The next two films in the Noir Nights series, The Glass Key and The Blue Dahlia, are unusual for film noir. The plots are linear – more like classic murder mysteries than the tangled narratives typically found in this genre. There aren’t any characters with a dark past that they don’t want to talk about and you’re certain will catch up with them.
These films also lack femme fatales. Yes, there’s some shady ladies with bad motives, but they don’t have any real power over anyone or anything. The hero isn’t trapped by them. The female lead in both films is Veronica Lake, who acts acts as Alan Ladd’s guardian angel – stirring him to do right with a side long glance and a pouting of her lips.
William Bendix gives memorable performances in each film. In The Glass Key he’s a sadistic thug who finds pleasure in torturing Alan Ladd for his boss. In The Blue Dahlia, he’s a World War II vet with a serious head injury and shell shock. He’s irrationally taunted by loud music and a woman pulling at a blue flower.
The Glass Key features an actor not typically connected to dark films – Hugh Beaumont, who became famous playing Ward Cleaver on the tv show Leave It to Beaver. In this film, he tries to counsel and help Bendix’s troubled character, but doesn’t seem to understand the severity of his war buddy’s injuries.
Despite a lack of certain noir elements, the use of shadows and shadowy characters places these films in the noir realm. In addition, it always seems to be raining. And both films are associated with titans of noir. The Glass Key is based on Dashiell Hammett’s novel (of the same name) about political corruption. This novel influenced the Coen Brother’s 1990 film, Miller’s Crossing, another slick, sexy film depicting the fine line between political corruption and organized crime. Raymond Chandler wrote the screenplay for The Blue Dahlia which is partly a depiction of the very real difficulties of veterans returning from war and partly a journey into the surreal world of noir.
December is a busy month for the Kiggins and its staff, with our non-stop Christmas programming and dozens of private holiday rentals! For the past several years our annual tradition is to have a fun night out in January, and this year was no different!
This past Wednesday our friends at Vault 31, “Vancouver’s premier video game and geek bar”, treated us like royalty, even concocting a yummy “Kiggins Buttered Popcorn Cocktail” in our honor!
The food was amazing, the cocktails were yummy (Harry Potter fans will enjoy the adult version of the classic Butterbeer) and the staff was super welcoming. Stop by sometime and check them out.
2020 is off to a great start at the Kiggins, with our opening of of the Academy Award nominated JOJO RABBIT tonight, and our annual showing of the Oscar Nominated Short Films starting in just two weeks!
“Make time for a Movie” and stop by and see us soon!
This Gun for Fire, released in 1942, technically stars Veronica Lake and Robert Preston. As soon as the film begins, it’s obvious that the real star is Alan Ladd. Ladd plays Raven, a killer for hire with a soft spot for kittens and children. His tough guy act is interesting to watch, but he doesn’t fully come alive until Veronica Lake enters the picture.
The obvious chemistry between Ladd and Lake sets this film apart from other B film crime dramas and completely undermines the flimsy story line of Lake being in love with her police officer fiancé, played by Robert Preston. Like all great film screen couples, Ladd and Lake are more interesting to watch together than they are apart. There’s an easiness between them as if they share an unspoken language. They would go on to star in other films like The Glass Key and The Blue Dahlia – the next films in the Kiggins Theatre’s Noir Nights series.
The plot of This Gun for Fire, in typical film noir fashion, is a thicket of plots – deadly chemical formulas, double crosses, $10 stolen from the Treasury Department, a secret government mission. Film noir isn’t for viewers who need a plot that makes sense. These films are more suited for those drawn to mood and shadows and a lack of clarity regarding what is happening and who is to be trusted.
In the Graham Greene novel that inspired this film, Raven (Alan Ladd) has scars on his face that were inflicted by his mother. Paramount Pictures thankfully decided not to mar the pretty face or its rising star. According to his obituary in the New York Times, Ladd’s performance in this film transformed the film gangster, “with his ugly face, gaudy cars, and flashing clothes,” and replaced it with, “a smoother, better looking, and better dressed bad man.” This character also adds some moral ambiguity. He shows kindness to those he perceived as weak and helpless, but has no problem killing people for money. He also shares his troubled childhood and the demons that still haunt his dreams creating a fully realized character that is as sympathetic as he is dangerous.
