17th Annual Noir City Film Festival closed with the proverbial bang Sunday evening, as attendees enjoyed a four-film "Proto-Noir" marathon.
The marathon consisted of films from the 1930s which ranged between 63 and 73 minutes in length: THE NINTH GUEST (1934), LET US LIVE (1939), HEAT LIGHTNING (1934), and SAFE IN HELL (1931). Three of the films were pre-Codes, and all of the movies had aspects which stylistically anticipate the darkness of what we now think of as "film noir" of the '40s and '50s.
The evening kicked off with a fun 65-minute mystery in the style of Agatha Christie, THE NINTH GUEST (1934). THE NINTH GUEST was directed by Roy William Neill, best known for the Sherlock Holmes movie series with Basil Rathbone. Neill's last movie was the very affecting film noir BLACK ANGEL (1946), which starred Dan Duryea.
novel by Gwen Bristow (JUBILEE TRAIL) and her husband Bruce Manning.
Eight wealthy people are invited to a penthouse party by an anonymous host. When they are all gathered, a voice begins speaking to them from the radio, telling them that they will die one by one, unless they can outwit the "ninth guest," death.
The group discover the doors are locked, the patio gate is rigged to electrocute, and the servants who admitted them have disappeared...and sure enough, one by one people start to die.
This title had initially interested me the least of the evening's films, but it proved to be a fast-paced and quite enjoyable bit of entertainment. I always find Genevieve Tobin (SNOWED UNDER) fun to watch, and here she's one of the only characters the audience can root for; admittedly, though, she doesn't have much to do in this one but look frightened!
The other guests are played by Donald Cook, Samuel S. Hinds, Nella Walker, Edward Ellis, Hardie Albright, Edwin Maxwell, and Helen Flint.
The setting is a very stylish Art Deco apartment, with an unforgettable wall clock which must be seen to be believed. The black and white cinematography was by Benjamin Kline.
THE NINTH GUEST is available at this writing on YouTube, but it looks nothing like the beautiful 35mm film screened last night at the Egyptian Theatre. Let's hope for a DVD release of this Columbia film, a memorable movie experience which deserves a wider audience.
Up for review next: Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Sullivan in LET US LIVE (1939).