Thursday, December 19, 2013

Noir City Xmas: Blast of Silence

For the first time in my memory, the Castro Theater marquee is fully functional, with progressive lights spelling out C-A-S-T-R-O before blinking once and starting all over again. It's a veritable Christmas miracle.

Adding to the blessings Wednesday evening was Noir City Xmas under the directorship of Eddie Muller above, a new annual tradition that's a seasonal warm-up for late January's 10-day Noir City Film Festival.

Muller shared his excitement about this year's edition of the festival which is specializing in foreign films, including a pair of Argentine classics that have never been projected onscreen in the United States. He also put in a plug for Castro organist David Hegarty, above left, who is spearheading a rescue and restoration effort for the theatre's grand old Wurlitzer organ. (Click here for the SFCODA website.)

Muller apologized for stretching the definition of noir in recent Christmas programming to include a Deanna Durbin film two years ago, "but tonight, I promise, we are showing a film that is relentlessly bleak, brutal and noir." The film was the 1961 Blast of Silence, made for about $23,000 and a few prayers by Allen Baron above, who appeared in person at the Castro last night.

Baron wrote, directed, produced and starred in the cinema verite style film, after a young Peter Falk dropped out of the lead "for a paying job with a real salary." It was Baron's second movie acting job after a bizarre 1959 entry into the movie biz filming the washed-up Errol Flynn's last movie, Cuban Rebel Girls, with Fidel Castro's permission while the fighting was still going on. Baron isn't bad as the hit man from Cleveland whose last job in New York City spirals out of control. The striking film got him noticed in Hollywood which led to a television directing career that stretched for decades.

Because Baron had no money, the film was forced to use real locations around New York during the Christmas season, everything from the Village Gate jazz club to snowy tidal basins in Long Island. It was fascinating to see how much has and has not changed since 1960. The character who swipes the movie is the very strange Larry Tucker above playing a low-level criminal fixer, who lives in a tiny dump of an apartment filled with cages filled by rats. Tucker, who died in 2001 in Los Angeles, went on to write comedy for The Danny Kaye Show where he met Paul Mazursky. The two of them collaborated on scripts for two of the essential comedy films of the 1960s, I Love You, Alice B. Toklas and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. With earlier acting cameos in Shock Corridor and Advise and Consent, that was one weird career.

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