Saturday, January 28, 2012


Last Saturday night I was able to partake in a spectacular  "NOIR CITY" double feature at San Francisco's Castro Theater, one of those increasingly rare sort of things you always remind yourself are the reason you haven't moved to the suburbs (yet). Two 1960s films, both steeped in the film noir tradition, both seeking a way out of it & into the realm of the personal and the weird - and both starring Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson. The films were 1964's "THE KILLERS" and 1967's "POINT BLANK". As it turns out, Ms. Dickinson was on hand between the screenings to shoot the proverbial breeze about her life and to thrill the several hundred gay men in attendance, who flock to the Castro with bells on every time an aging female legend shows up. I reckoned this was something I probably needed to check out.

Both films, particularly the latter, have been high on my I-need-to-finally-see-the-goddamn-thing list for some time. Let's take them in turn, shall we? First, "THE KILLERS" hews pretty tightly to classic noir form, even though it's in glorious technicolor. Guy (John Cassavetes) gets caught up with the wrong crowd on account of a dame. The dame (she's actually referred to as a "dame" throughout the film - I'm serious) corrupts him and helps turn him into a bad fella. Meanwhile, two murderers-for-hire, who start the film out by taking down Cassavetes in cold blood, retrace their steps trying to figure out why he seemed to want to be murdered. Something's a little....screwy about the job they were asked to do. Maybe they ought to travel cross-country to figure out who's paying them - and if needed, murder them too.

It goes without saying that Lee Marvin, one of the contract killers, is a total badass. Dickinson is pretty and peculiar and sassy in that strange way of hers (definitely not the classic beauty queen but totally eye-grabbing nonetheless). But what's really jarring about this film are two of the other stars - John Goddamn Cassavetes and Ronald Wilson Reagan (in his last-ever role - four years later he'd be governor of California). I can't tell you how awesome it was to see two people I know from totally different contexts (legendary director and American president) acting together. Both are crooks! Reagan even smacks Angie Dickinson! Can you imagine Cassavetes and Reagan hanging out together on the set? What did they talk about? Had Reagan seen "Shadows"? Did Cassavetes give him an early screenplay for "Faces" to look over? Did Reagan try to get him to vote for Goldwater? Anyone know?

Totally fun film - like I said, right out of 1946 instead of 1964, with a little weirdness around the edges that hints at the film era that was waiting in the wings. Next, the pompous host of the evening, a flatulent guy who calls himself "The Czar of Noir", brought 80-something Angie Dickinson to the stage so he could badger her with sexual suggestions and discuss his erection with her - and no, I only wish I was joking. What a tool. Aside from having to interact with him, she was great. I don't know that much about her to be honest, but I gathered she may have been getting busy with Frank Sinatra and possibly even JFK back in the day. She talked about Reagan always saying to her, after he became president, "I didn't really hit you, you know", and about Cassavetes being somewhat melancholy on the set of this film, already complaining about being an actor and how he wanted to follow his true passion of directing instead. Good stuff. Oh, and she said Lee Marvin was truly depressed, a guy who'd seen some nasty stuff in WWII and Korea and was therefore a little bit unusual to be around. I loved that every time she'd dis or half-dis someone she'd immediately follow it up with, "Oh, he/she was so wonderful". Total Hollywood.

"POINT BLANK" was probably the last real noir, and that's definitely stretching the term a bit. It reminded me more of "Dog Day Afternoon" than it does anything before it, truth be told. Marvin truly is the center of this film. He's a tough guy named Walker who gets double-crossed on a theft job on Alcatraz and spends the rest of the film essentially trying to get even after getting out of jail. The first third of the film is surreal and doesn't even make all that much sense; it turns conventional (to a point) around the time we learn that all Walker really wants is the $93,000 he was entitled to from the botched job so many years ago - oh, and to kill the man that hoodwinked him and stole his wife while he rotted in prison. Walker infiltrates "The Organization", the mob that has his money, and basically kills his way through the group until he ends back on Alcatraz with the final person who can pay him - still looking to get that $93,000. To say that the ending is ambiguous and unconventional would be understating things. 70s filmmaking had  already arrived, right there in 1967. I loved it, though admittedly not at first.

As I passed the Betty Page-coiffed cigarette girls on my way out, I thought about the last time I'd watched two full movies back-to-back, and then I got too tired and decided to not think so much. Great night out - rent either or both of these when you get the gumption.