Danger & Despair's

  in Vintage 16mm Film  
  Yes they're coming....  
  on Thursday Nights in July    
  With a new series  
  programmed by Abby Staeble  
  FREE admission with reservations  
       June Vincent & Dan Duryea  in 'BLACK ANGEL'  1946  
  • The Cops are Coming!

    “Lets get out of here--the cops are coming.” If that sentence strikes fear in your heart, don’t panic. In this series of three films we’ll be shining the light in their eyes. We’ll be taking a look at the various ways in which the films’ portrayals of police deviate from the norm of their time.

    The norm was shaped by the Production Code, developed in the 30’s, in large part as a response to America’s love of the gangster, a love fueled by the glamorous, criminal sociopaths depicted in gangster films like Little Caesar (1930), The Public Enemy (1931) and Scarface (1932). Authorities feared that such colorful characters would spawn juvenile imitators and generally lower the moral standards of an America easily swayed by the cinema.

    The Code was given teeth in 1934 when the Catholic Church literally put the fear of Hell into would-be viewers of films condemned by the Church’s Legion of Decency. The loss of Catholic box office revenue would mean that glamorized sex and crime would no longer pay, and that would have been Hell for Hollywood. So Hollywood cleaned up its act: Producers, industry-wide, required that all films be given a seal of approval from the Hays-Breen Office. Releasing a film without the seal would subject studios to a $25,000 fine and worse still--the films would be barred from playing in the vast majority of first-run theaters that were members of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America.

    The seal was only granted when the Breen Office’s censors felt a film met the Production Code’s three: “General Principles” namely, that:

    1. No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.

    2. Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented.

    3. Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation.

    Whether the police were sympathetically treated in a film was among the key factors systematically reviewed by the censors. See the attached first page of the standard report form used by the Breen Office during the 1940’s
    *1, reproduced from James Naremore’s More Than Night- Film Noir in its Contexts. As a result, in the vast majority of films produced during the Code’s restrictive reign, when the police arrive on the scene, they are characterized as moral and ethical men enforcing a just law *2. This is borne out by an analysis of the top ten grossing films for each year between 1946 and 1965 conducted by Powers, Rothman and Rothman for their book, Hollywood’s America: Social and Political Themes in Motion Pictures. Further, only one in ten police characters included in this study resorted to violence. *3
  • *1. Naremore, James. More Than Night- Film Noir in
    Its Contexts. Berkeley: University of California
    Press. 1998

  • *2. Crawford, Charles. “Law Enforcement and Popular
    Movies: Hollywood as a Teaching Tool in the Classroom.“

    3. Powers, S., Rothman, D. & Rothman, S. Hollywood's
    America: Social and political themes in motion
    pictures. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. 1996, p.107, as
    sited in the Crawford article.

          Programming & All Film Notes by Abby Staeble






All Films at a NEW show time  7:00 pm  -  Full BAR and Doors open at 6:00 pm





    Thursday July 5th   -  7:00 pm     
'WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS'     1950  -   B&W 
 With: Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Carl Malden & Gary Merrill
 Directed by Otto Preminger   Script:  Ben Hecth 
 Photgraphy:  Joseph LaShelle    Costumes:  Oleg Cassini
He’s the cop. He’s the criminal. He’s the cop. He’s the criminal. He’s the cop and the criminal.

In Where the Sidewalk Ends producer and director Otto Preminger reunited Laura’s Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews. But the intervening six years had not been kind to their characters. They no longer lounge in the overstuffed chairs of the wealthy pining for an unrequitable love. They now live in decidedly meaner streets. Tierney’s character has been saddled with an abusive husband. Andrews’ Mark Dixon is weighed down by fear and self-loathing of his own sadistic nature. Tierney defends herself with a self-deceptive giddy optimism, a defense so eggshell fragile in its inappropriateness that it is painful to watch. Mark Dixon punches back.
    Anyone using the Breen Office standard report to keep score on Where the Sidewalk Ends is likely to agree with James Naremore who finds it amazing that the film, among many other notable noirs, was produced at all. Ben Hecht’s script and Dana Andrews’ tight-lipped portrayal give us a Mark Dixon who is a brutal, ticking-time-bomb of a policeman -- hardly the image of the virtuous upstanding law enforcer wished for by the censors. And then, how would the censors have felt about Karl Malden’s cold, by-the-book cop, Lt. Thomas, who is far less sympathetic than the self-tortured Dixon.

