April 13, 2010

A Manhattan Noir Story



A Manhattan Noir Story

By Kurt Brokaw, Culture Editor

Here's my New York movie-movie story of all time:

Five years or so ago The Museum of Modern Art advertised a newly struck print of Mitch Leisen's "No Man Of Her Own" (1950), a dark film noir from the Cornell Woolrich novel, "I Married A Dead Man," with Barbara Stanwyck and John Lund. Scarce film, only televised once on AMC ages ago, not on DVD or video.


It was scheduled for screening once at 6:00 p.m. on a weeknight, and there were perhaps 150 of us--mostly seniors, a few film students, the usual scattering of European tourists who just wanted a place to sit and take a nap. Your typical ultra-sophisticated Manhattan museum audience.

The lights go down and on comes "No Man Of Her Own," only it's the 1933 comedy with Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. OmiGod, the wrong movie. I turn my head and yell out "lights! You're running the wrong film! Lights!" and everyone around me whispers "SSSHHHHHH!!" The lady a row up turns and swats me with her newspaper.


Mitch Leisen

So I run out to the ticket-taker at the door to the auditorium and exclaim that the wrong film's on, and she stares at me speechless, like I'm about to assault her. I bolt up some steps and bang on the projectionist's door and he sticks his head out and I wave my arms up and down and call "Wrong movie! Wrong movie!" He looks out the window next to his projector and stares at the screen maybe 30 seconds, and then ambles over and slowly and cautiously tells me (like he's perhaps addressing a crazy person), "Excuse me, sir, but that is Clark Gable and this most certainly is 'No Man Of Her Own.'"

Yes, yes, I explain, growing more frantic by the second, I know it's "No Man Of Her Own" but it's the wrong "No Man Of Her Own." I give him that machine-gun Marty Scorsese delivery that it'sthe1950BarbaraStanwyckdramaversionwe'resupposedtosee. He looks puzzled and pokes around the booth for another couple of minutes, and wanders back and reports "I am sorry, sir, but this is the only picture I have, and as you can see, everyone is sitting in their seat watching it but you."


He's right. I'm the only one outside the booth or in the lobby. I poke my head in the darkened theater and everyone's sitting there frozen, watching Carole Lombard prattle on. I fly up the escalator steps from the lower level screening room, run out to the main Museum entrance and around into the executive offices' entrance next door. There's a reception phone and I demand the extension of the Museum's film head, Lawrence Kardish, get it, punch the buttons, bite my nails, and to my astonishment Kardish himself picks up the phone. I'm breathing hard but get out that I've just run all the way up from the lower-level theater because the wrong "No Man Of Her Own" is being shown--the Clark Gable 1933 comedy, not the Barbara Stanwyck 1950 drama. How could this happen? I rage. My voice is practically carrying out to Central Park.


There's a long pause, and Kardish slowly asks, so what are people doing. Nothing, I reply, gritting my teeth, nothing. Everyone is sitting there watching the damn thing like it was the scheduled film. Longer pause. How many, asks Kardish. Over one hundred, maybe TWO HUNDRED, I gasp. Then I start to laugh. The absurdity of this suddenly hits me. It hits Kardish about the same time., and he starts to laugh, too. I'm falling over laughing and Larry seems relieved and amused, he up in his office, me on the main floor, all these dozens of happy seniors and film kids and foreign tourists in the theater downstairs lapping up Gable's cute lines.

I finally dry my tears of laughter and suggest that maybe MOMA and the film department owe me a makeup screening of Mitch Leisen's newly restored print of "No Man Of Her Own"? Maybe yes? Maybe sometime in the near future? Absolutely, says Larry, no problem whatsoever, just watch the schedule.

This was at least five years ago. I'm still watching the schedule and still waiting for the Barbara Stanwyck version.


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