Whenever I think of film noir, I – somewhat incongruously – immediately picture murder and mayhem taking place in sunny Los Angeles. Blame it on The Big Sleep, The Blue Dahlia, Double Indemnity, Chinatown, and Mildred Pierce. Even so, I'm fully aware that there are quite probably more noir and noirish thrillers set in the mean streets of New York than in those of any other city in the world.
In order to illustrate the shadowy netherworld of that particular metropolis, the Film Forum will run NYC NOIR, a five-week festival showcasing thrillers set in New York City. Between July 27-Aug. 30, NYC NOIR will screen a total of 46 films, ranging from classic noir of the 1940s and 1950s to cop thrillers and heavy dramas of the 1960s and 1970s.
The series will kick off with a screening of Alexander Mackendrick's drama Sweet Smell of Success, which I wouldn't call noir or even noirish – shady, perhaps? – in which Burt Lancaster plays a venom-spitting Water Winchell-type while Tony Curtis is an ambitious, sleazy publicist.
Although I like Sweet Smell of Success, I was bothered by Mackendrick's heavy-handed and melodramatic approach to the material. (He was much more effective as a director of wacky British comedies.) Compounding matters, both Lancaster and Curtis deliver performances that are overly stylized. That said, Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman penned a biting screenplay (based on a novella by Lehman) that, at its core, hasn't dated one single day.
In any case, Sweet Smell of Success is considered by many one of the best American movies of the 1950s. Elmer Bernstein's score will please jazz fans, though it'll likely displease those – like myself – who'd have preferred a moodier musical accompaniment to the drama. James Wong Howe's cinematography, on the other hand, is impeccable – no matter your taste in lighting.
Other NYC NOIR highlights include Samuel Fuller's dark, cynical Pickup on South Street (1953), which offer career-high performances by such disparate actors as Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, and Thelma Ritter (left) in a gripping tale involving crooks, spies, and a bag lady; Billy Wilder's (undeserving) Academy Award-winning melodrama The Lost Weekend (1945), starring (undeserving) best actor Oscar winner Ray Milland as a raging alcoholic; and Jacques Tourneur's Cat People (1942), a moody piece that, however overrated, must be seen if only for Nicholas Musuraca's eerie shadow play. The film stars Simone Simon as a kittenish woman who suffers from episodes of acute leoparditis whenever she gets emotionally (read: sexually) aroused.
George Cukor, inanely known as a “woman's director,” proves he's an actor's director in A Double Life (1947), which boasts what is, in my invariably humble opinion, one of the greatest performances ever committed to film: Ronald Colman as an actor who takes his craft so seriously, but so seriously, that he ends up thinking he's the character he's playing. The character in question is, alas for the women in the film, Othello. Poor Shelley Winters and Signe Hasso will have to pay in one way or another for Colman's dedication. Colman, however, was rewarded for it with a very much deserved best actor Oscar.
I found both Fritz Lang's The Woman in the Window (1944) and Scarlet Street (1945) disappointing, but anything with Edward G. Robinson is worth a look. It is, however, dismaying to realize that Robinson didn't learn his lesson after having his life turned upside down in The Woman in the Window, for he gets himself enmeshed once again with Joan Bennett in Scarlet Street (right) when he should have known that that little tramp, no matter how beautiful, could never have been up to any good.
John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy (1969) is no film noir, but it remains one of the best Best Picture Oscar winners ever. As a plus, this jaded look at the American Dream boasts a superb star-making turn by Jon Voight as the urban cowboy of the title. Otto Preminger's Laura (1944), for its part, is quite possibly the most romantic film noir ever made. Gene Tierney stars, looking as awesome in black and white as she does in color. Dana Andrews and Clifton Webb are two of the men in her life and (faux) death.
Directed by Robert Siodmak, Cry of the City (1948) is one of the best – and most underrated – films noirs to come out of Hollywood. A shockingly effective Victor Mature stars a police officer walking a fine line between duty and friendship. As for John Farrow's The Big Clock (1948), it may not be a great movie but it's still eons ahead of the overblown – and appallingly inane – 1987 remake with Kevin Costner, No Way Out.
