THURSDAY, AUGUST 27: KILLER’S KISS, WITNESS TO MURDER, AND DEMENTIA
For anyone who has never contemplated the essence of the triple-bill, I hereby submit this troubling trio of subterranean weirdness. All three of the nocturnal noirs share a similar pre-occupation with dreams and dream-like environments. I WAKE UP DREAMING 2015: HOT SUMMER NOIR presents the ultimate “dream show” at the Castro Theatre on Thursday, August 27. This show will change you.
Somewhat overshadowed by the fancier 1956 film THE KILLING, Stanley Kubrick nevertheless gained unique status as a brilliant independent filmmaker with the release of this way lesser known noir KILLER’S KISS. Made the year before THE KILLING, this is a film that will deliberately dazzle you in unexpected ways, especially if it’s a first time viewing on a giant movie screen, projected in a spotlessly fine 35mm print. That’s how Thursday, August 27th’s I WAKE UP DREAMING 2015: HOT SUMMER NOIR kicks off.
Produced for almost less than zero, Kubrick (who is credited with writing, photographing, directing, and editing) manages to weave a notably bizarre film, creating an atmosphere of longing and dread determined by energy and nerve. Jamie Smith plays a young boxer who witnesses a B girl (Irene Kane) getting roughed up by her slimy gangster boyfriend (Frank Silvera). He becomes entangled in her dangerous world and suddenly his own lonely existence is challenged by the unexpected and violent consequences fate has bestowed upon him.
This is one of the most shattering low-budget noirs ever made; a deeply personal, inward projection of the fears and anxieties inherent to those who inhabit the dream-like environs of the noir universe. All in 67 minutes of unadulterated 35mm magnificence.
WITNESS TO MURDER
One of the last great back & white films shot by the legendary John Alton (he shot THE BIG COMBO for Joseph H. Lewis the following year), WITNESS TO MURDER must certainly rank among Alton’s most stunning visual accomplishments. Essentially a “woman in distress” melodrama, the film becomes a much wider and suggestive film under his rigorous and evocative lighting schemes, the likes of which you rarely ever see.
A woman (Barbara Stanwyck) is awakened in the middle of the night by a blast of thunder and lightning; drawn to her open window she sees, across the street through another open window, a man (George Sanders) viciously strangle a woman to death. She calls the cops but they don’t seem to believe her story. No one seems to in fact — except the killer that is. The rest of this increasingly nutty film becomes a rapid descent into madness.
WITNESS TO MURDER is directed with a sure hand by Roy Rowland and is aided by its stellar cast, which also includes Gary Merrill and Jesse White as cops and Juanita Moore as one of Stanwyck’s roommates in the nuthouse. But it’s the outrageously beautiful cinematography of John Alton’s that elevates this outstanding picture to classic status.
Of all the films in this year’s I WAKE UP DREAMING cavalcade, DEMENTIA is, hands down, the most subversive and downright radical. Produced on the slimmest of imaginable budget, this 1953 feature was shot silent with choice moments of dialogue, effects and, most importantly, music are judiciously dropped in to help create the most unique film in the entire noir universe.
The director, John Parker, apparently never made another film. One of the film’s co-stars, Bruno Ve Sota is rumored to have performed the bulk of those chores. The cinematographer was William C. Thompson, who began his career in the silent days of Hollywood and wound up shooting some of the better known films made by Edward D. Wood.
DEMENTIA tells the story of a young woman on a trip down to Hell. As she wanders through the nocturnal landscape of Los Angeles, carving a murderous path as she goes. This is serious stuff and the treatment the material receives is appropriately arty. George Antheil provides the film with its eerie score, ratcheting up the anxiety as it goes. Jazz great Shorty Rogers and his band make an unexpectedly incredible cameo during the film’s most outrageous set-piece — a terrifying trip through an underground jazz club. Hyper-surreal to the max.
The film has had a dubious history. Never commercially successful, its producers tried vainly to reintroduce it to audiences throughout the 50s. First released in 1953, it showed up in steadily edited versions, even at one point retitled DAUGHTER OF HORROR with a weirdly unnecessary voice-over narration provided by Ed McMahon. The version on display at the Castro is an original 1953 version (sans narration) — and the only surviving 35mm print.