Friday, January 31, 2014

Noir City XII #5: In Praise of Older Women

by Odienator
(for all Noir City XII pieces, go here)

I've always been into older women, and there's a special section of Noir City XII made just for me. The more experienced ladies get their props from the Norwegians, the Argentine, and the British. If only they got their due from the Hollywood of today...

But I digress.

Since today's dispatch is all about the more experienced ladies, I'll begin with the first woman to direct a noir. You may recall Ida Lupino helmed The Hitch-Hiker, but she did so in 1953. Besting her is Norwegian Edith Carlmar, whose 1949 adaptation of Arne Moen's novel, Døden er et kjærtegn (Death is a Caress) made up one half of Noir City's Double Dose of Death night. Those Norwegians have a different take on the genre, though the outcome is no less dark.

For starters, there's nobody for the illicit lovers to off. When Sonja Rentoft (Bjørg Riiser-Larsen) and Erik Hauge (Claus Weise) begin their adulterous affair, Mr. Rentoft could care less. He quickly provides a divorce and runs off to America. Erik's fiancee, Marit (Eva Bergh), is left out in the cold but plans no revenge. And Erik's co-workers at the garage where he and Mrs. Rentoft first meet are all envious and supportive of Erik's adventures. There's no blackmail or secrecy to be found in Norway!

There's also no Hays Code in Norway, so it's blatantly stated that people are screwing their brains out in this picture. Erik has carnal knowledge of Marit despite the fact they're unmarried, and he's perfectly willing to be cougar bait for Sonja Rentoft. Since this is directed by a woman, it is made clear that the female characters are getting theirs too. "The sexual bliss is ecstatic," reads the blurb over at the Noir City website, and that bliss is for both parties. People are also open about affairs and sexual attraction.

Though it has none of the usual noir motives, Death is a Caress sneaks its true noirish intentions into its title. Erik and Sonja's relationship plays out like a normal dramatic relationship, and therein lies the kiss--I mean the caress--of Death. Suspicion abounds. Lovers tire of one another before realizing they're trapped in marriage. It's all the more suspenseful because it lacks the juicy dramatic artifice of pulp, at least until the bloody stabbings and strangulations plummet us straight down to the hellish depths of good noir.

The Brits fit into this dispatch with 1947's It Always Rains on Sunday, an Ealing Studios drama starring Googie Withers as a married woman whose former lover has just escaped from prison. Robert Hamer helms this kitchen-sink drama/slice-of-life noir adapted from Arthur LaBern's novel. The film unfolds like a novel as well, with Withers dealing with her new husband's idiosynracies and his angry daughters while also harboring the escaped convict for whom she may still carry a torch. The daughters have their own subplot, and it's sometimes several minutes before we return to Googie and her fugitive.

But when we do, Ms. Withers' character is in charge of the situation. Though dangerously still in love with her ex, she's unwilling to let him destroy the stable married lifestyle to which she has become accustomed. Withers plays it smart, even when finally succumbing to her baser instincts. I liked how the film shows all corners of its characters' universes rather than treating them as asides in service to the main plot. There's a meandering quality to It Always Rains on Sunday that doesn't take away from its central crime story. Instead, it enriches it.

Perhaps the most entertaining older woman thus far here at Noir City is Aunt Rosa, the blind matriarch in the second half of the 1952 Argentinean film No Abras Nunca Esa Puerta (Never Open That Door). Despite its horror movie title, this is a two-part anthology based on stories by famous noir author Cornell Woolrich. Woolrich is a favorite of Noir City denizens (movies based on his work pop up at the festival every year). Never Open That Door demonstrates why.

The first tale has a Frederick Knott quality to it. A wealthy woman finds herself at the mercy of a blackmailer. When the blackmailer forces her to remove all her funds from the bank, it leads to her suicide. Her brother takes matters into his own hands, working from the first-hand knowledge of how the blackmailer uses the telephone to contact his victim. It leads to a vengeful murder and a darkly comic ending centered on a ringing phone.

