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It's Film Noir night!
February 24, 2011 - April Diodato
Get those getaway sticks over to the SUNY Fredonia campus tonight. The theme for this year's SUNY Fredonia American Studies Film Series is Film Noir, with showings on Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. in Thompson Hall Room E347. The next film “The Big Heat” (1953) and will be screened tonight (Thursday, Feb. 24), with an introduction by John Antosh.
Film noir is my favorite genre of films, with my obsession starting in a class I took during my senior year at Fredonia High School. We kicked off our film noir unit with “Double Indemnity,” starring the incomparable Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, and no matter how many movies in the genre I've seen since – and I watch them whenever I can – I still consider it to be the gold standard.
The first runner-up to “Double Indemnity,” (1944) in my humble opinion, is “The Big Heat.” It has everything you could want from a film noir: a spectacular cast playing the archetypal characters to a tee, one of the genre's greatest directors (Fritz Lang) and an an action-packed story, with some violence that I still find to be gruesome even by today's standards. Homicide Detective Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford, at his best) pays the price when he's found sticking his nose where it doesn't belong during his investigation of the death of a fellow officer, which at first appears to be a suicide until Bannion begins to dig deeper. His investigation takes him on a trail littered with unsavory characters – thugs, party girls and crooked cops. Aside from Ford, the real star is gangster girlfriend Gloria Grahame, a femme fatale that finds redemption. Unlike some two-dimensional femme fatales, Grahame's Debby Marsh actually gets the benefit of some character development.
The rest of the lineup includes two classics (although “Chinatown” was made after the classic era) and two neo-noir films. It is as follows:
- March 24: “Touch of Evil,” (1958) starring Orson Welles, Janet Leigh and Charlton Heston, directed by Orson Welles. Introduction by Eric Meringer.
- April 7: “Chinatown,” (1974) starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, director Roman Polanski's masterpiece. Introduction by by Ellen Litwicki.
- April 21: “Mulholland Drive,” (2001) starring Naomi Watts, directed by David Lynch.
- April 28: “Brick,” (2005) starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, directed by Rian Johnson.
Director of American Studies Shannon McRae welcomes us to bring “popcorn, your best fedoras and widest short ties, your highest heels, and your reddest lipstick (mixing and matching these accessories also encouraged).” I've gone to see films on campus, both as a student and as a member of the public, and for whatever reason, I was always the only one who came equipped with popcorn, pop and the perfect assortment of candy (Sour Patch Kids, multicolored Swedish Fish and Sour Patch Watermelons). I remain convinced that the begrudging glances I got were merely a combination of envy and hunger.
Gloria Grahame and Glenn Ford in "The Big Heat."