Thursday, April 19, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Dark City (1950) at the Noir City Film Festival

Monday was another great evening at the 20th Annual Noir City Film Festival.

The night's double bill teamed a big favorite of mine, ARMORED CAR ROBBERY (1950), which I reviewed in 2012, with a new-to-me title from the same year, DARK CITY (1950).

ARMORED CAR ROBBERY, which screened second, is 67 minutes of crime movie bliss, with Charles McGraw as an L.A. cop on the hunt for the man who killed his partner. It's on DVD in the Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 5, which has been reissued by the Warner Archive. It's essential noir/crime viewing.

DARK CITY's opening credits say "Introducing Charlton Heston"; DARK CITY was Heston's very first feature film. He was 26 when he filmed his role as a surly young crook.

Heston's Danny Haley is a troubled man. He runs an illegal gambling joint which has just been raided by the cops and is likely to be hit by them again in the near future. He's got a loyal girlfriend, a nightclub singer named Fran (Lizabeth Scott), but he won't commit. Any time she gets too close he pushes her away. In short, his life is going nowhere fast.

While watching Fran sing, Danny meets Arthur Winant (Don DeFore), in town on business with a $5000 cashier's check from his employer in his wallet. Danny gets one look at that check and immediately plots to lure Winant into a poker game with his associates Augie (Jack Webb) and Barney (Ed Begley). They let Winant win big, which draws him back the next night, ready to put the cashier's check on the line. Needless to say, things don't go well for Winant, who goes back to his hotel and does himself in.

Almost immediately, Barney feels that someone is following him...the wheels of a strange justice begin turning, terrifying Barney, Augie, and Danny, but who's responsible? Danny and Augie try to solve the mystery, with Captain Garvey (Dean Jagger) of the local police hot on the trail as well.

DARK CITY has a fairly involved plot which runs 98 minutes, but it's quite engrossing. I enjoyed the movie and would watch it again.

I'm a Heston fan, but I did think his sullen Danny was a bit too one note, though he starts to change late in the film. Scott seems pretty similar film to film, though she's a welcome film noir staple, and she has several nicely performed musical numbers, effectively dubbed by Trudy Stevens (who dubbed Vera-Ellen in WHITE CHRISTMAS). Incidentally, I've been trying to get "A Letter From a Lady in Love" out of my head for the last 72 hours!

Jagger is especially enjoyable as the cagey police detective. The large cast also includes Viveca Lindfors as Winant's widow, Mike Mazurki as his disturbed older brother, Walter Sande as a Las Vegas casino owner, and Harry Morgan as Danny's loyal right-hand man. Seeing Webb and Morgan onscreen together, years before DRAGNET, is a lot of fun.

DARK CITY was directed by William Dieterle and filmed in black and white by Victor Milner. The score was by Franz Waxman.

DARK CITY is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Olive Films.

It can also be streamed via Amazon Instant Video.

Wednesday night I returned to Noir City for a wonderful double bill of a pair of films I've reviewed in the past, DRAGNET (1954) and LOOPHOLE (1954). I think I enjoyed both films even more last night than I did via DVD; the 35mm black and white print of LOOPHOLE was especially gorgeous. DRAGNET provided another chance to see the Warner Bros. backlot, including the theater and neighboring alley and one of the Midwest Street houses.

Best of all, Ann Robinson, who plays the lovely policewoman in DRAGNET (seen at right with Webb and Ben Alexander), watched the film with us and was interviewed afterwards. She recounted that the DRAGNET role had already been cast but they asked her to read anyway...and then decided to pay off the other actress and give her the part! She said she had a crush on Jack Webb but he had a girlfriend and didn't give her a second look. Her role was fairly small so she didn't have many memories of being on the set, but she clearly enjoyed being in the film and working with Jack Webb.

I'll be returning to Noir City for closing night this Sunday, a 1948 double bill of ACT OF VIOLENCE (1948), which will be a first-time watch for me, and the great NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (1948).


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Dark City moves up on the wanna-see-that list.

I love it in Dragnet where instead of telling his officer to be careful, Friday says "He wants to see her make sergeant." It's funny the things that stick with you through the years.

3:30 PM  
Blogger Walter S. said...

Laura, good review. I remember first watching DARK CITY(1950) on NBC SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES in 1967. It is a movie that stuck in my mind's eye. I was a fan of the DRAGNET TV show of the late '60's and here I see Jack Webb and Harry Morgan in very different roles. I'm a fan of Charlton Heston from way back. I think he made a very impressive major feature debut here(he had been in a couple of low budget movies previously). At age twenty-six his screen presence was already apparent. The rest of the cast were really good, especially Ed Begley and Don DeFore. DARK CITY is worth watching.

7:21 AM  
Blogger Kristina said...

Just watched DARK CITY the other day and liked it, poor Don DeFore! Heston did good work, interesting to see him play so cold and apathetic, and then terrified.

10:00 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Caftan Woman, I love that DRAGNET line too! It was soooo much fun seeing it with an appreciative audience. Hope you can catch DARK CITY!

Walter, I love reminisces such as yours about where you first caught DARK CITY. As a DRAGNET fan I really enjoyed seeing Webb and Morgan in it. I really appreciate Heston also, a class act on and off screen. Don DeFore is someone I've come to admire a lot in recent years.

Kristina, that's fun you just caught it! Poor Don DeFore indeed. It was kind of a nice comeuppance for Heston's character getting to live through a little terror LOL. It was interesting seeing the impact his experiences in the film had on the character as the film went along.

Best wishes,

7:23 PM  
Blogger Brittaney said...

I just watched Scott and Heston in the film Bad for Each Other. I didn't realize they had made another film together. I will be adding this to my list.

10:18 AM  

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