The second tale is a bit of a heartbreaker, though in Noir City that's always going to be tempered with the reminder that the audience may be the only ones with hearts to break. Aunt Rosa shows up here, with her helpful niece. Rosa's son, Daniel has disappeared for 8 years, without so much as a note saying if he's OK. Rosa repeatedly hopes and prays for her word from her son, and just like the son in The Monkey's Paw, Daniel returns as a new entity in the same body. Except in Woolrich's world, Daniel's a hardened criminal. 

Director Carlos Hugo Christensen uses silence to great effect in this section. Aunt Rosa is blind, but she knows her house and she uses her other senses preternatually. Genuine suspense abounds as Christensen and Woolrich lead this woman into terrifying, dangerous situations as she tries to outsmart her son's gang. The actress who plays Rosa is convincing both as a blind woman and as a mother who realizes that the son she loves and misses so much is now irredeemable. 

Aunt Rosa's tale ends on a bittersweet note that thankfully spares her while allowing the audience the full ironic brunt of the outcome. Before that happens, however, we're treated to Aunt Rosa in action. Noir City's audience once again erupted in cheers when Christensen's camera revealed blind Aunt Rosa pointing a gun to protect her homestead. And not for a moment did we think Aunt Rosa would be a bad shot if she had to use that heater. Bad-ass Blind Ladies Who Pack Heat are just another type of character you'll find here in Noir City.

Next up: Cyclists beware, the director of Gandhi turns out to be a ripe bastard, and Hugo Fregonese is driving me crazy.

Noir City XII #4: Drunk Doctors and Lost Gats

by Odienator
(for all Noir City XII pieces, go here)

Long before Hugh Laurie's Dr. House, Noir City was full of self-medicated doctors--and they had better reasons for their addictions. The Castro Theatre bore witness to two such physicians, courtesy of writer-directors Akira Kurosawa and Wolfgang Staudte.

Let's start with Staudte. His film, DIE MÖRDER SIND UNTER UNS (The Murderers Are Among Us) is easily one of the best noirs I've seen. Made just a year after the end of WWII, this German film was financed by the Soviets and made a star of its female lead, Hildegarde Knef. Despite having his darker, more vengeful ending changed, Staudte's movie is a stunning condemnation of Nazi atrocities, made all the more powerful by the timeframe in which it was produced. In addition to its compelling story, Murderers serves as a time capsule of what postwar Germany looked like in 1946, and what services were available to its inhabitants.

Wilhelm Borchert stars as a doctor prone to drinking himself into a stupor before staggering home to the disdain of his neighbors. The war has made Dr. Mertens a barely functioning wreck, but for much of The Murderers Are Among Us, his role is left undisclosed. Staudte shoots him like a ghost walking through the rubble of Berlin en route to a drink or a night club. Even drunk, Mertens somehow manages to find his way back home. This familiarity with his surroundings will come into play later, while he's plotting his revenge.

Disrupting the doctor's routine is the return of Susanne (Knef), a concentration camp survivor who used to occupy the doctor's apartment. Since technically she still has a lease, Mertens is forced to find other arrangements. Susanne offers him half the apartment, much to his chagrin (he'd prefer if she left), but he acquiesces to the living arrangement.

As they share the apartment, Susanne returns to the rituals of daily life. She washes Mertens' clothes and cooks for him. There's comfort in returning to old rituals after her time in the camps. But the doctor, who was in a far better position than Susanne during the war, repels all notions of a return to normalcy. He remains dead inside until Susanne finds a letter given to Mertens by his former war captain. The letter was to be delivered in the event of the captain's death.

Mertens tells Susanne to let sleeping dogs lie, but as he warms to her, he agrees to let her deliver the letter to his late captain's widow. Upon delivery, Susanne discovers that Captain Brueckner is still alive. This development sends Mertens on a downward spiral of revenge. He sets out to kill his former superior officer. 

