Saturday, January 30, 2016

Noir City XIV #5: The Lurid Confessions of a Professional Virgin

by Odienator
(for all dispatches, go here)



Our good buddy Oscar Levant once said of Doris Day, "I knew her before she was a virgin." Noir City sought to introduce us to the sinner before the saint with two musical noirs designed to make us swing and sway with Doris Day. Long before she teamed up with Rock Hudson for the prudish films that remain her most well known legacy, Ms. Day was a much harder dame on the big screen. She stood up to Jimmy Cagney in full on gangster mode, for cripe's sake!! Pre-virgin Doris Day's Pillow Talk would have made Plymouth Rock land on Rock Hudson. 

Our night with Doris Day began with 1955's Love Me Or Leave Me, the biopic of one of the most famous singers of the1920's and 1930's, Ruth Etting. Of Day's turn, Etting noted that Day played her tougher than she actually was. Indeed, there were moments in the double feature when it appeared Doris might star in "With Six You Get Your Ass Kicked." In both films, she holds her own against some of the toughest persona to grace the screen, Lauren Bacall and Kirk Douglas among them.

Love Me or Leave Me fits neatly into the biopic genre, but with one unusual difference. With all the principals selling their stories to MGM at the same time, you'd think today's stickler for facts audiences would find plenty to squeal about in terms of dramatic license. But for the most part, Love Me or Leave Me sticks to the facts. It does soften its big climactic moments, but trust me, that's a blessing in disguise.

Virginal, my ass! Look at that leg!

Etting's story features a lustful piano player Johnny Alderman (Cameron Mitchell) and a Chicago mobster named Martin Snyder (Cagney, of course) who takes Truffaut's 1960 film title Shoot the Piano Player quite literally. Snyder does it for love, of course, and Cagney gives a rich, complicated performance that, on the surface, threatens to turn into the imaginary Doris Day vehicle Please Don't Eat the Scenery. What's most interesting about Cagney's take here, and it's an Oscar nominated performance, is how he portrays a man of a different era who knows his kinda guy is going out of fashion. The more sensitive, less gregarious Alderman is the replacement vehicle. He says as much to Snyder during one of their numerous confrontations. I'm from the same place you are, he basically tells Snyder, but unlike Snyder, Alderman has evolved.

Snyder's last desperate act is a grasp for the final strands of a foregone era, one in which he was king of the hill. It's a very noirish thread running through what's essentially a musical. Credit goes to Cagney and his director, Charles Vidor, for precariously keeping this balance.
The opening credits for this film list numerous songs that Etting made into hits, all of which will be performed by Day at one point or another. They save the title song for last, and by the time Etting swings it, you feel she's earned every lyric. Day is excellent here; we knew she could sing, but her tough dame act may have come as a surprise to many. Why Day wasn't swept up in the Oscar nominations Love Me or Leave Me received is beyond me. She's as deserving as Cagney and screenwriter Daniel Fuchs, who won the Oscar for Best Story for this film.


Pssst! Hey you! C'mere! You wanna see a movie where Lauren "Baby" Bacall is a bisexual who hunts both men and women with equally reckless abandon? Well, you've come to the right place! 1950's Young Man With a Horn finds Betty Bacall waging war for the heart and mind of Kirk Douglas' Rick Martin. Ricky is livin' la vida loca, torn between Betty, Doris Day and a bugle. Of course, Martin picks the trumpet, but he'll learn the hard lesson that's befallen many musicians before and since: These Horns Ain't Loyal!



Day sings here too, and she gives a good performance as a much nicer gal than she was as Ruth Etting. But she still has an edge to her. Douglas is perfectly cast, because nobody gives anguished artist vibe better than Michael Douglas' Da. And the legendary songwriter Hoagy Carmichael shows up in a rare acting role as Martin's right hand man (he is kind of the Levant role from Sunday's Humoresque. But I'd like to put in a few words for another actor who isn't listed on the poster. 

