Monday, June 12, 2006

Movies: Noir’s The Pity

Seattle’s weather patterns have been screwed up lately. Sunday was the first nice day we’ve had in a while. So how did we spend the afternoon? In the dark, like always.

It was noir day at the Seattle International Film Festival. Two movies, recovered from a sorry fate by the Film Noir Foundation and introduced by genre expert Eddie Muller. A few rays of sunshine weren’t about to change my plans. I’ve seen sunshine before.

But I hadn’t seen 1950’s The Man Who Cheated Himself. Detective Lee J. Cobb tries to cover up his role in a murder from his squad’s newest member – his own brother (Gun Crazy’s John Dall). He does it for the love of a woman Eddie describes as “the least likely femme fatale ever,” Jane Wyatt. That’s right, from Father Knows Best. But, as Eddie says, if you’re an adherent of the sexual fetish known as ‘librarianism,’ then Jane may float your kinky boat. I think the man’s got a point. It’s a lean movie with a taut climax set in San Francisco’s Fort Point years before Hitchcock made it famous in Vertigo.

The follow-up was The Window, the first movie restored through the efforts of the FNF. This retelling of ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’ was the sleeper hit of 1949 and earned young Bobby Driscoll a special miniature Oscar for his performance. For various reasons it fell out of circulation, but the new print played like gangbusters to a packed house. (The Cornell Woolrich story that inspired it was also the basis for the 1984 film Cloak & Dagger, a huge favorite of mine growing up. Remember, Jack Flack always escapes.)

At the end of the film, Eddie told the crowd that Bobby Driscoll died of a drug overdose in 1968, in a tenement one block from where he’d filmed The Window as a child. He hated to send us out on such a grim note, he said, but when fate imitates noir you have to pay attention.

Not that it mattered. By then the clouds were rolling back in anyway.