His first attempt is foiled by a great scene where the doctor rediscovers the joy he once felt in his medical calling. But this is a pitch-black noir, so expect that respite to be short-lived.

What Brueckner did, and whether the doctor was complicit, I'll leave for you to discover. When you do, notice how Staudte shoots the scenes of confrontation between Mertens and Brueckner. In the climax, Brueckner is framed in Mertens' shadow as the shadow grows to gargantuan proportion. Other noirs have done something to this effect, but the imagery Staudte composes pushes this scene to the top of the list of great noir moments. After all, noir lives and dies in its shadows.

Akira Kurosawa and his favorite actor, the great Toshiro Mifune, got their own noir night at Noir City. Mifune brought his trademark intensity to both sides of the law in 1949's Stray Dog and 1948's Drunken Angel. The former marked the duo's first collaboration, and the latter finds them already settling into the groove they'd reside in for 16 films.

Drunken Angel casts the equally great Takashi Shimura as the titular character, a doctor whose bedside manner is intense and comically mean. Into his office comes Matsunaga (Mifune), whose yakuza ties are responsible for the bullet in his hand. Dr. Sanada brutally removes the bullet without anaesthesia ("none of that for your type," growls Sanada), but briefly softens after discovering Matsunaga has tuberculosis. When Matsunaga stubbornly refuses to stop boozing and whoring so that he can recover, Dr. Sanada returns to his normal level of screaming and lecturing. 

Kurosawa plants one of the great cinematic grumps in a tale of redemption and hope. Using the filthy, polluted swamp stagnating in the middle of town as a symbolic metaphor, Kurosawa tackles the postwar return of organized crime, and how power can be as deadly a disease as tuberculosis.

Sanada constantly threatens Matsunaga, but as the former colleague who sent him to Sanada knows, Sanada is a tenacious pitbull when it comes to trying to save his patients. He takes on more powerful men, and equally tenacious women, to get his job done. Mifune is an intense actor, but he's matched note for note by Shimura. When a doctor is scarier than the Yakuza, you'd better follow his prognosis to the letter.

1949's Stray Dog reteams Shimura and Mifune, this time as a seasoned and a rookie cop respectively.  In the opening scene, Detective Murakami (Mifune) loses his gun to a pickpocket on a crowded bus. This puts him on a rollercoaster of guilt, grief and anxiety. The rollercoaster speeds up when Murakami's gun is used in a series of crimes. Detective Sato (Shimura) warns Murakami that the gun situation will burn him out if Murakami keeps reacting at this level. The far wearier Sato has been down this road, and though he is a good mentor and assists Murakami in trying to crack the case, he can't change Murakami's emotion-filled approach.

Kurosawa uses the stolen gun as an embarrassing neutering for the cop and a symbol of masculinity for the criminal who uses it. He shows how crime wears down those who swear to protect society. An early scene of Murakami falling deeper and deeper in despair seems to go on forever, to the point where you wonder if Mifune will collapse under the stress. A later scene where he does crack under pressure is one of the most powerful moments his beloved director has filmed for him.

Stray Dog also presents a theme that Noir City will revisit: The incredibly stupid young girl in love. Between this film and Brighton Rock (which I'll cover later), I'd had my fill of this character. Despite being played superbly by Keiko Awaji (who passed away on January 11, 2014), you'll want to choke her immature showgirl, especially when you see how much pain she causes Murakami. Maybe I'm being a tad harsh, but you know how I prefer my women here in Noir City.

Next time: Death by cars and caresses, and how a more experienced dame deals with being stupidly in love with a killer.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Noir City XII #3: Greedy Enough To Drive Dan Duryea To Drink

by Odienator
(for all Noir City XII pieces, go here)

Ah, Lizabeth Scott, how I love thee.

You were with me at my first Noir City, where I wrote about the opening night feature, Pitfall. And here you are on Saturday night starring in Too Late For Tears, the 1949 Roy Huggins movie painstakingy restored by The Film Noir Foundation. Courtesy of their hard work, the denizens of Noir City can see all your avaricious glory in a newly-struck 35mm print!

