Tag Archives: hitchcock

CONFLICT (1945) at Noir City 16

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Noir City 16 comes to a close tonight, and as usual, it was a delightful week packed with great movies and great audiences. The Castro Theatre is unlike any other theater I’ve experienced in its audience enthusiasm and positivity. Watching a movie at the Castro is like having a movie night with 1,400 of your friends. The audience laughs at all the “right spots,” but there are also knowing laughs and claps when someone makes an unintended innuendo, when a character is overly dramatic, or when there is a connection between a line in the movie and present-day life. The Castro is San Francisco’s historically gay district, and it has a long legacy of loyal neighborhood support and camaraderie. When you watch a movie at the Castro, you are welcomed and accepted into a warm and loving community.

Noir City is similar. Passionate noir fans come from all over the country to attend this festival, and many dress up in 1940s attire for the occasion. The atmosphere is one of friendliness and acceptance. Noir fans tend to be an intellectual crowd, with deep knowledge of the genre, its movies, and its stars. They’re fun to be around, and in combination with the venue of the Castro Theatre, the festival is irresistible. This year’s theme was “1941-1953: Classy A’s and Trashy B’s,” each day presenting a double bill featuring one of each.

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Conflict (1945), screened on Monday, has been my favorite movie of the festival thus far. It is reminiscent of The Two Mrs. Carrolls and even Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca in its haunting tone, telling the story of a man (Humphrey Bogart) who has fallen in love with his wife’s much younger sister, and the man plots to kill his wife and cover up the crime. When he thinks his wife is dead, he goes about pursuing the sister. But soon, eerie things begin to happen…and his plan slowly unravels.

It is relatively easy to spot a good noir, and Conflict is a really good noir. There are several features that, when done well, contribute to a movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat and glued to what’s happening on the screen. A tightly woven plot where every event and every word forms a chain leading to the ultimate conclusion, with plenty of suspense and cunning, intelligent, meticulous characters. Conflict features all of these. Often, a good noir will have what Hitchcock termed a “MacGuffin,” an external motivator that drives the actions of the main character. MacGuffins are usually used as framing devices, but are not the true focus of the movie (examples are “Rosebud” in Citizen Kane, and the falcon in The Maltese Falcon). The MacGuffin in Conflict, I would say, would be Bogart’s desire for the younger sister. It drives him to murder, and then it continues to be relevant throughout the movie, popping up again at a key moment later. But it’s not the focus, though we initially think it’s going to be.

Conflict was actually filmed in 1943 but released in 1945, which perhaps was a detriment to the film’s legacy as the genre was already well established by 1945. Conflict is relatively rare, but its inaccessibility is at odds with how brilliant this movie is. Had it been released in 1943 as originally intended, Conflict may have been considered one of the great noir classics.

In his introduction, “Czar of Noir” Eddie Muller noted that despite the quality of the movie, Conflict was one of Bogart’s least favorite movies, due to the fact that it somewhat reflected his real life situation. Much like Katharine Hepburn, Bogart always seems to play Bogart. Whether he’s acting in a comedy or a drama, the Bogart character usually remains the same type–a stoic, crusty type who generally tolerates people. Audiences felt that what they saw on the screen was what Bogart was like in real life. In 1945, Bogart had fallen in love with a much younger woman (Lauren Bacall) and was in the process of divorcing wife Mayo Methot. He was uncomfortable with the idea that the audience might associate him with spousal murder during this rocky time in his life. He needn’t have worried–Bogart and Mayo divorced and he soon married Lauren Bacall, remaining married to her until his death in 1957.

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Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall at their wedding.

Thanks for reading! If Noir City is coming to a town near you, be sure to check it out. Once again, here are the tour dates and cities:

NOIR CITY SF: January 26-February. 4, 2018
NOIR CITY Seattle: February 16-22, 2018
NOIR CITY Denver: March 23-25, 2018
NOIR CITY Hollywood: April 13-22, 2018
NOIR CITY Austin: May 18-20, 2018
NOIR CITY Boston: June 8-10, 2018

2018 dates for NOIR CITY Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, D.C. TBD

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Noir City 14: THE DARK CORNER and THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS

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The 14th annual Noir City festival, the spectacular tribute to film noir that has become a must-see San Francisco tradition, took place last week at the Castro Theatre. The festival is one big noir extravaganza, with the theater packed to the gills every day and every night for ten days straight. It was truly an event to experience, and one that I was thrilled to have been able to attend.

While the programming at Noir City is always top-notch, programmed by the man who has come to be known as the “czar of Noir,” Eddie Muller, this year had some truly unusual and unique offerings for the noir aficionados and for the uninitiated alike. Paired with noir classics like The Two Mrs. Carrolls and Rear Window were creatively programmed films like The Red Shoes that rose above the traditional definitions of noir to give the audience an entirely new vision of the genre.

