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NOIR CITY SEATTLE, COMPLETE

NOIR BY NORTHWEST, SEATTLE FILM NOIR WEEK
"NOIR CITY SEATTLE" OPENS WITH TWIN BILL OF RARITIES
by Alex Deleon, for <www.filmfestivals.com>
Tuesday, July 9, 2007

The traveling all-Film-Noir festival known as "Noir City", introduced personally by the San Francisco based "Czar of Noir", Eddie Muller, opened here at the SIFF theater in the Space Needle dominated Seattle Center on Friday, July 6, with a pair of seldom seen and hard-to-find dark films of the late forties, "Thieves' Highway" (FOX, 1949, 94 minutes) and "Deadline at Dawn" (RKO, 1946, 77 minutes). Both films were shown in pristine 35 mm prints, looking as good now as the day they first came out of the can. One of the hallmarks of this unique Road-show festival is precisely the fact that most, if not all, films are shown in clean thirty-five, or in newly restored prints of films salvaged from oblivion by the Film Noir Foundation, which is the funding organization and brainchild of Mr. Muller himself.

"Theives' Highway" is a memorable Noir of the period, directed by Jules Dassin (of the even more famous New York film noir, "Naked City", and the classic French heist thriller "Rififi", not to mention the very un-noirish "Never On Sunday" of 1962) and stars Richard "Nick" Conte in one of his best roles ever as a novice trucker out to avenge his father's mutilation by mobbish leg-chopping, ably supported, vamped and finally, landed, by postwar Italian star Valentina Cortese, who pumped a little Neo-Realismo into this San Francisco fruit market basher (the all-night market, of course) set in a San Fran waterfront produce market complex that once existed at the foot of Market Street, but is now only a vague memory -- vividly revived, however, in this Dassin landmark.

The film opens and closes on an upbeat note, but all the rest is dark-dark-dark. The opening scene isa pleasant homecming of son, Nick, back from the wars bearing gifts for the family scene, but it soon turms dark when the son, Conte, realizes that his father (Morris Carnofsky) has no feet and that this was done to him by the mob. Nick sets out to gain vengeance. In the last scene Conte says to Cortese, "I like the way you wear your hair", as they truck happily southward from The City after many many quirky twists, turns, and punch-outs -- "We'll get married when we get to Tracy" -- which tags an uncharacteristically (for 'noir') happy ending on to this classic of the genre.

The highway of thieves of the title is the treacherous overland route from the fruit orchards of the south to the lucrative (for some people) produce market in San Francisco. The dominating figure of this low-life microcosm is chiseling, treacherous, two faced Mike Figlia -- Lee J. Cobb, in a sneering racketeer businessman role which prefigures his monumental creation of the crooked waterfront tycoon "Johnny Friendly" in "On the Waterfront", the big picture that would cop a basketful of Oscars just a few years later (1954) -- and, were it not for its prestige cast (Brando, Steiger, et al) and director, Elia Kazan, might easily qualify for inclusion in Noir. There's no doubt that Mr. Kazan saw Dassin's "Highway" and digested it thoroughly. An interesting side note was supplied by Eddie Muller in his lead-in intro. Richard Conte’s real name was Nick Conte. It was changed to “Richard” for marquee purposes. Then in this film his character is called “Nick”. So, since Nick Conte is the quintessentially Italian actor, why didn’t they just leave it be with “Nick”. That’s Hollywood for you –first they clean his name up to make it more “Appealing” to the general public, then they always cast him as a tough Dago!

"Noirs" can roughly be divided into two basic categories: Potboiler 'B' movies made to be seen on Wednesday nights at the neighborhood theaters (which were once everywhere but are now long gone -- and mores the pity) by blue-collar Police Gazette readers (such as my Uncle Nate, ex-Jewish boxer and taproom attendant), with second-rate stars or no-names, and pulp-fiction plots -- and a more polished brand of B+ or A-minus dark thrillers, featuring actors who might also be seen in big-budget 'A' films shown on the weekends, for, (ahem) the whole family. The former category tended to be populated by the likes of Richard Conte, Dan Duryea, Raymond Burr (in his heavier- than-heavy period, before he became Perry Mason), Steve Cochran, Richard Egan, Brad Dexter, etc., and slinky dames like (The Divine) Lizabeth Scott, the curvaceous Peggy Castle, slinky-dinky Janis Carter, Janet Blair, and a whole host of other floozies, predominantly platinum blondes nobody now remembers. The directors were usually contract helmers, sometimes able craftsmen, but again, long forgotten (who remembers Richard Wallace or Sylvan Simon?) -- except by archivists and historians of the genre. The titles of these throwaway flicks were also more or less interchangeable and are easily confusable among themselves and with other films -- Scarlet Street/Scarlet Letter/Street with No Name, Woman on the Run/Woman on the Beach/Wicked Woman, Desert Fury/Desert Rats -- and so forth and so on.

As the studios began to realize that there was a sizable market out there for hard-boiled thrillers, darker murder mysteries and, of course, sexy dames of little virtue -- now, not necessarily platinum blondes but definitely with a hearts of stone, or harder -- more prestigious directors were brought into the game (or should I say ‘the racket’) after the war; the likes of Dassin, Phil Karlson, Norman Foster, Edmond Goulding, Lewis Allen, still not your top-drawer helmers, but respected professionals in the business -- and performers more associated with classy big budget star vehicles; Dick Powell, John Payne, Franchot Tone, Ann Sheridan, and eventually, really big stars like Joan Bennett, Fred MacMurray, and even a few superstars (before the term was invented), such as Tyrone Power (as the Geek in "Nightmare Alley" 1947 -- arguably, his finest moment ever) and, ultimately, the crowning glory of impossibly beautiful Gene Tierney in "Leave Her To Heaven", 1946.

In between are actresses such as Susan Hayward in "Deadline at Dawn" (not to be confused with "Commandos Strike at Dawn") who sashayed right out of this throwaway tongue in black cheek “noir comedy" to top stardom and an eventual Best Actress Oscar, or Kim Novak's screen debut opposite Fred MacMurray in "Pushover", 1954, who, although she went on quickly from there to top-stardom, had her inherent noirish qualities recognized by Hitchcock when he cast her opposite James Stewart in one of his blackest movies, "Vertigo".

The selection being offered here in Seattle during this post July Fourth week has been carefully culled by Mr. Muller and his partner in celluloid crime, Anita Monga, to present examples of every type of film noir from the most obscure such as "Pushover", 1954 -- (RARITY!!! Never on VHS or DVD!) -- not to mention the debut of Kim Novak, to the lavish 1946 Twentieth Century Fox Technicolor production "Leave Her To Heaven", starring the ethereally gaspingly beautiful Gene Tierney as the over-possessive wife of a wimpishly long-suffering Cornell Wilde, in which she adroitly murders his brother (letting him drown while she looks the other way -- shades of "A Place in the Sun"), "pre-murders" his un-born son in her belly by letting herself "trip" at the top of the stairs (a marvelously acted and directed breath-taker of a scene), and finally "murders herself" with poison to get even with her beautiful sister (Jeanne Craine) by making it look like Jeanne, who has had dove eyes for Cornell all along, look like the culprit, thereby hoping to commit another murder from beyond the Crypt! Never before in all of film history has one insanely murderous bitch been so breathtakingly beautiful.

