Monday, February 02, 2009

NOIR CITY 7—Eddie Muller's Introductory Remarks to The Unsuspected and Desperate

It is a tradition at Noir City, Eddie Muller reminded his audience, that they screen one film at each festival that is utterly incomprehensible. "Tonight," Muller grinned, "is the night." The Unsuspected claims the honor, which is not to say that the film isn't fantastic, but no one will be asked to recapitulate the plot on their way home on MUNI. To attempt so would mean possibly riding to the end of the line ("which ends up in, like, HELL"). The Unsuspected is based on the novel by Charlotte Armstrong. Armstrong is a terrific writer also responsible for the Marilyn Monroe noir Don't Bother to Knock, based on Armstrong's novel Mischief.

Muller conceded his program notes for The Unsuspected were slightly incorrect. He billed the film as "lustrous studio filmmaking at its finest"; but, the film is actually an independent Michael Curtiz production distributed by Warner Brothers. Muller considers Michael Curtiz to be an underrated Hollywood director (notwithstanding Casablanca). The Unsuspected is rarely shown and—despite its unbelievably convoluted plot—a blast to watch. "This is what you want," Muller stressed convincingly, "it's a locked room mystery story with incredibly well-dressed people beautifully photographed; it's absolutely spectacular."

The program's B-film Desperate is an early Anthony Mann noir, one of two programmed for this year's Noir City (the other being Two O'Clock Courage). Though he had made a number of movies prior to Desperate, Mann was—as Muller punned—a desperate man until he got this picture. Mann himself has said that Desperate is the film that proved he had a future as a director in Hollywood; Desperate was the first film that he actually got to make his way. After Desperate, Mann went on to make such noir classics as T-Men and Border Incident, among other fantastic noir films, before becoming a director of successful westerns.

Muller was thrilled to announce that earlier in the afternoon the Film Noir Foundation struck a deal with the UCLA Film and Television Archive to restore Anthony Mann's B-noir Strangers in the Night (1944), a virtually lost film (so lost, one might argue, that it isn't even mentioned in Mann's Wikipedia filmography). "Guess where that money came from?" Muller beamed, pointing his finger at the audience. "It came from you!" This was a generous acknowledgment on Muller's part, underscoring that the record-breaking attendance at this year's edition of Noir City has much to do, indeed, with what Max Goldberg has described at Text of Light as "the experience of watching big-screen silver with a thousand other souls"; an experience "too rare to regret." But I believe the enthusiasm of Noir City's San Franciscan audiences likewise embraces their awareness of their financial contribution to noir preservation by way of ticket sales, much like the audiences for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Spectatorship studies should expand to include this burgeoning spectatorial phenomenon and its valuable role in film conservation.

Cross-published on Twitch.

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