11 May 2013
Los Angeles California
Oh Lucky ME! Last week, on Saturday night I went on a date, to see not one but two monumental Burt Lancaster/Robert Siodmak Noir films at the Billy Wilder Theater in the Hammer Museum. We were invited to do so by the Hammer Museum for their “Centennial Celebration,” and I was with a dear set of friends intimately associated to the Lancaster estate. (Dear close-friends WE love, very much.)
Before last night, I was A BURT LANCASTER Virgin. Yes. It is true. I had not really fully gotten sucked into the phenomenon of this classic Hollywood film STAR. Sure, I’d seen him in, “The Crimson Pirate,” and other such films but NEVER before on the BIG SCREEN and BURT is BEAUTIFUL BIG! OH YEAH! What a freakin’ HUNK! I mean the only other man that well… frankly… anyway… let me get a grip.
After a brief drink then a fast jaunt across the road, we slipped into our reserved seats. The host launched the evening a quick introduction to an engaging film scholar and author, Alan K. Rode. He introduced, “The Killers” with wit and verve, making the audience chuckle before the film played. With this particular film gem, Burt Lancaster went from unknown to Hollywood STAR for every good reason. Adonis had nothing on him. His taunt trained athletic energy, the acrobat’s concentration, and the obscenely fluid ease of his movement… AH! WE all wish to be so fit, so right.
He played a boxer gone off, knuckles broken, lured by easy money into the wrong set, and reeled in by a breathtakingly beautiful Fem-Fatal played by a long, big-eyed, previously undiscovered stunner —Ava Gardner— to take part in an ugly payroll heist. The film unfolds in dazzling flashbacks, as the insurance claim detective pieces together the puzzle of the anti-hero’s violent death. In other words: classic film noir. The story is utterly believable, gritty, eternal and elemental tragedy. (The film is based on a short story by Ernest Hemingway.) We go along for the ride even though we know it won’t end well from the start. We, audience, mirror the protagonist’s experience of being lured into a race to hell. Yet, at the end of the film, we have the satisfaction of resolution. THE LAW firmly upheld and evil woman caught in her own net of deception. Ah! How delightful!
The second film, after a brief intermission, and a little more relevant film talk from the passionate and funny film scholar, Rode, “Criss Cross,” a less successful yet watchable film with a lot of the same story elements. Lancaster’s performance was impeccable. He held the film together, the other actors revolving around him like planets. In the film his character, a easily forgettable type IF it were not glorious Burt in the tepid role, glows with innocent infatuation for an evil prize, a woman of little worth, a tramp, a moll, a gangster’s wife that was once his wife. The yucky plot-line of good boy meets BAD girl and loses life for love is not poignantly told in “Criss Cross,” which was a little slapped together and claustrophobic, even though it does have some beautiful (…and also early arial…) footage of old LA, with the trolley cars and union station figuring prominently. “The Killers,” however is a hard act to follow because it is, at first viewing, one of the masterpieces its genre, along with Casablanca, and the Maltese Falcon, other noir classics that one can not speed by, one must stop and enjoy these delicious golden noir films.
The pleasure of seeing these fabulous old film(s) at the Billy Wilder Theater is intense. YOU MUST make plans to see a Burt Lancaster film in this theater before the end of the series. Last night was so great, that IF I had had to fly in from New York to experience seeing “The Killers,” and “Criss Cross,” large, on the “silver screen,” with great S O U N D, I would not hesitate. That I have this pleasure at the Billy Wilder Theater without needing to get on a plane is truly awe and some. By the way, the MUSIC! the score for “The Killers,” which drove home the story and was later, purloined by the composers of the Dragnet, television show for that program’s theme, for which there was, “legal action,” later. (All this, and more, I learned from listening to the scholar that introduced the two films.) Understandable because the music was one of the many factors combined which make, “The Killers,” an unforgettable film.