November 5 – 30
This month the Gene Siskel Film Center presents Brit Noir, a series of eight films representing the long-overlooked British branch of the moody film movement that flourished most famously in the U.S.
In their landmark study "Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style" (1979), Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward assert that the film noir, like the western, is "an indigenous American form." That claim has been challenged by later noir scholars, with perhaps the strongest counter-claim being made for a British film noir movement — or Brit Noir, as it is often called.
British noir has a literary heritage stretching back to the penny dreadfuls of the Victorian era, early 20th-century crime novels such as Marie Belloc Lowndes's "The Lodger" (1913), pioneer psychological thrillers such as Francis Iles's "Malice Aforethought" (1931), plays such as Patrick Hamilton's "Rope" (1929), and the leftist "entertainments" of Graham Greene and Eric Ambler in the 1930s-1940s. The British film noir movement is often traced back to either THE GREEN COCKATOO (1937) or THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (1938), making it contemporaneous with and even a little ahead of American film noir.
Like its American counterpart, Brit Noir blossomed after World War II, similarly nurtured by sub-surface currents of disillusionment and anxiety in the postwar era. However, Brit Noir tended to have a grayer, more stoical, less flamboyant inflection — attributable in part to Britain's sustained wartime exposure to aerial attack, with rubble still visible long afterward, and to the years of privation and rationing that persisted while America basked in gaudy postwar prosperity.
Other qualities that have been identified as distinguishing Brit Noir from Yank Noir include: a stronger influence of French poetic realism than of German expressionism, more emphasis (of course) on class issues, less reliance on private eye and femme fatale characters, and a greater direction of emphasis away from the individual and toward the community.
This series concentrates on films that have been recently rediscovered, reissued, or restored. Because film noir was a movement that was not widely identified and defined until after its initial heyday had passed, the boundaries of noir have always been highly flexible. We unapologetically include some films (such as THESE ARE THE DAMNED and NINETY DEGREES IN THE SHADE) from the marginal areas where the garden of noir has often produced some of its most fascinating offshoots.
— Martin Rubin, Associate Director of Programming
Special thanks to David Jennings of Sony Pictures Entertainment, Tim Lanza of the Cohen Film Collection, Eric Di Bernardo of Rialto Pictures, and Chris Chouinard of Park Circus Inc.
SATURDAY DOUBLE-BILL DISCOUNT!
Buy a ticket at our regular prices for the first "Brit Noir" film on any Saturday in November, and get a ticket for the second "Brit Noir" film that day at the discounted rate with proof of your original purchase: General Admission $7; Students $5; Members $4. (This discount rate applies to the second feature only. Discount available in person at the box office only.)
These Are The Damned
1962, Joseph Losey, UK, 96 min. With Macdonald Carey, Viveca Lindfors.
“One of the richest and most intriguing of the crop of what could be called sci-fi noir to come out of Britain in this period.” — Roderick Heath, Ferdy on Film
Directed by American expat Losey for the British horror house Hammer, this audacious genre mash-up begins as a black-leather jaydee film, with young and charismatic Oliver Reed as the teddy-boy leader. It then morphs into a powerful science-fiction parable, as the antisocial mischief of the gangbangers is overshadowed by the sanctioned evil of government bureaucrats running a secret experiment with a group of mutant, adorable, and totally deadly children. Stunning widescreen images capture a sleepy resort against an awesome vista of sea, sky, and cliffs, attaining a devastating tragic sweep in the final minutes. 35mm widescreen. (MR)
Never Take Candy From A Stranger
Never Take Sweets From A Stranger
1960, Cyril Frankel, UK, 81 min. With Gwen Watford, Janina Faye.
“A responsible, thought-provoking movie about child molestation — perhaps the best ever made on the subject…the final reel of the picture is electrifying.” — Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant
The title might lead one to expect a campy exploitation flick, but this recently rediscovered gem combines taut suspense with a serious and sensitive treatment of a delicate subject. A British headmaster (Patrick Allen) and his wife (Watford) are newly arrived in Canada when their eleven-year-old daughter (Faye) innocently reveals that an elderly neighbor (veteran Felix Aylmer, in a wordless, ultra-creepy performance) gave her and a friend candy in exchange for taking off their clothes. Because they are strangers in town, and because the accused is the patriarch of the town’s most prestigious family, the girl’s parents find themselves facing a wall of silence and hostility, and things are made worse by the defense’s unscrupulous courtroom tactics. This isn’t just a social-problem film, though; the climax of the film is an agonizingly suspenseful tour de force, enhanced by master cinematographer Freddie Francis’s superb black-and-white widescreen lensing of the sinister woodsy setting. Archival 35mm widescreen print courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment. (MR)
Odd Man Out
1947, Carol Reed, UK, 116 min. With James Mason, Kathleen Ryan.
"A fantastic, thoughtful and stunningly photographed thriller...A fascinating supporting cast and a rousing score by William Alwyn add brio to Mason's performance." — Dave Calhoun, Time Out New York
ODD MAN OUT is the first in Reed’s series of classics (THE FALLEN IDOL, THE THIRD MAN, THE MAN BETWEEN) depicting a postwar world in which traditional moral underpinnings have been thrown out of joint. Mason had a breakthrough role as Johnny McQueen, leader of an IRA-like organization in Belfast. Weakened by years in prison, Johnny botches a factory robbery that leaves him gravely wounded and separated from his comrades. Like other Reed films, ODD MAN OUT becomes as much about its city as its protagonist, as Johnny undertakes an increasingly hallucinatory journey through a nocturnal, snowy Belfast populated by a gallery of motley characters drawn with Dickensian vividness. 35mm. (MR)
Ninety Degrees In The Shade
1965, Jiri Weiss, UK/Czechoslovakia, 90 min. With Anne Heywood, James Booth.
