Monday, February 25, 2008

It's Alive!

You ever have one of those Dr. Frankenstein moments? Maybe even a Young Frankenstein moment?

You know, when you pinch yourself because you just can't believe that you and Igor have actually succeeded?

Well, it happened to me on Friday. The ARCS (advanced reading copies or galleys) of Nox Dormienda arrived. Did I think of a snappy, noirish line from one of my favorite movies? Did I raise an eyebrow like Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, or sing "Put the Blame on Mame"?


Two lines occurred to me ... the aforementioned "It's Alive!" as uttered by the imitable Colin Clive, and those immortal words of Teri Hatcher's, when she guested on Seinfeld:

They're real--and they're fabulous.

So now Mondays are the new Sundays, as we assemble press kits, reviewer addresses, and requests from relatives into mass mailings of what looks like a book with my name on it ... nah, couldn't be. This isn't real ... is it?

It's a landmark along the road, another reason to celebrate. Your book is real, like parenthood, when you hold the responsibility for it in your hands. Even an advanced reading copy. And it's necessary to celebrate, as I'm reminded when I read the wonderful Write Free newsletter, which should be a must read for everyone who writes or wants to write, or really, anyone who is trying to fit creativity into her life.

Check it out, give it a try. You'll be glad you did.

Something else I'm reading? Well, I just finished an advanced reading edition of another author, Jordan Dane. Jordan is going to be everywhere very soon -- her first book, No One Heard Her Scream, pubs in March -- so I'd suggest ordering now before they sell out, and don't forget you heard it here first.

She's got three books pubbing back to back this spring, all in the romantic suspense genre, but really--they cross over into thriller, mystery, police procedural categories. Vivid characterization, intense suspense, creepy and all-too believable villainy ... you owe it to yourself to check these out! The next two coming up are No One Left to Tell and No One Lives Forever.

Another fine author (who also happens to be a real heroine -- an emergency-room pediatrician) is CJ Lyons, who is launching Lifelines in March. I've read a sneak preview of the first chapter, and if you like medical thrillers and shows like ER and Grey's Anatomy ... well, you're in for a treat. I'll be picking up my copy at Left Coast Crime.

CJ, Jordan and I -- and my guest blogger, whom I'll be discussing in a minute -- are all members of the Thrill Begins, the International Thriller Writers Debut Authors Group. We've all been on this journey together. So my enthusiasm is doubled--first, because the books are tremendous, and secondly, because we're part of the same class, so to speak. That's a terrific feeling, and a relatively new one in publishing circles, spearheaded by the Killer Year group of authors. KY, incidentally, has a killer anthology out ... another recommendation.

Now, what about that guest blogger? Well, I'll be posting for Declan Burke's Crime Always Pays when we get to Denver. And fellow debut author and historical noir writer Rebecca Cantrell will be stepping over here, to Writing in the Dark, to share her observations about all kinds of things ... including how to write noir in sunny Hawaii, where she lives, and how to channel early '30s Berlin when you're sipping mai tais in 90 degree weather. Becky's book, Even Smoke Leaves a Trace, will be debuting in 2009, and I'm already in line for an ARC ... it's haunting and elegiac, the kind of poetry that noir inspires in the best of writers ... and she is one of the best.

Speaking of noir ... I saw Ida Lupino's favorite film the other day. Ladies in Retirement (1941), another example of period-setting noir. The environment is a lonely house on some rugged, decayed looking English moor, circa the 1880s. Ida co-stars with her husband at the time, Louis Hayward, noir stalwart Evelyn Keyes, Elsa Lanchester, and a great supporting cast.

Charles Vidor (Gilda) directed; the story is based on a stage play popular the year before. Essentially, Ida plays a woman willing to do anything -- emphasis on the anything -- to keep her barmy sisters happy and out of the insane asylum.

It's a marvelous film, owing something to Night Must Fall, but Vidor's angles, the starkly contrasting cinematography, and the cat-and-mouse game Ida plays with Hayward's character make it, in my opinion, even better. Lupino was one of the greatest actresses of the golden age ... and never nominated for one of those glittery and sexless statuettes they call an Oscar.

