Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Noir City Northwest: The Dark Mirror (1946)/Crack-Up (1946)

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The For the Love of Film Preservation blogathon is not only rolling along, it’s getting attention. Specifically from Vanity Fair’s James Wolcott and, on this morning’s editorial page no less, the New York Times. Head over to Ferdy on Films and the Self-Styled Siren for all the contributors. And, as always, click on the link at the top of this post to make a donation.

As for Tuesday night’s fare at the Seattle run of Noir City we return to the evil twin well, a trip from which no one ever comes back thirsty.

The Dark Mirror opens with what ought to be an open-and-shut case: a dead doctor, with multiple witnesses swearing his fiancée fled the scene. The problem is that said fiancée (Olivia de Havilland) has an identical twin, and neither is talking. The detective in charge (Thomas Mitchell, finding gold in what could be a rote characterization) can’t abide a perfect crime, so he sics besotted psychologist Lew Ayres on the twosome. And as he works his magic with inkblot tests, jealousy rears its ugly head.

The movie is a field day for de Havilland, aided by monogrammed accessories, chokers that are hard to swallow, and the epic rivalry with her own sister Joan Fontaine. Robert Siodmak, who pound for pound has to be the best director in noir, pulls out all the technical stops in allowing his leading ladies to work opposite each other. But for all their efforts the film never rises above the level of exercise. The script by producer Nunnally Johnson is a few twists short and, like Ayres’ character, a bit too pleased with itself. An entertaining but essentially hollow film.

When I saw Crack-Up several years ago I couldn’t get past the notion of hale two-fisted Irishman Pat O’Brien as an internationally recognized authority on fine art, casting that rivals Jack Palance as Fidel Castro. But as Eddie Muller pointed out the filmmakers have fun with the idea, making O’Brien’s George Steele an ex-military man who tracked down Nazi swag turned populist arbiter of taste. Steele smashes his way into a museum, jabbering about how he has survived a colossal train wreck that, naturally, never happened. As friends and colleagues alike begin doubting his sanity, Steele scrambles to find the truth. Irving Reis directs the train sequences phenomenally well, and there’s a memorable scene at a penny arcade that captures the post-war era in amber. Herbert Marshall’s quicksilver charms are ably deployed, and Claire Trevor is at her clotheshorse best. Crack-Up is based on a short story by the great Fredric Brown, so you know you’re in for a ride even if George Steele may not be.

Two nights left. Come on down to SIFF Cinema and watch me return to my retail roots, selling Film Noir Foundation goodies in the lobby. Even better, buy some of it.