And finally, in Sorry Wrong Number (1948) one gets to see Barbara Stanwyck incarnate a controlling heiress-turned-hysterical invalid who is about to meet her maker, courtesy of husband Burt Lancaster. In those days, one could always rely on Stanwyck to provide solid entertainment for the whole family.
The NYC NOIR series has been programmed by Bruce Goldstein, Film Forum's Director of Repertory Programming.
JULY 27/28 FRI/SAT
SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957, Alexander Mackendrick)
Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis. 1:45, 3:40, 5:35, 7:30, 9:25
JULY 29 SUN (2 FILMS FOR 1 ADMISSION)
LAURA (1944, Otto Preminger) New 35mm Print!
Clifton Webb, Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Vincent Price. 2:55, 6:30, 10:05
WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (1944, Fritz Lang)
Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea, Raymond Massey. 1:00, 4:35, 8:10
JULY 31 TUE (2 FILMS FOR 1 ADMISSION)
I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941. H. Bruce Humberstone)
Victor Mature, Laird Cregar, Betty Grable. 1:05, 4:25, 7:45
SORRY, WRONG NUMBER (1948, Anatole Litvak)
Barbara Stanwyck, Burt Lancaster. 2:40, 6:00, 9:20
AUGUST 1/2 WED/THU (2 FILMS FOR 1 ADMISSION)
PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET (1953, Samuel Fuller)
Robert Widmark, Jean Peters, Thelma Ritter. Wed 2:55, 6:25, 9:55 Thu 2:55
KISS OF DEATH (1947, Henry Hathaway)
Victor Mature, Richard Widmark. Wed 1:00, 4:30, 8:00 Thu 1:00, 4:30
AUGUST 2 THU (2 FILMS FOR 1 ADMISSION)
A DOUBLE LIFE (1947, George Cukor) Shelley Winters, Ronald Colman, Signe Hasso. 8:00
THE SEVENTH VICTIM (1943, Mark Robson) Kim Hunter. 6:30, 10:00
AUGUST 3/4 FRI/SAT
THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE (1974, Joseph Sargent)
Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo. 1:10, 3:20, 5:30, 7:40, 9:50
AUGUST 5/6 SUN/MON (2 FILMS FOR 1 ADMISSION)
THE LOST WEEKEND (1945, Billy Wilder)
Ray Milland, Jane Wyman. Sun 2:50, 6:35, 10:20 Mon 2:10, 6:00
THE BIG CLOCK (1948, John Farrow)
Charles Laughton, Ray Milland, Maureen O'Sullivan. Sun 1:00, 4:45, 8:30 Mon 4:10
AUGUST 7 TUE (2 FILMS FOR 1 ADMISSION)
DEADLINE AT DAWN (1946, Harold Clurman)
Susan Hayward, Paul Lukas. 2:30, 5:40, 8:50
THE WINDOW (1949, Ted Tetzlaff) Bobby Driscoll, Barbara Hale. 1:00, 4:10, 7:20, 10:20
AUGUST 8 WED (2 FILMS FOR 1 ADMISSION)
THE NAKED CITY (1948, Jules Dassin) Barry Fitzgerald, Don Taylor.1:00, 4:25, 7:50
FORCE OF EVIL (1948, Abraham Polonsky) John Garfield, Thomas Gomez. 2:50, 6:15, 9:40
AUGUST 9 THU (3 FILMS FOR 1 ADMISSION)
BLAST OF SILENCE (1960, Allen Baron) Allen Baron, Larry Tucker. 3:50, 8:10
COP HATER (1958, William A. Berke) Steve Carrelli. 2:20, 6:40
THE TATTOOED STRANGER (1950, Edward J. Montagne)
John Miles, Patricia White. 1:00, 5:20, 9:40
AUGUST 12/13 SUN/MON (2 FILMS FOR 1 ADMISSION)
TAXI DRIVER (1976, Martin Scorsese)
Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Cybill Shepherd. Sun 3:35, 7:50 Mon 1:00, 5:15
MEAN STREETS (1973, Martin Scorsese)
Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro. Sun 1:30, 5:45,10:00 Mon 3:10
AUGUST 14 TUE (2 FILMS FOR 1 ADMISSION)
THE HOUSE ON 92nd STREET (1945, Henry Hathaway) New 35mm Print!
