In the aftermath of World War II, filmmakers in the US, Europe, and
Japan developed what Susan Sontag termed a “popular mythology” with
which to imaginatively address post Auschwitz/post Hiroshima guilt and
anxiety. A visiting lecturer at Harvard University this spring, renowned
film critic J. Hoberman
(Village Voice) has curated a series of works which reflect on the tensions of the postwar period. Hoberman’s selections will continue on our spring program calendar (March-May) and include commercial movies, documentaries, and avant-garde films which accompany a course that will analyze the films in relationship to literary analogues (Kafka, Camus), the political rhetoric of the period, and the popular mythology of today.
Special thanks to Wade Williams, The Danger and Despair Knitting Circle, The Secret Cinema, and Bill Geerhart at the Cold War pop culture website CONELRAD.com for providing images and pre-screening Atomic Mood Music from Atomic Platters: Cold War Music from the Golden Age of Homeland Security.
February 6 (Tuesday) 9 pm
Directed by Irving Lerner
US 1959, 35mm, b/w, 75 min.
With Vince Edwards, John Archer, Steven Ritch
A radioactive criminal on the lam threatens to contaminate Los Angeles! A little known cult classic, City of Fear is a wonderfully subversive Cold War thriller whose sharp political edge was carefully honed by director Irving Lerner, best known for his work during the Depression years with the legendary Film and Photo League and Frontier Films. While powerfully evoking the anxiety of urban destruction palpable during the 1950s, City of Fear also reveals the culture of surveillance that was a signature feature of the Cold War era. Vince Edwards (The Killing, Ben Casey, M.D.) stars as the suave crook whose theft of an atomic capsule sets in motion a Geiger counter dragnet through the LA underworld.
Directed by Alfred E. Green
US 1952, 35mm, b/w, 73 min.
With Gerald Mohr, Peggie Castle, Dan O'Herlihy
A night out at an upscale New York
City lounge is disrupted by the
arrival of a strange visitor (O’Herlihy) who drinks brandy from an over-sized snifter and questions the patrons about their thoughts on U.S. international policy. As the group champions anti-Communist ideology, news arrives that an unnamed enemy is attacking the West Coast. Shot in seven days on a shoestring budget, this classic Red Scare film relies on stock footage and a somewhat out-ofplace love story to tell its fascinating, cautionary tale.
February 14 (Wednesday) 7 pm
Directed by Rudolph Maté
US 1950, 35mm, b/w, 83 min.
With Edmond O'Brien, Pamela Britton, Luther Adler
After a night out in San Francisco that he cannot remember, an accountant (O’Brien) awakes to discover that he has been poisoned with a “luminous toxin” and has less than a week to live. He proceeds to tear the city apart in search of his own killer. Renowned cinematographer Rudolph Maté (The Passion of Joan of Arc, Gilda) infuses this minimalist noir-classic with atmospheric urgency.
February 14 (Wednesday) 8:45 pm
Directed by Kurt Neumann
US 1950, 16mm, b/w, 77 min.
With Lloyd Bridges, Osa Massen, John Emery
A planned trip to the moon ends in failure when a space mission is diverted and lands on Mars. As the team explores the red planet, they discover a once-great civilization whose devastation by atomic attack has transformed it into a race whose appearance and behavior resemble that of prehistoric humans. Despite its shoddy special effects (which were later reedited by director/film collector Wade Williams for the film’s reissue) and questionable scientific research, this low-budget classic conjures a noble image of intergalactic life that became a big commercial success.
February 21 (Wednesday) 7 pm
Directed by Carol Reed
UK 1949, 35mm, b/w, 93 min.
With Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles
Based on an original screeplay by Graham Greene, this Carol Reed classic epitomizes the aesthetics of film noir. Amid the lurid decadence of a shellshocked, postwar Vienna, a lonely American (Cotton) searches for his maligned friend, a mysterious "third man" in a city of rampant deceit and corruption. The film’s famous haunting score, shadowy cinematography, and top-notch performances (notably Welles as the utterly immoral Harry Lime) make this one of the most memorable tales of intrigue in film history. Robert Krasker won an Academy Award for his cinematography.
February 21 (Wednesday) 9 pm
Directed by R.G. Springsteen
US 1949, 35mm, b/w, 81 min.
With Robert Rockwell, Hannelore Axman, Betty Lou Gerson
A down-on-his-luck soldier (Rockwell)
returns home from the war to
find his life devastated by a bad real estate deal. He is lured by the Communist Party to help establish the more idyllic society he always envisioned but quickly realizes the error in his logic. McCarthyism was still in its initial stages at the time of this early Red Scare film, which features such heavy-handed devices as a cautionary introduction by Los Angeles City Councilman Lloyd G. Davies.
February 28 (Wednesday) 7 pm
Directed by Elia Kazan
US 1950, 35mm, b/w, 96 min.
With Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes
Celebrated for its innovative use of location shooting, Panic in the Streets is among the best of the semidocumentary films produced by Fox after WWII and also one of Kazan’s most gripping and fast-paced films. Richard Widmark is the Army doctor brought in to lead a furious manhunt through the streets of New Orleans, chasing after a treacherous criminal— played by a startlingly young Jack Palance—who is infected with bubonic plague. Kazan masterfully orchestrates a counterpoint of intense action sequences and tender domestic scenes while also contrasting the nocturnal mood and shadows of film noir against the sober, documentary feel of the police procedural film.
February 28 (Wednesday) 9 pm
Directed by Samuel Fuller
US 1953, 35mm, b/w, 80 min.
With Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, Thelma Ritter
Iconoclastic writer and director Sam Fuller’s controversial thriller was dismissed by many critics at the time as an anti-Communist, McCarthyist tract but Fuller’s position is far more ambiguous. With gritty style and ironic subversiveness, Fuller investigates the underbelly of New York in the 1950s through the story of a pickpocket (Widmark) who inadvertently obtains a top-secret microfilm when he lifts a wallet from a pretty girl (Peters). Thelma Ritter is superb in the role of a Bowery denizen whose rejoinder "What do I know about Commies? Nothing. I just don’t like them," captures the irrepressible moxie of this cult masterpiece.