This past weekend Your Humble Narrator saw two real gems at this year's belated-from-May version of the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival:
El Vampiro Negro (The Black Vampire)--The "vampire" of the title is of a non-supernatural, psychological nature in this 1953 thriller from Argentina. It's another remake of Fritz Lang's M, loosely retold, although the child-killer still whistles "In the Hall of the Mountain King" when he sees little girls. Played by Nathan Pinzon--usually a comedy star--The Vampire is a nebbishy private teacher of English, tormented by his horrible compulsion.
The star is beautiful Olga Zubarry as a nightclub singer who has witnessed The Vampire disposing of a body, but initially avoids telling the police inspector (Roberto Escalada), not wanting the publicity for a reason that now seems quaint. The connection between our heroine and the handsome, repressed inspector, who has a paralyzed wife, sets up a plot payoff that fails to show up, and the movie, directed and co-written by the Uruguayan Roman Vinoly Barreto, rings other peculiar, convoluted but oddly effective variations on the M plot.
It's possible that the filmmakers attempt to pack too much story into the brief running time, and it's hard to quite pin down the movie's moral point of view. The acting is powerful, however, and the suspenseful flourishes toward the end work superbly.
The movie has a lush score by Juan Ehlert that perhaps sounds a little inappropriately idyllic. But the print shown in Palm Springs, restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive in cooperation with the Noir Foundation, shows off the cinematography of Anibal Gonzalez Paz beautifully. See this one if you get a chance.
The Cruel Tower--"I'm studyin' to be a crook," says Casey (Steve Brodie) as he shuffles a marked deck. That way, he hopes, he won't end up like his late colleague Tony. That's how desperate the characters in this roiling 1956 melodrama are; becoming a crook would be an aspirational step up in workplace safety.
They're steeplejacks, you see; the guys who scale water towers and smokestacks and church steeples for maintenance and repair. For those of us with a lifelong terror of heights, this is tension enough, but the movie, directed by Lew Landers, mixes in a romantic triangle between the splenetic boss (Charles McGraw), the handsome, haunted young drifter (John Ericson) who falls in with the crew, and smiling, statuesque Mari Blanchard, often referred to here simply as "The Babe." There's also booze, sabotage, juke-joint brawling and a Mission right out of Guys and Dolls.
Along with Brodie, the terrific supporting cast includes Peter Whitney, Alan Hale, Jr., glimpses of Stafford Repp and Dick Rich, and a nice bit by Carol Kelly as a sassy, deeply unimpressed waitress. The script, by Warren Douglas (adapting a novel by William Brown Hartley) has some ripe noir flourishes; asked if The Babe knows that her lover is married, a character matter-of-factly replies "She's not stupid, she's just evil."
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