Unfortunately, Ladies in Retirement isn't on DVD or VHS ... I caught it on TCM. Watch your listings, which is almost as good a sign-off as "That's the way it is."

See you next week, with my last post before Denver and Left Coast Crime!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Wherever You Hang Your Hat

Whew! It's been quite a week. I'd intended to post a Valentine wish ... but I was stuck without a computer in Seattle. Computerless in Seattle ... where's Nora Ephron when you need her?!

I've been swamped since my return, getting ready for Operation Read My Book. Y'see, my ARCS (that's short for Advanced Reading Copies) will be here by Friday, and I've got to get them out to reviewers, bookstores, media and libraries. And readers -- I'll be giving some away on Dorothy-L and a few other lists, so look for the notice.

All this sudden injection of reality hit me like a wet fish upside my head. And speaking of fish, I felt a bit like a salmon when in Seattle, since I was born in Tacoma, and hadn't been back in mrruhs (hand over the mouth) years, since I was seven. So I returned to the Pacific Northwest, and saw Mt. Ranier again, and it felt like home.

It was wonderful to have early childhood memories flood back, and I received a great welcome from three Seattle legends: the Space Needle, Byrnie Utz Hats and the Seattle Mystery Bookshop.

The Space Needle was always my favorite building as a kid. I mean, Astro lived there! (I never cared much for the Jetsons--I preferred the Flintstones, go figure--but I did love Astro). That soaring architecture of hope, circa 1962, complete with working monorail ... well, there's nothing like it anywhere. It's from an era when people still remembered what it was like to have beauty in their environment--architectural beauty.

Not just glass boxes. Not just fake Santa Fe shopping malls. Not a Starbucks on every corner. Not the ubiquitous "mixed use retail" environment that is slowly destroying the individuality of every American city.

OK, I'm bitter in my nostalgia, but really ... cities need to preserve their architectural history. Thank God Seattle has its Space Needle ... and the Valentine's Day menu at the Sky City Restaurant was jaw-droppingly terrific. I'd write about it, but I don't want to make you too hungry.

On 310 Union Street in downtown Seattle (between 4th and 3rd Avenue), not too far from the Space Needle, is another tribute to beauty ... the beauty of hats and how to sell them. Byrnie Utz Hats was established in 1934, and not much has changed about the store since then except the stock. No website, alas, but they do mail order. Pay 'em a visit.

Glass and wood cases line the walls, a hat steamer and applicator for marking your hat band with gold-leaf initials rest on large wooden counters that have seen their share of coffee and cigars.

And the hats ... well, you can tell from my photo that I'm a hat person. I collect fedoras, and rejoice in wearing them. And at Byrnie's, I found two exquisite wide brim Dodds with low crowns. Glorious, luxurious hats that felt like they, too, stepped out of a 1937 time machine.

I'll be wearing them to Left Coast Crime and other conferences and signings this year ... they are my debut fedoras. Thank you, Byrnie Utz!

(By the way, the fedora in my author photo is a vintage Paramount from the 1940s, complete with thin satin ribbon on the brim. I don't travel with it, or my other vintage hats -- they're too delicate).

After partaking of a delicious latte at the Tully's flagship store around the corner from Byrnie's (I don't do the other place), I visited another wonderful business in the city ... one near and dear to my heart as reader and writer. The Seattle Mystery Bookshop, on 117 Cherry Street near Pioneer Square, is one of the best specialty shops I've seen -- a must-visit if you like mystery, thrillers and crime ... and who doesn't?

With a staff of the nicest people in Seattle, including JB, the owner, and Fran, Book Keeper extraordinaire, you'll find yourself whiling away the hours and discovering new gems. My timing was great on Saturday, because I got a chance to visit with my Killer Year pal Bill Cameron, author of the Rocky-nominated gem Lost Dog, and meet the wonderful Gregg Olsen. If you're going to Seattle, this store is as much of a necessity as looking up at the Space Needle!