The director was John Stahl, and this was one of the biggest box-office hits of its year. Although I have to agree with the Noir City program notes which describe "Heaven" in these terms: "Don't let the Technicolor gloss fool you -- this big-budget melodrama is black at the core, as perverse and malignant as it got in the 1940s..." – I still harbor some degree of reservation with regard to calling it a "film noir". The obvious reason is that, in my book at least, film noir cannot, by definition, include lavish big-budget productions with top box-office stars aimed at the mass market... Otherwise, one would have to include almost all of Hitchcock, films like "A Place in the Sun", or even "Duel in the Sun" (as a "Western Noir"), and/or so many others that the "noir" definition would become too grey around the edges and. ultimately, meaningless. Basically, gimme them crisp black and white, hard edge, night in the city, perverted thrillers with lesser known slinky blondes -- (make that Platinum, please!)-- like Lizabeth Scott, Janis Carter, and the Evelyn Keyses...but, Okay -- for "Leave Her To Heaven" I'll make an exception!

A quick overview of the remarkable films seen here so far: Note, incidentally, that every single one has at least one outrageous blonde bitch (sometimes several) and one major sucker who falls into her clutches, whether he likes it or not – PS – He usually does. The sucker or fall guy, usually does survive – barely – and gets the “good gal”, if there is one…but not before going through some real living hell!
“THIEVE'S HIGHWAY”, Fox, 1949, 94 min. Directed by Dassin, who later married Greek actress Melina Mercouri, and is still alive somewhere in Greece. Great cast, gripping throughout, and weren’t we all glad when Conte finally deleted his squeaky clean, money-grubbing, suburban fiancée (Barbara Lawrence) for horny, earthy straight-from-Italy Cortese. (reportedly, also still alive in Italy) even though Valentina was a unasbashed lady-of-the-night and, worse, working for that dirty lout, Lee J. Cobb. Stellar cast includes Morris Carnovsky as Conte’s footless father, Jack Oakie (Mussolini in Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator”), Joseph Pevney, as Oakie’s mousy trucker buddy, (Pevney later became a director of second-rank note) and especially, Millard Mitchell, as Conte’s somewhat shifty wiseacre trucking partner who gets himself incinerated in an accident on the deadly highway. Millard was that tall blue-collar wise guy with the Bronx accent you saw in a million pictures but never remembered his name. A memorable no-name character actor if ever there was one. Odd note: In the early fruit orchard scene, the apple orchard couple are Polish and speak clear, unsubtitled Polish! When we see their truck pull away it’s clearly marked “Polansky”. That alone could make this one go over big in Warsaw.

“DEADLINE AT DAWN”, RKO, 1946, 77 min. This one stars Susan Hayward in a tightly clinging black summer dress throughout. That alone is enough to reward any red-blooded male viewer, but this film has some of the weirdest dialogue and shenanigans of any noir ever. Directed (his only film) by theater director Harold Clurman, he and his staff clearly had their tongues solidly in cheek throughout. The basic premise of an impossible naïve and stupid sailor on leave getting himself involved in a weird murder which must be solved before dawn – when his leave is up, or else -- is already borderline ridiculous. The dumb sailor is played by a guy called Bill Williams, who is so convincingly dumb that’s it’s no wonder he never got another job. But he did get Susan at the end-- or was that the other way around? And guess who dunnit – no, not the butler, but the central European cab driver from “Watch on the Rhine”, Paul Lukas! – Aw shucks, there I’ve gone and given the whole plot away, but believe me, this one is so weird it doesn’t matter. In any case, “Deadline at Dawn” is in all likelihood the only Noir “comedy” ever, and worth seeing on those grounds alone --- and then there’s that scrumptious Susan Hawward...

“PITFALL”, 1948, U/A, 86 min. and “DESERT FURY”, 1947, Paramount. 96 min.
Both of these star the divine LIZABETH SCOTT, who is to my little B mind the quintessence of Film Noir Star – the ultimate mixture of clothes-horse class (she started out as a model) ambiguous sexuality (she was reputed to be a Lesbian, but who cares?) hard-edge self-serving vampishness, occasional vulnerability (as in Desert Fury) and all topped off with the perfect head of long wavy natural (?) platinum blonde hair – at least on her it LOOKED natural. In “Pitfall” Liz lures happily married insurance exec Dick Powell out for a ride in her high powered motor boat, and then it just swirls on swiftly from there. She will effortlessly extract him from his solid suburban marriage and get him involved in all kinds of nasty shit, poor guy. But then there is this thuggish private-eye – an absolutely massive Raymond Burr – with a back as wide as the side of a barn – who decides out front that Liz is for him, not that philandering Powell, whether she likes it or not. Talk about sexual harassment, but Liz knows how to take care of a monstrous mug like this – with gun in hand, and you better believe it! In the brutal competition for who gets to make it with Liz, first Raymond ambushes Powell in his own garage and beats the shit out of him, but in a return match (not very believable) soft-guy Powell remembers how to be hard and punches Burr’s lights out in a doorway surprise attack. Plot? –Whattsa difference – yeah sure, Powell gets wrongly accused of murder and all that, but what matters is that this is Noir City all the way. Grip your seatbelt and enjoy – or else…

In “Desert Fury” which is shot in color in a desert town somewhere near Las Vegas and introduces Burt Lancaster as the lantern jawed no-nonsense town sheriff – Liz is, well – sumthin’ else! First of all she lives with her mother (Mary Astor of Maltese Falcon fame) but is this really her mother ? -- (it turns out not, if you actually concentrate on the plot) – or her older Butch lover? -- We’ll never quite know except for that kiss on the mouth at the end as Mary gives Liz and Burt her blessing on the bridge where Liz’s real mother was killed somewhere in the dark past. Then there’s this odd couple, notorious big time gambler John Hodiak (very hoaky, to say the least) for whom Liz falls at first bite much to Burt’s discontent, and his long-term live-in side-kick, Wendell Corey, who is so possessive about Hodiak that we might just begin to wonder what’s been keeping them together all these years – besides partnership in crime.

