#Noirvember: Films from Noir City DC (OCT 2022)

This year was my 2nd time attending the Noir City DC Film Festival at AFI Silver Theatre (here in my current neighborhood- Silver Spring, MD). I ended up seeing 3 movies- one of which I’d never watched before. During the 1st weekend, TMC’s Noir Alley host, Eddie Muller, introduced the films. I bought Eddie’s book on the behind-the-scenes story of Gun Crazy (1950).

All the King’s Men starring Broderick Crawford, John Ireland, Joanna Dru, John Derek, & Mercedes McCambridge

Jack Burden (John Ireland) is a newspaper reporter who hears of Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford) when his editor sends him to Kanoma County to cover the man. What’s SO special about this “nobody” running for county treasurer? He’s supposedly an honest man! Burden discovers this to be true when he sees Willie delivering a speech and having his son pass out handbills, while local politicians intimidate him. Willie is honest and brave; he’s also a “hick” whose schoolteacher wife educated him at home. He loses the race for treasurer, BUT later makes his way through law school. He becomes an (idealistic) attorney who fights for what is good. Someone in the governor’s office remembers Willie, when they need a patsy to run against the govermor and split the vote of his rival. While these (wiser/experienced) political types underestimate Stark, Burden (who becomes Stark’s biggest supporter) overestimates the man’s idealism.

I’d never seen this movie before; it will esp. interest those of you who follow politics. Here we find some of the same themes as in A Face in the Crowd (1957)- a must-see for fans of classics. After living through the Trump presidency, you’ll (no doubt) find comparisons aplenty! The basis of this movie is a Pulitzer-winning novel, All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren; the book was loosely based on the life of a Louisiana politician- Huey Long. The screenwriter/director, Robert Rossen, also worked on Body and Soul (1947) and The Hustler (1961). Ireland reminded me a BIT of Henry Fonda w/ his looks. This is the 1st movie role for McCambridge; she makes a big impression as a tough/unapologetic political operator. Dru is NOT able to convey deep emotion, so in several moments, she dramatically turn away from the camera. Crawford, known for playing mostly “heavy” (tough guy) roles, seems to inhabit his role here. Both Crawford and McCambridge won Oscars for their work!

A Place in the Sun (1951) starring Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, & Shelley Winters

A chance meeting w/ his uncle after his father’s passing leads to George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) being caught in the middle of two worlds and NOT truly belonging in either one. The son of poor Christian missionaries, George meets his wealthy (paternal) uncle, Charles Eastman (Herbert Heyes), while working as a bellhop in his uncle’s hotel in Chicago. Wanting a better life for himself, George takes his uncle up on his offer for a job in one of the Eastman factories in California. Under his cousin Earl’s directive, George is placed on the factory assembly line. George sees this position as a stepping stone to something better, which he’s willing to work hard to achieve. Feeling lonely, George breaks the rule of no fraternization when he starts dating a fellow assembly-line worker, Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters). Several months later, Mr. Eastman suddenly promotes George professionally and personally. Although he’s NOT used to high society, George is soon befriended by beautiful/young socialite, Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor- then just 18 y.o.)

Quite a big audience was present to watch this film; it’s a classic and that stands the test of time. I watched it (w/ my family) as a kid. Mike Nichols said this film was his favorite; the filmmaker watched it 50+ times! Nichols noted that it also influenced how he directed his 1st movie- The Graduate (1967). The director of A Place in the Sun, George Stevens, was one of the most respected/prolific of his era. He came up through the Hollywood studio system, working as a stills photographer, then as a cinematographer. Stevens directed MANY critically-acclaimed/well-loved films, incl. Alice Adams (V early in Katharine Hepburn’s career), Woman of the Year (teaming up Spencer Tracy w/ Hepburn), The More the Merrier (a fun/early rom com), Shane (considered one of the best Westerns), and the epic family drama Giant (also w/ Taylor). The source novel for this movie, An American Tragedy, was written by Theodore Dreiser; it’s based on a true story. The book was adapted into a play by Patrick Kearney. The screenplay was written by Michael Wilson; he also worked on The Bridge on the River Kwai and Laurence of Arabia.

