This band of thieves doesn’t know each other’s real names or much of anything about one another’s past crimes. They have been brought together by a criminal mastermind whose meticulously planned “perfect” heist goes awry. Sound familiar? It is the plot of Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino’s indelible 1992 debut, but it also describes Ferde Grofe’s little-known crime drama, 1971’s The Day of the Wolves. One of the many influences that went into the recipe that Tarantino transformed into something uniquely his own, it is also, along with Reservoir Dogs, one of the opening night features of “Not Necessarily Noir 3.” Elliot Lavine’s latest series highlighting crime and horror in the contemporary era – 26 movies over 13 nights – opens Friday, October 19 at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater and runs through Halloween.
The series gets off to a memorable start with the heist movie pairing. Grofe is not the artist Tarantino is. Heck, he is barely a craftsman, and yet The Day of the Wolves is compulsively watchable, a modest B-movie that moves briskly and offers a novel twist on the genre – these thieves have their sights set not on a mere bank or business, but on an entire town. No. 1 (Jan Murray) recruits six strangers for the job, sending them plane tickets and ordering them to grow beards, identifying them each by numbers instead of names, making them wear gloves to conceal their fingerprints and even blindfolding them to keep the location of their hideout a secret. His plan is such that even if one or more of them is caught, no one will have enough information to rat out any of the others. On the surface, the plot to rob the isolated, desert community that No. 1 has identified seems foolproof.
Lawrence Tierney’s Joe Cabot in Reservoir Dogs similarly tries to insure himself against capture by also recruiting strangers and using colors in place of real names. There are more variables to the bank job he plans, though, and some of the biggest are in the gang itself. In putting less than the ideal crew together, Cabot is already halfway to hell before the movie even begins.
The contrasts between The Day of the Wolves and Reservoir Dogs is fascinating and not just because while Tarantino populated his thieves with a fledgling auteur’s dream of a cast including noir great Tierney, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi and Michael Madsen, Frode had to make do with the likes of Murray (a stand-up comedian who made 248 appearance on Hollywood Squares, according to the IMDB), San Francisco native Richard Egan on the downside of his career and journeyman actor Rick Jason. The approaches the two filmmakers (both of whom penned their scripts) to violence is another telling difference, Tarantino’s ebullient embrace of gore is a million miles away from Grofe’s reticence to shed blood at all. Reservoir Dog‘s sharp dialogue, heightened suspense, arresting imagery and unforgettable performances put it in another league from The Day of the Wolves, but both movies are tense and entertaining in their very different ways and it is kick to see just where Tarantino took some of his inspiration.
All of the pairings in “Not Necessarily Noir 3” – a bargain at $11 per double feature – are as beguiling as opening night. Lavine has crafted an irresistible group of double features: dangerous, dark, devastating and wildly thrilling – oh, and nearly all are being projected in 35mm, just the way the movie gods intended. — Pam Grady
For tickets or further information about Not Necessarily Noir 3, visit www.roxie.com.