Psycho’s, Madmen and the Mentally Deranged Invade San Francisco for NOIR CITY film festival

That criminal mastermind of a film programmer, Eddie Muller is presenting 24 films a second…  or rather 24 films in ten days,  for the ninth annual edition of  NOIR CITY taking place at San Francisco’s historic movie palace, the Castro Theatre, from  Friday, January 21 through Sunday, January 30.  This year’s festival features several Noir titles that overlap with the horror genre, as it’s focus is on madmen, psychopaths and all around demented individuals.

Horror highlights include Peter Lorre in STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR, Albert Dekker as twins in AMONG THE LIVING, George Cukor’s GASLIGHT, taken from the hit Patrick Hamilton play, ANGEL STREET which helped to launch Vincent Price’s career in Hollywood, Robert Siodmak’s THE DARK MIRROR, Fritz Lang’s SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR with Joan Bennett, and Ray Milland in SO EVIL MY LOVE.

The complete schedule follows:

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Friday, January 21

STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR  | Director: Boris Ingster (1940 – RKO) 64 min.

Nine years after appearing in Fritz Lang’s M, Peter Lorre plays another murderer on the loose, but in a Hitchcockian twist, Lorre’s crimes are pinned on “the wrong men.” Featuring a prolonged dream sequence that was the initial injection of noir expressionism into Hollywood’s bloodstream.  Archival print from the Library of Congress.

HIGH WALL  |  Director:  Curtis Bernhardt   (1947 – MGM)  99 min.

Brain-damaged vet Robert Taylor confesses to murdering his unfaithful wife and is sentenced to a sanitarium. His doctor (sexy Audrey Totter) gradually realizes he might not be guilty. Taylor gives his best performance ever in this neglected gem, which glistens with feverish rain-soaked noir-scapes, shot by Paul C. Vogel (THE TIME MACHINE).

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Saturday, January 22 | Matinee

GASLIGHT  |  Director: George Cukor (1944 – MGM) 114 min.

MGM’s glossy film version of the hit Broadway play ANGEL STREET, which starred Vincent Price as the megalomaniac Mr. Manningham, who was replaced in the film by Charles Boyer.  George Cukor directed Ingrid Bergman to the first of her three Academy Awards, as the distressed woman whose husband drives her to the brink of insanity. Joseph Cotten and Angela Lansbury co-star.

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Q: Did you consider Vincent Price for GASLIGHT?

GEORGE CUKOR:  There had been some talk about it because I had met Vincent Price when he was playing Prince Albert in VICTORIA REGINA on Broadway, and David Selznick had wanted to put him under contract. But Metro wanted a bigger name and in the end we cast Charles Boyer in the part, which worked out quite well.  Boyer kept up air of coldness throughout the entire movie.

Q: John L. Balderston who wrote DRACULA and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN worked on the script.

GEORGE CUKOR: Yes, along with John Van Druten and Walter Reisch. Balderston worked on it before I came on the film, though.  Van Druten was a very good playwright, although I didn’t like his play OLD ACQUAINTANCE.  I thought that was shit!  It was too heavily done, but he was generally a very good writer of dialogue. Together he and Reisch worked out the suspense elements and were able to move the action out of the boundaries of the stage. It’s very difficult, because you have to have a certain fidelity to the original, but also give it movement beyond the confines of the stage, without tearing the script apart.  Van Druten actually suggested Angela Lansbury for the part of the Cockney maid. She was here as a refugee from wartime England and working at Bullock’s department store on Wilshire Blvd., so I made a test with her even though she had no experience. Well, she did what I felt was a very good test and even though she was a bit nervous, as soon as she stepped on the stage, it was just as if she had been a professional actress all her life!

STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT |  Director: Anthony Mann  (1944 – Republic)  56 min.

A WWII veteran comes to a California town to meet the woman who was his cherished wartime pen-pal. The girl’s peculiar mother claims she’s away-perhaps far, far away. This highly atmospheric, slightly daft “B” was the sixth low-budget wonder on the growing résumé of esteemed noir director Anthony Mann (T-MEN, RAW DEAL), featuring a jaw-dropping performance by Austrian actress Helen Thimig. A brand new 35mm print restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive! Preservation funded by Paramount Pictures.

