Monday, May 17, 2010


The Wife, Lily & I are back, after a marvelous couple of days in Palm Springs, where for the fourth year in a row I attended the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival at the Camelot Theatres on Baristo. This is, I think, the most actually entertaining film festival in America.

Highlights this year included:

The Big Night (1951)—Joseph Losey directed this tale of a kid who spends the night of his 18th birthday searching for the brutal sportswriter (Howard St. John) who gave his father (Preston Foster) a humiliating public beating. Sadomasochistic overtones abound, & there’s a painful faux pas encounter between the callow hero & a black blues singer (Mauri Lynn). The script is terrible, but the teenage John Drew Barrymore, billed here as “John Barrymore, Jr.” & a ringer for the young Sean Penn, gives a strong performance.

The Glass Wall (1953)—“Displaced person” Vittorio Gassman—playing a Hungarian!—jumps ship in New York & searches Times Square for the clarinetist (Jerry Paris) who can vouch for his wartime heroism. Vittorio falls in with Gloria Grahame, which for a change is a lucky break for a noir hero. The story ends at the United Nations building, where poor Gassman gets stuck with an embarrassingly didactic speech that no actor could manage, but otherwise his performance is warm & touching, & this melodrama shows that when it comes to American attitudes toward immigration nothing has changed except the nationalities in question. 81-year-old Anne Robinson, who played the clarinetist’s girlfriend, was present for the screening, & as the presenter noted, glad to be talking about any movie other than War of the Worlds.

Bury Me Dead (1947)—The Wife joined me for this lighthearted murder mystery starring June Lockhart, who was also present for the screening, looking spry & stylish in her mid-80s. The print was choppy, but the script, based on a radio play by Irene Winston, is sly & funny, & John Alton’s cinematography is a monochrome tour de force. Also, the cast included the iconic Charles Lane at his waspish best!

New York Confidential (1955)—This expose of “The Syndicate” in the Big Apple has a fantastic cast, led by Broderick Crawford, hilariously splenetic as the bellyaching, Mama’s-boy Big Boss, Anne Bancroft as his disgusted daughter, Richard Conte, smoothly heartless as ever as his triggerman, & the always-excellent J. Carroll Naish as Crawford’s businesslike associate.

The Wife & Lily & I also chowed down at Matchbox Pizza & Sherman’s Deli—from the later, we brought home a couple of groaning sacks of delicious hamantashen—& on the ride home, having seen several signs advertising REALLY GOOD FRESH JERKY, we happened to stop for a potty break at the McDonald’s in Quartzsite, & across the street, sure enough, there was the REALLY GOOD FRESH JERKY store. I stopped in, & we left with some beef & some buffalo jerky. We ate some on the way home, & you know what? It was good, fresh jerky. Really good. Really fresh.

RIP to the great paperback-&-heavy-metal-LP-cover illustrator Frank Frazetta, who has passed on at 82, & who helped to feed the fevered fantasy lives of a couple of generations of geeks, including me…

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