Saturday, March 25, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Address Unknown (1944) at the Noir City Film Festival

World War II collided with film noir in tonight's double bill of "A" and "B" films from 1944 at the Noir City Film Festival.

The evening began with director Fritz Lang's very entertaining MINISTRY OF FEAR (1944), starring Ray Milland. It had been half a dozen years since I last saw it, and I thoroughly enjoyed my return visit.

Though of course Lang was a notable director in his own right, for me MINISTRY OF FEAR has a strongly Hitchcockian feel -- and that's a compliment. Like so many Hitchcock films, it's a "man on the run" tale with a series of marvelous set pieces, beginning with a mysterious cake and a train trip with a blind man...who's not actually blind.

Dan Duryea has a brief but memorable role; I love the way he wields a pair of large scissors in his final scene. Another of my favorite bits comes in the final minutes, as Carla (Marjorie Reynolds) stands in a dark room and fires a gun through a door, with the small circle of light coming through the hole the only light on the screen.

All in all, a very enjoyable film which should be better known. For more information on MINISTRY OF FEAR, please visit my 2011 review.

ADDRESS UNKNOWN (1944) is the somber tale of Martin Schulz (Paul Lukas) who in 1930s Germany betrays family and close friends in order to ingratiate himself with the Nazis.

Martin's business partner Max (Morris Carnovsky) is a Jewish man living in San Francisco. When Max experiences the ultimate betrayal at the hands of Martin, he begins sending a series of letters to Martin in Germany designed to, shall we say, "complicate" Martin's life when the letters are read by censors.

ADDRESS UNKNOWN was directed by famed production designer William Cameron Menzies and filmed by the stylish Rudolph Mate, so it's no surprise that the film has many striking shots.

K.T. Stevens plays Max's daughter Griselle, who loves Martin's son Heinrich (Peter Van Eyck). Stevens was the daughter of the film's producer, Sam Wood; himself a director, Wood had worked with Menzies on parts of GONE WITH THE WIND (1939).

Stevens was born Gloria Wood and acted briefly under the name Katharine Stevens before adopting the name K.T. Stevens with this film. She's solid as a young woman who has misguided faith in 1930s German tolerance for artistic and religious freedom, and her confidence in her fiance's father is also sadly misplaced.

Stevens' last scene reminded me strongly of a sequence in Val Lewton and Jacques Tourner's LEOPARD MAN (1943), released the previous year.

This was a well made but rather depressing movie which fortunately ran only 75 minutes. It's thought-provoking, and viewing it also provided interesting insight into how the Nazis and anti-Semitism were handled in a film made during WWII, but because it was so sad I don't envision wanting to see it a second time.

Incidentally, the movie would make an interesting double bill with THE MAN I MARRIED (1940), a Joan Bennett film with similar themes. I liked THE MAN I MARRIED better, though, thanks to Bennett and Lloyd Nolan.

One of the things I enjoy about older films is being reminded of the ins and outs of daily living decades ago, comparing the similarities and differences with today. Given the speed at which we can communicate via the internet and cell phones, it was rather fascinating being taken back to a time when news traveled more slowly, by letter or perhaps a cablegram, and the daily arrival of the mailman was anxiously awaited. (And of course, back then it was a mailman, not a mail carrier...)

As an aside, I was mildly curious that the film has Lukas and Mady Christians become parents of their sixth child in the course of the story. Christians was in her early 50s and appears grandmotherly in the film, but it would have been possible if her character were meant to be a bit younger.

The cast also includes Carl Esmond, Emory Parnell, Mary Young, Gary Gray, Frank Faylen, and Charles Halton.

Sunday night I'll be return to Noir City for a pair of films from 1945, Deanna Durbin in LADY ON A TRAIN (1945) and Nina Foch in ESCAPE IN THE FOG (1945). LADY ON THE TRAIN is one of my favorite Durbin films, and I'm especially excited at the prospect of seeing a Durbin film on a big screen for the first time ever.

May 2019 Update: This film is now available on Blu-ray in the Noir Archive 9-Film Collection.


Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I love Paul Lukas, and was impressed with his work in ADDRESS UNKNOWN. As an aside, it's interesting to see Lukas and Mady Christians together, as they were the leads in WATCH ON THE RHINE on Broadway (Bette Davis played the Mady Christians role in the film).

5:28 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this film, Jacqueline! I enjoyed the film version of WATCH ON THE RHINE.

Best wishes,

3:49 PM  

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