The great African-American actor Juano Hernandez shows up yet again in Noir City, and as he did in The Breaking Point, The Pawnbroker, Intruder in the Dust and so many other films, Hernandez fills the screen with a richly drawn characterization of a minority. As Art Hazzard, Martin's trumpet-playing mentor, Hernandez is his usual brand of spectacular, strong one minute, and heartbreaking the next. Like Cagney's Snyder, he too is a relic of an era gone by, about to be replaced by a younger, sexier model. But this one is of Hazzard's own design; Douglas' Martin looks at him with a mixture of student/teacher and father/son love. Hazzard is Martin's idol, which makes their final scene together that much more heartbreaking. Please, please, please seek out more of Hernandez's work, people!

The smaller crowd at Noir City's Doris Day night indicated that folks didn't know about the past cinematic lives of our date for the evening. It's their loss. Que Sera Sera!

Next time: British Noirs and WTF Was THAT?!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Noir City XIV #4: Suffer for Your Art, Pay For Your Sins

by Odienator
(for all dispatches, go here)
 
Miss Noir City 2016, the Czar of Noir and the daughter of Paul Henreid

For a few nights, Noir City's onscreen celebrity roster looked like the wrap party for Casablanca. Humphrey Bogart was there, represented by two distinctly different pictures, and Claude Rains was "shocked! shocked!" to find himself in the same picture with Victor Lazlo himself, Paul Henreid. Truth be told, Sunday and Monday offered up some of the best bullets in Jack Warner's actor arsenal. In addition to the aforementioned gents, we were privy to the onscreen delights of Miss Bette Davis and Miss Joan Crawford. They shared Sunday's classical music movie double bill, and I'm sure the ghosts of either of them didn't like it one damn bit!


1946's Deception should have been called The New Adventures of Old Christine. Christine Radcliffe starts a new life with her old lover Karel Novak (Paul Henreid), the classically trained cellist she thought had perished in the Holocaust. Their tearful reunion kicks off director Irving Rapper's music-filled melodrama. Christine is so happy to see Karel that she doesn't tell him she's been keeping time with Claude Rains' hot-headed composer Alexander Hollenius (the names in this movie are to die for--Alexander Hollenius?!). 

As luck would have it, Hollenius needs a cellist for his latest masterwork, and Karel needs a job. Unfortunately, Hollenius isn't going to sit around fiddling with his conductor's baton while his lady cavorts with her old flame. He wants her to suffer, and suffer good for not revealing the truth about their relationship to Karel. 


Hollenius is a master manipulator, controlling the tempo of Karel's anxiety the way Leopold Stokowski worked his orchestra. Providing the sumptuous classical score for this sometimes maddening tale of secrets and lies is the legendary Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Korngold famously upstaged Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood, but even he can't get the better of Claude Rains' magnificent, over-the-top portrayal of a composer consumed by anger and desire.

Bette Davis may have top billing, but even Paul Heinreid's daughter, Monika (who introduced the film and who has a book on her dad coming out soon) conceded that Deception belonged to Rains. This is one of his finest performances, and I wish the Academy had revoked his Oscar nod for Mr. Skeffington (a movie I find terminally boring) and given him one for this movie. Paul Henreid is no slouch here, either--it's really these two gentlemen's show with a muted yet effective Bette providing the catalyst for their fireworks. But she does get the one big moment we denizens of Noir City live for whenever Bette Davis appears on the screen. Nobody pulls a gun like Bette Davis, and Deception doesn't disappoint on that score. 




Here's a great trifecta for you: John Garfield, Oscar Levant, and Joan Crawford. They are pressed into service by the unlikely team of playwright Clifford Odets and Imitation of Life scribe Fannie Hurst. Odets adapts Hurst's story of Frank Boray (Garfield), a poor New York boy whose violin took him from poverty to prosperity, and the lonely married woman who falls head over heels for him. Keeping things from sinking too deeply into the mushy romantic quicksand is brilliant wit and musician Oscar Levant, whose every line in this picture should be embroidered on pillows and sold to the highest bidder. 

