Ulmer, Cineaste Pas Maudite?

Anthology Film Archives and Film Forum are re-opening today, which is good news, and as I said yesterday, I urge you to support independent screening rooms like these, especially after the past week's events.

I can give you a more concrete reason to drop by Anthology over the next week or so, an excellent mini-retrospective of Edgar G. Ulmer, including  several 35mm prints. I can't vouch for the other prints, but I've seen the one they have of The Naked Dawn, and it is simply beautiful. Frankly, it looks brand new -- not a scratch even at the reel ends -- and the color is pretty good. (If this is an IB Technicolor print, where have they been hiding it?)

The film itself is enchanting, a word I don't usually associate with Ulmer. It's his only western, I believe, and other than Green Fields, it's his most openly pastoral film. Working from a nicely judged script by blacklistee Julian Halevy, Ulmer brings a surprisingly sweet melancholy to this tale of a small-time bandido (Arthur Kennedy in one of his most effective performances) who is forced by circumstance to take refuge with a young couple (the charming Betta St. John and a sturdy Eugene Iglesias) on their meager farm.

Ulmer's protagonists are driven, obsessive to the point of paranoia. In his best films, The Black Cat, Bluebeard, Detour and Ruthless, to name four personal favorites, those qualities are flavored with a lethal helping of self-pity and the result is a path of self-destruction and near-apocalyptic climaxes. The Naked Dawn, thanks in no small part to the writing of the Kennedy character and his wonderfully relaxed performance, is an airier, more reflective piece, with the closest thing you'll find to a happy ending in an Ulmer film. It's a real surprise and a real gem.