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I WAKE UP DREAMING 2014

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ChiO
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Re: I WAKE UP DREAMING 2014

Postby ChiO » May 17th, 2014, 11:04 am

It was a bright and sunny day….

Despite an early arrival in San Franciscso yesterday, quick contact was made with Dewey and MookRyan. All, therefore, is good. Dewey put me to work even though I didn’t have my union card with me.

By the time 6:30pm came around, Mook and I were in our designated seats, Richard (a member of my film class, making his second opening weekend appearance) was a few rows in front of us and the Roxie was full for the Opening Night treasures…an evening of obsession and murder perpetrated by stars of the first magnitude.

STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR (Boris Ingster 1940) is now generally considered the first American film noir. (Note to those who say American film noir was in large part created by German director émigrés: Boris Ingster was born in Latvia, did no work in Germany, and this was his first directing assignment; the film this replaced as the first American film noirTHE MALTESE FALCON (1941), directed by the well-known German émigré, John Huston.) This has got the goods: Fate by way of chance meetings; guilty conscience of the good guy reporter (John McGuire) who may be sending an innocent man (Elisha Cook, Jr.) to the chair; first-person voice-over narration; shadows everywhere courtesy of Nicholas Musuraca; and, a stranger…an obsessed, mad, murderous stranger…who, with minimal screen time, creeps us out for a lifetime (Peter Lorre). Proof again (and think this is going to be a recurring theme over the ten-day schedule) that a very good movie watched at home alone on the TV screen is transformed into a magnificent movie when watched with an audience on the big screen.

A suave, charming, rich, mystery story radio host (Claude Rains) just can’t help himself. Cross him and you’re dead in THE UNSUSPECTED (Michael Curtiz 1947). The intricacies of the plot are almost beside the point, even though with Joan Caulfield, Audrey Totter and Constance Bennett, one does try to pay attention. This is about look and atmosphere. And this digital print looked fantastic! This now must be placed among Woody Bredell’s greatest works of cinematography beside PHANTOM LADY (Robert Siodmak 1944), CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY (Robert Siodmak 1944), THE KILLERS (Robert Siodmak 1946)…okay, okay, a German director émigré…and, of course, FEMALE JUNGLE (Bruno VeSota 1955).

Leaving the Roxie, it was a dark and windy night.

Four movies on tap for today, including one I haven’t seen.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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ChiO
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Re: I WAKE UP DREAMING 2014

Postby ChiO » May 18th, 2014, 1:05 pm

Saturday was another bright and sunny day – perfect for spending in the darkened Roxie watching a double double-feature.

LOVE IS A RACKET (William Wellman 1932) was a new one for me. A suave, sophisticated, cynical Broadway columnist Jimmy Russell (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) and his crusty, hard-drinking cynical reporter roommate Stanley Fiske (Lee Tracy) bound about the Big Apple anywhere trouble, booze and dames can find them. Jimmy has his eye on the beautiful Mary Wodehouse (Frances Dee), Mary has her eye on The Great White Way, which makes Jimmy the perfect man-on-her-arm (until something better for her career comes along), Stanley has his eye on the tough and efficient assistant Sally Condon (Ann Dvorak), and Sally has her eye on Jimmy. Then there’s the charming hood Eddie Shaw (Lyle Talbot) who also has his eye on Mary and insinuates himself into her life by taking care of her rubber checks. I found the whole set-up rather tedious until…Jimmy, who’s out to save Mary from Eddie, gets nabbed by one of Eddie’s thugs. To kill time, he gives Jimmy an exploding cigarette. Har-dee-har-har. Then a hot foot. Har-dee-ha…wait a minute, what’s going on here? Did this fluff suddenly take a turn toward the vicious? Then setting the newspaper Jimmy’s reading on fire. And Jimmy throws it in his face to escape! And we have a new movie full of sadism, double-dealing, murder, and cover-ups. At night. In the rain. The noir in film noir is saved! And not only is the murderer not punished, the murderer and everyone tangentially involved in covering up the murder is rewarded. Film noir the Pre-Code way.

Women-in-Prison movie. Starring Barbara Stanwyck (the greatest film actor…period). Who can ask for anything more. Okay, and the return of Lyle Talbot. LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT (Mervyn LeRoy 1933). Nan Taylor (Stanwyck) is a sweet-talking, sexy, double-dealing conniver (I know…it was a stretch for her). She lands in San Quentin for not ratting out her male compatriots in a bank heist. But a man from her past, David Slade (Preston Foster), who is now an evangelistic reformer, wants to save her, much to the dismay of Slade acolyte and Taylor nemesis, Linda (Lillian Roth). And Nan wants to be saved, but only so she can save her male pals (one of whom is Talbot) who are temporarily living next door in the male wing of San Quentin. And to kill Slade because she thinks he ratted her out on her aiding the guys’ escape plans. With a bizarre happy ending, if you think attempted murder and covering it up with the assistance of a lying cop is both bizarre and happy. It is. With every W-I-P cliché in the book…but before they were clichés.

