Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Dark times continue at the Castro


Second weekend of Noir City film festival

Actor Ray Milland in 1944.
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Author Eddie Muller's annual Noir City Film Festival concludes this week at the Castro Theatre. This year, Muller has highlighted corruption and crime in the world of journalism. Oscar winners Ray Milland and Charles Laughton battle under The Big Clock (1948), a classic suspense tale. George Stroud (Milland) is the editor of the leading American true crime magazine. He clashes with his abusive publisher, Earl Janoth (the gay Laughton), who retaliates by  framing him for murder. How will he establish his innocence? Laughton's wife of convenience, the splendid Elsa Lanchester, is in the supporting cast. Maureen O'Sullivan, mother of Mia Farrow, is the female lead. Splendidly directed by Mia's dad,  John Farrow. Laughton is truly chilling and mesmerizing. Sweden's Signe Hasso is colder than Stockholm in January as the femme fatale involved in a Strange Triangle (46), a rarely seen complex murder-mystery not available on DVD. With B-picture regular Preston Foster and Sheppard Strudwick. (Thurs., 1/29)

The great movie metrosexual Claude Rains is the aptly named Victor Grandison, host of a popular radio mystery show, The Unsuspected (47). When his secretary is found dead, he leads the investigation to identify her killer. Suspects include Joan Caulfield, who doesn't recognize a man claiming to be her husband, wonderfully cheap Audrey Totter, Hurd Hatfield, and one of the biggest stars of the early 30s, Constance Bennett. This fascinating look at the world of radio was directed by Oscar winner Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) from a screenplay by Ranald MacDougall. Terrific cinematography by the great Woody Bredell. Desperate (47) is what hunky Steve Brodie becomes when he's tricked into aiding a gang of robbers headed by vicious Raymond Burr (the gay actor who would become famous a decade later as television's Perry Mason.) Directed by Anthony Mann. Neither picture is on DVD. (Fri., 1/30)

Legendary director Fritz Lang's last movie, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (56), takes on capital punishment. Dana Andrews is a novelist who allows himself to be falsely convicted of murder to show how flawed condemning someone to death based on circumstantial evidence can be. Beautiful Academy Award winner Joan Fontaine realizes he's made a mistake, but is it too late to save him? With Broadway veteran Sydney Blackmer and one of the best dumb blondes of the 50s, Barbara Nichols. The remake, starring Michael Douglas, will be released later this year. In Two o'Clock Courage (45), B-picture star

Actress Joan Fontaine in 1936.
Tom Conway (older brother of George Sanders) is nearly run down by a taxi, and tells the driver he's suffering from amnesia. She (Ann Rutherford, Scarlett O'Hara's youngest sister) decides to help him, but it gets complicated. With future noir queen Jane Greer. Directed by Anthony Mann. Neither film is available on DVD. (Sat., 1/31)

Burt Lancaster could be both sexy and scary on the screen – he suggested power and volcanic explosiveness. His star-making debut came in an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's short story, The Killers (46). As virile Swede Anderson, a gorgeous ex-boxer marked for death, Lancaster has an unforgettable erotic charge. A breathtakingly beautiful and treacherous Ava Gardner is the smoldering temptress. The movie also established her. With Edmund O'Brien, gay character actor Albert Dekker, and future television star William Conrad. Anthony Veiller wrote the sharp screenplay, an improvement on Hemingway's original. Suspenseful direction by Robert Siodmark. Acclaimed cinematography by Woody Bredell. Miklos Rosza wrote the fine score. Lancaster plays  J.J. Hunsecker, a powerful, Walter Winchell-like New York columnist inhaling Sweet Smell of Success (57). He's obsessed with his kid sister (Susan Hampshire) who's in love with a jazz musician (Martin Milner, years before Route 66 ). No man is good enough for her. An astonishingly pretty Tony Curtis earned deserved acclaim for his sleazy press agent Sidney Falco, who'll do anything J.J. demands. "Match me, Sidney," a line coldly delivered by Lancaster when he wants his cigarette lit, became famous. With Barbara Nichols. Superb direction by Alexander Mackendrick from a stark, brilliant screenplay by Clifford Odets (Golden Boy ) and Ernest Lehman. Original music by Elmer Bernstein and memorable cinematography by James Wong Howe. During shooting on Manhattan locations, teenagers broke through barricades to plead for Curtis' autograph, but audiences stayed away from this cynical picture, now recognized as a classic. (Sun., 2/1, matinee and evening showings)

Go to or check theatre for times.


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