Monday, January 30, 2012

Noir City X #4: Rita Hayworth and San Fran Redemption

by Odienator

Today’s post focuses on a trifecta of female names, all ending in –a and enmeshed in some sort of trouble.

Nothing Bonnie About Bedelia

First up, 1946’s British import, Bedelia, based on Vera Caspary’s novel. I must disclose that I arrived 30 minutes late for Bedelia, but had I arrived on time, I doubt it would have helped. Bedelia tells a Black Widow-esque story of a woman who murders men for money. She uses a little vial of poison to kill ‘em, but the actress who plays Bedelia, Margaret Lockwood, could have used her acting. It’s as if Susan Hayward’s worst bouts of onscreen mania grew a British accent and swam across the pond. Maybe I missed something with my late arrival, so please apply a grain of salt to this paragraph. This was a festival favorite of several people.

“They Sent Me the Script, Not the Score”

Caspary’s more famous novel, Laura, fares better in the hands of director Otto Preminger and composer David Raksin, though Caspary is on record as disliking the script. Czar of Noir Eddie Muller and Dana Andrews’ daughter, Susan, introduced the screening to us eager fans of Otto’s warped perversions. Preminger’s mischievous fingerprints are all over this one, with a salaciousness so thinly veiled it approaches neon sign brightness. His middle finger to the Production Code starts with our introduction to columnist Waldo Lydecker. His  middle aged visage greets the viewer, and lead actor Dana Andrews, from his bathtub. Lydecker’s naughty bits are covered by the source of his venom, his typewriter. “Hand me that towel,” he asks the detective, and as Andrews hands one offscreen, watch his eyes and his reaction. Preminger is clearly fucking with Fox studio head Darryl Zanuck here, for when Preminger cast well-known homosexual stage actor Clifton Webb, Zanuck told Otto “the audience is going to think this guy’s gay!” Preminger replied “Duh!”

There’s a lot of sexual weirdness in Laura, and I wonder how much of it hit audiences in 1944. For starters, Andrews’ Detective MacPherson falls in love with Laura (Gene Tierney), whose murder he is investigating. From “beyond the grave” Laura holds court over her apartment via a gorgeous, large painting over the mantle, seducing MacPherson as he tries to uncover her mysterious death. In flashback, Lydecker tells the copper how he crafted Laura’s personality and image for the masses (and for himself). He helps Laura get a job and spends as much time as possible with her, which just seems weird. Through his column, he obsessively destroys any man who gets too close to Laura, yet she appears to have no sexual interest in him and, to be honest, I think the feeling is mutual. In his mind and his loins, Lydecker can’t have her, so nobody else will.

Vincent Price’s unfaithful Shelby Carpenter did have Laura, and despite Lydecker’s attempts, it appeared Laura was going to marry Carpenter before her murder. Laura had competition from cougar Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson), who made her rivalry for Carpenter blatantly, publicly clear. Laura’s murder paves the way for Treadwell to go after Carpenter, the number one suspect in Laura’s murder.

MacPherson also wants Laura, death be damned, and his quiet investigation of the apartment is a subtle piece of erotica created by Andrews. Andrews is silent, letting his face and body language communicate with us. Of this scene, Andrews’ daughter said it was her favorite piece of acting by her father. “He’s sniffing her lingerie drawer,” she said. And he looks great doing it; Muller correctly pointed out that “nobody wore a trenchcoat and hat better than Dana Andrews.”

I should stop describing the plot, as it has a big reveal I won’t spoil, and focus on the mood Laura evokes with its acting, atmosphere and score. Webb’s Lydecker is an incredible bitch. Snarky, snooty and vindictive, Webb treats his great one-liners like daggers, stabbing his way to a well-deserved Oscar nomination. He’s fun to watch, but I wouldn’t want to spend 5 minutes with Waldo Lydecker in real life. Andrews allows vulnerability to peer through his macho detective’s tough exterior. Tierney is radiant, mysterious, and less a victim than the murder mystery plotline might indicate. Preminger's direction evokes a moody, haunted sense of loss and mystery.

