The timing on Noir City, Los Angeles, April 15–17, was such that it seemed like kind of a no-brainer to add a couple of room nights to my trip to the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF) to take advantage of part of it. My original plan was to take the train up from San Diego, but with what I had packed, I wasn't super crazy about negotiating the Metro with that much stuff on the last part of the trip from Union Station to Hollywood and Highland. My wife who now has a dependable car offered to drive me, and we got one of our friends who tends to be down for a road trip with no notice to tag along.
We ended up leaving at about noon, which meant there was no way I was going to make it up to catch the Saturday afternoon screening at 2:00. In theory, you could drive it in that time. In practice, once you hit LA traffic the last 15 miles or so almost always takes an hour or more. I figured two movies on Saturday night and three on Sunday; that was good enough for me. With a stop for fast food and picking up or friend, it was pushing 1:00 by the time we really got going anyway.
It was about 4:00 by the time we got to the Motel 6 in Hollywood. Part of the way I justified the extra nights was a cheaper hotel for the first half of the trip when it was just me. The Motel 6 was reasonably priced (by Hollywood standards), though we were informed that there was no daily maid service. You could get fresh towels if you wanted but that was about it. Still, the room was clean when I got there. They even had the towels origami-ed into animal shapes for you:
Plus, they were cool about letting us park in the garage. That part of town isn't exactly easy to park, and hotels just love to charge for parking. That's gonna be another $30 a night for where your car gets to sleep. Still, the room wasn't without other weirdness, like no coat hangers. Really? And shelves rather than drawers to store your clothes. My wife and our friend hung out for about 45 minutes while they got their bearings on what they were going to do with the rest of their time in LA.
I bought tickets for all of the remaining shows online, and before long it was time for the 15 minute trek to the Legion Theater. I met a could of people on the way up the hill, but had to run across the street to Subway to pick up a quick sandwich for dinner. I ended up running into them several times in the coming days, and for the life of me I can't remember their names. Sorry, ladies. I got to the Legion Theater with about 10 minutes to spare. I wasn't sure about the COVID protocols (I don't think there were any, but I didn't know that). I was one of about a third of the people wearing a mask inside. I did have had time to talk to Karie Bible (@filmradar). I know we'd met before, but to a certain degree we run different circles at TCMFF. She wanted to take pictures of my hat.
First up was The Accused. I don't think I'd seen it before. Loretta Young stars as a college professor, who seems way more prim than Loretta Young could ever be, presumably to stave off the advances of her male students, though it doesn't seem to work very well. The storyline is fairly progressive. [Minor spoilers here, but most of the following occurs in the first fifteen minutes.] She allows a student to give her a ride home and agrees to have dinner with him. On a ruse to show her where he dives for abalone, he parks and makes his move. They show just enough to let you know what is going on, basically a date rape. She kills the student in self-defense, but in a panic makes his death look like a diving accident. The rest of the movie is her trying to cover her tracks (rather poorly), while falling in love the student's well-intentioned uncle, Bob Cummings. In the meantime, police detective, Wendell Corey, tries to figure out what really happened. There's also some cool almost CSI stuff involving scientist, Sam Jaffe.
In his intro, Eddie Muller talked about how the roll was offered to Barbara Stanwyck, and she said it was too stupid to shoot. Muller continued that it really wasn't the story but that it was wrong for Stanwyck. You needed an actress with a bit of innocence to make it work. With Loretta Young, it works. With Stanwyck, it wouldn't have worked. I fully agree. It was a lot of fun. I did spend most of the movie trying to figure out who the actor who played the student was. Right before the end, it hit me. The actor, the appropriately named Douglas Dick, was the guy John Dall and Farley Granger strangled in Rope.
Between the two movies, I had a beer at the bar downstairs. They had about six different beers in bottles, and as is typical out here, four were IPAs and two were something else. I had one of the something else's.
Caged I have seen several times, but this was the first on the big screen. It's a great film with strong performances all around. Eleanor Parker got a well-deserved Oscar nomination out of it. It's not the type of film that they gave Oscars to back then, so the fact that she was nominated attests to how good she is in the film. The rest of the cast was great too, especially, Agnes Moorehead as the progressive prison warden, powerless to do anything, despite her good intentions, and Hope Emerson as the corrupt and abusive prison matron. Caged lays bare exactly what is wrong with our prison system, a system that is now a hundred times worse.
The next day I got up fairly early and rode my skateboard down Hollywood Blvd to get coffee and something for breakfast. I also wanted to go to the new Target on Hollywood Blvd to pick up supplies, but it was closed (Easter Sunday). I ended up buying few things at the CVS and saw Jesus, okay, saw someone in a bad Jesus costume while I was shopping. Yea, Hollywood. Good to see some things never change.
