Throughout the festival, Hollywood historian Karie Bible and I have been bemoaning the high male to female ratio in the theater, as evidenced by the unnaturally long line for the men’s room during intermission. Burlesque and vintage pin-up fashions are hotter than ever, so why can’t we get all these aspiring young femme fatales to come out and support the films that inspired their retro bad-girl attitudes?
Well, the last night of the run, billed as a Femme Fatale double, certainly did the trick. Hardly a 50/50 showing, but we were pleased to see many more beautiful, stylish women of all ages turn up for this one.
That being said, neither of these two films actually featured a standard, classic femme fatale. But hey, if breaking out the old “F-word” puts female asses in seats, I’m all for it.
Speaking of female asses…
Strange Fascination was written, produced and directed by the Czech Republic’s answer to Orson Welles, Hugo Haas. And, like Welles, he stars in it too, playing a struggling middle aged concert pianist who falls for meaty blonde bombshell Cleo Moore. That gal had an astounding build, but she looks disturbingly like a Cabbage Patch sex doll or a female version of Arch Hall Jr. Although Cleo Moore would go on to take Haas for all he’s worth in classic femme fatale style in a series of sleazier films like Bait and The Other Woman, in Strange Fascination she’s really just an innocent victim of his jealous obsession.
Now, a bit of a spoiler. There’s a charming, wealthy widow who bankrolls the pianist and brings him to the states in exchange for “courting” her. She turns out to be surprisingly wise and tolerant of his affair with the hot tomato and even rescues him in the end. I really wanted her to turn out to be the real manipulative femme fatale, maybe goading the pianist into killing the blonde in a jealous frenzy. Sadly, no dice. She remains an understanding angel to the end. And speaking of the end, it looked like the film was heading for a fantastic pitch black Noir finale but pulled the punch at the last second. Boooo! No happy endings, dammit!
As for The Come On, it was unquestionably a bad movie, but I loved every single minute of it. Kinda made me wonder why the Whistler movies left me cold but this one, which was just as leaden, predictable and unintentionally funny in places, hit all my personal sweet spots and gave me everything I love about hardboiled post-war pulp.
Brawny, suntanned roughneck drifter protagonist? Check. Desperate sexpot grifter babe in a white bikini who grew up poor and will never go back? Check. Ruthless, manipulative con man? Unscrupulous private dick? Lust, blackmail, and murder? Check, check and check.
Sterling Hayden plays the beef jerky in this one and Ann Baxter the babe. From the opening scene where Hayden manhandles her on the beach and makes her like it, I was totally hooked. And, what better way to end the 12thannual Film Noir Festival than with Baxter dying in Hayden’s arms on the beach where they first met. That’s my kind of happy ending.
So that wraps up my ringside coverage for this year, kids. It’s back to the grind for your not-so-humble narrator.
Also, a quick reminder for SoCal Noir fans, although I probably won’t be able to get away for this, the endless night continues out in Palm Springs May 13th – 16th at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival. They’re rescreening two of my faves from the Egyptian, New York Confidential and Drive a Crooked Road (in case you missed them) plus a great line up of classics like Pay or Die, Pitfall and Cry of the City.