The actors are first rate, but the real star of Laura is its music. David Raksin’s famous theme is haunting shorthand for unattainable love. Johnny Mercer’s lyrical additions made the theme even more famous and beloved. Laura is worth seeing for the score alone; its effect fueled many an actresses’ regret over turning down the part. When asked for her response after seeing Laura, Hedy Lamarr famously said “they sent me the script, not the score.”

Putting the Blame on Mame

I must confess I’ve never been able to make heads nor tails of Gilda’s plot. I also cop to finding the film a tad too long, with one too many acts of cruelty leveled at its titular character. These sins are always forgiven as soon as Rita Hayworth makes her entrance. I shudder every time she, to quote Red In The Shawshank Redemption, “does that shit with her hair.” “Gilda, are you decent?” asks her husband. “Who, me?” asks Hayworth, and a hundred thousand men’s hearts—gay and straight—skipped a few beats.  Despite the current cinema’s ability to show more than just some hottie tossing her hair, Gilda’s entrance remains one of the sexiest moments onscreen. It must have fueled a lot of post-war teenagers’ erotic dreams in 1946.

Columbia head Harry Cohn wanted a vehicle to make Rita Hayworth a sex symbol, and director Charles Vidor delivers. Hayworth’s passionate, tumultuous chemistry with co-star Glenn Ford keeps the temperature at a near boil. Vidor cranks up the gas burner by turning everything visual into a sexual motif. Had the censor been even remotely privy to what Vidor was slipping under the radar, he would have burned the negative. Some of the dialogue is also so thinly coded I wonder if people really were more innocent back then.

Sneaky sex stuff or no, Gilda has enough above the surface steam heat to get the juices flowing. When Hayworth sings her signature number, Put the Blame on Mame, her gyrations bring credence to the lyrics: Mame caused all manner of disasters, including the Great Chicago Fire, just by being so damn hot. I say that Hayworth sings the number, but after this viewing, I learned that Hayworth was dubbed by Anita Ellis. Learning this took a little bloom off the rose, but Hayworth sells it so well I can easily forgive all.

Corinthian Leather and Swedish Bombshells

Gilda appeared on a double bill with 1965’s The Money Trap. Reteaming a much older Ford and Hayworth, The Money Trap tries to rekindle some of the nostalgia and romance of seeing the former Gilda stars together onscreen. I was more taken by Hayworth’s performance than any moments she has with Ford. Her role is smaller than advertised, but she brings such pathos to it. I loved her working class accent, her drunk scenes, and her ability to still be sexy without trying to appear younger than she is. There’s more than a shade of Thelma Ritter to the role, which is certainly not an insult.

Hayworth emerges unscathed from The Money Trap’s problems. Her Gilda costar is not so lucky. Ford is teamed with Elke Sommer, a much younger actress whose marriage to Ford seems more than just a little icky. Not that an older Ford is unattractive, it’s just the relationship’s logistics are too much of a stretch for me. Sommer’s character, however, is the catalyst for The Money Trap’s heist plot. Ford’s a cop who, while investigating the self-defense murder of a safecracker by Joseph Cotten, figures out that Cotten’s hiding some serious Mob money. Ford’s partner, Ricardo Montalban, wants in on the heist, which Ford pulls in order to bring home the bacon for his high-maintenance wife.

Since this is a Noir festival, you can predict that this heist isn’t going to end happily. Cotten is a lot smarter than he appears—after all, he WAS Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt—and that whole “honor amongst thieves” thing clouds judgment yet again. I was underwhelmed by The Money Trap, but it’s worth seeing for both Hayworth’s performance and a gun battle between two 1940’s icons. Oh, and a pre-Khan Montalban doesn’t hurt either, even if parts of his performance feel as fake as Corinthian Leather.

Next time, some of the more obscure pictures at Noir City X, including Alan Ladd’s turn in The Great Gatsby and a reteaming of Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and another troublesome idol. Slowly but surely, I’m catching up!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Noir City X #3: Boo Time for Bonzo

by Odienator

(Ed. Note: Many of the images are coming from the Noir City website. Please go visit it! We'll feel less guilty.)