Levant plays Frank Boray's musical mentor and friend, a role that we'll see more than once here at Noir City XIV. As a boy, Boray's obsession with the violin pisses off his dad but amused and pleased his mother. She emotionally supports her son well up into his adulthood, but Mama Boray also doesn't take any mess. She throws some major shade to Crawford's Helen Wright, the hungry woman Mama feels is a dangerous distraction to her son. And she's got a point; Boray is too immensely talented to be sidetracked. Several scenes of classical music numbers, all done to completion, may prove Mama correct.


Garfield's fakery of the violin is as astonishing as his excellent performance, but Humoresque, in a bittersweet way, belongs to Joan Crawford. Fresh off her Oscar for Mildred Pierce, Crawford exposes a vulnerability that blows away one's usual thoughts when considering a Joan Crawford performance. She digs deeply here, as deeply as I've ever seen her go, and the resulting emotional outpouring is quite effective. Her distracting, extreme hairdo looks hard enough to deflect beer bottles, but the heart on her sleeve beats too loudly to ignore.



That painting of my favorite actress, Barbara Stanwyck, is a major spoiler for 1947's The Two Mrs. Carrolls, but don't let that stop you from watching this highly enjoyable hot mess, a film its leading man, Humphrey Bogart, really hated. On a double bill with Bogart and Nicholas Ray's fantastic In a Lonely Place (which I've written about elsewhere), The Two Mrs. Carrolls offered an amusing cool down after the workout we got from Bogie and Gloria Grahame in Ray's masterpiece. 

Bogie plays a painter holed up in the woods working on his art. It's a role you don't buy for a second, but I would have played a ham on rye sitting in an Automat window for 2 weeks straight if it meant I got to act with Barbara Stanwyck. So I don't begrudge Bogie one bit. Bogie's married painter tries to win Stany over, but she's not having it at first. When Bogie's wife mysteriously dies, Stanwyck becomes that second Mrs. Carroll.

This movie should have been called "Bogie Goes Batshit". And no, not the Captain Queeg kind of batshit, or the Dixon Steele kind of batshit--those performances are anchored in deep psychological misery. Mr.. Carroll is straight up looney tunes, and Bogie's horror movie-style entrance through a broken window (you'll wonder how he got there in the first place) is almost worth the price of admission.

Definitely worth the price of admission is Ann Carter's performance as Bogie's daughter. She's only 11, but she speaks as if she were a 40 year old Victorian era spinster. It's to Carter's credit that she sells every single precisely pronounced and presented line of dialogue, but I couldn't stop laughing at how prematurely grown she sounded. This was clearly the Dakota Fanning role of 1947. I guess everyone grows up way too soon when they're living in Noir City.

Next time: A WTF British movie and Doris Day, before she was a virgin.

Noir City XIV: One Stop Shopping

by Odienator



Here are all the dispatches from Noir City XIV!

Noir City XIV #1: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Deaths
Noir City XIV #2: Who is Brad Galt?
Noir City XIV #3: Telltale Plants and Mysterious Romance
Noir City XIV #4: Suffer for Your Art, Pay For Your Sins
Noir City XIV #5: The Lurid Confessions of a Professional Virgin

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Noir City XIV #3: Telltale Plants and Mysterious Romance

by Odienator
(for all dispatches, go here)

Noir City is not just sinister, bitter fun and games. It's also a great example of the power of film restoration. Each year, the denizens of this bitter little world are treated to a flick restored with funding from the Film Noir Foundation. This year, in conjunction with funding from the Hollywood Foreign Press Assocation (yes, these folks), we denizens of Noir City were treated to yet another Argentine film noir as part of International Noir night. And this one was darker than a bottomless pit. When a film's on a double bill with a Swedish movie, and the Swedish movie's the lighter of the two, the best you can do is pick your jaw off the floor and mutter "ay, Dios mio!"