And what avarice you have in this film, my dear.

You're Jane Palmer, wife of the soon-to-be-doomed Alan Palmer (Arthur Kennedy). While out for a drive, some speed demon throws a huge bag of money into your car. Alan wants to get rid of it, but you convince him to keep it for a week, so as not to "make any rash decisions."Alan checks it in at a train station coat check, which always seems to be a safe place to hide stuff in these movies.

Meanwhile, your love of the money grows as your love for straight-arrow Alan decreases. Those fancy duds you brought and hid under the sink get you into deep trouble with a different man, Dan Duryea's Danny Fuller. It's his money, and while you try every trick in the book to slip the truth by him, Danny Boy's not buyin' it. You somehow have to get that coat check ticket, though you have other ideas in mind about exactly how much you plan to give back.

So, it looks like Danny's in charge here. In fact, on the poster for Too Late For Tears, he's slapping you around and quoting one of the memorable great lines Huggins wrote for him. But we here in the audience know better. We've seen your work. Danny is soon in over his head, first helping you dispose of the conveniently murdered Alan, then falling for your considerable wares against his better judgment. Your heartlessness is as big a turn-on for Danny as it is an enabler. Only a character as greedy and cold as Jane Palmer could drive Dan Duryea to drink.

Danny gets all the great lines and one helluva drunk scene, but at some point he'll most certainly also  get the hook. And he's the least of your worries! There's also your sister-in-law Kathy (Kristine Miller) and Don Blake (Don Fiore), two people who grow way too suspicious about Alan's sudden disappearance. While Kathy is familiar, Don is a wild card whom you've never met. He proclaims to have flown with Alan during the war, but you've never heard of 'em. Does he also have a tie to the money? 

And what about your first husband, the rich guy who committed suicide under "mysterious circumstances?" "After knowing you," Danny says, "I can believe your first husband killed himself!" Or did he kill himself?

Ms. Scott, viewers of this delectable feature of yours will learn all there is to know about how clever Jane Palmer is, and how adept you are at playing her. Writer Roy Huggins would later go on to create some of television's most memorable crime dramas, but before he did, he gave you this meaty role and all but one way to outsmart the other players in your universe. For that, and for you, I am eternally grateful.

Quick! Who is the only actress to have directed an American film noir feature? If you said Joan Crawford, you've got one sick sense of humor, you SOB! I like you! But you're wrong. Said movie is The Hitch-Hiker, and its director is the actress who "got all the parts Joan Crawford turned down," Ida Lupino.

You knew damn well I wasn't posting this entry without a picture of Ida.

Lupino got her directorial start as a director-for-hire, but in 1953's The Hitch-Hiker, she takes over the entire filmmaking process. In addition to directing, she co-wrote the screenplay with then husband Collier Young. This being a noir, you'd expect Ms. Lupino to select something as hard and unforgiving as some of the characters she's played. The Hitch-Hiker is based on the true story of Billy Cook, who murdered several people unlucky enough to pick him up on a California road. Lupino cast William Talman as the thinly-veiled Cook character, and Edmond O'Brien and Frank Lovejoy as the guys who violate the rule that, unless it's Claudette Colbert on the side of the road, NEVER PICK UP A HITCHHIKER.

Lupino's camerawork is claustrophobic as hell. Most of the picture takes place within the confines of the car. Whenever the characters exit the vehicle, it's usually for Talman to play sadistic games of violence with them. The tension rarely lets up, and Talman's speeches about how little he cares for humankind are chilling. (How he could never outsmart Perry Mason in all those episodes I'll never understand.) O'Brien and Lovejoy make for good Everymen.

Even though we know the outcome (Billy Cook got the gas chamber at San Quentin in December, 1952), The Hitch-Hiker remains a taut, nasty piece of work from the woman who, as I've always acknowledged, scared the shit out of me in her movies. Now she's doing it from behind the camera as well. 

