When it comes to film noir, Vince and Rosemarie Keenan are expert witnesses. The Seattle-based authors have been contributing to the Film Noir Foundation’s official e-magazine Noir City for years, and under the pseudonym Renee Patrick they’ve jointly penned their debut novel, Design for Dying. The critically-acclaimed period mystery follows department store salesgirl Lilian Frost and future Oscar-winning costume designer Edith Head as they investigate a murder in golden age Hollywood.
The married co-writers are also actively involved in Noir City 2016, the latest Seattle edition of Film Noir Foundation founder Eddie Muller’s noir-themed film festival. In addition to selling merch for Noir City, the Keenan/Patrick Collective will host the fest’s Edith Head Night on July 26.
The Keenans took time over cocktails at Belltown's Rob Roy to share some of their picks for this year’s Noir City—off the record, on the QT, and strictly hush-hush.
I Wake Up Screaming (July 22): This early 1941 noir features Victor Mature as a sports promoter wrongly accused of murder.
Rosemarie: “The title would spin in my head for years before I saw it. What a great title. The movie has some trouble living up to that title, but it really comes together in the end because of [actor] Laird Cregar.”
Stranger on the Third Floor (July 22): Generally considered the first true film noir, 1940’s Stranger on the Third Floor stars Peter Lorre as a creepy possible serial killer.
Vince: “This is the first one you can point at and say yeah, everything you need in a film noir is right there.”
This Gun for Hire (July 23): Frank Tuttle’s 1947 thriller marked the first pairing of tough guy Alan Ladd and sultry noir blonde Veronica Lake.
Vince: “It has huge historic value. It’s based on a Graham Greene book, plus it’s got some of the nuttiest outfits that Edith Head designed. Veronica Lake’s a singer in it. She’s got two numbers, and in each number she’s wearing a completely berserk outfit. In one of ‘em she does magic tricks, and in the other she’s wearing basically a sexualized fisherman’s outfit, complete with hip waders. It's not part of Edith Head Night, but it really goes full Edith.”
Dr. Broadway (July 23): Director Anthony Mann became a noir specialist throughout the 1940s, but this 1942 saga about a young doctor framed for murder marked his first foray into the genre.
Vince: "It’s Mann’s first movie, so he gets to sink his teeth into one of these snappy-patter, show business crime stories. All of the Anthony Mann movies we’ve shown at the festival have been great, so we’re really looking forward to this one."
Phantom Lady (July 23): This 1946 noir follows a man whose wife turns up dead after the two quarrel: Only a ‘phantom lady’ he picked up that night can provide an alibi.
Vince: “We had to have a Robert Siodmak film. Pound for pound, he’s the finest noir director that ever lived. The leading lady Ella Raines is this fantastic, very modern presence on the screen, and she’s a local girl from Snoqualmie."
The 7th Victim (July 23): As much a subtle, uneasy horror movie as a noir, Mark Robson’s 1943 chiller follows a woman (Kim Hunter) attempting to locate her sister, a possible victim of a satanic cult.
Rosemarie: “This is one of the top ones for me. It’s got that sense of foreboding, and a Rosemary’s Baby sense of ‘what’s going on here?’”
Scarlet Street (July 24): Metropolis director Fritz Lang helmed this 1945 classic starring Edward G. Robinson as a fall guy sent down a spiral of betrayal and tragedy.
Vince: “That’s Fritz Lang at his best, and Edward G. Robinson in one of his definitive performances. A lot of people will go to these movies and say, “Well, I always heard that these were the dark movies with the twisted endings.” A lot of times the movies don’t have those endings because of the era's sensibilities. Scarlet Street was one of the few movies that got away with it. The ending’s still kind of shattering.”
Dead Reckoning (July 25): Noir icon Humphrey Bogart plays a World War II veteran searching for his wartime buddy in Florida and running into quintessential noir dame Lizabeth Scott.
Rosemarie: “Scott’s so compelling—her voice and that look. She’s such a unique presence, it’s interesting that she’s in so many of these offbeat film noirs.”
Desert Fury (July 26): The first film of Noir City’s Edith Head Night double feature sees mom Mary Astor and daughter Lizabeth Scott going head-to-head amidst this 1947 Technicolor-saturated melodrama/noir.
Vince: "Desert Fury is INSANE. It was a chance for Edith to go completely nuts. The movie’s just so off the rails."
Rosemarie: “It’s about a college student coming back to her hometown, and in every scene she’s wearing a different outfit.”
Vince: “Fashion is practically a subtext in the movie. Mary Astor’s done to the nines, then in comes her daughter Lizabeth Scott, and the two of them are squaring off sartorially in every scene they share together.”
Sorry, Wrong Number (July 26): Oscar nominee Barbara Stanwyck plays an invalid heiress trapped in her apartment who overhears a murder plot thanks to some crossed wires on her bedside phone. It's the second feature screening on Edith Head Night.
Vince: “First of all, we love this movie, partially because it’s dated. It’s one of those movies where the plot hinges on things that people don’t automatically understand anymore—like the notion of a party line, and a telephone operator. That, to me, only ratchets up the suspense because you don’t know how it’s gonna play out. You’re totally unfamiliar with it. Also, Barbara Stanwyck spends more than half the movie in bed, in one outfit. It’s like, “OK, Edie, make this look great!”"
Woman on the Run (July 27): Ann Sheridan tracks down her husband after he’s witnessed a gangland hit in Norman Foster’s nearly-lost classic of a 1950 B-movie.
Rosemarie: “Without giving it away, there's some great misdirection between what you’re seeing in a relationship versus what’s really going on. Some bad things happen to people over the course of the film. It’s not just the one catalyst at the beginning.”
Gun Crazy (July 28): Joseph H. Lewis directed this potent 1950 thriller about two young lovers tearing across America committing crimes.
Vince: “This one’s a must-see, partly because it’s great, and partly because Eddie’s gonna have his book there and he’s written the definitive history on the making of this movie. It’s really one of the essential noirs."
Southside 1-1000 (July 28): Don DeFore plays an undercover agent working on nailing a counterfeiting ring.
Vince: “If you go to this festival enough, you realize that the B movies are the ones you want to see. They’re the ones where all of the crazy things happen, where the pace is kind of breathtaking. It’s always the B movies that I get most excited about."
Noir City runs from July 22 – 28 at SIFF Cinema Egyptian. The full schedule, passes, and individual tickets can be found here.