The evening’s program was two movies that I hadn’t seen in several years. Then I had thought they were okay. No more. Very special in that film noir disguised as Domestic Melodrama way. An Ann Sheridan-Vincent Sherman-1947 double-feature: NORA PRENTISS (Vincent Sherman 1947) and THE UNFAITHFUL (Vincent Sherman 1947). Do the French have a word for a femme fatale who does not want to be a femme fatale, but who, despite her best efforts, is doomed to drive her man to his doom? If not, then it shall be la Nora Prentiss (Sheridan). Via an extended flashback from a jail cell: Nora, a beautiful nightclub singer, meets, through a twist of Fate, the respected, prim, bland, married suburban everyman, Dr. Talbot (Kent Smithhmmm…could this be CAT PEOPLE moved to the suburbs). She does some flirting as a joke at first, but then backs off. But she’s beautiful and caring and that’s all Talbot needs to fall head-over-heels, madly (“mad” being the operative term) in love with her. She’s everything his wife (Rosemary DeCamp) isn’t. Desperate to leave his wife, but lacking the nerve, he switches identities with a dead patient. He and Nora run off. But paranoia sets in. As do the cops, who arrest the real Talbot for the murder of the faux-Talbot. Unable to confess his real identity (he was burned in a car accident, disfiguring his face, which echoes the means used to dispose of the faux-Talbot) and infidelity to his family, and unwilling to bring Nora down with him, he is…doomed.

In some respects, THE UNFAITHFUL seems like a black-and-white precursor to Douglas Sirk’s Technicolor Domestic Melodramas. But there is something more sinister going on here. Chris Hunter (Sheridan) is attacked by an intruder in her home while her husband Bob (Zachary Scott) is out of town. The intruder ends up dead. Bob returns and he, Chris and their attorney, Larry Hannaford (Lew Ayres), deal with the police on the justifiable homicide defense. Chris says it was an attempted jewel robbery by a man she had never seen. Chris’ shrewish smart-mouthed cousin (in the Eve Arden role, Eve Arden) assures her that she will put an end to any rumors that Chris actually knew the man and that he was after something other than jewels (if you know what I mean). Chris’ story slowly starts falling apart – she did know the man, they’d had an affair years before when Bob was in WWII, but it had ended long ago. Although Chris is found not guilty based on self-defense, the marriage is in tatters. He cannot live with a woman who was unfaithful. As they start to separate in preparation for a divorce, Hannaford provides a long exposition about how women on the home front were tortured too while the men were at war, that Bob was complicit in the infidelity by having married Chris after a two week courtship just so he could hang his “occupied” sign on her while he was away at war and he could have her upon her return, and that marriage takes work and shouldn’t just be thrown away. Schmaltz, right? I think not. There is certainly a disquieting aspect hearing Hannaford’s soliloquy delivered by Ayres given his conscientious objector status. But even more disquieting is knowing that the screenplay was written by David Goodis. The message of the nihilistic knight of noir could not have been “work together and you will make it work out for the better.” It could only be “go ahead, stay together because that’s the acceptable and proper thing to do…and you both are going to live tormented lives until, thankfully, you die.”
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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ChiO
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Re: I WAKE UP DREAMING 2014

Postby ChiO » May 19th, 2014, 1:20 pm

On Sunday, a double double-feature wouldn’t do for Impresario Elliot. No, we must have a triple-feature (three from Monogram, no less) followed by a double-feature.

Just when you think you’ve seen all that there are to see, there’s ANGELS IN DISGUISE (Jean Yarbrough 1949) in all of its Bowery Boys glory. Sure, Slip (Leo Gorcey) hits Sach (Huntz Hall) with his hat, and incinerates his herbage, and is joined by Gabe, Whitey, Butch, Chuck and Louie, but there is an immediate difference. The opening music is dark and menacing, not cheerfully cheesy. Two guys (Slip and Sach as it turns out) are being pummeled in a dark alley. Slip goes into first-person voice-over narration. And thus begins an excellent entry into the comic noir canon.

Their pal Gabe, a policeman, has been shot and his partner killed in a payroll heist. Slip and Sach, newspaper copy boys, and later the rest of the Bowery Boys, infiltrate (or is it “infuriate” – oh, it’s both) the gang and bring it down. But with much mayhem and death. Not your standard Saturday morning Bowery Boys fare. The final scene – a shoot-out – is a beautifully choreographed mini-noir…shadowy, dark urban alleys, redolent with death and – how wonderful is this! – no music.

Favorite comic bit: Two of the times Slip is in his first-person voice-over narration mode, Sach – oh, how we’ve all wanted to do this – answers aloud the narration’s questions. Wonderful secondary cast: Mickey Knox and Joe Turkel, in his third screen appearance and first screen credit, are gang members; and, Chicago’s very own Jean Dean (not many screen appearances, but she was a Vargas and Esquire calendar model) is the lovely moll.

And again, from Monogram (A Mark Meaning Quality Noir in my book), FALL GUY (Reginald Le Borg 1947), a quality repeat from last year’s show.

It all adds up to Tom being a fall guy for somebody.

Yes, it does. The reference books say it’s adapted from “C-Jag” aka “Cocaine,” an early Cornell Woolrich noir. And, for each story, Woolrich borrowed heavily from his earlier stories. But I have never seen a Woolrich adaptation that is such a mash-up of Woolrich stories and movies. Echoes of PHANTOM LADY (there’s an unknown woman as bait and Elisha Cook, Jr. as a set-up guy), FEAR IN THE NIGHT and NIGHTMARE (there’s a dead body in that closet that the protagonist only has the vaguest memory of, based on a key and a knife, but his brother-in-law, the cop, will help solve the crime…if there was one) and I WOULDN’T BE IN YOUR SHOES (there’s a police apprehension based solely on circumstantial evidence).

