Captain Spaulding on Skull Island

New Noir

August 17th, 2010

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It’s that time of year again – The Noir City Film Festival at the Music Box Theater here in Chicago. Run by the Film Noir Foundation, Noir City: Chicago 2 features double bills of well-known films and little-seen gems. Last summer’s festival was great and I’ve been looking forward to the next one ever since.

You can check out the Film Noir Foundation here:

And… I have a lot of movies piled up on both the DVR and my “To Be Watched” Shelves and many of those (20 at last count) are film noirs that I’ve never seen. Throw in a box set of all 117 episodes of Lee Marvin’s Chicago-based “M Squad” that I haven’t watched enough of, and the book “Death on the Cheap – The Lost B Movies of Film Noir” by Arthur Lyons… well, it’s going to be a very noiry August.

Here’s the rundown (again, I’m not a scholar or reviewer, I’m just giving a few impressions. All of these summaries are bare boned by even bare boned standards and don’t do justice to the films. If you want more info, check IMDb).

Also, the word “noir” seems to be losing its meaning. It’s tacked onto all sorts of movies, books and comic as a generic description, each time getting a little farther away from what it’s really describing. It’s pretty simple, in noir the protagonist starts out screwed and things go downhill from there. There are a lot of debates about it, but this definition works for me.

For more on this, check out Otto Penzler’s great article in The Huffington Post.

That said, depending on the movies I want to get through, I may add to this problem by playing fast and loose with the use of the word.

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Thursday 8-12-10
No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1948)
Directed by St. John Leigh Clowes. Screenplay by St. John Leigh Clowes from the novel by James Hadley Chase. Starring Linden Travers, Jack LaRue and Hugh McDermott.
British noir with enough sex and violence to cause controversy, scandal and, ultimately, a ban on the film. Miss Blandish gets kidnapped, her dull fiancé getting killed during the commission of the crime. It’s only when she meets gang leader Slim Grisson that she truly learns what love can be. Convoluted and over the top, but entertaining enough.
2.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday 8-13-10
City That Never Sleeps (1953)
Directed by John H. Auer. Screenplay by Steve Fisher. Starring Gig Young, Marie Windsor, William Talman and Tom Poston.
A Chicago cop plans to ditch his wife and quit his job to run away with a stripper. A crooked lawyer has a project for him that would give him the money to make his dream a reality, but things go awry. Some nice Chicago stuff and an interesting twist at the end (although, from what I can tell, it had no bearing on the film whatsoever).
This was the first film I got to see at this Summer’s Noir City Festival. Alan K. Rode, one of the directors of the Film Noir Foundation, introduced the film and held a pretty good Q & A afterwards.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Saturday 8-14-10
The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
Directed by Ida Lupino. Screenplay by Collier Young, Ida Lupino, Robert L. Joseph and Daniel Mainwaring. Starring Edmond O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy and William Talman.
I’ve seen this one before, but not since April of 1999. And not since Mary got it for me in a really nice Kino Video Film Noir Box set for my birthday a couple years ago. A couple of guys on a fishing trip pick up a hitch-hiker who’s really an escaped convict (aren’t they all?). I always expect to like this one more. I think it’s a let-down because I want it to be as good as Rutger Hauer’s The Hitcher, and it’s not.
2 out of 5 stars.

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Sunday 8-15-10
Drive a Crooked Road (1954)
Directed by Richard Quine. Screenplay by Blake Edwards, James Benson Nablo and Richard Quine. Starring Mickey Rooney, Dianne Foster and Kevin McCarthy.
Mickey Rooney is a failed race-car driver tricked into driving the getaway car in a bank robbery. This was a nicely paced, character-driven piece with good performances.
Another film at the Noir City Festival and, once again, Alan K. Rode introduced the film and held a Q & A afterwards.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Monday 8-16-10
Swamp Water (1941)
Directed by Jean Renoir. Screenplay by Dudley Nichols from the novel by Vereen Bell. Starring Walter Brennan, Dana Andrews, Walter Houston and Anne Baxter.
I had high hopes for this one because Renoir directed another noir that I really liked, “The Woman on the Beach” and… Oops! “Swamp Water” isn’t noir! The description I read said “An escaped murderer holds a man captive in the swamps.” Sounds noir, right? It was actually a very good backwoods melodrama with some crime, alligators and bog-holes thrown in. I’m glad I got to use the word bog-holes today.
4 out of 5 stars.

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