Eddie Muller calls this the “gayest film noir ever” and he may have something there, but sexual preferences, implied or expressed, aside, this is one helluva enjoyable ride through the desert – in a real wood sided four-door Chrysler Town-and-Country convertible yet! As for the debut of Lancaster, most ‘reliable sources’ list “The Killers” (1947) as his first film, but Muller points out that “Desert Fury” was actually shot earlier, although it was, for whatever reasons, released later. Thus, this is really the first film Burt ever acted in, and, no doubt about it, immediately demonstrated star quality. However, since he was already an overnight star from “Killers”, when “Fury” was releases soon afterwards, he received top billing, his name appearing in the opening credits on the same screen with Mary Astor, Liz Scot and John, Hodiak

“99 RIVER STREET, United Artists, 83 min. (Rarity, never on VHS or DVD)
This one is a doozie in which John Payne, by then an actor of considerable stature albeit an underrated one, comes through big-time as a washed-up boxer framed for the murder of his own wife. The director, Phil Karlson, is also one of the most underrated directors Hollywood has ever produced. This unaccountably little known film has everything going for it, including a clearly followable plot! Brad Dexter, the glossy heavy is the archetypal shadowy noir figure and Evelyn Keyes pulls some of the best shtick of her career. The entire supporting cast, impeccable! “ A damn near perfect 1950s crime saga” More on this one next installment from NOIR CITY, Seattle.

"FRAMED", Columbia, 1947, 82 min.
More on this one next time too – But, for now suffice it to say that Janis Carter should get the all-time “Best Actress in a noir film”, in fact, this was maybe, the best role by a female for the entire year of 1947 bar none!
Alex, enjoying the darkness,
More to come -- Stay tuned… Or else!
____________________________________________________________

"NOIR CITY" SEATTLE CLOSES WITH A TWO WICKED WOMEN
by Alex Deleon
July 23, 2004

To start at the end, the final film of the now fabulous "Noir City" festival in Seattle, closing out a solid week of non-stop black-hearted delight, was "WICKED WOMAN" (1953) -- arguably, the purest 'noir' ever made. This was billed along with Fritz Lang's far more famous and far more arty "Scarlet Street" (1945), and the contrast between these two striking studies in wickedness is almost as striking as the films themselves. To start with, Lang was a very European "art director" and "Scarlet Street", is very much an Art film -- yes, with a capital 'A'. "Wicked Woman", on the other hand, is straight American B-movie trash, but ... what marvelous genuine trash!

Of course, judgements such as "arty", "trashy", "genuine" and pure”. depend a lot on how one defines a film noir, and there are almost as many definitions as there are definers. In my book a true "noir" has to be a low budget production, usually churned out on the quick (often, but not always, at one of the less glossy studios), as a 'B' picture on the bottom half of a twin bill as a "warmup" for a bigger 'A' picture, or a throwaway to fill seats on slow week-day nights with a less respectable viewership. Such films, aside from the usual checklist of "distinctive features" -- tough dames (preferably blondes), naive suckers who get in over their heads with these tough dames, lots of slapping around and other violence, smoking guns, steamy kisses, cynical rat-a-tat dialogue, a dim view of settled middle-class marriage, lots of night scenes, high contrast lighting, and a generally amoral view of life -- in order to qualify as a genuine film noir cannot contain big film stars (although there are borderline cases such as Edward G. Robinson and one or two others), and cannot be overtly intellectual, as most Fritz Lang pictures tend to be -- or otherwise tailored to meet middle-class values and morality.

"SCARLET STREET" (Universal, 103 minutes) starring, Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea is very much a companion piece to Lang's other 'darkie', "Woman in the Window", 1944, which also starred Robinson and Bennett (with Duryea in a smaller role, as well). It looks noir, it sounds noir, and it even feels a liitle noir, but except for that indelible Dan Duryea (whose slam-bang pimp is its main claim to noirness) it's just not "noir" enough. An excellent psychological study of a middle aged man (Robinson) stuck in a terrible marriage, who falls head over heels for a beautiful hooker with disastrous results, that yes -- a fascinating melodrama, and all that, yes, but noir it ain’t and, for the following reasons --
First of all, Joan Bennet is much too classy to play a noir anti-heroine, while Edward G. is on the border -- a certain darkness in his soul, true, but basically aclassy top-drawer dramatic actor a bit too theatrical here to qualify for noir. (The ending where he goes bats and hears voices is strictly from German Expressionism, far too arty for "noir"). Secondly, the screenplay is much too brainy for a noir, (the obvious parallel for art History buffs, between Robinson, the unschooled weekend painter, and French post-impressionist “primitive” painter, Henri Rousseau), and some of Bennett's dialogue, reflecting on Edward G's weekend art work had me thinking, "Hm -- this gal must have gone to Vassar before she became a hard-boiled hooker".

Bennett is indeed lovely to look at, but she’s far from the ideal noir blonde-bombshell (she was, in fact, often compared to Hedy Lamar in the forties as the ultimate Brunette Beauty of the time) and, although she was a very competent actress, casting her as a hard-as-nails whore under the pimpship of Dan Duryea was definitely pushing the envelope to attract the more respectable "A" movie audience. Given the glossy Langian context she does pull it off, but you can see her acting a mile away. Duryea on the other hand doesn’t act – he’s just there, in the totally decadent pimpish flesh! And, compared to the just about unknown Beverly Michaels in “Wicked Woman .. well, we’ll get to that in a minute.

Overall, "Scarlett Street" is a thinking man's psychodrama, but its inclusion in noir is open to question -- which doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the hell out of it -- however, to me it was only a warmup for the main shot of the entire festival, "Wicked Woman", (United Artists, 1953, 77 supercharged minutes) which closed the whole week out in a blaze of a-moral blackness, with slim, towering, platinum-blonde bomb shell, Beverly Michaels (aptly described in the notes as "a stick of female Dynamite"), simply chewing up the scenery and everyone else in sight -- male or female! This supreme noir actress makes Joan Bennett look like a girl scout by comparison.
The minute she steps off that Greyhound in the opening scene we know we're in for trouble. When she checks into a ratty rooming house with strictly low-life denizens it already starts, fighting over the use of the bathroom, and especially with the runty bald creep across the hall, the inimitable fidgety, pudgy, balding slimeball, Percy Helton. When she quickly saunters into a job as a barmaid it doesn’t take her five minutes to vamp on the handsome bar owner (Richard Egan) and snare him in her web before the bleary eyes of his alcoholic wife. (Shades of “Postman always Rings Twice” in reverse). Soon she’s got him talked into selling the place (and she’ll have to pretend to be the wife and forge her signature to pull this off), ditching the wife and running off with her to Mexico.

"RUNT RUNT RUNT!!!

When Percy next door overhears her plotting and tries to blackmail her into having sex with him, she, towering over him by half a torso, disdainfully calls him a “runt”, to which he indignantly retorts, “Don’t you dare call me runt" -- whereupon she literally explodes with the words; “RUNT, RUNT, RUNT !!!” -- possibly the most egregious put-down ever seen on a silver screen. And the way she wipes her hand off on her nightgown after it has been greedily pawed by Percy is sheer noir genius. However, she does spend the night with him to shut him up ... talk about unscrupulous! Although nobody actually gets killed in this film, it feels as though everybody is getting killed all the time, and the tension in the lawyer's office signing the bill of sale for the bar is so thick you can cut it with a knife. Though posing as Egan's wife she isn't wearing a ring and we can see that, but the lawyer and buyer are so bowled over by her looks they fail to notice -- Excellent direction here by Russell Rouse who also penned the bare bones perfect screenplay with one of Occam's razors.

