Thursday, July 23, 2015

William Castle Noir Flicks

From 2011...

Noir City is underway at the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian - a couple of weeks of Film Noir movies that were not on DVD and some that were not on any sort of video - and I'm not there. Busy prepping the Reno class. So here is a blog entry from a couple of years ago...

The idea behind Noir City is to find the obscure gems that people may not have seen before, and show them on the big screen for a couple of weeks. They often have any of the cast and crew who are still around show up for Q&A afterwards. I believe they also restore - or push for the restoration - of these films. A big studio star vehicle from the 1940s might get restored by the studio, but some cheap little noir film may not. It's great to see these films on the big screen... and often the audience is packed with VIPS who are fans of the genre. Here are two films that I saw a couple of years ago...

HOLLYWOOD STORY (1951) directed by William Castle, written by Frederick Kohner & Fred Brady. Richard Conte plays a producer who decides to make a film about a 20 year old unsolved murder in Hollywood - a famous film director who had no shortage of enemies. He interviews the suspects and finds new clues and... the killer keeps trying to kill him. But who is the killer? Will he find out before the killer snuffs him? The victim 20 years ago: A big time producer who was involved in a love triangle. The story is based on a real Hollywood murder - William Desmond Taylor who was killed in 1922, still unsolved! The cast of suspects is great - hottie Julia Adams (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) is the woman in the love triangle's daughter (and Conte’s love interest) - and there's a great LAURA-like painting on her mom in the victim's office, Jim Backus is an agent, Richard Egan is a homicide detective, Henry Hull (LIFEBOAT) is a once famous screenwriter who now lives in a shack and is constantly drunk, Fred Clark is a producer who once worked with the victim, and there are relatives of the victim and studio guards who sleep through the shifts and about a dozen movie stars making cameos as themselves (possible suspects!) including Joel McCrea.

The cool thing about the story is that almost everyone involved in making the movie *about* the murder is a *suspect* in the murder. Hollywood is a small world, and when you hire the victim’s favorite screenwriter (Hull) to write the screenplay, because he *is* research as well as a writer; you not only end up with a guy who knows every detail of the crime, you end up with a guy who had all kinds of motive to kill the victim. Every single person hired to make this film is a suspect! This concept could be used for a fake documentary film or for a movie about an America’s Most Wanted kind of TV show that stumbles into the middle of the crime while investigating it. The more Conte digs into the case, the more the real killer (one of the people he is working with to make the film) tries to kill him. Nice little film - cheap to make because they shot it at the studio. Not on VHS, not on DVD.

Between the films, Julie Adams (that hot chick from CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) did Q&A - and was filled with great stories about the film. Her memory is better than mine! And, for however old she is, she looked great. She is still a working actress, doing a bunch of TV work now (she’s on LOST in flashbacks). She was at MONSTERPALOOZA a few days later as part of the CREATURE group.

Next up, UNDERTOW (1949) - also directed by William Castle, screenplay by Arthur Horman and Lee Loeb. Kind of a riff on THE FUGITIVE movie made decades later. Scott Brady plays a guy framed for murder in Chicago who has cops chasing him night and day and must find the real killer before the cops find him. Because the cops have staked out all of his friends' houses, the only one who can help him is this gal he met on the plane to Chicago (cute Peggy Dow) - a complete stranger. This creates kind of a THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR kidnapping thing... and lots of suspense. Brady is an ex-mob guy who is now a legit businessman in Reno, but is in love with the Mob Boss’ daughter (Dorothy Hart in the femme fatale role). He’s going back to propose to her and take her back to Reno with him... but the mob boss gets killed and he gets blamed. Bruce Bennett (from every movie ever made - he played Tarzan and was in TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE and DARK PASSAGE and MILDRED PIERCE and co-starred with Elvis in LOVE ME TENDER and one of his last films was Terrence Malick’s DEADHEAD MILES) plays the cop chasing him - and much like in THE FUGITIVE, if Brady can convince the cop that he is innocent, they will start looking at clues that might lead to the real killer. There is a *great* scene where Brady shows up at Bennett’s house, holds a gun on him in his basement den, and tries to convince him that he’s innocent... while Bennett’s son watches through a window... tells his mother that dad is being held at gunpoint by a desperado... and mom tells him to quit making up stories and get ready for bed. The kid *knows* dad is in trouble and can’t get anyone to believe him... so he grabs his cap gun and goes to rescue his dad. Lots of chases and double crosses and a great plot - part of the story revolves around Brady being kidnaped by the (unseen) killer and shot in order to match the actual wounds the real killer sustained in the crime - all of the evidence created against him by the real killer is insurmountable. The film is full of twists and shot on location in Reno and Chicago - the Chi-town location work is fantastic - all kinds of great local landmarks wove into the story.

The amazing thing about both of these films is that they were low budget throw aways, but really well made, clever, well acted, and are better than some of the big budget crap that is released today. Both were directed by William Castle, who would become famous later in his career for gimmick horror films like THE TINGLER. He was a creative and competent director who knew how to squeeze a buck so that you never knew the film you were watching was made on the cheap. Neither of these films looked low budget - and UNDERTOW looks bigger budget than many of the films I’ve seen from the same period that cost a whole bunch more.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: No Script Before Its Time - is your script ready to be sent out?
Dinner: Some sort of bunless burger thing at Dennys.
Bicycle: Medium ride to a far off Starbucks, then to another, then back home (which hasn't happened as I type this).
Pages: Finished a new draft on the assignment treatment and also wrote a one pager for Cannes.


The White Wolf said...

If you want to know 'who' killed Taylor, read the book A CAST OF KILLERS.

Aw and some!

Your recent posts are making me really-really miss my time spent at the New Beverley.

Tarantino owns it now right?

wcmartell said...

Yes. He's the not-so-silent-partner. The guy Michael (son of the original owner) still runs it - he sells the tickets and then sells the popcorn. The cinema was having normal small biz financial problems (rent going up) and QT stepped in and paid off the debt.

The great thing is, the cinema will never have financial problems and QT loves movies. Some of the movies are his selections.

I really need to go more often, but I'd just spend every day there and never get anything done!

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