Noir City, Hollywood
For the 20th Anniversary of the annual film noir festival at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre, the focus is on LA Noir from the classic era. Starting with The Blue Dahlia (1946) on the sold out Opening Night, many of the titles have been familiar favorites. Thursday night brought out the rarities beginning with The Turning Point (1952) recently restored by Paramount in a freshly minted DCP. As the Los Angeles Times reported in an October 23, 2015 article, “Studios have come to realize that there’s not only marketable value in the films, but publicity value in performing as responsible stewards of cultural assets.” Before the screening, host Alan K. Rode interviewed Paramount’s Vice President of Archives, Andrea Kalas, who oversaw the restoration and was clearly enthusiastic about the project.
In the film, Jerry McKibbon (William Holden) is a crusading reporter in an unnamed Midwestern City investigating the rackets and one mob boss in particular named Eichelberger (Ed Begley). Jerry’s pal is special prosecutor Johnny Conroy (Edmond O’Brien) who’s moving in on Eichelberger and his gang. While Jerry is idealistic, Johnny is pragmatic, but they have the same goals. As Rode pointed out in his introduction, the Kefauver Committee’s 1950-1951 investigation into organized crime, headed by Senator Estes Kefauver, inspired the movie. Warren Duff’s screenplay, based on a story by Horace McCoy (They Shoot Horses Don’t They), was literally ripped from the headlines.
Johnny has hired college educated Amanda Waycross (Alexis Smith) as his assistant. They’re also a couple outside of the office. Veteran newsman Jerry thinks she’s out of her depth and isn’t afraid to say it. Despite that, Jerry and Amanda telegraph that something is going on between them beneath the surface.
Johnny is so wrapped up in the case, he barely notices until it’s too late. If that weren’t bad enough for the counselor, his beat cop dad Matt (Tom Tully) has been on the take for years. It all comes to a head in the third act.
William Dieterle directed films in his native Germany, both before and after his Hollywood career. He came under suspicion during the Hollywood Blacklist. Ironically and maybe intentionally, the scenes of the mob hearings resemble the HUAC (House Unamerican Activities Committee) hearings.
Director of photography Lionel Lindon was a master of black-and-white cinematography. The use of light and shadow is extraordinary. Besides The Blue Dahlia, he lensed the noir classic, Alias Nick Beal (1949). Edith Head’s understated costumes reflect the serious theme of the film.
Los Angeles stands in for the anonymous city. Look for landmarks including Angel’s Flight on Bunker Hill and the boxing hall the Olympic Auditorium.