The reason I call this "pure" noir is that it pulls absolutely no punches, has the perfect no-name cast, the perfectly compact scenario, the absolute absence of anything resemling any kind of moralit, and performances so perfect it looks like the actors just walked in off the street and started making the story up as they went along. As for Beverly Michaels ... this is the Scarlett O'hara of Noir. After seeing "Framed", in which Janis Carter so heartlessly drags Glen Ford down the drain, I nominated her for the all-time Best Actress Oscar of Noir Award. Now, after "Wicked Woman" I must respectfully ask Janis to move over to make some room for Beverly -- as the best beyond-acting actress and the Wickedest Woman of All-Noir-time. Let's make that a "Lifetime Award" for Michaels as she is rumored to be still around, hiding out somewhere in Arizona. When she got back onto that Greyhound at the end of "Wicked Woman" with just enough cash to get halfway to nowhere on a one-way ticket, you just knew she would start vamping all over again the minute she got there. She actually starts right on the bus revealing a long well-turned leg to a scruffy salivating male passenger across the aisle ...

Too bad they didn't make any sequels; "Wicked Woman" II, "Wicked Woman III", or "Wicked Woman Rides Again" -- What a waste of wickedness! -- and Percy Helton gets the all-time Slimeball Award. Even though he oozes oil from every pore and rubs his hands together like a house-fly perched on a sugar cube, he does so with such practiced aplomb that you can't help loving him for trying every ploy in the book just to get into Beverly's hot pants once. Richard Egan was the letter-perfect noir leading man because, while handsome enough and virile enough to be an "A' movie lead, he was much too wooden and transparent an actor to make the "A' list -- in films of this kind, however, with no high-art pretensions -- made to order. "Wicked Woman" (along with DOA, 1950) is the letter-perfect film noir down to the last 't' -- the kind where the addition or subtraction of a single frame would lessen the impact. Numerous thumbs up! (Incidentally, WW is so obscure it even listed in MALTIN)

Among other films, the only disappointment of the entire week was "I Love Trouble", Columbia, 1948, 93 min. starring Franchot Tone (argh) as a wisecracking private eye and Janet Blair as his main clutch, plus a whole bevy of other treacherous dames, interchangeable one with the other, except for the always impeccably evil Janis Carter with adopted foreign accent (which she abruptly drops late in the picture) . The very muddled screenplay by Roy Huggins (supposedly a homage to Raymond Chandler) coupled with the pitifully miscast Tone as a soft-boiled detective combine for a very sludgy and slow moving 93 minutes of the kind you can't wait till it's over so you can get to the Kim Novak flick topping the bill. This was directed by someone named Sylvan Simon who is thankfully long forgotten.

"PUSHOVER", Columbia, 1954, 88 min., directed by Richard Quine (Never on VHS or DVD) -- is a dark thriller, again scripted by Huggins, who again pens a pretty murky plot, lifted over the rough spots by the star power of Fred MacMurray and the voluptuous milky-skinned Kim Novak in her screen debut. What is interesting here is that usually good guy MacMurray plays a cop who is so thoroughly corrupt -- through and through -- so disgusting that he kills his own detective partner to cover up his sticky tracks. You're really glad when he ends up riddled with bullets smirking in a parking lot. Kim is not too believable as a gangster's moll but she's such a knockout that belief is easily suspended. John Ireland is one of the sinister heavies lurking in the shadows. A user comment on IMDB describes this as "More a suspense film than a film noir", which I would go along with -- about halfway. An interesting side role is Dorothy Malone as the girl in the apartment next door, in an uncharacteristic "good girl" role. Also known as:" The Killer Wore a Badge" , which is far more apt a title than "Pushover". (Another movie connection: This film was featured in “Los Angeles Plays Itself”, 2003).

Another highlite of the week was "Nightmare Alley" (FOX, 1947, 110 minutes) starring Tyrone Power Fox's "pretty boy" top star, playing a phony carnival "mentalist" (mind reader) and general lout whose fall from grace is so complete that he ends as the carnival Geek -- eating raw chickens for the amusement of the crowd. Described as "One of the bleakest and most audacious 'A' movies ever to emerge from Hollywood", Power here followed up his sensitive searcher "Larry Darrell" in "The Razor's Edge" (1946) with this highly counter-to-image role which he personally considered to be his best work -- the critics as well. The next year he was back as a dashing romantic in "Captain From Castille" but his geek in "Nightmare Alley" gave the word a new life -- as in "Bill Gates, Computer Geek".

And before we forget, an Honorable Mention must go to "FRAMED", Columbia, 1947, 82 min.
this is the one on which a slightly scruffy Glen Ford (just after "'Gilda", which made him a highly bankable Star) plays a mining engineer down on his luck, drifts into town, gets busted for a brakeless truck driving accident for which he gets thirty days in the local hoosegow, but is bailed out by a mysterious blonde (Janis Carter) for no apparent reason other than that she seems to have eyes for him. If he knew what she really had in mind for him he would have taken the ten days, gladly! As the plot thickens the incredibly alluring Carter really racks poor lovesick Glen over the coals setting him up for an insurance scam where he will be "accidentally killed" in a car crash so she and her real boyfriend (Barry Sullivan) can collect on the policy and scram. Glen barely survives and Janis gets her just deserts but her performance is so subtly-shaded with both hidden menace and obvious allure, and she is just so all-around fantastic in "Framed", that I couldn't help thinking that, all kidding aside, this must have been the Best Performance by an Actress for all of 1947 -- the year that Loretta Young actually got it for "The Farmer's Daughter".

IMDB USER'S COMMENT
Neglected little gem showcases Janis Carter as femme fatale, 13 August 2001
<<Janis Carter boasted a largely undistinguished filmography from the 1940s but she deserved (as so many of her female peers from this era did) better parts and greater exposure. As the scheming and duplicitous Paula Craig, she personifies the cool blonde bombshell (and how!). She's the spider into whose web drifts Glenn Ford, an out-of-work mining engineer with a bit of an alcohol problem who's looking for a break. Meanwhile, Carter's on the lookout for her embezzling boyfriend's lookalike, to furnish a warm body to provide a charred corpse. This is James M. Cain territory, and, though we've been through it with Barbara Stanwyck and Fred McMurray and with Lana Turner and John Garfield, this effort by Carter and Ford deserves more prominence. (And you can Say that again!) The writing, direction and cinematography are all well above average >>-- and Janis Carter's femme fatale is Beyond the fukkin Pale!

