Thursday, September 19, 2013


Portlanders are in for one hell of a treat this oh, so rainy weekend.  San Francisco's Noir City is headed to town for a special, weekend long festival of obscure thrillers from the 40s and 50s, none of which have ever been available on dvd.  Best of all, this Noir City Portland event will be MC'ed by none other than N.C. founder Eddie Muller, author of "Dark City," "Tab Hunter Confidential," and many other film-obsessed tomes. 

Here's a few excerpts from the Hollywood Theatre's release:

The Hollywood Theatre is proud to present Noir City Portland!  Friday September 20 through the Sunday the 22nd, the full lineup of titles boasts the Film Noir Foundation’s latest preservation efforts, Try and Get Me! (1951), and High Tide (1947), along with an impeccable selection of vintage noir titles including Alias Nick Beal (1949), Street of Chance (1942), The Come On (1956), and more!  Hosted by the Czar of Noir himself, Eddie Muller, Noir City Portland will present these films on beautiful 35mm prints!  None of these films are available on DVD, so don’t miss this incredibly rare opportunity. 

Here's a little bit about the films, most of which are obscure enough to not even have trailer available online!  All synopses are sourced from AllMovie:

TRY AND GET ME aka THE SOUND OF FURY (dir. Cy Endfield, 1950):

The Sound of Fury is better known by its general release title, Try and Get Me. Based on Jo Pagano's novel The Condemned, the film recreates a dismal chapter in American history. In 1933, the otherwise peace-loving citizens of San Jose, CA, were stirred up by blind hatred into forming a mob and lynching two accused kidnappers (this same incident was fictionalized in the 1935 Fritz Lang film Fury). Frank Lovejoy and Lloyd Bridges play a couple of down-and-outers who kidnap a wealthy youngster in hopes of getting a huge ransom. Things go terribly wrong.

SLEEP, MY LOVE (dir. Douglas Sirk, 1948):

This noir mystery thriller was produced by Mary Pickford and her husband Buddy Rogers, and directed by Douglas Sirk. Claudette Colbert stars as Alison Courtland, a wealthy New York socialite who awakens on a Boston-bound train with no memory of how she got there. A kindly older woman, Mrs. Tomlinson (Queenie Smith) helps Alison call her husband Richard (Don Ameche), who informs her that she disappeared after threatening his life. While traveling back to New York, Alison meets Bruce Elcott (Robert Cummings), who is immediately smitten with her.

THE GREAT GATSBY (dir. Elliott Nugent, 1949):

This second film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's definitive jazz-age novel The Great Gatsby stars Alan Ladd in the title role. Jay Gatsby, formerly Jake Gatz, is a successful bootlegger with aspirations of being accepted in the highest social circles of Long Island. Once he's done this, Gatsby devotes his time to winning back the love of his former lady friend Daisy (Betty Field), now married to boorish "old-money" millionaire Tom Buchanan (Barry Sullivan). Gatsby's obsession with rekindling old flames results in disillusionment and, ultimately, tragedy. Sidelines observer Nick Carraway, the narrator of the original Fitzgerald novel, is expertly played by MacDonald Carey, while Shelley Winters makes an excellent impression as Buchanan's slatternly mistress Myrtle Wilson. Cast as Myrtle's dour optometrist husband is Howard Da Silva, who essayed a minor role in the 1974 remake of Great Gatsby. That 1974 version has unfortunately kept the 1949 Gatsby from being released to television.

REPEAT PERFORMANCE (dir. Alfred L. Werker, 1947):

On New Year's Eve, Joan Leslie runs desperately out of a penthouse apartment and into the Times Square crowd. She has reason to flee--she has just shot and killed her husband. Through a freakish wrinkle in time, Leslie is transported back to the last New Year's and is allowed to relive the past year all over again. This time she is forearmed with the knowledge of the murder and does everything she can to avoid the deed--a task made difficult by such antagonists as her nasty husband and her emotionally disturbed brother (Richard Basehart, in his film debut). Events lead inexorably to the murder...but will she do it this time? Cleverly assembled, and with a more expensive cast and budget than was usual for pinchpenny Eagle-Lion studios, Repeat Performance is a brisk and absorbing semi-fantasy. It was remade for television as Turn Back the Clock (89), with the original film's star Joan Leslie in a brief cameo role.

