Noir City Film Festival. Each and every night has been special, and tonight was no exception. On the schedule: "waterfront noir" and a personal appearance by the lovely Julie Adams.
I started off the evening stopping by Larry Edmunds Bookshop and hearing part of a talk by Alain Silver and James Ursini, who then signed my copy of a new book they edited, FILM NOIR: THE DIRECTORS. I'm particularly looking forward to reading a chapter on Anthony Mann, which includes quite a bit on the film I saw last night, REIGN OF TERROR (1949).
My very nicest experience this evening came once I was at the Egyptian, where I had the opportunity to meet Blake Lucas and his wife Linda. Regular readers of this blog will recognize Blake's name, as I am fortunate that he shares his vast knowledge and insights here in the comments. It was a treat to meet in person and put a face with a name, and I look forward to seeing both of them again at future screenings.
Then it was time for the movie, and SLAUGHTER ON TENTH AVENUE proved to be a terrific film, shown in a beautiful new 35mm print from Universal. As I mentioned the other evening, I'm very appreciative of the Noir City Festival exposing me to so many relatively little-known films which pack a lot of entertainment value.
SLAUGHTER ON TENTH AVENUE has it all: an all-star cast, a gripping storyline, crisp black and white cinematography, and the effective use of Richard Rodgers' classic music as the background score.
SLAUGHTER ON TENTH AVENUE, which is loosely based on the facts of a real-life case, calls to mind the much better known ON THE WATERFRONT (1954), another tale of the fight against corruption on the docks. New Assistant D.A. Bill Keating (Richard Egan) battles the waterfront code of silence when dock worker Solly Pitts (Mickey Shaughnessy) is gunned down in the hallway of his apartment building.
Keating struggles to build a case against Eddie "Cockeye" Cook (Joe Downing) and his accomplices, slowly convincing the dying Solly to finger his killers and Solly's wife (Jan Sterling) and best friend (Harry Bellaver) to testify. It's not easy, with ruthless waterfront boss Al Dahlke (Walter Matthau) alternately attempting to bribe and threaten witnesses. However, Assistant D.A. Keating is himself the son of a coal miner, and while he's a fairly green attorney with quite a bit to learn, he's also a tough man who won't back down easily.
All of the performances are good, but for me the best part of the film was watching three real greats in action: Dan Duryea, Sam Levene, and Charles McGraw. As I'm sure other classic film fans can imagine, it was a great pleasure seeing them all on screen together in the very well-done courtroom scenes. Duryea plays the defense attorney, who certainly earns his pay planting seeds of doubt in the jurors' minds; Levene plays Keating's boss at the district attorney's office, who sits second chair prosecuting the murder trial; and the gravel-voiced McGraw is the investigating detective on the case. You just don't get any better than the trial scene where Duryea grills McGraw. Talk about watching two pros in action!
One of the things I liked was that the film didn't always do the expected. For instance, when her husband is threatened or involved in violence, Julie Adams' character doesn't threaten to leave, as Arlene Dahl did in SCENE OF THE CRIME (1949) or Rhonda Fleming did in THE KILLER IS LOOSE (1956). Instead she steadfastly encourages her husband and reminds him of the people who are counting on his help. It was a refreshingly uncliched approach.
Similarly, when Bill and his boss (Levene) have a difference of opinion on whether they have enough evidence to prosecute a murder charge, Levene gets over Bill's uncalled-for insult and then unexpectedly goes the extra mile to help Bill. The script avoids easy theatrics, such as having someone on the prosecution team turn out to be on the mob payroll or having a nasty fate befall Jan Sterling's cute little dog. (I was worried about that, as it happens in too many movies; REAR WINDOW, anyone?) The story is plenty interesting as it is without adding in unneeded extra twists and drama.
I'm not particularly fond of Jan Sterling, but I thought she was excellent in this as the devoted, tough wife of the shooting victim. I recall Mickey Shaughnessy well for his role as a leprechaun in an episode of MAVERICK, and he was also quite good as her husband, Solly.
The actor playing Father Paul seemed very familiar, but I didn't place him until I got home and read it was Jack LaRue, the star of pre-Codes such as BLESSED EVENT (1932) and HEADLINE SHOOTER (1933). Father Paul is a fairly small role, especially compared to the similar type of part Karl Malden played in ON THE WATERFRONT, but he does have an excellent scene near the film's conclusion which also gets the best laugh in the film.
Nick Dennis, John McNamara, and Mickey Hargitay (father of actress Mariska Hargitay) are also in the cast. I'd like to know who played Rose, the secretary in the D.A.'s office; she was quite a looker, but is not listed in the extended cast credits at IMDb.
This 103-minute film was directed by Arnold Laven. Lawrence Roman's screenplay was based on the nonfiction book THE MAN WHO ROCKED THE BOAT by William Keating and Richard Carter. The cinematography was by Fred Jackman Jr., who coincidentally filmed a "B" movie I saw a few days ago, DOUBLE EXPOSURE (1944). Alan Rode shared that the New York waterfront scenes were filmed in California, at the Port of Long Beach.
This movie is not available on VHS or DVD, but it should be.
After the film Julie Adams was interviewed by the Film Noir Foundation's Alan Rode. I feel very fortunate that this was my second opportunity to see Alan interview Julie in the last six months; she was also at a screening of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) and BEND OF THE RIVER (1952) last October.
This was Julie's first time to see SLAUGHTER ON TENTH AVENUE since it came out, and she said she was pleasantly surprised to realize what a good film it was. She was impressed by the storyline and the depth of the ensemble cast.
She also shared stories of some of her experiences working for Universal, such as the challenge of turning out half a dozen Westerns costarring James Ellison and Russell Hayden in a very short time frame, circa 1950; at the same time, she very much appreciated the training she received at Universal.
She spoke highly of William Powell, saying how charming and nice he was when they worked together early in her career, and she also shared some of the praise of Jimmy Stewart and Arthur Kennedy which she had likewise expressed before we saw BEND OF THE RIVER last fall.
I didn't stay for the second film on the double bill, EDGE OF THE CITY (1957), as I needed a relatively early evening after a late night last night. Coming Sunday: Dick Powell in JOHNNY O'CLOCK (1947) and George Raft in JOHNNY ALLEGRO (1949).