Back at Noir City XII, we were treated to the most harrowing film I ever saw at Noir City, a classic from Argentina called El Vampiro Negro. I wrote about this remake of Fritz Lang's M here, and I mentioned that it was brought to Eddie Muller's attention by film historian Fernando Martín Peña. Señor Peña struck again on Saturday evening, and the result is yet another pristine 35mm print of a harrowing noir classic from the land of tango and malbec. 

Los tallos amargos (The Bitter Stems) was well regarded in Argentina upon its 1956 release. It featured a fantastic score by the creator of nuevo tango, Astor Piazzolla. The stunning black and white cinematography by Ricardo Younis was eventually recognized by American Cinematographer magazine, which put the film at #49 on its Top 100 Best Photographed Movies list. This achievement came despite the fact that the film had rarely been seen since its release.

Director Fernando Ayala's second feature has all the characteristics of classic film noir, a shady hero, a supposedly foolproof scheme, a dangerous woman, and that often sought after Noir City unicorn, the perfect crime. Los tallos amargos comes close enough to depicting the perfect crime that we can feel that unicorn poking us in the ribs. You may never look at a shallow grave the same way.

Gaspar (Carlos Cores) is a Buenos Aires newspaperman who enters into a journalistic correspondence course scheme with newfound friend, Liudas (Vasilli Lambrinos). Liudas is a Hungarian ex-pat who longs to raise enough money to send for his wife and two kids. Liudas is especially fond of his eldest son, whom he talks about constantly to Gaspar. To help expedite the process, Gaspar offers Liudas 75% of the proceeds from their business. But, as time progresses, Gaspar becomes suspicious that Liudas may be swindling him. Does he even have a son? A misheard conversation and Gaspar's own paranoia lead to murder.

After the dastardly deed is done, Gaspar discovers that not only was Liudas on the level (the son shows up on schedule), but Liudas' own platonic affection for Gaspar was as strong as the neurotic Gaspar had hoped. Even more emotionally devastating for Gaspar is learning how the younger Liudas comes pre-packaged with a similar admiration, thanks to the letters his father wrote him about his "only true friend" Gaspar. In the conversations Gaspar has with the deceased Liudas, which serve as narration and provide plot details, Gaspar sounds more than a little guilty about what he's done. But that guilt takes a backseat to self-preservation.


Los tallos amargos fascinates by presenting us with a character whose evil arises not out of greed but out of his own psychological issues of self-worth. It then surrounds that character with others whose own self-worth issues are powered by emotional longings. The dangerous woman, Elena, at first appears integral only to Gaspar's attempts to hide his crime; it is her misheard conversation with Liudas that sends Gaspar over the edge. As the film progresses, we realize that her story has a devastating life of its own. The collateral damage inflicted by the main character in Los tallos amargos carries a powerful amount of weight because the film makes you feel some affection for these imperfect characters, even at their worst.

That feeling hits us full force in the film's pitch black, title-explaining final sequence. We're torn between wanting Gaspar's comeuppance and his escape. I won't tell you if he gets away or not, but Cores plays his last scene with more relief than resignation. Between the lines, Gaspar's final act reads as one of the darkest character reunions in all of noir, a literal happy ending for Liudas' son juxtaposed with a more subjective ending that depends on the viewer's perspective to decide how happy it is for Gaspar.


Before Ingmar Bergman, Hasse Ekman was the most well-known filmmaker in Sweden. Bergman called Ekman's 1950 film Flicka och Hyacinter “an absolute masterpiece. Twenty-four carats. Perfect.” With an endorsement like that, one expects a supremely bleak and depressing film. But Flicka och Hyacinter plays more like a detective story than a study in grief and misery. Dagmar Brisk (Eva Henning, Ekman's wife) commits suicide and bequeaths what little she has to her married neighbors. The husband tells the investigating police officer that he hardly knew Dagmar. Her actions lead him to investigate who Dagmar was. The film takes on a flashback structure as the details are revealed.