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One of the films that most fascinated me in the Noir City program this year was a 1946 detective/murder mystery called The Dark Corner, starring Lucille Ball and Mark Stevens. By 1946, film noir had reached its zenith, the genre having been molded and firmly established during the years of World War II. Dark alleyways, shadowed angles, cigarettes and hard drinking characterized a noir film, as did the appearance of a savvy and smart femme fatale who often drives the plot.

Earlier in 1946, Lucille Ball had walked out on her contract at MGM. She was having problems at the studio and problems at home, her marriage to Desi Arnaz on the brink of collapse. At the studio, she was being cast almost exclusively in glamorous roles, ones that she knew didn’t fit her well and where she was being cast aside for the more established MGM stars like Judy Garland. In search of something different to propel her career forward and to take her mind off her home troubles, she left MGM and freelanced for several years. The Dark Corner, filmed at 20th Century Fox, was one of the first movies she did following the termination of her contract at MGM, and if Lucy had wanted to depart from MGM-type glamor roles in taking this role, she succeeded.

Playing a secretary in love with her boss who has a sinister past, Lucille Ball’s role is that of the smart, savvy version of the femme fatale. It suits her well, and the audience’s eyes are rarely off her when she is onscreen. As for the movie itself, as a murder mystery and detective story in one, The Dark Corner is so noir that it almost parodies itself. Audiences at the Castro Theatre are unusually well-educated in their cinema, and never was that more clear than when the audience laughed in delight at those scenes where Mark Stevens lights a match on his shoe at breakfast, or drinks several glasses of gin in one sitting. San Francisco knows its noir, and a self-aware movie like The Dark Corner was a fun choice for this audience.

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The Two Mrs. Carrolls is an old favorite of mine. The only film to pair cinematic legends Humphrey Bogart and Barbara Stanwyck, it tells the story of a mentally unstable painter who endeavors to kill all the women he loves after painting their portraits. It, too, is a prototypical noir, even taking hints from earlier dark movies and weaving them into the plot in similar ways. A clear example of this is the idea of the painter poisoning his wives with milk, one of the main themes of Hitchcock’s Suspicion, from 6 years earlier.

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Humphrey Bogart brings Barbara Stanwyck a glass of poisoned milk in The Two Mrs. Carrolls.

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Cary Grant brings Joan Fontaine a glass of milk in Suspicion.

The treatment of Barbara Stanwyck as the naive, sweet second wife who is haunted by the first, The Two Mrs. Carrolls also echoes a second Hitchcock film, Rebecca, in which the innocent, sweet Second Mrs. De Winter is tortured by the memory of the ever-present first wife. In Rebecca, the first wife’s memory is poison in itself, leaving in its wake fear, destruction and death. In The Two Mrs. Carrolls, the first wife is the saving grace of the second, with hints about her demise leading the second wife to figure out what her husband is plotting. Where in Rebecca the first wife’s memory may be characterized as the villain, in The Two Mrs. Carrolls she may be characterized as the hero.

Thank you to Noir City for another great year, and I look forward to next year’s programming!

Hitchcock 9 Day 1: BLACKMAIL (1929)

By Lara Gabrielle Fowler

The Hitchcock 9 got underway at the Castro Theatre last night with a screening of the silent version of Blackmail (1929). San Francisco Silent Film Festival artistic director Anita Monga spoke before the screening, mentioning that Blackmail is the last of Hitchcock’s films restored by the BFI for this event, made just before Hitchcock made the official transition into sound. In fact, Blackmail was actually shot twice–once as a sound film (sound was just beginning to become the default choice for filmmakers) and once as a silent, intended for theatres not yet equipped for sound. The sound version is relatively frequently seen, while the silent version screened for this event is quite rare and thus was a particularly special treat for filmgoers.

Alice White (Anny Ondra) is going out with Frank (John Longden), a Scotland Yard detective, but he seems more interested in his work than in spending time with his girlfriend. She confronts him about this at a tea house, and they have a fight during which Frank walks out in anger. To spite Frank, Alice invites a young painter named Mr. Crewe over to her table and leaves with him, walking right by Frank, who fumes. The two go back to Mr. Crewe’s apartment for what starts out as a harmless evening of painting. Alice notices a painting of a laughing clown that is a bit eerie, but she ignores it. Eventually Mr. Crewe asks Alice to pose in a ballerina costume for a painting. When Alice tries to change back into her clothes, Mr. Crewe steals them and attacks her in an attempted rape. As Mr. Crewe attacks her, Alice desperately tries to escape but when Mr. Crewe proves too strong for her, she reaches for a bread knife and stabs Mr. Crewe to death.

In this clip, pay special attention to Anny Ondra’s complete transformation from the beginning to the end. She morphs from a sweet, friendly girl to a woman almost possessed. You can see the murder in her eyes, but also intense fear and shock at what she has done. This clip demonstrates what a magnificent actress Anny Ondra was, and what a stellar performance she gave in this movie.