Next time: Drunken Angels, Stray Dogs, and Murderers Among Us.

Noir City XII #2: A Matinee of Mexican Noir

by Odienator
(for all Noir City XII pieces, go here)

Every year, there's at least one moment that sends Noir City audiences into a tizzy of raucous applause. The Mexican noir, Victimas del Pecado (Victims of Sin) provided Saturday afternoon's roof-raising cheer. This film is part of the cabaretera genre, which reverses the usual gender roles of noir while filling the screen with cabaret-set musical numbers. Toss in a long-suffering dame and buckets of melodrama, and you have a movie that screams out for a Ross Hunter-produced remake, shot in garish Technicolor. If Hunter had miraculously gotten this material past the Hays Code, he would have had no choice but to import Victimas del Pecado's leading lady, the fabulous Ninón Sevilla.

Sevilla plays Violeta, a performer at Cabaret Changó. In the cabaretera film, it's the woman who falls victim to the homme fatale, and we root for her to persevere against all odds. Victimas del Pecado won't make it easy for Violeta: She survives prostitution, prison, poverty, and a beating far too severe for any American movie made in 1951. But she's hardly the victim in the title. That honor goes to the adorable little boy surviving on the street while awaiting Violeta's return.

The sultry Cuban dance stylings of Señorita Sevilla are a huge hit at the Changó, a place where the private dancing is overseen by a vicious pimp named Rodolfo (Rodolfo Acosta). When one of the performers shows up with Rodolfo's infant son, he cruelly makes her choose between him and the kid. Shockingly, she tosses her baby into a trash can. Violeta rescues him, claiming him as her own. A kitchen sink full of trouble gets thrown at her the second she picks up that kid.

Victimas del Pecado was directed by prolific Mexican filmmaker Emilio Fernández. Known to American audiences as Mapache in Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, Fernández's direction reminded me of a different Sam, Sam Fuller. The shot of a police line-up of angry streetwalkers who have just rescued Violeta from the aforementioned vicious beating is pure Fuller; these tough broads wear their bruises with pride as the camera pans by to congratulate their heroism. And when the great Cuban singer Rita Montaner is fired from the Changó, she gives a fiery speech that incites the patrons to riot. Mr. Fuller would approve.

Fernández embraces the grunginess of his film, infusing it with over-the-top doses of melodrama that buoy the emotions of its surprisingly happy ending. When Violeta falls for Santiago (Tito Junco), another pimp who doesn't mind she's raising someone else's kid, it sets up a showdown between good pimp and bad pimp. When that ends tragically, and Rodolfo claims his son for criminal intent, Violeta becomes an angel of vengeance, a Mama Bear who rescues her son the way Richard Roundtree's Shaft would have. When Ninón Sevilla crashed through a window, fire in her eyes and guns-a-blazing, the rafters of the Castro shook with whoops of audience approval. This is how a Mama protects her boy in Noir City.

Also from Mexico in 1951, En La Palma De Tu Mano (In the Palm of Your Hand) is a twisty little treat that pits a rich, murderous widow against a con artist posing as a fortune teller. With his smoke-filled crystal ball, Professor Jaime Karin (Arturo de Córdova) brings the Miss Cleo for gullible, superstitious Mexican women who pay handsomely for his services. Helping the professor get the best dirt for his "predictions" is his beautician wife, who provides more practical services for Karin's clientele.

Through gossip at the salon, Karin discovers that a millionaire has gone to the great Swiss Bank Account in the Sky. Karin targets the widow, Ada Romano (the gorgeous, icy Leticia Palma) in the hopes of swindling her. Had Karin an inkling of actual second sight, he'd know to target a different rich dame. Not only has Mrs. R. murdered her husband, she's setting up Professor Karin to help her knock off the co-conspirator nephew with whom she's been sleeping. 