Leo Penn (this was his second movie and first credit for the later-to-be blacklisted father of Sean Penn – and I swear every time I watch this movie, he reminds me of a bit-more-chiseled Farley Granger), while under the influence of a narcotic, appears to have killed a woman at a party and stuffed her in a closet. Now to find the person who took him to the party, the location of the party and other people at the party. All with the help of his brother-in-law the cop, Robert “Call me ‘Carl Denham’” Armstrong, and girlfriend, Teala Loring, who lives with her uncle, Charles Arnt, who we later learn isn’t really an uncle, but just a friend who promised her dead parents he’d look after her and now he (I sense a SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS in the air) really looks after her in a little too loving way. Thank you, Cornell.

Le Borg is an idiosyncratic director that I keep trying to investigate further. BAD BLONDE (1953) – did someone mention Barbara Payton? – is a favorite. Cinematographer Mack Stengler worked for years, from 1926 to 1949, at Poverty Row studios, primarily Monogram Pictures, and shot 130 feature films. He shot I WOULDN’T BE IN YOUR SHOES (William Nigh 1947), another Woolrich adaptation, at Monogram. In the ‘50s he turned to television and was the cinematographer for series such as The Lone Ranger (78 episodes, 1949-51), Hopalong Cassidy (26 episodes, 1952), M Squad (13 episodes, 1957-59), and Leave It to Beaver (142 episodes, 1958-62). And for the real trivia buff who was a regular viewer of The Merv Griffin Show, one of Penn’s roommates at the police detox center was an uncredited Brother Theodore.

On January 25, 1945, some guy named Orson Welles wrote:

Plant things that grow above the ground today and call up the man who runs your neighborhood movie house. Ask him to show a B minus picture called When Strangers Marry. It’s a “plus” entertainment. But because it’s a quickie without any names in it, When Strangers Marry hasn’t had much of a play, even in the smaller theatres, so you’ve probably missed it. Making allowances for its bargain-price budget, I think you’ll agree with me that it’s one of the most gripping and effective pictures of the year. It isn’t as slick as Double Indemnity or as glossy as Laura, but it’s better acted and better directed than either.

Manny Farber also liked it a lot. So whom among us should say they were wrong?

Those “no-names” who were in it turned into Robert Mitchum, Kim Hunter and Dean Jagger. And Neil Hamilton (aka Commissioner Gordon), Rhonda Fleming and an uncredited Minerva Urecal (aka “Aren’t you Marjorie Main?"). The result: I am hard-pressed to think of another noir with less action and more edge-of-the-seat tension.

A man flashing a ton of cash is murdered in his hotel room in Philadelphia. Hunter is on her way to meet her new husband, Jagger, who she’s only seen three times, in New York, fresh from his business trip in Philadelphia. At the hotel, she bumps into an old flame, Mitchum. Circumstantial evidence builds that Jagger committed the murder, and Mitchum is always there to comfort her and ask her whether she really knows anything about her husband. The guiltier Jagger looks, the guiltier he behaves. But things turn around when she discovers that Mitchum was also at the dead man’s hotel. Just because you know someone doesn’t mean you know him, and just because you don’t know someone doesn’t mean you don’t know him.

Written by the ubiquitous Philip Yordan (no time now to research whether he really wrote it, but given the stage of his career and that this is with the King Brothers through Monogram, I imagine he did) and directed by William Castle, who really was a great director before becoming the huckstering exploitation genius he’s thought of today. But the revelation on the big screen was the cinematography, courtesy of Ira Morgan. Gorgeous high contrast lighting and close-ups of Hunter that I’d swear Michael Powell used two years later in A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH. Other Morgan credits include THE GREAT GABBO (James Cruze 1929), ISLE OF FORGOTTEN SINS (Edgar G. Ulmer 1943), SENSATION HUNTERS (Christy Cabanne 1945) and THE CYCLOPS (Bert I. Gordon 1957).

* * * * *

Foolishly, I had consigned THE WINDOW (Ted Tetzlaff 1949) to the dreaded purgatory of the mid-level Cornell Woolrich noir – good, but not at the highest level of achievement (e.g., PHANTOM LADY, BLACK ANGEL) or with low-budget charms (e.g., FEAR IN THE NIGHT, THE GUILTY). Thank you, Elliot, for presenting this beautiful digital print and reacquainting me with the movie. Paul Stewart never looked more menacing. And the cinematography! Especially for the long climax when Bobby Driscoll takes to the streets and, then, to the abandoned building, with Stewart on his trail. Suddenly the possible source material for THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (Charles Laughton 1955) becomes evident. In no way is that intended as a criticism of Stanley Cortez’s phenomenal work, but Robert De Grasse’s accomplishment here (with, undoubtedly, the input of usually-the-cinematographer Tetzlaff), and elsewhere (THE LEOPARD MAN, THE BODY SNATCHER, BORN TO KILL) is due much praise.

Your Honor and ladies and gentlemen of the jury: It has been stated by the prosecution that there are certain rules in film noir, rules that must never be broken, and that among them are these – it must be predominantly dark and shadowy; it must be gritty; it must be hard-boiled; and it must be populated with lower and working class characters. The defense states now, loudly and clearly and with firmness of conviction, NO! The only rule is theme – personal and social corruption, be it through Fate, misguided Free Will, madness, obsession, or a nihilistic Universe. The means of displaying that theme – the prosecution’s so-called rules – are merely a series of common mechanisms, little more than the ubiquitous fedora and trench coat.