Nonetheless, released in 1950, Where the Sidewalk Ends was given the seal of approval and appears to have opened the flood-gates to a spate of noir rogue cops films that includes: The Prowler (1951), The Man Who Cheated Himself (1951), On Dangerous Grounds (1952), The Big Heat (1953), City that Never Sleeps (1953), Rogue Cop (1954), Pushover (1954), and Touch of Evil (1958).

Perhaps Where the Sidewalk Ends was an intentional baiting of the Production Code. It was released at a time when the Code was losing its effectiveness due to a number of factors including the forced divestiture by the major studios of their theater chains. Otto Preminger is renowned for his flaunting of the Code a few years later. His 1953 comedy, The Moon Is Blue was not given the Breen Office seal of approval because he refused to cut the words “pregnant,” “virgin,” and “seduce.” In 1955 his The Man with the Golden Arm was not given the seal of approval because it violated the Code’s prohibitions against depictions of drug use. The films’ critical and popular success despite their release without the seal helped pave the way for the end of the Production Code and the switch to a rating system.
    Thursday July 12th   -  7:00 pm    
'BLACK ANGEL'       1946   -    B & W      Universal Pictures
With:   Dan Duryea, June Vincent & Peter Lorre
 Directed: Roy William Neill   Script: Roy Chanslor   Story: Cornell Woolrich
Beautiful, no good nightclub singer Mavis Marlowe is strangled to death. Kirk Bennett is accused. “I didn’t kill her,” he says. “Then you got nothin’ to worry about,” responds Capt. Flood (Broderick Crawford). Catherine, Bennett’s angelic, house-frau wife played by June Vincent, continues to believe in her philandering husband’s innocence despite a good deal of evidence to the contrary. Hoping to find proof, she enlists the aid of Mavis’s jilted alcoholic husband, Martin Blair, who, surprisingly, is sympathetically and sensitively portrayed by Dan Duryea (at least it’s a surprise to those who remember Duryea best playing misogynistic villains and pimps.) Martin is a brilliant piano player.  
    Catherine’s voice is at least as beautiful as that of the murdered Mavis (no surprise there--June Vincent sings her own character’s songs and Mavis’s, too.) Martin and Catherine exploit their musical talents in their efforts to trap the real killer. As he sits waiting on death row, Kirk Bennett better hope that the unlikely duo are more persistent than Capt. Flood who is “three months behind in unsolved homicides,” and refuses to investigate any further. Based on a Cornell Woolrich novel, the film is chock full of dark twists and irony leading to an exciting conclusion filmed in a wonderfully subjective style.    
    The less-than-zealous Capt. Flood barely skims the surface of Woolrich’s deep disdain for the police. Consider this description of Woolrich’s 1935 short story “Dead on Her Feet” from the Francis M. Nevins, Jr. biography, Cornell Woolrich: First You Dream, Then You Die. Plainclothesman Smitty is sent to pull the plug on a dance marathon …

… only to find that one of the last dancers on the floor has literally died in her partner’s arms. She was desperate to win the $1,000 prize and had been dancing for nine days and nights, but it wasn’t exhaustion that killed her: the ambulance doctor finds that she’s been stabbed in the heart with a metal pencil while reeling dazedly around the dance floor. Smitty begins his investigation by publicly beating up the dead girl’s dance partner and fiancé, and ends it, even though he knows by this point that the fiancé is innocent, by forcing him to dance with her corpse in his arms until he is literally driven insane. What was Smitty’s motivation for this obscenity? He had none. Needed none. He’s a cop. For Woolrich that means he is the earthly counterpart of the malevolent forces that rule our lives.