The morning after the murder, the whole neighborhood is talking about Crewe’s death and who might have committed such a horrible crime. Scotland Yard goes to the house to investigate, and coincidentally, it is Frank who is assigned to the case. He finds a glove in the house that he recognizes as Alice’s. When he sees the face of the dead man, he remembers Alice leaving with him and begins to put the pieces together. He confronts Alice at her father’s tobacco shop about what happened, when another man named Tracey approaches them and tries to blackmail them with the other glove, which he has in his possession. However, it turns out that Tracey himself has a criminal record, so Frank turns the blackmail around and turns Tracey in to Scotland Yard. Tracey flees and is pursued by Scotland Yard in the British Museum, where he falls through a glass panel to his death.

Tracey tries to escape down a rope in the British Museum.

Meanwhile, Alice is wracked with guilt about pinning the murder on someone who didn’t do it. She decides to turn herself in. But when she goes to see the Chief Inspector, he is distracted by a phone call and asks Frank to talk to Alice. The film ends as Mr. Crewe’s laughing clown painting is carried past them.

The image of the laughing clown painting was clear irony, providing a contrast to the murder. But I thought it was only that, until I researched the sound version. In the sound version, it is made clear that the model for the clown was in fact Tracey. This clears up some vagueness in the movie, because this silent version never explains where Tracey came from or how he knew Mr. Crewe. This gives an extra dimension to the reappearance of the clown, and ties up some loose ends that I noticed in the movie.

Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. It is unmistakeably Hitchcock, and the chase through the British Museum reminded me more than a little of the chase through the Symphony Hall in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1954). Another interesting trivia bit about this movie is that there are no intertitles at all for the first 15 minutes of the movie. The action is conveyed completely through facial expressions, but there is no plot lost. The acting is so good that the audience is aware of exactly what is going on, without relying on the use of words.

Blackmail also includes what is thought to be Hitchcock’s longest cameo in any of his movies. He is onscreen for 20 seconds, shown being tormented by a small boy on a bus.

Hitchcock’s cameo

The festival continues today with Champagne at 1:00, Downhill at 4:00, The Ring at 7:00, and The Manxman at 9:30. See you there!

REVIEW: “Hitchcock” (2012)

In modern times, the backdrop of classic Hollywood is often used to convey a sense of glamor, chicness, and style. Made-for-television movies about classic Hollywood stars have abounded in recent years, and filmmakers often place accuracy and respect for their subjects on the back burner, preferring to focus on opulent aesthetics to catch the viewer’s eye. The quality of these films generally ranges from barely adequate to completely disastrous, and Lifetime’s recent release of the train wreck Liz & Dick has magnified the issue and made many classic film fans extremely upset.

Though theatrical releases historically have not been much better, the past few years have seen an upswing in the frequency and quality of classic Hollywood’s representation on film. Beginning with The Aviator in 2004 and reaching an absolute creative apex with The Artist last year, there has been a steady increase of films created as odes to classic Hollywood in and of themselves, with details carefully adhered to and history accurately portrayed.

I went to see Hitchcock with an open mind. I have high standards for films dealing with classic Hollywood, and I was equally prepared for a Liz & Dick situation as I was for a triumph like The Artist. What I got was neither extreme, but rather an overall well-made, well-acted film with a great sense of fun and creativity, focusing on the filming of Psycho based on Stephen Rebello’s non-fiction book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. Hitchcock plays much like an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, with the character of Alfred providing a clever intro and outro to the movie.

The filming of Psycho was a difficult one. Hitchcock was plagued by problems with the studio and with the censor board, and seemingly all odds were stacked the film, his pet project. Anthony Hopkins plays a very convincing Hitchcock, pursuing the realization of the film with all the calm determination that characterized his personality. His talented wife Alma, who all too often gets pushed aside in discussions of Hitchcock’s life and work, is played aptly by Helen Mirren. Though the character of Alma is rather more sexualized than her real life counterpart, Mirren’s take on Alma is that of a caring but rather dominating wife, concerned about getting older and seeking an outlet for her considerable talent as a writer and director. Outside influences on their marriage add another layer to the story, and the end result is a tight, thoughtful plot that interweaves the personal and professional life of Alfred Hitchcock.

Alfred and Alma Hitchcock.

Hopkins and Mirren as Alfred and Alma Hitchcock.

I would not be surprised if this movie were to be a contender at the Oscars this coming year. Hopkins deserves a nomination as Hitchcock, and I would also venture to say that Mirren’s depiction of Alma will get some attention. I recommend this movie to anyone interested in the life of Alfred Hitchcock or his movies. Though it is not as groundbreaking or noteworthy as The Artist, it gives the viewer a good piece of entertainment and some informational value to boot.

See you next time!