Thursday, February 1, 2007

If You Don't Have Anything NIce to Say, Say It With Style

Noir City 5
Days 4,5 and 6


The San Francisco Film Noir Festival
Friday, January 26th-Sunday, February 4th, 2007
The Castro Theatre
San Francisco, CA
For a complete listing of the screenings go to:

Days four, five and six of the noir festival brought three more double features, The Threat (1949, dir. Felix Feist) and Roadblock (1951, dir. Harold Daniels), a tribute to Charles McGraw, a RKO contract player who could play good guys or bad guys, just as long as they were tough guys. The next night featured a double bill honoring the late actor Glenn Ford, Framed (1947, dir. Harold Daniels) and Affair in Trinidad (1952, dir. Vincent Sherman). The following night honored writer, Roy Huggins with screenings of I Love Trouble (1948, Dir. Sylvan Simon) and Pushover (1954, dir. Richard Quine). Unfortunately, the only one of the six films available for home viewing is Affair in Trinidad (VHS, Columbia Home Video). In fact, prior to the festival there was no print available of I Love Trouble. Film programmer, Anita Monga, persuaded Sony Classic Pictures to strike a print from the original film elements they possessed especially for the festival.

As well as attending the festival, I've also been reading some interesting books on film noir. Dark City, written by Eddie Muller and the Film Noir Reader, edited by Alain Silver and James Ursini have been particularly enlightening. Most film noir commentary seems to focus on the genre's cinematic style (darkness, enclosed spaces, streets glimmering with recent rain), character types (corrupt cops, wisecracking private eyes, femme fatales), and themes (existential doom and, well, existential doom), but I think one of the biggest identifiers of the genre is dialog. It seems like every character, good or bad, minor or major, always has a witty and cynical remark on the ready. Here's a few of my favorites from this year's festival.

When questioned about how she felt being kept on money from robberies in Pushover, Kim Novak's moll replied, "Money isn't dirty, just people." During a stakeout when one cop comments on Kim Novak's allure, the other responds, "To me she's still just a babe like thirty million others."
Roy Huggins, future creator of The Fugitive, Maverick and The Rockford Files wrote Pushover as well as I Love Trouble. Here are a few lines from the former film that stood out. When caught by the detective, a thug snarls "You're not really smart. You're lucky." When the fifth gorgeous woman encountered by private dick, Franchot Tone, shows up at his apartment at the end of the film and finds three other women in the room-one in a clinch with Tone, she quips, "I didn't think there'd be a line."
Roadblock, screen play by Steve Fisher, also had some great comebacks. When a gold-digger is told "Money can't buy happiness, she responds "Can happiness buy money?" An insurance investigator, after busting a thief tells him, "If you ever need insurance, look us up." Then there's an exchange between two investigators about a former straight arrow that they just watch rough up a crook during an interrogation, "I thought he was an easy going guy." The response, "He was till he got married."
In Hell's Half Acre when asked by a denizen of the eponymous neighborhood, Honolulu's notorious tenement district, "What are you doing in this neighborhood?" The terse reply is, "Slumming."
The snappy noir dialog serves multiple purposes; it provides comic relief while reinforcing the cynical world view inherent in the genre, but most of all, its part of the vicarious thrill the audience gets from watching a film noir. On opening night, Marsha Hunt opined that the audience loved watching film noir, because after the film was over they could go home look at their lives and say to themselves, things aren't so bad. I think the opposite is true, we go to film noir to live vicariously. There is something thrilling and powerful about watching these characters disregard all social constraint and act out on their most basic desires, lust, avarice, fear et cetera. The dialog fills that function too. Noir characters say whatever the hell they want to whoever they want. Who doesn't long to do that?
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