Sunday, August 30, 2015

THE GUILTY (1947) and THE CHASE (1946)

Music Box Theatre, Chicago, IL
Friday, August 28th – Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

Film Noir Foundation founder and president Eddie Muller introduced this year's Saturday screenings. The day’s film noirs were rooted in the writing of Cornell Woolrich. I was able to attend the first two presentations. Besides the Woolrich connection, both of these noirs feature disoriented war veterans and fragmented narrative structures.

First up was the Film Noir Foundation 35mm restoration of THE GUILTY (1947, Monogram Pictures, 71 m), a little-known B-noir completed on what must have been a microscopic budget. Battle of the Bulge war veterans Mike Carr (Don Castle) and Johnny Dixon (Wally Cassell) are roommates in a tenement dwelling. Each is romantically entangled with the twin sister set represented by Estelle and Linda Mitchell (both portrayed by Bonita Granville). The respective relationships might best be described as "it's complicated" since Johnny dropped Estelle for Linda, and now Estelle sees Mike. Of course the Mitchell sisters embody distinct female archetypes (virgin/whore). The interconnected relationships are plagued by jealousy and set up to combust in everyone's face, especially with Johnny showing serious symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. So when Linda does not make it home one night, Detective Heller (Regis Toomey) takes an understandably hard look at Johnny.


Presumably the production of THE GUILTY had its inspiration in director Robert Siodmak's THE DARK MIRROR (1946), which famously starred Olivia de Havilland in a dual role. Although the limited resources are all-too apparent, THE GUILTY at times works on a certain raw level. The uncomfortable morgue sequence with Heller and Mike demonstrates that emotionally-charged sequences can be created out of very little. Credit director John Reinhardt (HIGH TIDE [1947]) and cinematographer Henry Sharp (MINISTRY OF FEAR [1944]) for the construction of a downbeat urban scene with minimal building materials. Robert Presnell Sr.'s screenplay was based on the Woolrich story HE LOOKED LIKE MURDER. Though undeniable gritty and accomplished in its own way, the film did not connect with me quite the way I hoped it would, through no fault of the restored presentation, which looked and sounded just fine.

The second feature of the day blew the doors off the first. A 35mm restoration courtesy of Martin Scorsese's The Film Foundation and the Franco-American Cultural Fund, THE CHASE (1946, Nero Films, 86 m) boasts a terrifically perplexing narrative structure. A wild ride even by oft-convoluted noir standards, Muller describes the film as something David Lynch might have directed had he come along in the 1940s. That's a reasonable assessment; there were a couple of times during THE CHASE I thought I may have witnessed the seeds of Lynch's crazed LOST HIGHWAY (1997).

The hand of fate is at work during the opening sequence, when an improbably lost wallet leads downtrodden Navy veteran Chuck Scott (Robert Cummings) to the elaborate lair of ruthless gangster Eddie Roman (Steve Cochran) and his associate Gino (Peter Lorre). Chuck earns a gig as Eddie's chauffeur, which leads to Chuck's problematic interest in Lorna Roman (Michèle Morgan), the discontented wife of the tyrannical Eddie. Lorna enlists Chuck to help smuggle her to Havana. To say much more would betray the film's incredible dreamlike narrative, which overflows with tense situations within recognizably dangerous noir environments. Perhaps the best of many highlights culminates in a deadly wine cellar.

THE CHASE (1946)

What can be expressed without giving too much away is THE CHASE is a standout film of the robust era of mid-40s noir, notable for the surreal daring of director Arthur Ripley (THUNDER ROAD [1958]), expressive cinematography by Franz Planer (CRISS CROSS [1949], 711 OCEAN DRIVE [1950], 99 RIVER STREET [1953]) and exceptional performances. The efficient screenplay was adapted by Philip Yordan from the Woolrich novel THE BLACK PATH OF FEAR.

"The Czar of Noir" Muller was very generous with his time between films as he shared his vast knowledge of films and stars with eager noir fans of all ages—definitely a class act. Based on Muller's enthusiasm for the Argentine noir anthology No Abras Nunca esa Puerta / Si Muero Antes di Despertar (1952, 151 m) that was scheduled to follow THE CHASE, I probably should have remained in the area for the rest of the day. I already regret the fact that I did not.

The remaining schedule:  NOIR CITY: CHICAGO 7

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