Sunday, May 19, 2019
Noir City Austin - Day 2: "City That Never Sleeps" (1953) & "Private Hell 36" (1954)
Format: Noir City Austin at Alamo Ritz
Long ago I had purchased tickets to see a baseball game in the evening, so I was only scheduled to see two films for Noir City Austin, Day 2.
The theme for 2019 was a follow up on 2018, which was Noir in the 1940's, year-by-year. This 10 film cycle was tracing noir as we left the 1940's and how and why the films changed as we hit the 1950's as cultural issues crept into the films and television competed with the big screen and informed the lives of characters on screen. And, by the mid-to-late 1950's, began influencing how movies were shot so they'd work on the television sets of the era as Hollywood looked to cash in on the secondary income stream.
I'd heard of City That Never Sleeps (1953), but knew nothing about it. And I suspect that the main reason I'd heard of it was that it was on my Marie Windsor punch-list, and the only other talent in the film I really knew by sight was William Tallman - but don't let that detract you. The assembled actors are terrific, the script is tight as a drum, and - visually - the DP work and use of Chicago (which, honestly, doesn't look *that* different now) is positively outstanding and as close to textbook noir as you're like to find.
As Muller said before the film - it's about a cop "breaking bad" - disenchanted with a career he's fallen into and miserable in his domestic life, he's met a let's be honest, pretty rad seeming showgirl and is considering grabbing her and leaving his job and marriage to go to California, if he can get some money from helping out a racketeer. Tallman plays the racketeer's henchman - a former magician - who the mob boss wants taught a lesson, just dumped across the state line in Indiana where he's wanted.
There's a weird golden robot man, a mini-heist, double crosses, a lot of nightclub scenes, a nightmare of a mother-in-law that makes you feel for the protagonist, and a wife that's so boring, you're kinda rooting for the showgirl. And, a lot of thought put into what things are like for a cop on the street. And pure, 100%, noir descent into darkness. It's good stuff.
Of course, I was waiting for Private Hell 36 (1954), as it was a product of The Filmakers (meaning Ida Lupino co-wrote and produced the film), and stars Lupino, one of the patron saints of this here blog, and - again - I had no idea what to expect. Co-starring Steve Cochran, Howard Duff and the lovely Dorothy Malone, this film *also* tracks a couple of cops (Cochran and Duff) who "break bad", finding an opportunity to grab some cash that's evidence from a murder/ robbery with no one the wiser. Malone plays Duff's wife and, hats off to Lupino who wrote herself a golden part as a nightclub chanteuse who accidentally passed a marked bill from the aforementioned crime and helps track down the baddie. For bonus points we have Dean Jagger as the Captain.
The scope of this film is smaller and more personal than City That Never Sleeps, but it's a delight to watch the name-talent in the movie work (I'm really getting to like Steve Cochran) and interpersonal stakes at play with nuanced characters in a situation that feels more universal than the cop-story set-up. Lupino and Cochrane's story is a fascinating counterpoint to the happy-couple starting to fray as Duff ponders his actions, and Lupino and Cochran wrestle with what they really stand for, and far as characters self-destructing on screen as a core of noir - this one understands exactly how this can and should work.
After I left to go watch my team lose, Day 2 continued on with more films - Kubrick's Killer's Kiss and A Kiss Before Dying (I've not see this one), which would have been great to catch, but the fates did not allow.