American films in the late 40s and early 50s were dominated by a style called film noir, as the optimistic excitement of wartime Hollywood gave way to a bleak mood of disillusionment and introspection. Directors turned away from the mythology of the American Dream to examine the darker sides of the American psyche: corruption, jealousy, greed, obsessive hate, and murder became crucial themes. Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity, showing in the Orson Welles's film noir festival is in many ways a perfect example of the genre. Written by Raymond Chandler, it stars Barbara Stanwyck as the sexy but neglected housewife who seduces an insurance salesman into helping her murder her husband to collect the settlement. The languorous turns of the plot combine with the shadowy camera work to create a sordid, shabby world of moral decay.
The best film noir showing this weekend is not part of the festival: Orson Welles's The Lady From Shanghai. Rita Hayworth, whose performance in Gilda so defined the fascinatingly sensual but dangerous woman of the period that her picture was painted an atom bomb, lures Welles into a deadly and mysterious web of murder and corporate intrigue. The film's atmosphere, evoking a sinister world whose logic is not apparent at the surface, is exactly what Polanski was trying to achieve in Chinatown. Welles's eccentric camera angles are carried to new extremes which accentuate the uncertain character of reality in the film; in particular, the climatic shootout in a hall of mirrors is not to be missed.
Capra's State of the Union (1948) is in no sense part of the film noir style, thought it too deals with political corruption. The uneasy balance Capra strikes between his exposure of corruption and his reaffirmation is very much the same as that of his films of the 30s, like Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and Meet John Doe. While State of the Union is politically the least sophisticated of Capra's serious films, it is also emotionally the most exhilarating. Hepburn gives the best performance of her career as the wife of Spencer Tracy, presidential candidate, who wins back her husband's love by convincing him to remain true to his principles. When Hepburn plays opposite Cary Grant, we can't totally enjoy her charm because she se ems so manipulative, as in Bringing Up Baby, but here she is a totally sympathetic character without a hint of melodrama, and the result is awesome. Tracy's political program is based on Wendell Wilkie's, but his campaign style conjures up no one more strongly than Jimmy Carter, showing the roots of Carter's methods of being everything to everyone in American political mythology.
Hitchcock's Lifeboat today at 7:30; Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew, Sunday at 7:30.
The Lady With the Dog at 6:10 and 9:40; Don Quixote at 7:45.
Lies My Father Told Me at 7:30 and 9:30.
The Story of Adele H at 2, 4, 6, 8, 10.
ORSON WELLES I
92 in the Shade at 4, 7:20 and 10:45; Rancho Deluxe at 5:30 and 9.
ORSON WELLES II
Performance at 4, 7:55; Don't Look Now at 5:55 and 9:50; Sunday-Tuesday: Frank Capra's State of the Union at 4 and 7:50; Howard Hawk's His Girl Friday at 6:10 and 10.