Allow me to illustrate: A well-to-do man interrupts another well-to-do man’s wedding with a fantastic story. Flashback. Which leads to a flashback. Which leads to a flashback. And, then, just as a collapsing telescope, each flashback reverses to return us to the present. And the prosecution’s “rules” are violated at each step. Yet, we can and do have film noir. As Exhibit A, the defense presents:

THE LOCKET (John Brahm 1946). The defense rests. And may God have mercy on Nancy’s (Laraine Day) Soul.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

kingrat
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Re: I WAKE UP DREAMING 2014

Postby kingrat » May 20th, 2014, 11:44 am

I am loving your thoughts on the movies we wish we were seeing with you. Keep 'em coming! Maybe some of our friends from the network wil get a few ideas for next year's festival.

So, if Nora Prentiss and The Unfaithful are better than expected, then 1) Vincent Sherman's and Ann Sheridan's reputations go up a notch; 2) 1947 keeps looking better and better, if darker; and 3) film noir and women's melodrama seem to enrich each other. That works for me.

Bring on the next installment!

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ChiO
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Re: I WAKE UP DREAMING 2014

Postby ChiO » May 20th, 2014, 3:05 pm

Night #3.

Two tonight that were new to me.

A man’s life in TWO SECONDS (Mervyn LeRoy 1932). Well, not really his entire life, but all that needs to concern us. The witnesses – grizzled reporters and a sociology student – to an execution by electric chair are lectured on how to behave during the execution. The student asks how much time elapses between hitting the switch and actual death. He’s told that it’s two seconds…enough time for a man to relive his life. The condemned man, John Allen (Edward G. Robinson), is put into the chair, the switch is hit, and we view his retelling of how he got here.

This is a wonderful juxtaposition of types with a film noir sensibility. Allen and his roommate, Clark (Preston Foster), are riveters making good money. Clark is engaged, but wants to play around. Allen has nobody and bounces between saying he wants to keep it that way and saying he wants the perfect, educated woman. Stepping into a dance hall to escape his latest bad blind date, he sees her…a beautiful gal, Shirley (Vivienne Osborne). She, of course, is working there only to be able to send money to her poor parents on a farm in Idaho. She also resents the men who think that for one thin dime they’ve purchased to rights to place their hands (and other parts of their anatomies) anywhere they wish.

Shirley and Allen court and appear to have an ideal relationship. Clark doesn’t buy it, and suddenly the swinger starts taking on the role of the prude. And maybe he’s right. She gets Allen drunk and overpays a justice of the peace to get them hitched. Clark, now an ex-roommate, is outraged. While he and Allen argue about Shirley’s deception and lying (her parents live in a dump in Manhattan) while on a 25th story girder, Clark falls to the street. Allen goes into a deep depression and deep debt.

With him out-of-work, Shirley goes back to the dance hall to support them. Now Allen feels that his manhood is being denied. When he comes into a windfall via a bet with a bookie, he pays his debts. Off to the dance hall to claim his manhood, he finds Shirley and her boss to close for his comfort. Murder. The chair.

But not before Allen makes a statement to the judge…a statement that pleads that he’s being executed for the wrong reason: why execute a man just because he’s become a man; he should have been executed when he failed to be a man. I’m not much for the big closing statement in movies, but I’ll put this one just behind two favorites, M and MONSIEUR VERDOUX.

Few actors for me can come so close to hamminess, and yet not cross the line, as Edward G. Robinson. Bravo!

20,000 YEARS IN SING-SING (Michael Curtiz 1932) is an excellent programming counterpoint. It is also a rarity – a movie at the festival over the past six years that didn’t do much for me. A tough guy hood (Spencer Tracy) with political connections (Louis Calhern) goes to Sing-Sing and is gradually worn down by the warden (Arthur Byron), a tough guy with a reformer’s heart.

On a one-day honor pass to see his dying girlfriend (Bette Davis), he and Calhern get into a tussle over Davis. Davis shoots Calhern. Tracy takes the gun and, thereby, the guilt and goes on the lam. Byron’s job is jeopardized, but Tracy saves it by returning and facing the electric chair for the murder of Calhern. And, thereby, also saving the now-revived Davis.

The vicissitudes of Fate are there, but there is too much reformist attitude and redemption for my noir heart. Also, too much Tracy and not enough Calhern and, in a relatively small, but important, role as a prisoner, Lyle Talbot. But that’s a matter of taste.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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ChiO
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Re: I WAKE UP DREAMING 2014

Postby ChiO » May 20th, 2014, 3:14 pm

kingrat wrote:
1) Vincent Sherman's and Ann Sheridan's reputations go up a notch; 2) 1947 keeps looking better and better, if darker; and 3) film noir and women's melodrama seem to enrich each other

First, thanks.

Second: #1 - I guess that's accurate. Sheridan was reasonably high to start with. #2 - I have to re-visit. #3 - I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment, if not the nomenclature (I fear that "women's melodrama" ghettoizes what I prefer to characterize as Domestic Melodrama). That discussion and analysis may have some legs in the future based on some conversations I've had recently and that may go further here in San Francisco.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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Re: I WAKE UP DREAMING 2014

Postby ChiO » May 21st, 2014, 11:06 am

Don reminded me that yesterday’s report was #4, not #3. But I’m lost in the Noir of the Mission, and what really is the meaning of time anyway.

It was a night of struggles over guns and people getting shot, which of course must result in happy endings.

My view of the Nicholas Ray Universe is divided into BPG (Before PARTY GIRL) and APG (After PARTY GIRL), not a demarcation by release date, but of my viewing and re-viewing. Seeing PARTY GIRL a few years ago changed everything Ray-related…every Ray movie subsequently watched or re-watched was somehow a different movie than those seen BPG. Last night was my first re-viewing of A WOMAN’S SECRET (1949) APG.

