Sunday, May 06, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Circumstantial Evidence (1945) at the Noir City Film Festival

The Noir City Film Festival concluded today with a terrific four-film marathon of "B" movies.

The Film Noir Foundation's Eddie Muller shared that he had originally hoped to do an all-day eight-film marathon, but some of the films he was interested in showing weren't in good enough shape to be screened, so the schedule was whittled down to four films, paired on two double bills. He still hopes to do an 8-film marathon in the future! I would certainly enjoy that, as I love short, obscure "B" films.

First up today was CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE, a rare little 68-minute title starring Lloyd Nolan; Eddie Muller watched it for the first time along with the audience. This movie isn't available on DVD or VHS; 20th Century-Fox made a beautiful new print which was a pleasure to watch.

CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE is a bit hokey, if not downright improbable at times, but I found that to be part of its charm, along with its lack of modern-day political correctness. When a little boy opens a mail-order gift from his father in the opening scene and finds it's a real working hatchet, I could only chuckle at the complete improbability of a child receiving such a gift in today's world -- let alone being allowed to run around with it all over town, unsupervised!

Joe Reynolds (Michael O'Shea) is the single dad of Pat (Billy Cummings). Joe and Pat room with the Hannons (Trudy Marshall and Roy Roberts); the friendly neighborhood mailman, Sam (Lloyd Nolan), has known Joe since they served together in WWI. It's a cozy "it takes a village" kind of neighborhood where everyone helps Joe look out for Pat, or so it seems at first glance.

Joe has a fistfight with a cranky baker (Ben Welden) regarding Pat's hatchet, and when the baker dies as a result, a trio of witnesses claim Joe hit the baker in the head with the hatchet. But, as Sam the mailman is determined to prove, they didn't actually see the crime; it was really just circumstantial evidence. He knows his friend Joe would never kill anyone, but getting a jury or anyone else to believe it is a tall order.

Some of the film gets pretty silly, including Joe -- having just escaped from death row -- needing to break back into prison when he gets word the governor has granted him a new trial. Eddie Muller laughingly termed the film "weird"; nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this film and watched much of it with a smile on my face. It was, in a word, fun. And Lloyd Nolan is a compelling actor in anything; he simply has "it," as described in my review of SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT (1946).

One of the murder witnesses is played by Byron Foulger, so I chuckled when he was shown playing bridge, because his movie wife was played by Dorothy Adams, Foulger's real-life wife. I suspect they may have appeared in films together at least as often as Gene and Kathleen Lockhart. The Foulgers' daughter, Rachel Ames, starred for many years on GENERAL HOSPITAL.

Ruth Ford, another of the witnesses, became Mrs. Zachary Scott in 1952. Truth to tell, she's not a very good actress in this one, but I found her weak acting amusing.

I also smiled during the court scenes when the prosecutor turned out to be deep-voiced Reed Hadley, the narrator of many a docu-noir, including Lloyd Nolan's THE HOUSE ON 92ND STREET (1945).

The large supporting cast also includes Ray Teal, Scotty Beckett, Lynn Whitney, Ralph Dunn, Ken Christy, J. Farrell MacDonald, Eddie Marr, Selmer Jackson, and John Hamilton.

CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE was the last of three films directed by John Larkin; earlier this year I saw his first film, the offbeat QUIET PLEASE - MURDER (1942).

The movie was photographed in black and white by Harry Jackson.

CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE was a good kickoff to the day's films, and they only got better from here!


Blogger Pamila Daniel said...

Wow - love all the trivia in this post! I had no idea those three actors were related - Rachel Ames is one of my favorite soap ladies! I guess I should visit the IMDB more often:) Anyway, thanks for an enjoyable post!

12:25 PM  

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