One important parting shot: An integral part of the Noir-City presentations are the pre-screening introductions by Film Noir Foundation co-founder, Eddie Muller. When he's wearing his black suit and shirt Eddie looks like he could have just stepped out of a noir himself, and he has the knack of conveying his enthusiasm for the genre in a way that is so lively, amusing, and informative, that these intros become part of the show itself. His knowledgability of the subject -- actors, directors, writers, cameramen, trends and trends-within-trends, trivia and not-so-trivia -- is so encyclopedic that attending a series of Noir-City films is something like taking a crash course in this brand of cinema from the guy who wrote the book (and Mr. Muller HAS written several books on this subject!). Since film noir has now become something of a hot subject and offers a treasure trove -- almost bottomless -- of historical film entertainment for buffs and novices alike, festival programmers hoping to fill a few houses with an interesting sidebar during a long festival run, would do well to contact the Film Noir Foundation and the "Czar of Noir", Eddie Muller, directly.

Alex Deleon
Queries and comments (even dirty rotten ones) may be addressed to me as follows: <
chaimpev@hotmail.com>
Eddie Muller, “Czar of Noir” can be reached at: <
eddie@eddiemuller.com>

_

Comments (2)

I've missed the "Noir city"

I've missed the "Noir city" this year. i had some plumbing emergency and had to stay home to resolve them. But i hope next year i won't miss it.

NOIR BY NORTHWEST, "NOIR

NOIR BY NORTHWEST,
"NOIR CITY SEATTLE" OPENS WITH TWIN BILL OF RARITIES
by Alex Deleon, for
Tuesday, July 9, 2007

The traveling all-Film-Noir festival known as "Noir City", introduced personally by the San Francisco based "Czar of Noir", Eddie Muller, opened here at the SIFF theater in the Space Needle dominated Seattle Center on Friday, July 6, with a pair of seldom seen and hard-to-find dark films of the late forties, "Thieves' Highway" (FOX, 1949, 94 minutes) and "Deadline at Dawn" (RKO, 1946, 77 minutes). Both films were shown in pristine 35 mm prints, looking as good now as the day they first came out of the can. One of the hallmarks of this unique Road-show festival is precisely the fact that most, if not all, films are shown in clean thirty-five, or in newly restored prints of films salvaged from oblivion by the Film Noir Foundation, which is the funding organization and brainchild of Mr. Muller himself.

"Theives' Highway" is a memorable Noir of the period, directed by Jules Dassin (of the even more famous New York film noir, "Naked City", and the classic French heist thriller "Rififi", not to mention the very un-noirish "Never On Sunday" of 1962) and stars Richard "Nick" Conte in one of his best roles ever as a novice trucker out to avenge his father's mutilation by mobbish leg-chopping, ably supported, vamped and finally, landed, by postwar Italian star Valentina Cortese, who pumped a little Neo-Realismo into this San Francisco fruit market basher (the all-night market, of course) set in a San Fran waterfront produce market complex that once existed at the foot of Market Street, but is now only a vague memory -- vividly revived, however, in this Dassin landmark.

The film opens and closes on an upbeat note, but all the rest is dark-dark-dark. The opening scene isa pleasant homecming of son, Nick, back from the wars bearing gifts for the family scene, but it soon turms dark when the son, Conte, realizes that his father (Morris Carnofsky) has no feet and that this was done to him by the mob. Nick sets out to gain vengeance. In the last scene Conte says to Cortese, "I like the way you wear your hair", as they truck happily southward from The City after many many quirky twists, turns, and punch-outs -- "We'll get married when we get to Tracy" -- which tags an uncharacteristically (for 'noir') happy ending on to this classic of the genre.

The highway of thieves of the title is the treacherous overland route from the fruit orchards of the south to the lucrative (for some people) produce market in San Francisco. The dominating figure of this low-life microcosm is chiseling, treacherous, two faced Mike Figlia -- Lee J. Cobb, in a sneering racketeer businessman role which prefigures his monumental creation of the crooked waterfront tycoon "Johnny Friendly" in "On the Waterfront", the big picture that would cop a basketful of Oscars just a few years later (1954) -- and, were it not for its prestige cast (Brando, Steiger, et al) and director, Elia Kazan, might easily qualify for inclusion in Noir. There's no doubt that Mr. Kazan saw Dassin's "Highway" and digested it thoroughly. An interesting side note was supplied by Eddie Muller in his lead-in intro. Richard Conte’s real name was Nick Conte. It was changed to “Richard” for marquee purposes. Then in this film his character is called “Nick”. So, since Nick Conte is the quintessentially Italian actor, why didn’t they just leave it be with “Nick”. That’s Hollywood for you –first they clean his name up to make it more “Appealing” to the general public, then they always cast him as a tough Dago!

"Noirs" can roughly be divided into two basic categories: Potboiler 'B' movies made to be seen on Wednesday nights at the neighborhood theaters (which were once everywhere but are now long gone -- and mores the pity) by blue-collar Police Gazette readers (such as my Uncle Nate, ex-Jewish boxer and taproom attendant), with second-rate stars or no-names, and pulp-fiction plots -- and a more polished brand of B+ or A-minus dark thrillers, featuring actors who might also be seen in big-budget 'A' films shown on the weekends, for, (ahem) the whole family. The former category tended to be populated by the likes of Richard Conte, Dan Duryea, Raymond Burr (in his heavier- than-heavy period, before he became Perry Mason), Steve Cochran, Richard Egan, Brad Dexter, etc., and slinky dames like (The Divine) Lizabeth Scott, the curvaceous Peggy Castle, slinky-dinky Janis Carter, Janet Blair, and a whole host of other floozies, predominantly platinum blondes nobody now remembers. The directors were usually contract helmers, sometimes able craftsmen, but again, long forgotten (who remembers Richard Wallace or Sylvan Simon?) -- except by archivists and historians of the genre. The titles of these throwaway flicks were also more or less interchangeable and are easily confusable among themselves and with other films -- Scarlet Street/Scarlet Letter/Street with No Name, Woman on the Run/Woman on the Beach/Wicked Woman, Desert Fury/Desert Rats -- and so forth and so on.

As the studios began to realize that there was a sizable market out there for hard-boiled thrillers, darker murder mysteries and, of course, sexy dames of little virtue -- now, not necessarily platinum blondes but definitely with a hearts of stone, or harder -- more prestigious directors were brought into the game (or should I say ‘the racket’) after the war; the likes of Dassin, Phil Karlson, Norman Foster, Edmond Goulding, Lewis Allen, still not your top-drawer helmers, but respected professionals in the business -- and performers more associated with classy big budget star vehicles; Dick Powell, John Payne, Franchot Tone, Ann Sheridan, and eventually, really big stars like Joan Bennett, Fred MacMurray, and even a few superstars (before the term was invented), such as Tyrone Power (as the Geek in "Nightmare Alley" 1947 -- arguably, his finest moment ever) and, ultimately, the crowning glory of impossibly beautiful Gene Tierney in "Leave Her To Heaven", 1946.

