Film Preservation Festival
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
The gun was on the couch, smoke still wafting from its muzzle. Stretched out on the marble floor: a poor sap, now just fodder for the city morgue.
The woman stood beside him, her face as cold and impenetrable as a cheap waxwork.
“It wasn't me,” she purred. “I swear.”
I lit a cigarette, took a deep drag and picked up my fedora. The Oklahoma City Museum of Art's film preservation festival was about to begin. Four days of film noir to celebrate 10 years of great cinema, and no dame with a pretty face and a murderous heart was going to keep me from missing a single frame.
Touch of Evil
7:30 p.m. Thursday
A magnificent confection of noir style, Orson Welles’ 1958 classic remains one of his greatest works. The director stars as a corrupt sheriff involved in a web of murder, drug trafficking, kidnapping and much more. Not even a wooden Charlton Heston as a Mexican narcotics officer can diminish the over-the-top fun of Touch of Evil, in which Welles’ visual bravado is as ample as the gut he keeps showing at low angles. The movie boasts not only one of the most justifiably famous opening shots in history, but you even get Janet Leigh in lingerie. Top that.
The Maltese Falcon
5:30 p.m. Friday
Directorial debuts didn't come any better than this 1941 gem from John Huston. By the time he tackled this adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's crime thriller, Warner Bros. already had churned out two previous versions, with middling results. The third time was the charm. As private detective Sam Spade, Humphrey Bogart became a major star. But the movie has so much more, including rapid-fire dialogue and the sort of cast that “dreams are made of,” including Mary Astor, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet.
8 p.m. Friday
Loosely based on an Ernest Hemingway short story, the picture is a knockout cocktail of noir at its most fatalistic, with Burt Lancaster making a memorable screen debut as an ill-fated boxer done in by the otherworldly allure of Ava Gardner. According to a Hemingway biographer, the 1946 flick — it would later be remade two more times — was the only film adaptation of one of his works that truly pleased the author.
The Big Clock
5:30 p.m. Saturday
Starring Ray Milland and an irresistibly scenery-chewing Charles Laughton, 1948's The Big Clock is nifty, high-concept stuff: The workaholic editor of a crime magazine races against time to prove himself innocent of a murder. Taut and filled with clever twists, director John Farrow — father of Mia and husband of Maureen O'Sullivan, who plays Milland's wife — keeps things humming along like, well, a wound-up clock.
8 p.m. Saturday
Noir doesn't come more hard-boiled than this 1944 Billy Wilder masterpiece, and no wonder. The pedigree was as tough as they came, based on a James M. Cain potboiler and scripted by Wilder and Philip Marlowe's creator, Raymond Chandler. The dialogue stings like a knife in the back, among the reasons this crime thriller about a femme fatale and a not-as-smart-as-he-thinks insurance salesman has endured. Lucky for Fred MacMurray — My Three Sons, it ain’t — that George Raft and Alan Ladd both turned down the movie before MacMurray landed the role of his career as Walter Neff.
2 p.m. Sunday
Lest anyone be under the delusion that the Eisenhower era was free of cynicism, check out Wilder's expert dismemberment of Hollywood. But calling 1950’s Sunset Boulevard cynical is a bit like saying arsenic is unpleasant. Starring the inimitable Gloria Swanson as an aging silent-movie queen who hooks up with a scheming screenwriter (William Holden), the picture is off-the-charts toxic, but darkly funny and always mesmerizing. Movie execs initially hated it. Louis B. Mayer reportedly called Wilder a bastard for having “disgraced the industry that made you and fed you.” Wilder’s pithy retort: “Fuck you.”