate tribute, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. Unless noted, all films will be introduced by NCMA Film Curator Laura Boyes.
Although some movies predate the ratings system, older children and teens will find unrated films in the series enriching and challenging. Film notes available on www.moviediva.com.
Thanks to Caitlin Robertson at Fox, Paul Ginsberg at Universal and Jared Sapolini at Columbia for studio archival prints.
Laura (1944) Directed by Otto Preminger. Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson (88 min).
Dana Andrews’ hard bitten police detective succumbs to love—unfortunately, the exquisite Laura is already dead. Her portrait, gowns, perfume, diary and a haunting melody (composed by David Raksin and still heard on Muzak across America) envelop him as he tracks her killer. Someone else was obsessed with her, someone whose amour turned deadly. Clifton Webb as acerbic “man about town” Waldo Lydecker, and Vincent Price as her alleged fiancé shine in a most memorable cast of suspects. Laura “still remains the cult noir par excellence.”--Rough Guide to Film Noir. Film Notes for Laura
Nightmare Alley (1947) Directed by Edmund Goulding. Tyrone Power, Joan Blondell, Colleen Grey, Helen Walker (110 min).
Tyrone Power, his handsome hunk days behind him, plays a conniving drifter who covets a job as a carnival mentalist, wooing earthy Joan Blondell for the secrets of her racket. His scurrilous ambitions lie beyond the circus tent, and he purveys his mind reading deceptions into a fortune, after linking up with an unscrupulous Park Avenue psychologist. Helen Walker’s icy vixen, Dr. Lilith Ritter, exploits her wealthy, troubled clientele, while redefining femme fatale, in this lurid tale. Power is brilliant as the seedy hero. “Spectacularly sordid” --Dave Kehr, New York Times. Film Notes for Nightmare Alley
It Always Rains on Sunday (1947) Directed by Robert Hamer. Googie Withers, John McCallum. (92 min).
Under relentless sheets of cold rain, a former barmaid offers sanctuary to her fugitive ex-lover. The intertwined destines of a neighborhood of London’s East Enders add to the suspense, prefiguring the ensemble work of Robert Altman. A rare film from this era set in a Jewish milieu, perhaps because producer Michael Balcon (Daniel Day Lewis’ grandfather) and co-writer Henry Cornelius were themselves Jewish. A recently rediscovered classic of British cinema by the director of Kind Hearts and Coronets, “Sunday delivers an existential wallop for the ages”—New York Sun. Film Notes for It Always Rains on Sunday.
Classe Tous Risques (1960) Directed by Claude Sautet. Lino Ventura, Jean Paul Belmondo, Sandra Milo. (103 min).
A daring daylight robbery goes awry, and macho bravado intersects with tender emotions. Ventura (Army of Shadows) is a hardened hood on the lam, aided by the youthful, charismatic Belmondo, who shot Classe back to back with his iconic role in Godard’s Breathless. Fans of The Sopranos will recognize this view of criminals as both ordinary and supremely vicious. Lisa Swartzbaum in Entertainment Weekly raved about the revival “…a doozy of a French gangster pic…a neorealist, neo-noir black-and-white masterpiece…one of the highlights of the 2005 movie year.” Film Notes for Classe Tous Risques.
Stray Dog (1949) Written and directed by Akira Kurosawa. Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura. (122 min)
On a sweltering hot Tokyo day, detective Murakami (gorgeous young Mifune) has his revolver picked from his pocket on a jammed streetcar. To his shame and horror, he realizes the gun is being used in a series of crimes, and he begins to identify with the criminal, like him, a war vet who is just another stray dog. A gripping pursuit through the actual back alleys and black markets of Occupied Japan was photographed by Ishiro Honda, who made the ultimate Japanese anti-war statement when he directed the original Godzilla. Film Notes for Stray Dog.
Mulholland Dr. (2001) Written and directed by David Lynch. Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Ann Miller. (145 min) Rated R
A blonde, a brunette, a car wreck, amnesia. American surrealist David Lynch meanders from Twin Peaks into this dreamlike excursion through the quintessential city of dreams. Originally filmed as a pilot for a tv series that wasn’t, Stephen Holden of the NY Times called Mulholland Dr “a nervy full-scale nightmare of Tinseltown that seizes that concept by the throat and hurls it through the looking glass.” Roger Ebert adds, “This is a movie to surrender yourself to. If you require logic, see something else. Introduced by Independent Weekly Culture Editor David Fellerath.
The Harder They Fall (1956) Directed by Mark Robson. Humphrey Bogart, Rod Steiger, Jan Sterling. (109 min)
In his last film, noir icon Humphrey Bogart plays a sportswriter who flirts with selling out, until he is forced to confront head on the corrupt brutality of professional boxing. This hard hitting muckraker was based on the career of fighter Primo Carnera, and the fierce boxing scenes, perhaps the most realistic ever filmed, inspired Martin Scorsese’s in Raging Bull. “The same fast pace and crisp, memorable dialogue as The Maltese Falcon or Casablanca” --Jeffrey Meyers, Bogart: A Life in Hollywood. Introduced by NC State Film Studies Professor Devin Orgeron.
Kiss of Death (1947) Directed by Henry Hathaway. Victor Mature, Colleen Grey, Richard Widmark. (98 min).
Frustrated and unemployed, a ex-con is busted for a small time jewellery store robbery. He turns squealer after his wife’s suicide to save his adorable moppets from the orphanage. Sloe-eyed Victor Mature, (best known for sword and sandal epics like The Robe and Samson and Delilah) stars in this semi documentary style true crime story. But, the dispassionate tone splinters every time Richard Widmark (in his film debut) appears as giggly psychopath Tommy Udo, pouring on a double espresso jolt of menace. Introduced by NC State Film Studies Professor Marsha Orgeron.
The Big Heat (1953) Directed by Fritz Lang. Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin (89 min).
Weirdly manic straight-arrow police detective Dave Bannion seeks justice—or is it revenge?—against the mob after a personal tragedy. His disgust and suspicions drive his inability to stomach police collusion any longer. Fritz Lang’s explosive noir adds smoking hot bad girl Gloria Grahame to Bannion’s moral crusade against feral mobster Vince Stone, a terrifying Lee Marvin. A guarantee: Marvin and a pot of scalding coffee will sear your cinematic memory. An “ exhilarating union of brooding Germanic fatalism and Wild West ass-kicking.”—Eddie Muller, Dark City. Film Notes for The Big Heat
Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) Written and directed by Carl Reiner. Steve Martin, Rachel Ward, and a cast noir icons (88 min) Rated PG.
A meticulous tribute to the noir style ends our series, with jigsawed clips from This Gun for Hire, Suspicion, The Big Sleep, White Heat, Notorious and many other classics, framing a mystery for Steve Martin’s suave (sort of) detective. Dead Men is the last film credit for golden age Hollywood composer Miklos Rozsa and multi Oscar winning costume designer Edith Head, who even got to dress Martin in the same outfit she once designed for Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity. Dead Men is an affectionate spoof of everybody’s favorite movies. Film Notes for Dead Men.