My apologies, dear readers, for being behind on these updates. But the weather’s been wonderful here in San Francisco. My days are full of roaming the parks, Chinatown and the Embarcadero. My nights have been far too racy for the Production Code—can’t tell you  anything more about that. We don’t BLEEP and tell here at Tales of Odienary Madness (at least not for free).

My evenings, however, are open for discussion. So let’s continue where I left off last time. I was about to discuss Saturday’s Evening Matinee, featuring Angie Dickinson as the guest interviewee.

Saturday Evening Post #1: Ronald Reagan Was A Crook

In this movie, I mean!  After all, his character says “I approve of larceny; homicide is against my principles.”

(Lightning strikes Odie)

The first film of the Angie Dickinson double feature was 1964’s The Killers. Shot in “glorious color” by Don Siegel--and shot up repeatedly by cinematic badass Lee MarvinThe Killers is even less faithful to the Hemingway short story than the 1946 version. Both featured Virginia Christine, who in this version ushers us into the intense level of violence we’ll be privy to for the duration. As a blind woman at a School for the Blind, poor Ms. Christine is brutally manhandled by Marvin. Scenes like this were the reason The Killers, originally made for NBC, wound up on the big screen instead.

Hitmen Charlie Strom (Lee Marvin) and Lee (Clu Galagher) arrive at the school to rub out Johnny North (John Cassavetes). When North is confronted, he just stands there and eats hot lead. This unnatural reaction bothers Strom, who believes “the only man that's not afraid to die is the man that's dead already.”

Strom’s curiosity, and his knowledge about the hit, leads him to do some research. Johnny North was a racecar driver who doublecrossed the wrong people. Strom and Lee visit North’s former partner to shake out details. The partner, played by Sheriff Lobo himself, Claude Akins, takes us into the first of the many flashbacks that populate The Killers. This is an oddly constructed picture, with flashback after flashback, sometimes within flashbacks.

But you don’t care about any of that shit. You wanna know about Angie and Ronnie. Johnny North falls for Angie’s gorgeous Sheila Farr. She appeals to the hyper-machismo inside a certain kind of man, and North’s common sense immediately goes South when he spots her. She loves money and nice things, and wears her “gold digger” label as if she were sung by Kanye West. North falls head over heels for her, but like the Iran-Contra scandal, she belongs to Ronald Reagan.

Ronnie’s the heavy in this picture, the mastermind of a million dollar robbery for which Johnny North is hired to drive. The details are just too  good for any liberal not to enjoy. Reagan and company rob a government organization of $1 million. He also gets kicked out of a moving car, has a climactic gun fight with Lee Marvin, slaps the everlasting gobstopper shit out of Ms. Dickinson and puts out that hit on Oliver, I mean Johnny, North. The audience booed our 40th President, and I’d like to say it’s because he’s so damn good in the role (which he is). But the audience booed his screen credit! I won’t even talk about what happened when Marvin shot Reagan.

Everyone turns in fine work, with Cassavetes and Dickinson standing out. Cassavetes carefully calibrates his conflicted feelings about Sheila Farr; he knows she’s bad news but the boy can’t help himself. He thinks he can change her ways with love, and when he fails, he’s more than willing to meet his Maker at the end of Charlie Strom’s silencer. As Farr, Dickinson is sexy as hell, reviving the femme fatale for 60’s audiences. Her last scene with Marvin has one of the best kiss-off lines violent cinema has to offer. As Farr tries to explain to Charlie Strom why she’s doublecrossed everybody for that $1 million (including him), the dying Marvin looks at her and says, “Lady, I just don’t have the time.” BLAM!!

After this feature, Czar of Noir Eddie Muller interviewed Pepper Anderson in front of a very appreciative Castro Theater crowd. She was a great interview, funny, full of anecdotes about both films shown that night, and she looked pretty damn good to be 80. I took some zoomed-in pics with my Blackberry, but its camera is a piece of shit. I should post one pic to give you an idea of how bad the blasted thing is. I regret not bringing my actual camera.