Next time: more noir (film and literary), a review of Elizabeth: The Golden Age and why Helen Mirren needn't worry, and more observation on the road to Left Coast Crime in March, when Writing in the Dark will be featuring its first ever guest blogger!

Until then, may your coffee be hot and your noir be ice cold ...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Of Books and Broads

Old books and old movies. Two passions of my life, and I got a little of both this weekend.

The San Francisco Antiquarian Book, Print and Paper Fair was held at the Concourse down on 7th and Brannan this weekend ... and in case you think it's all giant tomes of Vasari or esoteric German philosophers, think again.

These are book collectors, and like book readers, they come in all varieties. Some like cookbooks, some like children's books, some like art and prints, and some like it noir.

I got to drool over an ARC (advanced reading copy) of Raymond Chandler's first novel, The Big Sleep. Price? $6,500. Still cheap by comparison to a first edition Harry Potter (one pricey version was something like $40,000 ... yeah, those were four zeros).

You can drift down the aisles, peeking at booths offering a first of The Maltese Falcon (complete with gorgeous dust jacket), British editions, paperback editions, obscure editions of books that sound familiar because you know the movie better.

There will be authors you know that are still active and writing, like Robert B. Parker, and authors who invented a world that turned into a multi-billion dollar empire, like Ian Fleming. Thriller writers, traditional mystery writers, noir and hard-boiled pulp writers ... to quote Hamlet, words, words words ... and all of them choice.

It's a fantasy for me on a lot of levels. First, as a collector and fan --"Wow, look at that pristine copy of Chandler's Smart Aleck Kill!" -- and secondly, as a writer myself. Because some of the books were written by people I know or have met, and you're thinking ... maybe it's within my grasp. Maybe, one day, someone will have a first edition of my first book at a book fair, complete with mylar cover.

Y'see, the reason the books are valuable is because these are writers who have achieved major success (and for some, a demi-god status). But when they began, they were like every other debut author with dreams of a career ... they had high hopes and low print runs. Consequently, as they wrote more and more books, each one building on the success of the next, those early editions became scarce ... because the demand outstripped the supply.

And that's the author's dream ... to sell as many books as possible, and enough to keep getting published and sustain a career ... but to always have more demand. Because that's what sells the next book ... and gets you behind a glass case at an Antiquarian Book Fair.

By the way, I picked up a somewhat tattered first edition copy of The Big Clock by the legendary New Yorker scribe, poet and founder of The Partisan Review, Kenneth Fearing. Noir, of course, published in 1946, "the year Hollywood went dark" (the theme of Noir City 4). Filmed in 1948 with Ray Milland, Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Sullivan and Rita Johnson, and as No Way Out in 1987.

Chandler said this about the book:
I'm still a bit puzzled as to why no one has come forward to make me look like thirty cents. But except for an occasional tour-de-force like The Big Clock, no one has.

I can't wait to read it ... look for the review here. Oh, and the price? I got lucky. I found a booth with a sale, and paid ... ten dollars. Yet another reason to go to book fairs!

So where do the broads of my title come in? With the noir I watched this weekend, after my inspirational purchase. Jeopardy (1953) , starring Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, and a Ralph Meeker as an escaped convict with Stanley Kowalski overtones.

I've always figured "broad" to be a rather complimentary term, implying a mutual (and sometimes begrudging) respect ... almost a buddy, if she weren't a dame.

At least that's how it always sounds to me when Sinatra sings it, and when you hear it applied to Joan Crawford or Barbara Stanwyck -- two of the archetypal broads of Hollywood. And in this taut, suspenseful 68 minute film by John Sturges, Stanwyck doesn't disappoint.

It's an odd little number. Shown by Noir City this year, I missed it (fell on a weekday), so watched it on the small screen. Barry is a typically bigoted, patronizing and sexist husband of early '50s film. But that's only on the surface.

