Friday, February 18, 2011

Noir City Northwest: Loophole (1954)/Crashout (1955)

Donate to the Film Noir Foundation

The curtain came down on the Seattle roadshow edition of Noir City with two crackerjack movies that can only be screened theatrically due to the efforts of the Film Noir Foundation. (Reminder #1: Donate here.)

In Loophole, regular Joe bank teller Barry Sullivan is the victim of a 50K robbery so shocking that he initially doesn’t report the loss. Once he does, he becomes the prime suspect in the heist, with a relentless insurance investigator (Charles McGraw) dogging his every move. The movie doesn’t get off to a promising start with a voiceover that’s like an endless Dragnet intro written by Ed Wood. But as soon as the money goes missing, the screws tighten. Loophole features something you seldom see in ‘50s crime dramas: a healthy marriage, with Sullivan and Dorothy Malone in it together and bucking each other up. Mary Beth Hughes is the brassy broad in pedal pushers calling the shots. But the movie works as well as it does because of McGraw’s cop-turned-company-man Gus Slavin. He’s so implacable and destructive it’s like being pursued by a Mack track and an earthquake at the same time.

Crashout had been sold to me in a major way, both by host Eddie Muller and my friend Christa Faust. And justifiably so. Crashout is a deranged delight, a banquet of brutality, and the most entertaining film of the festival. (Here’s Christa’s valentine to film noir, her contribution to the For the Love of Film (Noir) Preservation blogathon. Which reminds me: donate here.)

You know you’re in for something special when a movie begins with thirty men beating feet out of a prison. Screw the planning and the tunnel digging! Only a half-dozen of them make it out alive, and what a rogues’ gallery they are. William Bendix as the wounded mad dog leader, noir favorites William Talman, Luther Adler and Gene Evans after a share of his hidden bankroll, a ferocious Arthur Kennedy as the outsider along on a pass. It’s an uncommonly harsh film for its era, both physically and psychologically; not only is each escapee undone by his own weakness, but the people they meet on the outside are bitterly disillusioned. This includes Gloria Talbott, heartbreaking in a bravura sequence as a girl who is made to understand in more ways than one that the world is a cruel place, and, be still my heart, Beverly (Wicked Woman) Michaels. Crashout is a repository of hardboiled philosophy, with lines like “It takes all kinds to make a world. Especially suckers” and “Every day you live is the day before you die.” It was a hell of a way to end a fantastic week.

It’s been my pleasure to attend these movies and to work with my lovely wife Rosemarie at the Film Noir Foundation booth in the SIFF Cinema lobby. I can personally attest that we were kept jumping before every show, and sold out of more than a few items. My thanks to Eddie, SIFF, and the festival’s sponsors.

It was a pleasant coincidence that this year’s Noir City Northwest overlapped with the For the Love of Film (Noir) Preservation blogathon. I’ve been thrilled to participate and awed by both the caliber of the contributions and the organizational savvy of our hostesses, Ferdy on Films and the Self-Styled Siren.

And now my last pitch. If you’ve enjoyed these posts or are a regular reader of the noir-heavy content of this blog, please donate to the FNF. They are doing extraordinary work not only preserving America’s cinematic history, but making it available to entirely new audiences. All week Reverend Muller was out at Seattle area schools, preaching the noir gospel. Noir City fests are now in San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C., with new venues coming. Make a contribution so that you’ll have a chance to go out to a theater and see pristine prints of movies that deserve to be remembered. Maybe you’ll get to hear an audience member, completely caught up in a 57-year-old film, gasp “Oh, shit!” at a plot twist long thought forgotten. There’s nothing else like it.