So Dark the Night (1946)
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
Produced by Ted Richmond
Screenplay by Dwight V. Babcock, Martin Berkeley
Based on a story by Aubrey Wisberg
Music by Hugo Friedhofer
Cinematography by Burnett Guffey
Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics IV DVD (1:11)
It’s quite refreshing to see a character actor land a leading role once in awhile. Hungarian actor Steven Geray appeared in many film noir and noir-stained titles during his career including The Mask of Dimitrios (1944), Spellbound (1945), Deadline at Dawn (1946), Blind Spot (1947), The Dark Past (1948), In a Lonely Place (1950), Woman on the Run (1950), and my personal favorite as Uncle Pio in Gilda (1946). Geray (who made over 40 films in Europe before immigrating to America in the early 1940s) usually played a foreigner in his American films, sometimes friendly, sometimes not. As far as I can tell, So Dark the Night is his only lead role. It’s a film that isn’t talked about much (possibly because it contains no major American actors), but should be. It’s a little film that begins in a rather benign way, but transitions to a very dark place by the time we reach the end.
It’s a busy time around here with my 22nd wedding anniversary this weekend, Summer at Your Library promotional visits at schools, writing, and more, so things will continue to be a bit sparse here at Journeys in Darkness and Light. In the meantime, I have several items of interest for you:
Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)
Directed by Hector Babenco
Produced by Francisco Ramalho Jr. and David Weisman
Written by Leonard Schrader
Based on the novel by Manuel Puig
Cinematography by Rodolfo Sánchez
Edited by Mauro Alice
Music by Nando Carneiro, John Neschling, Wally Badarou
ICRA DVD (2:01)
The chapter for Kiss of the Spider Woman in Argentine Cinema: From Noir to Neo-Noir requires you to wrap your head around several different concepts. First of all, the authors consider not only the 1985 film by Hector Babenco, but also the 1976 Manuel Puig novel and the award-winning 1993 musical. Things get even more strange when you realize that the film (the prime focus of the chapter) doesn’t specifically take place in Argentina, nor was it an Argentine production. Finally, the locales differ significantly: Puig’s novel clearly takes place in a Buenos Aires penitentiary; the film, in an unnamed prison whose signs and street scenes suggest São Paulo, Brazil; the musical, in an unidentified Caribbean country. Having read the novel and watched the film, my comments will focus primarily on the movie.
If you’re new to my monthly Film Noir Releases posts, welcome! My goal is to cover all the first-time releases to Blu-ray and DVD, usually passing over reissues unless there’s a good reason to include them. (I also tend to leave out more recent films from the last several years.) Unless otherwise noted, the following are all North American Region A Blu-ray discs. I often use the terms “film noir” and “neo-noir” rather loosely, so while you may quibble with some of my choices, I hope these are films you’ll at least consider. As always, if you know of any film noir or neo-noir films I’ve left out, please let me know in the comments below. And thanks for reading.
As was the case last month, many of June’s must-have film noir releases come from Europe. I know many of you are resistant to purchase a region-free Blu-ray player, but I’ve had at least four people contact me this year about such players. Three of them have made purchases (I think the fourth will take the plunge soon) and have been very satisfied. With all of these great European (especially UK) releases cropping up each month, it’s hard to resist having a player that gives you access to such wonderful films.
Enough of my pitch! Although June is a light month for new releases, we still have plenty of temptations, including several films making their Blu-ray debut. Let’s take a look:
Me and Orson Welles (2008)
Directed by Richard Linklater
Produced by Ann Carli, Richard Linklater, Marc Samuelson
Screenplay by Holly Gent Palmo, Vincent Palmo, Jr.
Based on the novel by Robert Caplet
Music by Michael J. McEvoy
Cinematography by Dick Pope
Amazon streaming rental (1:53)
“There’s one simple plan: I run the store.”
Orson Welles (Christian McKay) makes this proclamation rather late in Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles (2008), but it surprises absolutely no one, least of all a young acting hopeful named Richard Samuels (Zac Efron). The story opens in 1937 when Welles was just 22, directing his Mercury Theatre Players in a modern anti-fascist Broadway production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. By contrast, Richard – just five years younger than Welles – struggles to pay attention during high school English. It doesn’t seem fair to Richard that someone just a few years his senior could’ve achieved so much so quickly. Yet it looks somewhat audacious for Richard – the “me” of the film’s title – to find himself mentioned before Welles. Richard certainly won’t be accused of a lack of confidence.
Before an examination of Argentine noir, David George and Gizella Meneses, the authors of the new book Argentine Cinema: From Noir to Neo-Noir (Lexington Books, ISBN 9781498511865), open with a brief overview of classic film noir and neo-noir. For most people picking up this book (which is probably not a casual purchase, with a retail price of $90), the authors’ brief summary of noir will serve as a refresher. After this introductory chapter, George and Meneses examine how film noir developed specifically in Argentina. If your Argentine history isn’t quite up to speed, no worries: you’ll learn about the Juan Perón era (as president from 1946 to 1955) and the country’s years of instability, Perón’s later exile and return to power, the influence of crime fiction in Latin America, and what Paul Schrader refers to as the “rips and tears in the social fabric” of the country (p. 24). All of this is presented in a way that makes you want to read more, especially considering how these events were reflected in the movies of the era. Although its wartime and postwar history is different from that of the United States, Argentina was prime real estate for the construction and development of film noir.
My friend Audy Christianos and I are at it again on the Film Don’t Lie podcast, taking a look at one of the Criterion Friday Night Double Features on FilmStruck. This time, we’re talking about Fritz Lang’s M (1931) and Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960). Hope you’ll give us a listen!