It has been about a year since Film Journey has been updated, but I’ve been hard at work publishing a variety of print pieces, particularly for the LA Weekly. The site is freshly rebooted now, and you can check out some of my writing from the past year on the More Publications page at top.
This past weekend was the fourth annual TCM Classic Film Festival in Los Angeles. I often remark that I have a love/hate relationship with the Festival. On the one hand, it’s a pass-driven festival promoted to out-of-towners who can afford to spend a weekend in Hollywood watching mostly standard repertory, and as such, it’s either too expensive or too mundane to attract local cinephiles. On the other hand, it always includes a handful of restorations and true rarities. Would it hurt TCM to offer a discounted three- or five-film package for cash-strapped moviegoers in the Festival’s host town?
In addition to the usual celebrities, TCM brings in important figures for introductions, panels and Q&A’s. Some of the people I wanted to see this year included filmmakers John Boorman, Albert Maysles and Haskell Wexler; author and filmmaker Susan Ray; actors Norman Lloyd and Max Von Sydow; historian Kevin Brownlow; Film Forum/Rialto programmer Bruce Goldstein; and the Alloy Orchestra. You can watch clips of many of these folks on TCM’s video page.
By chance, most of the screenings I attended were extremely good films noir, all of them must-sees:
• It Always Rains on Sunday (1947)
Postwar French critics may have focused on wartime American films they termed “noir,” but this blend of social realism and psychological isolation from Britain’s Ealing Studios is clearly cut from the same cloth. Beginning with a flurry of character introductions and a couple of flashbacks, the film takes a while to build steam, though Douglas Slocombe’s vivid cinematography pinpoints the rundown housing and rain-soaked streets with precision. Director Robert Hamer paints a portrait of London’s East Side in the course of a day that more or less revolves around a fugitive from the law (John McCallum) and his ex-flame (Googie Withers), now the dissatisfied mother of a squabbling family. Strong performances and an even stronger sense of place make this an unusually compelling drama from a studio typically known for its comedies.
• They Live By Night (1948)
Seeing Nicholas Ray’s first film on a large screen made its fatal romanticism seem especially intense, and it was nice to hear presenter Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation (see below) describe this film as every bit an audacious ’40s debut as Citizen Kane. The youngest member (Farley Granger) of a criminal trio on the run falls in love with the guileless daughter (Cathy O’Donnell) of a corrupt farmer. One of the most deeply felt of films noir, pivoting on ideals of innocence verses loyalty and fate. You really care about these characters.
• The Tall Target (1951)
This Anthony Mann thriller has been on my radar for a long time, but it nevertheless exceeded my expectations. For one, it’s based on a fascinating but little-known historical anecdote about an assassination attempt on Lincoln after he was elected and en route to his inauguration. Virtually the entire film takes place on a train, one of the great claustrophobic settings for any thriller, and Mann not only orchestrates the action suspensefully, he fills his cars with finely drawn characters representing a cross-section of a country on the verge of civil war. We may not be there again yet, but the echoes of today’s political partisanship are potent.
• Try and Get Me (The Sound of Fury) (1951)
This rarely seen picture, based on the 1933 lynching that inspired Fritz Lang’s first American film, Fury (1936), has been showing around L.A. as a beautiful new restoration funded by the Film Noir Foundation. (According to Glenn Erickson, its only home video release was a 1990 VHS.) It’s a masterpiece of emotional intensity, telling the story of a desperately unemployed family man (Frank Lovejoy) who falls in with a hoodlum (Lloyd Bridges) who turns increasingly sadistic. Bridges gives a wild, expressionist performance that starts off dandyish and comic but soon becomes a flailing nightmare. Cy Enfield directed, and the film’s acute sense of social anger, implicating capitalist whims and the media alike, went a long way to tragically sealing his blacklist. If the new restoration comes your way, don’t miss it.