It is most unlikely that any filmic depiction of Smitty would have received the Breen Office’s seal of approval. Arguably, however, Smitty represents less of a danger to the pro-establishment world viewpoint the Breen Office and its Production Code sought to uphold than Black Angel’s dispassionate Capt. Flood. Smitty is an aberration, a bad apple, and our expectation is that eventually the predominant forces of fate and/or justice would weed him out -- order would be restored. At least that’s the standard fate of rogue cops in films like Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Prowler. But overworked and apathetic Capt. Floods are a dime a dozen and still around at the end of the film. Thus, Black Angel insidiously creates the impression that like Martin and Catherine, we are left to our own devices to defend ourselves against a world of murderers, philanderers, and Korsikoff’s psychosis.
    *4. Nevins Jr., Francis M. Cornell Woolrich: First You
Dream, Then You Die. New York: Mysterious Press.
1988, p 134.
    Thursday July 19th   -  7:00 pm      
'THE PHENIX CITY STORY'    1955  -  B& W   Allied Artists
With:   Richard Kiley, John McIntire & Kathreen Grant
 Directed by Phil Karlson   Script:  Crane Wilber & Daniel Mainwaring
The Phenix City Story is a noirish docu-drama complete with a story line stolen from the headlines, authoritarian voice-overs, and location shooting, but if you’re looking for a police procedural in the vein of The Naked City or He Walked by Night, where techno-savvy law officers cleanse the city of its criminal elements, you’re in the wrong city. It is also a returning veteran story, but if you’re looking for a case of a confused veteran arriving home to find his world has changed (think The Blue Dahlia) you’re in the wrong city.
    The problem with Phenix City is that it hasn’t changed. In this telling of a “true story” John Patterson returns home from the Nuremberg trials where he helped bring Nazis to justice to find that his hometown has remained the same vice-ridden place it’s been for generations. The only new twist is that the syndicate has taken over the show and modernized operations.

Half the town’s citizenry are seemingly willing participants in the rigged gambling, prostitution and violence that’s taking place right out in the open. Factory workers efficiently turn out loaded dice and marked cards. Good girls deal the marked cards while the bad girls peddle themselves on the street. The police are not merely disinterested; they are paid for tasks like clearing out any losers who have had the bad sense to object to the stacked odds. Those citizens who are not actually participating in the corruption, with sadly few exceptions, simply look the other way. That’s clearly the safest course. While the mob has introduced corporate efficiency to corruption, it relies on time honored intimidation tactics to protect its turf.

The brutality of the intimidation and the seediness of the corruption are convincingly conveyed—fully honoring the Production Code’s tenet of not glorifying crime. Brilliant framing and editing make us feel every cheap gut punch, hold our breath against the fetid atmosphere, and generally convey a real sense of you-are-there documentary (with one exception where the investment in a more convincing dummy was definitely warranted). Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the film is that the perpetrators and victims of all this violence and squalor are the most banal looking of individuals. The kind of people we see in the supermarket or sit next to on BART.

The film is introduced by news interviews with real life citizens of Phenix City who were involved in the “clean-up” of the town which the dramatized portion of the film prequels and with which the public would have been familiar through headline news stories of the day. These interviews are slow-going, but they serve several purposes. The interviewees are not heroic looking in any sense which, together with the ordinariness of the characters in the drama, may be read to underscore several contradictory messages imparted by the film.

One such message is that what happened in Phenix City could happen anywhere where the public looks the other way in the face of encroaching evil. Without the ordinary citizen’s vigilance an unchecked establishment is easily corrupted and unreliable as a deterrent to evil that can quickly spread to the point where it is invincible. This is a message which could equally serve anti-McCarthyites or communist witchhunters.

The message of the film which the Production Code office would likely prefer is that Phenix City was in a sense a “rogue” city and the corrupted police force an anomaly. The plot line follows the standard rogue cop plot line. The ordinary man on the street would be unable to fight the mob alone. The good guys, led by John Patterson, must call in the establishment, in this case the National Guard, to cleanse the otherwise virtuous state of Alabama of an isolated stain. Order is restored. Never mind that as revealed to the American public by televised investigations instigated by Senator Estes Kefauvers in1950, the mob was now highly organized, corporatized and everywhere. Never mind one of the interviewee’s pronouncements that at the time of the interview the mob was already reasserting its tentacles in Phenix City.

In any event, the film propelled the real John Patterson into the Alabama Governor’s office where he served several terms. Despite his filmic friendship with the good Zeke Ward, according to Bullets Over Hollywood author John McCarty, he became a staunch segregationist even earning the Ku Klux Klan’s endorsement.
    -  All Films start at 7:00 pm   -      

ROBERT MARION Hosts the series which starts at a NEW TIME 7:00 pm.

    FREE ADMISSION  -  Luscious Libations of all varieties - Doors & Bar open at 6:00 pm  - Films at 7:00 pm    
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