After establishing the attitude early on that Barbara is hopeless, helpless, and that the only family member he really can depend upon to get things right is his seven year old son -- because he is, after all, a male (and even a child male is more capable than an adult female) -- he gets his foot trapped underneath a fallen pier post, and is in imminent danger of drowning unless his "hysterical" wife can drive for help.

Now, Barbara Stanwyck could play almost anything ... except helpless. So the casting belied his attitude, even for the '50s. Next, up steps Ralph Meeker, murderer and escaped convict, who--unlike her husband--treats her physically rough, but with an appreciation for her strength and toughness. Things happen from there, and the ending is atypical and a little unexpected.

Throw in Mexico, thought of as America's exotic and mysterious neighbor at the time, and location of many a great noir (Out of the Past, Touch of Evil), and you have a fascinating little film. The tagline was "She did it ... because her fear was greater than her shame!"

Watch it ... and see if you think that's what really happened.

Next up: always more noir. I'll be in Seattle for Valentine's Day, and will try to blog from the home of the best coffee (and, incidentally, my home state).

Monday, February 4, 2008

One More for the Road ...

Noir City 6, to contradict good ol' T.S., who was something of a noir poet himself, ended not with a whimper, but a bang.

Kids, anytime Richard Widmark and Ida Lupino show up in 35 mm, it's the Big Bang.

Widmark -- the man who patented the giggling yet somehow charismatically cute psychopath -- is still with us, at 92. We lost Ida in the '90s. Thank God for film.

A couple of years back, I saw the creamiest print of Night and the City you can imagine, out at the warm and wonderful Balboa Theater during Noir City 3. The print had only been shown twice before, to some VIP in the Greek government. Don't ask me to recount Eddie's story, it was a midnight showing.

Anyway, the film made an indelible imprint on my brain cells, going down in my little noir book as a favorite. So this year ... as tempting as it was ... I skipped it, because, yes, I am a working girl and it was a Sunday.

No primer in why noir is the most satisfyingly entertaining, visually rich and just plain gutsiest film genre around is complete without Night and the City, so do yourself a favor, chum ... rent the DVD if you can't see it on the big screen. This is Greek tragedy, Noir City style, and Richard Widmark's swan song for the genre. He goes out but good.

So I did make it to the Castro for Roadhouse, throwing deadlines to the wind for the sake of Ida Lupino, Widmark, and Cornel Wilde. God, were they worth it.

Roadhouse (a Fox gem from 1950) showcases why Ida Lupino was one of the most talented, hard-boiled, toughly glamorous, vulnerable, and seductive actresses around. That voice, full of cigarette smoke and too many late nights, empty Scotch bottles and second-class train tickets. That face, filled with the pain of life, but still hoping to find something worthwhile to live for. She epitomizes and idealizes the dame that's as hard as nails and as soft as silk ... for the right guy.

Widmark was great, of course, as the jealous, spoiled owner of Jefty's Roadhouse, a juke joint with a bowling alley attached, the hot spot of a rural community somewhere near the Canadian border. But as much fun as it was watching Widmark tick and waiting for him to explode, Ida walked off with the movie.

She plays the piano. Really. And she sings, including one of my all-time favorites, "One for the Road." And after she croaks out the last line about that "long, long road," you will echo Celeste Holme's amazed and admiring line: "She does the most with no voice than anyone I've ever seen!"

Of course, noir denizens recognize Ida for her directing talents (The Hitchhiker) in addition to her unforgettable roles. But Roadhouse shows why this lady -- and Gloria Grahame -- remain enshrined as the holy women of Noir City.

Cornel and Celeste were excellent, too. I can't wait to get this baby on DVD.

So another year, another January, another Noir City. I realized this year that I mark my life by this festival ... it was three years ago, during a Noir City, that I realized the direction I wanted to take for the novel I was writing. It was just last year, during Noir City, that I received word of my publication for the same novel.

We're entwined now, like scotch and soda, or Bogart and trench coats, or dark, rainy streets flooded with neon. Next year, another passport, another festival. With Noir City, I will always take one more for the road.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Masks and Voices at Noir City 6

Saturday at Noir City showcased what the program describes as "Noir Head Trips" ... and they were right. Both movies played with your mind; one played with your heart.