What at first seems like a male-centric piece is slowly inhabited by more and more female characters, each with their own strength and importance. Dagmar is a bit of an enigma at first, but as the film progresses, we learn so much about her emotional state and her own trials and tribulations in life and love. There's also the matter of Alex, Dagmar's true love and the one that appeared to have gotten away.

The husband begins the exploration, but it's his wife who digs more deeply into the mystery, revealing her own maternal moment with Dagmar as a piece in the puzzle.


The wife also gets the film's last line, which is revelatory and powerful for reasons I dare not disclose. Suffice it to say, it reveals who Alex is, and the answer is surprisingly progressive. The wife's decision to keep this detail to herself is a quiet, haunting tribute to dignity.

Deep emotions are usually in short supply in Noir City--baser, more primal and animalistic urges usually rule the day and control the action. These two brilliant, international noirs force the audience to identify not with greed and lust but with more complicated, deeper desires of wanting to be loved and respected. They push us under the fun surface level of ruthlessness, forcing us stare down matters of the broken heart and the fragile psyche. Perhaps that's the coldest thing any movie can do to you here in Noir City.

Next time: Bette vs. Joan, and Bogie Goes Bonkers.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Noir City XIV #2: Who is Brad Galt?

by Odienator
(for all dispatches, go here)

Art snobs and train crashes populated Saturday's matinee in Noir City, but before we answer the $64,000 question "Who is Brad Galt?", props must be given to our usual Master of Ceremonies, Mr. Eddie Muller.  


The Czar of Noir is seen here with Miss Noir City 2016, the lovely Aja De Coudreaux. If she looks familiar, it's because you've seen this:


Um, where was I?

Director Henry Hathaway started his career in Depression-era Hollywood and ended it in the deepest, darkest recesses of Blaxploitation. Somewhere in between, he helmed such classics as Kiss of Death, Niagara and True Grit. Hathaway was not known to have a sense of humor, and his lack of funny ha-ha made him the wrong person to direct Lucille Ball. Ricky Ricardo wasn't the only person trying to keep Lucy from performing for the public.

Henry, why can't I be on the show?! WAAAH!!

Lucy is on record stating that her time on Hathaway's The Dark Corner was the worst experience of her five decade career. And while Mame is easily the worst thing Lucy did in that same five decade career, she should feel no shame over her work in The Dark Corner: She's a funny, sexy and shrewd Gal Friday to poor man's Dana Andrews, Mark Stevens

Stevens plays Brad Galt, a San Francisco private eye fresh off a 2-year stint in the pokey. He took the fall for others, which makes him extremely bitter and more than a little paranoid. Lucy is his faithful secretary, harboring the crush on her boss that is par for this course. But Lucy won't be had for a song or a cheap line (and believe me, Brad Galt tries and tries and tries). "I'm in it for the long haul," Lucy warns him. This includes putting herself in danger to help Galt clear his name. 

Helping to soil Galt's name is Clifton Webb, he of Laura fame, here practically reprising his Waldo Lydecker role from that classic noir. The snobby Webb executes a ridiculously complicated plot to frame Galt for theft and murder, a plot that starts with the ostentatiously dressed William Bendix attempting to follow Galt around. "Who tails a guy while wearing a white suit?" asks Lucy. I can think of some possible suspects: Boss Hogg. Col. Sanders. Mr. Rourke from Fantasy Island. The list is endless.

Crazy plot mechanics aside, The Dark Corner is very self-aware of the trappings of its genre, sometimes to the point of parody. The lines are riper than usual, and the situations teeter perilously close to falling into Airplane territory. Great parodies also serve as credible examples of that which they are mocking, and The Dark Corner is a quite servicable noir. It's rather insane that Hathaway didn't appreciate the gifted comedienne he had at his disposal. Lucy is lots of fun here, and as in the other noirs she's done, she more than earns her apartment on the shady streets of Noir City.