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Saturday, January 22 | Evening

THEY WON’T BELIEVE ME  |  Director: Irving Pichel  (1947 – RKO)  95 min.

Robert Young is brilliantly cast against type as a married man whose sex addiction leads to murder. Director Irving Pichel (DRACULA’S DAUGHTER) elicits superb, nuanced performances from Susan Hayward, Jane Greer and Rita Johnson as the seduced and deceived women, all full-blooded characters in Jonathan Latimer’s sharp-edged screenplay. Produced by Hitchcock protégé Joan Harrison, it’s one of the most unjustly obscure films of the 1940’s.

DON’T BOTHER TO KNOCK  | Director: Roy Ward Baker  (1952 – 20th Century-Fox)  76 min.

Hammer Horror director Roy Ward Baker got his start directing Marilyn Monroe as a mentally unbalanced babysitter (in a sheer negligee!) who is hired by a couple visiting Manhattan. All hell breaks loose when she entices randy airline pilot Richard Widmark in for a layover. A claustrophobic, unsettling drama scripted by Daniel Taradash, from the novel “Mischief” by Charlotte Armstrong. Featuring Anne Bancroft and Elisha Cook, Jr.

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Sunday, January 23

A DOUBLE LIFE  |  Director: George Cukor  (1947 – Universal) 104 min.

George Cukor directs Ronald Colman in his only Oscar-winning performance as Anthony John, an actor who confuses his role onstage as Othello with his life off the stage, resulting in the Moor of Venice’s jealousy becoming all too real. Miklos Rozsa provides another vivid score, but minus the thermin he introduced to such great effect for mental aberration in Hitchcock’s SPELLBOUND. With Signe Hasso, Shelly Winters and Whit Bissell. Presented in an archival print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Preservation funded by the Film Foundation.

AMONG THE LIVING |  Director: Stuart Heisler (1941 – Paramount)  67 min.

DR. CYCLOPS’s Albert Dekker stars as identical twins, one a brain-damaged psychopath who stirs up a Gothic whirlwind of insanity, family skeletons and murder in a small town paralyzed by fear. Stuart Heisler directs Lester Cole’s (THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS) baroque script with fabulously lurid intensity. Costarring a lushly nubile Susan Hayward, venerable Harry Carey, and pre-tragedy Frances Farmer. This rarely screened horror-noir hybrid is one of the most requested films in NOIR CITY history, finally presented in a glorious 35mm print!

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Monday, January 24

SORRY, WRONG NUMBER  | Director: Anatole Litvak  (1948 – Paramount)  89 min.

Barbara Stanwyck gives a tour de force performance (and won her fourth Oscar nomination) as a neurotic invalid who overhears a murder plot over the telephone. Based on the famous radio play by Lucille Fletcher, that starred Agnes Moorehead.  The movie plot is expanded with flashbacks to Stanwyck’s romance with a young Burt Lancaster before things go sour in their relationship.  Maestro Franz Waxman delivers a suitably thrilling score.

THE LADY GAMBLES  |  Director: Michael Gordon  (1949 -Universal)  99 min.

Barbara Stanwyck delivers another great performance  as a woman whose appetite for gambling destroys her marriage and threatens her life.  The on-location scenes of early Las Vegas are great fun, but things turn harrowing as Stanwyck spirals into addiction. Writer Roy Huggins and director Michael Gordon are surprisingly frank and brutal for the time, especially when Stanwyck is caught cheating at back alley craps. With Robert Preson, John Hoyt and Stephan McNally.

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Tuesday, January 25

THE DARK MIRROR  |  Director:  Robert Siodmak  (1948 – Universal) 85 min.

