Posse McMillan: Kent Harrington in Noir City

Rat MachineWe’re about halfway through the current Noir City run, and I’ve done all the days I’m going to do this year — lucking out when Kent Harrington, fellow Posse McMillan regular, happened to be on hand Sunday for a signing on his brand new novel The Rat Machine. A big fat novel, Kent’s been working since the last time I saw him. But he always keeps at it — without checking, I think he’s the most prolific original author from McMillan: Opus Two, a terrific era in the history of modern noir publishing. Opus One wasn’t bad, either.

Also saw Peter Maravelis, and noticed from the stock on the sales table on the mezzanine that San Francisco Noir 2: The Classics has made it into a second printing. Chatted with some other people I usually only bump into at this festival, which is about as good a reason to go to at least one or two double-bills as the movies themselves.

Sunday’s program featured the world premiere of a “4K Digital Restoration” of Sunset Blvd. — very nice, but I think I can say I like actual film better. Digital might present better on plasma TV, though.

The movie itself needs no blurb here — man, did Billy Wilder ever have a high batting average! Luck, skill, whatever — didn’t do as many movies as Hitchcock, so had fewer missteps. Did a few more than Peckinpah but negotiated the changing studio systems better.

The second half of the double feature was Repeat Performance from 1947, in a newly restored 35mm print. I tried unsuccessfully to go to sleep, but when I couldn’t manage that, made do with occasional good moments, the screen debut of Richard Basehart, and thinking about how Louis Hayward as the dissipated drunken lout of a stage husband/failed playwright — who looked like he could barely stand up — was in so many B swashbucklers. Yeah, maybe he was just a good actor, I don’t know, but I do need to track down some of those anyway, to check off my master list of swashbuckling movies.

By the end I was glad I was awake to catch Basehart’s “explanation” of the time paradox at play in the film, where magically a year with a lot of bad incidents repeats itself, with every attempt to change the pattern stymied — to paraphrase, time doesn’t care exactly how the deeds are done, as long as the result is the same.

I wondered, did Fritz Leiber happen to see this movie when it came out? It’s the sort of thing he’d be interested in, with the science fictiony premise. And Basehart’s summation forecasts Fritz’s Law of the Conservation of Reality which he introduced in “Try and Change the Past” in 1958, the first of his series of stories and short novels about the Change War.

Yeah, like in Repeat Performance, it is almost impossible to nudge something that has occurred toward some other reality, even if you’ve got time-hopping armies battling across the cosmos. . . .

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