Director Roberto Gavaldón crafts a riveting tennis match between Karin and Romano, with the tide turning in either's favor numerous times. We're never sure who has the upper hand, though if you're any student of noir, you've got a good chance of predicting the ultimate victor. Professor Karin, as despicable as he is, keeps on the good side of audience by executing an occasional good deed. Mrs. Romano fascinates us by alternately playing the role of predator and prey.

Cordova and Palma are both excellent, two nearly-perfect foils who deserve each other, but En La Palma De Tu Mano serves its coldest slice of justice by putting its most innocent victim on a slab in the morgue. The shocking karmic bitchslap is felt both by the character to whom it is dealt, and by the audience. So far, this has been the coldest ending dispensed on us hardened viewers.

Last but certainly not least is Hollywood's take on Mexican noir, 1949's Border Incident. Made at MGM during a time when Leo the Lion was starting to cast his gaze at darker fare, Incident looks at Mexican migrant workers illegally entering California to work during harvest season. Directed by Anthony Mann years before the famous Westerns that would define him, Border Incident stars Ricardo Montalban in a rare role as an actual Mexican (in an interview with Eddie Muller, Montalban lamented "Hollywood cast me as everything but what I actually am--a Mexican!"). The pitchman for Corinthian Leather is matched with George Murphy, whom I knew primarily from his hosting duties on the MGM Parade

Casting two MGM musical stars in a hard as nails noir seems odd until you bear witness to what Mann puts on the screen. Brilliantly shot in darkness by John Alton (who'd win his cin-tog Oscar two years later for An American in Paris), Border Incident sends Murphy and Montalban undercover as a crook pitching fake immigration documents and a Mexican attempting to illegally hop the fence respectively. Splitting screen time between the duo, the film creates two separate but equally fascinating threads. As the threads slowly begin to knit together, Border Incident gets nastier, culminating in a harrowing, brutal death for one of its leads. 

The timely plot is somewhat undercut by a goofy, though common for 1949 movies, narration that shows up in prologue and epilogue form. Still, Mann and company deliver a noir that's as pitch black as its stunning cinematography. The one time Hollywood let Ricardo Montalban be that which he was, he turns in one of his best performances.

Next up: Nighttime is the right time for Restorations.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Noir City XII #1: A Bitter Little World, Complete With Zithers

by Odienator
(for all Noir City XII pieces, go here)

The tagline for Noir City XII is “it’s a bitter little world,” and no better words sum up the experience of watching 27 noir films with fellow diehard fans. The Castro Theatre is once again the venue, a drier, sunnier than usual San Francisco the locale.

This year, Czar of Noir Eddie Muller has given the proceedings an international flavor; there are films from Mexico, Argentina, Japan, Germany, Spain, Norway, Great Britain, France and the rest of South America. This is the first Noir City in the 6 years I’ve attended where I have not seen the majority of the films, adding an extra layer of excitement and anticipation to the proceedings.

Opening night, however, delivered two films I’ve seen before, Journey Into Fear and The Third Man.

Boasting a script adapted from an Eric Ambler novel by co-stars Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles, 1943’s Journey Into Fear opened Noir City XII. Hitchcock’s Uncle Charlie plays a man whose knack for going with the flow gets him entangled in espionage, murder and mayhem. Or something to that effect; Journey Into Fear barely makes a lick of sense because a third of it is missing. Decades before Harvey Scissorhands, Welles’ studio, RKO, took a celluloid chainsaw to this feature, pruning a 101-minute cut down to 68 minutes. The resulting feature is a hot mess in term of coherency, but Welles and his Mercury Players compensate with expert showmanship and an amusing sense of the absurd.

Reportedly too busy making the unfinished It’s All True in South America to finish directing this feature, Welles handed the reins to Norman Foster. His fingerprints remain on what’s left of the movie, however, starting with the opening scene. A hitman named Banat (Jack Moss) preps for his next assignment in his room. A phonograph record serves as his mood music, at least until it starts skipping. The redundant sound bite plays for what seems like an eternity, etching itself into your brain before Banat kills the noise. This aural aggravation has a chilling payoff later in the film; its sudden offscreen appearance negates the false sense of security Journey Into Fear has lulled its hero into.