I spent most of that day in my room playing around online, playing my ukulele, listening to music, and believe it or not, sewing. I had bought a bunch of Fleischer Studios iron-on patches and a denim jacket to put them on, Betty Boop, Popeye, Bluto, Inky the Clown, the Spider from Cobweb Hotel (parody of Honeymoon Hotel from Footlight Parade) and the Ghost (one of small number of Fleischer Studios characters voiced by Cab Calloway). Naturally, I waited until the day before I left to try to put them on, and it turns out ironing on patches wasn't quite the no brainer I thought it would be. Part of the problem was that most of them had little skinny bits that didn't want to stay down. I had to tack them down in several spots. Now, in a pinch, I can sew on a button, but the workmanship always looks a little like an act of vandalism. Still, if you don't get too close, it looks pretty cool, and it was the only jacket I'd brought besides my sport coat.
The first screening on Sunday was The Underworld Story at 2:00. I hadn't eaten since breakfast and I figured I could pick up something fast at McDonalds. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with McDonalds. I love their breakfast, especially the breakfast sandwiches. Just about everything else, the stuff they make after 10:30, not so much. It had probably been about 30 years since I'd last had a Quarter Pounder. I wondered whether the intervening years had been kind to the venerable Quarter Pounder. They had not. It was hot, reasonably palatable, but I think I can go another thirty years before trying it one again. At least, it didn't spill all over me walking up the hill to the theater.
The Underworld Story
The Underworld Story is a newspaper noir starring Dan Duryea, playing a opportunistic reporter. He's a bit scummy, but frankly by Dan Duryea standards, not all that scummy at all. The cast was good, Gale Storm, Herbert Marshall, Howard Da Silva, and Mary Anderson, a white actress playing African American. I think my biggest issue with the film was the story was a bit convoluted. I felt like if someone came in while I was watching it, I would be hard-pressed to explain what I had just watched 20 minutes earlier. Still it was entertaining, and I'm glad I got to see it on the big screen.
I'd made fairly tentative arrangements to meet Aurora (@CitizenScreen) for dinner, so when I got out, I checked my phone and with a little bit of back and forth, we decided on 25 Degrees in the Hollywood Roosevelt. I wanted to change clothes before dinner and had just enough time to do so. Turns out Aurora had been with Annemarie (@ClassicMovieHub) and Laura (@LaurasMiscMovie) and her husband Doug sightseeing.
I got there shortly after they'd been seated. I was a little bummed that they didn't have my favorite from previous years, the infamous Guinness Milkshake (apparently they no longer had Guinness). I ended up settling on some mango hefeweizen, which was quite good. I got a Greek salad with steak, also very good. Both Aurora and Annemarie got the Tuscan tomato soup, which they both complained tasted like spaghetti sauce in soup form. If memory serves me, I think I tasted some of it, and they were right. The three of us also split what turned out to be an enormous side order of onion rings, very good, but too much to finish. After dinner we all piled into Laura and Doug's SUV and drove up the hill to the Legion Theater.
|Left to Right, Laura, Doug, Annmarie, Me, and Aurora (Photo Courtesy of Laura, taken by server, used with permission)|
I lost track of Laura, Doug, Annmarie, and Aurora almost immediately after entering the theater, and ended up sitting in more or less the same spot where I had been in the afternoon, and the previous night for that matter. While I was waiting, someone in front of me was telling me about a Tiki bar called Tiki-Ti. I'd overheard some of this the previous night, when he was telling someone wearing a Hawaiian shirt the same story. Unless I misheard, I think he said, that it was started by the guy who invented the Mai Tai, and then he and his son opened Tiki-Ti, which a little research implied probably wasn't the case. The closer to true story is that Tiki-Ti was opened by a bartender, who had been there at Don the Beachcomer's (one of two places that lay claim on having invented the Mai Tai) at the start of the tropical drink craze. Now, his son and grandson run the place.
No Way Out
The first evening show Sunday was No Way Out, which Eddie Muller said was usually considered more of a race movie than a film noir. I can definitely see that there are elements of both. Muller also warned that it might be the most offensive movie you'll ever see. I tend to not be offended by the racism or use of the n-word in the film. I would be more offended, I think, if I felt like 72 years later, we had come further than we have. As a white person, I can try to empathize with the hurt and degradation that black people feel about it, but I feel like saying this causes me pain or even discomfort is sort of like trying to usurp the real pain that blacks feel at racism. I do feel uncomfortable at the racism, but I should feel that way. Also, every now then, I need to be reminded of this. Also, one thing that I really like about the film is that the whites in the film plan to attack and burn and beat up the occupants of the neighboring black community. The black people get wind of this, turn the tables, and attack the white neighborhood, wiping them out before they can act. Yes, I know that racism and hatred and violence are wrong, no matter what direction it's coming from, but it just seems cool to see black people get the upper hand for once.