Of Reagan, Dickinson noted that he was horrified to have to hit her in the movie, even if it were pantomimed. He was not too keen on playing the villain, a role he only assayed once onscreen. “Every time I saw him,” Dickinson said, “he’d say to me (in Reagan voice) ‘I was so glad I didn’t hit you!’” Despite their political views, she said she and her co-star got along famously on-set. Dickinson also mentioned that, during the making of The Killers, JFK was assassinated. She cited the scene that was supposed to be recorded that day, but that detail escapes me now.

Escape was the order of the day at the beginning of the next feature, which begins with Lee Marvin escaping the Grim Reaper.

Saturday Evening Post #2: Not that Keanu Reeves movie. That’s Point BREAK.

Dickinson expressed her love of Lee Marvin, a man she said was as tough as he was onscreen, but also a joy to work with in both features. “He sure knew how to take a beating,” she said, alluding to the most famous scene in John Boorman’s 1967 film Point Blank. It too has an odd, almost avant-garde construction, at least in its opening acts. The film hops back and forth in time, with Marvin suffering all manner of bad luck in his personal life, including being shot by his partner in crime. Honor amongst thieves is a common mistake amongst thieves, but Marvin’s going to get what was promised to him, even if it kills him and everybody else.

Like the psychotic paperboy in Better off Dead (“I WANT MY TWO DOLLARS!!!”), Lee Marvin’s Walker wants his money. Walker even says “I want my ninety-three thousand dollars!!!” or damn close to it. That’s all he wants, and to get it, he’ll have to go through John Vernon, Lloyd Bochner, James B. Sikking and Archie Bunker. Carroll O’Connor turns in a memorable performance as one of the no-nonsense criminals Walker hits up for his dough. "Good Lord!", says O’Connor, “do you mean to say you'd bring down this immense organization for a paltry $93,000?" Walker will do it, and he’ll use any means he can, including his sister-in-law, Chris (Dickinson). He sends her to get fresh with the guy who double crossed him in the Alcatraz heist that fills Marvin full of lead.

That guy, Mal Reese (Vernon) has a warped sex scene with an unwilling Chris. She’s there as the Trojan Horse that allows Walker to get past an Alcatraz-like amount of guards. Unfortunately for Walker, this turns into the first instance of butt-naked defenestration ever put onscreen. (Actually, it’s butt-naked roof tossing. –Ed.)  This leads Walker up the chain of command in his pursuit of that elusive $93,000. It also leads to that famous scene, where Chris beats Walker mercilessly in a fury. Marvin stands there while Dickinson wails on him over and over and over. It goes on forever, and as Dickinson falls to the floor in a spent heap, Marvin walks away, sits down and turns on the TV.

The audience went berserk, applauding wildly for Ms. Dickinson. She was right. Badass Lee Marvin knows how to take a beating.

Alas, I do not know how to take a beating, though I certainly deserve one for my slow postings. Again, lo siento.

By the way: If my synopsis sounded familiar to you, except you saw Mel Gibson in your head instead of Lee Marvin, then you saw this movie. If it sounded familiar, but you were holding a book, then you read this novel by Donald Westlake's Richard Stark.

I’ll be back later to talk about Mr. Belvidere versus that mean woman from Leave Her to Heaven. Oh, and Rita. Gorgeous, hair-tossing Rita…

Monday, January 23, 2012

Noir City X #2: Pre-Code Corruption And A Welcome Cheat

by Odienator

Day 2 of Noir City X consisted of two different double features. The matinee showcased “Proto-Noirs,” two black and white pre-Code films from Universal Pictures. The prime time twofer delivered brightly colored films from the decade the Hays Code became irrelevant, the 1960’s. For the latter, the Castro Theater welcomed Angie Dickinson to the stage to dish on Lee Marvin, Frank Sinatra, John Boorman, Brian DePalma and much of her TV and film output. A certain former President also appeared Saturday night, and his reception marked a first for me at Noir City.

