Sunday, May 06, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Mary Ryan, Detective (1949) at the Noir City Film Festival

The Noir City Film Festival concluded in grand style today with a four-film marathon of "B" films. The first pairing consisted of Lloyd Nolan in CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE (1945) and Susan Peters starring in THE SIGN OF THE RAM (1948); the latter was the longest film of the day and arguably was an "A" film, or at least an A minus, in terms of cast and production values.

There was a break following the first two films, during which I enjoyed dinner on the patio of the neighboring Pig 'N Whistle restaurant. Then it was time for the grand finale, a tribute to actress Marsha Hunt. The double bill began with MARY RYAN, DETECTIVE, and after a discussion with the great lady herself, the festival came to an end with a showing of the very enjoyable KID GLOVE KILLER (1942), which I reviewed back in 2007.

Eddie Muller had previously mentioned to me that Miss Hunt was nervous about watching MARY RYAN, DETECTIVE, because she hadn't ever seen it and was concerned it might not be any good! She needn't have worried, as this 68-minute film was terrific fun -- for me, it was one of the most enjoyable movies shown at the festival. As Marsha joked after the movie, "Mary Ryan could do anything!" Indeed.

As the film begins, Mary Ryan (Hunt) is a detective investigating a jewelry theft perpetrated by Estelle (June Vincent of BLACK ANGEL) and Wilma (Victoria Horne). This leads to a wider investigation during which Mary poses as a petty crook to infiltrate a ring of thieves and fences. During the course of the action she slaps a security guard, pulls a slug out of another crook's back, and spends time on a most unusual turkey farm operated by the Sawyers (Harry Shannon and Katherine Warren); the farm scenes were shot on an actual farm in Southern California.

In addition to Marsha Hunt's spirited performance as clever, gutsy Mary, one of the great pleasures of this fast-paced, well-done little movie was enjoying the wonderful "faces" as they went by, including favorites such as John Litel, Arthur Space, John Dehner, and Bess Flowers. And what a pleasure to watch them with others (for instance, Leonard Maltin), who know and appreciate those actors. Bess Flowers actually had some lines in this one; anyone who's aware of Flowers' career won't be surprised that she appeared in a dinner party scene! Litel plays the police chief in MARY RYAN, so it was fun that in the bottom half of the double bill, KID GLOVE KILLER, he played an organized crime boss.

MARY RYAN, DETECTIVE was directed by Abby Berlin, a veteran of the BLONDIE series. George Bricker's screenplay was based on a story by Harry Fried.

MARY RYAN, DETECTIVE, is a Columbia film which was recently restored by Sony. I hope very much that it will turn up on DVD one day, along with Columbia's THE SIGN OF THE RAM. Sony has done a wonderful job releasing various film noir sets, most recently as part of the TCM Vault series, so perhaps this dream will become a reality.

I had the great pleasure of briefly meeting Marsha Hunt at last year's festival, and knowing firsthand what a lovely and interesting person she is, I was especially looking forward to this evening, including her interview with Eddie Muller and Alan Rode.

Marsha is the epitome of class and grace, radiating serenity; although she had some difficult times in her life, she speaks of her career and the many wonderful experiences she had with gratitude and appreciation.

Marsha told of coming to Hollywood on vacation at the age of 11, visiting the exotic Egyptian Theatre (which had then been open for just a few years) and eating at the Pig 'N Whistle. She said she dreamed then of becoming a movie star, and spoke of how amazing it was that not only did her dream come true just a few short years later, but now here we were sitting in the Egyptian Theatre so many years later to honor her! The Egyptian Theatre, incidentally, celebrates its 90th anniversary this October.

She also spoke of how happy it made her to have been "adopted" by the Film Noir Foundation, and said to the audience "We're all a film noir family!"

Marsha has a remarkable memory and said she thinks the reason she didn't remember this particular film must have been because it was done between theater engagements; perhaps she was just tired at the time she made it! She had vague positive memories of director Abby Berlin and enjoyed rediscovering the film along with the audience.

She shared that her favorite film directors were Jules Dassin, who directed her in THE AFFAIRS OF MARTHA (1942) and A LETTER FOR EVIE (1946), and Fred Zinnemann, whose very first feature film was KID GLOVE KILLER. She related how Zinnemann gathered everyone on the set the first day of filming and said it was his first film, and while he felt well prepared and ready to direct, he recognized he was the novice on the set and would be glad to listen to suggestions from anyone working on the film. She said after that speech the crew felt so respected that they would have killed for Zinnemann. She also mentioned that she very much enjoyed working with both Van Heflin and Lee Bowman in KID GLOVE KILLER.

A documentary, MARSHA HUNT'S SWEET ADVERSITY, is in the works on Marsha's life and career. Director-Producer Roger Memos hopes that when it's completed it will premiere at the Toronto Film Festival.

My final notes on this year's Noir City Festival: On my first visit to the festival, in 2010, I saw just a single double bill. Last year I made seven visits to the festival, seeing 14 films; 11 of those films were first-time viewings.

This year I made eight drives up to Hollywood for the festival and saw a whopping 19 films, including two four-film Sunday marathons. 13 of the films were first-time viewings and six were repeats, including a second viewing of SUDDENLY; the reasons for seeing that film twice were explained in my review.

Links to reviews for all of the films seen this year may be found at the end of this post. It's difficult to choose a favorite, but I think it might be THE SIGN OF THE RAM. I'm tempted to list more favorites but find myself starting to list every movie in the festival! Each film made a memorable impression, and in fact I think the only movie I've ever seen at the festival which I didn't unreservedly enjoy was JOHNNY ALLEGRO, which I only found so-so.

The Film Noir Foundation's Eddie Muller and Alan Rode do an all-around fantastic job, selecting interesting films and beautiful prints, booking wonderful guests, and providing lively and enthusiastic introductions to each film. The festival has a welcoming atmosphere which includes both Eddie and Alan regularly taking the time to stop and chat with their fellow noir fans, along with managing all their other responsibilities. My thanks to them and everyone else involved in putting on such a wonderful event; I feel that I've spent the last three weekends on a "movie vacation"! Every classic film fan should be so fortunate.

2014 Update: MARY RYAN, DETECTIVE is now available on DVD from Sony Choice.

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