Marian (Maureen O’Hara), an ex-songbird, awaits the arrival of her protégé, Susan (Gloria Grahame). They argue. An off-camera shot is heard. Susan is down. Marian confesses. Luke (Melvyn Douglas), piano-playing song-plugger manager of both and the male of the ménage-a-trois, knows Marian couldn’t have done it and tries to convince Inspector Fowler (Jay C. Flippen) of that. Thus we are plunged into a series of perverse psycho-sexual flashbacks from different perspectives, each in search of a character’s redemption.

All aided by the penultimate feature film screenplay by Herman J. Mankiewicz who also was the producer. Some of the themes here would be further explored by Baby Brother Joseph L. Mankiewicz a year later in ALL ABOUT EVE.

What adds to the perverse edge of the film is the wit, often with vicious undertones. This is most notably carried out in the comic interplay of Fowler and his wife (Mary Philips in the Thelma Ritter role), an amateur detective based her wide range of experience as the Inspector’s wife and as an inveterate reader of true crime stories.

Still not in the upper echelon of Ray movies for me, but far better APG than BPG.

A brooding, heavy-lidded Noir tough guy not named Robert Mitchum or Raymond Burr. Yes, it’s Steve Cochran. Having spent most of his life in prison, he is released and has trouble fitting into society in TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY (Felix Feist 1951). He meets dime-a-dance dame Ruth Roman. He tries wooing her, but 18 years in prison puts a cramp on his style. And Roman isn’t really interested in any style he might try. The two have a confrontation with her cop sugar daddy and, as a result, the cop is dead.

Overall we get: sexual obsession, fetishism, killing, frame-up, deceit, couple-on-the-lam, paranoia, love, paranoia, sexual perversity, paranoia, pregnancy, paranoia, betrayal, paranoia, and confession and redemption. All while subverting legal and family institutions. In short, it's GREAT! In spite of an unambiguously happy ending.

But I’m just a sentimental old fluff.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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ChiO
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Re: I WAKE UP DREAMING 2014

Postby ChiO » May 22nd, 2014, 12:53 pm

Last night at the Roxie was da Bomb.

And not just because Don was finally in the house.

Lesson learned: A little radioactivity never hurts anybody, unless….

The ominous sounding EXPERIMENT ALCATRAZ (Edward L. Cahn 1950) presents five prisoners of Alcatraz volunteering for a military medical experiment in exchange for their freedom. They are exposed to radioactive isotopes in hope of finding a cure for a deadly blood disease (“We never lost a rabbit.”). But things go awry for one of the prisoners (Robert Shayne aka Superman’s Lt. Henderson). He goes mad (there’s the double-feature – BIGGER THAN LIFE) and kills his fellow guinea pig and best friend. He’s still granted his freedom because, after all, he knew not what he did.

But why was he the only one affected that way? That’s the mystery for the doctor behind all of this (John Howard) to solve. Never has the Placebo Effect been more critical.

Not nearly the Noir of Cahn’s DANGEROUS PARTNERS (1945), but far more joyously quirky. Ulmer did more with less. Cahn just focuses on the less. One must appreciate his no nonsense way of advancing the narrative. Where are they going? Shot of a door: "WARDEN". Where to now? Shot of a building: "HOSPITAL OFFICE". No pretense to Art here, just delirious entertainment – in under 60 minutes.

It is nice to see Shayne as a bad guy, and Frank Cady (aka Mr. Drucker) providing the key clue to the mystery. There is the mysterious Sam Scar (is that a made-up name or what?) as the dead prisoner-best friend who, by the way, will return to an uncredited life on Friday in AL CAPONE. Finally, this also has the greatest of all Hoosier actors – no, not Robert Emhardt or Karl Malden, or even Steve McQueen or James Dean – the one and only Kenneth MacDonald (the stentorian military officer), a The Three Stooges regular. Whatta voice!

We return to deadly seriousness in SPLIT SECOND (Dick Powell 1953), Powell’s first shot at directing. And a wonderful start it is.

The start of the movie itself, however, is less than wonderful. The set-up – a murderous escaped convict (Steve McNally) and two pals eluding capture and picking up various hostages along their way to a ghost town near ground zero for a nuclear test – seems interminable and of little interest. That all changes upon arrival in the ghost town.

Nicholas Musuraca shows his skills by making an objectively spacious interior into a claustrophobic prison. Screenwriters William Bowers and Irving Wallace create fascinating and unexpected characters (including an Arthur Hunnicutt role played by Arthur Hunnicutt). Death – real, threatened, and impending – is everywhere. There is simply no time for heroes.

Especially noteworthy are the women. Jan Sterling is the apparent floozy who isn’t. Alexis Smith has a superb spin as a femme fatale who isn’t. She doesn’t lead men to their doom…she is the doom, selling herself to anyone who’ll listen and lead her to believe she will survive.

And some of them don’t.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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Re: I WAKE UP DREAMING 2014

Postby JackFavell » May 22nd, 2014, 5:36 pm

Wonderful, wonderful descriptions, ChiO! And I'm finding out, as I see more and more of the films you describe, how accurate your reviews are. I especially enjoyed the Nora Prentiss/Unfaithful review because I was just bowled over by those two films, but all of your posts are exceptional and entertaining. Couldn't agree more about The Locket and Tomorrow is Another Day. You brought back great memories of Angels in Disguise, and I haven't seen it in at least twenty years! Thanks for taking me out of myself for a while, and giving me some laughs (Arthur Hunnicutt playing the Arthur Hunnicutt role) too.