Eddie Muller said that Richard Widmark was good friends with Sydney Poitier, and that as soon as the director yelled cut, he would apologize profusely for all of the hateful things he'd just said. In his intro to the following film, Alan K. Rode added to what Eddie Muller said about the film. Richard Widmark and Sydney Poitier lived together when Poitier first came to Hollywood. There is a line at the end of No Way Out, where Poitier tells Widmark, "You're gonna live, white boy." Years later, according to Rode, at William Holden's memorial service, Richard Widmark was sitting at the bar eating nuts, when he started to choke. Sydney Poitier saw this and gave him the Heimlich maneuver, saving him from choking. Poitier then turned to him and said, again, "You're gonna live, white boy." Best story I heard the whole week I was up in Hollywood.
After No Way Out, there was about a 40 minute break, and conveniently, a bar in the basement. This time I did get to see Christie play piano, reading the music off her smart phone. When I made it to the bar, there were two women ahead of me waiting for a drink. As I was waiting, I couldn't help but thinking, why the hell is the bartender micromanaging these drinks. He had about about a quarter inch of liquid at the bottom of the glass and he was stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring and stirring.... You get the idea. Then he took out a fruit peeler and peeled a long thick piece of orange peel. He twisted it to get the oils in the peel to come out then rubbed it around the inside edge of the glass. Then he did likewise to what I thought was an apple (I don't see real well in dim lighting). He then filled the glass with ice and a brown liquor, stirred some more, and dropped in a cherry, not one of the bright red monstrosities, but something that looked like a real cherry. "What was that?" I asked. "I've never seen that done with an apple peel."
"Apple peel?" he said. "No, that was a lemon peel, and an old fashioned."
"Oooh, I'll have one of those." So the person behind me could wonder why he was micromanaging my drink.
I ended up sitting at the table with the two women ahead of me at the bar. I can't remember the older of the two's name, but younger one was Melissa (she friended me on Facebook shortly thereafter). Both were planning to attend TCMFF on standby, though the older of the two was recovering from a hip replacement and wasn't sure if she could handle standing that long. In case you're wondering, the demographic at Noir City and TCMFF skews a bit older. Me with my 60th birthday nipping at my heels, at times, I feel young, which would make Melissa, like a teenager. I didn't see them after that, but it was nice meeting them.
The Breaking Point
Based on the Hemmingway novel, To Have and Have Not, The Breaking Point sticks much closer to the novel than the first film adaptation from Howard Hawks. I remember hearing somewhere that Hawks wanted to take Hemmingway's worst novel and make it into a hit movie. Hawks did so by taking a couple of plot points from the book and turning into a wartime thriller with a crackling romance at the center. In his intro, Alan Rode pointed out that The Breaking Point director, Michael Curtiz is not known for film noir. Curtiz is best known for films like Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Angels with Dirty Faces, and Yankee Doodle Dandy. Rode pointed that Curtiz made numerous films in multiple genres including one most film noir fans might have heard of, Mildred Pierce. Rode also encouraged us to look for a great performance by Puerto Rican actor of African descent, Juano Hernandez, and pointed out that his relationship with John Garfield and the fact that his son in the movie plays with Garfield's daughters was very daring at the time.
The Breaking Point is pretty hard hitting. [Spoiler Alert] John Garfield is the owner of a charter sportfishing boat and on the verge of losing his boat to his creditors. When a client doesn't pay him and leaves him stranded and broke in Mexico with the client's girlfriend, Patricia Neal, this forces Garfield to take illegal job from a scumbag acquaintance, Wallace Ford. Things go bad, and word of his misdeed get across the border, which causes the Coast Guard to impound his boat while the authorities investigate. Without his boat and livelihood, Garfield finds himself in an even deeper bind than before. [End of Spoiler Alert]
The performances in The Breaking Point are really good. John Garfield and Patricia Neal are great as always, but for me, the real standouts are Wallace Ford and Juano Hernandez. Wallace Ford tended do a lot of second banana roles early on, and then was very good in bit parts later on. It was good to see him do something he could really sink his teeth into. Juano Hernandez plays what would be the Walter Brennan role in To Have and Have Not, but instead of being a drunken buffoon and comic foil, Hernandez plays a good loyal friend, willing to support Garfield, no matter the costs. It was great to see a black actor in a role like this.
Unlike many noir films, The Breaking Point doesn't back away from what is ultimately a fairly bleak ending, and the very last shot on the docks is something that just rips your heart out. If you saw it on Noir Alley when they showed it fairly recently, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.
Great film and a wonderful wrap-up to a great festival, at least what I saw of it. Hopefully, the timing works out in 2023, and I'll get a chance to do it all over again. I didn't get a chance to talk to Eddie Muller or Alan Rode. They always seemed to have a bunch of people around whenever I saw them. As leaving on Sunday night, Eddie Muller recognized me and asked if I'd be around next week, meaning at TCMFF. I said, I wouldn't miss it.