Strangers in the Night + The Big Shakedown

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Strangers in the Night + The Big Shakedown

Format: 35mm |

Strangers in the Night
Anthony Mann, 1944, USA, 35mm; 56m

The inky noir style and fatalist themes that would emerge full force in director Anthony Mann’s T-Men (1948) and Border Incident (1949) begin to take shape in this, Mann’s sixth feature, an early gothic B-thriller about a returning vet lured into a psychological nightmare by the promise of love.
 
While recovering from combat wounds he received in the South Pacific, Marine Sergeant Johnny Meadows starts up a correspondence with a woman whose name he finds written inside a book of poetry, A. E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad. The exchange turns romantic and Meadows’ sights turn to Monteflores, California, where his mysterious pen pal, Rosemary Blake, lives and where he heads after his release. Upon arriving at the brooding, cliffside Blake mansion, however, Meadows meets Rosemary’s mother, Hilda Blake, who invites him in and makes excuses for her absent daughter: Rosemary will be back soon and then they’ll all be happy. The shadows close in from there as Meadows and the town’s new doctor, Leslie Ross, begin to unravel Hilda’s veil of secrecy, threatening to expose a dangerous and deadly truth.
 
Helene Thimig, as Hilda Blake, turns in a wickedly over-the-top performance as a woman on the edge as Mann displays his facility with making the most of a tight budget.
 
—Paul Malcolm, UCLA Film & Television Archive
 
Preserved by the Archives at Paramount Pictures Corporation and UCLA Film & Television Archive from the original 35mm nitrate picture and track negatives and a 16mm acetate print. Laboratory services by The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory, Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio, Film Technology Company, Inc. Special thanks to: Barry Allen, Andrea Kalas, Laura Thornburg.
 
screening with

The Big Shakedown
John Francis Dillon, 1934, USA, 35mm; 64m
Preservation funded by The Packard Humanities Institute.
 
Two years and over a dozen films into her contract with Warner Bros., Bette Davis was still struggling to break through from studio programmers to the A-list when she was cast in The Big Shakedown as Norma Nelson, the saccharine-sweet, ever-supportive fiancée of a pharmacist who falls in with gangsters. It was the kind of stock role that always rankled Davis but it set the all-important context for her game-changing performance as the malevolent Mildred in Of Human Bondage, released just six months later.
 
As Norma, Davis wrings her hands and worries after her beau Jimmy Morrell, played by silent film star (and later mayor of Palm Springs) Charles Farrell, makes a deal with a local mob boss to provide his gang with counterfeit toiletries. For ex-bootlegger “Dutch” Barnes (Ricardo Cortez, segueing from romantic lead in the silent era to sound-era heavy), it’s a new racket with a huge potential and he convinces Jimmy that there’s no harm in passing off Jimmy’s own home-made toothpaste as name brand merchandise. Pretty soon, Jimmy has enough money to marry Norma and the future looks bright until Barnes uses a murder rap to blackmail Jimmy into making prescription drugs that threaten the public health. When a pregnant Norma is given Jimmy’s tainted version of digitalis at the hospital during birth, resulting in the child’s death, Jimmy vows revenge and the straightforward gangster plot careens into over-the-top melodrama.
 
As a B-movie featuring several major stars in career transition—some up, some down—The Big Shakedown is exemplary of the films that shaped this pivotal period of Davis’s career in the years before she shot to super stardom.
—Paul Malcolm, UCLA Film & Television Archive
 
Preserved in cooperation with Warner Bros. and Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation from the original 35mm nitrate picture and track negatives and a 35mm nitrate composite print. Laboratory services by The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory, Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio. Special thanks to: Ned Price; and Patrick Loughney, Gregory Lukow, Mike Mashon, Rob Stone, Ken Weissman, George Willeman, and members of the Library of Congress Moving Image Section and Film Laboratory staffs.

Series: UCLA Festival of Preservation

Venue: Walter Reade Theater

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