"Off-kilter, compelling little mid-'60s thriller...cinematographer Bedrich Batka conjures up some stunning scope compositions here, almost in the same realm as his amazing work on the brilliant MARKETA LAZAROVÁ." — Mondo Digital
This rediscovered rarity, virtually unseen for fifty years, is a fascinating hybrid on several levels. It is in English, features a largely British cast, and was written by a British screenwriter (David Mercer of MORGAN! and PROVIDENCE), but it was filmed in Prague with a Czech director and crew. Stylistically, it is a blend of British kitchen-sink drama, sardonic Czech irony, 1960s sexual candor, and film-noir fatalism. In some ways a very dark spin on THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, the story centers on a shop girl (Heywood) caught between two men. The first (Booth) is her shop manager and lover, a married man who is stringing her along. The second (Rudolph Hrusínský of THE CREMATOR) is a rigorous auditor with a dipsomaniac wife (Ann Todd). The two sides intersect when the auditor uncovers embezzlement by the manager, who pressures the shop girl to cover up for him. DCP digital widescreen. (MR)
The Fallen Idol
1948, Carol Reed, UK, 94 min. With Ralph Richardson, Bobby Henrey.
“A knockout…one of the great films about looking, about perspective, about the way we watch and interpret not just film plots but each other.” — Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice
Author Graham Greene, who adapted the screenplay from his own short story, considered THE FALLEN IDOL the best of the films he wrote, even better than the celebrated THE THIRD MAN, and more and more critics have come to share that opinion. This gripping psychological thriller centers on the relationship between eight-year-old Philippe (Henrey, remarkable in his only film appearance), son of a European ambassador in London, and Baines (Richardson, subtle and brilliant), the suave butler whom the boy idolizes. Yoked to a shrewish wife, Baines is carrying on a furtive relationship with a younger woman (Michèle Morgan), and Philippe, witnessing but not understanding, is drawn into an adult world of secrets and lies that engulfs him when Baines’s deception has deadly consequences. Director Reed and cinematographer Georges Périnal make especially effective use of the ambassadorial mansion, turning it into a vast theater that both motivates and misleads the boy’s imagination. New 2K DCP digital restoration. (MR)
Wanted For Murder
A Voice In The Night
1946, Lawrence Huntington, UK, 103 min. With Eric Portman, Dulcie Gray.
"Chilling Hitchcockian thriller... Making excellent use of bustling daytime locations and fogbound London nights, the tightly wound story culminates with a thrilling race against time in Hyde Park." — Britmovie
Co-scripted by Emeric Pressburger (of Powell & Pressburger fame), this atmospheric, well-constructed thriller infuses postwar London with echoes of notorious Victorian crime cases such as Jack the Ripper and Dr. Thomas Neill Cream. The city is cowering under the threat of a serial killer known as "The Strangler" — quickly revealed to the viewer as Victor Colebrooke (Portman), an urbane businessman with a tainted ancestry that drives him to murder. Arrogant and audacious, Colebrooke coolly chats with suspicious Scotland Yard detectives and sends them taunting postcards announcing the time and place of his next murder. The film opens and closes with tour-de-force scenes that conceal murderous intent in the most public of places, the first at a carnival on Hampstead Heath, the second amid a crowd of pleasure-seekers in Hyde Park. DCP digital. (MR)
Gideon Of Scotland Yard
1958, John Ford, UK, 91 min. With Jack Hawkins, Anna Lee.
“Among Ford’s most personal and ambitious movies…about the claustrophobia, craziness, and complacent despair of modern life.” — Tag Gallagher, John Ford: The Man and His Films
Based on J J Marric’s popular series of police procedurals and scripted by Ealing comedy ace T.E.B. Clarke (THE LAVENDER HILL MOB), this highly entertaining British excursion by American maestro Ford follows a Scotland Yard inspector (Hawkins) through a “typical” day, in the course of which he deals with two murderers, three bank robbers, a rapist, a corrupt cop, and his daughter’s concert performance. Drastically cut and released in black and white (despite being shot in color by the great Freddie Young) in its initial U.S. run, GIDEON OF SCOTLAND YARD is presented in a new 4K DCP digital restoration of the complete color British version. (MR)
Cash On Demand
1961, Quentin Lawrence, UK, 84 min. With Peter Cushing, Andre Morrell.
“One of Hammer’s best non-horror subjects...the compelling little thriller is tautly directed by Quentin Lawrence, who makes the most of the restricted settings.” — Britmovie
This nifty little nail-biter features two top performances in a clever spin on the "Christmas Carol" model. The Scrooge figure is Mr. Fordyce (British horror icon Cushing), a hyper-punctilious small-town bank manager who is unyielding in enforcing the rules on his brow-beaten employees. His comeuppance comes not in the form of Christmas ghosts, but of a suave con man (Morrell) posing as a bank inspector. The imposter uses the threat of harm to Fordyce’s kidnapped wife and child to force him into becoming an accomplice in the robbery of his own bank. As Fordyce dances to his puppeteer’s demands, and his increasingly suspicious employees come fatally closer to uncovering the truth, the film builds an ever-tightening trap worthy of Fritz Lang. Archival 35mm print courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment. (MR)