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Re: I WAKE UP DREAMING 2014

Postby ChiO » May 22nd, 2014, 5:55 pm

Thank you, JF. It's all about the movies. (You know, Arthur Hunnicutt acting like Arthur Hunnicutt is the last person one would expect in SPLIT SECOND...but it works).

Two more familiar ones tonight, but I'm itching to see to see one of them on a big screen. Let's see...he's brooding, heavy-lidded....
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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Re: I WAKE UP DREAMING 2014

Postby JackFavell » May 22nd, 2014, 6:15 pm

Surely you aren't talking about Peter Graves.... :D

Say hi to Steve and Virginia for me and have a great time tonight! Wish I was there.

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Re: I WAKE UP DREAMING 2014

Postby ChiO » May 23rd, 2014, 1:34 pm

Roxie headline: CARL E. GUTHRIE EXPOSES CRIME PLAGUES!

Co-pilots. Happy pills. Wake-up pills. Bennies. You know what they are…amphetamines. And they are endangering YOU…and every driver of the big rigs.

DEATH IN SMALL DOSES (Joseph M. Newman 1957) continues Newman’s gritty, semi-documentary style found in ABANDONED (1949) and 711 OCEAN DRIVE (1950). G-man Peter Graves is sent undercover to find the source of the pill-pushing epidemic that’s killing and driving insane the nation’s truckers, and putting others’ lives in jeopardy. Robert Shayne (uncredited) makes a short return appearance, this time in his comfort zone as Graves’ boss.

While on assignment, Graves falls for his landlady, Mala Powers, meets her friend (and suspiciously friendly), the ubiquitous Harry Lauter, learns the truck trade from Roy Engel, and finds an information source in a truck stop waitress, Merry Anders. All as he’s befriended, harassed and threatened by a jive-talking, swinging, sleep deprived, hop-head of a driving partner, Chuck Connors. (Note to casting: Wasn’t Dick Bakalyan available? Or, even better, re-teaming that BAYOU (1957 – same year!) pair of Graves and Timothy Carey? What a wasted opportunity.) Lesson learned: The nicer the person, the more likely the person is to be a pill pusher.

DEATH IN SMALL DOSES can also serve as a reminder that a fine film noir does not require good acting and writing if the director and cinematographer are strong. Newman keeps thing simple, taut and moving. Guthrie takes full advantage of nighttime exteriors and provides plenty of menace. A very worthy lead in to…

Few things are more exhilarating than stumbling upon Noir treasure: HIGHWAY 301 (Andrew Stone 1950). I stumbled upon it about two-and-a-half years ago. It only gets better on the Big Screen.

You know it's going to be good when it opens with a stentorian voice-over narrator introducing the Governor of Virginia, who proceeds to endorse the film's message that crime does not pay. You know it's going to be better when the narrator then introduces the Governor of Maryland, who proceeds to endorse the film's message that crime does not pay. You know it's going to be the best when the narrator then introduces the Governor of North Carolina, who proceeds to endorse the film's message that crime does not pay.

It's the Tri-State gang on a rampage! (Based on a real case, so they say, but who cares.) George Legenza is the brains and the muscle of the gang. He's cold and calculating. His most exercised muscle is in his trigger finger. The body count keeps growing due to his penchant for killing, including women associated with the gang who cross him. The biggest heist in history – $2 million in an armored car – goes awry. Two million, all right...in cut money going to the U.S. Mint to be burned. The botched job leads to a break for the police, and the full force of the law is put into tracking them down. And they are tracked down and fall, one by one.

The Warners backlot has seldom looked so nightmarish. Legenza, portrayed by real-life Bad Boy Steve Cochran with intensity that is a cross between George Raft and Lawrence Tierney at their most malevolent, exudes a pervasive menace. Every encounter he has convinces you that someone – and probably not him – is about to die. Stone's direction is crisp, not flashy, but with a few nice jarring touches (thank you, Carl E. Guthrie) – alternating close-ups of Legenza and one of the women, with the faces filling the screen as he tries to convince her that she has nothing to worry about from him (don't believe it, sweetheart!), and filming Legenza through the cracked windshield of an overturned car as he tries to evade the police. Again, thank you, Carl E. Guthrie, for the menace of the night.

Stone also wrote the screenplay, which is very nicely hardboiled. What a directing career trajectory he had…fluff to STORMY WEATHER (1943) with the incomparable Lena Horne…to more fluff…to the ‘50s whereupon he discovered the dark underbelly we now lovingly call film noir. HIGHWAY 301, with the incomparable Steve Cochran, was the first of his ‘50s tough movies. Then to…well, I haven’t seen them, and I don’t think I want to.

This would make a swell double feature with GUN CRAZY, which was released shortly released before, and is its inversion. But the intermission might be a problem. Annie Laurie Starr would sneer at the gals hanging with this gang, and Legenza would probably plug Bart Tare in the back (after reassuring him that they're in it together for keeps).

For those who really like their boys bad, this one would either cure you from the affliction or truly tickle your fancy (just before the slug hits you in the back or the back of the hand hits you in the jaw).

You cannot be kind to congenital criminals like these. They would show you no mercy. Let them feel the full impact of the law. The End.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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Re: I WAKE UP DREAMING 2014

Postby ChiO » May 24th, 2014, 12:38 pm

Roxie headline: LUCIEN BALLARD MAKES CRIME BEAUTIFUL.

A tale of two criminal biopics.