The less you know about 1946's Crack-Up, the better. It's not very good, to be honest, but it does have some intriguing mysteries you should unravel without any hints from me. Art snob George Steele (Pat O'Brien) goes batshit one night and attempts to wreck the museum that employs him. He swears that he was in a train accident beforehand, which led to his irrational actions. The cops counter that, saying that the drunken Steele was lit up like the New York City night sky during the Fourth of July fireworks. Now fired, Steele must try to figure out why he survived that trainwreck before a far worse fate befalls him. Assisting him is Terry (Claire Trevor), a reporter whose wardrobe is well above her pay grade. Also on tap is Herbert Marshall, who deserves that heart attack Bette Davis didn't save him from in The Little Foxes.

Both films at this matinee really stick it to those who think art can only be found in hoity-toity high class, abstract and nonsensical works that have zero entertainment value whatsoever. That's what is supposed to make art "aaaaaht" (as the cognoscenti pronounce it). But we know better here in Noir City. Sometimes the finest art is in the lower places, where these fools never dare to look. It's their loss and our gain.

Next up: A pair of dark, dark, dark, DARK international noirs. Did I mention these moves are DARK?!!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Noir City XIV #1: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Deaths

by Odienator

(for all dispatches, go here)



Movie theaters are a hotbed of voyeuristic activity. When the lights go down, the eyelids go up, nosily invading the lives of others. Here in Noir City, the audience's retinas are often singed by the most unsavory of observed antics--heinous acts committed by desperate dunces and meticulous dames. And we, the denizens of this Town Without Pity, love to feel the burn every year. In its fourteenth incarnation at the lovely Castro Theater in San Francisco, the Film Noir Foundation's Noir City Festival promises 11 days of movies representing this year's tagline: The Art of Darkness.



Noir City XIV kicked off with the ultimate statement on movies-as-voyeuristic-enterprise, Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. The 1954 Jimmy Stewart-Grace Kelly thriller is a favorite of many fans and critics alike, but I cop to never particularly caring for it. Every 10 years or so, I revisit it to see if my indifference has wavered or waned. I always end up at the same conclusion: There are things I love about this movie, but I can never commit to its pervy Peeping Tom creepiness.

Last night's screening was my second viewing in the past six months. Would experiencing the movie with the always enthusiastic Noir City crowd change my perspective?

Hitchcock is at the height of his visual storytelling powers here. The camera tells as much of the story as John Michael Hayes' screenplay (adapted from a short story by Noir City perennial Cornell Woolrich). Hitch pans all over his set in the opening sequence, giving us the geographical layout of the piece while introducing its players. Without dialogue, we learn that our protagonist, L.B. Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) is a photographer of foreign lands and luscious blondes, one of whom we'll meet shortly. A rising weather thermometer gives way to a car crash photograph, which is then followed by a pan to Rear Window's MacGuffin, a huge cast adorning L.B.'s leg.

Our man of action has been incapacited for the past 5 weeks thanks to an admirably successful yet equally stupid attempt to get the perfect race car photograph. An observer by nature, L.B. has taken to watching his neighbors across the yard. We're introduced to them early on: 

  • Miss Lonelyhearts, a woman who is unlucky in love.
  • Miss Torso, a young dancer who entertains a series of male visitors when not dancing in her window half-naked. (She'd command the attention of All That Jazz's Joe Gideon for sure)
  • The Newlyweds, who pull down the shades and screw like rabbits for the entire movie
  • The Songwriter, who is struggling with his latest composition (he's played by Ross Bagdasarian. Look him up, kids, to see what cultural phenomenon he's responsible for--if you dare!)
  • An Older Couple Who Sleep on the Fire Escape in a valiant attempt to combat the summer heat
And of course...

  • The Wife Murderer, Lars Thorwald, played by the guy who was always good on TV but is always trouble here in Noir City, Raymond "Perry Mason" Burr.

