Thursday, August 6, 2015

Ride the Pink Horse (1947)

Screen capture from Criterion DVD
WHO: Robert Montgomery directed and starred in this film, shortly after doing the same in the notorious experiment Lady In The Lake, which was filmed entirely from the perspective of the lead character. This follow-up was not.

WHAT: I haven't seen Ride the Pink Horse yet, but I can't wait to. I first came across the title perusing Academy Award nominee lists; Thomas Gomez was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in this film, by some measures the chronologically first on a short list of Hispanic nominees over the years. Then in 2011 Elliot Lavine showed it in his "I Wake Up Dreaming" series at the Roxie and Steve Seid screened it as part of his "American Noir in Mexico" Pacific Film Archive series, and though I missed both showings I heard from many that it was a standout noir. So I wasn't all that surprised when Criterion added it to its collection despite its non-canonical status. Perhaps it's part of a shifting canon, however. Dennis Harvey guesses that it "may be the best border-town noir predating Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil" in his essential 48hills article this week.

WHERE/WHEN: 7:30 PM tonight only at the Castro Theatre, as part of I Wake Up Dreaming 2015.

WHY: Harvey's article gives a much better explanation of Elliot Lavine's 5-Thursday noir series, and why it's at the Castro Theatre rather than Lavine's traditional curatorial home the Roxie, than I would be able to. Pam Grady has also written a generous preview. As someone whose cinephilia blossomed at the tail end of Lavine's original stint at the Roxie, and whose interest in noir was stoked more at the Castro than at that venue, I'm not the ideal person to talk about the full importance of his past programming glories. I take it on faith that a huge part of the current fashion for noir, especially in San Francisco, is thanks to his efforts. But testimonials to this fact can come from the most unlikely places. I happen to have just read Patton Oswalt's new(ish) book Silver Screen Fiend, which is an oddly ambivalent recounting of the famous comedian's four years of obsessive moviegoing in Los Angeles. Mostly. But he occasionally hints at the role that San Francisco screenings played in his cinemania, and rather comes out and says it (at the risk of diminishing his overall, LA-centric thesis) on page 10:
I became addicted to film noir during the three years I lived in San Francisco, when the Roxie Theater on Sixteenth Street would do its noir festival every spring. I saw H. Bruce Humberstone's brilliant I Wake Up Screaming in 1993. That scene where psycho policeman Laird Cregar stares, openmouthed and turtle-eyed, as the film of his now-dead, unattainable dream girl plays in the smoky interrogation room? The one he's using to torment slick, grinning Victor Mature, hoping to railroad the poor bastard into the electric chair? That got me. Wow, did that get me.
Of course Oswalt's describing a scene from the film that inspired the name of Lavine's current series, from a screening that Lavine undoubtedly programmed and perhaps introduced. His taste was a formative influence on the aesthetic sensibilities of a guy who now has well over 2 million twitter followers. I Wake Up Screaming isn't one of the twelve titles Lavine's offering up for his first gig at the Castro, but from what I've seen of and heard about the selections, I'm not going to want to miss very many of the showings. The first three Thursdays are entirely populated by films I've never seen before, though some of them (especially Ride the Pink Horse, So Dark the Night and the Frisco-set Chinatown at Midnight) have been on my must-watch lists for a long time. I've seen four of the five films playing the final two weeks of the series, and all at the Roxie as part of Lavine double-bills. My favorite of the four is definitely Jacques Tourneur's Nightfall, followed by Stanley Kubrick's Killer's Kiss, which just might be the first noir I ever saw at the Roxie. The one I haven't seen yet is Dementia, but I've been kicking myself for missing it when Lavine last programmed it over four years ago, and I'm thrilled to get another chance. 

HOW: All screenings in I Wake Up Dreaming 2015 are sourced from 35mm prints. Ride the Pink Horse plays on a double-bill with So Dark the Night.