Sister Celluloid

Where old movies go to live

NOIR CITY ANNUAL 2013: Grab One Now Before They’re Gone!

I’m a noir girl, so when I fall, I fall hard. Luckily, the objects of my affection never end up crumpled in a heap on the bedroom floor.

Well, almost never.

By the time I got through with Noir City Annual 2013, its pages were pawed, its corners were dog-eared (sometimes in both directions), and its spine was bent this way and that, utterly broken beyond repair. I loved this book to pieces.

The sixth in a series, Noir City Annual 2013 pulls together the best stories produced last year for the Film Noir Foundation’s (FNF) online magazine. And if you’ve ever dropped by their website, at http://www.filmnoirfoundation.org, you know that must have been a tough choice for FNF founder Eddie Muller, who published the book, and Donald Malcolm, who edited it. The group puts out some of the best noir writing—no, movie writing—no, just plain writing—that you’re likely to find anywhere. Crazy-smart but not pretentious, elegant but not fussy, passionate but not gooey, insanely well informed but not stuck up about it.

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The latest limited-edition volume features gorgeously illustrated stories on a huge array of noir films, actors, directors, writers and even singers, including Richard Fleischer, Dan Duryea, Peter Lorre, Julie London, Peggie Castle and Jean Gabin. For some, their lives were even darker and sadder than their films. Here’s just a sampling of the articles (noirticles?) you’ll find inside:

  • In “The Girl They Loved to Kill,” Jake Hinkson comes to the rescue of Peggie Castle, which few people ever did in her films or her life. After taking us through her scant and mostly miserable 45 years, he closes with her pleading, desperate speech from Finger Man, a B-movie she made with Frank Lovejoy: “All my life, I’ve had dreams. Not big ones, just my share of the little things—that someone would like me, really like me, maybe even respect me… I know I’m no bargain. I’ve been around, plenty. I don’t feel sorry for myself. Only, sometimes, I get the feeling there isn’t any more time, like there isn’t going to be any tomorrow. Be nice to me. Please.”
  • Steve Kronenberg’s “Wandering Star” delves into the story behind the only film Peter Lorre both directed and co-wrote, Der Verlorene (The Lost One), in which he plays “a cynical Nazi physician on the run from the authorities, his former identity, and his own guilt-ridden conscience” who finally becomes his own executioner. “Lorre specialized in playing men who had lost their way in life, forced to hide behind masks, unable to control their compulsions,” notes Kronenberg.  “By 1951, Lorre, too, was lost—facing bankuptcy, irrelevance in Hollywood, and an unfulfilled dream of directing his own film.” Perhaps because Germany was not yet ready to face up to the enormity of its wartime sins, Der Verlorene was a devastating failure when it opened there, and Lorre never even attempted to release it in the United States. He “returned to Hollywood disenchanted and relegated to typecasting.” But he also retained a 35mm nitrate print of his film, which cries out for restoration and recognition.
  • In “Her Name Was Julie,” Carl Steward celebrates the sultry stylings of Julie London and even offers a discography of her 50 best noir songs. He also reflects on the noir film career that could have been, had she not been lured away from the soundstage by her seductive set of pipes, returning years later for a handful of westerns and some wholesome family television. (I mean come on, was I the only one who slogged through reruns of “Emergency!” just hoping she’d burst into a chorus or two of “Cry Me a River”? I think not!)
  • Jason Ney’s “The Forgotten Man” makes a compelling case that Richard Fleischer, underrated and overlooked in his own time, should finally take his place on anyone’s list of top-tier noir directors. Covering Fleischer’s brilliant but frustrating stint at RKO, Ney points out that his breakthrough film, The Narrow Margin, was almost scrapped entirely (okay I fainted a little when I typed that). Howard Hughes loved the movie so much that he wanted to start from scratch with a bigger budget and A-list stars, possibly Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell (who are fabulous, but oh my God no). While the capricious producer dithered over his decision, the film lingered in limbo for two years until it was finally released in 1952.
  • “Dark Mirrors” compares original noirs with their remakes, with the genuine goods usually winning out.  Of the 1993 remake of Night and the City, with Robert DeNiro tackling the role Richard Widmark nailed perfectly in 1950, Vince Keenan notes the “insurmountable gap between the thirty-something Widmark hustling alone far from home and the pushing-fifty DeNiro soaking his friends in Manhattan. The former is plausibly desperate, the latter utterly delusional.” (Then there’s my own fervently held belief that the Richard Widmark version of anything is better.) I’d mercifully forgotten that they remade D.O.A. with Dennis Quaid in 1988: “It would seem impossible not to have fun with one of the greatest set-ups in movie history… but the latest version finds a way, in Bonneville Salt Flats record time.” I would love to forget the remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice, especially the kitchen-table sex scene, which Keenan cheekily describes as “passionless and deeply unpleasant, not to mention unhygienic. (Do not have the bread at the Twin Oaks Tavern.)” But the author is no knee-jerk traditionalist and gives the newer films their due, singling out The Deep End—a 2001 retelling of The Reckless Moment, with Tilda Swinton in the Joan Bennett role—for special praise.

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But perhaps the star of Noir City Annual 2013 is Dan Duryea, the subject of a dozen fabulous articles covering pretty much every facet of his career as well as his offscreen life as a faithful, devoted husband and doting Dad to his two boys. (When he wasn’t leading dames to wrack and ruin, he was leading a Boy Scout troop.)

The Duryea stories were were an especially guilty pleasure for me—I read them all straight through in bed one night while my husband was a hundred miles away. I really do adore this man. But finding a dozen articles devoted to Duryea in Noir City Annual 2013 made me feel like slightly less of a misfit…

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Four of the six Noir City Annuals, for the years 2008, 2009,  2010 and 2011, are already sold out, but if you act fast, you can get your hands on the volumes covering 2012 and 2013. Here’s the link for purchase: http://www.noircity.com/noircityware.html. They’re also available on Amazon.com; just do a search for Noir City Annual.

Meanwhile, you can access the Film Noir Foundation’s fabulous online magazine for a donation of just $20—the price of a few cups of coffee, with a much better buzz for the buck. Just click the link at http://www.filmnoirfoundation.org/contribute.html. Reading the e-mag will give you a jump on some of the stories that may show up in the 2014 Annual. Which I would pre-order now, sight unseen, if I could. (Hint, hint…)

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1 Comment

  1. Wait a minute. I am unfamiliar with this publication, and why is this! Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

    Love the story of you gushing to the other movie-goer about Dan Duryea.

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