In between are actresses such as Susan Hayward in "Deadline at Dawn" (not to be confused with "Commandos Strike at Dawn") who sashayed right out of this throwaway tongue in black cheek “noir comedy" to top stardom and an eventual Best Actress Oscar, or Kim Novak's screen debut opposite Fred MacMurray in "Pushover", 1954, who, although she went on quickly from there to top-stardom, had her inherent noirish qualities recognized by Hitchcock when he cast her opposite James Stewart in one of his blackest movies, "Vertigo".

The selection being offered here in Seattle during this post July Fourth week has been carefully culled by Mr. Muller and his partner in celluloid crime, Anita Monga, to present examples of every type of film noir from the most obscure such as "Pushover", 1954 -- (RARITY!!! Never on VHS or DVD!) -- not to mention the debut of Kim Novak, to the lavish 1946 Twentieth Century Fox Technicolor production "Leave Her To Heaven", starring the ethereally gaspingly beautiful Gene Tierney as the over-possessive wife of a wimpishly long-suffering Cornell Wilde, in which she adroitly murders his brother (letting him drown while she looks the other way -- shades of "A Place in the Sun"), "pre-murders" his un-born son in her belly by letting herself "trip" at the top of the stairs (a marvelously acted and directed breath-taker of a scene), and finally "murders herself" with poison to get even with her beautiful sister (Jeanne Craine) by making it look like Jeanne, who has had dove eyes for Cornell all along, look like the culprit, thereby hoping to commit another murder from beyond the Crypt! Never before in all of film history has one insanely murderous bitch been so breathtakingly beautiful.

The director was John Stahl, and this was one of the biggest box-office hits of its year. Although I have to agree with the Noir City program notes which describe "Heaven" in these terms: "Don't let the Technicolor gloss fool you -- this big-budget melodrama is black at the core, as perverse and malignant as it got in the 1940s..." – I still harbor some degree of reservation with regard to calling it a "film noir". The obvious reason is that, in my book at least, film noir cannot, by definition, include lavish big-budget productions with top box-office stars aimed at the mass market... Otherwise, one would have to include almost all of Hitchcock, films like "A Place in the Sun", or even "Duel in the Sun" (as a "Western Noir"), and/or so many others that the "noir" definition would become too grey around the edges and. ultimately, meaningless. Basically, gimme them crisp black and white, hard edge, night in the city, perverted thrillers with lesser known slinky blondes -- (make that Platinum, please!)-- like Lizabeth Scott, Janis Carter, and the Evelyn Keyses...but, Okay -- for "Leave Her To Heaven" I'll make an exception!

A quick overview of the remarkable films seen here so far: Note, incidentally, that every single one has at least one outrageous blonde bitch (sometimes several) and one major sucker who falls into her clutches, whether he likes it or not – PS – He usually does. The sucker or fall guy, usually does survive – barely – and gets the “good gal”, if there is one…but not before going through some real living hell!
“THIEVE'S HIGHWAY”, Fox, 1949, 94 min. Directed by Dassin, who later married Greek actress Melina Mercouri, and is still alive somewhere in Greece. Great cast, gripping throughout, and weren’t we all glad when Conte finally deleted his squeaky clean, money-grubbing, suburban fiancée (Barbara Lawrence) for horny, earthy straight-from-Italy Cortese. (reportedly, also still alive in Italy) even though Valentina was a unasbashed lady-of-the-night and, worse, working for that dirty lout, Lee J. Cobb. Stellar cast includes Morris Carnovsky as Conte’s footless father, Jack Oakie (Mussolini in Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator”), Joseph Pevney, as Oakie’s mousy trucker buddy, (Pevney later became a director of second-rank note) and especially, Millard Mitchell, as Conte’s somewhat shifty wiseacre trucking partner who gets himself incinerated in an accident on the deadly highway. Millard was that tall blue-collar wise guy with the Bronx accent you saw in a million pictures but never remembered his name. A memorable no-name character actor if ever there was one. Odd note: In the early fruit orchard scene, the apple orchard couple are Polish and speak clear, unsubtitled Polish! When we see their truck pull away it’s clearly marked “Polansky”. That alone could make this one go over big in Warsaw.

“DEADLINE AT DAWN”, RKO, 1946, 77 min. This one stars Susan Hayward in a tightly clinging black summer dress throughout. That alone is enough to reward any red-blooded male viewer, but this film has some of the weirdest dialogue and shenanigans of any noir ever. Directed (his only film) by theater director Harold Clurman, he and his staff clearly had their tongues solidly in cheek throughout. The basic premise of an impossible naïve and stupid sailor on leave getting himself involved in a weird murder which must be solved before dawn – when his leave is up, or else -- is already borderline ridiculous. The dumb sailor is played by a guy called Bill Williams, who is so convincingly dumb that’s it’s no wonder he never got another job. But he did get Susan at the end-- or was that the other way around? And guess who dunnit – no, not the butler, but the central European cab driver from “Watch on the Rhine”, Paul Lukas! – Aw shucks, there I’ve gone and given the whole plot away, but believe me, this one is so weird it doesn’t matter. In any case, “Deadline at Dawn” is in all likelihood the only Noir “comedy” ever, and worth seeing on those grounds alone --- and then there’s that scrumptious Susan Hawward...

“PITFALL”, 1948, U/A, 86 min. and “DESERT FURY”, 1947, Paramount. 96 min.
Both of these star the divine LIZABETH SCOTT, who is to my little B mind the quintessence of Film Noir Star – the ultimate mixture of clothes-horse class (she started out as a model) ambiguous sexuality (she was reputed to be a Lesbian, but who cares?) hard-edge self-serving vampishness, occasional vulnerability (as in Desert Fury) and all topped off with the perfect head of long wavy natural (?) platinum blonde hair – at least on her it LOOKED natural. In “Pitfall” Liz lures happily married insurance exec Dick Powell out for a ride in her high powered motor boat, and then it just swirls on swiftly from there. She will effortlessly extract him from his solid suburban marriage and get him involved in all kinds of nasty shit, poor guy. But then there is this thuggish private-eye – an absolutely massive Raymond Burr – with a back as wide as the side of a barn – who decides out front that Liz is for him, not that philandering Powell, whether she likes it or not. Talk about sexual harassment, but Liz knows how to take care of a monstrous mug like this – with gun in hand, and you better believe it! In the brutal competition for who gets to make it with Liz, first Raymond ambushes Powell in his own garage and beats the shit out of him, but in a return match (not very believable) soft-guy Powell remembers how to be hard and punches Burr’s lights out in a doorway surprise attack. Plot? –Whattsa difference – yeah sure, Powell gets wrongly accused of murder and all that, but what matters is that this is Noir City all the way. Grip your seatbelt and enjoy – or else…

In “Desert Fury” which is shot in color in a desert town somewhere near Las Vegas and introduces Burt Lancaster as the lantern jawed no-nonsense town sheriff – Liz is, well – sumthin’ else! First of all she lives with her mother (Mary Astor of Maltese Falcon fame) but is this really her mother ? -- (it turns out not, if you actually concentrate on the plot) – or her older Butch lover? -- We’ll never quite know except for that kiss on the mouth at the end as Mary gives Liz and Burt her blessing on the bridge where Liz’s real mother was killed somewhere in the dark past. Then there’s this odd couple, notorious big time gambler John Hodiak (very hoaky, to say the least) for whom Liz falls at first bite much to Burt’s discontent, and his long-term live-in side-kick, Wendell Corey, who is so possessive about Hodiak that we might just begin to wonder what’s been keeping them together all these years – besides partnership in crime.

