You may not find many darkened alleys in this DC community, no window blinds inducing deep shadows, no gambling dens (that I know of), but who can say whether or not a femme fatale or two could be hiding in the shadows? Maybe you’ll see a gumshoe prowling around a parking garage, you just never know. Silver Spring, Maryland isn’t exactly New York City or Los Angeles, so most of the nefarious noir-related activities at Noir City DC are going to be confined to the screen. Aren’t they?
Noir City DC 2018 kicked off with its first double feature of an “A” picture paired with a “B” movie: The Blue Dahlia (1946) and Night Editor (1946).
Writer, historian, actor and producer Alan K. Rode introduced both films, starting with The Blue Dahlia. In conducting research for an audio commentary for an upcoming Blu-ray release of the film from Shout Factory, Rode discovered many facts from documents housed in the Paramount archives that debunk many of the stories we’ve heard for years about The Blue Dahlia. (I’m not going to go into them here; you’ll have to pick up the Blu-ray and hear Rode’s commentary.)
The plot involves Ladd as Johnny Morrison, a returning GI, coming home to surprise his wife Helen (Doris Dowling). And it’s some surprise; the wife has not only been partying and sleeping around, she also has an awful secret to tell her husband. And when a nasty murder happens, everything points to Johnny as the prime suspect.
You can read my original thoughts on the film from Noir City San Francisco earlier this year, but for this viewing (my fourth), I noticed more of the friendship angle shared among the three men, especially the concern of George (Hugh Beaumont) for Johnny. At the bar just after they’ve stepped off the bus, George mentions to Johnny that he’d like to meet his wife. “The door will always be open,” Johnny tells him, only he doesn’t know just how true that comment has been during his absence. We’re not entirely sure how, but George seems to know that Johnny’s wife has been practicing the “Love the one you’re with” philosophy in Johnny's absence. “Don’t you think you might call her before you go home?” George suggests. We see other instances of George’s friendship with (and perhaps a type of love for) Johnny throughout the film.
I’d also never really appreciated how well-constructed (most of) the film is, which is a credit to both the Raymond Chandler screenplay and the editing of Arthur P. Schmidt. Also a reassessment of the supporting cast made me realize there are no weaknesses there.
Night Editor (1946) was based on the long running (1934-1948) radio program of the same name. It’s too bad this picture never led to a movie series as well. It might be low-budget, but Night Editor is terrific. The frame story, set at the editorial office of the New York Star, involves the paper’s editor Crane Stewart (Charles D. Brown) relating the story of a murder investigation. A police lieutenant named Cochrane (William Gargan), while cheating with a glitzy socialite named Jill (Janis Carter), witnesses a murder at a “lovers lane” beach spot. Cochrane can’t report the crime without revealing the fact that he was cheating on his wife. Plus Cochrane is assigned to investigate the murder.
During this (my second) viewing of the film, I came away with a greater appreciation for Janis Carter as the femme fatale. Hers is a very underrated performance that belongs in the Femme Fatale Hall of Fame. Just look at the way she moves those eyes, opening her mouth just enough to suggest a gnawing, perverse hunger… As Jill, Carter also gives the impression that she’s into some pretty crazy stuff, things you could only suggest, even in a “B” picture! Jeff Donnell (another woefully underrated actress) is also terrific as Cochrane’s wife. I’d have loved to see an entire series with Paul E. Burns as the odd little police detective Ole Strom (who seems like a cross between Charlie Chan and Columbo). Night Editor is definitely worth seeking out.
For a moment there, I thought Eddie Muller and Lucy Laird were right there with us at the AFI Silver, but we'll have to wait for Eddie until next week. (Perhaps Ms. Laird will also join us???) In the meantime, everyone at Noir City DC is thoroughly enjoying the introductions by Alan K. Rode. For the rest of the Noir City DC schedule, please check the AFI Silver website. We've only been through one day, so there's still lots of noir to enjoy.
Photos: IMDb, Film Noir of the Week