17th Annual Noir City Film Festival and the evening's "Proto-Noir" marathon.
SAFE IN HELL was the fourth film of the day, and the 20th film I saw in 10 visits to this year's Noir City festival. That number broke my previous record of 18 films seen at the 2012 festival! There were only two evenings I was unable to attend this year's festival.
I had actually seen SAFE IN HELL, directed by William A. Wellman, at the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival, although I use the term "seen" advisedly; although I remember William A. Wellman Jr.'s talk before the movie, I was tired that evening and at some point "zoned out" -- my eyes were open but I suddenly realized that the movie was about to end and I had no clue what was happening!
Warner Archive DVD, but hearing quite some time ago that a William Wellman series was coming to UCLA, I decided to wait and see if I could watch it there.
As it happened, SAFE IN HELL is not part of the Wellman series currently in progress at UCLA, but it turned up instead at Noir City! I stayed with SAFE IN HELL from start to the bitter end tonight, and wow, was that a bitter end indeed! SAFE IN HELL is one strange movie, almost like a nightmare put on film.
Dorothy Mackaill plays Gilda, who has become a prostitute in order to survive. One night she fends a man off by hurling a bottle at him -- she knocks him cold but later the room catches fire and the police want to arrest her for his death.
The money Carl sends Gilda is intercepted by the island's hangman (Morgan Wallace) and, well, the whole thing just gets weirder from there, with an ending that has to be seen to be believed.
There are many pre-Codes where it's rather fun watching disreputable behavior -- I'm thinking of movies like RED-HEADED WOMAN (1932), BABY FACE (1933), and EMPLOYEES' ENTRANCE (1933) -- but SAFE IN HELL is unrelentingly dark and grim, with a jaw-dropping finale.
Nina Mae McKinney and Clarence Muse play hotel employees and are the most appealing supporting players. The cast also includes Ralf Harolde, John Wray, Ivan F. Simpson, and Charles Middleton.
In closing, thanks to everyone at the Film Noir Foundation and the American Cinematheque for another great Noir City Festival!