Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Revival Preview: The Glass Wall at MFAH

My friend and University of Houston colleague Garth Jowett has always been a connoisseur of film noir, so if he says Maxwell Shane's The Glass Wall is the real deal, I'm inclined to believe him. The 1953 drama will be screened at 5 pm Sunday (Oct. 4) at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and Jowett will be on hand to offer what I'm sure will be a pithy introduction. How am I sure? Because he's already provided this pith for the MFAH website:

"The seldom-seen film noir The Glass Wall features issues that struggling immigrants faced when finding refuge in the United States after WWII. In his first American film, popular Italian actor Vittorio Gassman plays Peter, a concentration-camp survivor who stows away on a ship to New York in search of an American paratrooper he saved during the war. The immigration authorities give him 24 hours to find the man, known only as a jazz musician named Tom, before sending him back to Europe.The director follows Gassman on the gritty streets of New York, and captures the increased desperation of this Holocaust survivor as the deadline for finding Tom nears. A superb urban thriller, The Glass Wall fully captures a moment in time when many victims of the war were trying to enter the United States."

But wait, there's more: Here's what Nathaniel Thompson had to say about The Glass Wall on the Turner Classic Movies website:

"A cross between a dark chase thriller and picaresque view of urban Americana with a colorful gallery of characters, The Glass Wall is a slightly darker view of the ideals behind Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty than usual. It also features a major setpiece shot on location at the United Nations well before Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959), while the presence of noir regular Gloria Grahame (The Big Heat [1953], In a Lonely Place [1950]) ensures its thriller pedigree as well. The supporting cast teems with familiar faces from a variety of postwar entertainment venues, most prominently the key role of the elusive Tom played by Jerry Paris, the TV actor-turned-director who gained fame as Rob Petrie's neurotic neighbor Jerry Helper on The Dick Van Dyke Show; he subsequently went behind the camera for numerous television shows as well as an oddball assortment of feature films including the hip Jacqueline Bisset vehicle The Grasshopper (1970) and one of the last traditional romantic comedies, 1968's How Sweet It Is!

"Also noteworthy in the gallery of New Yorkers is stuntwoman-turned-actress Ann Robinson (best known for her leading role in George Pal's The War of the Worlds, 1953), busy character actor Joe Turkel (who went on to immortality in the 1980s as Tyrell in Blade Runner [1982] and Lloyd the ghostly bartender in The Shining [1980]) , colorful Douglas Spencer (also seen in memorable supporting roles in Shane [1953] and This Island Earth [1955]), and a young, briefly-spotted Kathleen Freeman, a seasoned TV actress who went on to earn a Tony Award for The Full Monty while becoming a reliable comedic supporting player in films like The Blues Brothers (1980) and Innerspace (1987).

"The film's director and co-writer, Maxwell Shane, was more prolific as a screenwriter than an auteur; however, the strong affinity for urban thrillers he displays here also carried over into two mysteries adapted from cult writer Cornell Woolrich (1947's Fear in the Night and 1956's wonderfully surreal Nightmare). He had written numerous programmers (mainly horror and westerns) in the 1940s, but the small handful of films he actually directed indicate a strong aesthetic sense he sadly left behind in favor of TV."

Even while toiling in television, however, Shane managed to distinguish himself: He wrote seven episodes of M Squad, arguably the most badass half-hour in TV history, a brutally efficient cop show that had Lee Marvin jumping out his car and shooting at people during the freakin' opening credits every week. Since Count Basie did the theme for the series, I'm sure Jowett -- who's also a jazz aficionado -- has pithy things to say about that curio, too.

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