Monday, June 27, 2011

An Idiot, A Broad: Paris, Part Trois

It may seem like a charmed voyage so far, with the possible exception of the andouillette incident. But no trip is perfect, kids. Long about Day Six, things took a strange turn.

Saturday morning. We’re planning the day’s adventure when there’s a knock at the door. It’s the caretaker employed by the apartment’s owner accompanied by the proprietor of the store downstairs, a gent I’ll call David. David informs us that our shower is leaking into his electrical room, and he’d like us to stop using it so he can assess the damage. Half an hour later comes the verdict: he can look through a hole in his ceiling at the bottom of our bathroom tiles. If either of us uses the shower again, we could go crashing through the floor. Meaning the apartment is unsafe. But never fear. David and the apartment’s owner have already secured new digs that we can move into the next day. Without showering first.

Rosemarie and I chose to find this mishap, with its prospect of imminent death, hilarious. Later we’d learn that plumbing woes are very Parisian, as is David’s resourcefulness in solving our problem.

We stuck to the plan and visited the cathedral of Notre Dame, as we now had something for which to give thanks. The glorious structure had a humbling effect on this lapsed Catholic. Hunchback hunting wasn’t in the cards, as a spate of bad weather convinced us not to climb the bell tower. Instead we crossed to Île Saint-Louis for some famous Berthillon ice cream, then over the Pont Neuf to try out a spirit store that the Mullers told us about in our search for Amer Picon. (It’s amazing how I can rope other people into my silly quests.) We came up empty. All I picked up there was the news that in France, it’s called Picon Amer.

I am beginning to fear for the success of the mission.

Next it was back out to Bercy for a film noir triple bill. First up: The Hunted, which we saw back in February at Noir City. It remains an odd duck of a film with a disappointing ending, but on second viewing the twisted dynamic between the two leads in Steve Fisher’s script, each feeling betrayed but desperately wanting to trust the other, registered even more strongly. And lead actress Belita certainly had ... something.

We had company for the next two features. I’ve raved about the work of Ray Banks here for years; Beast of Burden, the final entry in his brilliant Cal Innes series, comes out Stateside in August. Ray and his wife, the effervescent Anastasia, popped over to Paris for a pair of B-movie gems with a combined running time of less than two hours.

1944’s Strangers in the Night is an early film from future noir titan Anthony Mann. A soldier hurts his back during the War and is immediately rotated home, because it’s not like we need supply sergeants in fighting the Axis powers. He falls in love with Rosemary, a woman he begins corresponding with, and heads to California to visit her. En route he meets a gorgeous doctor (Virginia Grey) who instantly banishes Rosemary from his thoughts. He still goes to her rambling cliffside home. There’s no Rosemary, just her creepy mother (Helene Thimig) who is obviously harboring a Dark Secret. (What you think said Dark Secret is? Yeah, that’s it.) This is a straight-ahead Gothic, at times goofy and ludicrously plotted but always compelling. That’s due in equal measure to Mann’s direction and Thimig’s strangely moving performance. Adding to the fun: Thimig’s Austrian accent renders her daughter’s name as “Rosemarie.”

Clearly the only suitable follow-up to that hothouse confection is the lunacy of The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947). Lawrence Tierney – who better to play the devil? – is a robber who hitches a lift from amiable lunkhead Ted North. Soon there are girls, a highly ill-advised beach house party, and bodies galore. Surprises abound in this homicidal farce with whiplash pacing. All you can do is hang on and marvel at the mayhem. Ray said he could use a bit of Tierney, and brother, did he get the full serving.

Along with the Czar of Noir we headed to a nearby bar filled with what I’m going to guess was a Ukrainian football club celebrating a birthday. The ensuing conversation was far too brief; Anastasia proposed a theory about Kurt Russell that warrants an international symposium of its own, one that I will organize in the coming months.

What kind of apartment do we move into? Do I ever find Amer Picon? Or Picon Amer? Tune in to the next installment.