Both also stretched the chronological boundaries many purists insist upon: The 3rd Voice, the first feature, dated from 1960, and the second film, Face Behind the Mask, from 1941 (same year as The Maltese Falcon).

And this reminds me ... if you ever get a chance to attend Noir City (San Francisco, Castro Theater) ... try next year, 7 is a lucky number ... you should go to the evening shows whenever possible, because the Czar of Noir (Eddie Muller) always has a scintillating story or two up his sleeve, and often brings remarkable people to the microphone.

At 7:30, before the evening showing of The 3rd Voice, he brought Foster Hirsch. This seminal and perceptive film critic and professor was charming and enthusiastic in discussing the director of the feature, the very talented Hubert Cornfield, a contemporary of Stanley Kubrick.

The late Mr. Cornfield felt unappreciated by audiences, unappreciated by critics, unappreciated by actors, unappreciated by everyone, really, except other people's wives ... a tidbit shared by Eddie that had emerged during a Cornfield on-stage discussion at L.A.'s lite version of Noir City. Even at an advanced age, and with the ravages of throat cancer, Hubert had been, in Eddie's words, "the horniest man I'd ever met."

This is what you miss when you go for the matinée.

So what about The 3rd Voice? Well, it offers noir stalwart Edmond O'Brien in a brash and hammy performance, Julie London (who should have insisted on separate billing for her cleavage), and a deliciously dark and complex turn by none other than good girl Laraine Day as the femme fatale. Laraine, in my mind, stole the show. Playing a long-time mistress and business partner spurned for a younger woman, she delivers a knock-out line early on: "If you can replace me ... I can replace you."

Let that -- and the fact that O'Brien's real-life wife, Olga San Juan (called the "Puerto Rican Pepper Pot") plays a prostitute -- be your enticements (along with Julie London or O'Brien's naked feet, depending on your preferences.)

The next film in tonight's mix was one of the best in Noir City 6, and, to me, even out-bleaks Night and the City for the most gut-wrenchingly depressing noir of all. It was directed by Robert Florey, who also gave us The Crooked Way (1949).

Face Behind the Mask stars Peter Lorre (always a stylized actor, but never better than here) as an optimistic, innocent immigrant from Eastern Europe, a watchmaker who wants nothing more than a chance to work.

Things go down hill from there. After suffering third degree burns in a hotel fire (because some schmuck was cooking in his room), his face is disfigured. "Good" society spurns him. No matter how skilled his hands, no one will give him a job. Until, at the point of suicide, he meets Dinky, a small-time crook more opportunistic than crooked, and the only person to see the man behind the mask of melted skin.

To survive, Lorre's watchmaker drifts into criminal activities. He meets a beautiful blind girl (the radiant and superb Evelyn Keyes) who also "sees" the real man. And yes ... things go down hill from there.

I missed Eddie's remarks for this movie (not following my own advice), but recognized the socio-cultural and political agenda. This is a film that scathingly indicts the "American Dream" in as unforgettable a fashion as The Prowler or Force of Evil, but because it lacks the formalism of the latter films -- and because of Lorre's sympathetic and poignant portrayal -- it reads as a devastatingly sad and bitter movie. The screenplay was written by the blacklisted writer Paul Jarrico, the man who would later give us Salt of the Earth.

This is a real rarity, not available on DVD, but if you can ever catch it ... get out a hanky and watch. I wasn't the only one in the theater with watery eyes.

Next up: Noir City ends with a bang -- that would be the inimitable Ida Lupino -- in Roadhouse, and Richard Widmark's best role ... Harry Fabian in Night and the City.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Marriage-Counseling, Noir City Style

Bogie was a great actor. Sure, he had a distinct presence, a remarkable voice, and nobody could mistake him for Ronald Colman. But given those idiosyncratic and unique characteristics, he could go from Rick Blaine to an egotistical wife-killer with one twitch of the eye.