Howard Graham (Cotten) and his wife, Stephanie (Ruth Warrick), are Americans on a business trip/vacation to Istanbul. Graham is a ballistics expert en route to meet his Istanbul company representative Kopeikin (Everett Sloane). Kopeikin drags Graham around Istanbul, ending up at a club where Josette (Dolores Del Rio) is performing. During a magic act that goes horribly awry, Graham discovers that the Nazis are out to kill him. Trusting newfound allies in Turkey, Graham sets off without his wife to find safety. The reason he would trust these people was probably left on the cutting room floor.

After the murderous magic act, Welles shows up as Colonel Haki, the officer keeping tabs on the increasingly in-danger Graham. Welles’ screen time is short but memorable. His intimidating physical presence is in direct contrast to his facial hair and attire. And his accent is as hilarious as the way he wears his giant trapezoid-shaped fur hat; he tips it on his head as if it were a pimp’s fedora. Haki promises to protect Stephanie while Graham takes the Slow Boat to Batumi. Of course, Banat and his employer Muller (Eustace Wyatt) are on the boat with him.

The actors bring a joyous theatricality that keeps Journey Into Fear afloat no matter how piecemeal the plot becomes. The film follows suit by going big at the climax, which features the most ridiculously rendered rainstorm I’ve ever seen. As a downpour to rival the Great Flood batters them, Cotten, Welles and Moss traverse slippery building ledges, shooting at each other while avoiding sudden death on the ground below. The cinematography and architecture in these scenes reminded me of a giddy, gothic Hammer Studio picture. I half-expected Peter Cushing to show up on a ledge looking for Christopher Lee.

If RKO’s butchering of The Magnificent Ambersons remains a travesty of cinematically epic proportions, their hatchet job on Journey Into Fear is a smaller crime. It almost feels like the filmmakers are rebelling against the editor’s vicious scissors, outrunning them by sheer force of will, craft and performance. Cotten even looks as surprised and confused by what he’s doing as we are. It makes for an entertaining and messy viewing experience, especially when factoring Dolores Del Rio into the equation.

Journey Into Fear was paired with another Welles-Cotten collaboration, 1949's far superior The Third Man. Co-produced by Alexander Korda and directed by Carol Reed (the first two filmmakers ever knighted by Britain), The Third Man is an unmatched classic. Its mere mention conjures up visions of post-war Vienna, Ferris wheels, the dangerously in love character played by the gorgeous Alida Valli, cuckoo clocks, sewers, odd camera angles and the greatest introduction of a villain ever filmed. Using dark cinematography and a cat long before Don Corleone, Welles’ Harry Lime made his famous return from the dead to thunderous applause from the Castro Theatre audience.

Also garnering applause was that zither-crazed score by Anton Karas, a band member Sir Carol Reed hired after hearing him play in Vienna. Roger Ebert once called it the greatest film score ever, an opinion with which I respectfully disagreed. One of the many blemishes on my critical record is my utter hatred of The Third Man’s score (“Shame on you, Mr. Henderson!!” Roger wrote in response to that revelation). It’s enough to drive me to murder. However annoying I find it, I must admit that Reed and Karas flawlessly integrate it into The Third Man. Its cues influence imagery and cutting, and I can’t imagine the film without it.

Graham Greene’s screenplay is a brilliant mix of humor, horror and tightly constructed plot. Cotten’s Holly Martins and Valli's Anna are two sides of the same coin. They’re both in love with the cherished vision of Harry Lime they’ve elevated in their hearts and minds, and they deal with the shattering of this perceived image in different, yet equally stubborn ways. This makes the last scene of The Third Man a silent, visual masterpiece. Both characters are left to voluntarily stew in delusions of their own making. Suitable punishment for anyone living in Noir City.

Next time: Anthony Mann's Mexico, Ida Lupino's Nail-Biter and hot Mexican babes with guns busting through windows like Shaft.