–Rachel Pinksky, guest curator
The Searchers is the quintessential classic western. In this 1956 film, John Wayne has perfected the part of the world weary western hero. Director, John Ford, creates a film with a complex protagonist (part hero, part villain) shot in the gorgeous vistas of Monument Valley.
Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, a confederate soldier who returns to his family in Texas years after the Civil War has ended. The opening shot with the camera peering through the doorway as Ethan returns and the closing shot peering through that same doorway are breathtakingly beautiful and exquisitely composed as if painted on canvas by the old masters.
The story is based on the true story of Cynthia Ann Parker – a young girl kidnapped by Comanches. In this film, the girl’s name is Debbie (played by Natalie Wood). Ethan and her adopted brother, Martin (played by a strapping Jeffrey Hunter) go on an obsessive five year quest to find her.
Throughout the film, Ethan makes racist comments about various Native American tribes. He also talks about women who have been raped or had sex with Native Americans as not human. Martin is on the quest to find his sister, but he also wants to make sure Ethan doesn’t kill her if she’s been “defiled.”
This depiction of the flawed hero inspired many other directors. Martin Scorsese based Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver on the Ethan Edwards character. Scorsese wrote in the Hollywood Reporter, “In truly great films — the ones that people need to make, the ones that start speaking through them, the ones that keep moving into territory that is more and more unfathomable and uncomfortable — nothing’s ever simple or neatly resolved. You’re left with a mystery.”
The intensity of the film is cooled by comic moments, mostly domestic scenes back at the Texas homestead fueled by the antics of talented character actors (Ward Bond, Hank Worden, John Qualen). However, some of the attempts at humor aren’t funny to someone watching this film today. The scenes where a Native American woman believes Martin has bought her to be his wife come off as cruel.
Despite the obvious flaws of Wayne’s character, this film is considered a masterpiece that has inspired generations of film makers.
Nicholas Ray’s western, Johnny Guitar, was considered eccentric when it was released in 1954 because it focused on a feud between two women (played by Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge). It wasn’t the usual male-centric western with themes like a stranger comes to town, cattle ranchers versus farmers, or the hiring of a gunslinger for revenge. It’s reminiscent of the Oscar-winning The Favourite. The Favourite, although recently released, was also considered unusual because the women were the main characters, they had most of the speaking parts and controlled the plot of the film while the men looked on dressed in elaborate costumes.
Another unusual twist is that this film is more like a love story than a western. Joan Crawford (Vienna) wins the love of Scott Brady (who plays a character named the Dancin’ Kid). Mercedes McCambridge plays Emma Small, who has an unrequited love for the Dancin’ Kid. Based on her fury for being scorned by the Kid, Emma spends most of the film yelling at the sheriff, the marshal and an assembled posse demanding they hang Vienna. Viewers of The Exorcist will find McCambridge’s braying voice familiar. She spoke for the demon that possessed the little girl. Vienna, who owns and operates a casino, is unconcerned and determined to hold on to her business until the railroad comes through so she can make her fortune.
There are some typical western themes in the film. A stranger (and legendary gunslinger) does come to town. In the middle of all this craziness, Crawford’s true love, Johnny “Guitar” Logan, played by a lunky Sterling Hayden, appears after abandoning her years ago. There’s also the tension between cattlemen and potential settlers. The men seem unconcerned about Crawford’s fabricated crimes and more motivated by potential loss of their endless land where they run their cattle.
Crawford’s garish makeup looks as if it was applied by Andy Warhol. Her over-the-top mix of costumes go from gunslinger to damsel in distress to debutante ball gown. They aren’t the type of drab, frontier clothing worn in a typical John Wayne western. All this strangeness is topped off by Peggy Lee’s crooning of the theme song that seems more appropriate for a love story than a western. Overall, this film is a wild, genre-stretching, gender bending ride that gallops like a crazed rabid horse until the very end!
See JOHNNY GUITAR starting October 27th at the Kiggins as part of our monthly “Saddle Up Sundays” series!