Reed Hadley, William Eythe, Signe Hasso. 2:55, 6:35, 10:15
THE DARK CORNER (1946, Henry Hathaway) New 35mm Print!
Lucille Ball, Mark Stevens, William Bendix, Clifton Webb. 1:00, 4:40, 8:20
AUGUST 15 WED (2 FILMS FOR 1 ADMISSION)
CAT PEOPLE (1942, Jacques Tourneur) Simone Simon, Kent Smith. 2:40, 6:05, 9:30
PHANTOM LADY (1944, Robert Siodmak) Ella Raines, Franchot Tone. 1:00, 4:25, 7:50
AUGUST 16 THU (3 FILMS FOR 1 ADMISSION)
STREET OF CHANCE (1942, Jack Hively) Burgess Meredith. 4:15, 8:35
DR. BROADWAY (1942, Anthony Mann) Macdonald Carey, Jean Phillips. 2:55, 7:15
THE KILLER THAT STALKED NEW YORK (1950, Earl McEvoy)
Evelyn Keyes. 1:20, 5:40, 10:00
AUGUST 17/18 FRI/SAT (2 FILMS FOR 1 ADMISSION)
THE WARRIORS (1979, Walter Hill)
Michael Beck, James Remar, Dorsey Wright. 2:50, 6:25, 10:00
SUPERFLY (1972, Gordon Parks, Jr.) Ron O'Neal. 1:00, 4:35, 8:10
AUGUST 19/20 SUN/MON (2 FILMS FOR 1 ADMISSION)
SCARLET STREET (1945, Fritz Lang)
Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea. Sun 3:40, 7:15 Mon 2:40
SIDE STREET (1949, Anthony Mann)
Farley Granger. Sun 2:00, 5:35, 9:10 Mon1:00, 4:35
AUGUST 21 TUE (2 FILMS FOR 1 ADMISSION)
THE SLEEPING CITY (1950, George Sherman) Richard Conte. 2:50, 6:20, 9:50
CRY OF THE CITY (1948, Robert Siodmak) New 35mm Print!
Richard Conte, Victor Mature, Shelley Winters. 1:00, 4:30, 8:00
AUGUST 22/23 WED/THU (2 FILMS FOR 1 ADMISSION)
KILLER'S KISS (1955, Stanley Kubrick)
Irene Kane, Jamie Smithhard, Frank Silvera. 3:05, 6:30, 9:55
SOMETHING WILD (1961, Jack Garfein)
Carroll Baker, Mildred Dunnock, Ralph Meeker. 1:00, 4:25, 7:50
AUGUST 24/25 FRI/SAT (2 FILMS FOR 1 ADMISSION)
REAR WINDOW (1954, Alfred Hitchcock)
James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Raymond Burr, Thelma Ritter. 2:35, 6:15, 9:55
ROPE (1948, Alfred Hitchcock)
Farley Granger, John Dall, James Stewart. 1:00, 4:40, 8:20
AUGUST 26/27 SUN/MON (2 FILMS FOR 1 ADMISSION)
REAR WINDOW (1954, Alfred Hitchcock)
James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Raymond Burr, Thelma Ritter. Sun 1:10, 5:15, 9:30 Mon 1:00, 5:05
THE WRONG MAN (1957, Alfred Hitchcock)
Henry Fonda, Vera Miles. Sun 3:15, 7:30 Mon 3:05
AUGUST 28 TUE (2 FILMS FOR 1 ADMISSION)
KLUTE (1971, Alan J. Pakula) Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland. 3:45, 7:40
BORN TO WIN (1971, Ivan Passer)
George Segal, Karen Black, Robert De Niro. 2:00, 5:55, 9:50
AUGUST 29 WED (2 FILMS FOR 1 ADMISSION)
MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969, John Schlesinger) Jon Voight, Dustin Hoffman. 3:15, 7:30
THE PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK (1971, Jerry Schatzberg)
Al Pacino, Kitty Winn. 1:10, 5:25, 9:40
AUGUST 30 THU (2 FILMS FOR 1 ADMISSION)
WAIT UNTIL DARK (1967, Terence Young)
Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna, Jack Weston. 3:20, 7:15
CRY, TERROR! (1958, Andrew L. Stone)
Rod Steiger, James Mason, Inger Stevens. 1:30, 5:25, 9:20