For movie watchers, few things can be more frustrating than films that begin with a sequence of immense promise, only to show over the remainder that the emperor truly wears no clothes. Two new examples come from the horror realm.
Until now, Ethan Hawke was having a wonderful year. Before Midnight, the third leg of his trilogy with director Richard Linklater and actress Julie Delpy, brought waves of critical acclaim and talk of another Oscar nomination for their collaborative screenplay, while The Purge turned a meager investment into a highly profitable box-office take.
Neither a chain of spice stores nor a Food Network program, The Seasoning House is a bleak-as-nuclear-winter thriller set during the Balkan conflict of the 1990s. A deaf girl named Angel (Brit teen Rosie Day) is taken from her home by soldiers who shoot her mother dead.
Paul Schrader’s The Canyons opens and closes with a montage of abandoned movie theaters. For this film in particular, that choice strikes one as symbolic in several ways: not only as a comment on the state of the industry, but on the state of The Canyons itself. You’re unlikely to find many 2013 films this empty.
What's a director of classic musicals doing in science fiction? Making Saturn 3, one of the worst of the genre Hollywood made in the immediate post-Star Wars / Alien era. Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain) takes to it about as well as you'd expect; he's in over his head.
Film Preservation Festival Thursday-Sunday Oklahoma City Museum of Art 415 Couch okcmoa.com 236-3100 $5-$8
The gun was on the couch, smoke still wafting from its muzzle. Stretched out on the marble floor: a poor sap, now just fodder for the city morgue.
The woman stood beside him, her face as cold and impenetrable as a cheap waxwork.
“It wasn't me,” she purred. “I swear.”
I lit a cigarette, took a deep drag and picked up my fedora. The Oklahoma City Museum of Art's film preservation festival was about to begin. Four days of film noir to celebrate 10 years of great cinema, and no dame with a pretty face and a murderous heart was going to keep me from missing a single frame.
Touch of Evil 7:30 p.m. Thursday
A magnificent confection of noir style, Orson Welles’ 1958 classic remains one of his greatest works. The director stars as a corrupt sheriff involved in a web of murder, drug trafficking, kidnapping and much more. Not even a wooden Charlton Heston as a Mexican narcotics officer can diminish the over-the-top fun of Touch of Evil, in which Welles’ visual bravado is as ample as the gut he keeps showing at low angles. The movie boasts not only one of the most justifiably famous opening shots in history, but you even get Janet Leigh in lingerie. Top that.
The Maltese Falcon 5:30 p.m. Friday
Directorial debuts didn't come any better than this 1941 gem from John Huston. By the time he tackled this adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's crime thriller, Warner Bros. already had churned out two previous versions, with middling results. The third time was the charm. As private detective Sam Spade, Humphrey Bogart became a major star. But the movie has so much more, including rapid-fire dialogue and the sort of cast that “dreams are made of,” including Mary Astor, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet.
The Killers 8 p.m. Friday
Loosely based on an Ernest Hemingway short story, the picture is a knockout cocktail of noir at its most fatalistic, with Burt Lancaster making a memorable screen debut as an ill-fated boxer done in by the otherworldly allure of Ava Gardner. According to a Hemingway biographer, the 1946 flick — it would later be remade two more times — was the only film adaptation of one of his works that truly pleased the author.
The Big Clock 5:30 p.m. Saturday
Starring Ray Milland and an irresistibly scenery-chewing Charles Laughton, 1948's The Big Clock is nifty, high-concept stuff: The workaholic editor of a crime magazine races against time to prove himself innocent of a murder. Taut and filled with clever twists, director John Farrow — father of Mia and husband of Maureen O'Sullivan, who plays Milland's wife — keeps things humming along like, well, a wound-up clock.
Double Indemnity 8 p.m. Saturday
Noir doesn't come more hard-boiled than this 1944 Billy Wilder masterpiece, and no wonder. The pedigree was as tough as they came, based on a James M. Cain potboiler and scripted by Wilder and Philip Marlowe's creator, Raymond Chandler. The dialogue stings like a knife in the back, among the reasons this crime thriller about a femme fatale and a not-as-smart-as-he-thinks insurance salesman has endured. Lucky for Fred MacMurray — My Three Sons, it ain’t — that George Raft and Alan Ladd both turned down the movie before MacMurray landed the role of his career as Walter Neff.
Sunset Boulevard 2 p.m. Sunday
Lest anyone be under the delusion that the Eisenhower era was free of cynicism, check out Wilder's expert dismemberment of Hollywood. But calling 1950’s Sunset Boulevard cynical is a bit like saying arsenic is unpleasant. Starring the inimitable Gloria Swanson as an aging silent-movie queen who hooks up with a scheming screenwriter (William Holden), the picture is off-the-charts toxic, but darkly funny and always mesmerizing. Movie execs initially hated it. Louis B. Mayer reportedly called Wilder a bastard for having “disgraced the industry that made you and fed you.” Wilder’s pithy retort: “Fuck you.”