Film Noir: Columbia Studio–Film Noir

Columbia Noir

One year ago, the Criterion Channel launched with a journey into the dark side of the Columbia Pictures catalog, and we’re pleased to bring it back with an expanded lineup of classic noir deep cuts.

While rival studios like MGM and Paramount lavished money and top-tier production values on splashy musicals and prestige literary adaptations, the notoriously budget-conscious Columbia was right at home in the gritty, slightly disreputable world of film noir.

Columbia was where auteurs like Fritz Lang, Nicholas Ray, and Orson Welles realized pulp-poetry perfection in masterpieces like The Big Heat, In a Lonely Place, and The Lady from Shanghai.

It was also where resourceful genre specialists could overcome budgetary constraints through sinister, stylized atmosphere and directorial vision in killer Bs like the gothic mystery My Name Is Julia Ross, the minimalist-cool hitman thriller Murder by Contract, and the lurid taboo-buster The Crimson Kimono.

Starring genre icons like Humphrey Bogart, Rita Hayworth, Gloria Grahame, and Glenn Ford, these shadowy gems epitomize the hard-boiled essence of noir.

Blind Alley, Charles Vidor, 1939
My Name Is Julia Ross, Joseph H. Lewis, 1945
Gilda, Charles Vidor, 1946
So Dark the Night, Joseph H. Lewis, 1946
Dead Reckoning, John Cromwell, 1947
Johnny O’Clock, Robert Rossen, 1947
The Lady from Shanghai, Orson Welles, 1947
In a Lonely Place, Nicholas Ray, 1950
The Mob, Robert Parrish, 1951
Affair in Trinidad, Vincent Sherman, 1952
The Sniper, Edward Dmytryk, 1952
The Big Heat, Fritz Lang, 1953
Drive a Crooked Road, Richard Quine, 1954
Human Desire, Fritz Lang, 1954
Pushover, Richard Quine, 1954
Tight Spot, Phil Karlson, 1955
5 Against the House, Phil Karlson, 1955
Nightfall, Jacques Tourneur, 1956
The Harder They Fall, Mark Robson, 1956
The Brothers Rico, Phil Karlson, 1957
The Burglar, Paul Wendkos, 1957
The Lineup, Don Siegel, 1958
Murder by Contract, Irving Lerner, 1958
The Crimson Kimono, Samuel Fuller, 1959
Experiment in Terror, Blake Edwards, 1962

Wednesday, April 8
I Am Not a Witch
Featuring Listen, a 2014 short film codirected by Rungano Nyoni

The acclaimed debut feature from Rungano Nyoni is a daring, sharply satiric feminist fairy tale set in present-day Zambia. When nine-year-old orphan Shula (Margaret Mulubwa) is accused of witchcraft, she is exiled to a witch camp run by a corrupt and inept government official. Tied to the ground and told that she will turn into a goat if she tries to escape, Shula becomes a star tourist attraction exploited by those around her for financial gain. Soon she is forced to make a difficult decision: resign herself to life at the camp, or risk everything for freedom. Winner of a BAFTA award for outstanding debut, I Am Not a Witch is a visually imaginative, socially incisive commentary on the clash between tradition and modernity from one of contemporary cinema’s most exciting new voices.

Thursday, April 9
The Two of Us: Criterion Collection Edition #388

A young Jewish boy living in Nazi-occupied Paris is sent by his parents to the countryside to live with an elderly Catholic couple until France’s liberation. Forced to hide his identity, the eight-year-old Claude (played by first-time actor Alain Cohen) bonds with the irascible, staunchly anti-Semitic Grampa (Michel Simon), who improbably becomes his friend and confidant.

Poignant and lighthearted, The Two of Us was acclaimed director Claude Berri’s debut feature, based on own childhood experiences.

It offered legendary actor Simon one of his most memorable roles in his lengthy career.

Claude Berri’s Oscar-winning short Le poulet; interviews with Berri and stars Michel Simon and Alain Cohen; a 1975 French talk show featuring Berri and the woman who helped secure his family’s safety during World War II.