But I’m jumping ahead. Let’s start with the daily double.

Daily Double Feature Top Half: Walter Winchell: CrimeStopper

Okay, America is the name of both the radio program and the film in which it appears. Lew Ayres is cast as a Walter Winchell clone out to save a kidnapped heiress from the Mob. Ayers’ Larry Wayne mirrors Winchell’s ties with the Mob and his patriotic slant, and the film gives him a hero’s welcome and all the sharpest lines of dialogue. The similarities are at times so striking that I wondered why they didn’t cast Winchell himself. Then I saw the ending.

Wayne decides to help Secretary John Drake (Gilbert Emery), the President’s best friend and Cabinet member, after his daughter Ruth is snatched by the most powerful mobster in America. This guy wants to use her to blackmail the President of the United States. This being 1932, I assume the film is talking about Herbert Hoover, whose own daughters would have made much more persuasive kidnapped pawns, that is, if he had any. “Hoover” makes an appearance late in the film, and is upstaged by Wayne’s über-patriotic speech to him. No wonder the Obit guy in the newsroom nicknames Wayne “Ego.”

In the newsroom, Sheila Barton (Maureen O’Sullivan) takes dictation for Wayne’s columns, but she’d rather just be taking the first syllable of dictation from him. Since this is before the Hays Code, Sullivan can be more verbally explicit about her desires, and Ayres can slap her on the keyster before telling her to marry the fiancé with whom she’s shacking up. “You’ve never even tried to kiss me,” Sheila tells Wayne. Whether he does, I’ll leave for you to discover. I can tell you that the ass slap was his idea.

Using his column, his radio show and his quick wit, Wayne manages to outsmart both the coppers and the capos. The latter are played by veteran actors Edward Arnold and Louis Calhern. Calhern is no stranger to Noir City: two years ago, he uttered one of the great noir lines through the speakers of the Castro Theater: “Crime is only... a left-handed form of human endeavor.” Here, both Calhern’s hands are criminal. Wayne is so charismatic and so powerful that the Mob trusts him at his word rather than shooting him on sight. This allows him to execute his plan to save Ruth Drake. As I said last time, honor amongst thieves is a common mistake amongst thieves.

It must have been pretty ballsy in 1932 to have a plotline featuring the blackmailing of the President as a plot point, but Okay, America uses it as a springboard for its “You Can’t Mess With the U.S.” message. I cringed at the film’s stereotypical Harlem nightclub scene, but it shows where Wayne gets most of his juicy gossip and criminal information. And as heavy-handed as this handjob to Winchell gets (and Wayne’s last line is a real credibility-stretcher—how can he talk after all that shit?), Okay, America remains entertaining, Its message must have reassured its original Depression-era audience while making a martyr of its real-life inspiration. Unfortunately, Okay, America is not on DVD.

Daily Double Feature Bottom Half: Please Don’t Kill That Bellhop

Afraid to Talk cheats by doing something dramatically dishonest, and I couldn’t bring myself to fault it. I was happy it cheated, as I’m sure audiences in 1932 were. This is a bleak picture, housing a hopeless, crushing sense of defeat by political corruption. It says a corrupt political machine will stop at nothing to cover its ass including, but not limited to, the blackmail, conviction and murder of an innocent man. In Albert Maltz and George Sklar’s play, Merry Go Round, everyone you’re supposed to trust is dirty. The cops are dirty, the D.A. is dirty, the Mayor is dirty. That last one caused problems when the play was presented in New York City.  Then NYC Mayor Jimmy Walker felt like Hamlet’s father when he saw Merry Go Round--it was more dynamite than “DYN-O-MITE!” because Walker was just as corrupt as the play’s mayor. Walker kept putting up roadblocks, but the play was eventually staged. Walker himself was run out of town on a rail by Hoover’s successor the same year this movie premiered.
Afraid to Talk’s unfortunate victim (and stand-in for us) is a bellhop named Eddie Martin. Eddie is young, in love, and excited to have been chosen to be Mafioso Jig Skelli’s bellhop for the evening. Skelli is played by Edward Arnold who, along with Louis Calhern, is making his second appearance on our bill. Eddie’s job is to deliver food and booze to Skelli, and to enjoy the massive tip he’ll earn for being available. Unfortunately, Eddie’s in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he witnesses Skelli’s execution. The assassins shoot Eddie too, but he survives. The cops get him to finger the assassins, even though he’s smart enough to know he shouldn’t squeal. “You can trust us,” he’s told. 

 Don't listen, Eddie!

The hit was an inside job. Assistant D.A. John Wade (Calhern, who is great here) is all ready to cement his ascendancy to the Governor’s Mansion by bringing down Skelli’s organization. That is, until Jig’s brother Joe (Matt McHugh) gets all Richard “Dimples” Fields on him: He’s got papers on Wade, and everyone else in the Mayor’s cabinet is implicated in those papers. Joe’s ready to go public, because inquiring minds will love to hear how the Mayor’s in bed with the Mob. Especially during this election year!

Things get really messy for Wade and company, and they need a scapegoat. They decide to railroad Eddie Martin. Martin had been given a job in New York City as a result of his heroism in fingering the guilty, but now that same act is about to get him wrongfully convicted of murder. He’s arrested just as he and his girl are about to catch the train to NYC, and the cops give him the third degree. With this sequence, director Edward Cahn creates perhaps the most effective scene of his career. Beginning with a scene involving a swinging interrogation-room light, Cahn is relentless in the brutality visited Eddie Martin. Again, this is pre-Code, so the offscreen agony with which Martin screams and begs is stunning. After being beaten for hours, Eddie confesses. Even the guys doing the beating are sickened by the level of punishment they’ve inflicted.

Eddie Martin is a nice guy in this movie, and as stand-in for the common man that is we, his torture is tough to witness. In a short amount of time, Eric Linden brings an optimism and a likeability to Eddie. So when Wade, against his better judgment, sends Eddie to the hospital to be treated, and the doctor realizes what’s been done and calls a big-time, hotshot lawyer (Gustav von Seyffertitz), the audience breathes a sigh of relief. Wade and the mayor realize their mistake and decide to have Eddie murdered in his jail cell. They’ll make it look like a hanging. 

The jail people are corrupt too, leaving the cell doors open so some other criminals can enter Eddie’s cell. “Oh come on,” I thought. “Please don’t kill that bellhop.”

Eddie is hanged, and at this moment, I felt the air leave the room at the Castro. The bad guys—these rich, corrupt bastards who feel a lot like today’s politicians—were going to win. As this was occurring, the film cross-cuts between doctors coming to Eddie’s cell and the activity therein. When they get to the cell, the shadow of Eddie’s body is shown. The camera follows the doctors into the room, and there’s a shot of Eddie’s bare feet as he hangs. Cahn draws our attention to this, and I could have sworn his feet were still moving, not just swinging. I wrote it off as wishful thinking. The film gives the correct impression that Eddie is dead. He’d have to be one tough S.O.B. to hang that  long and live, and as horrible as Eddie’s death is, it made perfect dramatic sense in a film as black as this.

Remember when I said the movie cheated? And I was glad it did.

Eddie survives, and while the film provides some satisfaction and revenge for all Eddie’s troubles, Afraid to Talk doesn’t let us off the hook. Even with that optimistic last minute save, the ending reminds us that you can run corruption out of town on a rail, but there’s always a bigger criminal on the next train into town.

Speaking of trains into town, I need to hop the Muni to get to tonight’s Rita Hayworth features. (Rita—hubba HUBBA!) So, Angie and Ronnie Reagan will have to wait until next time. Pre-Code movies aren’t the only cheaters in this entry today. Mea Culpa! I'll be back.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Everybody's Guilty: Odienator in Noir City

by Odienator

Once again, the Odienator finds himself in the company of thieves, femme fatales, easy victims and suckers greasing their own slippery slide into the gutter. No, I’ve not gone back to my old neighborhood! I’m at The Film Noir Preservation’s Noir City Film Festival in San Francisco. I covered the fest in 2010 for Slant Magazine’s House Next Door, and I had so much fun I had to return. This year marks the tenth anniversary of Noir City, and once again, the spectacular Castro Theater in San Francisco is hosting it.