Noir City on Friday, February 1st, showcased Bogie in one of his rarest films ... Conflict. Paired with a young Alexis Smith and squared against a psychiatrist in the rotund and lovable form of Sidney Greenstreet, Humphrey plots and plans to dispose of shrewish wife (and why, I ask, don't these women ever agree to a divorce?) Rose Hobart, and succeeds ... or does he?

The story was based on a story by Robert Siodmak (the personal favorite of Eddie Muller, the Czar of Noir -- gentleman and noirmaster extraordinare), though Siodmak never got to direct it himself. Instead, the under-appreciated Curtis Bernhardt, Siodmak's mentor, creates a suspenseful noir of psychology and murder, obsession and desperation ... all the stuff we crave. ;) This baby's not on DVD, but if you can catch it on TCM, don't miss it.

The second "wife-killing" feature was actually one of my favorites of the festival ... and not just because Noir City 6 is about stretching the boundaries of noir past the middle of the twentieth century. Obviously, that's a cause I'm proud to call my own, since I'm pushing it back to the first century A.D. The Suspect is one of a few "period" films screened at the Castro this year, and it is one of the best.

Though the source material -- the novel This Way Out by James Ronald -- was not set in Edwardian England, the film is. Eddie revealed in his pre-show talk that it was really a film about Dr. Crippen -- the story that Hitchcock always wanted to film.

The movie was directed by Siodmak, and is a knuckle-biter, proving once again what an incomparable actor Laughton was. His wife is an absolute harpy, a truly evil bitch of a woman, pure malice. The audience clapped when he finally got her.

The innocent girl he falls in love with is Ella Raines -- she of the startlingly blue eyes, even in luscious black and white. Ella projected more vulnerability than Bacall, that other famous Howard Hawks discovery, and it's in full force here.

I found that changing the film's setting enhanced the plotline and made it much more believable. Young women had fewer options in 1902, and divorce was scandalous, a sin, especially for a petit bourgeois business man like Laughton's character. And the time and place made it much more plausible that Ella might hook up with Laughton ... it also added to the sense of suffocation that hangs over the movie like Burt Lancaster with a pillow (OK, if you don't get that reference, email me). Henry Daniell (the star of many a horror film) plays a satisfyingly despicable fellow, and Rosalind Ivan channels one nasty harpy (look for her in Scarlet Street). Make no mistake -- The Suspect was as black as all night diner coffee.

So it's historical. And it's noir. It's also not on DVD, but hey--search for it. One terrific film, by Eddie's favorite director.

Later: Saturday at Noir City 6, and a Peter Lorre/Edmond O'Brien double feature of trick voices and face masks!

Friday, February 1, 2008

D.O.A. in Noir City

Last night would've made Jeannette MacDonald (and Clark Gable) proud. It would even have made pious priest Spencer Tracy (Father Mullin to you) unloosen his collar a bit.

If those cast members don't ring your bells, you've missed a sentimental favorite of San Franciscans everywhere: the 1936 MGM melodrama San Francisco, which features a very scary (and surprisingly authentic-feeling) earthquake scene. It's the movie that gave us our rousing anthem of a city song, "San Francisco" (the one that signals the show is about to start, when played by one of the Castro Theater's incredible pipe organists). It's all about the good ol' bad ol' days of the really swingin' Barbary Coast, which made the Condor Room and the strip joints of later years seem like Pollyanna's tame uncle Milton. It's not noir, but baby--it's San Francisco.

So why would they be proud, you ask? Because on another rainy, miserable, dark and stormy night (the only kind of weather that reflects the emotions on the screen), San Franciscans packed the Castro Theater for another night of Noir City: San Francisco Noir.

Eddie Muller, the Czar of Noir with the heart of gold, and uber-talented writer/director of The Grand Inquisitor, introduced the films of the evening, which led off with one of the most deliriously delicious B-noirs of the late '40s, D.O.A. He also announced some fabulous news for noirheads and film lovers everywhere: Noir City and the San Francisco International Film Festival will be teaming up to host a holiday of international noir. Can you say merci?