In 1991, this movie was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. One critic wrote that this film represents America, where people are NOT satisfied w/ what they have, BUT always looking for something better. Another critic pointed out the connection shown btwn social class and desirability. The costumes, set design, editing, music/sound, directing, and acting ALL combine to make this an effective (and affecting) story. The director makes some great choices, incl. those memorable close-ups of two of the hottest actors to appear in film. In one pivotal scene, George embraces and speaks reassuringly to Alice, BUT Clift’s body is hidden from the camera. When George and Angela interact, she is often shown in the power position (as a male love interest). Notice their embrace on the balcony, where Clift hunches down and enfolds himself tightly in Taylor’s arms. At the lake, Taylor is sitting up w/ Clift laying his head down in her lap. In the end, did you think that George was a victim of circumstance or a calculating villain?

He would discuss the scene, but not the lines, and would photograph the second or third rehearsal so the scene had an almost improvisatory quality. Stevens would print the first take, then spend the next three hours minutely rehearsing the scene, then film it again. He explained to me that in this way he often got actors’ unplanned reactions that were spontaneous and human and often exactly right. And often when actors overintellectualize or plan their reactions, they aren’t as good. -Winters, describing Stevens’ way of directing

…because Monty was the New York stage actor, and I felt very much the inadequate teenage Hollywood sort of puppet that had just worn pretty clothes and hadn’t really acted except with horses and dogs. -Taylor, on feeling intimidated to act w/ Clift (before they became the best of friends)

Body and Soul (1947) starring John Garfield & Lili Palmer

Charley Davis (John Garfield) wins an amateur boxing match and is hailed as a local wonder. He meets a young woman, Peg (Lili Palmer), the winner of a beauty pageant. Peg lives in the West Village of NYC and is studying to be painter. The young men of Charley’s Lower East Side (LES) neighborhood are mostly jobless; some are looking to make some quick money. Charley’s friend, Shorty (Joseph Pevney- later director of many eps of Star Trek), tries to get the attention of a boxing promoter, Quinn (William Conrad), when he comes to the local pool hall. Suddenly, Charley’s father is killed in a bombing of his small candy store! Charley’s mother, Anna (Anne Revere), is strongly opposed to him fighting; she wants him to continue w/ night school and become a “professional.” Instead of letting his mother sign-up for “relief” (the precursor to welfare), Charley gets Shorty to set up a fight through Quinn. Charley travels to many states and his career grows, as he keeps winning fights. When an unethical promoter, Roberts (Lloyd Gough), shows an interest in Charley, he finds himself faced w/ difficult choices.

This movie (directed by Robert Rossen) is considered to be the best of Garfield’s short/bright career; the screenplay was written by one of his childhood friends- Abraham Polonsky. This role fits Garfield like a (boxing) glove; he also produced the film. Revere (who is related to that Paul Revere) is perhaps NOT the 1st choice for a Jewish mother, BUT she does good in her role (as usual). Palmer (who is British) and Garfield have good romantic chemistry, BUT her (posh) accent is out of place in the gritty world of the LES. Canada Lee plays Ben, a Black boxer who fights Charley, then becomes one of his trainers/close pals. Lee gets a few meaty scenes (rare for this era for people of color in film); he mainly worked in theater. The cinematographer, James Wong Howe (Chinese-American), filmed the pivotal fight holding the camera while being pushed around the ring by an assistant on roller skates! Martin Scorsese saw this movie as a boy; its influences can be seen in Raging Bull (1980), as some viewers noted.

2 thoughts on “#Noirvember: Films from Noir City DC (OCT 2022)

    • Yeah, I LOVE “A Place in the Sun”- just hadn’t seen in long time! Def meant for the big screen… I forgot to mention, this (older/opinionated) lady who was sitting behind me was making a couple of snarky comments re: John Garfield; she decided to see his movie (as she had the pass for the entire festival). The man who introduced “Body & Soul” (a film historian from DC area) commented: “I’ve learned that women from ALL gens LOVE John Garfield.” This lady shot back: “Ugh- nope! Not me!” LOL…

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