Starring Gary Cooper

For over three decades, Gary Cooper was Hollywood’s consummate everyman, a refreshingly sincere, unaffected screen presence who imbued his common heroes with authenticity and simple dignity. Emerging as a star in the late silent era, the lanky, strikingly handsome Cooper established himself as a western hero in Henry King’s hugely popular The Winning of Barbara Worth and a romantic leading man in the swooning World War I melodrama Lilac Time. But it was with the coming of sound that Cooper truly came into his own, embodying all-American decency and courage in classics like Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Sergeant York, and The Pride of the Yankees as well as the spirit of the frontier in definitive westerns like The Westerner and Man of the West. His relaxed charm also made him a perfect comic foil to Barbara Stanwyck in Howard Hawks’s screwball riot Ball of Fire, while his innate gravitas anchored prestige dramas like The Fountainhead. It was this ability to play across genres while remaining inimitably himself that made Cooper one of classic Hollywood’s most enduring icons.

The Winning of Barbara Worth, Henry King, 1926
Lilac Time, George Fitzmaurice, 1928
A Farewell to Arms, Frank Borzage, 1932
The Wedding Night, King Vidor, 1935
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Frank Capra, 1936
The Adventures of Marco Polo, Archie Mayo, 1938
The Cowboy and the Lady, H. C. Potter, 1938
The Real Glory, Henry Hathaway, 1939
The Westerner, William Wyler, 1940
Ball of Fire, Howard Hawks, 1941
Sergeant York, Howard Hawks, 1941*
The Pride of the Yankees, Sam Wood, 1942
The Fountainhead, King Vidor, 1949
Task Force, Delmer Daves, 1949
Vera Cruz, Robert Aldrich, 1954
Friendly Persuasion, William Wyler, 1956
Love in the Afternoon, Billy Wilder, 1957
Man of the West, Anthony Mann, 1958
The Hanging Tree, Delmer Daves, 1959

 

Tuesday, April 14
Short + Feature: Blowups
Neighbours and Dr. Strangelove
Featuring an introduction by Criterion Channel programmer Penelope Bartlett

Norman McLaren and Stanley Kubrick take aim at the appalling carnage of the twentieth century in these visually inspired satires. McLaren’s riotously inventive, Oscar-winning short Neighbours combines live-action photography and stop-motion animation to illustrate the mindlessness of war through the story of two neighbors who come to blows over a flower growing between their houses. Pablo Picasso, no doubt smitten with McLaren’s ingenious technique as well as the urgency of his message, called it the greatest film ever made. Kubrick’s deadly black comedy Dr. Strangelove, starring an iconic Peter Sellers in three roles, tracks a group of military goons, bureaucrats, and politicians hurtling headlong toward global annihilation, in a vision of nuclear politics as terrifying as it is hilarious.

 

Thursday, April 16
45 Years: Criterion Collection Edition #861

In this exquisitely calibrated film, Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay perform a subtly off-kilter pas de deux as Kate and Geoff, an English couple who, on the eve of an anniversary celebration, find their long marriage shaken by the arrival of a letter to Geoff that unceremoniously collapses his past into their shared present. Director Andrew Haigh carries the tradition of British realist cinema to artful new heights in 45 Years, weaving the momentous into the mundane as the pair go about their daily lives, while the evocatively flat, wintry Norfolk landscape frames their struggle to maintain an increasingly untenable status quo. Loosely adapting a short story by David Constantine, Haigh shifts the focus from the slightly erratic Geoff to Kate, eliciting a remarkable, nuanced portrayal by Rampling of a woman’s gradual metamorphosis from unflappable wife to woman undone. SUPPLEMENTAL FEATURES: An audio commentary featuring Haigh and producer Tristan Goligher; a making-of documentary featuring interviews with the cast and crew; and more.

