The second day of Noir City featured four wildly different films, each in service to noir in its own way. The matinee double feature, a tribute to director Robert Siodmak, combined two of the more unusual noirs I’ve seen; the night duo, both by screenwriter William Bowers and director Robert Parrish, continued this year’s penchant for merging dark action with sharp, funny dialogue. None of the films are currently on DVD.
Matinee #1: A Doctor, a Dame, and The Kitchen Sink
1942’s Fly-By-Night is an everything-including-the-kitchen-sink brew of romantic comedy, espionage, Keystone Kop-style shenanigans, screwball dialogue, medical mystery and Hitchcock’s favorite theme of the wrongly accused man. Even the Noir City program notes are hard pressed to truly classify this as noir, but at least it has a tough talking dame and a man with a gun. The latter is Richard Carlson, star of Creature from the Black Lagoon; the former is Nancy Kelly, Oscar nominee for whipping Patty McCormack’s ass at the end of The Bad Seed. The words are by four screenwriters, including Oscar winner turned smut scribe Sidney Sheldon. Unlike most Hollywood fare written by multiple people, this one stays stitched together no matter how crazy its plot becomes, a testament to Siodmak’s direction.
Fly-By-Night begins as a prison break movie and ends as a romantic comedy. A seemingly deranged man escapes on a rainy night from a sanitarium. He carjacks Dr. Burton (Carlson) and forces him to drive him to a safe hotel room. The escapee, Teisler, explains to Burton that he is sane, that he is the assistant to a famous biochemist, and that he is the victim of a conspiracy that found him unjustly institutionalized. Teisler shows Burton the bullet hole in his hat, along with a baggage claim check that holds the secret to “G32.” Of course, before Teisler can spill the beans on G32, he’s murdered while Burton is distracted. Since apparently only he and Burton were in the hotel suite, and Teisler was killed with one of Burton’s scalpels, the cops think Burton is the who in whodunit. Burton escapes onto the ledge after a hilarious misstep by the cops, and climbs into a neighboring apartment occupied by a nightgown-clad Pat Lindsey (Nancy Kelly).