Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Movies: The Big Combo (1955)/The Damned Don’t Cry (1950)

All season I’ve been waiting for my beloved New York Mets to play my adopted west coast Dodgers on Pacific time, so I can enjoy the game in its entirety. Last night they kicked off a three-game series in the City of Angels. And I didn’t see a minute of it.

Only one thing could get me out of the house on such a night. That’s noir, baby.

Eddie Muller, the czar of noir and founder of the Film Noir Foundation, was back at the Seattle International Film Festival with another double feature. (I wrote about last year’s twin bill in Mystery*File.) This time out, Eddie offered battle-of-the-sexes night. As he put it, one movie is fueled by pure testosterone, the other by estrogen.

I’ve seen The Big Combo before – and blogged about it here – but I’ll never pass up the opportunity to see John Alton’s extraordinary cinematography on the big screen. Quoting Eddie again, Alton’s camera transforms the movie into a series of live-action woodcuts. It was a treat to see this elemental noir with a packed house. Sure, there were gales of hipster laughter at the none-too-veiled homoeroticism (Earl Holliman’s gunsel wailing to his partner/roommate Lee Van Cleef, “I can’t swallow no more salami!”), but by the end the film’s brute force held the audience rapt.

Who could counter this exercise in swinging dick cinema? Only Joan Crawford. The Damned Don’t Cry is loosely based on the story of Virginia Hill and Bugsy Siegel, but as Eddie observed it’s also the closest Joan ever came to playing herself, a woman from a hardscrabble background who reinvents her identity and claws her way to the top. It’s more of a melodrama than a classic noir, and ridiculously entertaining. Here’s one line worth remembering: “Don’t talk to me about self-respect. Self-respect is what you tell yourself you’ve got when you’ve got nothing else.”

The only thing better than noir is more noir, and luckily that’s what Seattle is in for. Eddie announced that he’ll be bringing his Noir City festival to town for a week in July. Plenty of gems are in store: the “lost” film Woman on the Run, a restored Technicolor print of Leave Her to Heaven, and Pitfall, a rarity based on a novel by my hero Jay Dratler. I’ve already got tickets to the full run, and I plan on posting regular updates. Christa Faust did the same during Noir City’s recent L.A. stint, and it’s time I returned the favor.

For the record, the Mets lost. Rats. But if I’ve learned one thing from noir, it’s that you can’t have everything.

Miscellaneous: Links

A profile of one of Rosemarie’s favorite authors, Edward Tufte, “the world’s only graphic designer with roadies.”

I’ve written before about the jazz trio The Bad Plus, whose new album Prog is phenomenal. They also run an excellent blog. This post on jazz of the ‘90s provides plenty of food for thought. Plus it links to this interview with Ted Nugent from the Beastie Boys’ now-defunct magazine Grand Royal. It truly is as great as Ethan Iverson claims.