My first great moviegoing experience of the year came courtesy of Noir City, from your friends at the Film Noir Foundation. The screening of a new DCP of a respected but little seen 3-D noir was always going to be an intriguing event; this particular presentation, the result not of corporate repackaging but some insane curatorial diligence (including a lucky find at an estate sale by the late 3-D producer Ray Zone), was nothing short of a goddamn miracle. Eddie Muller and co. have presented the fruit of their efforts back to 20th Century Fox (who had no idea this work was even being done on the film), and I'm hoping that digital rep offerings will include other left-field projects like this (or the lovely fan-made DCP of PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE that made the rounds last year). The screening offered real excitement that at least this moviegoer usually doesn't feel in the face of digital cinema. And as a nice little bonus, the movie was pretty damn terrific, too.
INFERNO is a gritty and involving piece of work, with Robert Ryan battling for survival in the Mojave Desert (even as he contemplates how he'll dispatch the cheating wife and lover who marooned him there, if he survives). Director Roy Ward Baker, a perversely prolific journeyman whose filmography includes as diverse offerings as A NIGHT TO REMEMBER and THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES, patiently creates a tense and involving film blanc, trading up noir's customary shadows for an ever-beating sun. The roughness of the digital transfer was evident in many of the more brightly lit scenes, but even the crystalline points of pixelation added a nice, somewhat psychedelic edge to the proceedings, endowing the screening with some of the character that an occasional scratch lends to a 35mm print. And though the film came out of Hollywood's initial 3-D craze, Baker's handling of 3-D is more subtle, putting the audience among the story's environments rather than constantly throwing things in our faces. Even if Baker does fling a snake or a rock at the camera from time to time, the effect is more startling given the involvement he's already made us feel. And the cast just brings it home: Robert Ryan is compelling as a man who just won't quit (unless he does), and Rhonda Fleming and William Lundigan are just as strong as the lovers dealing with the consequences of their plan.
(Image from They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To, who's just as high on the movie as I am.)