Noir City Hollywood 22: A Brief Recap
March 19, 2020
I had grand plans for Noir City Hollywood 22. Though a few advance scheduling conflicts stood in the way, for the most part my calendar was crowded with film noir screenings for about a week straight – until it wasn’t.
One by one, big events were cancelled the week of March 9th due to the rapidly spreading Coronavirus: my friend’s wedding in Egypt that I was supposed to leave for right after Noir City, the upcoming UCLA gymnastics meets I had tickets to, the 11th TCM Classic Film Festival, and finally, the remaining Noir City screenings. Though undoubtedly these calls were the right ones to make, I found it jarring to go from a completely jam-packed month to nothing.
At least my empty evenings provided me time to get some writing done, this post included, which would have regularly taken me another month or two to publish. So with that said, below is a look back at the three movies (yes, three!) I saw at Noir City Hollywood 22.
The Beast Must Die/La bestia debe morir (1952)
The Beast Must Die opened Noir City 22, and right off the bat I knew we were in for it – within the first 10 minutes we discovered the antagonist was cheating on his wife with her sister AND his business partner’s wife. No wonder everyone in this movie wanted to kill him! (Honestly, he’s one of the most abhorrent male characters I’ve seen in a long time, and it blew my mind that one of the women was actually attracted to him.)
This film is about a crime novelist, Felix Lane (Narciso Ibáñez Menta), who goes on the hunt for the person who killed his son in a hit and run. Based upon that summary, I assumed we were in for a tense whodunit, but The Beast Must Die unfolds in flashback, starting with the guilty party, Jorge (Guillermo Battaglia), dying. Much different than expected because most of the suspense went out the window, but the twist in this case was the fact that so many people hated Jorge that we actually didn’t know if Felix, who set out to kill him, did it in the end. Kind of smart, if you ask me!
Other than the twisted tale, The Beast Must Die's powerful dramatic performances, arresting cinematography, and a quietly intense/oddly awkward climactic battle on a boat served as the highlights of this bleak Argentinian melodrama.
Rita Hayworth as the title character in Gilda.
In his introduction for Gilda, Alan K. Rode referred to the film as sex noir and lust noir. And I say yes to both of those. (He also gave a shout-out to Virginia Van Upp, one of the rare female producers during the classic Hollywood period. Her best-known credit is this film.)
I’d seen Gilda before but 1. never in a theater and 2. never at 10:30pm. The latter made me sluggish, but wow, did I realize that I had been sleeping on Rita Hayworth all these years. Though there weren’t many notes to her character, she hit all of them on. the. head. I guess it took watching this on the big screen to fully understand the power of her magnetism and sensuality; I totally see why this role propelled her to super-stardom. Hayworth and Glenn Ford are like dynamite together – their chemistry was so explosive it was startling, as was the male ferocity directed towards her. (Violence against women was a strong theme this evening.) The lighting and striking cinematography also caught my attention, especially with Hayworth dramatically being kept in the dark in so many scenes.
My original plan was to try for the M-inspired triple feature on Saturday and The Housemaid/My Name is Julia Ross double feature on Sunday, but sadly those screenings weren’t in the cards for me. In retrospect, I wish I had been able to make those events, because my third – and final, as it turned out – Noir City Hollywood 22 screening was the first half of Tuesday’s veteran-themed double bill.
Act of Violence (1948)
I guess there’s no better way to end (for me, at least) a condensed Noir City than with the star-studded and incredibly bleak Act of Violence at the gorgeous Hollywood American Legion Post 43 theater. What could appear as a bright movie at the start immediately takes a dive off the deep end. Though I knew the basic premise of Act of Violence – a war hero (Van Heflin) and his wife (Janet Leigh) are stalked by a man he commanded during the war (Robert Ryan) – I didn’t anticipate the role reversal that gradually emerges as the story unfolds and we uncover more and more of the horrible truth. For a movie released only four years after WWII ended, it was probably quite ballsy to tell a morally ambiguous story about wartime betrayal.
In my opinion, Van Heflin excels in darker roles; he was able to superbly balance a good guy veneer with some seriously nefarious undertones in this movie and also in The Prowler (1951), which was scheduled to screen the second Saturday of the fest. Robert Ryan is an actor I associate with menacing characters, and his quest for vengeance here certainly takes him straight down that path. Janet Leigh wonderfully tackled the complexities of a suburban wife who suddenly finds out her husband’s wartime stories aren’t exactly honest – and he’s got some serious skeletons in his closet. And last but not least, Mary Astor shines as a dispirited hooker who nonetheless tries to lend Heflin a helping hand, one that leads to devastating consequences.
Like many of the other attendees, I was bummed that Noir City Hollywood was cut short this year, but I know it was the right decision to make. Hopefully, we’ll get the chance to see the rest of the program sometime later in the year and if not, there’s always Noir City Hollywood 23 in 2021!