Monday, January 14, 2013

TCM: A NIGHT IN NOIR CITY Co-Hosted by Eddie Muller

Tune in to TCM on Thursday, January 17, 2013 for A Night In Noir City co-hosted by the Czar of Noir Eddie Muller.

Eddie writes on the TCM website:

I was thrilled, of course, to be asked by the good folks at TCM to program and co-host a night of noir with the redoubtable Robert Osborne. My elation was tempered somewhat by the realization that I could only choose four films! Out of the literally hundreds of bold and brooding crime dramas I've screened and written about during the past fourteen years--only FOUR! A challenge, to say the least. In the end, I opted to make "A Night in Noir City" an extension of the "rescue, restoration and revival" work I do as head of the Film Noir Foundation, a grassroots non-profit that raises funds to protect and preserve at-risk exemplars of film noir--which I consider to be Hollywood's only truly organic artistic movement.

So rather than present familiar classics of the genre, like Double Indemnity (1944) or Out of the Past (1947), I went with more obscure, but in my opinion no less deserving, choices. It's my hope that prime-time exposure on TCM will shine a fresh light on these terrific, often overlooked, gems.


The Film Noir Foundation, along with our colleagues at the UCLA Film & Television Archive, recently restored this Dick Powell thriller. Powell had a special way with a wisecrack, and was also one of the most astute independent producers in the business. Cry Danger was his film all the way, and he showed off his savvy by hiring wondrous wiseacre Bill Bowers to pen the original screenplay, and giving Oscar®-winning editor Robert Parrish his first directing gig. Sure, noir is supposed to be dark and nihilistic, but a great cast spewing Bowers' dynamite dialogue proves it can be incredibly fun as well. I dedicate this showing to the late, great Nancy Mysel, who supervised the restoration of this film, a project we both savored.

99 RIVER STREET (1953)
I'm a huge fan of rugged and razor-sharp 1950's paperback crime fiction--and this is about as close as anyone ever came to hurling it onto the screen, unabashed and undiluted. John Payne is terrific as a bitter ex-boxer turned cabbie Ernie Driscoll, whose wayward wife leads him into all sorts of nefariousness in nocturnal New York. Director Phil Karlson perfected his slam-bang style right here; to me, this is his signature film. The highlight: Evelyn Keyes, typically cast as the good girl, turning up the heat in a pair of jaw-dropping set pieces.

When I first encountered this exceptional film more than a decade ago, I declared it "Gun Crazy [1950] scripted by John Steinbeck." A minor masterpiece in the filmography of the virtually forgotten Felix Feist, this is one of the best "love on the lam" tales in all noir. Steve Cochran--the Elvis of Noir--is perfect as a vulnerable ex-con who falls hard for bruised "taxi dancer" Ruth Roman (as a blonde! And never better!). Thwarted passions, a dank hotel room, a dirty cop--a gunshot! And suddenly our luckless lovers are fugitives fleeing cross-country. It's high time for this fantastic film to finally come out of hiding and get the recognition it deserves.

Many cineastes point to 1950 as perhaps the finest year ever for American movies (Sunset Boulevard, All About Eve, In a Lonely Place, The Asphalt Jungle, and many more)--but this breathtaking adaptation of Hemingway's To Have and Have Not stands equally with all those classics. John Garfield gives the most personal and self-revelatory performance of his career as a fishing boat captain who gets in too deep when he bends the law to keep his business afloat. The film was shunned--by its own studio--because of Garfield's troubles with the House Un-American Activities Committee, and in the following years copyright entanglements with the Hemingway estate kept it from earning the reputation is deserves. Insightful script (by Ranald MacDougall), brilliant performances from the entire cast (no one can be singled out, they're all superb), and Michael Curtiz's most compelling direction--and yes, I'm not forgetting Casablanca (1942) and Robin Hood (1938) and Mildred Pierce (1945) and many others. The Breaking Point truly is that good. 

Eddie Muller produces and hosts NOIR CITY: The San Francisco Film Noir Festival, the world's largest noir retrospective.

Hat Tip: Sue Trowbridge

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