To celebrate this milestone, Czar of Noir Eddie Mueller has come up with 26 movies celebrating the darker side of human nature on film. I plan to cover all 26 in some fashion over the next several days. As always, some of these films are not on DVD and more than a few are curiosity pieces I can’t wait to feast my eyes on. Next Saturday’s screening of The Great Gatsby, for example, is on my must-see list. There is also a big 1940’s style bash entitled “Everyone Comes to Eddie’s” that I will be attending. If you’ve ever wanted to see yours truly dolled up as a detective-slash-gangster, this will be your chance.

A great time will be had by all, and since noir is my favorite genre of film, I expect to be in Heaven until January 29th.

Last night, Noir City X opened with a festival tradition of San Francisco-based noirs. 1951’s The House On Telegraph Hill and 1947’s Dark Passage. The former features Valentina Cortese 23 years before her Oscar-nominated turn in Truffaut’s superb Day for Night, the latter features Bogie and Betty Bacall in a strange, fascinating and twisty tale of plastic surgery, murder, and a really pissed off Endora from TV’s Bewitched.

Let’s start with The House on Telegraph Hill. Directed by Robert Wise and shot on location in San Francisco, Hill tells the tale of a Holocaust survivor Victoria (Cortese) who impersonates her best friend Karin after Karin dies. Karin’s infant son, Chris, was sent to America to live with her aunt before the Nazis imprisoned her. After Germany surrenders, Victoria sends a cable to Karin’s aunt, only to find out that the aunt is deceased. Eventually, she winds up in the titular San Francisco domicile, where she meets Chris, now 10, his governess Margaret (Fay Baker) and Alan Spender (Richard Basehart), the man who looked after Aunt Sophie before she gave up the ghost.

Shot by veteran cin-togger, Lucien Ballard, House on Telegraph Hill tosses in elements of Rebecca, Gaslight and any movie featuring a large amount of bequeathed money and a group of people waiting in line for that money. Wise enjoys twisting the tale for us, with seemingly villainous intentions turning into noble ones and vice versa. Cortese is excellent, and quite fetching, but I really got a kick out of Baker’s Margaret. This extreme blonde feels like Mrs. Danvers from Rebecca’s daughter, and for a while she and the film keep you guessing on what her intentions are. Throw in some truly suspenseful sequences involving explosions and a cut brake line on a car speeding down one of San Francisco’s patented hills, and you have a genuinely entertaining flick.

Speaking of Mrs. Danvers, Agnes Moorehead joins Bogie and Baby in 1947’s Dark Passage, the film that opened this year’s festival. And as expected, she’s mean as hell. Shot in San Francisco, Passage does something I hadn’t seen before in a film of this era. The first act is told from Bogie’s character’s point of view, using a startling amount of first-person subjective camerawork by director Delmer Daves. We don’t see Bogie until at least 25 minutes into the picture. We hear him, see his hands and even his silhouette, but not the actor himself. This lends a Being John Malkovich air to the proceedings—you are Bogie—and when Lauren Bacall looks directly into the camera and talks to us, it’s really, really sexy.

The plot is too involved to get into, but this is one wickedly crafted noir. We are kept in the dark about character’s intentions for much of the film, and there is almost a horror-movie element in the film’s plastic surgery subplot. (“I can make a fella look like a bulldog if I don’t like ‘em,” says the back-alley plastic surgeon working on changing prisoner Bogie’s appearance.) Dark Passage ends with the decades-earlier precursor to that moving last scene in The Shawshank Redemption, but not before sending a character to one of the most brutal deaths ever filmed in the Hays Code era.

Tonight, Noir City brings us Angie Dickinson in the flesh, introducing The Killers and Point Blank. I’ll be back to talk about that tomorrow.