Eddie Muller calls this the “gayest film noir ever” and he may have something there, but sexual preferences, implied or expressed, aside, this is one helluva enjoyable ride through the desert – in a real wood sided four-door Chrysler Town-and-Country convertible yet! As for the debut of Lancaster, most ‘reliable sources’ list “The Killers” (1947) as his first film, but Muller points out that “Desert Fury” was actually shot earlier, although it was, for whatever reasons, released later. Thus, this is really the first film Burt ever acted in, and, no doubt about it, immediately demonstrated star quality. However, since he was already an overnight star from “Killers”, when “Fury” was releases soon afterwards, he received top billing, his name appearing in the opening credits on the same screen with Mary Astor, Liz Scot and John, Hodiak

“99 RIVER STREET, United Artists, 83 min. (Rarity, never on VHS or DVD)
This one is a doozie in which John Payne, by then an actor of considerable stature albeit an underrated one, comes through big-time as a washed-up boxer framed for the murder of his own wife. The director, Phil Karlson, is also one of the most underrated directors Hollywood has ever produced. This unaccountably little known film has everything going for it, including a clearly followable plot! Brad Dexter, the glossy heavy is the archetypal shadowy noir figure and Evelyn Keyes pulls some of the best shtick of her career. The entire supporting cast, impeccable! “ A damn near perfect 1950s crime saga” More on this one next installment from NOIR CITY, Seattle.

"FRAMED", Columbia, 1947, 82 min.
More on this one next time too – But, for now suffice it to say that Janis Carter should get the all-time “Best Actress in a noir film”, in fact, this was maybe, the best role by a female for the entire year of 1947 bar none!
Alex, enjoying the darkness,
More to come -- Stay tuned… Or else!
____________________________________________________________

"NOIR CITY" SEATTLE CLOSES WITH A TWO WICKED WOMEN
by Alex Deleon
July 23, 2004

To start at the end, the final film of the now fabulous "Noir City" festival in Seattle, closing out a solid week of non-stop black-hearted delight, was "WICKED WOMAN" (1953) -- arguably, the purest 'noir' ever made. This was billed along with Fritz Lang's far more famous and far more arty "Scarlet Street" (1945), and the contrast between these two striking studies in wickedness is almost as striking as the films themselves. To start with, Lang was a very European "art director" and "Scarlet Street", is very much an Art film -- yes, with a capital 'A'. "Wicked Woman", on the other hand, is straight American B-movie trash, but ... what marvelous genuine trash!

Of course, judgements such as "arty", "trashy", "genuine" and pure”. depend a lot on how one defines a film noir, and there are almost as many definitions as there are definers. In my book a true "noir" has to be a low budget production, usually churned out on the quick (often, but not always, at one of the less glossy studios), as a 'B' picture on the bottom half of a twin bill as a "warmup" for a bigger 'A' picture, or a throwaway to fill seats on slow week-day nights with a less respectable viewership. Such films, aside from the usual checklist of "distinctive features" -- tough dames (preferably blondes), naive suckers who get in over their heads with these tough dames, lots of slapping around and other violence, smoking guns, steamy kisses, cynical rat-a-tat dialogue, a dim view of settled middle-class marriage, lots of night scenes, high contrast lighting, and a generally amoral view of life -- in order to qualify as a genuine film noir cannot contain big film stars (although there are borderline cases such as Edward G. Robinson and one or two others), and cannot be overtly intellectual, as most Fritz Lang pictures tend to be -- or otherwise tailored to meet middle-class values and morality.

"SCARLET STREET" (Universal, 103 minutes) starring, Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea is very much a companion piece to Lang's other 'darkie', "Woman in the Window", 1944, which also starred Robinson and Bennett (with Duryea in a smaller role, as well). It looks noir, it sounds noir, and it even feels a liitle noir, but except for that indelible Dan Duryea (whose slam-bang pimp is its main claim to noirness) it's just not "noir" enough. An excellent psychological study of a middle aged man (Robinson) stuck in a terrible marriage, who falls head over heels for a beautiful hooker with disastrous results, that yes -- a fascinating melodrama, and all that, yes, but noir it ain’t and, for the following reasons --
First of all, Joan Bennet is much too classy to play a noir anti-heroine, while Edward G. is on the border -- a certain darkness in his soul, true, but basically aclassy top-drawer dramatic actor a bit too theatrical here to qualify for noir. (The ending where he goes bats and hears voices is strictly from German Expressionism, far too arty for "noir"). Secondly, the screenplay is much too brainy for a noir, (the obvious parallel for art History buffs, between Robinson, the unschooled weekend painter, and French post-impressionist “primitive” painter, Henri Rousseau), and some of Bennett's dialogue, reflecting on Edward G's weekend art work had me thinking, "Hm -- this gal must have gone to Vassar before she became a hard-boiled hooker".

Bennett is indeed lovely to look at, but she’s far from the ideal noir blonde-bombshell (she was, in fact, often compared to Hedy Lamar in the forties as the ultimate Brunette Beauty of the time) and, although she was a very competent actress, casting her as a hard-as-nails whore under the pimpship of Dan Duryea was definitely pushing the envelope to attract the more respectable "A" movie audience. Given the glossy Langian context she does pull it off, but you can see her acting a mile away. Duryea on the other hand doesn’t act – he’s just there, in the totally decadent pimpish flesh! And, compared to the just about unknown Beverly Michaels in “Wicked Woman .. well, we’ll get to that in a minute.

Overall, "Scarlett Street" is a thinking man's psychodrama, but its inclusion in noir is open to question -- which doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the hell out of it -- however, to me it was only a warmup for the main shot of the entire festival, "Wicked Woman", (United Artists, 1953, 77 supercharged minutes) which closed the whole week out in a blaze of a-moral blackness, with slim, towering, platinum-blonde bomb shell, Beverly Michaels (aptly described in the notes as "a stick of female Dynamite"), simply chewing up the scenery and everyone else in sight -- male or female! This supreme noir actress makes Joan Bennett look like a girl scout by comparison.
The minute she steps off that Greyhound in the opening scene we know we're in for trouble. When she checks into a ratty rooming house with strictly low-life denizens it already starts, fighting over the use of the bathroom, and especially with the runty bald creep across the hall, the inimitable fidgety, pudgy, balding slimeball, Percy Helton. When she quickly saunters into a job as a barmaid it doesn’t take her five minutes to vamp on the handsome bar owner (Richard Egan) and snare him in her web before the bleary eyes of his alcoholic wife. (Shades of “Postman always Rings Twice” in reverse). Soon she’s got him talked into selling the place (and she’ll have to pretend to be the wife and forge her signature to pull this off), ditching the wife and running off with her to Mexico.

