Tough guys, hard-bitten dames, willing dupes and creatures of the night skulking that grey zone between good and evil - rejoice! Roxie Theater has extended its film noir fest, “I Wake Up Dreaming: The Haunted World of the B Film Noir,” through June 3 - for all you retro film heads, vintage Joes and B&W Betties caught up in one too many grifts to find the time to check out the event’s many gifts to obscure B-grade cinema.
I caught 1945’s Allotment Wives and 1946’s Wife Wanted, two lady-centric noirs starring Kay Francis, once the highest paid actress in Hollywood, known for her dark good looks, sultry voice and whopping clothing budget, and the star of the Marx Brothers’ The Cocoanuts (1929) and Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise (1932). How apropos that Francis’ widescreen picture hats are the visual focal point of Allotment Wives, the better of the actress’ two “I Wake Up Dreaming” movies. The William Nigh noir is essentially an expose of the now little known rash of WWII-era bad-girl bigamists - crooked chicks who would marry multiple servicemen in order to collect the big bucks from the military’s Office of Dispensation to Beneficiaries (the original ODB, for those Wu-Tang Clan fans). The original marketing tagline: “They’re pretty to look at … but POISON to love!”
As the would-be socialite Sheila Seymour, Francis gets to flex her best Joan Crawford/Mildred Pierce muscles as the workingwoman and crime queen-pin with a beauty salon front and an underground allotment wife hustle. She’s fully prepared to frame, blackmail and murder in order to preserve her business and save her ripening (and quickly spoiling) daughter Connie (Teala Loring, who also teams up with Francis in Wife Wanted) from inevitable corruption. Rotten apples never fall too far from the tree in classic noir. Intriguingly Francis not only starred in but produced Allotment Wives, as well as Wife Wanted. Apparently the self-made female anti-heroines she plays in both noirs spoke to Francis in the waning days of her acting career and at a crucial period for women taking charge on the home front. Allotment Wives screens again on June 1.
Going my way? A clip from The Devil Thumbs a Ride.
Other recommended noirs: The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947), described by Barry Gifford as being “as frenzied as Gun Crazy, as darkly depraved as Detour,” with a ferocious performance by its legendary lead, Lawrence Tierney. It screens May 29 with the memorable heist flick Framed (1947), starring Glenn Ford. Haven’t gotten enough of Reservoir Dog Tierney? He returns as the doom-seeking title character in The Hoodlum (1951) on May 30, showing along with All Night Long (1962), a retelling of Othello set in London’s jazz underground and boasting onscreen performances by Charles Mingus and Dave Brubeck.