Friday, April 17
Double Feature: Great Heavens!
Here Comes Mr. Jordan and Down to Earth

One of the most marvelously inventive comedies of the 1940s, the irresistible romantic fantasy Here Comes Mr. Jordan stars Robert Montgomery as a boxer who, when he is mistakenly sent to heaven before his time, is given a second chance on Earth—with a catch. Its enduring popularity spawned multiple remakes (including the 1978 Warren Beatty vehicle Heaven Can Wait) as well as the delightfully escapist musical pseudosequel Down to Earth, starring Rita Hayworth at her most divine as a Greek muse who descends to Earth and charms her way onto the Broadway stage. It, in turn, inspired its own remake decades later: the infamous cult favorite Xanadu.

Saturday, April 18
Saturday Matinee: Little Lord Fauntleroy

The definitive screen adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic rags-to-riches tale follows the fortunes of the young Ceddie (the delightful Freddie Bartholomew), a precocious boy being raised by his single mother (Delores Costello) in late-nineteenth-century Brooklyn. When he discovers that he is the heir of a British earl and is sent to England to live with his aristocratic grandfather (C. Aubrey Smith)—who despises the boy’s common mother—Ceddie must win over the old man in order to unite his family. Produced with characteristic meticulousness by the legendary David O. Selznick and costarring a young Mickey Rooney, Little Lord Fauntleroy is a heartwarming childhood fantasy.

Sunday, April 19
Directed by Maurice Pialat

“What I mean by realism goes beyond reality,” declared French master Maurice Pialat, whose at once raw and rigorous films capture the intensity, vivid humanity, brutality, and tenderness of life itself.

Though a contemporary of the nouvelle vague, Pialat stood apart from the movement, pursuing an uncompromising personal vision that had more in common with his artistic forebear Jean Renoir.

In We Won’t Grow Old Together, The Mouth Agape, À nos amours, and Van Gogh, Pialat refined a hard-hitting, elliptical style in which searing emotional realism and cutting human truth are prized above all else.

Though he may not be as well known internationally as many of his contemporaries, Pialat’s cinema has had an incalculable effect on a generation of post-New Wave directors like Catherine Breillat, Leos Carax, Philippe Garrel, and Arnaud Desplechin, who has said, “The filmmaker whose influence has been the strongest and most constant on the young French cinema isn’t Jean-Luc Godard but Maurice Pialat.”

L’amour existe, 1960
L’enfance nue, 1968
We Won’t Grow Old Together, 1972
The Mouth Agape, 1974
Graduate First, 1979
Loulou, 1980
À nos amours, 1983
Police, 1985
Under the Sun of Satan, 1987
Van Gogh, 1991

Monday, April 20
Salesman: Criterion Collection Edition #122

This radically influential portrait of American dreams and disillusionment from Direct Cinema pioneers David Maysles, Albert Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin captures, with indelible humanity, the worlds of four dogged door-to-door Bible salesmen as they travel from Boston to Florida on a seemingly futile quest to sell luxury editions of the Good Book to working-class Catholics. A vivid evocation of midcentury malaise that unfolds against a backdrop of cheap motels, smoky diners, and suburban living rooms, Salesman assumes poignant dimensions as it uncovers the way its subjects’ fast-talking bravado masks frustration, disappointment, and despair. Revolutionizing the art of nonfiction storytelling with its nonjudgmental, observational style, this landmark documentary is one of the most penetrating films ever made about how deeply embedded consumerism is in America’s sense of its own values. SUPPLEMENTAL FEATURES: An audio commentary by the directors, a 1968 television interview with David and Albert Maysles, and more.

Tuesday, April 21
Short + Feature: Hair Pieces
The Short and Curlies and Shampoo

From blue-collar Britain to jet-set Beverly Hills, hair salons provide the colorful backdrops to these trenchantly funny social studies. Mike Leigh’s dryly hilarious early short The Short and Curlies—featuring his regular collaborators Alison Steadman and David Thewlis—offers a window into everyday life in Thatcher-era England as it teases out the relationships between a garrulous hairdresser, her sullen teenage daughter, and a regular client with a new ’do for every day of the week.