THE COME ON (dir. Russell Birdwell, 1956):

In this convoluted thriller a manipulative woman gets entangled in her own web of deceit. The story is set in Mexico, where an unlucky wanderer has come to fish. There he falls for a woman that he spied on the beach. She begs the drifter to murder her domineering husband.

ALIAS NICK BEAL aka CONTACT MAN (dir. John Farrow, 1949):

This modern-day "Faust" variation benefits from a superb cast. Thomas Mitchell plays Joseph Foster, an honest judge who wants to become governor. Blocked by corrupt political forces, Foster would practically have to make a deal with the Devil to reach his goal. Enter Nick Beal (Ray Milland), a diabolically handsome gent with a slick line of patter and a smooth, infallible method of getting things done. Failing to recognize his benefactor's true identity (after all, Nick has no horns or cloven hooves) Foster agrees to the deal when Nick assures him that the end result is for the good of the people.

 STREET OF CHANCE (dir. Jack Hively, 1942):

Based on Cornell Woolrich's novel The Black Curtain (later dramatized several times on the radio series Suspense), Street of Chance top-bills Burgess Meredith as an amnesia victim. He awakens in the middle of the street, with nary a clue of who he is or what he's done. Meredith comes to learn that his past year of darkness has been a crowded one--and that he might be a murderer! Louise Platt plays Meredith's wife, but it's total stranger Claire Trevor who seems most interested in probing Meredith's past. Street of Chance is worth spending 74 minutes with, even though the true identity of the killer becomes obvious halfway through.

HIGH TIDE (dir. John Reinhardt, 1947):

In this mystery, set within the newspaper industry, a detective is hired to protect the editor who believes that someone is out to kill him. 

Noir City Portland runs Friday, September 20th through Sunday, September 22nd at the Hollywood Theatre.  More info available here.

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It's a rough world out there.  And returning after a long absence is a difficult proposition.  How appropriate is it that Phil Morrison's less than prompt follow-up to his 2005 indie hit Junebug concerns itself with a man attempting to find his bearings, both familial and internal, after having his life interrupted by a long stay in prison?  In many ways, Dennis (Paul Giamatti), the protagonist of All is Bright suffers under far less steep expectations than Morrison does here.  No one expects anything from Dennis; in fact, his wife, Therese (Amy Landecker), has completely written him off, telling their young daughter that he died, rather than bothering with the messy truth about his incarceration.

The film picks up shortly after Dennis is released from prison.  What's his first move?  He returns to his rural, French-Canadian home where he's swiftly informed both Therese's lie and her involvement with Dennis' former best friend and partner-in-crime Rene (Paul Rudd), who Therese plans to marry once Rene's wife grants him a divorce.  With nowhere else to go, Dennis tracks down his romantic rival at a local bar, tries to beat him up, and (naturally?) ends up joining his Rene in an annual trek down to New York City to set up a seasonal Christmas tree selling business.  Yeah, this IS a Christmas you never saw that coming.

If the plot sounds convoluted, rest assured, this film, like Junebug, doesn't grind too heavily on plot mechanics.  Instead, Morrison and screenwriter Melissa James Gibson treat these characters as people, albeit ones that sometime stray into situations just a smidge over the line separating the real from circumstances of a cartoonish nature.  When All is Bright sticks with its primary motif of two losers holding a predictably bad hand, it's at its best, resembling at times a modern update on a flavor of male camaraderie rarely portrayed in film since Elaine May's Mikey and Nicky (a bromance, this is, thankfully, not).  But, on the few occasions when the script pushes Dennis and Rene to act like people trapped in an indie comedy, the film stumbles, drops focus, and feels oddly flat.

All is Bright is unlikely to enjoy the same strong word of mouth leading to a slow-building success that Junebug did.  It's just not a film designed to register with a broad audience.  The characters aren't that likeable, nor is the action all that identifiable.  But it is a movie that deserves a chance from fans of quietly observant, character-driven cinema because, for each slight misstep that it contains, there's a charming counterpoint hidden just around the corner. 

All is Bright is currently available for viewing on VOD platforms such as Amazon Instant Video & iTunes.  The film opens theatrically in October.

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