Monday, February 14, 2011

Noir City Seattle-Saturday Night's Double Bill

A couple of things before we get into the post-mortem of the films, They Won't Believe Me and Don't Bother to Knock.  First, this is not my official blogathon entry (see right) although any chance to remind everybody to donate to the Film Noir Foundation should be taken.  Click away!

Second, I just have to rant a little about the people at the festival who laughed uproariously at the things-that-look-funny-in-2011. Why did you even go to Noir City?  I get it--one patient lying in a hospital bed offering another patient a cigarette, yeah, that's funny now.  But the movie is not a comedy, it wasn't meant to be funny, so don't treat the cinema like your living room or dorm room or whatever.  You take the rest of us out of the mood of the movie.  Watch it with your 1947 eyes. Get off my lawn.

So, neither movie was a detective movie, and although I love those as much as the next person, I was glad to have some other structures to hang my fedora on.  Robert Young, "Father Knows Best" himself, played a man on the witness stand defending his life in court.  His defense is that although he did some pretty reprehensible things, he did not commit the crime he was charged with.  His narrative takes us all into the story of this philandering husband who gets mixed up in some tragic accidents, according to his version.

Almost every write up of this film says that Robert Young was cast against type.  Sure, yes, but you have to have somebody who can A) charm the silk stockings off of somebody and B) charm the viewer.  Those qualities are not always found in the same person/actor.  Robert Young pulls this off wonderfully.  He has numerous moments when he's making someone think one thing, but he himself is thinking something else entirely.  Really subtle acting.

And the  Produced by Joan Harrison, this film really made their motivations clear and didn't just move them around like the furniture.  The suffocating wife really loves him, but is not above using her considerable money to keep him around.  Janice the office girl who goes through a grieving process when he stands her up, agrees to help trap him, but then realizes his good qualities along with his failings.  And the sexpot role is played by Susan Hayward.  She surprises us by not cashing the huge check her lover scams from his wife. I don't remember now if it would pass the Bechdel test, but all the women sure had plenty to do in this movie.

Greta, the wife, is an interesting character all by herself.  She's repacking Larry's suitcase, and it comes to light that she knows it's not just a business trip he's going on.  She tells Larry that she knows about his affair, and that she was just about to tell him THAT VERY NIGHT that she had bought a partnership for him at a brokerage in LA, that she's bought a new home, and won't everything be just peachy.  The frisson of  Sunset Boulevard as the trap snapped shut was just delicious.

There was a WTF ending, as Eddie Muller said afterward.  The Hays Code made for some post-production tinkering, which is too bad.  If the original is out there, may it surface.  They Won't Believe Me is not on DVD, so catch it at your local arthouse if you can.  It's well worth a little effort.

Kim Morgan wrote about Don't Bother to Knock at her blog  and that's how it first appeared on my radar.  According to Eddie Muller in his introduction, this film shows how much 20th Century Fox was willing to invest in the up and coming Marilyn Monroe-cast her in this noirish character study opposite Richard Widmark, one of their most bankable commodities.  Anybody not convinced of her acting ability should watch this movie, although part of the suckerpunch is what we know about her now.

She plays Nell, a timid woman hired at a hotel as a babysitter for Thurston Howell III.  She quickly puts the child to bed, and begins a flirtation with the man in the room opposite the courtyard through the window.  Sure enough, he ends up in her room.  But that's just when things get weird.  She is clearly damaged, perhaps insane, and the man, Jed, played by Widmark, decides not to consummate the relationship.  There is real danger involved, due to the presence of the child, as well as the fact that Nell is so incredibly helpless in the presence of this man.  It hit me in the middle of the night after watching it that it's A Streetcar Named Desire, only without Stanley.  Both Blanche and Nell are irrevocably damaged by the deaths of their young men, and are relying on the kindness of strangers.  They both also strike out at their tormentors.  I was shocked to see Nell swing a cigarette stand at her uncle.

This film also introduced Anne Bancroft as the lounge singer, and boy can she hold the screen.  She breaks up with Jed because he can't demonstrate an understanding heart.  It's only through Nell's complete collapse that he can demonstrate that, and the two lovebirds reunite. Poor Marilyn.

PS. Vince Keenan was at the same double bill.

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