Film noir, which wasn’t even recognized as a genre until its first great wave was petering out in the late 50s, is more popular than ever. Beginning August 28, Music Box and the Film Noir Foundation will present the seventh annual edition of Noir City: Chicago, a weeklong series of noir favorites and rarities. (I’ll be there on September 1, talking about the Robert Ryan movies The Racket and House of Bamboo.) And all this month, Gene Siskel Film Center has been honing in on the Music Box’s territory (I expect a shoot-out any day now) with “Casting Dark Shadows: Film Noir Revisited,” eight features that range from familiar auteurist titles (The Killing, The Lady From Shanghai) to such lesser known films as Richard Quine’s Pushover (1954).
Cast a Dark Shadow (1955) and Corridor of Mirrors (1948)—which you can catch this Saturday as a double feature—are two of the more obscure offerings, and ones that stretch the boundaries of noir. Both are British thrillers set among the upper classes, as opposed to American crime films about down-and-outers, and they lack the social fatalism that, more than all the shadow play and grimy urban locations, has always defined the genre. British noirs about commoners—like Robert Hamer’s excellent It Always Rains on Sunday (1948)— come much closer to the mark, because what stacked deck could be as stacked as the British class system? Yet Cast a Dark Shadow and Corridor of Mirrors both qualify as noir for their focus on the basest human emotions: greed in the first case, lust in the second.
Cast a Dark Shadow is the better of the two, a twisty story about a twisted character. The unfortunately named Teddy Bare (Dirk Bogarde) has married the elderly Monica (Mona Washbourne) in hope of getting his hands on her fortune, and when he learns that she’s about to sign a will, which he thinks will leave him out in the cold, he gets Monny drunk, lays her down in front of the gas fireplace with matches scattered about, and opens the flue. Her death is ruled an accident, but to Teddy’s dismay, Monny already had a will, which leaves him the house but the bulk of her fortune to a sister in Jamaica—the new will, whose signing Teddy forestalled, would have left him the entire estate. Angry but undeterred, Teddy latches onto another rich widow (Kay Walsh), but she’s less enamored of him. “You wouldn’t like this one, Monny,” Teddy tells the old woman’s empty rocking chair. Could Norman Bates be far behind?
Corridor of Mirrors features a comparably creepy neo-necro moment: a married woman, Mifanwy Conway (Edana Romney), reveals in voice-over that she’s heading to London for a rendezvous with her lover at Madame Tussauds, and when she gets there, he turns out to be literally statuesque. But not really—her actual lover, art critic Paul Mangin (Eric Portman), believes that he’s the reincarnation of a 15th-century Venetian, whose likeness is displayed at Tussauds, and that Mifanwy is the reincarnation of the woman he loved back in the old days. Director Terence Young (who went on to direct three James Bond movies with Sean Connery) gives the film a gauzy, dreamy tone that has been aptly compared to the films of Jean Cocteau, and the movie plays more like gothic horror than film noir (it even has Christopher Lee in his screen debut). But it shares with the genre a sense that some people belong in the shadows. v