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

Watch your back again


'Noir City X' concludes at the Castro Theatre

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Eddie Muller's terrific Noir City X finishes this week at the Castro Theatre with a mix of rarities and welcome favorites.

Although a vengeful Gene Barry (before becoming a major TV star) offers a Naked Alibi (1951) when a cop who manhandled him is murdered, the flatfoot's partner, Sterling Hayden, is determined to prove his guilt. The great Gloria Grahame, at her kinky sexiest, is the femme fatale they meet at a Mexican border town. Directed by Jerry Hopper. Hugo Haas wrote, directed and starred in Pickup (51). He's a sleazy older man enthralled by the thrilling, dangerous, and cheap Beverly Michaels, who'll do anything for his money. Neither film is on DVD. (Thurs., 1/26, eve.)

WWII vet Nick Garcia (Richard Conte) drives along the Thieves'   Highway (1949) to San Francisco, ostensibly to sell a carload of apples. He really wants to brutalize thug Lee J. Cobb, who crippled his father years earlier. With Valentina Cortese. Sensational location scenes. The magnetic and powerful John Garfield reaches The Breaking Point (50), adapted from Ernest Hemingway's To Have And Have Not. A very blonde, smoky-voiced Patricia Neal comforts him. Screenplay by Ranald MacDougall, directed by Michael Curtiz, the pair who collaborated on Mildred Pierce. An unjustly neglected gem. (Fri., 1/27, eve.)

Perfectly cast, poker-faced and pretty, Alan Ladd is The Great Gatsby (1949), a rarely seen version of F. Scott's Fitzgerald's masterpiece. With Betty Field as Daisy Buchanan, Ruth Hussey as Jordan Baker, and Shelley Winters memorable as the tragic Myrtle Wilson. With noir veterans Ed Begley, Elisha Cook, Jr., Barry Sullivan, Howard da Silva, and MacDonald Carey. Smoothly directed by Elliott Nugent. Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Geraldine Fitzgerald, all compelling performers, are Three Strangers (46) who swear before a mysterious Chinese idol to share a winning lottery ticket. Be careful what you wish for. Written by John Huston and Howard Koch; directed by Jean Negulesco. Neither film is on DVD. (Sat., 1/28, matinees & eve.)

The festival concludes with an all-day tribute to Dashiell Hammett. Hammett's original Red Harvest was too violent for the screen, so it was loosely adapted as Roadhouse Nights (1930) and became an action/comedy showcase for legendary singer/actress Helen Morgan (Show Boat ), Jimmy Durante, his vaudeville partners Lou Clayton and Eddie Jackson, and veteran comic Charlie Ruggles. Adapted by Ben Hecht. Directed by Hobart Henley. Not on DVD. Roy Del Ruth helmed the first version of The Maltese Falcon (31), with Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade and Bebe Daniels as treacherous Ruth Wonderly. Steamer than the more famous remake. With Thelma Todd as the not-so-grief-stricken widow Iva, and Una Merkel as Effie.

Gorgeous carny sharpshooter Gary Cooper takes a crooked turn along The City Streets (1931) to free girlfriend Silvia Sidney from prison. With Paul Lukas and the hard-boiled Wynne Gibson. Based on the only story Hammett wrote directly for the screen. Directed by the brilliant Rouben Mamoulian, masterfully photographed by Lee Garmes. Hammett originally planned Mr. Dynamite (35) as a second Sam Spade novel. Instead, it's the story of a sleazy private eye (real-life gay leading man Edmund Lowe) hired to solve a casino murder. Alan Crosland directed. Neither movie is on DVD.

The Glass Key (1942) was the second pairing of noir blonde  beauties Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. This tense look at sleazy big-city politics also stars dapper Brian Donlevy and dangerous lout William Bendix, who's nothing like the lovable dimwit of TV's Life of Riley. Rapid direction by Stuart Heisler. The most famous version of The Maltese Falcon (41) ends the program. Humphrey Bogart, in his star-making role, is the homophobic, quixotic Sam Spade. Mary Astor, utterly sincere no matter what lie she is telling, is superb as the treacherous woman he loves. She, Sydney Greenstreet flawless as Kaspar Gutman, and Peter Lorre superb as the effete Joel Cairo, are searching for the fabled jeweled bird. With Gladys George as Miles Archer's widow Iva, looking for consolation, a smart, tough Lee Patrick as Effie, Ward Bond as a cop, and Elisha Cook, Jr. as Wilmer. There are hints that Wilmer is more than Gutman's gofer. John Huston's celebrated directorial debut. He also wrote the screenplay. Three Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Greenstreet) and Best Adapted Screenplay. (Sun., 1/29, beginning at Noon)

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