Cicero isn’t big enough for Al Capone. The wide-screen isn’t big enough for Rod Steiger in AL CAPONE (Richard Wilson 1959).

Steiger gives a bravura performance as Al Capone. It’s big. It’s bold. It’s brave. It’s Steiger. I love the big lug in everything, so there is no room for objectivity here, and I’m confident that non-fans can substitute other adjectives to describe his performance. Martin Balsam as a news reporter in Al’s pocket is right there with him. As expected, cinematographer Lucien Ballard creates beautiful black-and-white images.

Yet somehow it is less than the sum of its parts. Perhaps it’s the screenplay or the Capone story itself. It tries to play the story as straight documentary and that didn’t engage me. The finale of the film has Capone screaming at his attackers in Alcatraz, “I’m Al Capone!”, but, like the attackers, I thought, “So what?” The voice-over by head cop James Gregory that follows, telling us that Capone is released and dies of a brain disease, is pretty anti-climatic stuff.

I had hoped for much more from director Richard Wilson, an original member of the Mercury Theater and long-time associate of Orson Welles. I wanted MACBETH, but perhaps nothing quite that wicked this way comes. So it goes.

“You can’t kill me, I’m Legs Diamond!”

I believed it because Legs believed it, as did one of the two hit men sent to dispel the myth of Jack “Legs” Diamond in THE RISE AND FALL OF LEGS DIAMOND (Budd Boetticher 1960). Ray Danton, as Legs, creates a charming, conniving sociopath that one can’t help but love as he’s killing – and surviving attempts to kill him – on his way to the top. (Memo to Vincent Lubeck: See. Sociopaths can be lovable. But maybe you have to be a top dog rather than a hoodlum. Discuss.)

The women (Karen Steele and Elaine Stewart) certainly loved him…when it suited their purposes. And he certainly loved them…when it suited his purposes. No crime in that.

Boetticher and Ballard present it all in beautifully staged black-and-white.

And how can you not love a movie that gives Jesse White, as a rival gangster, bigger billing than Warren Oates (his second screen credit), as Legs’ pitiful brother? Poor Sid Melton, in a pivotal role, goes uncredited.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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Re: I WAKE UP DREAMING 2014

Postby ChiO » May 25th, 2014, 12:07 pm

Saturday afternoon, a perfectly gorgeous day, requires nothing less than a triple-feature magical mystery tour of the occult in a dark theater.

MIRACLES FOR SALE (Tod Browning 1939) is the name of Robert Young’s New York City business venture, the construction of the hardware used by magicians for their illusions. A former magician himself, he now has a sideline of exposing frauds – those fortunetellers, psychics and other assorted seers who prey on the sad and lonely. One evening, Florence Rice bursts into his shop and begs him to protect her. She’s convinced she being targeted for murder, but refuses to give Young any clues to why.

Soon, two psychics are found murdered, each inside a pentagram, and Florence may be next. Then the corpses disappear and reappear…as live suspects. What’s going on? Love and death. Browning’s last film, this is a pleasant mix of comedy and the macabre. Frank Craven, as Young’s father from Indiana, ably provides the comic elements.

GRAND CENTRAL MURDER (S. Sylvan Simon 1942) is a mostly comic romp through the shadowy subterranean train tunnels of New York City. A beautiful dancer, whose stepfather is a card reader, is murdered in her fiancée’s family’s private train car. Everyone (or so it seems) in New York City is a suspect and capable of a flashback or two. Including a private detective working for a con who, oh-by-the-way, threatened the victim over the phone shortly before she was murdered and while he was a temporary escapee.

It is a frothy mash-up of THE THIN MAN series and the board game “Clue” with an array of MGM B-players: Van Heflin, Virginia Grey, Steve McNally, Sam Levene, Tom Conway (in the George Sanders role), Millard Mitchell, Frank Ferguson, and more and more. But it has A-cinematographer, George J. Folsey, to make it all look and feel just right.

Scams! Intrigue! Murder!

Two detectives with the BUNCO SQUAD (Herbert I. Leeds 1950) are on a mission to put the Fear of God – and the Law – into carnies, numerologists, tarot card readers and spiritualists who prey on the wealthy retirees of Los Angeles. They discover that a consortium of such predators are about to make a big score by convincing a wealthy widow that her dead son wants her to amend her will to leave her estate to the consortium. And, of course, once the will is amended, her days will be numbered. How to foil this nefarious scheme?

The detectives enlist the girlfriend of one of them and a retired magician to concoct a rival spiritualist set-up that will convince the widow not to leave her estate to the evil consortium. The Bad Guys (and Gal) discover that plot, and violence and death ensue. But, fortunately, the Cult Crooks are exposed!

What a wonderful 67 minutes. Part police procedural, part quasi-heist, director Leeds (a journeyman B-movie director) keeps things moving. And the cast of Robert Sterling, Joan Dixon, Ricardo Cortez (nee Jacob Krantz – one of my favorite name changes), and Bernadene Hayes never allow their star-power to get in the way telling a swift story. This is second tier B-Noir at its finest.

* * * *
Nothing could follow that afternoon unless the kinky programming of Dewey steers us into the queue marked: The Psycho-Sexual Universe of Fritz Lang.

Lang’s last two American films, BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (1956) and WHILE THE CIY SLEEPS (1956), have never been high on my Lang List. But being back-to-back on the Big Screen definitely showed their perverse charms.

In BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT, a novelist (Dana Andrews) and the news editor he formerly worked for (Sidney Blackmer), who also happens to be the father of Andrews’ fiancée (Joan Fontaine), decide to do battle against capital punishment. They plant circumstantial evidence to frame Andrews for an unsolved murder. If he can be convicted and sentenced to death, they’ll pull out the proof of his innocence and thereby establish that innocent people can be victimized by the system. But things don’t go quite according to Andrews’ plan. Andrews is magnificent as the understated slightly-off-kilter Everyman who is really a cold, rational Extraordinaryman whose mind is as twisted as the plot.

Sexual dysfunction carries WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS. The cuckold media mogul with Daddy issues (Vincent Price) wants to scoop all media outlets on the story of the Lipstick Killer with Mommy issues (John Barrymore, Jr.). He also makes his management team (George Sanders, Thomas Mitchell, and James Craig) compete to be the putative corporate alpha-dog who will still be subservient to him.

Newscaster Dana Andrews wants a license to do some early exploration of his girlfriend, Sally Forrest. She refuses to issue that license, but has little difficulty in agreeing to be bait for the Lipstick Killer. Rhonda Fleming and Ida Lupino use their various charms to manipulate each man either deigns as worthy of attention and capable of satisfying the need of the moment.

It’s the sick, twisted, perverse World According to Lang. And the media are complicit. Thanks for the warning, Fritz.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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Re: I WAKE UP DREAMING 2014

Postby ChiO » May 26th, 2014, 7:42 pm

We continue our regularly scheduled weekend matinee of mysticism and the occult.

Beautiful women are mutilating their faces all over the city. And none of them remember doing it or feeling any pain while doing it. Why, oh, why is this happening? Perhaps we can learn through THE HYPNOTIC EYE (George Blair 1960).

A detective (Joe Patridge), his girlfriend (Merry Anders) and her girlfriend (Marcia Henderson) go to a hypnotist’s stage performance. Anders and Henderson are intrigued by the notion of being hypnotized. Patridge is a non-believer. The hypnotist (Jacques Bergerac) and his lovely assistant (Allison Hayes) levitate Henderson during their act. Later that night, Henderson washes her face with sulfuric acid. Could there be a connection between the hypnotism and the mutilations?

This has everything I need in a B-movie: outrageous premise played absolutely straight, and enough stunning camera shots within the flow of the movie to make it memorable. The opening scene is one of my favorite openings to any movie: a beautiful young woman turns on her oven and, with the camera shooting through the oven burner from underneath, we see her apply shampoo, put her face into the burner, and stand up with face and hair aflame.

As the movie develops, it may seem to be one of the most misogynistic movies ever. It is actually about self-loathing. I suppose, however, a self-loathing woman is a type of misogynist. Allison Hayes, you see, apparently had not rid herself of all of her anger when she had a growth spurt a couple of years before.

TWO ON A GUILLOTINE (William Conrad 1965) gives us not only the occult from the Saturday matinee and today’s first feature, it also provides a continuation of yesterday evening’s sexual dysfunctions.

Cesar Romero is a dead magician who vowed to return from the grave. His estate goes to his daughter, Connie Stevens, if she spends seven nights in his mansion. (Did you guess that the mansion is creaky and creepy?) Her newfound romantic interest, Dean Jones, stays with her to provide protection.

Sure enough, Romero returns…or was it just a wax figure that was buried? It was his way of getting his daughter, who he hadn’t seen in twenty years, to see him. But Romero is just a little too fond of his daughter because, you see, she is a dead ringer for her mother who her father accidentally killed twenty years ago when a guillotine trick didn’t work, which lead to his madness. Madness and a dysfunctional family. And Stevens’ earlier rendition of “What Is This Thing Called Love” takes on a whole new meaning.

But, overall, not quite as good as it sounds. Nice camera work, but not so nice writing. Stevens and Jones can’t carry it, though the few other small roles are ably done. In short: it ain’t no BRAINSTORM.

* * * *
Ditto, THE COUCH (Owen Crump 1961), which is tough to fathom. Blake Edwards wrote the story (not that bad) and Robert Bloch wrote the screenplay (not that good).

Grant Williams is getting psychiatric help for his aggression, fondness for his sister, and hatred for his father. About covers it. Oh, and he’s a serial killer. Murder, madness, and family-related sexual dysfunction. A theme could be developing.

The camera work is fine, especially the night L.A. exteriors. And the germ of a good story is in there somewhere. But was nice to see the incredibly shrinking Grant Williams and the attacking 50’ Allison Hayes in a single day.

BRAINSTORM (William Conrad 1965). Conrad directed four feature films. One in 1963. Three in 1965. TWO ON A GUILLOTINE, released in January 1965. MY BLOOD RUNS COLD, released in March 1965. BRAINSTORM, released in May 1965. From Connie Stevens-Dean Jones to Joey Heatherton-Troy Donahue to Anne Francis-Jeffrey Hunter-Dana Andrews-Viveca Lindfors. Clearly the trend was positive.

A young scientist falls for his boss’ wife. He hatches a plan for murder. He’ll kill his boss and then trick the legal and medical system into believing he’s insane. He’ll be “cured” after awhile and then reunited with his love. Who, by the way, finds another fella.

He finally discloses the scheme to his trusted doctor. She doesn’t believe him, seeing it as just a manifestation of his insanity. Or, she does believe him and wants to keep him committed as punishment for the murder where he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. But two things are certain: He is insane, and this is one of the finest end-of-the-classic-age noirs.

A perfect conclusion to a great festival, and arguably the most interestingly programmed of the six I WAKE UP DREAMING series.

Who can ask for anything more?

Where to now, Elliot?
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles


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