Now that the dust is beginning to clear around the Roxie in the wake of this season's annual film noir blow-out—I WAKE UP DREAMING 2011: THE LEGENDARY AND THE LOST, I can kick back a little and reflect on some of the highlights of this incredible series. In chronological order, these are the moments that really filled me with tremendous pride and satisfaction:
Friday, May 13: PHANTOM LADY / DEMENTIA. This is a double feature I have longed to present, two seemingly very different films with similar dark concerns. Each features a heroine who is determined to find out the truth behind a nightmarish situation: Ella Raines in PHANTOM LADY has but a few short days to find the real murderer of her employer's faithless wife. Adrienne Barrett in DEMENTIA takes a fateful nocturnal fling through the streets of skid row in order to catch up with her own fragile sanity. Both films brilliantly utilize jazz club settings in order to create disturbing juxtapositions. A near capacity crowd went totally wild for this killer combo!
Saturday, May 14: MINISTRY OF FEAR. It's amazing to me that this key Fritz Lang film, made during his absolute Hollywood heyday, has gone without a DVD release. For that matter, it's also been completely ignored by other noir “festivals.” How can this be? Everyone else's loss was the Roxie audience's gain; a gorgeous 35mm print of an essential noir classic!
Sunday, May 15: THE SPIRITUALIST (THE AMAZING MR. X) / NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES. Two magnificent examples of supernatural noir, both managing to elicit genuine emotion from their respective cinematic treatments: NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES with its tragic nuances derived from the twisted prose of Cornell Woolrich; THE SPIRITUALIST by means of the spectacular cinematography of John Alton. A grand and gloomy time was had by all!
Monday, May 16: GUILTY BYSTANDER and C-MAN. Two unapologetically threadbare poverty row gems from a director (Joseph Lerner) no one seems to know anything about. These two films came to us courtesy of our wonderful friend Paul Meienberg in excellent 16mm prints. The audience was 100% enrolled in these two, fully aware of their raggedy-ass significance in the noir spectrum.
Tuesday, May 17: ONCE A THIEF and THE GREAT FLAMARION. Another great evening of 16mm brilliance, and an inadvertent tribute to Billy Wilder's older brother, W. Lee Wilder. The elder Wilder produced Anthony Mann's FLAMARION and directed ONCE A THIEF. I wish someone (other than myself) would start to sing this man's praises; his contributions, while not to all tastes, is proof alone of his eccentric and worthwhile talent.
Wednesday, May 18: RUTHLESS. I've wanted to put this Edgar G. Ulmer classic up on the Roxie screen for years, and this year proved to be the long-awaited time. The gorgeous 35mm print came to us courtesy of the UCLA Film and Television Archives and it knocked everyone out! In attendance was Mr. Ulmer's grandson, now a resident of San Francisco.
Thursday, May 19: SMOOTH AS SILK. Yet another B gem yet to emerge on DVD. This 63 minute noir potboiler, photographed by the incredible Woody Bredell, looks awesome on the big screen. It was very warmly and enthusiastically received by the Roxie crowd!
Friday, May 20: DANGEROUS BLONDES and CAFE HOSTESS. Who would have thought that an intentional comedy (in the Nick and Nora manner) would find a responsive reception at a hard-boiled noir series like this one? DANGEROUS BLONDES was perhaps one of the most wildly appreciated films in the line-up, drawing huge laughs throughout and thunderous applause at the end. I had nightmares all week leading up to this night, fearful that the crowd would simply not find it funny or appropriate. Not only was I wrong, I was really wrong! CAFE HOSTESS, while not necessarily noir in the strictest sense of the word, pleased the crowd as well. The director, Sidney Salkow, a man not known as a premier stylist, invests the film with many tasty touches that elevate to something beyond a mere B picture. Besides, the moment Ann Dvorak hits the screen, you just can't help but accept everything thrown your way. A shame she didn't make more tough-minded films in the noir vein during the 40s.
Saturday, May 21: RIDE THE PINK HORSE. One of the most truly memorable nights of the series for me. This is a film I've tried to nail down for years. Each time I tried to book it from Universal the response was the same: no prints available. On a lark, I shot them an email requesting it for this series, and miraculously enough, they came through. A major coup to my way of looking at it. This has been one of those films that everyone's heard of but relatively few have seen. Despite the individual carping about Robert Montgomery's acting style, the majority of the crowd loved it.
Sunday, May 22: 711 OCEAN DRIVE and THE WEB. Edmond O'Brien. “Nuff said.
Monday, May 23: THE VIOLENT YEARS and DANCE HALL RACKET. Kindly refer to ChiO's brilliant post.
Tuesday, May 24: CELL 2455, DEATH ROW. This B movie retelling of the Caryl Chessman story caught most people by surprise. Chessman, of course, was the man sentenced to death in San Quentin's gas chamber on rape and kidnapping charges. Many believe that his life should have been spared due to inconclusive findings. At the time this film was made (1955) he was still five years away from his ultimate fate. CELL 2455, DEATH ROW is not only a poignant saga of a young man's downward spiral, but also a thrilling crime noir in its own right.
Thursday, May 26: KISS ME DEADLY and WITNESS TO MURDER. Two all-time favorites from the fifties and the perfect way to close the series! A sell-out crowd was on hand to gape in disbelief at Robert Aldrich's subversive rehashing of Mickey Spillane's pulp novel. The brilliance of Ernest Laszlo's razor sharp cinematography and A. I. Bezzerides' tough-minded screenplay combine to create one of noir's true mastepieces—that much more so on the big screen! As for WITNESS TO MURDER, one only has two, no make that three words to say: Alton, Stanwyck, and Sanders! The finale, (spoiler alert!) which finds villain Sanders plummeting to his death from atop a skyscraper elicited the kind of hysterical cheering usually associated with Saturday afternoon serials!
All in all this was a hugely successful event and I'm extremely grateful for the wonderful reception these (and the other) films received at the Roxie! It also goes without saying that I thoroughly enjoyed seeing ChiO, Mook Ryan, Lynn, and Marco in the house!