The Athenaeum’s popular film series, “Flicks on the Bricks,” returns in August for its 13th year. Guests are invited to join us on the Athenaeum’s outdoor patio for balmy summer nights and screenings of classic cinema al fresco. Series tickets for the open-air theater viewings include four memorable films.
Curated by KPBS film critic and Cinema Junkie Podcast host Beth Accomando and noir aficionado D. A. Kolodenko, Film noir (which literally means black film) is a term coined by French film critics to describe a style of cinema that emerged in the 1940s and revealed a darkness and cynicism that challenged audiences with something new. These films were rooted in hard-boiled crime fiction and were often brought to the screen by European émigré directors.
With so many great films noir to choose from, this series focuses on films with a San Diego connection. Each film will be introduced by Accomando and Kolodenko, and they will place the film in a context and highlight the San Diego connection.
Accomando is currently in the midst of a yearlong noir film series at Digital Gym Cinema called Noir on the Boulevard. The series is programmed by Film Geeks SD and screens a classic noir one Sunday a month and a neo-noir every other month on a Monday night. Kolodenko is guest blogging on KPBS Cinema Junkie with a column about the Noir Book of the Month Club, focusing on the literary sources of the classic noir films screening at Digital Gym Cinema.
Here’s the lineup:
Aug. 2— ‘Devil Thumbs a Ride’(1947); ‘The Clay Pigeon’ (1949)
Studio B movies were meant to round out a double feature with an A picture at the top of the bill. Here we pair two B movies that come in at a taut 60 minutes or so. The Clay Pigeon involves an amnesiac Navy veteran and former POW, Jim Fletcher (Bill Williams), who is accused of murdering his war buddy. To help prove his innocence, Jim heads to San Diego to find Martha Gregory (played by Perry Mason’s Barbara Hale), the widow of the friend he’s accused of killing.
The Clay Pigeon serves up an imagined San Diego that is typical of the city’s representation in film noir as the postwar home of ex-military personnel. But in spite of San Diego’s proximity to Hollywood, the “B’ budgets of film noir dictated that the city was often represented by sets on studio back lots and L.A. locations, as it is in The Clay Pigeon.
In Devil Thumbs a Ride, tough-guy Lawrence Tierney plays Steve Morgan, a narcissistic, sadistic criminal. The film opens with the robbery of the fictional San Diego Bank. It leads to an uncomplicated but compelling warning about dangerous behaviors that can place you in a car with a monster.
Aug. 9 - ‘Tension’ (1949)
Tension is set in Culver City, California, where mild-mannered drugstore manager and ex-sailor Warren Quimby (a young Richard Basehart) tries to convince his restless wife, Claire (Audrey Totter), to accept a life of domestic suburban tranquility—a notion that bores Claire. Totter was one of the all-time greats at playing femme fatales, and Claire is probably her finest role. San Diego isn’t seen in the movie, but it represents a happier time for Claire and Warren—and gets a mention in one of the film’s most memorable lines.
Aug. 16 - ‘The Brothers Rico’ (1957)
In the fictitious town of Bayshore, Florida, Eddie Rico (Richard Conte), a former mob accountant, has turned his life around; he’s now the happily married owner of a laundry company.
But in the world of film noir, nobody leaves a crime syndicate for long—the disappearance of Eddie’s titular brothers pulls him back into conflict with the New York mafia. Based on a Georges Simenon story, with some ghostwriting by Dalton Trumbo, the well-acted film stands as one of the best films about organized crime of the 1950s.
The San Diego connection here is an ironic one since The Brothers Rico was shot in San Diego with Coronado standing in for the make-believe Bayshore.
Aug. 23 - ‘The Grifters’ (1990)
Stephen Frears’ acclaimed neo-noir The Grifters (co-produced by Martin Scorsese) was based on Jim Thompson’s 1963 novel, though the film is set in the late 1980s. Con artists Roy Dillon (John Cusack) and Myra Langtry (Annette Bening) head down from Los Angeles by train for the La Jolla horse races, where Roy’s mother Lilly (Anjelica Huston) works fixing odds for an East Coast bookie.
Thompson knew San Diego. In the 1940s, he worked at Solar Aircraft and lived in a duplex in Mission Hills, where he wrote his first crime novel.
After the war, he worked as a journalist for the San Diego Journal and moved his family to a small house in Linda Vista. Thompson liked to explore San Diego’s downtown nightlife and often took weekend outings with his wife to the Del Mar track, which he relocated to La Jolla for the novel.
The Paradise Turf track in Phoenix served as the filming location for the fictionalized La Jolla track in the film, but some scenes were filmed in San Diego—keep your eyes peeled for another iconic San Diego location.
For information and registration, call 858-454-5872 or visit ljathenaeum.org/flicks