It's Burr who gets L.B. Jeffries' suspicions in a tizzy, causing him to ignore the advice of his insurance company nurse Stella (the great Thelma Ritter) and the affections of Lisa Fremont (a scorchingly hot Grace Kelly). Not even the dynamic designs of Edith Head can keep L.B. focused on Lisa. In fact, he tells Stella that Lisa's too perfect for his down-and-dirty life. Ritter gets some fantastic comeback lines (and one of her six Oscar nominations) as Stella, warniing L.B. of the dangers of his spying. She also tells him to marry Lisa, which L.B. won't do because this is the 50's and he's supposed to be all macho and rugged or whatever.

When L.B. suspects that Thowald has murdered his wife, Stella and Lisa think he's looney tunes. However, these logical women soon become as entrenched in L.B.'s obsessions as L.B., risking their lives to prove that Thorwald is guilty. 

All of this is admittedly a lot of fun. Hitchock toys with us the way he toys with Bagdasarian's clock in his cameo. A shot of Thorwald figuring out his crime has been discovered is justifiably famous, and the sequence which contains it is a masterpiece of suspense. And yet, I've always run lukewarm on this movie, because L.B. Jeffries creeps me the hell out. Perhaps I can't accept the guilty finger Hitch points at me, a movie lover. Or perhaps I could never buy that it's possible to ignore Grace Kelly at one's beck and call in favor of staring into Perry Mason's window. 

The verdict is still out, but I will say this. I liked Rear Window more this time than any other viewing I've had.



Also playing on opening night was Howard Franklin's 1992 tribute to Arthur "Weegie" Fellig, the famous NYC photographer whose work graced Gotham's newspapers back in the 1930's and 1940's. Armed with an original style, Weegee's work demands to be seen by anyone with an interest in the fine art of photography. His work is also a perfect fit here at Noir City, and though Franklin could not get the rights to Weegee's story, The Public Eye is a fine tribute to him.

Like L.B. Jeffries, The Great Bernzini (Joe Pesci) will do anything to get the perfect photograph. Unlike L.B., Bernzie prefers the aftermath of the carnage to being an actual participant in it. The dead bodies of unlucky crime victims are one of Bernzie's favorite motifs, and he's willing to slightly modify the staging of the bodies to capture the Public's Eye  ("people love to see the dead guy with his hat," he says more than once after tossing the hat back into the frame).

Franklin tosses The Great Bernzini into a rather convoluted Mafia plot that features an early appearance by Stanley Tucci and a femme fatale role for Barbara Hershey. Hershey's been in this territory before (see The Natural), but Franklin and his cin-togger Peter Suschitzky bathe her in hues that evoke the finest 50's Technicolor after its been dragged across a grimy street. She's very good in the role, playing her cards so close to the vest we're unsure of her true intentions. 

Suschitzky is one of The Public Eye's MVP's. He makes excellent use of black and white to simulate how Bernzie sees the world (everything to him is a photograph) and gives the film an old-time noirish feeling. The climactic mob massacre is especially memorable, a balletic orgy of live action carnage and still photography that's stunning to behold.

The other MVP of The Public Eye is Joe Pesci, who was fresh off his Oscar win for playing the type of guy who kept Bernzie in the photography business. In a rare lead performance. Pesci shows a vulnerability seldom seen in his work. He's perfectly cast as a guy who knows as many crooks as he knows coppers, all of whom have a begrudging respect for his work and his amorality. This may be Pesci's finest hour onscreen. 

Roger Ebert loved this movie, comparing it to Casablanca. When I read his review after seeing the film back in 1992, I thought Roger was crazy. I didn't like The Public Eye when I first saw it, but this viewing caused me to do a full 180 on it. It's far from flawless, but it's a fascinating, well-acted look at a guy whose life's work served as gritty slices of city life and unquestionable pieces of art.

My changed reactions to the opening night features prove that dunces always come to their senses in Noir City. Unlike most of those dumb dudes, I saw the light before it was too late.

Next time: Noir Loves Lucy.