It’s that time of year again, Faustketeers. Time for another trip down the mean streets and shadowy back alleys of Noir City. I’ll be providing my usual ringside commentary for the full run of the festival so the geographically challenged can play along at home.
As always, there will be strong opinions, occasional spoilers and lots of swearing. Fasten your seat belts, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.
The 17th (!!!) Annual Los Angeles Film Noir Festival kicked off with a tribute to redheaded bombshell Ann Sheridan.
First up, WOMAN ON THE RUN.
A sharp, twisty little thriller about a bitter, unhappily married woman who manages to fall back in love with her missing hubby while he’s on the run from a murderous gangster. Dennis O’Keefe, who I like more every time I see this film, plays a relentless tabloid journalist who turns out to be the killer. And no whining about spoilers, kids. Not only did I give you plenty of fair warning up front, this revelation doesn’t really count as a true spoiler. The evolution of O’Keefe’s character is a classic “bomb under the desk” kind of deal. The audience finds out he’s up to no good halfway through and then has to squirm in their seats for the whole rest of the movie while the oblivious Sheridan leads him right to her husband.
This flick is full of snappy, quotable dialog, much of which was improvised between Sheridan and O’Keefe. There are tons of vintage San Francisco street scenes and a bang up climax under a rollercoaster in an amusement park. There’s also a creepy Resting Bitch Face mannequin head the artist husband sculpted to look like his wife. Remember this, because we’re gonna come back to it later.
There are a lot of things to love about this movie. It’s a bittersweet romance about flawed, fucked-up and disillusioned grown ups but it’s also a tense, fast paced thriller with plenty of action. Mistress Christa says check it out.
Next on the bill was THE UNFAITHFUL.
I really wanted to love this one. For starters, it’s penned by pulp writer and Noir City favorite David Goodis. Plus, there’s a female killer and it deals with taboo subject matter deemed “suitable only for adults.” Count me the fuck in.
The story starts with socialite Ann Sheridan receiving a call from husband Zachary Scott to let her know he’ll be back in town earlier than expected. Later that night, a mysterious man shows up at her house and tries to “attack” her. (Because you can’t just come out and say rape back then.) She’s not having it, so she stabs him. Obvious case of self defense, right?
Only it turns out her attacker is a sculptor. She claims she’d never met him before the attack, but the last masterpiece he created before having his heart ventilated with a cheap souvenir letter opener was this:
Remember the Resting Bitch Face Ann Sheridan Head in the first film? Well here we are again with another creepy sculpture, only this one is a little less bitchy and more naked. I’m gonna leave it to the smarty-pants academic types to come up with some kind of metaphorical analysis of this reoccurring theme. The juxtaposition between men’s idealized (or demonized) interpretations of women and the real thing, maybe? I dunno, I just thought they were both kind of disturbing. But I’ve always been weirded out by mannequins and other kinds of fake people.
Anyway, once this creepy head is revealed, Sheridan’s character is swiftly ensnared in her own web of lies. In classic Noir fashion, her one mistake escalates and grows increasingly unmanageable until she is trapped in the famous downward spiral that we all know and love.
Only somehow, that’s not what ends up happening.
I was so on board with this film until about three quarters of the way through, when it suddenly turns into a dreary, moralistic marriage counseling session. Yes, there’s a heavy-handed happy ending. You have to wonder if this was Goodis’ original intention for the story or if this happily-ever-after shit was mandated by the studio.
Funny, but the happy ending in the previous film didn’t bother me nearly as much as this one did. Maybe because it felt hard won and complicated, whereas this one just ends with divorce attorney Lew Ayers lecturing the two leads like naughty children.
That being said, I loved Eve Arden as the catty scandal-magnet divorcee. I want her to be my life coach.
While I can’t exactly recommend this one, it’s probably worth watching if you turn it off ten minutes before the end.
Tonight we’ve got a Bogart-related double shot featuring something old and something new. It’s the classic DARK PASSAGE and then the premiere of a brand new Neo Noir film THIS LAST LONELY PLACE, produced by Bogart’s estate. Stay tuned, Noirhounds.
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As I always say about WOMAN ON THE RUN, you can’t go wrong with a Sheridan Universal.