Tonight was a terrific evening at the Noir City Film Festival, featuring a double bill of movies based on books by Cornell Woolrich.
The crowded house included Leonard Maltin in the audience, with the Film Noir Foundation's Alan K. Rode making introductory remarks before each of the films, STREET OF CHANCE (1942) and NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (1948).
This week Los Angeles Times movie reviewer Betsy Sharkey wrote an article previewing the Woolrich films, focusing especially on the second film of the evening, NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (1948).
I'd seen NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES in 2011, and it was fantastic seeing it in a beautiful new 35mm print struck by Universal expressly for the Film Noir Foundation and the Noir City Festival. This moody, mysterious film starring Edward G. Robinson, Gail Russell, and John Lund is must viewing for fans of Woolrich and the actors.
The first film of the night, STREET OF CHANCE, was an engaging 74-minute "B" film from Paramount, with Garrett Fort's screenplay based on Woolrich's book THE BLACK CURTAIN.
Frank Thompson (Burgess Meredith) has suffered a rare problem -- he's been struck by amnesia twice! As the movie begins, Frank is hit by debris falling off a building, and when he comes to, he has no idea why he's in a part of town so far from home -- and is shocked to go home and discover his apartment is vacant. He tracks down his wife Virginia (Louise Platt) and learns he's been missing for many months. Virginia is overjoyed by her husband's return.
The next morning Frank goes to get his old office job back -- this rather defied credulity, certainly he might have checked in with a doctor first?! -- but is unsettled to be trailed by a dangerous-looking man (Sheldon Leonard). Frank hops in a cab and is frightened when said man even breaks the car window with his gun. After the man finds his home, Frank and Virginia escape; Frank sends Virginia to safety at her mother's while he tries to find out who the scary man is and who Frank himself has "been" for the past year.
Frank heads back to the part of town where he had the accident and is soon recognized by Ruth (Claire Trevor), who hides him in her apartment. Frank discovers he'd been going by the name of Danny Nearing...and he's wanted for murder!
The plot gets even more complicated than that, packing a great deal of story into a short movie, but it's surprisingly easy to follow. It's a very interesting and engaging film, and I say that as someone who generally doesn't care for Burgess Meredith. It's hard for me to understand what two different women found so wonderful about him in the movie, but other than that, I had no complaints about him or the film.
Director Jack Hively does an especially good job in the film's early scenes, which effectively create a waking nightmare. The sequence with Frank begging the cab driver not to stop, as the mysterious man catches up and cracks open the window with the gun, is bound to make anyone nervous, and the moment when Frank raises his apartment blinds and sees the man standing outside is a tremendously scary moment. There are also some nifty twists, particularly regarding the Sheldon Leonard character.
Arthur Loft, Jerome Cowan, and Frieda Inescort help lighten the proceedings in the second half of the film. The cast also includes Ann Doran, Adeline De Walt Reynolds, and Cliff Clark.
Jerome Cowan, seen at the right, was also in NIGHT WITH A THOUSAND EYES. Alan Rode shared that actor Richard Erdman (CRY DANGER, STALAG 17) told him that his role models in Hollywood were Jerome Cowan and Allyn Joslyn. As both actors are real favorites of mine I especially enjoyed that anecdote.
Alan mentioned he couldn't say that the last time the film was shown in L.A. in 35mm was when it opened, but it had definitely been a very long, long time since it was last seen on a big screen here. The print looked absolutely wonderful.
This is the kind of enjoyable, entertaining film I love to discover at the Noir City Festival. My son and I had a great evening!
I'll be back on Sunday for APPOINTMENT WITH A SHADOW (1957), starring George Nader and directed by Richard Carlson, followed by GUILTY BYSTANDER (1950) starring Zachary Scott and Faye Emerson.