Some film noir lands like a brick. / Only quick and sure does the trick. / If you want to see guys who know how to crack wise, / Watch Powell and Erdman, the two Dicks.--William Varney, "The Voice of Film Noir"
In 2007, Eddie Muller programmed Cry Danger (1951) for Noir City 5 on the proviso that a reputable archive--"which shall remain nameless even though it is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts at a very esteemed university"--had a 35mm print. When the print was pulled to ship to San Francisco, it was determined that it had deteriorated beyond the point that it could be projected. If ever the mission statement of the Film Noir Foundation could stand asserted, that incident underscored the necessity of rescuing and restoring America's noir heritage. "This is not an ad, ladies and gentlemen," Muller advised, "this is the real world."
Fortunately for Noir City, the UCLA Film and Television Archive bailed them out with Dick Powell's personal 16mm print of Cry Danger, which Muller offered his audience for the evening, reminding them: "As of today there really is no 35mm print of Cry Danger that you can see, that can be projected in a theater anywhere, which is a crime; it's a terrific film. This is what the Film Noir Foundation is all about. Those elements are somewhere, somebody owns them, we will come to them, and we will get a 35mm print made of Cry Danger. It's the only way we'll save it. People say all the time, 'When's that coming on DVD?' Well, I can now tell you that the answer is, 'Never.' Unless something is done to find the film and restore it to a condition where a master can be made and it can be put on DVD."
Three years later, Muller beamed on stage, "Are you as amped as I am tonight? Tonight is the reason Noir City exists. For those of you who are maybe making your first excursion here for this festival, the purpose of all of this is that all of the money that we raise here goes to film restoration. Tonight we are thrilled to be able to present the fruits of all our efforts: a restoration that we were able to complete last year thanks, really, to you people; but, also because the Film Noir Foundation has been able to enter into a fruitful partnership with the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
"I want to give special credit to two people that I've worked with closely on a regular basis: UCLA's motion picture archivist Todd Wiener and UCLA's motion picture preservationist--who was the project manager on the restoration of the movie you're about to see--the fabulous Nancy Mysel."
Alicia Tumlin then joined Muller on stage to read a telegram sent by Rhonda Fleming: "Dear Eddie--I am so disappointed that I cannot be with all the noir citizens of San Francisco on this very special night. The work that your foundation has done along with the UCLA Film and Television Archive to rescue and restore one of my favorite films has given the film a new life so it can be enjoyed for years to come by noir connoisseurs everywhere. I am most appreciative of your worthy efforts in making this dream come to fruition. You have surely earned your nickname 'The Czar of Noir' and I send my warmest best wishes for what I know will be an incredible evening for all. Just pray the rain ceases. With heartfelt thanks, Rhonda Fleming-Carlson."
Muller acknowledged Fleming's sizeable contribution to the restoration of Cry Danger, and then gestured to Richard Erdman in the audience for having made "a huge contribution to the legacy of the film". He concluded by thanking the audience: "If you came last year, you are part of this restoration. If you are a donor to the Film Noir Foundation, you are a part of this restoration. I wish that every individual who has contributed could actually be listed on this film; but--believe it--forever more you are part of this in spirit. Thank you very much. Robert Parrish thanks you. Dick Powell thanks you."
Muller returned to the Castro stage after the screening to boast, "On January 9th, 2010, in San Francisco, an independently-produced film from 1950--the only film, mind you, ever produced by Olympic Pictures--out-earned Avatar." His capacity audience went raucous with applause.
Muller then recited a limerick that came to him while watching the film:
Sling lingo is really a scream / When delivered smooth as ice cream / When Erdman spouts Bowers / Noir poetry flowers / From the Second Banana Supreme.
Richard Erdman--who made an appearance on the Castro stage back in 2007 when Cry Danger screened in its 16mm manifestation--joined Muller onstage to reminisce on the making of Cry Danger, some 60 years hence.
Muller mentioned to Erdman that--one bit of information that's not very well-known--is that Cry Danger, unfortunately, holds sad memories for Rhonda Fleming. Cry Danger actually premiered and opened in San Francisco and Fleming was scheduled to attend that premiere except her father died. It wasn't until years later that she actually saw the film and loved it.
Erdman then proceeded to recount many of the humorous anecdotes he first offered back in his 2005 onstage interview with Muller and--since I never transcribed that conversation--I offer it now, better late than never.
Of related interest: Noir City Index.
Cross-published on The Evening Class.