Noir City Seattle 2019: The Scarlet Hour (1956) and 1950s Noir


Last week Noir City 2019 swept through Seattle with a slate of twenty films, an impressive eleven of them on 35mm. This year’s theme: the noirs of the fifties, presented chronologically. I saw four films over two nights and as it was the middle of the festival, they were selections from the halfpoint of the decade.

Over two nights I watched Pushover (1954), Private Hell 36 (1954), The Scarlet Hour (1956), and A Kiss Before Dying (1956). For the most part the pleasure of the event was enjoying a well-curated selection of noirs with an appreciative audience. With the exception of The Scarlet Hour, I’d seen all of them before, and had even seen Noir City host and Film Noir Foundation President Eddie Mueller introduce Pushover at another noir-themed event presented by SIFF in 2008 (both times he told the same story about Kim Novak not wearing a bra; guess it made quite an impact on him).

I went into The Scarlet Hour blind, with no idea that Michael Curtiz had directed and that it starred Carol Ohmart (Spider Baby) an actress whose amoral persona might have brought her greater stardom in the pre-code era or forties noirs. It’s an odd film, made at the end of Curtiz’ career and with a familiar plot about a cheating trophy wife trying to escape a violently oppressive husband (James Gregory) with her lover (Tom Tryon), but with an unsteady mood that keeps you on your guard.

As much as I enjoyed the rare chance to see Ohmart in a leading role, it turned out she was not the star attraction. That honor goes to Elaine Stritch, here in her first film, as Ohmart's infinitely more wholesome friend. In a rare case of Broadway oomph translating well to the screen, Ms. Stritch obliterates everyone around her whenever she appears. She’s all bubbles and laughs; a relative innocent oblivious to the seedy action that surrounds her.

It was also a nice surprise to see Nat King Cole in a nightclub scene. He performs the lush standard Never Let Me Go with his marvelous beatific smile and smooth romanticism. If there is anything to make the film a must-see, it is his performance and the spirited Stritch.

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