Sunday, May 12, 2013

Fall Guy (1947)

WHO: Cornell Woolrich wrote the story, "Cocaine", which this was based on.

WHAT: "Who did you kill? Why did you kill?" It's a staccato refrain that cuts through the black-and-white photography of the opening sequence, putting the audience, at least momentarily, in a disoriented state, desperate to learn what the cops barking these questions want to know- at least untl we remember the title of the film we're watching.

Since Woolrich's original title was too lurid to be used for an American film release in 1947, the title Fall Guy was used instead. Knowing this is the title of the film may rob it of some of it's mystery, as we know for sure that protagonist Tom Cochrane (played by Sean Penn's father Leo, billed as Clifford Penn) is an innocent victim and not a killer long before just about any of the film's other characters (including Tom himself) do. He wakes from a drink- (and drug- though which one is kept a vague secret to those not familiar with the source material) induced stupor, covered in someone else's blood, with a murder weapon in his hand. With no memory of his evident misdeed, he goes on the lam, aided by his friend Mac (Robert Armstrong) and his best girl Lois (Teala Loring), who has more faith in his innocence than he does, and resolves to help him retrace his steps to find the real killer and victim.

As a film made at the famous Poverty Row studio Monogram Pictures, Fall Guy is neither conceptually unique (it's essentially a standard amnesia-fueled suspenser with a hint of The Lost Weekend) nor very remarkable in its execution. Rather, it's an utterly, exquisitely typical low budget programmer that features some lesser-known actors who rarely got to play truly meaty material, as well as some more familiar ones in colorful character roles; Elisha Cook Jr. plays an elevator operator (prefiguring his role in Don't Bother To Knock) and Iris Adrian makes up half of a demented pair of gambling addicts. Confirmed fans of B-noir in general, or of Woolrich adaptations in particular won't want to miss it. Those who demand more polish from movies may want to wait until next weekend for a Castro screening of the most famous (and justly so) adaptation of a Woolrich story, Rear Window. But there are a few connections between  the two film plots, most notably their shared ability to evoke the uncanny dread involved in entering a room you know you're not supposed to.

WHERE/WHEN: Today only at the Roxie, at 1:30 and 6:15.

WHY: There are many things that distinguish Elliot Lavine's annual I Wake Up Dreaming festival of film noir titles made from the 1940s through the early 1960s, from other noir celebrations like Eddie Muller's traveling Noir City. Perhaps the most distinctive difference is the inclusion of 16mm projections. Muller's festival is built around locating 35mm and, thus far to a lesser extent, DCP copies of classic noir titles, often presented in new restorations, but this places limits on the depth of film titles available to be plunged in programming. When a 16mm print has run at Noir City, it was always a last-minute replacement for a 35mm print that turned out to be unprojectable, and since the Castro pulled its 16mm equipment out of the booth several years ago, these late-game switches (as with The Lady Gambles at Noir City 9) are now saved by DVD and not 16mm presentations. 

But 16mm prints can look great, especially in a more intimate house like the Roxie's. And so many worthy titles unavailable on 35mm or DCP can be shown using the format, thanks to the network of film collectors that a programmer like Lavine can tap into. Not that Lavine isn't equally adept at wringing great 35mm prints out of studio archives as well. But it's the flexibility of multiple formats that allows programs like today's Woolrich triple-bill, which includes 35mm prints of The Black Angel and Night Has A Thousand Eyes as well as a very nice 16mm copy of Fall Guy (that I was able to preview at a press screening a few weeks ago) to be possible at the Roxie.

HOW: 16mm, as part of a triple-bill detailed just above.


  1. Brian: I was glad I had a chance to catch up with "Fall Guy," which had previously eluded me. Variety didn't bother to review it. Another character actor I noticed was Christian Rub (most familiar as the voice of Geppetto in "Pinoccho") doing the Swedish janitor. When I used to see movies in New York with Mike Patton's sometime collaborator John Zorn, John was something of a fan of director Reginald Le Borg, though I recall more for his horror films like Calling Doctor Death, Weird Woman, and The Black Sleep.

  2. As an addendum, I was just reading about Le Borg and didn't realize he had a classy European background, studying with Arnold Schoenberg and Max Reinhardt! On the other hand, "Fall Guy" producer Walter Mirisch, who I forgot to mention, burrowed his way up from the depths of Poverty Row to head the successful family production company responsible for such hits as Some Like It Hot, West Side Story, and In The Heat Of The Night.