Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Noir City Special! Noir Watch: "The Killers" and "Point Blank"

On Saturday night, the Noir City festival scheduled two films from the 1960's, both starring Angie Dickinson and Lee Marvin.  Angie Dickinson appeared as a special guest and we all got to enjoy Eddie Muller's interview conducted on stage.  I am happy to say that Ms. Dickinson lived up to the hype.

This year's Noir City programming strayed into (gasp) some color-era films, which immediately raises eyebrows and draws some suspicion regarding whether its true noir, at least partly because the societal forces that drove the era most thought of as noir were now passing into the rearview mirror.  By the 1960's, we'd had World War II and Korea, and were headed for Vietnam, but the US was firing on all cylinders economically.  But the underlying questions of the corruption caused by wealth (or opportunity for wealth), and the irrational things a guy will do for the wrong girl seemed as universal as ever.

The Killers (1964) is, ostensibly, based upon the Ernest Hemingway short story of the same name, but is really based upon the 1946 film starring Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner.  Only the barest hints of the original short story remain, and the template of two intimidating thugs shaking down unprepared chumps wasn't exactly fresh by 1964.

Still, the movie works in all the ways it should as a competent heist movie.  As mentioned, the film stars Marvin as one of the pair of contract killers and Dickinson as the love interest of John Cassevetes as the film's protagonist.  In the world of seeing things you thought you'd never see, the first shot of Ronald Reagan* as Jack Browning (Reagan's final film role) paired with a pre-Mr. Roper Norman Fell as his thuggish companion drew an audible reaction from the audience at The Castro.

The movie is not overly complicated, its mostly a very well executed heist picture, with all the usual bells and whistles you get in a good stick-up job movie, where the money is what matters, and you never know who is playing for whom.

Lee Marvin is not here to help you
Like the 1946 film, the story is told in flashback.  In this case, the contract men try to track down money and Marvin's experienced hitman allows his curiousity to overtake him as he works on the riddle of why his target didn't bolt, something he claims to have never seen before.

If it doesn't have the same punch of the 1940's, it does bring both the hipness of the Mad Men era to the screen in wardrobe, and the uncomfortable shift in generational cultures as embodied by Marvin's aging contract killer and his young, jittery partner.  The film's opening sequence (this isn't really a spoiler) oas well as Cassevetes' North standing still and taking a bullet, followed by Marvin's subsequent philosophizing on the subject hints at the introspection we'd get in later 60's cinema of all breeds, especially once Hollywood became influenced by the Boomer generation and their conflicted political leanings.  But mostly its well-executed crime-noir, and there's nothing wrong with that.

The entire movie may be worth it just to see Angie Dickinson on a go-cart, by the way.

I won't discuss too much more about Point Blank (1967).  After reading Stark's The Hunter and the graphic novel adaptation, I watched the movie and said my piece about it in 2010.

My feelings haven't changed much.  Of course a big screen presentation helped me appreciate the film all the more, as did an enthusiastic audience.  Of the two pictures on the bill, I prefer the audacity of Boorman directed Point Blank a bit more, and while it strays pretty wildly from the novel, I can accept it very well in its own right as its own material (even if I prefer Parker the sociopath to the film's Walker, the PTSD-suffering crook).

the 25 minute "Lee Marvin puts quarters in the telescope and points stuff our" sequence was baffling.

In both films, Ms. Dickinson utterly fills the screen, and as tends to happen after you see an interview, I plan to follow up on her work as I've seen far too little of it.  I still haven't seen Dressed to Kill, Big Bad Mama or (I confess) Rio Bravo.

*A quick word on President Reagan: Actor.  As someone who grew up during the Reagan administration, it is positively mind-boggling to see the same guy using the same voice and cadence to plan a heist as he used to send troops overseas and ask Mr. Gorbachev to tear down that wall.  He's not bad as Browning (albeit he's nowhere in the neighborhood of a Lee Marvin), but its odd to see this larger-than-life figure of politics and The Cold War playing a dimestore villain.

I'm still mentally processing this image

No comments: