Noir City 12 widens its focus — but it still ain't afraid of the dark
Less politically tilted, but also dealing with a devastated, immediately-postwar landscape, are Akira Kurosawa's first two collaborations with dynamic star Toshiro Mifune, screening Sun/26. Mifune plays a seriously ill crook in 1948's Drunken Angel, then crosses over to play a no-less-edgy junior member of the police force in the following year's Stray Dog. His protagonist in that film is mortified when the revolver he's issued is stolen on a tram, then used to commit a series of crimes. His obsessive pursuit of the weapon takes him deep into a remarkably seedy makeshift Tokyo of shanty towns, prostitution, and black markets, everyone flop-sweating amid oppressive summer heat.
Other films examine more ordinary, already-entrenched corruption in post-war power structures: Spanish Death of a Cyclist (1955) and Norwegian Death is a Caress (1949) find members of the social elite going to murderous lengths to hide their infidelities; two excellent British dramas from 1947, It Always Rains on Sunday and the Graham Greene-derived Brighton Rock, are bleak slices of lower-class lives driven to crime and desperation; florid Mexican melodrama Victims of Sin (1951) puts its glamorous heroine (blond Cuban Ninon Sevilla) through a mill of sexual hypocrisies and hot "African" dance numbers.
Noir City 12's US titles, aptly, focus mostly on international criminal and romantic intrigue: Anthony Mann's 1949 Border Incident involves Mexican immigrant-worker exploitation; the "exotic" settings are billed up front in 1947's Singapore (Fred MacMurray, Ava Gardner), 1952's Macao (Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell), and 1942's The Shanghai Gesture (Gene Tierney, Victor Mature). The latter two films were both directed by Josef von Sternberg, though only willfully camp Gesture fully recaptured the sensuous aesthetic excesses of his 1930s Dietrich vehicles.
Just one title here is strictly all-American, but it's an important one: Too Late for Tears is an independently produced 1949 "B" potboiler that fell into the public domain and has only been seen for years in inferior prints. The festival's Film Noir Foundation is premiering its own painstaking 35mm restoration of this little gem by subsequent sci-fi specialist Byron Haskin (1953's The War of the Worlds, 1964's Robinson Crusoe on Mars), wherein velvet voiced LA housewife Lizabeth Scott discovers a mighty capacity for greed, deception, and even murder once a bag full of stolen cash accidentally falls into her hands. *
NOIR CITY 12
Jan 24-Feb 2, $10 ("Passport" pass, $120)
429 Castro, SF