Witnesses place Ruth Collins  (Olivia de Havilland) at the scene of a grisly murder. When it’s discovered she has a twin, Dr. Elliot (Lew Ayres) is brought in to psychologically evaluate them both. When the doc falls for one of them, the other becomes murderously jealous. Noir master Robert Siodmak deftly directs this Oscar-nominated original story, guiding de Havilland through two sensational performances, as the sisters both sweet and sinister. Preservation funded by the Film Foundation.

CRACK-UP  |  Director: Irving Reis (1947 – RKO) 93 min.

A museum curator (Pat O’Brien) survives a massive train wreck, but wakes up an amnesiac in a living nightmare; it seems the accident never happened, and now everyone is convinced he’s losing his mind. Fredric Brown’s ingenious short story “Madman’s Holiday,” is inventively realized by director Irving Reis and enacted by a top-flight cast, including suave, sinister Herbert Marshall,  sartorially splendid Claire Trevor and Mercury Theatre veteran, Ray Collins.

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Wednesday, January 26

THE WOMAN ON THE BEACH  |  Director: Jean Renoir  (1947 – RKO)  71 min.

Despite this noir-stained psychodrama being drastically cut prior to release, it remains a mesmerizing tale of dementia, desperation, and lust. Legendary French director Jean Renoir elicits compelling performances from the triangle of Robert Ryan, Joan Bennett, and Charles Bickford, the latter as a famous painter blinded by his beautiful wife. A rare chance to see this maimed masterpiece-that-might-have-been on the big screen!

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JEAN RENOIR talking with Francois Truffaut and Jacques Rivette in SIGHT AND SOUND (Summer – 1954):

Q: Is it true that you encountered some difficulties with your film, WOMAN ON THE BEACH?

JEAN RENOIR: That was quite an adventure. Joan Bennett, who is a friend of mine, asked me to make it. She said: “I’ve been invited to make a film at RKO. Come make it with me.” RKO seconded the offer, and I was pleased to go back to them—I’d been very happy there before. Originally, Val Lewton was going to produce the film. He was a most interesting person, and it was very tragic that he died some years ago. If not the first, he was certainly one of the first to make fairly ambitious films cheaply; that is on “B” picture budgets, although with good scripts and stories out of the ordinary run. Don’t think I despise “B” pictures; in principle, I prefer them to the big, pretentious psychological films—they are more amusing. When I happen to go to the cinema in America, I go to see ” B ” pictures. In the first place, they are a great technical achievement. To make a Western in a week as Monogram does, beginning on Monday and ending on Saturday, takes a good deal of skill, believe me. The crime stories are made at the same speed. Secondly, I consider that they are often better than the important pictures, because the director has complete freedom—working at that rate, no one has time to supervise him. Val Lewton kindly helped me to begin WOMAN ON THE BEACH, and then went back to his other projects, which no doubt interested him more, and left me to myself. I was more or less my own producer, in association with a man named Jack J. Gross, who kept strictly to the business side. In fact, I was wholly responsible, and I’ve never shot a film with less script and more improvisation. I took the opportunity of attempting something I had long wanted to do; a film based on what, today, is called sex—perhaps it was called sex then, but people didn’t talk so much about it—seen from a purely physical point of view. I tried to tell a story of physical attraction into which sentiment did not enter. I made it and was pleased with it; the film was perhaps a little slow, but the scenes were well balanced and excellently played by Robert Ryan—this was his first important part—and by Joan Bennett.

The studio, the actors and I were all pleased with this film, but we had some doubts about the public reaction, so we agreed to have several previews. I remember one in particular, at Santa Barbara before an audience of college kids. They didn’t like the film, they weren’t interested, and I had an impression that my method of showing emotional scenes devoid of emotion shocked them—or perhaps it wasn’t what they were used to. In any case, it was a poor reception and we returned to the studio very disheartened.

You know, a preview is an unbearable ordeal. You sit down and feel as though your body was being pierced by blows from a knife. I was so discouraged that I was the first to suggest cuts and alterations. The film had been expensive to make, as to arrive at the style I wanted I had to work slowly; and Joan Bennett had succeeded in completely altering her personality for the part—I even asked her to lower her voice, which was rather sharp. All of that took time. This time, it was I who feared a financial catastrophe, for which I would have felt responsible. The studio authorities were most considerate, and said: “All right, we shall have to make changes, but you must do it.”

