Last night we had a David Goodis double bill and what better way to kick it off than with a book signing, featuring Phillipe Garnier’s GOODIS: A LIFE IN BLACK AND WHITE. This brand new English language edition is published by none other than the Czar himself, Mr. Eddie Muller. Highly recommended.
First up, was NIGHTFALL, which I’ve seen before and love.
Told in a series of flashbacks, the story follows artist and veteran Aldo Ray. He’s on the run from a couple of chatty thugs when he meets sultry fashion model Anne Bancroft in a bar. It’s Noir City, so naturally she strings him along and then sells him out to the thugs. He forgives her betrayal and they end up on the lam together as he fills her in on his backstory, involving his best friend’s young wife, a bag of stolen money and murder.
I love this movie, and not just because it features a 50s fashion show. I even love Aldo Ray in it, despite the fact that he looks kind of like an oversized and possibly homicidal toddler. The script is crackerjack, with loads of snappy, quotable dialog and I especially love the banter between the two thugs. It’s an interesting anomaly because so much of the action takes place in broad daylight. There’s also a lot of scenes in snowy, picturesque Wyoming, which isn’t the first location that comes to mind when you think Film Noir. But it allows for the amazing, hilariously over-the-top snowplow fight scene. Also, Anne Bancroft in bondage. Did I mention I love this film? This one is a must see in my book.
Next we ventured out of our collective comfort zone and into the 70s for AND HOPE TO DIE (La course du lièvre à travers les champs.)
Based (barely) on Goodis’ BLACK FRIDAY, this is the story of a Frenchman on the run from pissed off Gypsies. He stumbles across a dying man who gives him a lump of cash, ends up being taken in by a gang of Canadian (!) criminals lead by Robert Ryan and gets in on their upcoming score. That is, if he can steer clear of the two women in the mix, one who wants to feed him pie and one who will kill him if she finds out he killed her brother. Needless to say, complications ensue.
Ok, I’m just gonna come right out and say it. I didn’t like this one. Not at all. Not even the comic relief of beefy Aldo Ray in the world’s worst cardigan sweater (it had choo choos on it!) was enough to save it.
For starters, I love the source material. BLACK FRIDAY is so brutal and nasty in the best possible ways, and this film does NOT do it justice. It’s the 70s for fuck sake, so they should have been able to address some of the darker, more taboo aspects of the novel like Charlie’s impotence, and the protagonist’s ability to throw a bone to a woman he finds physically repellent.
But instead it’s this bloated, confused, technicolor mess that makes no sense. The book is tight and lean, but this movie meanders through baffling childhood flashbacks and trippy nature shots and this whole weird angle with a spacey blonde who claims to be a medium. The heist is replaced by this convoluted and preposterous kidnapping scheme in which they break into a psyche ward to steal the clothes and doll that belonged to a girl who committed suicide so they can dress up one of their own molls as the dead girl to collect some kind of ransom. You lost? I was, too. Don’t even get me started on the whole Gypsy plane crash thing.
Also I adore Robert Ryan and I hate to see him stuck in a sloppy trainwreck of a film like this. He did the best he could with what he had to work with, and he’s still his charismatic, commanding and quietly troubled self no matter what, but it wasn’t enough to give this film a pass in my eyes.
Bottom line here is that my tolerance for less than perfect storytelling/acting/etc begins to drop dramatically after 1960. I’ll watch the cheapest, lamest, most derivative crime-related picture from my personal favorite era (30ish-60ish) because no matter how bad it is I can still enjoy the clothes and street scenes and other historic set-dressing. But unless a film is set in my hometown of NYC, the 70s hold no such appeal for me. Canada in the 70s? Um, no.
But hey, on the bright side, you guys don’t have to feel all tortured that this one isn’t widely available. Do yourself a favor and watch Robert Ryan in BORN TO BE BAD instead. Or pretty much any other film he’s ever made.
Tonight, it’s the big Noir city shindig. The single feature is DETOUR, which we’ve all seen a million and one times (and I’m happy to make it a million and two) but there will also be food, burlesque, gambling and live music by the always debonair Dean Mora. Looking forward to it!