ONE WAY STREET
Alan's sporadic takes on Film Noir and other aspects of pop culture
The Glass Wall & Ann Robinson
The Saturday night double feature at the Noir City Festival in Hollywood led off with a screening of The Glass Wall (1953).
This seldom seen film, with a near-faultless print courtesy of Sony-Columbia, provided a unique view of Times Square at night, as a hurt World War II refugee (Vittorio Gassman) jumps ship to enter America hunting for a former soldier, now a clarinet player (Jerry Paris) who can provide his safe entry to the Great Melting Pot. Gassman finds safety, empathy and then love in the arms of noir siren Gloria Grahame, the last dame you'd think would be working in a shoelace factory, but there you have it.
The Glass Wall was written and directed by Maxwell Shane, a lawyer by profession, then turned to writing 'B' screenplays in the late 1930's and buying up land in the San Fernando Valley that was dirt-cheap at that time. Shane's real estate holdings helped finance his entrance into motion picture direction beginning with Fear in the Night (1947) Interestingly, Shane remade his debut film, a Cornell Woolrich story, as Nightmare in 1956 starring Edward G. Robinson and Kevin McCarthy. How many directors do you know who directed the original film and the remake?
The acting and photography in The Glass Wall was terrific even if the story line was significantly dated. But that was absolutely okay. The Glass Wall provided an insightful view on how America's perspective on immigration and Europe has markedly changed in the last half century along with the fading from our collective cultural memory of such things as concentration camps and World War II as the 21st Century conjures up newer horrors.
Everything was more than okay according to last night's screening guest, Ann Robinson. Ann, who still looks smashing, played Jerry Paris' wife in The Glass Wall and subsequently ended up dating the actor who would eventually make his mark as a television actor-director. Ann remarked that the finale sequence that was shot at the U.N. was the first time cameras were allowed into that sylvan facility that is clearly shown in the film to be still under construction. She also observed that the musical score by Leith Stevens was very similar to his composition or War of the Worlds that was made around the same time.
Ann reminisced about her career from the construction of the set on War of the Worlds, to starting out as a stunt rider under the tutelage of the legendary Yakima Canutt. When I asked her about working with Jack Webb in Dragnet (1954), she revealed that she did a spot-on imitation of the monotone, 'Sgt. Joe Friday' during a try-out. She must have made the right impression. Webb paid off another actress already hired for the part and signed on Ann! When I inquired about Webb's reputation as a tough taskmaster on the set, Robinson advised that she thought Jack was a dream boat! She apparently tried to gain his attention, but Jack was otherwise involved. "Just the facts, M'am"... indeed!
The second feature The Crooked Web (1955) was programmed by yours truly and the print was faultless. Directed by the great Nathan Juran, the action starts out in L.A., Chicago, and finally bogging down in Europe. Frankly, the film seemed to be more talky on the big screen that I recalled it, but it was a unique rarity that is almost never screened theatrically and the remaining hardcore audience really appreciated it. The starring trio of Frank Lovejoy, Richard Denning, and one of my favorite 1950's B movie sirens Mari Blanchard was too fine. Mari really stirred the sluggish blood of male theatregoers in the 1950's and it was a shame that she departed the scene so early.