Graham Leggat, the Executive Director of the San Francisco Film Society, was on stage with Eddie to discuss the deal. While details are yet to be determined, think about what great noirs may be in the offering ... Rififi. Ossessione. Harikomi. Makes you want to learn how to say, "Build my gallows high, baby" in multiple languages, doesn't it?
(that last line is from Out of the Past, not only a SF noir, but also one of the best).

This terrific news was accompanied by a grim reminder of why the Film Noir Foundation exists. D.O.A. had to be shown on (suck in your gut, this hurts) DVD. Why? Because the only good 35 mm copy exists in the hands of some schmuck collector who would rather hoard it and see it rot than loan or rent it (for market prices) to a non-profit that could SAVE it. The only 16 mm print is in tatters. Such is the price of having classics in the "public domain."

When it comes to film preservation, there is no "public domain", really--there are only good collectors and bad collectors, and unfortunately, we were dealing with the latter.

But hey--The Prowler has bee restored, so maybe something can be done for D.O.A eventually. The case of these two films alone should prove why you need to contribute to the Film Noir Foundation, the non-profit behind Noir City. Ticket money directly funds film preservation. It saved a Josephy Losey classic and the best film made by Van Heflin and Evelyn Keyes from destruction ... and believe me, DVD is nice, but it isn't the same as film, especially when the film is too fragile to even digitalize.

And what about D.O.A.? It's a terrific noir premise ... man in bebop bar (San Franciscans loved their jazz, even in '49 B movies) gets poisoned with a radioactive substance (which for some reason the film shrinks from naming, other than "luminous toxin"), wakes up with one hell of a hangover, finds out he's going to die in one day or two weeks at the most, and spends the rest of the movie in LA tracking down the killer.

Incredible shots of the Bradbury building in LA (and a drugstore, complete with soda fountain--would that those were still around) ... evocative scenes in San Francisco, especially with sweaty suburban everyguy Edmond O'Brien hoofing it down Market Street (and in one clip, you can see the old Key System train crossing the bottom level of the Bay Bridge) . There's also Neville Brand's over-the -top-of-Mt. Everest imitation of a Richard Widmark psycho-thug, and Luther Adler as Majak, who sounds like he should be related to Spock, but is really a suave but sinister Middle Eastern "businessman."

Some very odd musical sound effects of comic wolf-whistles ... a music score by Dimitri Tiomkin that makes Max Steiner sound like Philip Glass ... and unintentionally funny dialog (when he sees his girlfriend for what he knows will be the final time, he asks "Is that a new outfit"?--must have been straight out of the manual on How to Talk to a Woman, copyright by Father Knows Best). All in all, a fun-filled B movie with more laughs than chills, but hey--laughter is chicken soup for the noir soul. I've seen it before (on a small screen), and it was most definitely worth seeing again.

If you want me to put on the film critic hat, I'll say this: B movies are more revelatory of the times than their more respectable brethren. D.O.A. dates from '49, released in 1950, the height of the witchhunts and hysteria that sent people to jail for believing in the Constitution. The film not only contains patronizingly sexist dialog (part of the post-war effort to retrain women out of the job market), but it also encapsulates the sense of hysteria, paranoia, xenophobia, and the "unknown danger within" mentality more obviously seen in such films as I Married a Communist (also known as The Woman on Pier 13.)

There are more reasons to see noir than the obvious ones ... so don't overlook D.O.A. Last night's viewing was particularly enjoyable because the daughter of leading lady Pamela Britton, a fine actress of great appeal, was in the audience.

Alas, this intrepid noir writer could not stay for the second feature, despite the great temptation of a woman's prison movie starring Gypsy Rose Lee's little sister (yup, Baby Rose!). I'll have to find The Story of Molly X outside Noir City limits.

I left my heart in San Francisco, but I left my no-doze at home ...

Next time: Bogie and Charles Laughton, on the final Friday of Noir City 6!