Wednesday, December 17, 2014

O. Henry's Full House (1952)

Screen shot from 20th Century Fox DVD.
WHO: Five different directors, three named Henry (King, Koster and Hathaway) and two others (Howard Hawks & Jean Negulesco) each directed a different short story by O. Henry.

WHAT: I haven't seen this film yet; I somehow missed it the last time it screened locally, at the Stanford Theatre's 2012 Howard Hawks festival. I love the idea of Hawks adapting "The Ransom of Red Chief"- putting him in the excellent company of Yasujiro Ozu. I also am tickled picturing Henry Koster directing Marilyn Monroe and his It Started With Eve star Charles Laughton in "The Cop and the Anthem". I don't remember O. Henry's stories "The Clarion Call" or "The Last Leaf" well enough to imagine Henry Hathaway directing Richard Widmark, or Jean Negulesco directing Anne Baxter, as they did here.

But the O. Henry story that's been most deeply-ingrained in me is of course the heartbreakingly ironic Yuletide tale "The Gift of the Magi", which in this film was helmed by Henry King and featured Farley Granger and Jeanne Crain (pictured above). Like "The Clarion Call" and "The Cop and the Anthem" it had been filmed previously in 1909 by D.W. Griffith (I have not seen these versions either). Unlike those, it had also been planned to be made into a Technicolor musical by Otto Preminger in 1945. That film was shelved however, making King's version the best-known made in Hollywood.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens 7PM tonight only at the Castro Theatre, as part of the annual Noir City Xmas double-bill.

WHY: When Eddie Muller decided to use the announcement of the 2011 Noir City Film Festival as a fancy excuse to screen Remember The Night and Mr. Soft Touch in December 2010, I wonder if he realized he'd be creating a tradition that would stretch out for five Christmas seasons, providing excuses to show 35mm prints of ten holiday-related feature films to eager Castro audiences. Some of the selections have been more Xmassy (Remember the Night, last year's Christmas Eve) than noir, and others have been vice versa (Christmas Holiday in 2011 and Blast of Silence in 2013) but they've all been occasions to see mid-century motion pictures in a movie palace, and that's really all that matters. Tonight's screening pairs the O. Henry anthology with the wintry Curse of the Cat People, which I saw in a beautiful 35mm print at the Stanford last year. Between the two films there are seven different Hollywood directors, as Curse... was started by Gunther Von Fritsch in the director's chair, but finished by Robert Wise (his career-making promotion from the editor's booth) midway through production.

Even if you're not as excited as I am to see this double-bill, you may want to attend just to see a short documentary on the Noir City festival promised as part of the program, and to get the first eyeful of the full 2015 line-up. We already know that next year's festival is a week earlier than usual in recent years, running from January 16 to 25th, and that it will show the Film Noir Foundation's latest 35mm restorations, The Guilty and Woman on the Run (the latter a San Francisco-set Noir City rediscovery) at some point during the week and a half.  I'm dying to know if last year's "international" edition (which brought me to the Castro for every single film screened, for the first time in festival history) will have some world-class ripples into this year's program, and to find out if "Czar of Noir" Eddie Muller is planning anything special for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which has for the past couple years been an occasion for a Castro screening of Wattstax, which seems likely to be a tradition no more with Noir City back in that weekend slot (as it had been when it was founded).

The Castro does have all its remaining December screenings planned out (including some more Christmas-themed programs: Muppet Christmas Carol, Die Hard and Scrooged this Sunday and It's A Wonderful Life Monday), as well as a number of its January ones as well. Those who love SF Sketchfest and Noir City equally will be glad to see that they overlap much less than in previous years, and that it's easy to filter all film events on the comedy festival's redesigned website.

Meanwhile, the Roxie, in addition to being a Sketchfest venue (screening a Preston Sturges film for, I think, the first time ever!) along with the Castro, is currently winding down the third iteration of its own international (specifically French) film noir series. I attended last night's screening of Witness In The City, an impressively atmospheric thriller based on a story written by the duo from where the ideas for Diabolique and Vertigo originally sprang (it repeats tonight) and I'll Spit On Your Graves, an imagining of American racial dynamics in the late 1950s that seems positively inept (unless I have a far worse understanding of history than I think I do) and that while watching made me feel far more forgiving of Hollywood attempts to depict foreign countries than usual. Maybe the hackers that have just encouraged James Franco to cancel his participation in this weekend's all-Coppola celebration, and made last month's Castro screening of The Interview seem a like an absolute must-see in hindsight should take a look at this one too. (It repeats at the Roxie tomorrow.)

HOW: O. Henry's Full House and The Curse of the Cat People both screen in 35mm prints.

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