Last night was the last night. That is to say, the last night of Noir City Hollywood. The big kiss off. The end of the line. In a way, I wish they would have ended the run with the manly bang of CRY TOUGH, but instead we ended with a much more girly whimper. A melodramatic Gothic Noir double, neither of which was really Noir at all. First, GASLIGHT. Ingrid Bergman plays a sweet young singer who falls for dastardly pianist Charles Boyer. Suave, slippery Boyer is clearly up to no good from frame one. He marries our heroine, moves her back into the house where her beloved aunt was strangled, takes total control over every aspect of her life and tries to make her think she’s going mad. This a beautifully shot, classy film full of intriguing plot twists and great character actors, like barely legal Angela Lansbury as the saucy maid and Dame May Whitty as the nosy, mystery reading neighbor. (Come to think of it, this is the second film this year that features a female mystery reader, the first being A WOMAN’S SECRET.) It’s got Bergman in a corset and a great bondage scene. I love that Bergman, after being helpless through the whole film, gets tough with Boyer in the final reel. But GASLIGHT isn’t really my kind of flick. Just like CRY TOUGH isn’t a good movie, but I loved it, GASLIGHT is a very good movie, but left me cold. Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of the whole innocent-woman-being-driven-mad story archetype. I think part of the reason it doesn’t resonate for me comes from my own 21st century modern feminist upbringing. I imagine that many more women from earlier decades must have felt voiceless and powerless in their daily lives. Housewives who had to take whatever their husband dished out without complaint. Single women who were afraid to report rape or other abuse because they thought no one would believe them, that the man’s word would be taken over theirs. Seen from that perspective, this kind of story makes perfect sense. And of course, we were in for more of the same with the second feature, MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS. But between the two films, I found the dirt-cheap and balls out over-the-top JULIA ROSS infinitely more enjoyable. The plot of this film is so batshit crazy that I almost don’t want to give anything away. The best part for me was going in knowing absolutely nothing about it, so if you want to do the same, you’d better skip the next two paragraphs. SPOILERS (sort of…) Nina Foch plays Julia, an ordinary young girl trying to make it on her own in London. Her sweetheart goes off to marry another woman and, despondent, she applies for a job as live in secretary to an older woman (Dame May Whitty again.) The woman is specifically looking for a girl with no family or boyfriends, so that should have been a tip off right there. Just as Julia’s about to leave for the new job, she runs into her ex, who didn’t get married after all. He tells her still loves her, and they make a date for the next night. That’s where the plot takes a left turn at Albuquerque. Her new employer slips her a mickey and when she wakes up she’s in a secluded sea-side mansion dressed in someone else’s monogrammed nightgown. Of course, she’s upset that she missed her date, but she’s even more upset when she realizes that her “employer,” the woman’s creepy, possibly homicidal son (played with delirious, scenery-chewing abandon by scar-faced George MacReady) and various servants are all acting as if she’s a completely different person, MacReady’s wife. When she demands to be set free or tries to tell them who she really is, they just soothe her and tell her not to tire herself with such crazy talk. Soon she finds out what they really have planned for her, and has to find a way to get word to her boyfriend in London or escape before it’s too late. This movie was a hoot from start to finish. Even though GASLIGHT is a much better film, I found that JULIA ROSS was a lot more fun. Neither one is a movie I would have picked if the choice were up to me, but in the end, I’m glad I saw them both. So that’s it for the 13th annual Film Noir Festival, Faustketeers. Now, it’s back to the pulp mines for your plucky girl reporter.

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