"RUNT RUNT RUNT!!!

When Percy next door overhears her plotting and tries to blackmail her into having sex with him, she, towering over him by half a torso, disdainfully calls him a “runt”, to which he indignantly retorts, “Don’t you dare call me runt" -- whereupon she literally explodes with the words; “RUNT, RUNT, RUNT !!!” -- possibly the most egregious put-down ever seen on a silver screen. And the way she wipes her hand off on her nightgown after it has been greedily pawed by Percy is sheer noir genius. However, she does spend the night with him to shut him up ... talk about unscrupulous! Although nobody actually gets killed in this film, it feels as though everybody is getting killed all the time, and the tension in the lawyer's office signing the bill of sale for the bar is so thick you can cut it with a knife. Though posing as Egan's wife she isn't wearing a ring and we can see that, but the lawyer and buyer are so bowled over by her looks they fail to notice -- Excellent direction here by Russell Rouse who also penned the bare bones perfect screenplay with one of Occam's razors.

The reason I call this "pure" noir is that it pulls absolutely no punches, has the perfect no-name cast, the perfectly compact scenario, the absolute absence of anything resemling any kind of moralit, and performances so perfect it looks like the actors just walked in off the street and started making the story up as they went along. As for Beverly Michaels ... this is the Scarlett O'hara of Noir. After seeing "Framed", in which Janis Carter so heartlessly drags Glen Ford down the drain, I nominated her for the all-time Best Actress Oscar of Noir Award. Now, after "Wicked Woman" I must respectfully ask Janis to move over to make some room for Beverly -- as the best beyond-acting actress and the Wickedest Woman of All-Noir-time. Let's make that a "Lifetime Award" for Michaels as she is rumored to be still around, hiding out somewhere in Arizona. When she got back onto that Greyhound at the end of "Wicked Woman" with just enough cash to get halfway to nowhere on a one-way ticket, you just knew she would start vamping all over again the minute she got there. She actually starts right on the bus revealing a long well-turned leg to a scruffy salivating male passenger across the aisle ...

Too bad they didn't make any sequels; "Wicked Woman" II, "Wicked Woman III", or "Wicked Woman Rides Again" -- What a waste of wickedness! -- and Percy Helton gets the all-time Slimeball Award. Even though he oozes oil from every pore and rubs his hands together like a house-fly perched on a sugar cube, he does so with such practiced aplomb that you can't help loving him for trying every ploy in the book just to get into Beverly's hot pants once. Richard Egan was the letter-perfect noir leading man because, while handsome enough and virile enough to be an "A' movie lead, he was much too wooden and transparent an actor to make the "A' list -- in films of this kind, however, with no high-art pretensions -- made to order. "Wicked Woman" (along with DOA, 1950) is the letter-perfect film noir down to the last 't' -- the kind where the addition or subtraction of a single frame would lessen the impact. Numerous thumbs up! (Incidentally, WW is so obscure it even listed in MALTIN)

Among other films, the only disappointment of the entire week was "I Love Trouble", Columbia, 1948, 93 min. starring Franchot Tone (argh) as a wisecracking private eye and Janet Blair as his main clutch, plus a whole bevy of other treacherous dames, interchangeable one with the other, except for the always impeccably evil Janis Carter with adopted foreign accent (which she abruptly drops late in the picture) . The very muddled screenplay by Roy Huggins (supposedly a homage to Raymond Chandler) coupled with the pitifully miscast Tone as a soft-boiled detective combine for a very sludgy and slow moving 93 minutes of the kind you can't wait till it's over so you can get to the Kim Novak flick topping the bill. This was directed by someone named Sylvan Simon who is thankfully long forgotten.

"PUSHOVER", Columbia, 1954, 88 min., directed by Richard Quine (Never on VHS or DVD) -- is a dark thriller, again scripted by Huggins, who again pens a pretty murky plot, lifted over the rough spots by the star power of Fred MacMurray and the voluptuous milky-skinned Kim Novak in her screen debut. What is interesting here is that usually good guy MacMurray plays a cop who is so thoroughly corrupt -- through and through -- so disgusting that he kills his own detective partner to cover up his sticky tracks. You're really glad when he ends up riddled with bullets smirking in a parking lot. Kim is not too believable as a gangster's moll but she's such a knockout that belief is easily suspended. John Ireland is one of the sinister heavies lurking in the shadows. A user comment on IMDB describes this as "More a suspense film than a film noir", which I would go along with -- about halfway. An interesting side role is Dorothy Malone as the girl in the apartment next door, in an uncharacteristic "good girl" role. Also known as:" The Killer Wore a Badge" , which is far more apt a title than "Pushover". (Another movie connection: This film was featured in “Los Angeles Plays Itself”, 2003).

Another highlite of the week was "Nightmare Alley" (FOX, 1947, 110 minutes) starring Tyrone Power Fox's "pretty boy" top star, playing a phony carnival "mentalist" (mind reader) and general lout whose fall from grace is so complete that he ends as the carnival Geek -- eating raw chickens for the amusement of the crowd. Described as "One of the bleakest and most audacious 'A' movies ever to emerge from Hollywood", Power here followed up his sensitive searcher "Larry Darrell" in "The Razor's Edge" (1946) with this highly counter-to-image role which he personally considered to be his best work -- the critics as well. The next year he was back as a dashing romantic in "Captain From Castille" but his geek in "Nightmare Alley" gave the word a new life -- as in "Bill Gates, Computer Geek".

And before we forget, an Honorable Mention must go to "FRAMED", Columbia, 1947, 82 min.
this is the one on which a slightly scruffy Glen Ford (just after "'Gilda", which made him a highly bankable Star) plays a mining engineer down on his luck, drifts into town, gets busted for a brakeless truck driving accident for which he gets thirty days in the local hoosegow, but is bailed out by a mysterious blonde (Janis Carter) for no apparent reason other than that she seems to have eyes for him. If he knew what she really had in mind for him he would have taken the ten days, gladly! As the plot thickens the incredibly alluring Carter really racks poor lovesick Glen over the coals setting him up for an insurance scam where he will be "accidentally killed" in a car crash so she and her real boyfriend (Barry Sullivan) can collect on the policy and scram. Glen barely survives and Janis gets her just deserts but her performance is so subtly-shaded with both hidden menace and obvious allure, and she is just so all-around fantastic in "Framed", that I couldn't help thinking that, all kidding aside, this must have been the Best Performance by an Actress for all of 1947 -- the year that Loretta Young actually got it for "The Farmer's Daughter".

IMDB USER'S COMMENT
Neglected little gem showcases Janis Carter as femme fatale, 13 August 2001
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THE FESTIVALS BLOG by Alex Deleon. Watch for festival coverage from the circuit.

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