I felt then that I had no right to take complete responsibility for launching the film on the public, and I believe that moment of doubt did no good to the picture. I carefully re-shot numerous scenes, altogether about a third of the film, including mostly the scenes between Robert Ryan and Joan Bennett; and I produced a film which was, I think, neither one thing nor the other, and which had certainly lost its raison d’etre. I had allowed myself to be too greatly influenced by the Santa Barbara preview, and, at the thought of losing contact with the public, I had flinched. All the same, people who criticize this film should not consider the things that influenced me. I was myself responsible for the alterations. Actually, I believe that I was attempting something which would have been successful now;  today, in America, audiences are more ready to accept the ideas of  WOMAN ON THE BEACH, and I am afraid that my film was premature, and anticipated the present state of mind.

BEWARE MY LOVELY  | Director: Harry Horner  (1952 – RKO)  77 min.

The great Ida Lupino plays a lonely war widow who employs a drifter (Robert Ryan) as a household handyman, only to learn–too late–precisely why he has no references on his résumé. Lupino and Ryan, a pair of noir heavyweights, battle through a “day without end” to an unexpected climax. Mel Dinelli’s suspenseful script is adapted from his hit stage play “The Man.” Released the same year Lupino and Ryan teamed-up on Nicholas Ray’s ON DANGEROUS GROUND.

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Thursday, January 27

THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS  |  Director: Peter Godfrey (1947 – Warner Bros.)  99 min.

Humphrey Bogart as a psychopathic artist who paints his wives as “The Angel of Death,” and then disposes of them with a glass of poison milk (shades of SUSPICION). Naturally Barbara Stanwyck catches on to her husband’s psychosis, so Bogart must eliminate Stanwyck in a more violent way. Especially memorable for the melodramatic scene where a crazed Bogart bursts into Stanwyck’s room, his face a mask of terror that foreshadows Christopher Lee’s dramatic library entrance in HORROR OF DRACULA, ten year later.

MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS  |  Director: Joseph H. Lewis  (1945 – Columbia)  65 min.

Unemployed Julia (Nina Foch) gets a dream job working for a wealthy widower, only to awaken in a nightmare-living with a schizoid husband and a scheming mother-in-law (George Macready and Dame May Whitty), neither of whom she’s ever seen before! Director Joseph H. Lewis (GUN CRAZY) made his mark in Hollywood with this incredibly tense and well-acted mystery thriller, one of the best B-films of the era.

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Friday, January 28

CRASHOUT  |  Director: Lewis Foster  (1955 – Republic)  89 min.

Killers on a Furlough from Hell!  The rarest of jailbreak films, and one of the best.  William Bendix, Arthur Kennedy, Luther Adler, Gene Evans, Marshall Thompson and William Talman (as a knife-chucking religious fanatic) crash out of the pen to unearth a stashed robbery payroll. Director Lewis Foster’s frantic film is full of wild flourishes and stunningly brutal action. Featuring leggy Beverly Michaels, wholesome Gloria Talbott, and mousy Percy Helton!

LOOPHOLE  |  Harold D. Schuter  (1954 – Allied Artists)  80 min.

One of the rarest films of the original noir era, a tidy tale of unjust persecution that plays like a B-film LES MISERABLES. An innocent bank clerk (Barry Sullivan), made the fall guy in an embezzlement scheme, is pursued to the brink of insanity by a scarily righteous lawman (merciless Charles McGraw, in an signature performance). Presented in a brand new 35mm print funded by the Film Noir Foundation, courtesy of Warner Bros. and the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

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Saturday, January 29 | Matinee

BLIND ALLEY  |  Director: Charles Vidor  (1939 – Columbia)  69 min.

An escaped convict (Chester Morris) and his moll (Ann Dvorak) hold a dinner party hostage while waiting for their boat to freedom. During the long night, a psychiatrist (Ralph Bellamy) persistently probes for the root of the crook’s psychopathy-with shattering results. Remade several times, the first version remains the freshest, thanks to Charles Vidor’s (GILDA) canny direction, including startling dream sequences using camera techniques unique for the era.

SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR  |  Director: Fritz Lang  (1948 – Universal) 99 min.

Director Fritz Lang jumped (with abandon) onto the 1940’s Freudian bandwagon with this wildly symbolic cinematic fright-ride. On a pre-wedding holiday Joan Bennett meets the real man of her dreams (Michael Redgrave), who sweeps her off her feet and into a nightmarish honeymoon that’s a cross between Rebecca and Bluebeard. Stanley Cortez (THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS) shot this visually stunning film that has been lovingly restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Preservation funded by the Film Foundation.

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Saturday, January 29 | Evening show

THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY  |  Director: Robert Siodmak  (1945 – Universal)  80 min.

Small-town designer Harry Quincey (George Sanders) finally meets the right woman (Ella Raines), but his possessive and possibly insane sister Lettie (Geraldine Fitzgerald) has no intention of letting him go. How will Harry get free of her incestuous clutches? A dark and mordant psycho-sexual drama (with lots of spicy wit) in which director Robert Siodmak creatively undermines the Hollywood Production Code. Fitzgerald is at her stark, raving, and sexy best.

SO EVIL MY LOVE   | Director: Lewis Allen  (1948 – Paramount) 112 min.

Inspired by a true-life, never-solved murder, this is one of the great undiscovered gothic-noir dramas of the 1940’s, made a few years after Milland and director Lewis Allen teamed up for the scary ghost story THE UNINVITED.  A devout missionary (Ann Todd) falls under the spell of a charming rogue (Ray Milland) and can’t resist aiding him in the commission of his crimes. Milland is at his caddish best, but the real standouts are Todd and co-star Geraldine Fitzgerald. Featuring Martita Hunt (BRIDES OF DRACULA) and Leo G. Carroll. Based on the novel by Marjorie Bowen, who wrote under the pseudonym Joseph Shearing.

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Sunday, January 30

ANGEL FACE  |  Director: Otto Preminger  (1952 – RKO)  91 min.

Jean Simmons is simultaneously sexy and creepy as a Los Angeles heiress who will do anything to get the man she wants. In this case, it’s ultimate noir hero-chump Robert Mitchum, who blithely believes he can handle his unhinged paramour’s Electra-fying passion. Otto Preminger directs this doomed romance with an almost suffocating precision, creating what Jean-Luc Godard hailed as “one of the ten best films ever made in Hollywood.” With Herbert Marshall and Leon Ames.

THE HUNTED   |  Director: Jack Bernhard (1948 – Allied Artists)  88 min.

More buried treasure unearthed! Steve Fisher’s original screenplay for this bargain-basement B-film offers a clever twist on the typical femme fatale. Laura Mead (Belita) has served her time for robbery and still claims her innocence. She returns to the city where her former cop lover (Preston Foster) sent her up. Was she guilty-or was he just jealous? Is she back for a fresh start-or revenge? A strange, hypnotic noir from Poverty Row director Jack (Decoy) Bernhard, resurrected in a new 35mm print by the Film Noir Foundation, courtesy of Warner Bros. and the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

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About the Author

Lawrence French

LAWRENCE FRENCH celebrated his 20th anniversary as a contributor to Cinefantastique Magazine with his cover story on the making of THE RETURN OF THE KING. As Cinefantastique’s longtime San Francisco correspondent, he has written numerous stories about Pixar and Lucasfilm, and interviewed such genre stalwarts as Vincent Price, Tim Burton, Ray Harryhausen, John Lasseter, Phil Tippett and Ray Bradbury. He is also the editor of the highly regarded website on Orson Welles, Wellesnet.com. His book as editor of Richard Matheson’s Edgar Allan Poe scripts for THE HOUSE OF USHER and THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM was published by Gauntlet Press in 2007, with a second volume on TALES OF TERROR and THE RAVEN due out in the future. For Cinefantastique Online, he currently writes the regular column Supernal Dreams.

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